Thursday, October 11, 2012

The gospel of exactness

Wittgenstein Day-by-Day tells us:
Friday October 11th, 1912: The Cambridge University Michaelmas term begins. 
Russell’s paper ‘The Essence of Religion’ had recently appeared in the October issue of *The Hibbert Journal* ( LW has read it and detests it, and this leads to the first of a number of painful talks with Russell, LW’s mood now being more fierce and critical than formerly (McGuinness, p.108). Russell writes to Ottoline that LW feels that Russell had, in this article, betrayed ‘the gospel of exactness’. Russell’s impression is that LW thinks he had ‘wantonly used words vaguely’ and that ‘such things are too intimate for print’. Russell also records that he minds LW’s negative reaction ‘very much’, since he half agreed with him (McGuinness, p.109).
This seems relevant to my feeling that Wittgenstein would have been against much, or even all, work in moral philosophy. Even if it's possible to avoid the vagueness he apparently detested, there is still the problem of things too intimate for print. Of course this is very early in Wittgenstein's career, but I don't know how much his view of such things changed.

And if his main objection to Wittgensteinian moral (or related) philosophy would have been that it dealt with material too intimate for print, then this does not seem to detract from its being Wittgensteinian.    


  1. And if his main objection to Wittgensteinian moral (or related) philosophy would have been that it dealt with material too intimate for print, then this does not seem to detract from its being Wittgensteinian.

    That seems ok to me. (Compare: Jesus was not a Christian; Darwin was not Darwinian (whatever that means).)

    Although I can start to make sense of it, W's ideas about what is "too intimate" seem idiosyncratic. It makes me think of the stories of his seeking forgiveness from various people whom he felt he'd done great wrong but who were surprised by his concern. Given this hyper-conscience/self-consciousness/moral seriousness, I suppose his sense of things in the range of ethics (or religion) being too intimate for print goes along with that. Perhaps it amounts to something like this: that when ethics is taken as painfully seriously in its personal dimension as it seems W took it, then it becomes too intimate for print. (Or: there's no way to talk about ethics without inserting oneself fully into the middle of things--and then perhaps the writing becomes "memoir" rather than philosophy?) This is sketchy, but I've been thinking about your post so...

    [I hope we get to see a draft of what you're working on soon!]

  2. Yes (to your first paragraph), it's a bit like his saying that there could be Wittgensteinian moral philosophy but this should never be published. (Not that he did say that.) That might be what he thought, but I see no good reason to follow him on the publication issue. It's idiosyncratic and hyper-serious, as you say. (Or so it seems to me.)

    On memoir versus philosophy, I don't know. Didn't he say that his work was a record of his own thoughts, or something like that? I think the self is inserted fully into the middle of things in Wittgensteinian philosophy. Or at least the philosopher is. But there also has (it seems) to be something shared in the work, otherwise it really is just memoir.

    No draft of my paper is really imminent, I'm afraid. I'm still working slowly through comments on my "Wittgenstein's Ethics" paper, and about my only conclusion so far is that I should cut out a couple of short paragraphs near the beginning. I do hope to write something about Wittgenstein's remarks on ethics and the teaching of ethics in the Bouwsma book, but that could be a year away. I was starting to think I should write a paper on whether moral philosophy could ever be truly Wittgensteinian, but I think Lars has cleared that up pretty well. Not that there's nothing more to say about Wittgenstein and ethics, but he (Lars) managed to say very clearly what I had been working to get in focus.