Thursday, October 27, 2016

Saying the same thing

Tommi Uschanov points out that in his 1930 "Sketch for a Foreword" Wittgenstein says that he is "not interested in constructing a building, so much as in having a perspicuous view of the foundations of possible buildings" but then goes on, after this sketch, to say that:
Each of the sentences I write is trying to say the whole thing, i.e. the same thing over and over again; it is as though they were all simply views of one object seen from different angles.
There seems to be a tension here, as Tommi notes. Does Wittgenstein want to see the multiplicity suggested by his reference to "foundations of possible buildings" or the unity of "one object"? He goes on to say the following:
the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now. Anything that I might reach by climbing a ladder does not interest me.
     One movement links thoughts with one another in a series, the other keeps aiming at the same spot.
     One is constructive and picks up one stone after another, the other keeps taking hold of the same thing. 
You could free associate until you were blue in the face here. Talk of the same thing over and over reminds me of what Wittgenstein said he wanted to be given to eat when he visited Norman Malcolm (but presumably that's at least mostly irrelevant). Talk of one object seen from different angles reminds me of Wittgenstein's remarks on aspect-perception and on thinking about a stove. Getting to a place you are already at sounds like T. S. Eliot (in 1943, so not what Wittgenstein had in mind). The ladder surely is the ladder mentioned at the end of the Tractatus. The series of linked thoughts also sounds like the Tractatus, while the picking up of stones sounds a bit like Wittgenstein's builders.

The stove passage is from October 8th, 1916:
       As a thing among things, each thing is equally insignificant; as a world each one equally significant. 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. (Something good about the whole, but bad in details.) For it is equally possible to take the bare present image as the worthless momentary picture in the whole temporal world, and as the true world among shadows. 
As David Stern says, this is a Schopenhauerian idea.

If Wittgenstein were to say one thing, what might we expect it to be? Here are some candidates:
  • Wow! (Since wonder at the existence of the world is the experience par excellence)
  • It ain't necessarily so (or some kind of liberating word to free us from the grip of some picture) 
  • Try looking at it this way (instead)
The last two of these could go together, and then the result might be the first. Perhaps. It would not obviously be a case of wonder at the existence of the world, but it could involve a sense of liberation and revelation. And when something is revealed to you in a new light you might see it as if for the first time, and so with fresh wonder.

At the BWS meeting in September Chon Tejedor quoted Wittgenstein's saying to Paul Engelmann in 1918 that: "When a man wants, as it were, to invent a machine for becoming decent, such a man has no faith." This machine could be the ladder (the Tractatus) and the remarks from 1930 would be a rejection of any decency (or anything else) that might be gained by climbing this ladder (or using this machine). The problems with the ladder/machine seem to be these:
  1. it takes you to a different place rather than where you already are
  2. it involves a serial movement instead of focusing on one thing
  3. (perhaps) it does (too much of) the work for you
If that is a bad way to attempt to achieve decency then perhaps a good way would:
  1. start and finish where you, in some sense, are already
  2. focus on one thing
  3. make you do the work
Wittgenstein's work early and late makes the reader do a lot of work and thereby in some sense starts and ends with the reader. He doesn't tell you what to think in the manner of a sermonizer or textbook-writer. The Tractatus attempts some leading, though, in a way that perhaps the Investigations does not. The Investigations moves criss-cross over and through the landscape, in a somewhat arbitrary (is that the word?) way. It does not appear to focus on one thing, but it is not a series of remarks that construct anything. It might aim at the same spot from different angles, although what that spot is is not so easy to say. And it might require even more work of the reader than the Tractatus does. Certainly there is no revelation in it of the kind found in Tractatus 6.54 ("Here's how my sentences elucidate: ..."). You might be able to stop reading the Tractatus whenever you get what it is trying to help you see, but you also reach an end point that feels like a conclusion. The Investigations, on the other hand, has no conclusion. Its not being finished doesn't feel entirely coincidental. How would you end a book like that?

But what about the Sketch for a Foreword? Does Wittgenstein say there that he wants one thing or many? It sounds like one thing: to have transparently before him the foundations of possible buildings. Of course, though, there is multiplicity inherent in the idea of possibility, as well as in the plural foundations of buildings that he says he wants to see. Each sentence he writes can perhaps be thought of as an invitation to free oneself. In that sense they are all the same. But freedom implies options (plural), so there is multiplicity too. And what one is freed from might not always be the same thing, even if it is always a prison.

(As you may have noticed, what I've written here is basically just notes. That's blogging for you. It might be interesting to work this out more though, to see where I've gone wrong and where I've got it right, and how it all ties together.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

The value of clarity

I have a paper on Wittgenstein and the value of clarity up at here. I'm not sure how much it has to do with Wittgenstein really, but I'm also not sure how much that matters.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The just man justices

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

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As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells 
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's 
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. 

I say móre: the just man justices; 
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces; 
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is — 
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places, 
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his 
To the Father through the features of men's faces. 

(Taken from here, discovered thanks to @gravbeast on Twitter. I can't think of any comment worth adding.)

Tell me lies about Vietnam

This post is about Anthony Bourdain and I'm not really accusing him of lying, just quoting this poem. I'm interested in Bourdain mostly because I really like his TV shows, but also because he sometimes seems to be trying a little too hard to be cool or manly or eloquent or authentic. I'm basically a fan, but a slightly skeptical one. So I was very curious to see what he would say about Hanoi, which I visited around the same time he must have been there. Basically I liked the show, but here are a few things I noticed that might give you pause:

1. Bourdain says that the first thing that hits you in Vietnam is the smell, which he describes as a mix of things like spices, grilled meat, and incense. My first experience of this smell was in Cambodia, or actually in the plane on the way to Cambodia. Not that Cambodian people smell, but if you cram enough people into a small space in a hot climate you will smell something. And Cambodian BO is not the same as American or European BO. (It isn't worse or better, it's just different.) When you land you notice a similar smell just about everywhere, coming, I suppose, from people but also from garbage and sewage, as well as cooking, incense, etc. Vietnam has the same smell, though less noticeably. Bourdain mentioned the smell idea to President Obama, who features in the show. Obama diplomatically agrees that certain smells come from spices that you only really find in one particular place. But he can't resist adding that there are other, less pleasant, smells around too. Bourdain, it seems to me, is sanitizing or romanticizing the experience (the smell) he claims to be describing.

2. He also says that the only way to see Hanoi is from a motorbike. If you don't experience it this way you "miss everything". I haven't ridden on a motorcycle in Hanoi, but I don't buy it. I have ridden on (the back of) a motorcycle elsewhere in Vietnam and, as fun as it was, it didn't transform my experience or open my eyes to anything I had overlooked before. Maybe I'm just blinder than Bourdain. But I think this is pure fiction on his part.

3. A big chunk of Bourdain's show about Hanoi is actually set in Halong Bay, which is several hours' (nearly 200 km) drive away.

4. In Halong Bay, Bourdain interviews a villager who says they would like to leave their village on the water (as the government wants them to do), but that they are slow to move because they are wary of the unknown. Bourdain does not mention that it is illegal to protest against the government and that this might influence what someone will say on camera. My guess is that they really don't want to go.

So there you have it. It's not as if Bourdain is a big fat liar or spouts nothing but bull. But he is on TV, and his seemingly authentic view should be taken with the occasional pinch of salt.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Leaving PhilPercs

I have retired from Philosophical Percolations. This happens just as the blog is getting in the news, but it isn't at all because of that. For the curious, here's what happened.

I was very pleased to be invited to join philpercs when it started. It was an honor, and I thought it would mean more exposure, which is meant to be a good thing. On the other hand, I was never keen to leave this blog behind and uncertain how I felt about blogging for a (presumably) larger audience of strangers rather than the small audience of people I think of as friends here. The result was that I kept this blog limping along but also didn't post much over at philpercs either. And nothing I posted there really set the world on fire.

So I'm back here, for better or worse.