Thursday, 13 February 2014

Wittgenstein's Tractatus - what can be shown but not said

Recently I have exposed myself again to recordings of some of the outspoken so-called "new atheists" out of a kind of masochism. I must stop this, because I know my morbid interest, seeking again to be shocked at the learned ignorance and self-importance being displayed, only serves to keep them in demand as speakers and writers generally. I understand that many do not take them seriously, perhaps because (if they are like me) they find that the things about which they like to pontificate, having us - the cretinous public - giving them serious attention, they themselves cannot take seriously: say, "the varieties of religious experience", if you prize William James' writings, or "the whole unanalysed experience of the human race", if you prize those of J S Mill. (Of course, they would regard this as a compliment). One feels compelled to take them seriously because they are (still) being taken seriously. But this is self-defeating.

I suppose I only want to be reminded of the kind if thinking which eliminates subjectivity, even its own, because then I can once again piece together some sense of value for mine.

I have found Bryan Magee's auto-biography "Confessions of a Philosopher" valuable. Of course he spent time in a committed way with philosophy which "new atheists" generally don't deign to do.

In the chapter entitled "What Can Be Shown But Not Said", he includes a wonderful quotation from Paul Engelmann on the mistaken attribution of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus as a support to Logical Positivism.

"A whole generation of disciples was able to take Wittgenstein as a positivist, because he has something of enormous importance in common with the positivists: he draws the line between what we can speak about and what we must be silent about just as they do. The difference is only that they have nothing to be silent about. Positivism holds - and this is it's essence - that what we can speak about is all that matters in life. Whereas Wittgenstein passionately believes that all that really matters in human life is precisely what, in his view, we must be silent about."

(Paul Engelmann, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Notes: when Wittgenstein developed and wrote TLP, 1913-1919, he was apparently gripped by the idea in Frege and Russell of locating, building, a pure language, which would be in a logical relationship with the world: the idea that ordinary language is a kind of screen, keeping humans out of touch with the world. Yet himself knowing (surely what impressed him in Kierkegaard's thought) that he had an ethical life that could be in our out of alignment with .... something. He strove for a kind of honesty with himself. He seems to have been gripped by the idea of there being no philosophical problems, only linguistic confusions. He sought to define the limits of what can be proven to be true within language, and declaring all else that calls itself philosophy to be efforts to say what cannot be meaningfully said ....
Art, the poem, music, however, these are not declaring themselves to be philosophy. He apparently urged FR Leavis to give up literary criticism. Perhaps he saw it as an attempt, like philosophy, to say what can't be said. Leavis seems to have sympathised with Wittgenstein, but also to assert that the literary critic is "anti-philosopher".

1 comment:

  1. Please find a set of references which pay homage to Wittgenstein's Blue Books, but which feature a unique "Philosopher" and Artist whose work begins where Wittgenstein inevitably got stuck. A "Philosopher" who thoroughly examined at a profound depth level every proposition ever made about the nature of Reality in all times and places, East & West, and everywhere in between.