Friday, April 21, 2017

Friedlander II

Having said I was considering a series of posts on Eli Freidlander's "Missing a Step Up the Ladder," I find that I have little I want to say beyond recommending the paper. I might do one more post on it, but this looks like being a short series. Here is one more passage that I don't understand though:
The ethical will is the actualization of the capacity for being in agreement with the world. This is not an agreement with what you represent to yourself to be essential to life. For such an agreement is understood through the primacy of ends, and the highest reality cannot be represented as an end I strive for—it is manifest as a limit I recognize. One could then say that “seeing the world aright” or simple and sober clarity of vision is the ethical imperative. Acting right is being in agreement with what has the highest reality, acting wrongly is letting yourself remain unclear, one might say unrealistic. What Wittgenstein calls in the Notebooks the voice of “conscience” arises out of a sense of non-being in my existence in meaning. This is also why ethics is so closely related to the question of nonsense in language.
The part I find especially difficult is the part I have put in bold. It might be impossible to understand this without reading the whole paper, which I should probably do again, but if anyone has any other suggestions I'd be grateful.


  1. "Acting right is being in agreement with what has the highest reality, acting wrongly is letting yourself remain unclear, one might say unrealistic."

    What I want to know is, what has the highest reality?

    As for the Q, I might take "my existence in meaning" as a reference to "my" (not my preferred way of expressing things) understanding of "the highest reality", which in turn I would interpret as referring to the ultimate (foundational) ethical principles, whatever they turn out to be once we have discovered them. These principles have some reality or existence in the Platonic sense, or have the most reality. When "we" are about to act under an inadequate grasp of these ultimate principles ("highest reality"), we have a sense of the "non-being" or "unreality" of our current grasp, and the sense that further inquiry is necessary. (I think 'clarification' is an important idea, and I think it would be good to understand what it involves and what are the ways of doing it.) (I'm just going on what you've presented us; I haven't read the Friedlander article.) (BTW, I'm also interested in the question of "nonsense in language", although what I understand by this formulation is a little different from Wittgenstein. E.g., when Dylan Roof said to his victims, "I have no choice", that is absolute nonsense.

    James Dennis

  2. did you catch:


  4. Thanks, and sorry for the delayed response.

    I watched Knight of Cups over the weekend (not highly recommended) and it includes this line, which I think is close to what Friedlander has in mind: "I suppose that's what damnation is. The pieces of your life never to come together, just splashed out there." Contrast this incoherence with the experience of a painting. Friedlander writes:

    Even if there are many paintings I appreciate, I do not appreciate a painting as one among many. My aesthetic judgment does not involve choice or comparison to other objects under a common concept. Rather, a work demands my undivided attentiveness. Arguably also, the field of aesthetic experience is not partitioned by a contrast between the valuable and the valueless. Weak aspects of a painting will make it weak and would not coexist in our experience with what is valuable. And a judgment which appreciates a work does not do so by setting the positive in it against the negative in that very work. We do not judge a work by eventually recognizing that, all in all, it has more of the good in it than of the bad. Finally the activity of judging is not preparatory to enjoyment of the work. In it we come to agree with the work. Such atunement is its own reward and one’s obtuseness to the work is in itself punishment.

    Salvation might then be thought of as something like experiencing life or the world as a work of art.

    As for Roof's comment, yes, that seems like nonsense. I can see calling it a lie too, but it comes across as a vague appeal to some metaphysics that has not been thought through.