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Tweeting Tins, Funfzehn

Karl Popper wanted to argue W into silence, wanted to "win" the confrontation that instantly became known as "the poker incident."   The authors of  Wittgenstein's Poker suggest that W quickly left-- in disgust rather than defeat. As for grabbing the poker, most think that W was not likely to have hit anyone with it, though he did manage to appear threatening to the guest, since Popper made a joke of the threat.  W would often calm himself it seems, or attempt to make his points clearer, by grasping a solid object.

Who won?  Nobody.  It was a confrontation of disjoint sets. 

For my 2 quasi- regular commentators(if you read all this), let me say I applaud your endurance! Though it must seem that I have a W obsession that will never end: a) I do not b) it will be a finite quest. I guess what I am trying to do is evolve a personal grammar from pieces of logic (Russell) and "ordinary language" analysis ala Wittgenstein instead of studying standard high school grammar books that cannot effectively help me parse the sentences of John Crowley. The purpose of this study is to learn to decode and encode sentences of "overloaded" content. Clear?

I quote W's introduction to the Investigations by way of apology: "I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own."

My Oxford Companion to Philosophy notes that Popper expressed his ideas "not always with a great subtlety of argument."  Still Popper's writing about the Open Society and his championing of a "philosophy of science" made Popper more celebrated in 1946 than Wittgenstein, who's ideas did not penetrate initially far beyond the Cambridge philosophy circle until the later publishing of his Investigations.  It is noted that neither philosophy was able to master what is commonly known as "British understatement."

It seems likely that Russell asked Popper to change his paper name to "Are There Problems of Philosophy?" and hoped that Popper could influence the crowd to engage in some "old style" philosophy for a change. He himself had written on the "Problems of Philosophy" earlier in his career.

Time to put W in his Place.

That sounds "swaggerish" but I do not mean to put him a "low" place at all. What I mean by "his place" is merely that it is chez W.  And where on earth, if it is on earth, is that?

W's happy place can be reached only if you leave your shoes by the door (and almost everything else). If you are a fly, or your thinking is beginning to show fly-like tendencies, then you may come to believe you are in a bottle. W knows how to get you out, but then where are you? In some wide, unknown, undefined land that you cannot speak of? Or are you pithed and pinned to the display board of W, cured of all thought, and able to utter only a few prepositions that describe the true grammar of reality?

I understand and enjoy the multiple layer logic encoded in Russell's example: The King of France is bald. I think too that W's study of the "philosophy of ordinary language" is quite a fine endeavor. I suppose I just disagree if it is said there is nothing else in philosophy to study. W might say that mathematics is not philosophy, nor is logic. He might go on to say that metaphysical ponderings, since they do not consist of verifiable bits of ordinary language, are tautologies, are meaningless, even if not nonsense.

W called Russell "facile."  But isn't a philosophy that asserts "a priori" that logic, proofs, layered argument, or we might just say-- all things considered to be the formal methods of philosophy-- are of no use, are bogus, isn't such a proposition at the very least, possibly, "facile?" If W is right, he merely stating the "true case." However, there can be no proof of this, because the ladder is gone. W has wings, i.e.: is the fly. There likewise can be no refutation by means of logic or by any other sort "mushy thinking" argumentation. W's investigations are above critique. This is the messianic side of W. "Put down your plows and follow me." To follow W requires faith, belief.

Popper did not think that W's work was by default wrong. But how did you test it, and what applicable value did it have? Popper claimed to have had no beef against W except to say that his philosophy was trivial: it bored him to tears. He said W seemed to imply that in scrupulously cleaning the lenses of his glasses, he had done all a philosopher could do.

To W's credit he was able to focus his clean lenses on a small area he felt could be freed of what I would call the historic vocabulary of philosophy, its tangles of inter-referencing texts, rampant conceptual conflations, mis-uses of language, translation problems, meaningless assertions, impossibilities. How can you possibly attach truth as an appendix to a history of lies without the truth being contaminated by that history? One must begin fresh with a new vocabulary. Who would want to plant a flower in a cesspool of toxic waste?

Further, the type of investigation W deploys is exactly what is called for after the recent failures by Frege and Russell to achieve a closed logical description of mathematics-- atomistic bits, small islands of facts. Examining language puzzles case by case, as though they were patients of Dr. Freud (as many have said) waiting to be cured. W has tried to create a method of analysis that does not need a structure of propositions supporting it. And yet are not the methods themselves, do not rules of games assert things-- a priori? Ah, but the a priori's can change from case to case as analysis reveals them, defines their qualities. Thus W becomes not "the man without qualities," but "the man WITH qualities."  The grammar-whisperer.

Something in me insists that W has not abandoned logic, but merely atomized it, taken its essence in the direction of the microcosm. No galactic-building theories of metaphysics for him. He is the physicist studying quanta. He knows how to describe the weak forces between words. I would say that his method is akin to an atomistic contagion of language by logic.

And so, if W can use what parts of logic he feels can be controlled, what is wrong with using most of it, or all of it except those occasional impossible assertions that may occur? Why not just ignore those? Isn't that what W is doing even though he is using tiny, tiny amounts of logic? Is his method equivalent to being an homeopathologist of philosophy?

There seems to me to be nothing particularly complete to W's puzzles. One stops when one can think of no more to elucidate them. The rules are made to suit the puzzle. But I still come back to the idea that philosophy as written before W can be seen as various games to play. Games are games. Rules are rules. For W to relax control in his puzzle environment also opens the door for a re-evaluation of traditional philosophical problems in the same sort of game-like and analytic way, even though W has renounced traditional "problems." How about "traditional based games?"

Something about the way W limits language is also, I think, purely arbitrary. The idea of "ordinary language" is, to me, quite artificial, in fact, quite extraordinary. If it were not "ordinary" for men to speak in "meaningless ways" (according to W), how could men have generated all this philosophy stuff to begin with, all this verbiage about religion, truth, lies, invention, fiction, poetry, art? If it is ordinary for us to think in these ways, and it is also ordinary to find value in these sorts of thoughts, who is to say we are "grammatically confused?"  Or, if we are confused, so be it, for that is our natural state, and it works for us-- in fact these natural engagements of language underpin our deepest experiences about what it means to be human.

Also W's assertion that "language has not changed since Plato," and that is why we are trapped in our endless return to the same questions is an odd notion. Language has changed tremendously since Plato, and I think philosophic writing displays that well. Knowing just a little of linguistics I can suggest that entirely different sorts of W-type language games would have to be played in various languages, various times of history, and possibly played not at all before Aristotle.

Finally, I find W's approach deficient in two key areas I find absolutely necessary in a sufficient philosophy. A) Individual action in the world, and  B) time. 

W's atomistic approach again limits these huge areas to minimal contact in his games. His goal is to establish the true case between thoughts and facts in the world, a description of pure relationship.

What does a man do in the world, in the past, in the present, in the future?

He just enjoys how happy he is that he's not in that damn bottle any more!


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 9th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
I have just re-read Wittgenstein's "Lecture on Ethics" wherein he says that nonsensical experiences are perfectly valid even though they do not add to our knowledge: "Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it." (If this sounds dialectically dismissive, he has just been wrestling with the nonsensicality of the subjective feeling that he himself shares, "I am safe, whatever happens.")

W definitely insists, with the anthropologists, that when we encounter a tribe (as he put it) that seems to sell cloth for the same price whether it is folded once or twice, we might not be able to tell whether it is because they value cloth only by the length, not the width, or because the action is a religious ritual and not a commercial transaction at all, or some other explanation. Not if we don't know more about the form of life within which the transaction is taking place.

And yes, this does put us in a perpetual muddle of the sort that he expressed with that gnomic utterance about his belief that if someone says that they had a dream that convinced them that there is a Last Judgment, this would be too big to be a mere blunder. Something else is at stake, and what that something was seems to be what Wittgenstein was grappling with his whole life...the experiences that matter to him seem to be the ones most elusive to traditional philosophical logic...the mistakes, if they are mistakes, are anything but trivial. But the solutions to determining what is actually going on might not be found within the limits of philosophy. One feels constantly that it is more important to understand what W considered himself unable to say or even to begin to get right...remember that he is remembered as stopping mid-lecture and exclaimed, "Oh, what a stupid teacher you have!"
Apr. 9th, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
Re: huh?
I do admire W's restraint, and the shadow of what cannot be said. But on the issue of whether we formally allow ourselves to call something philosophy or not, I think most of our human experience is in that land of nonsense, dwells within that shadow of which W cannot speak. It may seem useless to W for us to talk about these things, try to abstract their values, and call the results knowledge. But maybe there are other sorts of knowledge as well as other sorts of philosophy, and we should just call them by different names?

I see W as in a self-imposed exile that, however pure, does not need to be shared to be appreciated.

If an art critic were to fully embrace W's limits, would there be anything that he could say about a philosophy of art, or even about a work of art?

And would not the value of an enthnographer be that he could devise a game that sometimes, but not always (Mead), reveals something meaningful (knowledge)about a tribe, also making it clearer what things cannot be known, or should not be inferred about blanket folding?
Apr. 11th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
My thought today:

One day, having climbed Everest, I met two people at the summit. One was Wittgenstein who introduced me to his friend Rilke. Surprised at this friendship I asked for an explanation. Wittgenstein said: Rilke and I share an apartment here, but he is here to embrace great poetry, and I am here to free myself of it.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
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