- Horwich refers to Wittgenstein's "extreme pessimism about the potential of philosophy." There is something to this, of course, but clearing away houses of cards is a bit like ridding oneself of fat or removing blur in one's visual field. It is misleading to characterize it as purely negative. Horwich doesn't make this mistake, but I'm not sure he avoids it by as wide a margin as he might.
- He goes on to say: "But what is that notorious doctrine, and can it be defended? We might boil it down to four related claims." There is something deeply unWittgensteinian about boiling things down. He is quoted in the lectures on aesthetics as saying: "If we boil Redpath at 200 degrees C all that is left when the water vapor is gone is some ash, etc. This is all Redpath really is." Saying this might have a certain charm, but would be misleading to say the least. Summaries of Wittgenstein are likely to be equally misleading. It's hard to avoid them when addressing a general audience about Wittgenstein, of course, but the boiling down metaphor might be better eschewed.
- At the end Horwich says that: "These radical ideas are not obviously correct, and may on close scrutiny turn out to be wrong. But they deserve to receive that scrutiny — to be taken much more seriously than they are." I sort of agree, but I'm not sure about the idea that Wittgenstein's ideas might turn out to be wrong on close scrutiny. It isn't clear, after all, what his ideas are. At least sometimes it seems as though what Wittgenstein offers is a method rather than a set of ideas. Of course this method, or set of methods, is not arbitrary and is based on certain ideas, but Wittgenstein doesn't really offer a theoretical defense of his methods. The proof can only be in the pudding. Or so I'm inclined to think. In which case we have to try the method(s) and see how it goes, rather than scrutinize the method(s) or the ideas on which it is (they are) based. And also look out for the puddings of other philosophers. Are the ideas rejected by Wittgenstein proving fruitful after all? Or are the same debates still going on, albeit perhaps in new forms?
Monday, March 4, 2013
Was Wittgenstein right?
Paul Horwich has an interesting essay at The Stone. It simplifies things, of course, but three weak points are perhaps worth noticing: