Sunday, 9 March 2014

"Wittgenstein's Vienna", Toulmin & Janik - comments 3

I am getting the impression that T&J are enamoured of Wittgenstein, seeing his TLP as doing the Kantian-Hertzian work of proving the limits of a theoretical system from within (limits of reason in the case of Kant, limits of science in the case of Hertz-Boltzmann). I think they are enamoured because this all has a definite aesthetic appeal. Wittgenstein is a genius who resolves in the field of philosophy, thought, what others had done in literature and music, painting and theatre. They see Wittgenstein as having enacted, in TLP, the "ethical deed", which showed the limits of what can be expressed in a scientific language and the greater importance of what can't be expressed. It is because Wittgenstein believed in a scientific language - i.e. that translation if Boltzmann's statistical-mechanical-atomism to a concept of language as depicting facts, and the world as all possible arrangements of those facts - that he could also believe that TLP solved all philosophical problems.

I see T&J in 1973 wanting to overturn "50 years of interpretation of LW's TLP [as an] epistemological exercise in Machian empiricism". (p.145).
As they say TLP did everything but legitimate the Vienna Circle's project: its main point was to show what scientific philosophy can't say but which is also what is most important. Except, as Paul Engelmann wrote, empiricists receiving the TLP saw that "unsayable" as nothing.

The artistry of this is what enamours T&J. And continues to enamour.
(I'm drawn to wanting to know more about the setting of TLP because I like the idea of the domain of ethics-aesthetics being shown by a demonstration of the limits of what can be proved true in language. I get to re-visit my combat with a rigid utilitarianism which could not admit the value or significance anything that could not be proved true. I combatted this in the ways available to me at the time. TLP suggests another way it might be done, though I can't think - for all the brilliance that seems to be there - it would have the artistry of Kierkegaard's indirect communication. A different artistry, then. What's tantalising about TLP is imagining its demolition of scientism!)

Karl Popper is mentioned nowhere in T&J's book.
I think it quite likely that Popper was not anywhere in the philosophical world of Toulmin & Janik in 1973 because that world (of analytical philosophy and linguistic philosophy) would not have been there without Wittgenstein, or rather without the kind of thinking into which Wittgenstein entered, and Popper was precisely saying that Wittgenstein's linguistic routing (whatever its ethical aspect which was lost on British philosophers) was an example of a wonderful solution to a pseudo-problem.

I think it's quite likely that Popper was every bit as affected by the cultural problems of fin-de-si├Ęcle Vienna described by T&J. He was certainly influenced by Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard. (See Hacohen, 2002).

But whereas Wittgenstein seems to have appeared a very glamorous eccentric to British philosophers, pleased with their own point-missing cleverness, and pleased to welcome him in as clever too, Popper's exposure of the pseudo-problem was simply not seen, because not wanted to be seen. It would have been too awkward.

If I see myself reading TLP, it will be as an elegant solution to a pseudo-problem, in which Wittgenstein was himself caught up, but was not able to have his peers see the ethical implications of his solution.

Bryan Magee says of Popper that he "performed, better" what Wittgenstein attempted with the TLP, showing the nature and limits of empirical science, "even though Wittgenstein had greater self-awareness of the wider context in which what he was doing was embedded". (Magee, "Confessions of a Philosopher", p.201). I agree with Magee that whereas Wittgenstein "consciously took over from Schopenhauer the Kantian empirical realism/transcendental idealism [phenomenal/noumenal] view of total reality", Popper "at no point [wrote] as if he believes in the existence of the noumenal". I suppose another part of the attraction of Wittgenstein is that his whole effort was guided by concern to show the "noumenal": he wrote as if he believed in its existence.

A quote from Berkeley's "De Motu", appearing in Karl Popper: "Berkeley As A Precursor of Mach and Einstein" (in Popper's Conjectures and Refutations, p.227)
(Berkeley is writing on Newton's mechanics, Popper is stressing Berkeley's distinction between mathematical descriptions - which may be more or less useful - and the nature or essence of things.)

"It is of the greatest importance ... to distinguish between mathematical hypotheses and the natures [or essences] of things. If we observe this distinction, then all the famous theorems of mechanical philosophy which ... make it possible to subject the world system [i.e. the solar system] to human calculations, may be preserved; and at the same time, the study if motion will be freed of a thousand pointless trivialities and subtleties, and from [meaningless] abstract ideas."

I look back a few years and know that Popper only came into my view because of the deep-seated problem, in my own thinking, of accommodating non-scientific accounts of the world. This had become very pressing because art was and became an existential reality in my life. I see that an idea had been there, as a young person, that artistic expression (in my case architecture), and those doing the expressing, are bound to justify their work, and this implied the existence, somewhere, if a measure of fit or correctness. This idea coincided with a way if thinking about the world and of oneself that eliminated the subject. It was quite simply an extreme prohibition on feelings. A very powerful utilitarianism that flattened or omitted subjectivity. To accommodate free creative activity in the world and value it (attribute meaning to it), I needed to have the argument put by Popper and Kant that we, subjects, bring an active contribution to our perceptions. We are not passive receptors.

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