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I Stew Netting, Dreizehn

Wittgenstein's Poker, by Edmonds and Eidenow, provides fascinating insight into W's ways.  I like the idea of the book, which is to create biography around a specific event-- a ten minute confrontation between W and the philosopher Karl Popper which took place on October 25, 1946.

I now know why friends gave me subtle warnings about W.  The book demonstrates well how one might get sucked in, overpowered, and spit out like a lifeless husk when dealing with W.  Even Lord Russell felt overmatched by him.  W wins only if you accept his game, so for sanity's sake you better have something else to prop you up when he kicks the ground out from under you.  Karl Popper evidently was immune to W's point of view.  W had the habit of dismissing anyone who would not accept his view as an idiot.  Students were falling all over themselves trying to win his favor, avoid his wrath.  It seems that W dispersed admiration just to those who could think more like himself than he could on a bad day.

While W found philosophy to be a kind of intellectual solvent that dissolved problems by showing them up as language errors, Karl Popper was still very much into the qualities of ideas as existing outside and beyond the influence of mere language.  W had little tolerance for such nonsense under his own roof, on his own turf, and grabbed a poker from the fireplace.

It is hilarous to think that a room full of metaphysicists with brilliant minds cannot agree upon what actually happened while W possessed the poker. Perhaps it only underlies the variety of their approaches to reality-- perhaps it was only inevitable.

It amazes me, as it did Russell, that W never took his own life.  It seems to me that he was always on the verge of that act, always knew that should he fail to find new methods, the only sure way to dissolve the final insoluble was with a bullet.

Many of the best minds claimed that W was above them.  Still it seems to me it was through a process of bafflement, the tools of  a Zen master, that he convinced them that he knew things they could not know.

It is fortunate for me that I am not brilliant enough to allow W to drive me mad.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 3rd, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure we read W's "to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle" quite the same way...if I constantly discuss the necessity of asking the right questions, I think of that as a quintessentially Wittgensteinian way to proceed: it presumes that there is a world outside the fly-bottle in which we are trapped, and that getting out of the trap we ourselves have constructed will allow us to operate more meaningfully in the world outside the prison we have chosen to live inside. But W also wrote, "Running up against the boundaries of language? Language isn't a cage." In other words, the problem is not to dissolve the problem but to see that the problem has been put wrongly, and putting it the right way will create a whole new set of (genuine) issues...but Popper and W were fated never to understand one another. I believe W denied that there were philosophical problems worth addressing, since the world's real problems were outside philosophy per se. But maybe that's just me.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
I think W wanted to believe he was not in the language cage but he was having a very hard time proving it to himself. If you cannot frame some questions correctly, it's just the same as dropping them from philosophical inquiry.

So I am beginning to see W as an almost hysterical reductionist. I don't mean this as a rejection of his philosophy, but that I am more like Popper in allowing a broader range of consideration.

Maybe W will convince me yet? I have all the later work of his "Investigations" still to digest.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
I guess the question is whether you buy Toulmin and Janik's reading of W as insisting that all the genuine questions of life were not amenable to philosophical inquiry but instead showed themselves, in existential situations that did not lend themselves to the kind of artificial linguistic precision W had once believed was all there was, and then didn't.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's why I mentioned a Zen Master: what can be shown but not said. His later writings might be considered a set of exercises or meditations to achieve a philosophy-induced state of samadhi. It would not surprise me to see W elevated by future generations to a religious figure.

Of course some of us might not want to join the W sect. We just like reading and thinking about philosophy. It seems we are destined over time to find a lot more reading available about W than reading directly from W himself.

Edited at 2009-04-03 08:06 pm (UTC)
Apr. 4th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
I did not at first notice how nicely you stated this yesterday.

My problem, using these same terms, is that I don't think that for all his courage, there is a real way out of the bottle. The attempt to decide what the "genuine questions" of life may or may not be, then itself becomes one of the "genuine questions" that also cannot be answered.

Does anyone but W really know how to make these distinctions?

What proof other than revelation can he give us that a philosophy asserting that philosophy is mostly flawed, is not, by definition, itself mostly flawed?

My struggle with this may be mine alone, purely personal phantoms perhaps.

I certainly don't want this struggle to obscure the fact that your comments are welcome and greatly appreciated!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
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