Monday, November 22, 2010

Never understand

I decided to read and blog about this piece on autism and philosophy before I saw that Matthew Pianalto had already done so and that it was largely about Wittgenstein. It's hard to see past the wrongness about Wittgenstein. He was not "awkward and unskilled in social intercourse." On the contrary, he could be very charming. What he was is rude, which is not the same thing. My sense is that he was perfectly capable of getting along at a superficial level with people he probably thought of as superficial, but that he had a very low tolerance of what he regarded as bullshit when talking with people from whom he expected more, such as philosophers. I'm pretty sure that it's false (or at least misleading) to say that:
Wittgenstein, we know, came up with his preliminary model of language while studying court reports of a car accident in Paris during the war.
Wittgenstein heard about these court reports, but it's not as if he studied them. Anyway, almost everything about Wittgenstein seems at least slightly wrong in this kind of way, and sometimes Martin (the author of the article) seems to admit that he doesn't much care whether he gets Wittgenstein right or wrong: "I am probably misreading the text here — if I have understood it correctly, I must be misreading it. But ..." Sigh/grr.

We can probably never understand another human being so well that they are incapable of surprising us. But we can understand well enough to get along with people, which is the main thing. I don't think too many philosophers would deny these banalities. Least of all Wittgenstein.

(I can't get my youtube link to work properly, so click here for video entertainment.)


  1. i think contemporary message-board vernacular is appropriate for the 'interpretative' performance on display:


    = shaking my head

  2. Maybe Martin's difficulty in understanding others comes from a lack of careful reading and a lack of interest in getting it right...

  3. it might help alleviate my difficulty if i were getting paid to write whatever i wanted in the new york times, too

  4. As he says, "understanding itself can be overvalued."