Friday, August 6, 2010

Reading with Wittgenstein

I think somewhere Nietzsche identifies philology with reading, and I've been thinking that what Stephen Mulhall does--very well--is read. His readings, while not wildly idiosyncratic, are inevitably personal, which deviates from a certain ideal of philosophy as an impersonal quest for Truth or as continuous with the natural sciences. The idea of philosophy as therapy also makes philosophy personal, since the problems to be dealt with are personal ones, and the therapy that works for one person will not necessarily work for another, even if their problems show up in the same way (e.g. they both claim to doubt the existence of other minds, or to believe in the real existence of other possible worlds). If Wittgenstein has demonstrated a method for carrying out this therapy, then what remains is to apply it. But it's not as if the world is full of people asking for philosophers to cure them, and most of us do not feel that we should be setting up shop to provide a sort of rival to psychoanalysis. Instead we keep writing. But, if this is not just a mistake, what form should this writing take? If therapy cannot be generic but writing for a general audience (and what else will be published?) has to be, then how can we do philosophy in writing?

Mulhall provides a model or three. We could try to do something like what he does (which is something like what Stanley Cavell does). Or we could try to do something like what the authors he writes about do. Or, since this is a diverse group, we could go off in a direction of our own, as he and they have done. That would not exactly be copying a model in any straightforward sense though. So how does what Mulhall does compare with what, for instance, Wittgenstein does? Does Wittgenstein read (offer readings of) texts? And if he does, how does he do it?

Philosophical Investigations begins with a text from Augustine's Confessions, and Wittgenstein's response to it is interesting.

That's what my next post will be about.

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