Friday, 18 April 2014

Paul Engelmann: Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein With A Memoir

I have found a copy of this book, first published in the decade after Wittgenstein's death in 1951.
(1967, Basil Blackwell, Oxford)

Apart from enjoying the letters in German and English, Engelmann's memoir, containg his insights into the feeling and thought of Wittgenstein and his contemporaries when W was writing TLP, is very interesting.

The Memoir describes W between 1916 and 1919 (when TLP was being written) ax having been concerned with faith.
Writes PE, as a way of outlining what he understood of his own stance towards life at that time, which he seems to have shared with Wittgenstein:
 "If I am unhappy and know that my unhappiness reflects a gross discrepancy between myself and life as it is, I have solved nothing; I shall be on the wrong track and I shall never find a way out of the chaos of my emotions and thoughts so long as I have not achieved the supreme and crucial insight that that discrepancy is not the fault of life as it is, but of myself as I am." (p.76)

But, of Wittgenstein, he says, "he was not a penitent" (p.78)
"he looked upon all the features of life as it is, that is to say upon all facts, as an essential part of the conditions of the task [of living a life]; just as a person presented with a mathematical problem must not try to ease his task by modifying the problem .... The person who consistently believes that the reason for the discrepancy lies in himself alone must reject the belief that changes in the external facts may be necessary and called for." (p.79)

This attention to "the external facts" calls up a very deep sense of divide between internal and external, just as can be found in Kierkegaard. I'm reminded of the opening part of SK's 'Fear and Trembling' in which different accounts are given of the same story - Abraham's intended sacrifice of his son Isaac - which point to very different worlds of experience.

Later on, PE is giving an approach to TLP that "Wittgenstein himself, steeped in these thoughts as he then was, took, almost as a matter of course" (p.100). "On the one side stands the world, on the other side language. 'The world is all that is the case.' (TLP1)." (German: "Die Welt ist alles was der Fall ist.")

[I'm aware through a draft version of a paper by Dr Paul Livingstone of the University of Mexico*, available as PDF here, of what seems to have been Heidegger's only reference to Wittgenstein, in which H contends that the opening statement of TLP identifies "what is" with "that which falls under a determination", and that this "determining" stance is "modern" experience and different to the "authenticity" of the early Greek experience, in which "what is" variously "appears". Dr Livingstone points out that Heidegger misreads W's 'was der Fall ist' as 'Wirklichkeit', or reality. This is important for what H interprets W as about in TLP. It would seem like Heidegger read what he wanted to read, rather than 'what is the case'.]

As readers of past posts (those few) may know, it has been indirectly that I have grasped anything of what Wittgenstein was about.
Some inkling of what may have been driving him was my nineteen year-old self experiencing some moral reaction to that there could be architects (artists) in this world. Strange? Yes.
It speaks of someone for whom the coherence of the group was a given for his self-conception, and of course, the presence of art, as a sphere of freedom, completely destabilises that, no less than the fact of commodification, capital and the salesman.

Yet what was relied on to fend off (at that time) the reality of freedom, was an appeal to some kind of rationality, that there was a coalescing, at some part of my thinking, of rationality and what is ethical.
This was a defensive move from a somewhat anxious young person thrown onto meagre resources.
An idea of a rational "good" must have been there to enable thoughts like "Everyone has ideas, what's so special about yours?"

It is very hard to think my way back into that younger person. He existed in a world in which one was directed towards the maintenance of a body, the group, some realisation of group life. His belief was in a power or omniscience that must preside over the forms of things, and that omniscience would be rational and rationally accessible. Again, this belief was itself functioning to fend off something like lack, a feeling of lack (of ability to contain the free object).

Where does firm come from, if it is not rationally decidable? (Answer: imagination.)

The individual feeling moral affront at lively forms which press on him, and seem to call up a lack in him, is very like the one who sees nothing more than "push-pin" in poetry and affirms there is nothing more!
That individual may set about an enquiry into what makes for a good, rational society and be faced with accounting for poetry in it. What then?

Ok, so Wittgenstein is very musical, a genius, with "technical" gifts, and no stranger to poetry. He is unbearably moral! His closeness to Kierkegaard lies in his seeking after purity of heart.

I am just struck by what appears to have driven the Tractatus: a need to show the limit of what can be proved to be true in language, which showing or demonstration cannot itself be proved (known).

Engelmann writes:
"An understanding of this philosopher will encourage the true believer to be undismayed in face if advancement of enlightenment and science, however successful they may be in their proper field: because their range stops short where that which alone matters to him begins."
(PE, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein With A Memoir, 1967, Blackwell, Oxford; p.98)

"[H]is effort is directed against philosophy's undertaking to protect the unutterable by uttering it." (p.107)

Surely it was something about the terror of an apparent limitlessness of scientific knowing, rationality, which caused a person to feel their ethical (or free) self swallowed up; an image not too far removed from what motivated Kant.
Engelmann makes use of Kant's as a kind of analogy to show Wittgenstein's intentions:

"In its endeavours to rescue the 'higher sphere' (that is, values which are vital to human society) from the threat posed by the development of society, modern philosophy seeks to smuggle such values into the universe of discourse by postulating 'higher' propositional firms (Kant's synthetic a priori judgements and the principles and postulates of pure reason) supposed to derive in principle from a different and more sublime source than the propositions originating in the lower realm of the senses, of empirical knowledge, and therefore incapable of expressing the sublime. Kant's examples of such 'higher' propositions are taken from mathematics. [...] Further examples refer to so-called synthetic a priori principles of natural science, but these ... are no more than arbitrary, more or less practical rules and do not constitute meaningful scientific propositions," (p.108)

A scepticism towards Kant is clear.

"The dismissal of synthetic a priori propositions in science as meaningless entails the final destruction of the last tenuous bridge from the insight of theoretical reason to the principles of practical reason. Kant, it is true, denies the existence of such a bridge; yet by seeking to formulate a supreme ethical norm in the form of a proposition, and by admitting a practical 'reason' that operates through procedures analogous to those of theoretical reason, he must be held to have re-erected it." (p.108)

Engelmann regards Wittgenstein's efforts to have "finally demolished" this "bridge".

"[Wittgenstein says] it is meaningless to talk about the sphere of the transcendental, the metaphysical; and he rests this statement on a strong logical foundation. In this way he renders all attacks on the transcendental impossible, but at the same time he also frustrates all attempts to defend it by talking." (p.109)

This logical foundation is the account given of the possible "logical relations between facts" (p.103) in our language.
Wittgenstein had a concept of language "picturing" "facts", ('We make for ourselves pictures of the facts'', TLP2.1) and the logical relations between our pictures or images are conceived as also how the world is: "facts" in "logical relations" with one another, through which connection our language works.

Here it is possible to see how the atomic theory of Ludwig Boltzmann could have been of interest to Wittgenstein. Boltzmann conceived of a total mathematical description of atoms which could account for everything in the world. Mathematics (a language) taken to be in direct contact with the world.

Doesn't everything in TLP rest on this idea of language being in contact with the world, mirroring it?
And what about our "picturing"... Doesn't TLP also rest on an uncomplicated taking-up of "facts"? I think of someone who does give the "facts" to himself and then works out from there what can be said, and I think it is this self-giving (private language) which Wittgenstein later questions in Philosophical Investigations.

* "Wittgenstein reads Heidegger, Heidegger reads Wittgenstein", draft version, 2013, Dr Paul Livingstone

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