Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sluga on Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer

Here, pointed out by Daniel Lindquist, is a PowerPoint slideshow by Hans Sluga on Wittgenstein and "the world" in the Tractatus.

Some thoughts:

On slide 9, Sluga quotes Wittgenstein saying that he "could now just as well start [the] Tractatus with a sentence in which 'lamp' occurs, instead of 'world'." This reminds me of the following remark in Wittgenstein's Notebooks:
If I have been contemplating the stove, and then am told: but now all you know is the stove, my result does indeed seem trivial. For this represents the matter as if I had studied the stove as one among the many things in the world. But if I was contemplating the stove it was my world, and everything else colourless by contrast with it.
It also makes me think of remarks about this kind of idea in Eli Freidlander's paper "Missing a Step Up the Ladder," including passages like this:
I take Wittgenstein’s claim in 6.421 that “Ethics and Aesthetics are one and the same” to suggest that works of art readily provide us a model of this dimension of experience [i.e., the "experience of the particular thing as significant in itself"]. Let me briefly suggest features of the aesthetic that echo our attempt to clarify the dimension of agreement as such. We tend to speak of beauty as a field of significant experience, or experience that in itself presents a face of value. It gives us a way to conceive of the experience of significance as pertaining to a particular (or as concentrated in a particular place), while at the same time all-encompassing. 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. 
In the Notebooks Wittgenstein pursues the connection between ethics and aesthetics in the following terms: “The work of art is the object seen sub specie aeternitatis; and the good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis. This is the connection between art and ethics” (N, 83). The expression “seeing something sub specie aeternitatis,” is notoriously mysterious, and tempts us to various pictures of a God’s eye view of things. But, Wittgenstein really rehearses the distinction between seeing something in the midst of others, and seeing it as a unique, i.e. as a world: “The usual way of looking at things sees objects as it were from the midst of them, the view sub specie aeternitatis from outside. In such a way that they have the whole world as background” (N, 83). When we consider objects from the midst of them, we conceive of them as comparable to one another, thus as things among others. But seeing something with “the whole world as background” is agreeing with it as such, whatever or however it is.  
That is (among much else that is said here), an object (e.g., a lamp) can be seen as a world. Compare Schopenhauer, according to whom in aesthetic experience:

we no longer consider the where, the when, the why, and the whither in things, but simply and solely the what. Further, we do not let abstract thought, the concepts of reason, take possession of our consciousness, but instead of all this, devote the whole power of our mind to perception, sink ourselves completely therein, and let our whole consciousness be filled by the calm contemplation of the natural object actually present, whether it be a landscape, a tree, a rock, a crag, a building, or anything else. We lose ourselves entirely in this object, to use a pregnant expression; in other words, we forget our individuality, our will, and continue to exist only as pure subject, as clear mirror of the object, so that it is as though the object alone existed without anyone to perceive it, and thus we are no longer able to separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one. … What is thus known is no longer the individual thing as such, but the Idea … at the same time, the person who is involved in the perception is no longer an individual, for in such perception the individual has lost himself; he is pure will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge … It was this that was in Spinoza’s mind when he wrote ‘mens aeterna est, quatenus res sub aeternitatis specie concipit’ (Ethics, V, prop. 31, schol.) (WWR vol. I, pp 178-79)

On slide 24 Sluga lists "A sense of feeling guilty whatever one has done" as one of the three main experiences that Wittgenstein writes about in the Lecture on Ethics. I think he only mentions feeling guilty, though, rather than feeling guilty no matter what one has done. This might not matter, but Sluga goes on (in slide 25) to link Wittgenstein's three experiences with key Christian beliefs, in this case belief in original sin. And he contrasts Wittgenstein's alleged Christianity with Schopenhauer's Buddhism. But I think Wittgenstein is less Christian than this suggests, and Schopenhauer is more Christian. Sluga summarizes Schopenhauer's belief with the slogan "I am Thou", but this doesn't seem so different from Wittgenstein's ethics. To live with the world seen sub specie aeternitatis seems to require agreement between self and other. (This might not be un-Christian, but it doesn't seem particularly Christian rather than Jewish, say, or more Christian than Schopenhauer is.)

On slide 41, Sluga writes that, "Wittgenstein, together with Schopenhauer, shows us that ethics in [the] broadest sense calls for philosophical reflection on the world or rather on how we see the world, what picture we have of it and our place in it. He contrasts this view of ethics with ethics concerned with the self, with interpersonal relations, and with social and political ethics.

Here's an example of what I think is the Wittgenstein/Schopenhauer kind of ethics. In M. O'C. Drury's recollections of conversations with Wittgenstein (p. 143 of Rush Rhees, ed. Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections), Drury reports:
This morning the local fishermen had landed on the pier a large catch of mackerel. The usual brilliant colouring of fish just out of the sea, some of them still half alive.
WITTGENSTEIN: (in a low voice) "Why don't they leave them in the sea! I know fish are caught in the most horrible way, and yet I continue to eat fish."
Wittgenstein himself did not live up to his ideal, but this seems like a fairly clear case of what that ideal implies. That is, Wittgenstein appears to be confessing to a failing or imperfection in his own behavior, at least as he sees things. The fish should be left in the sea. Not because they have rights or because they suffer when caught or because the sight of their being caught is ugly. Perhaps there is no because. To the extent that there is, it is because their being caught (at least in the way that they are caught, dragged out of the sea en masse in a net) is manifestly horrible (and unnecessary). I realize I am not really showing how I think one gets from what Sluga and Friedlander say to not eating fish, but I do think this is where one would end up if one followed Wittgenstein's thinking on ethics all the way.

7 comments:

  1. couldn't Witt be read there as saying that actual ethics are the kind of thing where we do what is obviously (when face to face with it, if you will) wrong, even knowing that it is wrong in general?

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    1. Yes, I think he is saying something like that. But if it's wrong it's wrong, and we shouldn't do it. At least, that's how I take it.

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    2. we shouldn't and yet...

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  2. I would take that quote as being about the failure to live up to devoutness. Wittgenstein talked a great deal with Drury about religion. Francis is proximate in the passage quoted (a page earlier). Francis would take slugs in heads of lettuce back to the garden. Wittgenstein was astonished with this devoutness. The Tractatus itself had ended basically saying that spirituality is the most important thing, the truth of which was beyond our proof, and that only showed itself through affliction. He once told Drury that ethics was the supernatural. He was smitten with the Christian ideal. It should lead to passivity, humility and tight-rope walking. And he was guilted that he could never be such a person, which is why he was overcome with Francis’ goodness and why he said it never even mattered if Jesus was a real person. What mattered was the peace of transformation and the courage to be devout.

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    1. Thanks. I should re-read what he says about Francis. A saint seems like a good role model to have, although a hard one to emulate.

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    2. http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/rethinking-minds-the-wittgenstein-levinas-husserl-heidegger-merleau-ponty-gang/

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    3. That reminds me of the story of Wittgenstein's confession to Fania Pascal. She was rather irritated by the whole affair and at one point said, "For goodness' sake, Wittgenstein! Do you want to be perfect?"

      And Wittgenstein bellowed back: "OF COURSE!"

      You have to admire that depth of commitment. But there's also something a bit nuts about it too.

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