Tag Archives: Wittgenstein

Strangers amongst us

We struggle with strangeness. Whether we fear who’s different or merely fear those who fear the different differently from us, home’s where our differences largely go unnoticed. It struck me how self-evident it has become to see public announcements, on a hurricane for instance, accompanied by somebody translating them into sign language. It’s difficult not to see this as progress; therefore difficult to see it as anything but self-evident. But it’s not self-evident. It’s the outcome of a struggle by strangers incapable of hearing and once discarded by society and probably labeled “deaf and dumb”. Well, it is their struggle and that of caring people who provided an understanding home to them in which they could be understood and, hence, come to their own understanding. How did they realize such a remarkable feat making acceptance of deaf people into something “so general as to make it unthinkable to see it as someone’s original idea”? The latter is Kafka’s description of that immediate insight which, once made, seems to become so entrenched in custom it is like it could not have been otherwise. Wittgenstein would probably say it becomes part of the grammar of deafness that it is a difference that ought to be accommodated. Still, however self-evident it may seem now it was anything but self-evident not so very long ago.

How can that be? What can we learn from it?

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On ‘Being Anxious’ and ‘Anxiety’

“Anxiety (Angst) is ubiquitous, but seems capable of a lower and a higher form.” I. Murdoch in her “Sein Und Zeit: Pursuit of Being”.

My question is: can being anxious be a good thing? If etymology would have the final say, the answer would be a straightforward: “No!”.  ‘Anxious’ comes to us from the Latin verb “angere” which means to choke (under a pressing uncertainty). Still, one can be anxious – at least according to Merriam-Webster – for positive news. Such a positive turn seems not to be on for ‘anxiety’. It would seem anxiety is something one can simply and only suffer from. Still, if one is anxious it would seem that the only thing that can describe what one feels is anxiety.

What’s up with these words then? How does their grammar work? Iris Murdoch does not explore this in the text I quoted but it seems a matter of some practical and philosophical consequence; maybe one of those rare occasions where these types of consequence meet. People tell me to try to stop being anxious (and just ‘be’). This always makes me anxious, for (what) would I be if I weren’t anxious for something? I’d certainly not be ‘me’.

I tend to agree then with Kierkegaard (whose lead Heidegger is basically following) that a life worth living is in a certain way always also a life of anxiety. The original question is then recast into: is this such a dismal state of affairs as it is made out to be?

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To the latrine with our doctrines!

6.54 

My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.” 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Routledge Classics, 1961.

I’m reading Cora Diamond’s “The Realistic Spirit” in which proposition 6.54 is seen as the key to crack the code of continuity in Wittgenstein’s thought. I don’t know about that but I do know this: what she says resonates with why I always liked reading Wittgenstein. It’s not the famous proposition 7 calling bull-shit on philosophy that enticed me, calling bull-shit is easy. It’s the resistance to clear-cut philosophical doctrines and a view of reason as somehow beyond life as we know it which rings true to me.

Is it possible to do philosophy without leaving behind you beliefs that one p or another is true in a deeper way than pointing to the coffee mug and saying that it is on the table? In a way we’re all philosophers who want to believe that what we say matters in a way that is beyond being merely true. Philosophy, I believe (and I believe Wittgenstein believed all his life), is about showing that to be a terrible equivocation. A terrible equivocation more specifically on two crucial real-life common words: the demonstrative ‘that’ and the verb ‘to believe’.

Let me show you that. Maybe if you read on you’ll believe.

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An Autistic History of Philosophy

This book should be written because it would clarify how thinking things through, in the way we autistics do for everyday survival, is both painstaking and necessary for all of us. That is also the reason why the title should not read “The History of Autistic Philosophy” – not because we cannot diagnose dead philosophers but because it would increase the rift between everyman’s everyday struggles and philosophy as thinking things through.

It is not the case that all philosophers are (somewhat) autistic. Still all original philosophy is, in a very practical sense, autistic as it takes mundane, unquestioned facts to be deeply problematical. When Aristotle talks about wonder the metaphor is that of a child picking a toy apart to see how it works. It is such wonder that fuels reaching for the unreachable. Reaching for the unreachable is at the same time exhausting as it makes one retreat into the safe confines of a predictable world where everything can be taken as self-evident: a world of unquestioned repetitive ritual, prejudice and superstition.

I believe that my (I call dibs!) Autistic History of Philosophy will improve understanding of one another as well as of our selves. Let me explain myself:

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The Autinomies of Philosophy

The chance of there being an unconscious typo in the title is about as big as that of Freud not having slipped up. If it appears I am talking in riddles that is only because you feel that there is something to decipher. One thing is certain: philosophers are weird. So am I. Even if that doesn’t establish anything as far as me being a philosopher, you got my drift.

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Let us wonder a while about the weirdness of philosophers. They have come up with waves and particles, with particulars and universals. Then they calculated and associated to come to one invariable conclusion: neither the one nor the other, or both at the same time but in an at most a superficial manner. Philosophers say they despair about this. That is merely a mask they wear to ensure somebody feeds them. If they’re particularly power hungry they will even exclaim they’ve solved it. Solutions sell, this much they know of real life. It’s one of those regularities that have neither rhyme nor reason.

Without weirdness we would discuss in caves instead of about waves. What is wrong with that? Caves are no place for philosophers. So what’s up with them?

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4.112 Philosophy is (..) an activity

“4.1122 Darwin’s theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
hypothesis in natural science.”
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, l. Wittgenstein, Routledge Classics, 2001.
(this is the official translation, no original this time, sorry)

[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 20-05-2009. I have almost come to the point where all old posts have been transferred to the new site and I feel like maybe one of these days I can make new stuff, hopefully having learned from all the many mistakes I have made previously.]

When discussing this with friends of mine, one of them suggested I argue for it on a reductio ad absurdum. I won’t. It seems more fitting to the case at hand to go for a less known (and known to be merely rhetorical) argument: the one “ab absurdo”, ie from the absurd. Hence (I am in a playful mood), I do apologize on beforehand: for assuming the existence of God in some parts of the below.

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