George Pitcher (essay date 1965)

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SOURCE: "Wittgenstein, Nonsense, and Lewis Carroll," in Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy, edited by K. T. Fann, 1967. Reprint by Humanities Press, 1978, pp. 315-35.

[ Pitcher is an American author and educator. In the following essay, originally published in 1965, he relates Wittgenstein's writings on linguistic nonsense...

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SOURCE: "Wittgenstein, Nonsense, and Lewis Carroll," in Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy, edited by K. T. Fann, 1967. Reprint by Humanities Press, 1978, pp. 315-35.

[Pitcher is an American author and educator. In the following essay, originally published in 1965, he relates Wittgenstein's writings on linguistic nonsense to Lewis Carroll's use of nonsense language.]

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was always concerned, one way or another, about nonsense; and much more so in his later writings than in the early ones. Nonsense is construed in the Tractatus in a narrow technical way: a combination of words is nonsensical when it cannot possibly be understood, because no sense is or can (except trivially) be accorded it. As an example of a nonsensical question, Wittgenstein gives that of "whether the good is more or less identical than the beautiful." He thinks that "most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical," not even excepting, sadly, those found in the Tractatus itself. One of his main objectives is to devise and justify a method for distinguishing sense from nonsense, so that the latter may be consigned, as it should be, to silence. Nonsense is thus viewed as the major target for the philosopher's destructive weapons.

In the later Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein still finds that philosophers—including the author of the Tractatus—are professionally given to uttering nonsense. Not obvious nonsense, but hidden nonsense: and he conceives the job of good philosophy to be that of revealing it for what it is. "My aim," he wrote, "is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense." Disguised nonsense has a surface air of plausibility and naturalness about it, so that it can take in even a sensible man. It has the semblance of sense. But when one examines it carefully and follows out its consequences, its inherent absurdity becomes manifest. Wittgenstein is still as concerned as ever to exorcise nonsense from philosophy; he wants to cure us of the puzzlement, the deep disquietude, it engenders in our soul. But now he also uses it like a vaccine that cures us of itself He may, for instance, describe some state of affairs that, according to a certain harmless-looking view or picture which he is criticizing, ought to be perfectly unexceptionable: but in fact the alleged state of affairs is radically odd, inherently absurd. The hidden nonsense is thus uncovered.

It is through the bond of nonsense that Wittgenstein is closely linked with Lewis Carroll. What I shall seek in general to demonstrate is the remarkable extent and depth of the affinity between these two great writers with respect to nonsense. Since I do not want to embroil myself in controversies about matters that would be excessively difficult to establish with anything approaching certainty, I shall not draw the further conclusion that Carroll exerted a profound influence on the later Wittgenstein. That he did, is one of my firm convictions; but I shall content myself with pointing out what I believe to be the extraordinary and illuminating parallels between their treatments of nonsense.

What I aim to show in particular is, first, that some of the important general kinds of nonsense that the later Wittgenstein finds in the doctrines of philosophers are found also in the writings of Lewis Carroll. By "kinds of nonsense," I mean nonsense that has its source in certain fundamental confusions and errors. I shall try to show that the very same confusions with which Wittgenstein charges philosophers were deliberately employed by Carroll for comic effect. Second, I want to show that some quite specific philosophical doctrines that the later Wittgenstein attacks are ridiculed also by Carroll. (Certain of these specific doctrines will embody, naturally, some of the general types of nonsense just mentioned.) Third, I shall cite several examples used by Wittgenstein to illustrate his points that resemble, in varying degrees, examples that are found in the works of Carroll.

Does it seem paradoxical, or even perverse, to assert that philosophy and humor—especially nonsense humor—are intimately related? If so, I hasten to add that Wittgenstein himself was keenly aware of the connection:

Let us ask ourselves: why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep? (And that is what the depth of philosophy is.)

And [biographer Norman] Malcolm reports that

… Wittgenstein once said that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes (without being facetious).

Wittgenstein undoubtedly had the works of Lewis Carroll in mind when he made those remarks.

Nor is it really very surprising to find some affinity between the nonsense of Carroll and that which bothered Wittgenstein: for both men were professional logicians and much of their nonsense, as we shall see, is grounded in just those matters connected with language that a logician must concern himself with—such matters, for example, as the meanings of terms and sentences, as the logical differences that exist amongst various sort of terms, as the fact that sentences having the same (or at least apparently the same) grammatical form sometimes express propositions of radically different logical forms, and so on.

I shall present my case by starting with items of less importance and proceeding in the rough direction of those of more importance.

  1. Wittgenstein makes the point that one must not be seduced into thinking that one understands a certain sentence simply because it is grammatically well-formed and consists entirely of familiar words: the sentence may, in fact, make no sense whatever, or be at least "fishy" in some important respect.

    "These deaf-mutes have learned only a gesture-language, but each of them talks to himself inwardly in a vocal language."—Now, don't you understand that?—… I do not know whether I am to say I understand it or don't understand it. I might answer, "It's an English sentence; apparently quite in order—that is, until one wants to do something with it; it has a connection with other sentences which makes it difficult for us to say that nobody really knows what it tells us; but everyone who has not become calloused by doing philosophy notices that there is something wrong here."

    The same point is made in The Blue and Brown Books: there, instead of saying, "It's an English sentence; apparently quite in order," he says, "It sounds English, or German, etc., all right." This point and even the forms of words in which it is expressed are reminiscent of Carroll. After the Hatter had said something (viz., "Which is just the case with mine") that he seemed to have thought answered Alice's criticism of his watch,

    Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter's remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. "I don't quite understand you," she said, as politely as she could.

    A similar scene occurs in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. The Professor said:

    "I hope you'll enjoy the dinner—such as it is; and that you won't mind the heat—such as it isn't."

    The sentence sounded well, but somehow I couldn't quite understand it.…

  2. Just as there are remarks that are nonsense, or nearly so, because one can "do nothing" with them, so there are acts which make little or no sense because nothing of the right sort follows from them; they do not have the consequences or connections that are needed to make them into the kinds of acts they purport to be. Two examples that Wittgenstein gives of such acts find parallels in Carroll:

    (a) Why can't my right hand give my left hand money?—My right hand can put it into my left hand. My right hand can write a deed of gift and my left hand a receipt.—But the further practical consequences would not be those of a gift.…

    When Alice, after having eaten a piece of magical cake, grew so tall that she could hardly see her feet, she contemplated the possibility of having to send presents to them.

    And she went on planning to herself how she would manage it. "They must go by the carrier," she thought, "and how funny it'll seem, sending presents to one's own feet! And how odd the directions will look!"

    Alice's Right Foot, Esq.
        near the Fender
          (with Alice's love).

    Oh dear, what nonsense I'm talking!"

    (b) Imagine someone saying: "But I know how tall I am!" and laying his hand on top of his head to prove it.

    Putting your hand on top of your head does not demonstrate that you know how tall you are, because it has no conceptual connections with anything beyond itself—for example, with acts of measuring with foot rules, or of standing back to back with another person of known height. The same (vacuous) act could be performed by anyone, no matter how tall he was and whether or not he knew how tall he was. Similarly, if you should ever have occasion, like Alice, to wonder whether you are rapidly growing or shrinking, it will avail you nothing to put your hand on top of your head to find out: the same results will be achieved in either case—namely, none.

    She ate a little bit, and said anxiously to herself "Which way? Which way?", holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing; and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size.

    Alice's procedure would not be fruitless, of course, if she had reason to think that only her head and/or neck were stretching or shrinking while the rest of her body was remaining the same size. But she had no such reason, nor, as far as I can tell, did she think she had. Her surprise, therefore, is entirely unwarranted.

  3. I can detect no intimate connection between Carroll and the early Wittgenstein, and so virtually all my examples are drawn from the later Wittgenstein. Still, there is one point in the Tractatus with which Carroll would presumably agree. Wittgenstein maintains that tautologies, including the Law of Excluded Middle, say nothing.

    (For example, I know nothing about the weather when I know that it is either raining or not raining.)

    Carroll relies on this truth for his laughs when he has the White Knight describe the song he intends to sing.

    "It's long," said the Knight, "but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it—either it brings tears into their eyes, or else—"

    "Or else what?" said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

    "Or else it doesn't, you know."

  4. In both the Tractatus and the Investigations, Wittgenstein heaps scorn on the (alleged) proposition that "A thing is identical with itself."

    Roughly speaking, to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense, and to say of one thing that it is identical with itself is to say nothing at all.

    "A thing is identical with itself."—There is no finer example of a useless proposition, which yet is connected with a certain play of the imagination. It is as if in imagination we put a thing into its own shape and saw that it fitted.

    Carroll, too, saw that there is something very peculiar about such propositions:

    "I'm sorry you don't like lessons," I said. "You should copy Sylvie. She's always as busy as the day is long!"

    "Well, so am I!" said Bruno.

    "No, no!" Sylvie corrected him. " You 're as busy as the day is short!"

    "Well, what's the difference?" Bruno asked.

    "Mister Sir, isn't the day as short as it's long? I mean, isn't it the same length?"

  5. One of the points that Wittgenstein makes over and over again in his later writings is that certain words which seem to denote something momentary and fleeting—usually, a feeling or thought or sensation-—actually signify something quite different—perhaps a disposition or ability, or at least a longer-range pattern of events. At one point, he uses the example of "grief": one is tempted to think that this word simply denotes an inner feeling which, although it usually endures for some time, may happen on occasion to last for only a few seconds or even for only one. To cast doubt on this whole idea, Wittgenstein asks:

    Why does it sound queer to say: "For a second he felt deep grief?" Only because it so seldom happens?

    But don't you feel grief now? ("But aren't you playing chess now?") The answer may be affirmative, but that does not make the concept of grief any more like the concept of a sensation.

    Carroll, too, appreciates the absurdity of supposing that someone could feel deep grief for only a second. In Knot VIII of A Tangled Tale, we read:

    "But oh, agony! Here is the outer gate, and we must part!" He sobbed as he shook hands with them, and the next moment was briskly walking away.

    "He might have waited to see us off!" said the old man piteously.

    "And he needn't have begun whistling the very moment he left us!" said the young one severely.

  6. Two points that are constantly stressed in the later writings of Wittgenstein are the following: (a) that "an ostensive definition can be variously interpreted in every case," and (b) that from the fact that a person knows what a word W denotes in one linguistic construction, it does not follow that he knows what W denotes in a different construction. (This latter point is, of course, intimately related to point 1, above.) To illustrate point (b), Wittgenstein uses the example of "measuring": one may know very well what it is to measure distance or length, but from this it does not follow that he knows what it is to measure time. In Carroll, there are passages in which these two points seem to play an essential part. During the trial of the Knave of Hearts,

    one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court. (As that is rather a hard word, I will just explain to you how it was done. They had a large canvas bag, which tied up at the mouth with strings: into this they slipped the guinea-pig, head first, and then sat upon it.)

    "I'm glad I've seen that done," thought Alice. "I've so often read in the newspapers, at the end of trials, 'There was some attempt at applause, which was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court,' and I never understood what it meant till now."

    This was not, to be sure, a paradigm case of an ostensive definition, since no one pointed to the proceedings and said to Alice "That is what is known as 'suppressing a guinea-pig' "; but it was just like one, since Alice guessed, from her previous reading of the newspapers, that it was in fact a case of suppressing a guinea-pig. Although not explicitly stated, it seems clear enough that Alice thought the phrase "suppressing a guinea-pig" refers to the beast's being put head first into a large canvas bag and being then sat upon, rather than to its being restrained and its cheering quelled, by whatever means. She thus misinterpreted the "ostensive definition" (point (a)). It is not so clear what is to be made of the second paragraph. Did Alice think she understood what the phrase "suppressing the the people" (i.e. those who attempt to applaud at the end of trials) means? If so, she was wrong—for such people are not generally put head first into large canvas bags and sat upon—and then the point of passage would be to show just how drastic her misinterpretation of the ostensive definition was. Or, to read the passage more literally, did Alice rather think she understood what "suppressing an attempt" (e.g., at applause) means? If so, she was wrong again: for even if she knew what suppressing a guinea-pig was, it would not follow that she knew what suppressing an attempt at applause was (point (b)). Indeed, on her understanding of the phrase "suppressing a guinea-pig," the phrase "suppressing an attempt at applause" is nonsensical, for attempts cannot be put into bags and be sat upon.

    The following passage from Sylvie and Bruno Concluded is, however, more clearly relevant to point (b):

    "You seem to enjoy that cake?" the Professor remarked.

    "Doos that mean 'munch'?" Bruno whispered to Sylvie.

    Sylvie nodded. "It means 'to munch' and 'to like to munch.'"

    Bruno smiled at the Professor. "I doos enjoy it," he said.

    The Other Professor caught the word. "And I hope you're enjoying yourself little Man?" he enquired.

    Bruno's look of horror quite startled him. "No, indeed I aren't!" he said.

    Sylvie's analysis of "enjoy cake" seems to me to be masterful; at any rate, Bruno may be assumed to know what it is to enjoy cake. But he mistakenly thought this knowledge entailed a knowledge of what it is to enjoy himself Hence the Other Professor's kindly enquiry, which Bruno wrongly construed as containing the imputation of autocannibalism, badly shocked him.

  7. Wittgenstein shows that one cannot always with sense "make the easy transition from some to all": for example, although it certainly makes sense to say that people sometimes make false moves in some games, it does not make sense to suggest that everyone might make nothing but false moves in every game. Carroll also realizes the absurdity of such transitions from some to all. After Alice has recited the poem called "You are old, Father William" to the Caterpiller, the latter is highly critical:

    "That is not said right," said the Caterpillar.

    "Not quite right, I'm afraid," said Alice, timidly: "some of the words have got altered."

    "It is wrong from beginning to end," said the Caterpillar; and there was silence for some minutes.

    During the silence, Alice was doubtless wondering just what was fishy about the Caterpillar's accusation. (Alice's "ear" for nonsense is infallible; but she is never able to locate the source of the trouble.) The answer is that the charge was much too harsh to be intelligible: for although it is quite possible to recite a poem and get some of the words wrong, it is not possible to recite a given poem and get all of the words wrong—for then one is not reciting that poem at all. Similarly, when the Dodo announced that everyone had won the Caucus-race, he was speaking nonsense. One of the contestants can win a race, or some of them can, but not all. All can be given prizes, or even win prizes, for running so well or just for taking part in the race at all or for some other reason; but they cannot all receive prizes for winning the race—for to win a race is to come out ahead of the other. There is one at least apparent exception to this rule—namely, a race in which all the contestants arrive at the finish line in a dead heat; but even then, it is not obvious that they all win the race—and anyway, the Dodo's Caucus-race was not like that. (Carroll, of course, delighted in ridiculous extremes of all sorts. In chapter 11 of Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, for example, Mein Herr argued that since a map is better the larger its scale, the best map must be one drawn on the scale of a mile to the mile. His countrymen actually produced such a map, but they were unable to unfold it for fear of shutting out the sunlight; so they had to be content to use the country itself as its own map.)

  8. Some of the later Wittgenstein's investigations were concerned with the relationship between, as we may put it, what a thing (quality, process, etc.) is and what it is called. One absurd extreme view is that a thing really is what a certain group of people (e.g., English speakers) call it, so that speakers of other languages are flatly wrong to call it by some other name ("How peculiar you Germans are to call it a 'Tisch' when it is so obviously a table"). But another extreme view is equally absurd—the view, namely, that in all cases what a thing really is is altogether different from, is wholly independent of, what it is called. Wittgenstein, as might be expected, maintains that the way the relation is to be characterized varies from case to case:

    First I am aware of it as this, and then I remember what it is called.—Consider: in what cases is it right to say this?

    There are two passages in Carroll in which the absurdity of the second extreme view, above, is demonstrated. In the first, the Cheshire-Cat explains to Alice why he is mad. After getting Alice to agree, reluctantly, that a dog is not mad, he goes on:

    "Well, then," the Cat went on, "you see a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad."

    "I call it purring, not growling," said Alice.

    "Call it what you like," said the Cat.

    The second is the famous passage in which the White Knight tells Alice what song he is about to sing to her:

    "The name of the song is called 'Haddocks' Eyes'."

    "Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.

    "No, you don't understand," the Knight said, looking a little vexed. "That's what the name is called. The name really is 'The Aged Aged Man'."

    "Then I ought to have said, 'That's what the song is called'?" Alice corrected herself.

    "No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called 'Ways and Means': but that's only what it's called, you know!"

    "Well, what is the song, then?" said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

    "I was coming to that," the Knight said. "The song really is 'A-sitting On A Gate': and the tune's my own invention."

    If it is absurd to think that what a thing is is in every case wholly independent of what it is called, it is equally, and even more evidently absurd to suppose that the entire nature of a thing is completely dependent on what it is called. In Carroll, of course, we find just this absurdity beautifully exploited. Alice came to a forest where nothing had a name: she met a fawn which then walked trustingly by her side.

    So they walked on together through the wood, Alice with her arms clasped lovingly round the soft neck of the Fawn, till they came out into another open field, and here the Fawn gave a sudden bound into the air, and shook itself free from Alice's arm. "I'm a Fawn!" it cried out in a voice of delight. "And, dear me! you're a human child!" A sudden look of alarm came into its beautiful brown eyes, and in another moment it had darted away at full speed.

  9. As is well known, the later Wittgenstein wages war against essentialism, the doctrine that there is a unique set of characteristics—constituting an essence—that is shared by all and only those individuals to which a certain general term (e.g., "table," "tree," "serpent") applies. Carroll pokes gentle fun at essentialism when he describes the Pigeon's interview with Alice, whose neck had just stretched to an alarming length:

    "Serpent!" screamed the Pigeon.…

    "But I'm not a serpent, I tell you!" said Alice.… "I—I'm a little girl." …

    "A likely story indeed!" said the Pigeon, in a tone of the deepest contempt. "I've seen a good many little girls in my time, but never one with such a neck as that! No, no! You're a serpent; and there's no use denying it. I suppose you'll be telling me next that you never tasted an egg!"

    "I have tasted eggs, certainly," said Alice, who was a very truthful child; "but little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know."

    "I don't believe it," said the Pigeon; "but if they do, then they're a kind of serpent: that's all I can say."

    The Pigeon had very peculiar ideas about the essences of little girls and of serpents: indeed, her conceptions of these two essences represent two extremes. On the one hand, she thought that the essence of little-girlness contains a great many characteristics, including that of having a neck considerably shorter than poor Alice's stretched one. Since Alice lacked that essential characteristic, the Pigeon judged that she could not possibly be a little girl, despite the fact that she presumably had all the other required characteristics. On the other hand, the Pigeon seemed to hold that the essence "serpenthood" consists of only one characteristic—that of eating eggs: therefore, if little girls eat eggs, they must be a kind of serpent.

  10. A variety of problems connected with rules occupy the later Wittgenstein's attention as much as anything else. Carroll, too, has something to say about these matters. In the well-known article, "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles," for example, Carroll attacks the problem of what it is to accept a rule of inference. He tries to show that, if accepting a rule of inference is considered to be the same thing as accepting a premise of an argument, then absurdity, in the form of an infinite regress, results. As soon as the rule is added to the premises of an argument, it no longer applies to the argument, and new rules must forever be appealed to. The issue raised here by Carroll is a near cousin to Wittgenstein's intimately connected worries about obeying or following a rule, applying a rule to a particular case, and interpreting a rule.

    There are many other difficulties connected with rules. For example, suppose that one or more persons are engaged in something that may be called a rule-governed activity. How can an external observer determine what rules the participants are following? If it is a game, can he "read these rules off from the practice of the game—like a natural law governing the play?" But then "how does the observer distinguish in this case between players' mistakes and correct play?" Or, more troubling still: how can the outside observer—or the participants themselves, for that matter—determine the difference between the participants' acting (merely) in accordance with a rule and their knowingly) obeying or following the rule. (Kant, as everyone knows, stressed the importance of this distinction in the realm of morality.) That Carroll was also aware of these problems is clearly demonstrated in the following scene, in which the Red Knight and the White Knight fight to determine whose prisoner Alice shall be:

    "I wonder, now, what the Rules of Battle are,"[Alice] said to herself, as she watched the fight, timidly peeping out from her hiding-place. "One rule seems to be, that if one Knight hits the other, he knocks him off his horse; and, if he misses, he tumbles off himself—and another Rule seems to be that they hold their clubs with their arms, as if they were Punch and Judy.…" Another Rule of Battle, that Alice had not noticed, seemed to be that they always fell on their heads; and the battle ended with their both falling off in this way, side by side.

  11. One of the most deeply Wittgensteinian—or perhaps I should say "anti-Wittgensteinian"—characters in all of Lewis Carroll is Humpty Dumpty. Wittgenstein attacks the idea that what a person means when he says anything is essentially the result of his performance of a mental act of intending (or meaning) his words to mean just that. If this view were correct, it would seem to follow that a person could utter a word or group of words and mean anything by them, simply by performing the appropriate act of intention. Wittgenstein concedes that the possibility exists of a person's giving a special meaning of his own to a word or words which mean something quite different in the language; but to do that is not to perform a special mental act:

    But—can't I say, "By 'abracadabra' I mean toothache"? Of course I can; but this is a definition; not the description of what goes on in me when I utter the word.

    (See the principle of point 5, above, of which this is a special case.) But generally—and this is a necessary truth—what a person means by the words he utters is just what those words do mean. We do not have to wait for the speaker to tell us what, in virtue of the mental act of meaning he performed while he spoke, he meant by them: and indeed, if we did, we could never discover what he meant—for we would be in no better position to understand his explanation than we were to understand his original utterance! One could almost say that it is precisely Humpty Dumpty whom Wittgenstein is here opposing.

    "There's glory for you!"

    "I don't know what you mean by 'glory'," Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"

    "But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.

    "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

    Some of Wittgenstein's examples sound extremely Humpty-Dumpty-ish, in fact:

    Can I say "bububu" and mean "If it doesn't rain I shall go for a walk"?—It is only in a language that I can mean something by something. This shows clearly that the grammar of "to mean" is not like that of the expression "to imagine" and the like.

    Underlying the Humpty Dumpty view of the use of language is the following picture: a person's ideas (which are nonlinguistic) are formulated, more or less clearly, in his mind; in order to express them, he need only find some suitable words—and, if Humpty-Dumpty is right, any old words will do. And so, as the Duchess saw, if you are sure that the idea itself is clearly formulated, the matter of translating it into words is no great problem:

    "Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves."

    Wittgenstein describes the picture as follows:

    The phrase "to express an idea which is before our mind" suggests that what we are trying to express in words is already expressed, only in a different language; that this expression is before our mind's eye; and that what we do is to translate from the mental into the verbal language.

    Wittgenstein regards the picture with suspicion, since it is dangerously apt to mislead the philosopher; Carroll, on the other hand, simply has fun with it.

    We sometimes—and mothers of young children, quite often—speak of saying something and meaning it ("I told you to put on your overshoes and I meant it!"). This form of expression inevitably gives rise to the idea that the saying is one thing and the meaning it another—a mental act or private feeling or whatever, that accompanies the saying. Wittgenstein argues against this idea: in doing so, he is defending Alice—at least up to a point—against the March Hare and the Mad Hatter:

    "… You should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.

    "I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least—at least I mean what I say—that's the same thing, you know."

    "Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"

    "You might just as well say," added the March Hare, "that 'I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'!"

  12. Of the several techniques Wittgenstein uses to make his philosophical points, two that are especially conspicuous are that of describing worlds (or possible situations) n which "certain very general facts of nature" are different from what we are used to, and (perhaps a more special case of the first) that of describing tribes of people whose institutions and practices are quite different from our own. What he says in the following passage would apply to both of these methods:

    I am not saying: if such-and-such facts of nature were different people would have different concepts (in the sense of a hypothesis). But: if anyone believes that certain concepts are absolutely the correct ones, and that having different ones would mean not realizing something that we realize—then let him imagine certain very general facts of nature to be different from what we are used to, and the formation of concepts different from the usual ones will become intelligible to him.

    Thus, for example, Wittgenstein makes important points by considering the possibility of pain patches; of one mathematician's always being convinced that a figure in another's proof had altered unperceived—presumably where there is no way of ascertaining whether it had or not; of a chair's suddenly disappearing and reappearing; of all peoples' "shape, size and characteristics of behavior periodically undergo[ing] a complete change; and so on. And here are some examples of the second method: Wittgenstein imagines tribes of people who measure things with elastic footrules made of very soft rubber; or who have slaves that they think are automatons, although they have human bodies and even speak the same language that their masters do; or who have no common word for (what we call) light blue and dark blue; or who show no outward signs of pain; and so on.

    I do not think it overly speculative to suggest that Wittgenstein might have gotten the original idea of these devices from his reading of Carroll: for what are any of Carroll's worlds but worlds in which certain "very general facts of nature" are radically different and in which people or at least beings) act in very strange ways? One or two of Carroll's actual fancies, indeed, closely resemble some of Wittgenstein's: the ontological behavior of the Cheshire-Cat is like that of Wittgenstein's disappearing and reappearing chair; and in Sylvie and Bruno, Bruno measures garden beds with a dead mouse, which, although not elastic, shares some salient characteristics with foot rules made of very soft rubber. Countless other of Carroll's fancies are Wittgensteinian in spirit: for example, the White Queen screamed in pain before she pricked her finger; and the Other Professor described certain people who do not feel pain when burned by a red-hot poker until years later, and who never feel it if they are (merely) pinched—only their unfortunate grandchildren might feel it.

  13. I have saved until last the respect in which Wittgenstein and Carroll are most deeply "at one," in which they become true spiritual twins. If any theses can be said to lie at the heart of Wittgenstein's later philosophy, one of the plausible candidates would certainly be the doctrine that much of the nonsense and puzzlement to be found in philosophy is the direct result of one fundamental kind of mistake—namely, that of wrongly treating a word or phrase as having exactly the same kind of function as another word or phrase, solely on the basis of the fact that they exhibit superficial grammatical similarities.

    When words in our ordinary language have prima facie analogous grammars we are inclined to try to interpret them analogously; i.e., we try to make the analogy hold throughout.

    We thus "misunderstand … the grammar of our expressions," and fall victim to misleading analogies. Numerous examples of this pernicious, but completely natural, tendency are presented by Wittgenstein. Quite as many are scattered throughout the works of Carroll: indeed, I venture to suggest that the single major source of Carroll's wit lies precisely in his prodigious ability to exploit this particular human frailty. I do not propose to burden the reader with long lists of examples drawn separately from Wittgenstein and Carroll: I content myself with giving a handful (five, in fact) that I have chosen from among those found in both authors.

    1. Wittgenstein would maintain that the absurdity of Humpty Dumpty, already discussed, stemmed from his being misled by grammatical similarities.

      … What tempts us to think of the meaning of what we say as a process essentially of the kind which we have described is the analogy between the forms of expression:

      "to say something"

      "to mean something,"

      which seem to refer to two parallel processes.

      So Humpty Dumpty treated the phrase "to mean such-and-such" as if it meant something very like what the phrase "to say such-and-such" means, and hence as though it referred to a private process going on in his mind while he spoke, just as "to say such-and-such" seems to refer to the observable public process. (Humpty Dumpty was inordinately given to this vice: thus he treated the sentence "I can make words mean what I want them to mean" as though it were perfectly analogous to "I can make workers do what I want them to do.")

    2. The temptation to assimilate phrases with radically different uses to one another is especially great, of course, when one or more of the words involved are the same (or at least appear to be the same). Hence it is treacherously easy to confuse empirical and logical necessity, since words like "must" or "can't" or "won't" occur typically in expressions of both:

      … It is somewhat analogous to saying: "3 x 18 inches won't go into 3 feet." This is a grammatical rule and states a logical impossibility. The proposition "three men can't sit side by side on a bench a yard long" states a physical impossibility; and this example shows clearly why the two impossibilities are confused. (Compare the proposition "He is 6 inches taller than I" with "6 foot is 6 inches longer than 5 foot 6." These propositions are of utterly different kinds, but look exactly alike.)

      Both Alice and the White Queen are guilty of this very confusion:

      "I'm sure my memory only works one way," Alice remarked. "I can't remember things before they happen."

      "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards," the Queen remarked.

      Alice thought that the statement "I can't remember things before they happen" stated an empirical necessity; that is, she thought it was like "I can't break twigs before they are dry." She thus supposed that if she had a better memory, she might have been able to manage remembering things before they happened. But clearly it is not an empirical, but rather a logical, or conceptual, necessity that one can't remember things before they happen. Since the White Queen thought that Alice's inability to remember things before they happen was due to the poor quality of the girl's memory, she too confused empirical with logical necessity. The White Queen fell into this confusion because in her world (if it is, in fact, a conceivable world), time ran backwards, and in that kind of world it would presumably make sense to speak of remembering "things that happened the week after next." But she forgot that her own memory, too, worked in only one direction (albeit in the opposite direction from that which Alice's memory worked), and had she remembered it, she would have been blissfully unaware that this, too, was a matter of logical necessity.

    3. Wittgenstein points out that many of our forms of expression seduce us into thinking of time as "a queer thing" of one sort or another—for example, as a ghostly kind of stream or river:

      … We say that "the present event passes by" a log passes by), "the future event is to come" a log is to come). We talk about the flow of events; but also about the flow of time—the river on which the logs travel.

      Here is one of the most fertile sources of philosophic puzzlement: we talk of the future event of something coming into my room, and also of the future coming of this event.

      We would not expect Carroll to pass up the opportunities presented by this sort of confusion—and he doesn't.

      Alice sighed wearily. "I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers."

      "If you knew Time as well as I do," said the Hatter, "you wouldn't talk about wasting it. It's him."

      "I don't know what you mean," said Alice.

      "Of course you don't!" the Hatter said, tossing his head contemptuously. "I dare say you never even spoke to Time!"

      "Perhaps not," Alice cautiously replied; "but I know I have to beat time when I learn music."

      "Ah! That accounts for it," said the Hatter. "He won't stand beating.…"

      "In your country," Mein Herr began with a startling abruptness, "what becomes of all the wasted Time?"

      Lady Muriel looked grave. "Who can tell?" she half-whispered to herself. "All one knows is that it is gone—past recall!"

      "Well, in my—I mean in a country I have visited," said the old man, "they store it up: and it comes in very useful, years afterwards! … By a short and simple process—which I cannot ex-explain to you—they store up the useless hours: and, on some other occasion, when they happen to need extra time, they get them out again."

    4. Although it is not a very easy trap to fall into, someone might conceivably construe "nobody" as if it were a proper name, because of certain grammatical similarities, some of which are indicated in the following passages from Carroll:

      "Just look along the road, and tell me if you can see either of them."

      "I see nobody on the road," said Alice.

      "I only wish I had such eyes," the king remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!"

      "Who did you pass on the road?" the King went on, holding out his hand to the Messenger for some hay.

      "Nobody," said the Messenger.

      "Quite right," said the King: "this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you."

      "I do my best," the Messenger said in a sullen tone. "I'm sure nobody walks much faster than I do!"

      "He can't do that," said the King, "or else he'd have been here first."

      Wittgenstein imagines a language in which it would be much easier to succumb to this temptation:

      Imagine a language in which, instead of "I found nobody in the room," one said "I found Mr. Nobody in the room." Imagine the philosophical problems which would arise out of such a convention.

    5. Finally, Wittgenstein warns us that just as "now" is not a "specification of time," despite the apparent similarities between such utterances as "The sun sets at six o'clock" and "The sun is setting now," so
      the word "today" is not a date, but isn't anything like it either.

      The White Queen needs to learn this lesson—or else she has learned it very well and is not above applying it for her own advantage. She offers to engage Alice as her maid at wages of "Two pence a week, and jam every other day":

      "It's very good jam," said the Queen.

      "Well, I don't want any to-day, at any rate."

      "You couldn't have it if you did want it," the Queen said. "The rule is jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day."

      "It must come sometimes to 'jam to-day'," Alice objected.

      "No, it can't," said the Queen. "It's jam every other day: to-day isn't any other day, you know."

      "I don't understand you," said Alice. "It's dreadfully confusing!"

Wittgenstein and Carroll, as we have seen, were both professionally concerned with nonsense—and with very much the same sort of nonsense. It is the kind of nonsense that results from the very natural confusions and errors that children might fall into, if only they were not so sensible. It is nonsense, in any case, that can delight and fascinate children. It is significant, I think, that both Wittgenstein and Carroll understood the way children's minds work: this is obvious in the case of Carroll, and as for Wittgenstein, one must remember that he spent six years 1920-1926) teaching in village elementary schools. (Note, too, that this period came between his earlier and later phases—that is to say, just before his conception of nonsense took a Carrollian turn.)

Wittgenstein's and Carroll's nonsense both produce extreme puzzlement: Alice is constantly bewildered and confused by the nonsense she hears in the course of her adventures, just as philosophers, according to Wittgenstein, are puzzled and confused by the nonsense that they themselves unknowingly utter. In both cases, the nonsense takes on the form of something like madness. Alice's world is a mad one, and she is a victim of it: she is utterly powerless against the nonsense of the mad ones she encounters—she never wins! The philosopher's mind, on Wittgenstein's view, is just Alice's mad world internalized.

The philosopher is the man who has to cure himself of many sicknesses of the understanding before he can arrive at the notions of the sound human understanding.

If in the midst of life we are in death, so in sanity we are surrounded by madness.

Like Alice, the philosopher is a helpless victim of the madness (the nonsense)—until, also like Alice, he awakens, or is awakened, into sanity.

To be sure, Wittgenstein and Carroll had radically different attitudes towards nonsense: it tortured Wittgenstein and delighted Carroll. Carroll turned his back on reality and led us happily into his (wonderful) world of myth and fantasy. Wittgenstein, being a philosopher, exerted all his efforts to drag us back to reality from the (horrible) world of myth and fantasy. But the two men cover much the same ground: we may even look upon Wittgenstein as conceptualizing and applying to philosophy many of the points that Carroll had simply intuited. But the attitude, certainly, is fundamentally different. The same logical terrain that is a playground for Carroll, is a battlefield for Wittgenstein. That is why, although standing very close to one another, they may appear to the superficial eye to be worlds apart.

Richard Rorty (essay date 1976)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7813

SOURCE: "Keeping Philosophy Pure: An Essay on Wittgenstein," in Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays: 1972-1980), University of Minnesota Press, 1982, pp. 19-36.

[Rorty is a noted American philosopher. In the following essay, originally published in 1976, he provides an overview of Wittgenstein's influence on later philosophical movements.]

Ever since philosophy became a self-conscious and professionalized discipline, around the time of Kant, philosophers have enjoyed explaining how different their subject is from such merely "first-intentional" matters as science, art, and religion. Philosophers are forever claiming to have discovered methods which are presuppositionless, or perfectly rigorous, or transcendental, or at any rate purer than those of nonphilosophers. (Or, indeed, of any philosophers save themselves and their friends and disciples.) hilosophers who betray this gnostic ideal (Kierkegaard and Dewey, for example) are often discovered not to have been "real philosophers."

Ludwig Wittgenstein began by thinking that he had made philosophy so pure that its problems had only to be stated to be solved or dissolved, and so he thought that philosophy had been brought to an end. The propositions of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus were supposed to be as remote from the world and its works as those of logic itself—propositions which showed what could not be said. Mere fact can be said, but philosophy, Wittgenstein thought, is a matter of showing the form of all possible facts. Once showing took the place of saying, philosophical disputes, and so philosophy itself, would be over. Yet Wittgenstein came in the end to mock his own creation, and especially its pretense of purity. But while mocking the Tractatus's attempt to "show" the form of all possible facts by showing the form of all possible languages, he still wished to "show" something else which could not be said: the source of philosophy itself, the ineffable shift of focus which can make the jejune textbook "problems of philosophy" genuine and compelling. The Tractatus had said: there can be no genuine discursive discipline which deals with those matters called "the problems of philosophy" for here are the limits of language, and thus of discursive inquiry. The Philosophical Investigations said: there can be as much of a discipline as you care to develop, but do you really wish to do so? Supplanting the hermetic but still indicative sentences of the Tractatus by the rhetorical questions of the Investigations was a move away from precision, away from argument, away from the Kantian attempt to "place philosophy on the secure path of science" by adjuring the empirical. But in another way it was still Kantian. If, with Richard Kroner, one sees the whole sweep of Kant's work in the light of his project of "denying reason to make room for faith," and if one thinks of Kant the pietist rather than Kant the professor, of the "primacy of the practical" rather than of the "transcendental standpoint," then one can see both Kant and Wittgenstein as yearning for that purity of heart which replaces the need to explain, justify, and expound. This purity is possible only for the twice-born—for those who once abandoned themselves to the satisfaction of this need, but who are now redeemed.

Academic philosophy in our day stands to Wittgenstein as intellectual life in Germany in the first decades of the last century stood to Kant. Kant had changed everything, but no one was sure just what Kant had said—no one was sure what in Kant to take seriously and what to put aside. To think seriously, in Germany in those days, was either to pick and choose from Kant or to find some way of turning one's back on him altogether. Philosophers are in an analogous situation now, twenty years after the publication of the Investigations. One must either reject Wittgenstein's characterization of what philosophy has been or find something new for philosophy to be. In this situation, philosophers are torn between the traditional Kantian ideal of purity—Philosophie alsstrenge Wissenschaft—and the sort of post-professional, redemptive, private purity of heart which Wittgenstein seemed to suggest might be possible. They are torn between the need to profess a pure subject, to rejoice in the possession of a distinctive Fach, and the need to come to terms with Wittgenstein's account of the nature of their discipline. (I use Fach, instead of "subject" or "area," because the word happens to have been given an elegant and precise contextual definition by William James, in his description of Wilhelm Wundt: "He isn't a genius, he is a professor—a being whose duty is to know everything and have his own opinion about everything connected with his Fach … He says of each possible subject, 'Here I must have an opinion. Let's see! What shall it be? How many possible opinions are there? three? our? Yes! Just four! Shall I take one of these? It will seem more original to take a higher position, a sort of Vermittelungsansicht between them all. That I will do, etc., etc.")

In this situation, a split has come about between, as David Pears puts it, "systematic linguistic philosophy" on the one hand and "Wittgensteinian philosophy" on the other. The former, which includes such growing points in contemporary philosophy as the work of Donald Davidson, Richard Montague, and Gilbert Harman, contrasts in both form and provenance with the work of such "Wittgensteinian" writers as T. S. Kuhn and Stanley Cavell. For the first sort of philosopher, the structure of our language, our ability to learn it, and its ties with the world form a set of problems which are traditionally "philosophical" dating, perhaps, from Parmenides), but which nevertheless lend themselves to discursive argument and possibly to precise solution. These philosophers take part of their inspiration from the early Wittgenstein—the author of the Tractatus. They see logic as the key to philosophy as a quasi-scientific discipline, a discipline which might solve real problems about language at the same time as it avoids the pseudo-problematic created by the Cartesian distinctions between subject and object, mind and matter. Insofar as such philosophers put forward a view of Wittgenstein, they tend to view him as rightly critical of the Cartesian tradition, but as having little to say (in the Investigations, at any rate) which is relevant to philosophy of language—a subject they see as now coextensive with metaphysics, and perhaps with philosophy itself. Philosophers who think of themselves as explaining where Wittgenstein has left us, on the other hand, tend to see the destruction of the Cartesian problematic not simply as the debunking of a few pseudo-problems, but as transforming philosophy, and perhaps thought and life itself. For these writers, the destruction of the frame of reference common to Descartes and Kant is much more than the occasion for dismissing a few textbook conundrums. It is something to be thought through over generations, as deeply and fully as men thought out the destruction of the Christian frame of reference common to Augustine and Newman. The split which occurred in the Enlightenment between writers who shrugged off religion and went on to serious matters, and those to whom religion was so important that religious skepticism had to be pressed unceasingly and uncompromisingly, is presently paralleled among philosophers reacting to Wittgenstein's skepticism about the post-Renaissance philosophical tradition.

It is obvious that "systematic linguistic philosophy" runs the risk of scholasticism and insignificance, and that "Wittgensteinian" philosophy runs the risk of vapid imitation of an aphoristic writer of genius. I shall not, however, be discussing these dangers, nor any of the post-Wittgensteinian movements in philosophy. I have described the split simply in order to provide a background against which to discuss the problem which engendered it: does it make sense to speak of a new philosophical view as bringing an end to philosophy? In particular, does it make sense to say that philosophy as a subject is somehow overcome, or outmoded, or ready to wither away, as the result of some discovery which Wittgenstein made about something called "linguistic facts"? Can one wriggle out of the dilemma that Wittgenstein either proposed one more dubious philosophical theory, or else was not "doing philosophy" at all?

Pears, in his book on Wittgenstein [Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1969], struggles with these questions, and works out an account of what he calls Wittgenstein's "anthropocentrism" which is, I think, the most fully thought out and most perceptive treatment of the method and aim of the Investigations which has appeared. Still, I think that Pears takes the wrong tack, and that he does so because he interprets Wittgenstein within the framework of a set of distinctions "linguistic facts" versus other facts, convention versus nature, conditional versus unconditional necessity, philosophy versus science, sense versus nonsense, "factual knowledge" versus other realms of discourse) which themselves are left over from the Tractatus and which cannot be used without perpetuating the notion of philosophy as a distinct Fach. One cannot have a Fach, after all, if one has no distinctions to use in setting it off from those alongside, or below, it. But if one accepts these distinctions, then one will face the question Pears poses: how on earth is one to tell whether Wittgenstein was right in being anthropocentric? What touchstone of philosophical truth will decide between Wittgenstein's anthropocentrism and "realism" or "objectivism"? If one accepts the various Tractarian distinctions Pears uses, these will be questions which it is part of the philosopher's Fach to answer. If one rejects them, it is hard to see that Wittgenstein has anything that could be called a philosophical view. For what would such a view be about?

Pears is well aware of this dilemma. He summarizes Wittgenstein's "extreme anthropocentrism" by saying that

It is Wittgenstein's later doctrine that outside human thought and speech there are no independent, objective points of support, and meaning and necessity are preserved only in the linguistic processes which embody them. They are safe only because the practices gain a certain stability from the rules. But even the rules do not provide a fixed point of reference, because they always allow divergent interpretations. What really gives the practices their stability is that we agree in our interpretations of the rules. We could say that this is fortunate, except that this would be like saying that it is fortunate that life on earth tolerates the earth's natural atmosphere. What we ought to say is that there is as much stability as there is.

Two pages later, Pears introduces this caveat:

It is difficult to describe the move to anthropocentrism in an accurate and neutral way. Any description of it has to mention the point of departure, which was objectivism, and so there will be the suggestion that things are less secure than we had supposed. This suggestion must be canceled, if Wittgenstein's position is to be understood. He is not rejecting objectivism and offering a rival theory. The very use of the word "anthropocentrism" is likely to give the wrong impression, not because it is an inaccurate label, and some other word would be better, but because it instantly places Wittgenstein's view in the arena with its apparent rival, and so it is taken for granted that there will be a philosophical conflict according to the old rules. It is, therefore, essential to remember how different Wittgenstein's intention was. He believed that the correct method was to fix the limit of language by oscillation between two points. In this case the outer point was the kind of objectivism which tries to offer an independent support for our linguistic practises, and the inner point is a description of the linguistic practises themselves, a description which would be completely flat, if it were not given against the background of that kind of objectivism. His idea is that the outer point is an illusion, and that the inner point is the whole truth, which must, however, be apprehended through its contrast with the outer point. It is quite correct to apply the word "anthropocentrism" to the inner point, provided that there is no implication that it is an alternative to objectivism. Wittgenstein's idea is that objectivism, in its only tenable form, collapses into anthropocentrism. It would, therefore, be better to say that there is only one possible theory here, the theory that there is nothing but the facts about the relevant linguistic practises [italics added].

Here Pears ties himself up in paradoxes. Some of these are the same paradoxes elaborated by Wittgenstein himself who cheerfully tosses out half-a-dozen incompatible metaphilosophical views in the course of the Investigations). In Pears's treatment, however, they are less easy to laugh off, because more baldly and resolutely stated. Three such paradoxes are illustrated by the three sentences I have italicized. The notion of "fixing the limits of language," a relic of the Tractatus, is still as susceptible as ever to the standard rejoined used against logical positivism: "when you say that something is beyond the limits of language, you don't mean literally that it can't be said, you must mean that it doesn't make sense. But you must understand it well enough to see that it 'doesn't make sense,' and it must have had sense if you understood it that well." The "objectivist's" notion that our language shapes itself around universals, or meanings, or necessities "out there"—the claim that there is something, not ourselves, which makes for rigor—is as intelligible (and as dubious) as the notion that the moral law expresses the will of God. No positivistic critique of religion has ever justified calling statements which have been the subject of intelligent discussion over centuries "nonsense." Nothing in the Investigations gives this term any greater force or reach.

A second paradox is offered in the second sentence I italicized, for if there is no "alternative to objectivism" contained in the definition of "anthropocentrism," then there is no force left in the term at all. If "nature" is an illusion, so is "convention" and so is "man." Contrastive terms of this sort stand or fall together. To have a view about where necessity comes from is to have a view which allows "a philosophical conflict according to the old rules." For this is a view about necessity in the sense in which an Arian or a pantheist might have a view about God (as opposed to the way in which the man who thinks religion too childish to be discussed seriously has a view about God).

The third paradox is really the same as the second. Pears is fond of the formulation that "there is nothing but the facts about the relevant linguistic practises" and the claim that "the only possible theory is the theory that there are only the linguistic facts." But, once again, either "language" contrasts with "the world" (and "linguistic fact" with "nonlinguistic fact") or the term has no force. If there are only linguistic facts, then we are just renaming all the old facts "linguistic." Pears is clearly torn between using the sort of resolute tautology he has used earlier "There is as much stability as there is")—simply saying that "The only possible theory is that there are only the facts"—and making the thesis nontrivial by including the term "linguistic." But even apart from the paradox created by the lack of contrast between "language" and something else, there is paradox in any sentence that begins "The only possible theory i s …, "for theories are things that come two (or many) at a time. When there is just one theory about the gods or the seasons, there is no theory—there are just the well-known facts about the gods or the seasons. Theory starts, as Dewey remarked, when somebody has doubts about what everyone has always believed, and suggests that there is another way of looking at the matter. The possibility of alternative theories ends only when interest in the subject has lapsed so far that no one cares what anyone else might say about it.

One important reason why anyone who tries to describe the upshot of the Investigations will become involved in such paradoxes comes from the notion that Wittgenstein with the help of Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Rudolf Camap, et al) made philosophy linguistic—that he helped us see "the importance of language." It would be nice to think that philosophy has been making progress lately, and the handiest way of describing the difference between what up-to-date English-speaking philosophers do and what their ancestors did (and backward contemporaries still do) has been to talk about the "Linguistic Turn" and the "New Way of Words." But no one has been able to explain what it is that can be said in terms of words but cannot be as well said in terms of things, or how Carnap's "formal mode" carries more philosophical punch than his "material mode." When one believed, as Wittgenstein did in the Tractatus, that there was something called "the form of any possible language," then one might attempt to derive ontology from logic. But even then, Wittgenstein would have been hard put to it to say what the difference was between his familiar slogan "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" and its converse "The limits of my world are the limits of my language." Once the whole notion of "ontology" is abandoned, as it is in the Investigations, the paradox created by the lack of contrastive force in the notion of "language" is redoubled. Attempts to supply some force have resulted in an immense amount of talk about the need to distinguish "conceptual" or "grammatical" or "semantic") from "empirical" questions. It has even been claimed, and is sometimes suggested by Pears, that part of the contribution of the Investigations is to show that certain suggestions made by traditional philosophers (e.g., Hume's suggestion that two people might have numerically the same sensation) confuse possibilities left open by "our language" and possibilities closed off by "our language." Indeed, Pears holds that in the Investigations

[he] maintained that the right method in philosophy is to collect facts about language, but not because of their own intrinsic interest, nor in order to construct some scientific theory about them, such as a theory about the common grammatical structure of all languages. The facts are to be collected because they point beyond themselves. They point back in the direction from which critical philosophy has traveled in the last two centuries.

I shall argue in a moment that any criticism of the tradition which can be done by collecting facts about language could be done as well by collecting facts about things, and that anyway there is no clear way of distinguishing the two activities. But I want to prepare the way for this argument by a remark about the split in post-Wittgensteinian philosophy I mentioned earlier. This split is encouraged if one thinks of Wittgenstein as "collecting facts about language." For it is natural to ask: If this is the right method of philosophy, why not practice it scientifically? Why not replace Wittgenstein's flair for apposite analogies (or J. L. Austin's ear for cute distinctions) with, for example, a computer program which would accept slices of everyday banality as input and produce statements about the meanings of words as output? This urge to put philosophy back on the secure path of a science has ramified into a whole series of programs in recent philosophy of language, few of which any longer have much connection with Wittgenstein's own interests. Pears worries about this, and his worry takes the form of wondering "whether philosophy can avoid being a science" and whether it should. Pears sympathizes with Wittgenstein's "resistance to science," but he is not sure that he has any right to. On the one hand, it is difficult to have a Fach if you do not have a science—artists, for example, have no Fach, but merely skills, or perhaps genius. On the other hand, philosophy has always prided itself on being deeper, or higher, or purer, than empirical science, and what sort of science could there be of "facts about language" if not an empirical one? So Wittgenstein's discovery of "the right method in philosophy" seems to lead either to linguistics getting above itself, or to a claim that we can discover "facts about language" nonempirically. Either philosophy "will be absorbed into the science of linguistics" or it will be a sort of art. But "if philosophy really is like art, the impression made by a linguistic example would be something which could not be caught in any general formula." Can one call something which has no such formula "philosophy"?

This art-vs.-science distinction is central to Pears's treatment of Wittgenstein, and it connects up with the dissolution of the Tractatus program of finding "unconditional necessities"—the program which Wittgenstein once shared with Plato, Descartes, and Hegel. For if one has to depend upon "conditional necessities which depend on contingent facts about language" then one is in the sphere of the mutable, the practical, the unpredictable—just where, in fact, philosophy has always made it a point not to be. If such remarks as "No person can have numerically the same sensation as another" gets its "necessity" from the way in which people talk, why should not philosophers who dislike that way of talking suggest changes, and why may they not have a point? The specter of philosophy as merely "linguistic recommendation" enters, only to be pushed aside by the still more terrifying specter of "philosophy as a matter of taste." (For who cares whether other people accept my recommendations, if I, for myself, have found a new and better way of speaking?) It begins to seem as if anthropocentrism about necessity (the claim that all necessity rests on the contingencies of social practice) must necessarily be the death of philosophy as we have known it. Either Wittgenstein is showing how empirical means can be used to discover "the limits of language" (in which case philosophical error will be, of all things, a failure to gather enough facts) or he is somehow playing on our mixed feelings about the philosophical tradition (now in the manner of a satirist, now in that of a parlor psychoanalyst).

Notice that all these dilemmas turn on the notion of "necessity." Pears does not question that there is something out there to be found—the limits of language—which, once found, will tell us where Descartes, Hume, Kant, etc., went wrong. Nor does he question that finding a limit to language is finding something "necessary." The point about the so-called "linguistic turn" in recent philosophy is supposed to be that whereas once we thought, with Aristotle, that necessity came from things, and later thought with Kant that it came from the structure of our minds, we now know that it comes from language. And since philosophy must seek the necessary, philosophy must become linguistic. All this Pears is reasonably happy with—his only problem is whether language (as one more social practice) is strong enough to stand the strain. If language is not constrained by things, or the transcendental ego, or something, then when one finds its limits is one really finding anything that counts as necessary? And if one isn't, is one doing philosophy?

So, it would seem, we are in the following position. If we got rid of the concept of necessity we might see our way out of the dilemmas. But to drop this concept would seem to be to drop the concept of philosophy itself. If we stop thinking of Wittgenstein as the anthropocentric theorist who said that necessity comes from man, and start thinking of him as the satirist who suggested that we get along without the concept of necessity, then we might have fewer dilemmas about what sort of a discipline philosophy was, but only at the cost of being dubious about its very existence.

There are two questions here. First, can Wittgenstein actually be interpreted as talking against "necessity" rather than about it? Second, would it be a good idea to stop using this notion? The answer to the first question is, I think, "Yes, about half the time." Wittgenstein can be interpreted either way; texts can be cited as definitive refutations of either sort of exegesis. But it is only the second question which I want to discuss, and here I think the answer is simply "yes." I want to argue that the later Wittgenstein belongs with Dewey as much as the earlier Wittgenstein belongs with Kant—that Dewey's debunking of traditional notions of philosophy, and his attempt to break down the distinctions between art and science, philosophy and science, art and religion, morality and science, are a natural outcome of Wittgenstein's critique of the Cartesian tradition. On Dewey's view, "philosophy" as what is common to Plato, Kant, and the Tractatus is, indeed, a distinctive cultural tradition—but it is not a Fach (though its study is). Philosophy in a broader sense—roughly, the sort of writing which generalizes so sweepingly that one has no other compartment for it—is something else, but it is not a Fach either. No Fach, no metaphilosophical problems about its subject and method—so no dilemmas of the sort I have been running through. To stop using the concept of necessity would be to cease to try to keep philosophy pure, but that attempt, I think, has cost us too much waste motion already.

At bottom, the argument about whether the notion of "necessity" is of any use is an argument between the sort of holism which Pears says is characteristic of the Investigations and the sort of atomism characteristic of the Tractatus. Holism, as in Duhem, Quine, and Kuhn, focuses on the fact that there is an indefinitely large variety of ways in which one can readjust what one has been in the habit of saying to conform to a surprising scientific discovery (or a philosophical perplexity, or a religious experience). Given this variety, one will have doubts (of the sort which have become especially identified with Quine) about how to tell which of one's changes in conversation express changes "in belief" and which are changes "in the meaning one assigns to certain terms." Ad hoc and for a given audience, one may wish to say "I still mean by 'X' what I always did, but I no longer think that all X's are Y's," or instead say "I now have a different concept of 'X'—I no longer mean the same thing by the word." But which one says is a rhetorical matter, not a mark of the line between "factual knowledge" on the one hand and "philosophy" on the other. Thus holism brings (as it did to Dewey and Hegel) doubts about necessity-vs.-contingency, about language-vs.-fact, and about philosophy-vs.-science.

Pears thinks of the later Wittgenstein as "anthropocentrist" because Pears himself retains notions which make sense in the light of the atomistic program of the Tractatus but which no longer seem of interest when one adopts the holistic outlook of the Investigations. But he does no more than Wittgenstein himself had done. In the Investigations, Tractarian notions keep turning up in contexts where Wittgenstein himself seems puzzled about whether to cherish or to make fun of them. My hunch, for which I do not know how to argue, is that both Pears and Wittgenstein hang on to Tractarian distinctions which the Investigations transcends because both of them cherish the purity of philosophy. Both would like "philosophy" to be the name of something distinctive and extraordinary—not a Fach, perhaps, but, in Pears's words, "something outside ordinary life and ideas." Neither would relish philosophy's becoming what Dewey thought it was: critical thought at a level of generality which differs only in degree from all the rest of inquiry. It is not that they worry about the nature of philosophy because there are difficulties with the notions of "necessity" and of "linguistic fact," but that they worry about the latter notions because there are difficulties in the notion of "philosophy."

Even if one accepts this last point, however, the notion that Wittgenstein might somehow have brought philosophy to an end will remain just as perplexing. Even if I am right in saying that Wittgenstein leads himself and Pears into needless puzzles by the suggestion that philosophy can be brought to an end by a recognition of the anthropocentric character of necessity, what would "an end" mean? Suppose that the "necessity" of a philosophically interesting categorical proposition is, as I have been arguing, just a rhetorical compliment to the so-called "distinctively philosophical" character of the proposition. Is there then nothing that makes a proposition, or an issue, distinctively (or "purely") philosophical? If not, what is it that might be brought to an end? So far, all I have been trying to show is that we can avoid the self-contradictory claim that philosophy has been brought to an end by a new philosophical theory about a distinctively philosophical topic (e.g., necessity). But the more general paradox remains. Philosophy resembles space and time: it is hard to imagine what an "end" to any of the three would look like.

To discuss this larger paradox, I need to distinguish three sorts of things to which the term "philosophy" is applied: (1) discussion of (in Wilfrid Sellars's phrase) "how things, in the largest sense of the term, hang together, in the largest sense of the term"; (2) a collection of the principal topics discussed by most of the "great philosophers"—subject and object, mind and matter, utilitarian and deontological ethics, free will and determinism, language and thought, God and the world, universals and particulars, meaning and reference, etc., etc.; (3) an academic subject—that is, whatever batch of issues the people who teach in one's favorite philosophy departments are talking about at the moment.

Different things have to be said about the purity of philosophy, and about the possibility of ending philosophy, for each of these three senses. In the first sense, philosophy is obviously not a distinct Fach, and nobody would ever claim "purity" for it. Nor would anybody think it could or should be ended. But in this sense "philosopher" is almost synonymous with "intellectual." Philosophy as synoptic vision is obviously not the province of a single academic discipline. If one lists all the various people who usually count as "philosophers" (e.g., those whose names might turn up on examinations for the Ph.D. in philosophy), a random sample might include Heraclitus, Abelard, Spinoza, Marx, Kierkegaard, Frege, Godel, Dewey, and Austin. Nobody would claim that there was a common subject, the study of which set these men apart from say) Euripides, the pseudo-Dionysius, Montaigne, Newton, Samuel Johnson, Leopold von Ranke, Stendhal, Thomas Huxley, Edmund Wilson, and Yeats. The topics and authors which fall under the care of philosophy departments form a largely accidental, and quite temporary, hodgepodge—determined mostly by the accidents of power struggles within universities and by current fashions. (Compare a contemporary Ph.D. exam in philosophy with one given in 1900, and imagine what one might be like in 2050.) This is not a matter for regret; curricular arrangements are not that important. But it helps to bear in mind that having large views about things in general does not entail that one will be studied by teachers of philosophy, nor does being so studied entail that one has such views.

Skipping for a moment over the second sense—philosophy as "the traditional problems"—notice that in the third sense also there is no problem about the purity of philosophy. The issues being discussed at any given moment by any given philosophy department or philosophical school have that routine sort of purity which any technical subject has. They will automatically be "purely philosophical" issues simply because there will be a body of literature which provides the contextual definition of what these issues are, and which only professors of philosophy have read. This sort of purity is the sort which any topic develops after a lot of people have worked on it for a while—they will be the only people who know what is relevant, and they will justifiably resent intrusions from nonspecialists who know the name of the issue but not its substance. This purity is not distinctively "philosophical"—it is possessed also by the study of fluorides and the study of Chaucer's prosody. Nor is there a problem about bringing philosophy in this sense to an end. A technical problem—no matter how scholastic or silly it may appear to outsiders—has a natural life-span of its own, and nothing can kill it off save its successful resolution or an agreement among those who were once attracted by it that it was indeed a dead end.

So to see what is meant by the possibility of an end to philosophy, and to appreciate the poignancy of the need for philosophical purity, we have to turn away from both philosophy-as-vision and philosophy-as-academic-specialty. One has to think of philosophy as a name for the study of certain definite and permanent problems—deep-lying problems which any attempt at vision must confront: problems which professors of philosophy have a moral obligation to continue working on, whatever their current preoccupations. The Nature of Being, the Nature of Man, the Relation of Subject and Object, Language and Thought, Necessary Truth, the Freedom of the Will—this is the sort of thing which philosophers are supposed to have views about but which novelists and critics, historians and scientists, may be excused from discussing. It is such textbook problems which Wittgensteinians think the Investigations may let us dismiss. Among these problems it is especially those created by Cartesian dualism which they have in mind: the problems created by thinking of man as somehow categorically distinct from the rest of nature, of knowing as a process unlike anything else, of the mind as something which is aware only of representations of the world (and thus perhaps "cut off" from the world), of volition as a mental act which mysteriously has physical effects, of language and thought as systems of representations which have somehow to "correspond" to the world. As to the study of these problems, it is true that, as Pears says, "Philosophy, unlike religion, is not a part of ordinary life, but a kind of excursion from it." If one grants that these problems are indeed based on "confusions," then Pears is right in saying that "human thought has a natural and almost irresistible temptation to make these confusions, and we feel that there really are hidden depths in the direction indicated by them" (though perhaps "human thought" should read "human thought since 1600").

Now to say that these typically Cartesian problems are "purely philosophical" has a fairly definite meaning: it is just to say that nothing that the sciences (or the arts, for that matter) do is going to be of any help in solving them. No facts about evolution or the DNA molecule, or the brain as computer, or child development, or primitive tribes, or quantum physics, will be of any use—because the problems are constructed in such a way as to remain equally problematic no matter how many details are added. Work by philosophers on the Cartesian problems has spun off plenty of new disciplines (formal logic, psychology, the history of ideas) but the problems stand as they stood—any respect in which they seem to have changed is easily dismissed as a confusion of "purely philosophical" problems with some "merely factual" question. In every generation, brilliant and feckless philosophical naifs (Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley, Aldous Huxley, Jean Piaget, B. F. Skinner, Noam Chomsky) turn from their own specialities to expose the barrenness of academic philosophy and to explain how some or all of the old philosophical problems will yield to insights gained outside of philosophy—only to have the philosophy professors wearily explain that nothing has changed at all. Philosophy in the second sense—the solution of the traditional problems—must necessarily be thought of as having a pure, distinctively philosophical, method. Questions as distinct from "fact" as these must be approached by a method whose purity is adequate to the "hidden depths" from which these problems spring, just as the priests of Apollo purified themselves at Castalia before descending into the crypt.

So to say that the Investigations might bring philosophy to an end can only mean that this book might somehow rid us of "the picture which held us captive"—the picture of man which generates the traditional problems. To say that philosophy might end is not to say that holding large views might become unfashionable, or that philosophy departments might be plowed under, but rather to say that a certain cultural tradition might die out. If this change occurred, one would no longer think of the standard list of Cartesian problems as a Fach: rather, one would think of study of the concern that once was felt about these problems as a Fach. The best analogy available is the shift from "theology" to "the study of religion." Once grace, salvation, and the Divine Nature were subjects of study; now the fact that they were so is a subject of study. Once theology was a pure and autonomous subject; now religion lies at the mercy of psychology, history, anthropology, and whatever other discipline cares to jump in. Once we had a picture of man as held in the hand of God, and a discipline which discussed alternative ways of describing the fact. Later (when, as Comte said, the "metaphysical" succeeded the "theological" state) we had a picture of man as mind, or spirit, or source of the transcendental constitution of objects in the world, or assemblage of sense-contents. We had a discipline which discussed these various alternatives—never questioning that there was something of central importance which needed to be said about the relation between man and nature: some bridge to be built, some dualism to be transcended, some gap to be closed. If philosophy comes to an end, it will be because this picture is as remote from us as the picture of man as a child of God. If that day comes, it will seem as quaint to treat a man's knowledge as a special relation between his mind and its object as it now does to treat his goodness as a special relation between his soul and God.

If one thinks of the end of philosophy in these terms, it is quite clear that it is not the sort of thing which might be brought about by exposing some confusions, or marking the boundaries of areas of discourse, or pointing out some "facts about language." Logical positivism got a bad name by calling religion and metaphysics "nonsense" and by seeming to dismiss the Age of Faith as a matter of incautious use of language. It would give the Investigations an equally bad name to think of it as saying that Cartesian philosophy is a similar "confusion." Any such term suggests that there is something called "our language" sitting about waiting for theologians and philosophers (but not, presumably, scientists or poets) to come along and become confused about it, ignore its complexities, and otherwise misuse it. But nobody really believes this; our language is the creation of theologians and philosophers as much as it is anybody's, and when Cartesian philosophers took over from theologians they did not do so because their use of language was less (or less obviously) confused but because the kinds of things they were saying captured the audience's attention. "Our language" is as hopeless an explanation of truth or necessity as God or the structure of reality, or as any of the wholesale explanations of the acquisition of knowledge which the Cartesian tradition has offered. It is not, as Pears suggests, that our language may not stand up to the demands imposed by philosophy because it offers only "conditional" necessities (as opposed to the "unconditional" ones purportedly offered by "logic" and by "realistic" philosophies)—but rather that "our language" is just one more name for the device which is supposed to let us jump the Cartesian gap between mind and its object.

Even if one grants all this, one still has to explain why the Investigations has the importance it does. If it does not offer a new and purer and more powerful philosophical method, and if it does not offer a new account of necessity, where does its impact come from? I think that part of the answer is that it is the first great work of polemic against the Cartesian tradition which does not take the form of saying "philosophers from Descartes onward have thought that the relation between man and the world is so-and-so, but I now show you that it is such-and-such." Typically, attempts to overthrow the traditional problems of modern philosophy have come in the form of proposals about how we ought to think so as to avoid those problems. When Wittgenstein is at his best, he resolutely avoids such constructive criticism and sticks to pure satire. He just shows, by examples, how hopeless the traditional problems are—how they are based on a terminology which is as if designed expressly for the purpose of making solution impossible, how the questions which generate the traditional problems cannot be posed except in this terminology, how pathetic it is to think that the old gaps will be closed by constructing new gimmicks. (The gaps have been designed to widen automatically, just far enough to make each new device useless.) Wittgenstein does not say: cease thinking of man as cut off from the object by a veil of perceptions, and instead think of him as … (e.g., as constituting a world [Kant, Husserl], or divided into ensoi and pour-soi rather than into mind and body [Sartre], or having adopted in-der-Welt-sein as a basic Existential [Heidegger], or inducing from sense-contents to the properties of logical constructions of sense-contents [logical positivism]). He does not say: the tradition has pictured the world with gaps in it, but here is how the world looks with the gaps closed. Instead he just makes fun of the whole idea that there is something here to be explained.

Can a few volumes of satire overthrow a tradition of three hundred years? Certainly not. Getting rid of theology as part of the intellectual life of the West was not the achievement of one book, nor one man, nor one generation, nor one century. The end of philosophy-as-successor-of-theology, a "pure" subject in which deep problems are attacked by appropriately pure methods, will not occur in our time. No one knows, indeed, whether it will ever occur—whether what Comte called "the positivistic stage" will ever be reached. If it is reached, however, it will not be as Comte conceived it; it will not be an age in which everything has become "scientific." Science as the source of "truth"—a value which outranks the mere goodness of moral virtue and the mere beauty of art—is one of the Cartesian notions which vanish when the ideal of "philosophy as strict science" vanishes. If the Cartesian picture of man should ever dissolve, the notion that one has said something interesting about morality and religion when one has said that their claims are "unverifiable" would go with it. So would the contrast which Wittgenstein himself drew, even in his later work, between propositions which "purport to represent factual possibilities" and those "whose meaning is gathered from their place in human life." Wittgenstein's "resistance to science" is, I believe, best interpreted as a resistance to the entire cultural tradition which made truth—the successful crossing of the void which divides man from the world—a central virtue. In an age in which the Cartesian picture no longer held us captive, it would not seem necessary to try to shelter morality and religion by putting them in their own separate compartment.

The contrast between Wittgenstein's satire and constructive criticism may best be seen, I think, by comparing Wittgenstein with Dewey. Dewey pressed holism to its extreme, criticized customary paradigms of "truth" and "necessity," showed how remote from actual life the Cartesian distinctions were, did his best to debunk the purity of philosophy and traditional notions of necessity, broke down distinctions between disciplines and cultural forms, and tried to elaborate a vision of life in which the consummating value was aesthetic rather than cognitive. As much as any philosopher has, he suggested what a post-Cartesian culture might be like. Yet his work took the form of elaborate explanations that "experience" or "nature" or "logic" were not what the tradition had thought them to be, but rather thus-and-so. He produced, in short, a new philosophical theory, built along traditional lines. He thus engendered, in Pears's phrase, "philosophical conflict according to the old rules"—and solemn discussions of whether he was right or wrong in his "definition" of "experience." If Wittgenstein's later work is interpreted in terms of the distinctions Pears uses, I think the same thing may happen. We shall have solemn debates about conditional versus unconditional necessity, various modified forms of conventionalism, the distinction between "rule" and "interpretation," and the like.

Such debates are perhaps inevitable, and indeed intellectual responsibility may require them. But it would be a pity if the impulse to keep philosophy pure were so strong as to distract us altogether from Wittgenstein's satire, and from the attempt to sketch new ways in which parts of our life can be seen without wearing Cartesian spectacles. Such books as Iris Murdoch's The Sovereignty of Good and Nelson Goodman's Languages of Art seem to me to show the possibility of a kind of philosophical writing which keeps an appropriate distance from the Cartesian tradition—benefiting from Wittgenstein's satire without trying to repeat or explain it. Murdoch's remark that "it is an attachment to what lies outside the fantasy mechanism, and not a scrutiny of the mechanism itself, which liberates" is in point here. What gives Wittgenstein's work its power is, I think, the vision of a point where "we can cease doing philosophy when we want to." Similarly, Murdoch's and Goodman's books direct us toward moral virtue, and art, as they can be seen once we no longer ask ourselves which questions about them are "purely philosophical" and which not. In these books, as in the Investigations, we move from the sort of purity which characterizes a Fach to the sort one feels when no longer oppressed by a need to answer unanswerable questions.

Charles Hartshorne (essay date 1983)

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SOURCE: "Reflections on Wittgenstein," in Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers: An Evaluation of Western Philosophy, State University of New York Press, 1983, pp. 293-305.

[An American philosopher and writer, Hartshorne is the author of numerous books about philosophy and metaphysics. In the following essay, he discusses Wittgensteinian metaphysics.]

With all famous philosophers, but especially with some of them, what they say or think is one thing and what they somehow cause many others to say or think that they think is another. Some have taken Ludwig Wittgenstein to be an extreme or (in B. F. Skinner's sense) "radical" behaviorist, reducing the mental to the behavioristic or physiological. It is not apparent to me how this interpretation can survive even a casual reading of the Fragments (Zettel). (Note especially Remarks 523, 608f.) In that work the author seems farther from radical behaviorism or sheer materialism than Ryle in his Concept of Mind. He does not, as I read him, reduce mind to matter. What he does is to insist that human experiences (Erlebnisse), a term he uses frequently, are not intelligible in abstraction from bodily and environmental circumstances; and also that what is experienced now gets its meaning from what has been experienced in the more or less near past, and from more or less unconscious dispositions and habits. He tries to communicate his sense of the subtlety and complexity of psychological problems (see, e.g., Zeftel 113) and their resistance to easy introspective reports. Much of this is very acceptable to a process philosopher.

Wittgenstein speaks of the "unpredictability of human behavior" and seems to affirm the partial indeterminancy of the future (676-683). He is far from convinced that there is a physiological correlate for everything psychological and (611) he rejects psychophysical parallelism. He has reservations about calling the body a machine. He does not think that psychological laws are reducible to physical laws (610). Here again a neoclassical metaphysician finds himself in congenial company. This holds also of the suggestion that memory is one thing and traces in the brain quite another. Bergson's theory of the function of the brain in remembering (primarily that of securing adequate forgetting of the irrelevant) is an interesting parallel.

In a different book, Wittgenstein reacts to the assertion that one person's sensation of green may differ from that of another person by asking, "What use do you propose to make of this statement?" I would answer as follows: First of all, since I hold that sensations are a special class of feelings, with their intrinsic emotional tones, a difference in sensing physically green objects, such as grass, might, if it obtained, help to explain a difference in aesthetic responses to nature or works of art. Second, some persons (who with both eyes test noncolorblind) are said to experience an introspectably small difference between sensations coming from their right and their left eyes; an autopsy might show a physiological difference between the two eyes, and it might ultimately be shown that some persons had the one type of physiology in both eyes and some others had the other type in both. We could then reasonably infer (taking enough cases and lines of evidence into account) that indeed some persons, none of whom test color blind, do sense green one way and some the other. But third, from our present knowledge it is reasonable to infer that noncolorblind persons have approximately the same color sensations from similar stimuli, but that bees, for instance—in comparison with which it is we human animals who test (partly) color blind—very likely have a quality of sensation somewhat different from any of ours.

The question Wittgenstein throws back to us may help us to see that our human experience is only one form of experience, and that the question, "What is the place of mind in nature?" is very different from the question, "What is the place of the human mind there?" and also that the danger of anthropomorphism may be just as great or perhaps greater in the direction of making the place of mind in general too small as in making it too large. The difference between "mind" and "matter" may be a difference between kinds of mind, when that concept is fully generalized. This does not mean that everything is a feeling or thinking subject. Every active singular may be at least sentient, and a case of mind in the broadest sense, without sticks and stones being sentient. For they can be regarded as inactive groups of individually active molecules. Every singular entity can be sentient without every group of entities being sentient. The fallacy of composition would be committed in inferring the sentience of stones from that of molecules, and the fallacy of division prohibits us from inferring the insentience or inactivity of molecules from that of stones.

If there is one impression that virtually all readers of Wittgenstein have in common it is that he is a powerful critic of what he calls metaphysics. There is, however, some question as to just how he is using the word, and also some question as to his reasons for failing to make any distinction between what some of us would call "bad" and "good" metaphysics. Is it all bad, by definition? In some writings inspired by Wittgenstein this view is manifest in rather crude form, as shown by the egregiously extreme examples of metaphysical blunders that alone are considered.

Apparently Wittgenstein's view is that apart from empirical science disciplined inquiry is largely limited to mathematics, logic, and what he sometimes calls grammar. Philosophy is the attempt to cure "diseases of thinking" that are essentially misuses of words, in a broad sense logical or grammatical confusions. The contention is not that this therapy is an easy matter. It requires patience. Also (460) philosophical mistakes are to be treated with respect, for "they contain so much truth." This reminds one of Strawson's remark that what he calls "revisionary metaphysics" can be useful because of what it can teach "descriptive metaphysics," the latter being perhaps not far from Wittgenstein's grammar.

Metaphysics is said to be "essentially" (458) a process of "obliterating the distinction between factual and conceptual investigations." From another perspective, it consists in overgeneralization and neglect of the Principle of Contrast. Statements about "everything" cannot tell us much, beyond that everything is in some sense something. The use of concepts is to express contrasts, differences, as well as similarities. A form of bad metaphysics is the attempt to understand psychical conceptions in abstraction from their bodily expressions and conditions. The veto on a purely "private" language comes in here. I do not see that the metaphysicians some call process philosophers need to differ from Wittgenstein on this or the preceding point. Indeed, of these three ways of explicating what is wrong with metaphysical theories only the first one poses a problem for neoclassical metaphysics; for that metaphysics does not operate, even in its theology, with the notion of disembodied mind, and its generalizations take the Principle of Contrast carefully into account.

It would indeed be bad metaphysics to say, "Everything is necessary." For the point of the category of necessity is lost if there is nothing that is not necessary. But suppose the statement is, Everything eternal is necessary and everything not eternal (or that begins to be) is contingent Aristotle). This statement is not, in any strong or normal sense, empirical, and hence, as I use the word, it is metaphysical. But it affirms a basic contrast. Again, if one says that every event is influenced by, depends upon, every other, depriving "dependence" of any contrasting "independence," this is bad metaphysics. (If events are universally interdependent it can reasonably be deduced that things other than events must be so too.) But suppose one says, "Every event is influenced by its temporal predecessors, but not by its successors." This affirms both dependence and independence.

Still another example of good metaphysics: Positive specific values are not all mutually compatible, or, there are incompossible yet genuine values, so that, as Berdyaev put it, the tragedy of existence is not essentially the conflict of good with evil but of good with good. (The conflicts are not even always of good with lesser good, for there may be no clear difference in degree in some cases.) All these statements are, some of us would claim, nonempirical; that is, any conceivably experienced world would illustrate their truth. They transcend any scientific generalization and could obtain in a cosmic epoch with quite different natural laws from ours. Even God could not enjoy the beauty of all possible world states all actualized into a superworld. At any rate I see no misuse of words in the doctrine of incompossible values.

Another suggestion to be gleaned from Wittgenstein's work is that it is metaphysical confusion to take every word as the name of some entity. Here again there may be those who tend to infer from the occurrence, say, of the word beauty that there must be an entity, perhaps Plato's absolute beauty, named by this word. But what important metaphysician of modern times makes this mistake?

Let us grant that we fall into metaphysics in the bad sense if we assume the possibility of a purely private language. Perhaps Husserl's idealism (as in his book Ideen) might be considered guilty of this mistake, but surely not an idealism that admits intersubjectively observable expressions of physical states. Those who impute to Wittgenstein (or to Gilbert Ryle) a purely materialistic theory of mental states are open to challenge, as various writers have noted.

Wittgenstein's criticisms of the notion that thinking is simply a succession of images to be discovered by introspection have their point against some forms of bad metaphysics. Rightly, Wittgenstein insists that to understand what a thinker is doing at a given moment one must take into account much more than an introspectable cross section of the thinker's sensory content at the moment, one must know what sequence of words, bodily actions, operations, led up to that present sensory state. But this means, at least, that memory as well as perception and imagination is involved, and memory is not mere having of a present image. In any case introspection is a highly limited power. It does not begin to exhibit to our conscious detection a distinct and complete disclosure of what goes on in our experiencing. In every moment of that experiencing we directly sense or feel something of what has been happening in our bodies, and we assume that the bodily happenings constantly echo our feelings or intentions. Of course finding solutions to problems is essentially and at all times a partly bodily affair. We are never disembodied spirits, from which it does not follow that the physics and chemistry of our nervous systems is all that is involved. Nor does it follow that the account of the biochemist or bioelectrician is a complete account of what a nerve cell is.

It is time to face the "essential" point, the distinction between conceptual and factual questions. I agree with Wittgenstein (and, I suppose, disagree with Quine) about the ultimacy of this distinction, if "factual" means empirical in a roughly Popperian sense). But is this how the Austrian (or British) author uses the word "fact"? I suspect that he, or at least many of his interpreters, would deny that there could be merely conceptual or nonempirical reasons for asserting the existence of anything, apart at least from that of elements in an abstract system like the real numbers. Now my position is that it is not existence but only what I call actuality that in principle, and always, transcends conceptual necessity. That a definable or identifiable idea is somehow instantiated in concrete actuality is as I use words) its "existence," but just how, or in what concrete form, it is actualized is what I call "actuality." That, for example, the idea of concrete particulars is somehow instantiated I take as a nonempirical truism or necessity, and I believe with Anselm that the definition of "God" is similarly existential a priori. But this a priori validity applies only to the somehow actualized, not to the how, or in what concrete form, abstract idea (whether deity, or concrete particularity, as such) is concretized. On the highest level of abstractness merely being somehow instantiated is noncontingent.

This rather technical point is, I submit, the real issue concerning metaphysics. Most controversy on the subject seems quite blind to the distinction between existence and actuality, or the indefinite "somehow instantiated" and the particular how of instantiation; and also the related distinction between ultimate abstractions (such as concreteness as such) and more specific abstractions that are only contingently instantiated in that their being instantiated imposes limitations on the instantiation of other specific abstractions. But the instantiation of "concreteness" excludes nothing—except bare nothing itself, and that is only a word that has lost its meaning. As Bergson argued, "nothing" has essentially relative uses only. To exclude nothing is the same as not to exclude. Contingency is competitiveness, mutual exclusiveness between positive possibilities. We are back to the principle of incompatible values.

That the most general classes of facts, such as "concrete actualities," are nonempty, have some members, is a conceptual necessity, as I see it. This does not eliminate the distinction between conceptual and transconceptual truths. But it treats "necessarily instantiated" as a conceptual truth applicable to abstractions of the highest rank of generality. Thus to the distinction, conceptual versus factual or merely contingent, I add the distinctions between noncompetitive or nonexclusive concepts and competitive or exclusive concepts, and that between necessarily and contingently (if at all) instantiated concepts, these two distinctions being one and the same contrast expressed in two ways. Thus it is Wittgenstein (or at least many of his admirers) who obliterates distinctions.

That Wittgenstein repeatedly associates "theology" and "grammar" leads me to think that he was closer to what I take to be the truth than is generally realized. I wonder if he has anywhere committed himself to the legitimacy of "there might have been nothing," that is, the dogma of monolithic empiricism or contingentism. To the query, "Why was there something rather than nothing?" my answer is, "Because 'nothing' here means nothing, that is, does not mean." Language is here idling.

The anglicized Austrian did once write, "All necessary propositions say the same thing—that is, nothing." The right comment on this was given by Rulon Wells: To make the statement true, we must add the word contingent to "nothing." All strictly necessary propositions (using only extreme abstractions), fully understood, say the same thing, namely, that some (extremely general) ideas are necessarily actualized somehow. They all imply the metaphysical essence of reality, what will be and must have been, no matter what, or in all possible cases.

It is important to understand here by "strictly necessary propositions" those that can be stated without reference to any special empirical entities, or in terms of abstractions comparable in generality to "concrete" or "abstract," rather than to such specific notions as "human," "vegetable," "hydrogen," and the like. Thus "all bachelors are unmarried" is not in this sense an unconditionally or strictly necessary proposition.

It is a pleasure to note that Wittgenstein is a writer aware of the subtlety of philosophical issues. He refers (456) to the "loss of problems" that afflicts some of those classed as philosophers, for whom the world "loses all depth" so that their writing "becomes immeasurably shallow and trivial." His examples are Russell and H. G. Wells. Are there not disciples of Wittgenstein who could be similarly described? They are also, some of them, extraordinarily intolerant of those who disagree with them, taking their language game for the only one worth playing.

One great puzzle about Wittgenstein is, "What did he know of the history of philosophy?" Whitehead and Peirce tell us what they know, Wittgenstein does not. Nor do some of those most influenced by him exhibit any notable familiarity with the history of problems. For example, his admirers are deeply divided into theists and nontheists, and the technique of analysis does not help, it seems, to evaluate the issue between the two groups (Bouwsma, Malcolm, Geach, and Anscombe against most of the others). So I ask, "What do these people know of the history of the idea of deity, and above all of the fundamental distinction between simple and dual transcendence, or between deity as synonymous with the philosophical 'absolute' and deity as equally absolute and relative, infinite and finite, immutable and mutable, cause and effect, though in each case in diverse respects, the one abstract and the other concrete, hence without formal contradiction?" Wittgenstein once defined God as the sum of true propositions, or something of the kind. Since Omniscience must embrace all reality or truth, one can see the point of the definition, but it fails to distinguish between eternal and temporal, or necessary and contingent, aspects of truth, and it leaves open the relation between truth and knowledge. Whitehead's "The truth itself is the way all things are together in the Consequent Nature of God" is clearer, especially if the ascription of physical (concrete) prehensions (direct intuitions) to God's Consequent Nature and the description of that nature as "in flux," "always moving on," are borne in mind.

Strawson's preference for descriptive in contrast to revisionist metaphysics and his grudging admission that the latter may be useful as an aid to the former are worth noting. Whitehead actually called metaphysics "a descriptive science," even though he also talks about the need to stretch language to the limit in the effort to distinguish concepts of metaphysical generality from more special conceptions.

Two American disciples of Wittgenstein, Norman Malcolm and 0. K. Bouwsma, have written about dreams in a manner that seems to me remarkably perverse. They evidently believed that they were thinking in the Wittgensteinian manner. I credit the great authority on language games with more sense than these essays show. However, I find it not easy to say just where or how the master's wisdom has been betrayed by the disciples. I wish some expert in Wittgensteinian scholarship would clarify this matter. I hope, however, that anyone undertaking this task will spend at least a few minutes reading Bergson's essay on dreaming, the most penetrating discussion of the subject ever written, I think, by a philosopher. It makes exactly the points that Malcolm refuses to see or tries to nullify by a persuasive definition of "real" dreams (those in which none of the contents expresses the actual bodily conditions).

The label "ordinary language" is sometimes used as a slogan, almost a weapon, as if language had not had a long evolution, or as if we had reached the final stage of that evolution. "Language games" is not a part of ordinary language, or was not before Wittgenstein. Whitehead's "creativity" is a part of that language, and both words in his "actual entities" are sufficiently standard English. So is his "societies" and, though Whitehead generalizes its meaning, the analogy with the ordinary use is quite clear. "Prehension" was used with a related meaning as long ago as Leibniz; "prehensile tail" (for a monkey), quite relevant to the Whiteheadian usage, is a clear example of its ordinary meaning. It is a metaphor, but a vivid, easily intelligible one, taking Whitehead's technical definition into account. With these three terms, "creativity," "actual entity," and "prehension," all lucidly explicated as never before in philosophy, much of Whitehead's philosophy (or mine) is expressible. "Primordial Nature of God" uses primordial in a reasonably standard sense, "Consequent Nature of God" means God as far as prehending, therefore influenced by, having qualities consequent upon, events in the world. Whitehead is the first great system maker who clearly and for systematic reasons rejected the dogma that God is "impassible," or cannot be influenced by the creatures.

Wittgenstein would, I presume, have misgivings about Whitehead's "eternal objects," or timeless universals. But the general ideas of creativity, actual entities, prehension, and social order, seem logically independent of that doctrine as Whitehead expounds it. I also think Whitehead is somewhat loose or vague about the conceptual-factual distinction. In these respects, and some others, I have hoped to improve upon his work. But I have yet to find a single decently careful criticism of that work by a disciple of Wittgenstein. A brilliant Austrian seems to have come between the English and the greatest twentieth-century philosopher, whose education and development (to the age of sixty-three) was completely English. When or where before in intellectual history has there been such neglect of a man of genius by his countrymen?

In the long run, if our human hubris, ignorance, and greed permit a long run to our species, the reputations of these two writers will have to be measured against one another, and what I call the method of convenient ignorance—the refusal to read, or at least to seriously discuss, an author—will not suffice to dispose of either of them. Both are fallible, deeply serious, remarkably gifted writers.

In a book called Induction and Deduction: A Study in Wittgenstein, Ilham Dilman illustrates certain limitations that seem to characterize much work dominated by Wittgenstein. The portions of the book on mathematics and deduction are not what I have chiefly in mind in saying this, rather it is the seven chapters on Induction. We are told persuasively enough that the "uniformity of nature" is not to be taken as a truth about the world by knowing which we can "justify" our use of induction. Basing expectations about the future on past experience is something we do and cannot do. Refusing to do so is no live option. The causal principle, instead of being an "assumption about nature" as Hume thought, is "more akin to a principle of reasoning." Fair enough, with the following qualifications.

The alternative to the classical deterministic view of causality is not, as the author implies, the admission of at least some "uncaused events." "Uncaused" is sadly ambiguous. The minimal definition of "caused" is "conditioned," made possible by some temporally previous factor or factors. A cause is a sine qua non, a "necessary condition" for some event or state of affairs. But there are also "sufficient conditions" to be considered. There is nothing in logic to show that "every event has its necessary conditions" entails "every event has its sufficient conditions." Thus determinism was tacitly a double requirement, whereas "caused" seems to name only one. This misleading substitution of a single for a double requirement was not a trivial affair and betrayed a rather gross oversight. "There can be no causally unconditioned events" leaves the question of determinism quite open. My ancestors and their world were necessary conditions for my existing; but it in no way follows that my existence was a necessary consequence of their and their world's existing. My existence was in one definite sense caused, made possible, by that of the world that preceded my existence. But "sufficient" condition means one that makes the outcome uniquely necessary rather than merely possible or probable. "Sufficient" is simply "necessary" in the forward temporal direction. Classical determinism affirmed double necessity but was rarely candid about this duality. Its analogy in formal logic is a system of logic in which all conditioning is biconditioning or equivalence. Of course no such system would be useful. Why should the causal analogy be thought any better?

The successes of scientists inspired by the deterministic ideal give no reason to suppose that strict determinism is true of nature. Dilman is right about that. But it does not follow that nothing about reality is implied by our faith in induction. Double causal necessity is the extreme version of causal connectedness, an extreme transcending any possible empirical confirmation. Moreover, as the analogy above mentioned suggests, (and as is supported by other considerations), the a priori assumption should be that strict "sufficiency" of causal conditioning, its prospective necessity, is at most the exception, not the rule. Why should it not be a mere limiting concept to which actual nature makes some approach but to which it does not and could not literally conform? Every animal must act as if the future were partly foreseeable from past experience; but no animal need and none, strictly speaking could, act as if the future in concrete details were absolutely, completely foreseeable from the past. Such absoluteness has no pragmatic meaning. We always act as if some aspects of the future were settled but others awaited our and other creatures' decisions.

Since Heisenberg, it has been widely, though not universally or without controversy, recognized in physics and the philosophy of science (Born, Popper, Monod, etc.) hat the idea of real chance or partial randomness is positively useful in inquiry. Thus what is pragmatically unavoidable, whatever words we use about our behavior, is also reasonably accepted as the true meaning of causality in knowledge and reality.

It is arguable that this qualification of "sufficient conditioning" is no merely contingent truth about knowledge or reality, but would hold no matter how nature or experience were constituted. The contingent questions concern the degrees and kinds of indeterminacy on various levels of existence. But that causal conditioning is strict necessity retrospectively only (events require their predecessors though not their precise successors) is pragmatically in order. What use could one make of the assertion that one could have lived without one's ancestors?

In addition, as I have argued elsewhere, from the assumption that there are necessary retrospective connections and some other assumptions of process metaphysics, it does follow that though there are not literally sufficient (prospectively necessary) connections, still something, if not much, about the future is foreseeable. Otherwise put, antecedent conditions are sufficient for the approximate characters, or statistical outlines, of future events, and it is these that science, in proportion to its depth of penetration, enables us to deduce from knowledge of the past. That we had certain ancestors or parents has undoubtedly influenced even though it has not determined our lives. In memory we have direct intuition into past as influencing present experiences. The same is, though less obviously, the case in perception. In spite of claims of clairvoyance, there is no comparable intuition of the future. Becoming is the resolution of indeterminacies.

Dilman twice mentions the indeterminacy principle of physics. He dismisses it as a rather minor detail, not an indication (I do not say proof) of a basic error in the classical view of causation, as many physicists and philosophers take it to be. Nor does he mention that the asymmetrical or single necessity view of causality has been defended by various philosophers and scientists, some preceding quantum physics entirely.

What is lacking in much recent British thought is even mild curiosity about ontological questions. Wittgenstein is in this less extreme than many of his disciples. He does occasionally recognize that certain general aspects of nature do enter into our basic linguistic assumptions or rules. The most general of these aspects of nature are those without which "nature," "reality," "universe," would lose their import, and which no conceivable experience could falsify. They are thus in Popper's sense nonempirical or metaphysical. They are none the worse for that. I see nothing in Dilman's book to justify the idea that the doctrine that any possible event has necessary but only in a qualified sense sufficient conditions is an impossible alternative to classical determinism. Many have held it and still do. And the entire absence of clarity in this book (as in so many others) about the distinction between single and double necessity is for me sufficient evidence of inadequacy and bias in the entire discussion.

Wittgenstein is quoted as saying that no alternative to the causal principle (in its classical form?) is describable. I think I have described it, and so have some thinkers more competent than I in the logic of science.

The Wittgensteinian limitation of the scope of philosophy, like Kant's limitation of that scope in the eighteenth century, far exceeds any reasons either thinker gives us for such limitation. The ontological questions are still there, and not all of them are contingent or subject to the adjudication of observational science.

A valuable aspect of Dilman's book is the explication of Wittgenstein's discovery of nontautological yet logically necessary truths and of the role in this discovery of color relations (for instance that orange is between red and yellow in a sense in which no color is between red and green). I venture to remark that my discussion of color relations in my early book, The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation, has some relevance at this point, as it does to the question, "Does it mean anything to say that my red may be different from another (noncolorblind) person's?" My view is that it means something but is probably false, or at best insignificantly true. There remains in any case the public meaning (blue as the color of the sky on a clear day or of certain flowers, red as the color of blood, etc.) For many purposes the public meaning is all that matters, but not for all possible purposes.

The rejection of a private language goes too far if it is taken to imply that there can be no partly private meaning of words. My red, my sensation, is only mine, and why can I not refer to it as such? It is a fair assumption that there is no marked difference between my red and most people's, and for some purposes such a difference would not matter; but that there is no difference is a baseless dogma, so far as I can see. And surely there may well be a difference between any of our color sensations and those of the bee reacting to ultraviolet light. Are such differences meaningless? If the idea of God makes sense they could be directly intuited, as I can directly intuit slight differences between one spot of red and another in my field of vision, or as I can remember this blue when subsequently experiencing that blue. That human perceptual or memory comparisons are not absolutely precise and infallible seems to me beside the point. Only divine intuitions are that. Without some trust in memory as well as perception I see no way to understand our knowledge.

Allen Thiher (essay date 1984)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14029

SOURCE: "Ludwig Wittgenstein," in Words in Reflection: Modern Language Theory and Postmodern Fiction, The University of Chicago Press, 1984, pp. 8-34.

[Thiher is an American writer and educator. In the following essay, he suggests that Wittgenstein's intellectual development between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations represents the "transition from modernism to a postmodern style of thought. "]

Wittgenstein's Tractatus, apparently written at least in part while its young Austrian author was in the trenches during World War I, has been one of the most influential philosophical works of the twentieth century. This influence was initially due to the reception given to the work by Austrian and English positivists after the war. Today it is also due to the kind of antilanguage mysticism that, paradoxically enough, many writers have taken from the book. But, perhaps even more paradoxically, the work's influence lies in the fact that one must understand the Tractatus before one can fully understand what Wittgenstein is attacking in his later writings. For Wittgenstein is unique in the history of philosophy in that his later work is a repudiation of his first work. Thus one turns to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus not only for its intrinsic interest as a seminal work in language theory—one that continues to haunt the contemporary mind—but also for a negative introduction to the later Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations. In many respects what one might define as the transition from modernism to a postmodern style of thought can be defined as the passage from the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations.

Published in 1922 in German and quickly translated into English, the Tractatus and its representational theory of language should be viewed in large measure as a response to the nineteenth-century crisis about the status of language that was felt with particular acuity in Vienna. Viennese intellectual circles at the turn of the century saw a revival in empiricist thought about language and undertook the development of several types of critiques of the limits of language. The Tractatus is an expression of both of these developments. In a postmodern perspective it represents a magnificent dead end to the development of thought about language that, using a radically empiricist metaphysics, gives total primacy to the visual. As such, the representational theory of language Wittgenstein proposes in the Tractatus appears as the last serious attempt to view language in much the same way that classical metaphysics did, as a mirror of the world. In the Tractstus, however, Wittgenstein intends, like Nietzsche before him and the Viennese positivists after him, to put an end to metaphysics. It is not one of the smaller ironies in the history of thought that this brash young man should have accomplished his goal, but almost in spite of his intention, by demonstrating the impossibility of defending the metaphysics upon which a representational view of language is based. As Virginia Woolf lamented in To the Lighthouse, the mirror of nature had cracked. The Tractatus was in one sense an attempt to patch together enough of that mirror so that we could again see the world reflected in language.

To accomplish that task, as well as to put an end to metaphysical discussion that allows language to mirror too much, Wittgenstein proposes in the introduction to the Tractatus that his work will demonstrate the limits of thought, or, more precisely, of language and the expression of thought:

for in order to be able to set a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit of the thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought). It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be set, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense [Unsinn].

This introduction to the Tractatus already suggests a paradox about its central project, for if the task of setting a limit to thought would require that we think the unthinkable, then by analogy the task of setting a limit to what can be said requires that we say the unsayable. In short, the Tractatus sets out to say the ineffable, which is not the least of the charms of this antimetaphysical work of metaphysics. The desire to use language to say the ineffable suggests a kind of structural analogy with the aesthetic projects of modernist literature. This modernist side to the Tractatus illuminates its contradictory desire. Just as the modernist verbal artefact strives to abolish itself in favor of the ineffable image, so the Tractatus offers metaphysical language that will be discarded once it has led to an encounter with the limits of language: the limited mirror-image of the world.

The Tractatus has, of course, generated a variety of interpretations both as to its essential purport and to the particulars of its view of language. The work's cryptic style and nearly hieratic way of proffering its truths are often responsible for interpretative doubt. There is a modernist side to this style. The Tractatus resembles, as befits a work that intends to put an end to the history of philosophy, an eschatological form of revelation. It is a table of the laws setting forth the atemporal conditions prerequisite for language's functioning if language is to be meaningful. With appropriate Kafkaesque irony about the law, one may note that all revelations must be interpreted and that it is already an interpretation to state that Wittgenstein's book is legislatively about how, in a priori terms, language must function. This interpretation is at odds with the one Bertrand Russell formulated in his introduction to the English translation. Russell stated there that Wittgenstein "is concerned with the conditions which would have to be fulfilled by a logically perfect language." That Wittgenstein himself did not agree with this interpretation was made clear when he refused to allow Russell's introduction to accompany the German edition of the Tractatus. Historical distance enables one today to say that it is plausible to ascribe to these oracular axioms the intention of offering an a priori description of how language—real language—must function if it is to mirror the world. This interpretation does not exclude a recognition that confusion about whether the book offers juridical or empirical description of language has been a rich source of the book's suggestiveness.

The Tractatus is concerned as much with what language cannot do as with what it can do. Wittgenstein offers not only a description of the realm of the sayable but also posits a realm for that which cannot be said. This is the realm of silence, wherein dwell art, ethics, and the mystical. And it is also plausible to claim that Wittgenstein was as much or more interested in this realm of silence as he was in determining the status of logic. In the English-speaking world he is perhaps best known for having made of logic a propositional calculus; this leads many to suppose that he was some sort of unfeeling thinker without "human" concerns. But a better knowledge of Wittgenstein makes clear that the project of defining the status of the ineffable was proposed as a defense of it, hardly as an attack on such human concerns as religion and values, about which one cannot speak.

Wittgenstein's passionate interest in art and ethics shows what a curious cultural misunderstanding it was for the Tractatus to be taken primarily as a work of logical positivism. There is, to be sure, a positivistic thrust to the work's claim that only statements capable of empirical verification—statements that can be seen to correspond to a state of affairs in the world—have meaning. It does not seem to me, however, that he ever claims, in positivistic fashion, that the process of verification is a proposition's meaning. As Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin have shown, these positivistic inclinations were characteristic of the Viennese milieu in which Wittgenstein grew up. Positivism was a specifically Viennese reaction to the more general crisis about modernism that was lived with particular intensity in the last years of the Hapsburg empire. From this background, I would say that Wittgenstein shared the positivist's desire to find some form of language that was reliable, but that he did not share the positivist's faith in scientific language in this respect. Rather than a faith in logic or scientific statements, the starting point of the Tractatus was the anguish that Wittgenstein, like other doubtful modernists, felt before the opacity of language, before the impurity and ambiguity that language introduced into attempts to express the essential. Russell's misinterpretation of the Tractatus is quite understandable, since the work is very suspicious of real language. It does distrust any language that does not have the formal purity of logic. Nevertheless, in the Tractatus Wittgenstein wants to bring order to real language by finding a kind of minimum security: this minimum is to be secured by the limits of what language can say.

In this perspective the Tractatus is an a priori summa that attempts to reduce the realm of the meaningful to a series of axioms. The title and the axiomatic presentation recall Spinoza, but I can think of another and perhaps equally apt comparison. By reducing the world to a single book, Wittgenstein has achieved the book that Mallarme dreamed of—a single work of pure, essential language that would be an Orphic explanation of the earth. The impossible beauty of the Tractatus lies in the way Wittgenstein's book has in a sense realized Mallarme's dream, for the Tractatus describes the essential unity of being, thought, and language in seven pure axioms that never descend to examine the practical and transitory world of real experience and real language, the world of Mallarme's parole brute. And Mallarme's dream of a poetic language of pure symbolism, of pure revelation untouched by language's contingent being, unsullied by the necessities of daily usage, is another side, I think, of the same kind of reaction that led Wittgenstein to seek in logical symbolism the transparent forms of pure thought.

Mallarme's despair over the impurity of language and Russell's distinction between a proposition's verbal form and its logical form are two sides to a crisis about language that gives full resonance to the problems Wittgenstein wished to solve in writing the Tractatus. The uninitiated reader who first opens the work is most likely to be struck, however, by Wittgenstein's intent to elaborate the mathematical logic that Frege and Russell, among others, had developed. It is not easy to evaluate Wittgenstein's attitude toward logic. At the outset of his Notebooks, written while he was working on the Tractatus, he declares that logic must take care of itself. In the Tractatus he insists that the propositions of logic are mere tautologies that say nothing about the world of empirical, contingent facts. But if these timeless, necessary propositions can say nothing, they can seemingly show much: "The fact that the propositions of logic are tautologies shows the formal—logical—properties of language and the world [Eigenschaften der Sprache, der Welt]". In a world of contingent facts Wittgenstein proposes logic as a kind of visual necessity that illuminates "the scaffolding of the world".

Wittgenstein's attitude toward logic is nonetheless ambivalent. On the one hand he seems possessed by a nearly mystical belief in the power of formal propositions to determine the formal conditions of language—and hence the world. On the other hand he denigrates logic for its incapacity to "say" anything. But perhaps the denigration here is really directed against the notion that "saying" could ever produce anything of interest. Wittgenstein himself recognized his contempt for real language and what it might say when, in the Philosophical Investigations, he offers the following description of what had been his attitude toward logic in the Tractatus:

Thought is surrounded by a halo.—Its essence, logic, presents an order, in fact the a priori order of the world: that is, the order of possibilities, which must be common to both world and thought. But this order, it seems, must be utterly simple. It is prior to all experience, must run through all experience; no empirical cloudiness of uncertainty can be allowed to affect it—It must rather be of the purest crystal. But this crystal does not appear as an abstraction; but as something concrete, indeed, as the most concrete, as it were the hardest thing there is.

"Saying," in contrast to formal logic, can only produce empirical cloudiness, an image that again recalls Mallarme's attitude toward the impurity of everyday language. Logic can show pure form in crystalline purity, in all its adamantine hardness, as that which will never be subject to the sullying flux of the contingent world. And whatever be the uncontested ingenuity Wittgenstein displayed in developing mathematical logic, it seems clear that underlying this development is an attitude akin to the Platonic mysticism that placed mathematics outside the realm of temporal flow and ordinary language.

Within the limits of Wittgenstein's vision of logic, his theory of language is actually quite simple. It is essentially a revised version of a theory of representation that finds its classical source in Aristotle. It is not unlikely that the final significance of the Tractatus will be that, by its very self-conscious impossibility, it marks the closure of the Greek metaphysics of language that has dominated Western thought. Like Aristotle's Wittgenstein's theory of language is based on the view that language represents the order of thought, which in turn represents the order of the constituent parts of the world. In propositional terms, elementary facts, made up of simple objects in the world, are mirrored by elementary propositions in language that are made up of names. According to the visual metaphor behind the mirroring relationship, language should be transparent. Yet, "empirical cloudiness" does steal into language, and one of Wittgenstein's central tasks is to explain how opacity can find a way into language. His problem is perhaps analogous to that of the theologian who must explain how sin comes to exist in a perfect creation. Wittgenstein must also explain how language can be a deceiver and allow the existence of such aberrations as the propositions of metaphysics. One solution to this problem is simply to declare in an appropriately draconian fashion that, aside from the empty but necessary tautologies of logic, no proposition has meaning that cannot be empirically verified. Such a legislative decision does singularly reduce the scope of the problem. But like the theologian's explanation that evil is mere negation or illusion, it does little more than solve the problem by denying it.

This positivist thrust to Wittgenstein's thought should not cause one to lose sight of the way Wittgenstein fundamentally distrusted the messy stuff of language itself, especially when contrasted with the purity of logic or, perhaps more importantly, the transcendence of silence. Wittgenstein's attitude toward science is revealing in this respect: if the propositions of science seem to provide a model for meaningful discourse, if they offer a supposed example of a language without opacity, it is because they, too, have a circular, a priori purity and do not speak directly about the world. Such is the sense, for example, of Wittgenstein's way of describing Newtonian mechanics: "Thus it says nothing about the world that it allows itself to be described by Newtonian mechanics: except indeed that it does allow itself to be so described, as indeed is the case." Opposed to the a priori rigor of scientific propositions stands ordinary language—Umgangssprache. It can deceive because it is subject to ambiguity: "In everyday language it very frequently happens that the same word has different modes of signification, and so belongs to different symbols—or two words that have different modes of signification are employed in propositions in what is superficially the same way." Confusion arises because we do not note that the same sign (Zeichen) can refer to different symbols.

For example, in the sentence "Green is green," the meaning changes according to whether "green" is a proper noun or an adjective. This determination in turn changes the meaning of "is": the verb can be either an expression of identity or an expression of existence. This example is, I think, a rather lame choice to show how philosophical confusion might come about, but it suffices for Wittgenstein's purposes in the Tractatus. By establishing an opposition between sign and symbol, he can dismiss the sign—the signifier of ordinary language—and postulate the existence of an ideal-language realm in which the symbol or idealized concept would function in purely univocal terms. This postulate explains why Russell saw in the Tractatus only a concern for a "logically perfect language." To get around the errors caused by the polysemantic nature of real language and signs, Wittgenstein claims he needs to invent a Zeichensprache—a sign language governed by logical grammar—that would avoid all ambiguity. Hence the recourse to the formalization of symbolic logic: if logic forms the scaffolding of the world, logic as grammar might describe how to use a language purged of ambiguity. Such a language would be a transcription of what must be.

This project demands, however, more than the mere formalization of the rules of logical operations. It also demands that one show the conditions of possibility that would allow the reduction of language to a system of univocal symbols that would correspond to the simple constituents of the world. That the world is composed of simple constituents is of course a metaphysical assumption. This assumption justifies, in a circular way, all the theoretical considerations that demonstrate what are the conditions of possibility for language to be conceived as a univocal system of signs. If signs are to refer to only one "object," then there perforce must be simple objects to which they might refer; and if there are simple objects, then they must perforce be named by univocal signs. Wittgenstein's metaphysics and his representational theory of language are joined in an attempt to show that language must be unambiguously anchored in the world. For only if language is anchored in a transparent manner can words have single, simple meanings.

Ambiguity is one of language's sins, one aspect of a kind of ontological lack. Another aspect of this lack is the perverse way in which language often seems to refer only to language. Meanings can be expressed only in terms of other meanings; definitions can be derived only from other definitions, ad infinitum. From this viewpoint language seems to have a dubious autonomy, cut off from the world. It seems almost to hover above the world. To counter this autonomy, to anchor language solidly in the world and to offer a guarantee that meaning is more than mere verbal play, Wittgenstein declares that the world "divides into facts." Moreover, these facts are made up of the relationships of simple objects—metaphysically necessary simple constituents that one might find analogous to Leibniz's monads. Mind must not be viewed as an arbitrary producer of meanings, since it is the world's facts that are reproduced as an image in thought: "A logical picture of facts is a thought." Thought, in turn, is represented by language. Meaningful language is a representation of objects whose relations are given in Sachverhalten—atomistic facts—the totality of which constitute the world.

That one can give no example of these simple objects is beside the point from a logical point of view. If language is to be anchored in the world, then these simple objects must exist. They are the metaphysically simple or indissoluble objects that are not subject to further definition. To them correspond the univocal, simple names of language. With this one-to-one correspondence of names with things definitions come to an end. The dictionary may be closed forever.

Accompanying this view of language is a correspondence theory of truth. The visual still rules supreme in this theory, since the truth or falsity of elementary propositions—or the expression of the relationship of simple objects in elementary facts—can be seen by comparing the proposition with the world. Even the truth of complex propositions, those propositions mirroring a combination of elementary facts, is ultimately grounded in the visual, since their truth value is a function of the truth of elementary propositions. The truth tables Wittgenstein developed in the Tractatus give us the truth and falsity of complex propositions, but only when once we know the truth values of the elementary propositions that make them up. All in all, in the Tractatus Wittgenstein provides a powerful metaphysical vision of how a world without ambiguity might exist in mythic purity. Reality, thought, and language are open to common inspection. All problems of meaning have disappeared—in part by being relegated to the realm of the ineffable.

Central to the theory of language in the Tractatus is Wittgenstein's view of language as nomenclature. Since he (as well as Saussure) later rejects the view, it is worth stressing that this biblical perspective on language underwrites the effort Wittgenstein made in the Tractatus to guarantee the determinacy of being. Language must be made up of simple names, since "The requirement that simple signs be possible is the requirement that sense be determinate." The a priori demand for a univocal correspondence between language and the constituents of reality brings up in addition the problem of how words can represent these postulated constituents. To answer this question, which is a query about the ontological status of language as well as a demand for an explanation of how language functions, Wittgenstein offers us another variation of the notion that language functions visually, that language is a kind of image. (At this point I might also add that Wittgenstein's view of language as Bild seems more than a little homologous to the modernist vision of language as a form of partially motivated image.)

Like Locke, Wittgenstein knows that the relation between what he calls sign and symbol is arbitrary, but this relationship is not the locus of the picturing relation. For Wittgenstein the proposition is the picture, a Bild representing a state of affairs. A proposition is a picture by virtue of possessing the same logical form as the atomistic fact. Representation is thus achieved by a formal iconicity whereby language takes on the form of what is represented in the world. However, Wittgenstein's use of the term "representation" is not always clear, and in other passages Bild really seems to mean a form of pictorial representation. In any case it is clear that any theory that attributes visual and/or spatial qualities to language raises serious interpretive difficulties. Various interpreters have offered a range of possibilities about what Wittgenstein meant by "image," ranging from analogies with models used by physics to a quite literal iconic interpretation. The variety of analogies Wittgenstein offers in his Notebooks does not simplify the issue; there he was intrigued by courtroom maquettes for representing automobile accidents, hieroglyphs, and Maxwell's projective models. All these possibilities probably point to the simple fact that Wittgenstein was not fully certain what he meant when he said language could offer an abbildende Beziehung, literally a copying relationship. These possibilities also underscore the difficulties any theory faces when it attempts to put representation at the heart of its ontology of language. Representation seems to carry with it a range of visual analogies that inevitably reduces language to a kind of colorless painting.

To return to an earlier remark, however, I should like to stress how much Wittgenstein's metaphysics overlaps the modernist view of language; both wish in some sense to spatialize language and thus make it apprehensible in visual terms. Whatever be the exact purport of the notion of Bild, in Wittgenstein or Goethe, this choice of terminology, even if taken metaphorically, reveals a nostalgia for the directness of revelation that vision can supposedly grant. Wittgenstein's theory of truth again appeals to the primacy of the visual, for truth is a kind of pictorial revelation in which one sees if a proposition's Bild exists in a state of analogy with the world. This kind of iconic theory of truth also comes into play, as we shall see, when a Heidegger attempts to revise the correspondence theory of truth by making it subordinate to the idea of truth being a form of unconcealment. Heidegger accepts, in part at least, the implications underlying such a visual theory and attempts to think them through to their full conclusion: truth is simply a making seen.

Whatever the basic problems involved in the theory of language the Tractatus proposes, one should not underestimate the work's continuing appeal, anymore than one should suppose that modernist aesthetics no longer works a continuous seduction on our imagination. Since the metaphysics of representation and the primacy of the visual have hardly disappeared from the cultural repository of our imaginative possibilities, what could be more alluring than a work like the Tractatus that both eliminates opacity from language and promises us, at least theoretically, the possibility of an exhaustive knowledge of the world. And which, moreover, in a way that can be both a cause for elation and despair, vouchsafes a transcendent realm of silence for art, ethics, and the mystical.

The realm of silence found in the Tractatus has a resolutely contemporary aspect to it, for silence has become one of the more recurrent postmodern metaphors. Related to this seemingly transcendental realm is Wittgenstein's exclusion of the knowing self from the world. No self need be presupposed for propositions to function:

It is clear, however, that "A believes that p," "A has the thought p," and "A says p" are of the form "p says p": and this does not involve a correlation of a fact with an object, but rather the correlation of facts by means of the correlation of their objects.

The logician or Samuel Beckett may point out that this formulation eliminates the aporia of infinite regression when an assertion is attributed to a subject (of the sort "I know that I know that I know" ad infinitum). But what interests us more is that the knowing self is in effect excluded from language and hence from being known. The knowing self is a transcendental eye that sees its world but cannot see itself seeing. Therefore, no metaphysical self is to be found in the world. Pursuing the analogy with the eye and its visual field, Wittgenstein states, "The subject does not belong to the world: rather, it is a limit of the world." Wittgenstein's visual analogy comparing the subject to the eye that delimits the field of vision gives a kind of extreme formulation of the primacy of the visual; and it does so by giving ambivalent affirmation to the kind of solipsism that haunts the contemporary mind.

According to the Wittgenstein who was struggling with these issues in his Notebooks, solipsism is justified, for its ultimate implications would coincide with the demands of realism:

This is the way I have travelled: Idealism singles men out from the world as unique, solipsism singles me alone out, and at last I see that I too belong with the rest of the world, and so on the one side nothing is left over, and on the other side, as unique, the world. In this way idealism leads to realism if it is strictly thought out.

But as the Tractatus shows, this "thinking out" is commanded by the visual metaphor that equates the eye with the self, so that "The I of solipsism shrinks to an extensionless point, and there remains the reality that is coordinated with it."

The tension between the idea that the "world is my world" and the idea that language is anchored in the world is not resolved in the Tractatus. Nor is it easy to see how men can use language to communicate if the equation of world, thought, and language entails that my language is my world. Or as Wittgenstein phrases it in one of his most seductive aphorisms: "The limits of my language are the limits of my world." Pursuing this line of thought, one finds it difficult to see why one should not reverse the argument expressed in the Notebooks and declare that, on the one hand, there is only the self and its language, and that, on the other side of these idiolects, there is nothing. In any case, with this twist the Tractatus moves far away from positivism to open up on a metaphysical void of which Wittgenstein was quite conscious.

The final paradox about this book is that its author thought it to be a "metaphysical ladder" that the reader, once he had climbed it, should discard as nonsense. The book's concluding aphorism, perhaps the most famous in modern thought, should then be taken as a self-destructing statement that, according to one's disposition, leaves us with a world of meaningful empirical propositions or a realm of more authentic concerns:

What we cannot speak about we must consign to silence. [Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen.]

Wittgenstein himself did put silence into practice for some time. But, with great honesty and courage, he came to realize that the Tractatus had to be done again. The result of that self-critique is to be found throughout his various later writings, especially in the Philosophical Investigstions. To turn from the Tractatus to Wittgenstein's later work is, in effect, to turn from one of the most original and rigorous expositions of a representational view of language to a systematic critique of such a representational point of view. Perhaps "systematic" is a bit misleading, since the goal of Wittgenstein's second body of works is not to be systematic in themselves. Rather, Wittgenstein's intent is to destroy the very idea that there can be a systematic view of language, especially the kind of system proposed by the Tractatus. In brief, these later works offer a series of insights that attempt to dismantle—perhaps one might prefer "deconstruct"—those metaphysical views about language that give rise to those errors that are codified in (or as) traditional philosophy. Common to both the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations is the desire to put an end to metaphysics.

Wittgenstein's second philosophy, if such an expression is permissible, did not suddenly appear on the cultural scene in the way that the Tractatus did. His second body of thought was slowly elaborated after he returned to Cambridge and after, among other experiences, he had been a teacher in an elementary school in Austria. His experience with children and how they learned language became of fundamental importance to his thought. His later thought was initially disseminated by his teaching and conversations in Cambridge throughout the thirties and forties as he wrote and rewrote drafts of various projects. Such subsequently published manuscripts as The Blue and the Brown Books, The Philosophical Grammar, or Zettel show how laboriously he worked over his ideas as he sought to overcome the Tractwtus and its metaphysics; whereas the smaller collections of aphoristic musings such as Remarks on Colour or the masterful On Certainty suggest the wide range of topics that his thought covered during these years. In their totality these works have quite arguably provoked more original thinking in such varied fields as the foundations of mathematics, philosophy of science, or language theory than any other body of philosophical work in the twentieth century. At least such is the case in the Anglo-Saxon world and, to a lesser extent, in the German world (where the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus often appears better known than the later Wittgenstein). It is hard to estimate Wittgenstein's influence in the Latin world, though recent work in France suggests that Wittgenstein is rapidly becoming known there as well.

The first statement one must make when attempting to offer an exposition of Wittgenstein's later work is that any overly systematic presentation must be in a sense misleading. The purpose of the repetitive pages of minute analysis and questioning in that work is to examine one concrete case of language use after another in order to see what the initial errors of usage are that give rise to the subsequent errors that become the basis for philosophical systems. This strategy is grounded in the refusal to offer any systematizing that might be taken to characterize the "essence" of language. Yet, these investigations do offer a series of views about language, what we can call a series of heuristic axioms, that cumulatively constitute a theory of language. Taking as his first axiom that language has no essence, Wittgenstein insists from the start that no unifying trait or principle underlies all manifestations of language use. One can scarcely underestimate the importance of this axiom, since it justifies the techniques of analysis that constitute one of the most radically antimetaphysical visions in the history of Western thought. Indeed, I would argue that this emphatic denial of essence heralds as profound a change in twentieth-century thought as did the Cartesian revolution in the seventeenth century.

This rejection of essence is clearly set forth in the early Blue Book. In this work Wittgenstein speaks of our "craving for generality" as the "tendency to look for something in common to all the entities which we commonly subsume under a general term." Problems of analysis arise because we approach language with "contempt for what seems to be less than the general case." If we look, however, at the real use of ordinary language, we find that "there is not one definite class of features which characterize all cases" of using a given word. In the Tractatus Wittgenstein had attempted to draw the boundaries of language as narrowly as possible. He had wanted to find the essence of language, as it were, in the conditions of possibility of the pure proposition. Such a project had necessarily entailed his ignoring real language. By the time he wrote the Blue Book Wittgenstein had reversed himself totally, and when dealing with particular instances of real language usage, such as the meanings of the verb, "to wish," he was willing to pursue the endless variations of use that can constitute the meaning of a single word. Multiplicity of meanings is inherent in actual usage: "If… you wish to give a definition of wishing, i.e., to draw a sharp boundary, then you are free to draw it as you like; and this boundary will never entirely coincide with the actual usage, as this usage has no sharp boundary." Language has no essence, and thus no essential feature can be attributed to any given word. We are free to draw up definitions as the occasion and our purposes require. But we must not deceive ourselves by taking our definitions to be "complete," and hence as embodying a form of essence, the discriminating universal found in every application of the word.

If no word embodies an essence, if every word can be defined as sharply or as loosely as one needs, then how does one define that central word "language"? One might well ask at this point what kind of truth or generalizations can be offered about that series of phenomena we call language. If language is a series of sui generis manifestations that one can define arbitrarily, what kind of knowledge can we have of language? Or as Wittgenstein's adversary charges in one of the dialogues that Wittgenstein creates in the Investigations: "So you let yourself off the very part of the investigation that once gave you yourself most headache, the part about the general form of propositions and of language." In the later works Wittgenstein replies to this accusation by using the double-edged metaphor of games to describe and define language. First, to show what he means by games, Wittgenstein describes them as a series of variegated activities that share no single, essential feature but that can be grouped together in terms of their family resemblances or overlapping traits. The notion of family resemblances allows one in turn to apply the notion of games to language, for such a description of games suggests that they afford a singularly useful metaphor for describing all those various activities we mean by the word "language."

The notion of family resemblances bears a great deal of weight in making the notion of "language games" a plausible one. For the metaphor of family resemblances functions to describe how we can use generic words such as "language" or "games" to speak about the multiple specific things that have no essential commonality but that we speak of with a single word. To "see" these family resemblances that characterize all we call language, Wittgenstein asks us to look at what we call games:

For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don't think, but look!—Look for example at board-games, with their multifarious relationships. Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball-games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost.—Are they all 'amusing'? Compare chess with draughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? hink of patience. In ball games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared.

Which all leads to the following conclusion about family resemblance: "we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing; sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail." Wittgenstein wants to displace the notion of essence or universal trait with this concept of similarities that make up family resemblances. We identify commonality not on the basis of a single feature, but rather in the same way that we identify common identity in a family when, looking at a family gathered together or present in a family photo, we note a number of common features. No single member embodies all the traits, and yet we know that any given member of the family is part of the household. In the same way the series of similarities and nonexclusive features shared to various degrees by various games make up the family resemblances that characterize what we mean when we use the word "game."

Wittgenstein has, as several of his critics have noted, proposed a way of getting around the idealist-nominalist antinomy with regard to the status of universals. There is no "idea" of game in some Platonic heaven, nor is there some abstract concept of game that our minds have garnered from multiple examinations of sense data. What we call games—or language—can be defined with a great deal of latitude. Our definitions will change as our needs change, or as new games or languages evolve during the course of our history. This refusal of essence means that language can be defined by very flexible criteria, though, I hasten to add, it is not immediately apparent why the notion of family resemblances, as exemplified by all that one calls games, should lead to the conclusion that language is a series of games or Sprachspiele. Wittgenstein does use other metaphors to describe language; he compares it to tools and to the great variety of things we can mean by speaking of tools. But it is clear that games are the privileged metaphor for Wittgenstein, one that he uses throughout all his later writings.

The concept of play is a key concept for much contemporary thought; but it does not appear that Wittgenstein was interested in ludic activity as a kind of general explanation of culture, as were such theoreticians as Johan Huizinga or Roger Callois. Rather, one might say that the play metaphor functions as another heuristic axiom for Wittgenstein, and in this respect it overlaps the formulations of other philosophers, anthropologists, and, as we shall see, novelists. And in terms of "family resemblances" it is striking that all three thinkers to be considered here resorted to ludic or play metaphors, especially chess and draughts, to talk about language. In the Investigations, when asked what a word is, Wittgenstein's answer is to say that the question is analogous to asking what a chess piece is. Saussure had already used the analogy with chess to explain the nature of the linguistic system. And Heidegger came to use an analogy with draughts to offer an example of the autonomy of language. The comparison with chess in particular and ludic activity in general is a way of describing the autonomy of language that illustrates that it is a rule-bound activity that lies beyond the competence of any single speaker to alter. The recourse to ludic metaphors represents, throughout our cultural space, an attempt to rethink language in some way that does not make of the individual subject the primary locus for linguistic activity.

The game metaphor and the attendant investigations into the following of rules and the criteria for the correct following of rules permeate Wittgenstein's later thought. There is, of course, more to a game than merely following rules. A broader, anthropological importance of the game metaphor is implicit in Wittgenstein's answer to his inter-locutor in the Investigations when his adversary wants to know how many kinds of sentences there are. To which Wittgenstein replies that there are countless kinds. There are no fixed types, set once and for all, since new language games come into existence as others become obsolete and are forgotten: "Here the term 'language-game' is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life [Lebensform]." Wittgenstein seems to be making an anthropological statement to the effect that language, much like play, is a natural activity, embedded in our human history of being in the world. Language is enmeshed in all our activities, since language is constitutive of the sense of the world we live in.

Of course the game metaphor also stresses the rule-bound side of language. It was probably this side of game activity that impressed the metaphor upon Wittgenstein, as is suggested in the early Philosophical Grammar where he states that he is "considering language from the standpoint of play according to strict rules [nachfesten Regeln]." Like most games, language is bound (usually) by rules, but following rules is only one, and not necessarily the most interesting, aspect of a game. As Wittgenstein later noted, rules may determine how far you can hit the ball in a tennis match, but not how high. Some aspects of the game are determined by rules; others are not.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the game metaphor is that it places language in public sight. The individual or inner subject cannot be the locus of meaning in language, for all the rules of a game must be a matter of common knowledge and publicly verifiable. Any appeal about what language may or may not mean, any question about the grammar of a given language game, is a matter of public perusal. In a sense there are absolutes in Wittgenstein's later philosophy, for if grammar is a convention established as part of the history of a given society's life form, the grammar of language games is nonetheless the final and absolute arbiter of disputes about meaning. The rules of the game exist publicly for all, and no one can deny them without ceasing to play the game, that is to say, without speaking nonsense. The import of such an absolute for modernist aesthetics would seem to be that the expression of the ineffable is an impossibility. Indeed, it is difficult to say what one might mean by the ineffable, since to say it would make it conform to the public grammar of language. The ineffable is truly the ineffable.

James Ramsay may have dreamed in To The Lighthouse of turning his private images into a secret language, but the force of Wittgenstein's analysis of the public nature of meaning would condemn that language to remain forever secret. Images may or may not accompany language as we speak it; but these have no influence on the way language works in the world. Wittgenstein's arguments against the possibility of a private language are motivated by his desire to show that what might take place in our "inner" self can have no bearing on the way language exists as a public and, in a game sense, absolute articulation of the world we share. With or without inner referents, a private language is an impossibility, for there would be no criteria for what this language might mean, either for the subject speaking it or anyone else. A private language might be seen to be as impossible as a private game, in that, if the rules of the game are not known by all, then none—including its inventor—can play it. Like the child who makes up the rules as he goes along in order to assure his chances for winning, the inventor of a private language cannot be given much hearing by his comrades. Moreover, insofar as modernist aesthetics made claims for the invention of private languages, for the expression of the ineffable inner world, it can be said that Wittgenstein's later thought is antimodernist, and such antimodernism is no small component of all that one designates by postmodern thought today. With the game metaphor Wittgenstein at once severs language from images and from its relation to the private self.

The ludic metaphor underscores the public nature of language. Consonant with the notion of family resemblances, it also allows Wittgenstein to stress the indefinite number of games—of types of language use—that go to make up what we call language. There is something intoxicating about the plurality of games that Wittgenstein sees in the world and the freedom that this plurality offers one in defining the way language works. All the problems of thought seem to lie there before us, ready to be solved, if we are only attentive to the way we speak about them. The world seems no longer to contain hidden depths that language once could not reach. All lies on the surface, open to our inspection.

Yet the surface seems to be made up of infinite extension, and complexity has entered the world as its horizontal dimension. The indefinite number of language games entails an indefinite number of areas of investigation. This view of complexity can create great difficulty for the reader who wants some kind of delimiting principle to operate, since Wittgenstein's work often appears to mimic the complexity of language itself. Every verb Wittgenstein examines in these untidy investigations can enter into an indefinite number of games, the rules for which he elaborates by examining how the games are played. By describing the grammar of words, especially such "mental" verbs as to understand, to intend, to mean, to know, to believe, or to feel, Wittgenstein intends to lay bare those errors that have given rise to philosophical doctrines. The principle of the expansiveness of language and the indefinite number of games it can include is another heuristic axiom. Directed against philosophical thought that would privilege a few key meanings, this principle allows Wittgenstein to account for the wide play of meaning in language but also for the arbitrary and yet publicly verifiable ways we can frame definitions; and it accounts for the inexhaustible and often overlapping taxonomies that language proposes.

Such a view of the expansiveness of language could, of course, induce a mood of despair in anyone who was looking for a way to survey the totality of language. With reference to such a mood Austin jocularly remarked that one should not give up so easily in listing the uses of language, since, even if there were ten thousand of them, this would be "no larger than the number of species of beetles that entomologists have taken pains to list." But this witticism misses the point, even if a list often thousand kinds of language use might seem adequate for most of our needs. (Actually a small dictionary, it seems to me, suggests many more thousand of usages than that.) In Wittgenstein's view the open-ended nature of language must be taken as an axiom that accounts for the changes that language constantly undergoes. Language changes as rapidly as does the world; it is as complex as the world, for our human world only exists as it is informed by language.

This relationship of language and the world may sound as if it is not too far from the view proposed by the Tractatus, and in one sense it is not. Wittgenstein's later work has, however, reversed the ontology of the earlier work. In the later work it is no longer the world that is mirrored by language. Language no longer performs a visual function. According to the later work, language articulates the space of all that we know as world. In the Investigations language is not in any respect a representation of the world, or a representation of thought that represents the constituent elements of the world. In this sense language can no longer be considered to be a form of nomenclature, a claim Wittgenstein elaborates at length at the beginning of the Investigations. In a rare instance of naming his philosophical opponent, Wittgenstein discusses there the Augustinian view of language as essentially naming. The institution of nomenclature is only one language game among many and a primitive game at that, as Wittgenstein observes. Children often play the game of naming when they are learning language, which might be one reason for the privileged role naming has often been given in explaining the way language functions.

Wittgenstein's experience as a schoolteacher undoubtedly taught him that asking how one learns a particular language game can give insight into the criteria for a correct understanding of the game's grammar. In teaching the names of objects, for instance, the teacher will often use an ostensive definition ("This is a …") and point to the object in question. Though Wittgenstein recognizes that ostensive definitions are often a way into language, he also labors to show that they cannot be considered to ground language in a world that is beyond language. An understanding of the ostensive definition already presupposes a significant mastery of a good bit of language, of several different language games, which allows the child to make sense of the definition and how it functions within language. If one points to an object and says that it is a pencil, the child must already know, for example, that one is playing a naming game, since the pointing might have multiple meanings, or no meaning. The child must be aware of many conventions so as to understand that the teacher is not pointing at the shape, the color, the weight, the texture, the position—as well as understand what pointing means. Conversely, the question "What is X?" presupposes that the speaker disposes of a linguistic space—a space in his world—in which to order the newly acquired word or language function.

The thrust of many of Wittgenstein's demonstrations, as in the case with his commentaries on ostensive definitions, is to show that language games presuppose an organized linguistic space in which words and expressions function in order to be meaningful. In his first writings on language games, and later in On Certainty, he uses the word "system" to suggest how these games organize the space of meaning. But at the time he was working on the Philosophical Investigations the notion of system may well have appeared to suggest a too narrowly defined space, one whose limits should be traced with greater precision than he thought possible or desirable. In the Philosophical Grammar we see him working toward a definition of meaning that shows that the autonomous space of language can be encountered only from within language itself. Meaning is organized within the space of language itself. In that work Wittgenstein expresses this idea by stating that "the place of a word in its grammar is its meaning [der Ort eines Worts in der Grammatik ist seine Bedeutung]. This place can be shown by an explanation of a word's meaning, which in turn situates the use of the word Die Erklarung der Bedeutung erklart den Gebrauch des Wortes." Wittgenstein makes these formulations even more flexible in the Investigations: "For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word meaning' it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language." Whatever influence William James may have had on Wittgenstein, it would be a mistake to see in this definition of meaning a pragmatist viewpoint. Rather, he is attacking any theory that would find for language some locus for meaning other than language itself, whether the theory is based on behavioral readings of language, idealist metaphysics, or logical atomistic distinctions of propositions and their logical form.

Wittgenstein's nearly obsessive attacks on the myths involving mental activity all aim to show that language and what we do with it are in a public space that needs no inner self or private subject to underwrite it. Let me give an example of my own to offer a sample of the kind of analysis Wittgenstein undertakes in this respect. Every reader will recall the famous scene in the Western novel The Virginian, in which, in answer to an unspeakable epithet that a villain has said to him, the laconic hero says, "When you call me that, smile." Such a response is a common language game, and the novel's narrator comments on it by calling on the metaphysics of traditional language theory: "So I perceived a new example of the letter that means nothing unless the spirit gives it life." This comment is a good example of how metaphysics permeates everyday language, for the comment is, in fact, either false or superfluous. The Virginian has perfectly well understood the vile words; and his asking for a smile is in effect a request for a visible gesture that will change the context in which the words were uttered. The change of public context will change the words' meaning, which shows that meaning takes place in the world, not in any inner or spiritual domain. A smile would of course change the language game from that of insulting to one of teasing or mockery, language games for which one is usually not shot. The narrator, as a good metaphysician, would see the villain's inner self to be the true locus of meaning, and his insult to be a mere exterior expression of that inner realm. But smiles that act as semantic gestures are in the public space of which language is, in one sense, constitutive, for this is the only space in which meaning takes place. In short, as Wittgenstein puts it in a pithy phrase, "it would be stupid to call meaning a 'mental activity', because that would encourage a false picture of the function of the word" (Zettel).

In the part of his investigations dealing with meaning, Wittgenstein's heuristic axiom is that, within a given context, the rules of grammar can account for all meaning. Every language game has a set of rules that, when framed much like a hypothesis by the observer, can account for that linguistic activity. The metaphysical self can simply be discarded as an explanatory principle. For example, to explain what we mean by meaning in the case of ambiguity it is useless to invoke the intention of a mind that somehow adds the "right" meaning to the ambiguous word:

If I say "Mr. Scot is not a Scot," I mean the first "Scot" as a proper name, the second one as a common name. Then do different things have to go on in my mind at the first and second "Scot"? Assuming I am not uttering the sentence "parrot-wise.")—Try to mean the first "Scot" as a common name and the second one as a proper name—How is it done? When I do it, I blink with the effort as I try to parade the right meanings before my mind in saying the words.—But do I parade the meanings of the words before my mind when I make the ordinary use of them?

By trying to discover wherein lies the "occult character" of mental processes, Wittgenstein comes to the conclusion here that it lies in misinterpretations:

When I say the sentence with this exchange of meanings I feel that its sense disintegrates.—Well, I feel it, but the person I am saying it to does not. So what harm is done?—"But the point is, when one utters the sentence in the usual way something else, quite definite, takes place."—What takes place is not this 'parade of the meanings before one's mind' ['Vorführen der Bedeutung' vor sich]. (Philosophical Investigations, Part II)

All sorts of things may of course go on in our minds when we speak. I may have various images; the word "green" may suggest my grandmother's garden; or the final syllable of "Guermante" may evoke the idea of the French aristocracy for me. But none of this is necessary for language to have meaning. My private world is indeed my private world, in Wittgenstein's view; and language is a totally public space, embedded in our social ways of being.

If language lies so totally in the open to us, it might appear then that there could be little ground for the confusions known as philosophy. But, just as the Tractatus proposed a principle of error in language's ambiguity, the Investigations also offer a principle of confusion: "We remain unconscious of the prodigious diversity of all the everyday language-games because the clothing of our language makes everything alike." Confusion arises because individual elements—let us say "words" for convenience—can be utilized in different games and, in so being used, change their function while they keep the same material form.

For this reason Wittgenstein frequently proposes analysis of how we confuse the proper ways of combining words in different language games:

I can know what someone else is thinking, not what I am thinking.

It is correct to say "I know what you are thinking," and wrong to say "I know what I am thinking."

(A whole cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar.) (Philosophical Investgations, Part II)

"I know" in each instance appears to be the same words a linguistic unit that one can call a fixed syntagm), but in Wittgenstein's perspective each instance of use would occur within a different language game. In the first instance the words occur within a normal language game for which the rules can be described. In this case one can also know when the rules are being broken. But in the second instance of use there is a confusion, since one is attempting to use "I know" as if one were talking about someone else. One is attempting to use "I know" as if one were still playing the first language game, or saying that "I know" what someone else is thinking. What "I"am thinking, however, is not an object of "my" knowledge.

This misleading analogy—and much of Wittgenstein's analysis turns on misleading analogies that occur when we confuse language games—causes one to use "I know" in a context where it makes no sense. Our linguistic space is so organized that there are no rules of criteria for playing the game "I know what I am thinking" in any normal context. What "I" thinks is not a matter of knowing at all. Moreover, once this misleading analogy has been allowed, it suffices to make merely one more deductive step for the "I" to proclaim that it is privy to private knowledge, to an inner metaphysical realm that no one in the exterior world can know. My private world may be private, but my relation to it is in no sense that of the knower to the known.

Grammatical confusion, or not looking at what the clothes cover, gives rise in this way to a belief in the metaphysical self and creates a host of epistemological problems that, in Wittgenstein's view, will simply disappear once one sees how language really functions. It is difficult to describe the world we will inhabit once Wittgenstein's analysis has had its way. It might be argued that if we will no longer be locked within the Cartesian self, whatever there is about us that might be beyond language will be more private than any solipsist's dream ever was. Moreover, it seems clear that this view that language articulates what we call the world (and language here includes those scientific languages that order new regions of discourse) as given rise to the epistemological relativism that characterizes much contemporary theorizing about science as well as the nature of literature. Neither science nor literature can claim to come ever-closer to representing or knowing what once was called the structure of reality. Reality only exists in function of the discourse that articulates it. Unlike the vision proposed by the Tractatus, with its world composed of atomistic facts mirrored by language, the Investigations and the other later works show no evidence of belief in any kind of final absolute structure. According to the Tractatus, language must reach the structure of the world, and logic sets the limits of discourse. But in Wittgenstein's later works logic and mathematics are merely systems among others, arbitrary absolutes, as arbitrary as the presence of life itself.

Reality is in this view an unending process of articulation. Such is the force of the striking metaphor Wittgenstein uses when, asking what it would mean for language to be complete, he compares language to a city:

ask yourself whether our language is complete;—whether it was so before the symbolism of chemistry and the notation of infinitesimal calculus were incorporated into it; for these are, so to speak, the suburbs of our language. (And how many houses or streets does it take before a town begins to be a town?) Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses. (Philosophical Investigations)

No city stops developing, though one could suppose that it might atrophy or die. Nor are there fixed boundaries to all that it might encompass. If … language for Heidegger is the house of being, for Wittgenstein it is the city of reality, with all the possibilities for growth and destruction that the comparison implies.

We live nonetheless in a world that seems to have, if not an absolute structure, at least a bedrock of certainties that allows us to live with a modicum of security. Our world seems to have enough stability to admit of norms for, say, sanity. At the end of his life Wittgenstein was attempting to describe that world and to show that much of our language acts as a series of ultimately unfounded but necessary assumptions that allow us to negotiate life without question. A central group of these thoughts, representing something of a philosophical anthropology, have been published in On Certainty. The starting point for this work is the epistemological dilemma brought up by the perennial question of certain knowledge. In a world in which the principle of causality is, at best, "a class name," and induction a convenient myth, wherein lies the certainty that might overcome the anguish we would all feel if we had to deal perpetually with a world without secure knowledge?

A philosopher in search of certainty, G. E. Moore, thought he had found a commonsense refutation of skepticism when he held his hand up in front of him and, echoing Dr. Johnson's comparable claim, proclaimed that he "knew" with certainty that that was a hand. But the Wittgenstein of On Certainty, building on the analyses of the Philosophical Investigations, states that one cannot take Moore's claim to certainty seriously. Moore may be certain that that is a hand in front of him, but he cannot in any normal sense "know" it. Moore has confused language games, and it is simply not the case that knowledge is involved in his claim. Knowledge admits of doubt and of the possibility of being wrong. Knowledge sets forth criteria for error. What, asks Wittgenstein, would an error look like in Moore's case? Could he state that he once thought he knew that that was a hand, but was mistaken? o make claims for knowledge obliges us to ask what the criteria are for error or doubt. What could these criteria be when one holds up one's hand and says, "This is a hand," or when one says, "This is red," or "My name is Tom Jones," or "I am a human being"? For statements like these and countless others there are simply no criteria for doubt or for error. The rules of the language game involved do not admit such criteria. Hence, there is no way in a usual context to say that one "knows" such propositions, which in turn means that there is really no meaningful way to doubt them. Meaningful doubt presupposes the existence of public rules set forth within the space of a language game. Wittgenstein would hold, then, that at best Moore's curious asseverations, if they are not a sign of mental illness, belong to that bizarre language game known as philosophy.

We live in a world constituted by language games that can only be played as certainties, though future experience could conceivably give them the lie. I may state, as I learned unquestioningly from my teachers, that "This is a chair"; and the object may suddenly disappear. Something will then be amiss, but until that time, I shall continue to use my language as I learned it. A child learns that "This is a chair" and that "2 plus 2 equals 4." He does not learn that he "knows" such propositions. Each have the same degree of certainty in use. Indeed, we have no capacity to know exactly what it would mean if the propositions in these language games did not function as certainties:

"I know that I am a human being." In order to see how unclear the sense of this proposition is, consider the negation. At most it might be taken to mean "I know I have the organs of a human." E.g. a brain which, after all, no one has ever yet seen.) But what about such a proposition as "I know I have a brain"? Can I doubt it? Grounds for doubt are lacking! Everything speaks in its favour, nothing against it. Nevertheless it is imaginable that my skull should turn out empty when it was operated on.

Such statements as "I am a human being" are not therefore matters of knowledge in any ordinary sense. These propositions are like a priori givens that allow us to inhabit a world. They constitute the countless operating definitions by which I first have a world, before I can have knowledge. To doubt these language games is to lose contact with the shared world of our language. If one truly doubted them, one would be, in the strong sense of the term, alienated from the world of one's linguistic culture.

To learn a language is to acquire what Wittgenstein calls a Weltbild, though the "image" in this notion is only one metaphor Wittgenstein proposes for our "world-picture" and is not to be taken with any special visual sense. Language is primary; it offers the system, the structure, or the background—to use Wittgenstein's other equivalent terms—that makes up the world, the context in which language games are mastered, the space in which they are organized and co-ordinated. Within the context of a given culture's Weltbild many language games function with a kind of logical necessity so that the world retains its coherence. Our certainties are an integral part of learning a language and acquiring a world. For, to return to the example of the child, the child learns many language games that he simply accepts as having the same degree of certainty that the philosopher would normally attribute to mathematics:

We teach a child "that is your hand," not "that is perhaps [or 'probably'] your hand." That is how a child learns the innumerable language-games that are concerned with his hand. An investigation or question, 'whether this is really a hand' never occurs to him. Nor, on the other hand, does he learn that he knows that this is a hand.

Certainty is concomitant with learning a language and entering the world that it articulates. There may be worlds that have other things to say about the hand held up in the air, but until one learns their language, one cannot do other than inhabit a world in which that, indeed, is a hand.

In epistemological terms Wittgenstein maintains that many so-called empirical statements are not garnered from experience at all; or, if one might point to where these statements once originated in experience, they no longer function as empirical statements. Consider the status of the proposition that water boils at 100 degrees centigrade. If I place a clear liquid on a fire and it does not boil at 100 degrees, I shall question my judgment as to whether the substance is water, not the supposedly empirical statement about the boiling point of water. We cannot, then, 'compare" a good many empirical statements with the world, for they are in effect definitions of what makes up the world. There is no hard-and-fast distinction here, for Wittgenstein shows that such statements can vary in their function, not only in ordinary discourse but also in scientific discourse. Much scientific discourse is, in fact, the locus where language games become definitions of the world:

It is clear that our empirical propositions do not all have the same status, since one can lay down such a proposition and turn it from an empirical proposition into a norm of description. Think of chemical investigations. Lavoisier makes experiments with substances in his laboratory and now he concludes that this and that takes place when there is burning. He does not say that it might happen otherwise another time. He has got hold of a definite world-picture—not of course one that he invented: he learned it as a child. I say world-picture and not hypothesis, because it is the matter-of-course [Grundlage] for his research and as such also goes unmentioned. (On Certainty)

Thus the "truth" of many of our statements belongs, as Wittgenstein puts it, to our linguistic system of reference, our Bezugssystem. And to ask if a statement "agrees" with the world is often simply a way of demonstrating what we mean by "agreement" (cf. On Certinty, no. 203).

Language and the system of reference it presupposes are the preconditions for all our knowing and doing. Many language games constitute a precognitive structure in the sense that many propositions of our language are presupposed by the very activity of "knowing" something:

But I did not get my picture of the world [Weltbild] by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background [Hintergrund] against which I distinguish between true and false. (On Certainty)

It seems important to stress that Wittgenstein is reversing our traditional attitude, inherited from classical metaphysics, that makes language subordinate to cognition. In this respect, Wittgenstein recalls Heidegger's attempt, in Being and Time, to show that man's being in the world is not primarily, as Descartes, Locke, and Husserl had thought, a matter of cognition, or the relation of a knowing mind to a known world. Much like Heidegger, Wittgenstein wishes to show that a system of reference is preconstitutive of the world and its meaning and that the empirical model of language's fundamental cognitive role is in fact secondary to the world of preexisting relations that we learn when we learn language.

In On Certinty Wittgenstein again resorted to the notion of system to describe the network of language games that make up our world. It might be useful in this respect to anticipate a near homology with contemporary structuralist thought deriving from Saussure. Wittgenstein's reflections, like Saussure's linguistic theory of language, suggest that language, in informing our system of beliefs, creates a structure that lies beyond the individual subject's power to modify it or, at times, even to know it:

Might I not believe that once, without knowing it, perhaps in a state of unconsciousness, I was taken far away from the earth—that other people even know this, but do not mention it to me? But this would not fit into the rest of my convictions at all. Not that I could describe the system of these convictions. Yet my convictions do form a system, a structure. (On Certainty)

Within this system or structure we find our realm of certainties about the world so long as those certainties articulate a world that satisfies our human needs. Those certainties are not the same, needless to say, for modern Western man and medieval European man, nor for aborigines in Australia. And the differences in the system of certainties mean that men live in different worlds. After this discussion it should be clear that the difference in worlds men inhabit is not due to some visual trick in which each language acts as a pair of glasses that varies perceptual possibilities. World as language is a structure of interrelating certainties and possibilities for knowledge articulating what we can say to be the world.

To illustrate this difference in cultural worlds Wittgenstein asks us to imagine that a British scientist is suddenly placed in a culture whose system of reference includes the statement that the earth began to exist one hundred years ago. If this proposition were the background for many of the culture's language games, then one might well imagine that the scientist would be hard put to show that his system of reference is preferable. For to convince these people that his world view is somehow superior or more adequate, the scientist would in effect have to change their language and their system of reference. He would have no simple means of proving that his "knowledge" that the world is older than one hundred years is true, since this knowledge is knowledge only within the system of reference that makes up his language. Rather, he would have to try to convince this culture, or convert it to his belief. Such a conversion would entail adopting a series of many new language games. In an analogous sense, we see comparable conversions take place in our everyday intellectual dealings when people accept the language games proposed by various modes of explication, such as historical explanation, the discourse of Freudian analysis, or new scientific paradigms.

Of equal interest in this later anthropology is the way Wittgenstein plays with the possibility that the system might break down and that the definitions might no longer cohere. The history of Western thought and science demonstrates that such crises have occurred with increasing regularity in our own culture. But Wittgenstein is little interested in history, either of science or philosophy, and rarely alludes to it. Rather, the possibility that for any individual there might suddenly appear a disjuncture between language and experience interests him far more profoundly. If, for instance, in the face of all explanation Moore had maintained that he was not certain if there was a hand there or not, we should have called him mad. For madness is the condition in which we doubt language and the rules of language games; in which we are no longer certain how to follow the rules or if the rules exist at all. Wittgenstein himself was no stranger to the dangers of insanity, and the later writings return constantly to madness, in attempts to define those peripheries of understanding where the world of normal language encounters boundaries which it cannot cross. The same anguish Wittgenstein felt about trusting language, about what language can do or cannot do, underlies both On Certainty and the Tractatus. Both works speak of a need for language to offer a certainty that nothing else in the world will bespeak.

To lose certainty is to lose a world—the Grundlage for all asserting and inquiring (cf. On Certainty, no. 162). What if, Wittgenstein asks, someone were to doubt seriously that he had a body? As Wittgenstein observes, there would be no way that we could speak to him, for the common rules of a fundamental language game would be suspended. There would be no way we could attempt to convince him that he had a body, since such a conviction is one of the rules of language, a part of the system of reference, that is accepted without question. And if the doubter changed his mind, there could be no way of knowing why he did. If he suddenly pinched his body and said, "Yes, it is a body," what would that tell us?) This doubt appears to be a central aspect of the schizophrenic condition; and Wittgenstein's preoccupation with the possible disjuncture between world and language parallels the development of a preeminently postmodern form of writing: the schizo-text that tries to place itself outside the pale of public language games.

With this reference to the schizo-text it seems appropriate to note that Wittgenstein, in his examples of doubting and their consequences, often recalls his near contemporary and fellow citizen of the Hapsburg Empire, Franz Kafka. Wittgenstein's prodigious variety of thought experiments are often like the kind of testing to which Kafka submitted the framework of rationality and certainty that characterizes our supposedly sane world. When Kafka's Gregor Samsa wakes to find himself transformed into a vermin, he tries to keep playing all the usual language games, for how can one doubt that one is a human being? In this disjuncture language maintains its power even if the world is berserk; for the giant insect soon loses his capacity to speak. The family is then able to assert that the insect is not Gregor, a proposition that is existentially false, but true from the point of view of the linguistic framework that allows us to make sense of the world. When one is no longer a man, logic must indeed take care of itself. In the same vein Wittgenstein asks:

What if something really unheard-of happened?—If I, say, saw houses gradually turning into steam without any obvious cause, if the cattle in the fields stood on their heads and laughed and spoke comprehensible words; if trees gradually changed into men and men into trees. Now, was I right when I said before all these things happened "I know that that's a house" etc., or simply "that's a house" etc.? (On Certainty)

What can one say about knowledge when vision refuses to obey language?

Presumably the Samsa family "knows" what it sees, though for the reader it is clear that Kafka is presenting a disjuncture between language and knowledge on the one hand, and vision on the other. And as the above quotation rather vividly suggests, Wittgenstein was also quite aware that there could be times when the world would break down; when vision would pay no heed to language; when the perceived world might indeed assert its primacy over the world guaranteed its certainty by and through language. Beginning with Sartre's Nausea, we shall see that the contemporary schizo-text arises at that point where, as in Wittgenstein's example, words and things go their separate ways.

In conclusion, however, I would stress that the force of Wittgenstein's work, as much in the Investigations as in On Certainty, is to demythologize the primacy of the visual. In the sections of the Investigations where he deals with misleading ways of talking about seeing, he seeks to lead us to the point where we no longer want or need to talk about mysterious hidden processes that take place when we see something. What we see we can describe, playing the multiple language games that make up description; and behind them lies no hidden self or a private cinema of ineffable vision. Pursuing these investigations in On Certainty, Wittgenstein proposes, in a style not unlike Heidegger's, that misleading analogies derived from an improper understanding of grammar have caused us to give the leading role to sight when we wish to talk about knowledge:

"I know" has a primitive meaning similar to and related to "I see" ("wissen," "videre"). And "I knew he was in the room, but he wasn't in the room" is like "I saw him in the room, but he wasn't there." "I know" is supposed to express a relation, not between me and the sense of a proposition (like "I believe") but between me and a fact. So that the fact is taken into my consciousness. (Here is the reason why one wants to say that nothing that goes on in the outer world is really known, but only what happens in the domain of what are called sense-data.) This would give us a picture of knowing as the perception of an outer event through visual rays which project it as it is into the eye and the consciousness.

This kind of demythologizing, which attempts to show how the privileging of the visual in knowledge and empiricist metaphysics go hand in hand, is perhaps the most important aspect of the legacy that Wittgenstein has left. Examination of the multiple functions of language has become a kind of final court of appeal for the investigation of myriad cultural activities, not the least of which, from our point of view, is literature.

Wittgenstein's example in philosophy is also characteristic of the kind of self-demystification that has become a primary activity of many thinkers and writers. I have stressed in this exposition certain of Wittgenstein's primary targets—the metaphysical self, the notion of essence, the belief in the representational function of language—because of the importance they have for both the theory and the practice of writing. But one might also note that there is a certain ambivalence in Wittgenstein's thought about the possibility of totally purging myth from our language and our habits of thought. For instance, certainty, and the concomitant kinds of knowing it vouchsafes, is a necessary myth that inhabits our language so that language, and hence our world, might exist at all. Moreover, Wittgenstein's hostile critics would charge that he contributed to the spreading of the most exemplary postmodern myth: the primacy of language. Ordinary language has often come to be viewed, as Austin put it, as embodying "all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth marking, in the lifetimes of many generations." Wittgenstein would not have subscribed to this myth of the historical adequacy of language as our taxonomy of the world, for, in his view, history itself is a kind of myth, more or less adequate for explanations of various sorts, though rarely the best one. Yet, Wittgenstein was obliged to make of our received language, as the sum of our natural history, the final arbiter in matters of philosophic thought, which may well strike many—when compared with other thinkers' willingness to strip language of its received meaning—as an acquiescence to myth making. Wittgenstein was well aware of this danger, of the fact that language perforce offers us myths that are as necessary as the need for understanding itself. As he put it wryly in his remarks on Frazer's The Golden Bough, "Indeed, the elimination of magic has here the character of magic itself."

Dallas M. High (essay date 1986)

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SOURCE: "On Thinking More Crazily Than Philosophers: Wittgenstein, Knowledge and Religious Beliefs," in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 19, No. 3, 1986, pp. 161-75.

[High is an American writer and educator. In the following essay, he comments on issues of certainty and religious belief in the writings of Wittgenstein.]

In what has been posthumously published as Culture and Value Ludwig Wittgenstein provides us with the following aphoristic remark: "It's only by thinking even more crazily than philosophers do that you can solve their problems." I think we can say, in retrospect, that much of the thought of Wittgenstein did just that—think "even more crazily than philosophers do." That is one of the reasons why his work has inspired philosophical innovation, evoked criticism and occasioned various misunderstandings. Wittgenstein did not formulate standard philosophical reflections in either thought or writing style. He was among other things a cultural critic who was intensely sensitive to a wide range of matters, including religious beliefs.

Doubtlessly philosophy for Wittgenstein was "a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence." Indeed, if allowed full impact his remarks contained in On Certainty turn much of our thinking on its head about knowledge, certainty and belief. That volume challenges many well-ingrained and standard habits of thought in epistemology. We are challenged to rethink matters on knowledge and belief from the ground up, as it were. At the same time we are reminded, both directly and indirectly, that such habits of thought bear pervasively on matters regarding religious belief—sometimes with condescension and contempt—and bestow on religious belief itself, at best, a second class epistemological citizenship. Such a display in modern Western philosophical thought has often been cause for theologians and philosophers to devote an enormous amount of energy, some of it nervous, to the topics of the justification of religious belief and the rationality of religion. Yet, most often the pursuits have been made without challenging the habits ingrained in that modern climate of opinion. In On Cerfainty Wittgenstein talks about those propositions or habits of thought to which we return again and again as if "bewitched." They should be "expunged," he urges.

In what follows I shall discuss some of those epistemological habits which have bewitched us. I shall also argue that Wittgenstein has attempted to convince us that knowledge is possible only in virtue of an antecedent "fiduciary framework" of convictions which are tacit and lived. Finally, I shall, by way of certain examples, draw attention to and comment on Wittgenstein's own explicit discussions of religious beliefs.

Among the major epistemological bewitchments unearthed by Wittgenstein in On Certainty is the view that knowledge must be infallible. That knowledge cannot be mistaken is a recurring theme throughout the history of philosophy. At first sight such a claim seems to be true, and, indeed, is harmless if it means no more than to say that there cannot be two varieties of knowledge—one, true knowledge and another, false knowledge. Such a claim provides one basis, even if not the most significant, to distinguish knowledge and belief since, at least, in third person terms, "one can say 'He believes it, but it isn't so', but not 'He knows it, but it isn't so'." The troubles, however, run deeper, and that is what worried Wittgenstein. We bewitch our own intelligence by overlooking the form of assertion "I thought I knew," and by treating the concept of "know" as "analogous to the concepts 'believe,' 'surmise,' 'doubt,' 'be convinced'." More specifically, we become lured into thinking that we find disgrace or reproach attached to knowledge if one should make a claim to knowledge and subsequently discover that one is wrong. In a remarkable passage Wittgenstein levels the blame just that way:

Isn't it the purpose of construing a word like "know" analogously to "believe" that then opprobrium attaches to the statement "I know" if the person who makes it is wrong?

As a result a mistake becomes something forbidden.

Of course, it is well-known that infallibilists have traditionally focused attention either on necessary (analytic) ropositions as the paradigm case for infallible knowledge, or on propositions of immediate experience, including the awareness of so-called sense data, or on propositions of intuition or apprehension of our own states of mind as illustrated in the Cartesian attempt of a "clear and distinct perception" of the indubitable. Accordingly, the view that knowledge is corrigible dies hard.

What apparently intrigued Wittgenstein about the propositions once entertained by G. E. Moore was that they were empirical, yet they, indeed, did "stand fast." However, these propositions stand fast in a way differently from what Moore thought. Moore does not know what he says he knows since the grounds he offers are no surer than the propositions themselves. At passage 151 Wittgenstein remarks, "Moore does not know what he asserts he knows, but it stands fast for him, as also for me; regarding it as absolutely solid is part of our method of doubt and enquiry." One backs into the confusions about the concept of "know" by thinking it is analogous to "surmise" or "believe." And in so far as one believes that "I know" cannot be a mistake, one also thinks that the truth of the assertion can be inferred from the mere utterance itself. Rather, says Wittgenstein, "Whether I know something depends on whether the evidence backs me up or contradicts me."

On the positive side what is radical and constructive about Wittgenstein's investigation can be formulated in the following manner: Knowledge is possible only when errors or mistakes are conceivable, where doubt makes sense. Contrary to the traditional infallibilist position, this means that the claim to know is always vulnerable, and the possibility of knowledge itself goes hand in hand with the possibility of doubt. The claim to know is vulnerable since one's evidence may not be compelling or the grounds may be undermined, forcing one to withdraw the claim and assert "I thought I knew." The degree of certainty of knowledge is dependent upon the "telling grounds" for the knowledge claim. As Wittgenstein sometimes claims, knowledge can be considered objectively certain depending on whether I have compelling grounds. But it always is possible that a dispute can arise about whether the grounds are sufficient or compelling. Moreover, says Wittgenstein, "It might surely happen that whenever I said 'I know' it turned out to be wrong." Further, he held that Moore had a right to say he knows there's a tree, but adds, "Naturally he may be wrong." Knowledge, therefore, always has a sense of contingency about it. This means for Wittgenstein that" 'knowledge' and 'certainty' belong to different categories." From here there emerges a new epistemological sensibility. It is one that seeks to break the stranglehold of the infallibilist tradition in linking the quest for certainty with knowledge.

A second major bewitchment is that knowledge and belief are distinguishable by their different mental states and the objects to which the states refer. Although not all theorists embrace this position, it is nevertheless a serious temptation. Some may hold that the mental state of knowing is distinct from believing since knowing can be described as a state of "being sure," whereas believing must always be a state of possible fallibility. Likewise, "I know" may seem to refer to objects or states of affairs as facts which guarantee the knowledge, whereas belief at best has a more nebulous reference. Philosophers often have held that belief is an inner or mental state, and that by direct introspection one can discover the conceptual structure of belief as well as its reference.

Clearly, efforts to distinguish knowledge and belief on the basis of mental states is under attack by Wittgenstein. The difference of the two do not stem from any differences of mental states or referents. In fact the states and referents may be the same. At passage 42 Wittgenstein says, "To think that different states must correspond to the words believe' and 'know' would be as if one believed that different people had to correspond to the word T and the name Ludwig,' because the concepts are different." As to referents Wittgenstein once put to G. E. Moore (in a letter) the following counter example: "If I ask someone 'Is there a fire in the next room?' and he answers 'I believe there is.' can't say: 'Don't be irrelevant. I asked you about the fire, not about your state of mind.'"

Again on the positive side Wittgenstein points out that knowing and believing can be distinguished on the basis that claims to knowledge commits one to giving reasons and to answering questions of how one knows. To say "I believe …" does not lay me open to similar obligations. Of course, if I say "I believe …" I am free, although not obliged, to give reasons. Moreover, we may judge whether someone is in a position to know, but not whether someone is in a position to believe or even always why someone believes.

A third and closely related bewitchment is the claim that in knowing one must know that one knows. Sometimes that claim is put forward on the basis of an analogy that just as we cannot have pains without being aware of them (or even knowing them), so too we cannot know anything without knowing that we know. Knowing is then characterized as a unique occurrence which cannot be misidentified by its owner. Simple inspection is direct knowledge of knowing. For some this is supposedly done through the traditional method of introspection. For others it simply means that if a person knows, then that person also knows the logical condition of knowing.

Surely it is legitimate to ask how one does recognize or know one's own state of knowing. Wittgenstein does offer some partial responses through several passages in On Certainty. And it is clear that he does not consider knowledge to be something which identifies itself or certifies the knower. At passage 16 he says,

"If I know something, then I also know that I know it, etc." amounts to: "I know that" means "I am incapable of being wrong about that." But whether I am so needs to be established objectively.

Wittgenstein seems to be suggesting that some showing of "other" evidence must take place and that neither a certain state itself nor "an inner experience" can show that I know. To show something this way is not in anyway a private showing, but it is what is available to oneself and others. Put positively, for Wittgenstein knowing commits one to giving reasons and to answering questions of how one knows. Showing, therefore, may include showing that one is capable of knowing, is qualified to know, or is in a position to know.

In summary it is fair to say that Wittgenstein's primary target of attack seems to be the general assumption that there must be a close connection between knowledge and certainty. In other words, the illusion which Wittgenstein wants to release from us is that "whatever is certain is known," a common philosophical view, and offered, for example, as apparent and uncontested in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The force of Wittgenstein's remarks is to insist on a thorough revision of our thinking about what constitutes knowledge. It is not the case that Wittgenstein in turn simply argues for some kind of fallibilism. Neither is it the case that he adopts some form of skepticism regarding the possibility of knowing anything. Rather, the reorientation which Wittgenstein offers is that the basic connection or alignment of certainty is with believing rather than knowing. Hence, for example, it is a form of believing which best fits Moore's claims that stand fast for him. Moore's claims have a certainty about them, but he does not know them: "… this direct taking-hold corresponds to a sureness, not to a knowing." "…I shall act with a certainty that knows no doubt, in accordance with my belief." Accordingly, knowledge arises only against a background of possible doubt preceded by the certainty of belief. This does not mean, however, that knowledge is established by doubting. On the contrary, "if you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything."

The kind of crazy thinking Wittgenstein subjects us to and its accompanying philosophical heresy) is that the foundations of knowledge are actually provided by belief, instances and practices of believing. At one place Wittgenstein expresses that move with appeal to the concept of acknowledgement. "Knowledge," he says, "is in the end based on acknowledgement." Knowledge has a fundamental and primitive dependency on what might be called fiduciary conditions, an umbrella term here adopted to cover several descriptions used by Wittgenstein. In addition to belief and acknowledgement, he sometimes talks about "trust," 'judgment," "acceptance," "non-doubting behavior," "acting," "deeds," "practices" and "convictions." The range of appeals which Wittgenstein uses in talking about fiduciary matters is wide, and that suggests he was less interested in constructing a systematic theory of knowledge than exploring the complicated picture of what it is that we do as human beings in knowing. Although at least two commentators have emphasized the role of acts or practices as having primacy in knowing, to my mind such emphasis is too narrow and does injustice to the comprehensive nature of Wittgenstein's effort in "changing the style of thinking." What, I believe, has not been sufficiently and appropriately recognized is the acritical character of action, practice or life as talked about by Wittgenstein. That is to say, there is more emphasis in On Certainty on belief, conviction, trust, etc. than has been recognized.

Paralleling Wittgenstein's efforts in the Philosophical Investigations to rescue language from the objectivistic habit and provide a new awareness of language as having a human condition, On Certainty prods us to discover that knowledge, contrary to our assumption, cannot be based on critical thought, but is, instead, grounded in the acritical dimensions of life. "Must I not begin to trust somewhere? That is to say: somewhere I must begin with not-doubting; and that is not, so to speak, hasty but excusable: it is part of judging." At several places Wittgenstein reiterates his contention that without the fiduciary framework, as I have called it, one could not after all gain any knowledge. Yet, such a framework is not to be understood as a point of departure, and much less a set of assumptions, as it is the acceptance of life itself and the rough system, so to speak, "in which arguments have their life." At passage 41 Wittgenstein says, "When we first begin to believe anything, what we believe is not a single proposition, it is a whole system of propositions. (Light dawns gradually over the whole.)" Yet, it is not the case that one could describe the system and a belief "may never have been expressed; even the thought that it was so, never thought."

Aside from offering a warning against plotting the fiduciary framework as a mere set of assumptions, we are likewise warned against regarding the matter as one in which the certainty of the fiduciary framework is a particular set of propositions "striking us immediately as true" or as "intrinsically obvious or convincing." Moreover, "experience is not the ground for our game of judging" even though we may "derive" some things from experience. Of course, in the early stages of life we learn from others, and this learning is in fact a-critical at bedrock. One cannot immediately doubt what one is taught. "The child, I should like to say, learns to react in such-and-such a way; and in so reacting it doesn't so far know anything. Knowing only begins at a later level."

Another way of seeing how the fiduciary framework is displayed in the inquiries of On Certainty is to ask about the basis of critical thought or doubt itself. Earlier we noted that knowledge is possible only where doubt makes sense. Not only are knowledge and the possibility of doubt (or critical thought) aligned or have categorical likenesses, but doubt itself does not have an autonomous function. One cannot doubt or exercise critical thought in a vacuum. Accordingly, doubt must presuppose something which stands fast or is at least in place, including, for example, our very methods of testing, investigating or experimenting. Says Wittgenstein, "Doubt itself rests only on what is beyond doubt." And to go further, that which is "beyond doubt" is what is to be appropriately categorized as certainty. "The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty." "One gives oneself a false picture of doubt" and critical thought if they are taken as primary. Rather, what is primary is belief, i.e., the fiduciary framework. Moreover, the primacy of belief even has a chronological or developmental order about it. "The child learns by believing the adult. Doubt comes after belief."

At a superficial level it may appear that Wittgenstein introduces a form of epistemological skepticism since an assertion of the primacy of belief implies hesitancy and weakness. That is to say, if belief is conceptualized as only a form of conjecture and intellectual surmise, then it, indeed, is difficult to claim that belief can be a framework for knowledge. Belief, in that case, is only a weakened form of knowledge, and the utterance "I believe …" shows some degree of confidence or hesitancy. However, it is clear that a fundamental distinction is made in On Certainty between belief understood as conjecture or surmise and belief understood as conviction (as also in religious belief). The latter is part and parcel of the practices, activities and behavior of human beings. But before attempting to unpack that distinction, it should be noted that the general program I have so far described as Wittgenstein's has sometimes been pejoratively labeled as fideism. Moreover, the seeds of such a program in the Philosophical Investigations have likewise been criticized as fideistic. Such charges are, I believe, mistaken; at least they are mistaken if applied directly to Wittgenstein. In other words, so called Wittgensteinian fideism is not Wittgenstein's. My point is inadvertently displayed in a recent essay by John Smith entitled, "Faith, Belief, and the Problem of Rationality in Religion" [in Rationality and Religious Belief, ed. C. F. Delaney, 1979]. There Smith wants to claim that Wittgenstein is fideistic in so far as he interprets Wittgenstein as polarizing religion and rationality. Religion cannot participate in rationality since Wittgenstein, so argues Smith, resolutely holds to a narrow standard of rationality. The irony of this portrayal is that elements of the corrective which Smith offers to fideism are, in fact, elements of Wittgenstein's own corrective to the modern sensibility on epistemology.

Smith develops his argument by claiming that given the polarity between religion and the modern conception of rationality, Wittgenstein, as based on his Lectures and Conversations .. . commits us to a total fideism in religion. He argues, for example, that Wittgenstein's discussion of a belief in the Last Judgment ends in setting such a belief totally apart from any other activities and forces "religious belief to dwell entirely outside of the realm of rationality.…" Smith reads Wittgenstein as seeing an absolute disparity between religious belief and the standard of rationality. Yet, Smith also claims that Wittgenstein "presents us with the most appropriate and consistent solution possible for someone whose approach to the problem is thoroughly conditioned by the polarity." One must comment at this point that this is an extremely odd claim to make since it explicitly asserts that Wittgenstein was uncritically constrained by modernity's conception of rationality. Such a claim overlooks Wittgenstein's own statements in those same Lectures and Conversations when he tells us he is attempting to undermine the modern conception of reason and persuade people "to change their style of thinking." It is, indeed, odd to think that Wittgenstein would consider a standard philosophical position as somehow invulnerable, and that he willingly settles for a modern conception of rationality as the backdrop to plotting the nature of religious belief. Because Smith makes this error, he accuses Wittgenstein of making faith into a super-paradox and creating "some form of schizophrenia" in which the world of science and the world of faith are absolutely disparate.

The climactic oddity of Smith's piece comes when he finally suggests that a resolution to the problem displayed in Wittgenstein rests on questioning the "assumptions" and offering "a radical reorientation in thought …" about the standard of rationality. With the broad strokes Smith wields to reorient matters, he concludes that some new version of the ancient enterprise of "faith seeking understanding" must be made paramount if we are going to find any rationality or intelligibility in religious belief. The basic irony about Smith's suggestions is that Wittgenstein himself was on to some form of the very same thing. I am not at all arguing that Smith would agree with Wittgenstein's version of epistemological reorientation. Rather, I am suggesting that the rethinking of epistemology needs to be taken seriously when attempting to shed any light on religious beliefs, including many of Wittgenstein's own remarks about religion.

It is important, I believe, to give careful attention to the distinction, noted earlier, which Wittgenstein draws between belief understood as surmise and belief understood as conviction. Roughly speaking, belief as surmise can be characterized as conjecture or assumption or supposition and can be doubted as an explicit intellective operation. Special skills may even be required to assert one's belief surmise) with any degree of confidence. On the other hand, belief understood as conviction stands in the family environment of terms like faith, trust, persuasion, and certain. A conviction requires no special context or skill, may not be expressed, but indeed "stands fast," is certain by "what lies around it" and is groundless inasmuch as it is a function of what people do as lived practice.

Two interwoven features of convictions can, I believe, be helpfully sorted out with the aid of what Michael Polanyi has drawn to our attention as the tacit dimension of knowledge, including the notion of indwelling in commitment. The parallels between Wittgenstein and Polanyi can be seen when the former says such things as "I do not explicitly learn the propositions that stand fast for me," that convictions may not and need not be expressed, and that convictions are interwoven with practices and beliefs in life itself. In a significant sense it is correct to say that we are our convictions.

One of the important achievements of Polanyi was to show clearly that all knowledge is rooted in what he called the tacit component or dimension. Often he called it tacit knowing and offered that the fiduciary element goes hand in hand with the tacit component. For Polanyi in all of our activities of awareness we attend from certain subsidiary factors to other factors which are focal. Thus, there are always factors which stand fast subsidiarily if there is to be any awareness at all. Now the things which we are focally aware of can be explicitly revealed, talked about and known. However, no knowledge can be made wholly explicit either in what is identified, in what is said, or in its roots. Says Polanyi, "… tacit knowing is more fundamental than explicit knowing: We can know more than we can tell and we can tell nothing without relying on our awareness of things we may not be able to tell."

Generally speaking, modern epistemological traditions have prized explicit knowledge, made it the ideal of cognition, and have attempted to formalize it. This has meant that tacit coefficients have either been ignored or are viewed as specifiable, at least "in principle." But then the question arises whether an attempt to specify and formalize what is otherwise held tacitly in the end distorts and transforms the character of the roots of knowledge as well as the claims of knowing. I think this is precisely what worried Wittgenstein about Moore's manipulations—transforming convictions which stand fast into something determinate and inferential. Because Moore's paradigm of all knowledge was explicit knowledge, he changed the character of certain interesting propositions by claiming to know them with philosophical intention or even know them with a vengeance. "I know that that's a tree," says Moore. ("This fellow isn't insane. We are only doing philosophy.")

Convictions, as distinguished from surmises and knowledge, function as antecedents of knowledge so long as they have tacit roles. The antecedents (the convictions) "do form a system, a structure," but this does not mean that the system can be described or formalized. Moreover, even our formally declared beliefs can and do function safely because of a logically anterior dependence on a network of convictions. This means simply, to use Polanyi's terms, that we constantly attend from a tacitly held set of convictions while attending to, explicitly, some formally held belief or beliefs. Or alternatively put, a network of convictions has a subsidiary function for, and bear on the meaning of, that which we may give focal expression to, whether the focal expression at any given instant may be a belief, knowledge, scientific inquiry, or religious doctrine. At one crucial juncture Wittgenstein caps the discussion with the following:

"Am I not getting closer and closer to saying that in the end logic cannot be described? You must look at the practice of language, then you will see it."

Polanyi's work can be further used in explicating Wittgenstein's view of convictions by attending to the former's notion of indwelling. If we cannot describe, explicate or specify the particulars of convictions which form the network, how can we account for their function at all? The answer given by Polanyi and likewise suggested by Wittgenstein is that such convictions do not have to be described, explicated and specified to have a function. Rather, something can function subsidiarily by our interiorizing it, participating in it, dwelling in it, living in it, or appropriating it as self-involvement. To put it metaphorically, we pour our bodies into operators and assimilate various things as part of our own existence. As Polanyi has taught us, we get a clue about this in the skillful use of a probe or tool. The probe or tool functions as an extension of my body. I come to dwell in the tool; I put myself into the tool. Extending the whole matter to convictions, beliefs and teachings, Polanyi comments in the following way:

We meet with another indication of the wide functions of indwelling when we find acceptance to moral teachings described as their interiorization. To interiorize is to identify ourselves with the teachings in question, by making them function as the proximal term of a tacit moral knowledge, as applied in practice.… And we can trace this kind of indwelling to logically similar acts in the practice of science. To rely on a theory for understanding nature is to interiorize it.

Wittgenstein offers a parallel claim when at one point he uses the metaphor to "swallow." He argues that various convictions are not learned explicitly. A child, for example, does not explicitly learn but "swallows down" that "… that mountain has existed for a long time.…" The child interiorizes it, takes it on or puts himself in it, and lives with it. Of course, what it is that one indwells may be shown or revealed by how one lives or by one's life or the collective life of a community.

In addition to the metaphor of "swallowing" Wittgenstein uses various other terms to talk about the indwelt nature of convictions. He talks about "acquiring," and not learning or not "explicitly learning." He sometimes talks about an "inherited background," or a mythology, or even a riverbed. At other times references are made to "something animal," while explicitly denying that language itself emerges "from some kind of ratiocination." The indwelt convictions have a function not as detached or detachable propositions, but rather by the practice of self-involvement. And if this much is correct, then it is misleading to claim that Wittgenstein places a priority on action over belief, but sometimes loses sight of that priority. Likewise, it is misleading to argue that Wittgenstein's aim was to display our "fundamental propositions" as if they could be explicitly known and described. The alternative is not to suggest that belief has a priority over action, nor is it to deny Wittgenstein's talk of propositions, rather it is to acknowledge that convictions, beliefs and propositions, understood as indwellings of human life, are part and parcel of practice, and practice is part and parcel of indwelt convictions. There is neither an inconsistency in Wittgenstein, at this point at least, nor is there a conflict between praxis and belief understood as conviction.

It has taken a long time for people to realize that Wittgenstein had a strong interest in religious matters and that he had more than a trivial amount to say concerning religious beliefs. The publication of some extended remarks, collected notes, records of lectures and recollections of conversations has helped to rectify previous impressions. Moreover, it may have not at all been uncharacteristic that Wittgenstein took religious matters into the foreground of his attention. He once said in conversation, as recorded by M. O'C. Drury, "I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view." Yet, he also said in the same conversation, "My type of thinking is not wanted in this present age, I have to swim so strongly against the tide." My concern here is not to attempt some exhaustive exploration of Wittgenstein's comments on religious beliefs, but only to offer some examples, especially those comments which are brought into focus by a reordering of our habits concerning knowledge and certainty. That is to say, if there is a fiduciary rootedness to all cognitive claims, then any acknowledgement or discussion of religious beliefs takes on a different character from the case if one clung to the model of certainty as attached to the presumption that knowledge must be infallible.

My point so far, as the cumulative thrust of the contentions of this paper, is simply that if we take seriously the fiduciary rootedness of the human cognitive situation, then religious beliefs no longer need to be seen as oddities in the dwellings and the indwelling of human life. And this perspective is not accomplished by concocting some new justification or foundation for religious beliefs. Indeed, I think such a perspective helps to account for how it was that Wittgenstein held that various religious beliefs are not surprising, but are in a genuine sense natural. "Why shouldn't one form of life culminate in an utterance of belief in a Last Judgment?" This is not to say that religious beliefs have no distinctiveness, nor is it to say that there is something called religious belief in general. It would be more appropriate to say that there are a variety of religious practices and beliefs. Indeed, Drury further records Wittgenstein as commenting that "the way in which people have had to express their religious beliefs differ enormously. All genuine expressions of religion are wonderful, even those of the most savage peoples." This does not mean, as I argued earlier, that beliefs, including religious beliefs, must always be expressed. Moreover, at one time Wittgenstein apparently conveyed to Friedrich Waismann that he could "imagine a religion in which there are no doctrines, and hence nothing is said." Beliefs may be expressed in speech or doctrines, but also they may not; and those beliefs functioning as acts of worship, including rites, ceremonies and valuing, are best regarded as forms of indwelling.

Sometimes philosophers of religion have presumed that religious beliefs must of necessity be accounted for as explicit propositions while a few other philosophers of religion have insisted on a non-propositional account of religious belief. In Wittgenstein's view, I believe, such efforts and any ensuing debate over the efforts) are at best misplaced. There are propositional as well as nonpropositional functions of beliefs. And there is nothing paradoxical about that. The propositional function corresponds to what is explicit or focal and the nonpropositional function corresponds to what is tacit. This means that for religious beliefs one may acknowledge both the indwelt character of religious beliefs and their doctrinally expressed formulations. Yet, what is most important is that any propositional (doctrinal) expression of belief is dependent on an antecedent tacit or indwelt network of beliefs which may go unexpressed. There is a relationship of explicit and tacit beliefs but that relationship is asymmetrical. Moreover, what is a tacit belief can subsequently become focal as expressed in doctrine, even sound doctrine, although that change always risks distortion, transformation and destruction of meaning. Wittgenstein saw this point very well when he made some notes in 1946 saying,

"I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life)."

Although doctrinal expressions have serious limitations and too often can encourage one to focus on barren abstractions of religious belief at the expense of the lived experiences, a further point should not be overlooked. While a tacit belief can be focalized, so to speak, admittedly at risk, so too it is possible that an explicit doctrine, as taught, can become interiorized through acts of worship, liturgy, etc., and can, therefore, become integrated into a network of indwelt beliefs. Says Wittgenstein, "But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction." It is in this sense that Wittgenstein, in the same set of remarks, associates religious faith with what Kierkegaard rightly termed passion. On this issue the following remarks, written just one year later, are worth quoting at length since they are comprehensively sensitive to instruction and learning in religious faith as well as to the way such beliefs can be taken on or seized hold of as a way of living.

"It strikes me that a religious belief could only be something like a passionate commitment to a system of reference. Hence, although it's belief it's really a way of living, or a way of assessing life. It's passionately seizing hold of this interpretation. Instruction in a religious faith, therefore, would have to take the form of a portrayal, a description, of that system of reference, while at the same time being an appeal to conscience. And this combination would have to result in the pupil himself, of his own accord, passionately taking hold of the system of reference. It would be as though someone were first to let me see the hopelessness of my situation and then show me the means of rescue until, of my own accord, or not at any rate led to it by my instructor, I ran to it and grasped it."

With the above passage and other remarks Wittgenstein makes it plain that he regards it as a mistake to attempt to reduce religious faith to assent to propositional doctrines. Religious faith or belief (Wittgenstein does not draw a distinction between the terms) has to do with life, changing one's life, safety, trusting, passion, and certainty, but the whole business is destroyed or made into a sham if it is reduced to a question of speculative intelligence, probability, or cold counsel which constantly asks for a justification. Likewise, it appears that over a period of ten or more years Wittgenstein offered comments to substantiate this view by contrasting faith with wisdom. At about 1937 he said concerning "believing in Christ's resurrection" that "if I am to be REALLY saved,—what I need is certainty—not wisdom, dreams, or speculation—and this certainty is faith." As late as 1947 he continued with the following remarks:

"Wisdom is cold and to that extent stupid. Faith on the other hand is a passion.) It might also be said: Wisdom merely conceals life from you."

" 'Wisdom is grey.' Life on the other hand and religion are full of colour."

These passages suggest not only the obvious point that faith is a complex matter, but also that the color of faith is that which is built into life as comprehensive and comprehending of what takes hold of us to provide meaning in our lives and to aid in our grasp of the nature of things. Genuine belief or faith is not a formulation, doctrine, proposition, or a practice which we entertain with our fingers crossed. Rather, faith carries us away, so to speak, and is in that sense unshakable as well as authoritative. You cannot swing to and fro between acceptance and questioning without rebelling since to believe another involves a personal relationship which cannot be directly cashed into simply believing what another says. The certainty of such belief as the "standing fast" emanates from life itself as a complex of relationships and system or network of beliefs or "references." Certainty, in this rediscovered sense, is not what cold wisdom would teach us—that a proposition or belief is true. Wisdom does not cover enough. It is narrow in its path. Besides, the evidence and reasons for the truth of a matter may fail us or, indeed, will run out. Of course, I will give reasons if I have a difference with another. But how far can that go? "At the end of reasons comes persuasion. (Think of what happens when missionaries convert natives.)" Moreover, it seems clear that conversion does not occur by having the truth and evidence for a belief or proposition laid out before us. Rather, conversion occurs when the matter at hand opens up new possibilities and avenues of meaning which are richer than what has gone before.

What Wittgenstein has said about the truth of religious beliefs has been subjected to diverse criticisms and noncognitive interpretations, but this is largely due, I think, to a failure to take seriously a re-orientation in epistemology. For example, Wittgenstein characterizes Christianity as offering us a narrative (historical) and saying "now believe" whether it is true or not. He says:

"Queer as it sounds: The historical accounts in the Gospels might, historically speaking, be demonstrably false and yet belief would lose nothing by this… because historical proof (the historical proof-game) is irrelevant to belief. This message (the Gospels) is seized on by men believing (i.e. lovingly). That is the certainty characterizing the particular acceptance-as-true, not something else. A believer's relation to these narratives is neither the relation to historical truth (probability), nor yet that to a theory consisting of 'truths of reason'."

I think it is important not to construe Wittgenstein to mean that "we should not accept the Gospels as true" or that he is making a move with Tertullian that one should believe because it is absurd. Moreover, we further go astray should we presume that the significance and meaning of a religious conviction is locked in with its truth, i.e., that if it is true then it must have significance for all people, believers or non-believers. The point is that Wittgenstein could have said that "the accounts might historically speaking be demonstrably true, and yet belief would gain nothing." One is not persuaded, converted, or thrust into significance and meaning by the wisdom of the truth by itself. The truth, like an historical truth, is not enough. Besides we neither start with what is demonstrably true nor do we end there. We are always in the midst of what is acritical.

The view which Wittgenstein has put forward—to try another tack—is not unlike what W. H. Auden once observed: "There is a game called Cops and Robbers, but none called Saints and Sinners." There is a difference between what is frivolous and what is serious. Likewise, "Life is not a game," says Auden, "because one cannot say: 'I will live if I turn out to be good at living'." What is difficult for us is not the problem of the rationality or justification of religious beliefs, but the recognition that religious beliefs are indwelt in life and function with the full intensity of the seriousness of life. We mislead ourselves into thinking that faith must be tentative unless it has compelling grounds which could be calculated in the fashion of wisdom. But, reminds Wittgenstein, "'I never believed in God before'—that I understand. But not: 'I never really believed in Him before'." The latter is not serious, but frivolous. It does not have depth. The latter may be wise, but not serious, since a certain detachment is attempted—and no one admits of being carried away. And as Auden further notes, "All knowledge is frivolous for the same reason that it is innocent, namely because it does not of itself move what is serious, the will."

It follows from the foregoing that religious controversies are not easy, nor are they sport or play. These are not differences of opinion or claims to knowledge or even claims to the truth as abstract contentions. All of that sounds queer. "It is for this reason that different words are used: dogma,' 'faith.' We don't talk about hypothesis, or about high probability. Nor about knowing." The disputes go to the depths of what takes place in life. Moreover, disputes between believers and non-believers are not simple matters of conflicting opinions, nor are they matters of one person contradicting another, as if the evidence and truth claims could be checked off by the surface meanings of what is said. "The expression of belief may play an absolutely minor role." And again matters run more deeply between people positioned in life differently with their varying indwelt beliefs.

While religious beliefs are serious, certain, unshakeable and stand fast, there is another sense in which they are not "well-established at all." "An honest religious thinker," says Wittgenstein, "is like a tightrope walker. He almost looks as though he were walking on nothing but air. His support is the slenderest imaginable. And yet it really is possible to walk on it." Of course it is difficult to perform the feat of a tightrope walker, but is that the most serious and genuine problem with matters religious? Or is it a failure of sight or even a blindness—due to crazy philosophical thinking—to recognize faith and trust and distinguish them from superstition? The common view harbored by philosophers is that unless beliefs have evidence, proof, justification and pledge their allegiance to knowledge, then they are superstition whether they carry the label of religious or not. Wittgenstein clearly thought otherwise. "Religious faith and superstition are quite different. One of them results from fear and is a sort of false science. The other is a trusting." Apparently, Wittgenstein did not think that we were so crazy as not to be able to say which is which. But, then it isn't easy to think "even more crazily than philosophers do."

Austin E. Quigley (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: "Wittgenstein's Philosophizing and Literary Theorizing," in New Literary History, Vol. 19, No. 2, Winter 1988, pp. 209-37.

[Quigley is an English-born writer and educator. In the following essay, he questions whether, given Wittgenstein's personal aversion to systems of philosophical analysis, it is possible for literary theorists to employ a truly "Wittgensteinian" method of analysis.]

Among the well-known thinkers whose ideas have achieved prominence in modern literary theory, Wittgenstein strikes many as the most problematic. It is often difficult to get any precise sense of what the fuss is about. Literary theorists with a Wittgensteinian turn of mind seem firmly convinced about their position but betray little of the inclination, so common in literary theory today, to advertise noisily or display graphically the origins of their intellectual labors. Direct recourse to Wittgenstein's writings often seems no more satisfying. His major work, Philosophical Investigations, is a peculiar aggregate of loosely related paragraphs which offers no detailed statement of intended goals, no sustained elaboration of a narrative thread, and no triumphant summary of achieved conclusions. Although the author's preface to this enigmatic work registers his awareness of what might appear to be missing, he seems at best to be only semi-apologetic about it:

It was my intention at first to bring all this together in a book whose form I pictured differently at different times. But the essential thing was that the thoughts should proceed from one subject to another in a natural order and without breaks.

After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed. The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks; my thoughts were soon crippled if I tried to force them on in any single direction against their natural inclination.—And this was, of course, connected with the very nature of the investigation. For this compels us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction.—The philosophical remarks in this book are, as it were, a number of sketches of landscapes which were made in the course of these long and involved journeyings.

The absence of a conventional narrative coherence and the absence of inflated claims are thus not accidental. Wittgenstein's concern for finding an appropriate structure is explicitly linked to what he feels are the demands of the ideas he has to offer. The book is finally, he suggests, "only an album," by means of which we can get "a picture of the landscape" which he repeatedly traverses in his intellectual "journeyings."

We should, of course, be alert to the implications of the image of an album for a philosopher whose initial reputation was established by arguments in favor of a picture-theory of meaning. His earlier attempts to establish for every proposition a definitive picture are superseded by later attempts to sketch out "tolerable" pictures whose application extends beyond the sentence and whose value depends on neither their singularity nor their singleness. His declining interest in establishing definitive scenes is accompanied by a growing interest in sketching emerging landscapes, whose complicated contours require repeated journeyings from one imprecise locale to another. Journeying is, indeed, one of the favorite images employed in the text. Language, we are told, is "a labyrinth of paths"; a philosophical problem has the form "I don't know my way about"; and "a rule stands there like a sign-post," offering us helpful guidance but not explicit instructions. The journeys seem fraught with danger, the map of the terrain imprecise at best, and the destination not clearly known.

The concern that Wittgenstein exhibits for the structure of his book is evidently related to the images used within it and to the nature of the investigations he is conducting. To recognize this is to recognize one of the reasons why the book has seemed philosophically obscure, and why it is nevertheless possible to locate via its obscurities an appropriate mode of participation in what it has to offer. The repeated images of journeying, of failing to get under way, of getting lost when under way, and of arriving at the wrong destination are intriguing enough in themselves, but the difficulty that confronts us is figuring out which journey Wittgenstein might wish us to take and at which destination we might thereby arrive. His constant wanderings from point to point, from paragraph to paragraph, and from image to image have led many to question whether Wittgenstein actually has a philosophical position to offer us, whether he has indeed a summarizable set of philosophical beliefs, and whether there is or could be a Wittgensteinian approach to things in general.

This is of major consequence, of course, to anyone wishing to use Wittgenstein's work in literary theory or interpretative practice. If we compare his work to, say, that of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Freud, Jakobson, or Levi-Strauss, or to that of many other thinkers whose work has been of major consequence in the modern era, we can get some sense of what the problem is. Wittgenstein offers us no clearly defined system of analysis, no elaborate set of theoretical distinctions, and (apart from a sprinkling of characteristic metaphors) no highly developed technical vocabulary. While a Freudian analysis of a literary text instantly declares itself to be so, it can be difficult to identify as such a Wittgensteinian analysis. There is no elaborate jargon to give the game away, no set of presuppositions to be posited and illustrated, no characteristic goals that pronounce themselves in advance. The question then arises whether there is or could be a Wittgensteinian theory of art or of interpretation or, indeed, of anything else. And this question is of the same order as those which register doubts about whether Wittgenstein can, in any conventional sense, be said to have a philosophy.

Wittgenstein himself is keen to offer support to those who might entertain such doubts. Rejecting the ambitions of his youth, Wittgenstein warns us, as he warns himself, that "we may not advance any kind of theory" nor any kind of final "explanation," nor any definitive "method." Nor is there to be any attempt to make a breakthrough to some underlying foundation or transcendent goal: "We feel as if we had to penetrate phenomena: our investigation, however, is directed not towards phenomena, but, as one might say, towards the possibilities' of phenomena." His argument is directed less toward final discovery than toward local equanimity; the satisfactory result is regarded less as a matter of resolving an issue than of rendering it harmless: "The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to.—The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question." The resistance Wittgenstein displays to the temptation to offer any kind of totalizing, all-embracing theory is a resistance to the recurring consequences of such efforts—the gnawing doubts and ultimate frustrations that confront those determined to absorb multiple phenomena into unifying frameworks. At a time when literary theory is itself riddled with such doubts, at a time when Derridean deconstruction has dramatized what followers of Wittgenstein have long known, at a time when one of the major journals of literary theory finds it necessary to precipitate a debate on the viability of literary theory, there is reason to reconsider what Wittgenstein had to say about the nature of theory and what he was able to display as a possible alternative.

The word "display" is carefully chosen. It relates both to Wittgenstein's characterization of his book as an album and to the potential dilemma of the antitheorist. As many would be quick to point out, to argue for or against theory is to make a theoretical argument, and there is little for anyone to gain in involving themselves in inadvertent self-contradiction. Wittgenstein's alternative to existing theory is not an antitheory, any more than his alternative to existing philosophy is an antiphilosophy. It is instead a philosophical procedure displayed in action, a philosophical technique variously exemplified, a philosophical process that refuses to become a reified product. Though Wittgenstein warns us against our "craving for generality" and our "contemptuous attitude towards the particular case" [The Blue and Brown Books], his aim is not to substitute the particular for the general but to locate a relationship between the two that prevents them or us from coming to a final and definitive resting point. Such refusal of final resting points is not, however, a refusal of all resting points.

One of the recurring images in Wittgenstein's writing is of philosophy as a form of therapy: "The philosopher's treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness." The human mind, like the human body, exhibits recurring weaknesses and is prone to recurring illnesses. Some forms of treatment will correct the problems, but as they will not rule out the possibility of recurrence, we need both to keep the remedies at hand and to try to ward off renewed dangers before they strike. Habits of mind, like habits of the body, are, however, very hard to break, and it takes persistent intellectual effort to prevent ourselves from lapsing into habits we thought we had transcended. For Wittgenstein, many philosophical problems arise from habits of this kind, and he is prepared to characterize his own philosophical procedure as one of "assembling reminders for a particular purpose." Such reminders are to be assembled in the light of, are to establish their viability and gain their function from, "the philosophical problems" that generate philosophical activity. And the philosophical activity about which he is most concerned in Philosophical Investigations is that precipitated primarily by problems which emerge when we attempt to explain to ourselves the nature of our language and the nature of our knowledge.

Such issues are, of course, of major consequence to current literary theory. There are few areas of concern more central to literary activity than inherited assumptions about the nature of language, and few issues more likely to activate the illnesses that Wittgenstein's therapeutic techniques are designed to treat. To rehearse some of Wittgenstein's arguments on these issues is to cover well-trodden ground, but also to remind ourselves of reminders that modern literary theory seems often to have forgotten. More important, however, is that in doing so, we will encounter in action aspects of Wittgenstein's thinking that can only be encountered in action. Knowing, in Wittgenstein's later philosophy, is not easily separated from doing.

The first voice we encounter in Philosophical Investigations is not that of Wittgenstein, but that of Augustine. The second is that of Wittgenstein offering clarifications and corrections to the views of Augustine. More often Wittgenstein plays both roles, alternately offering the view that inherited habits of mind encourage and the view that a more enlightened mind might offer instead. [Stanley] Cavell describes these [in Must We Mean What We Say?, 1976] as the voice of temptation and the voice of correctness, but, as others have remarked, it would be more accurate to call the second voice the voice of correction. Indeed, Cavell himself points out that it is not easy to abstract from the conflicting voices a summary of what is wrong or right about either position. Wittgenstein's is not a philosophy of correct positions but of corrections to positions that might most readily be adopted. By exposing the unsatisfactoriness of particular philosophical stances, Wittgenstein absolves us from the need to answer the unanswerable questions they repeatedly generate. Thus Wittgenstein responds to Augustine's description of how we learn a language (through elders pointing out objects and naming them) not by arguing that the description is wrong but by summarizing it, indicating its limitations, and then illustrating its shortcomings:

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names.—In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

Augustine does not speak of there being any difference between kinds of word. If you describe the learning of language in this way you are, I believe, thinking primarily of nouns like "table", "chair", "bread", and of people's names, and only secondarily of the names of certain actions and properties; and of the remaining kinds of word as something that will take care of itself.

Now think of the following use of language.…

Wittgenstein opposes Augustine's illustration of language acquisition with an illustration of language use, an illustration designed to demonstrate that we use the words "five," "red," and "apple" in different ways, and that any attempt to base a theory of language acquisition or linguistic meaning on any one of them is to fail to do justice to the others and to the fact that there are many "kinds of word" that function in many different ways. Just as important is his readiness to use a local example (sending someone shopping) to oppose the example Augustine uses to cover language in general. Wittgenstein opposes Augustine's big picture with a small picture whose consequences are disruptive but whose implications seem, initially at least, much more local. Here, at the outset, we see the beginnings of the assembling of Wittgenstein's album, of his set of philosophical reminders that function as corrections to misleading habits of mind.

The particular habit of mind Wittgenstein initially addresses is, of course, carefully chosen. It is not the only possible example but it is one with far-reaching implications. The conviction that the meaning of a word is the object for which it stands is a conviction that dies hard. But one of the reasons for its persistence is its entanglement in a pattern of assumptions about the nature of language and the nature of knowledge. Wittgenstein points out, again by example, that our tendency to confuse the bearer of a name with the meaning of a name is a tendency that presents us with insurmountable problems: "When Mr. N. N. dies one says that the bearer of the name dies, not that the meaning dies. And it would be nonsensical to say that, for if the name ceased to have meaning it would make no sense to say 'Mr. N. N. is dead'." But he is well aware that this is not simply a theoretical commitment on our part. After years of having it pointed out to us that the same word can be used to refer to different objects (for example, "I," "that," "it"), that the same object can be referred to by various words (for example, "John F. Kennedy," "the husband of Jacqueline Bouvier," "the president assassinated in Dallas"), and that many words do not refer (for instance, "afterwards," "hello," "exciting"), we continue to be tempted by the most primitive forms of signifier/signified vocabulary. Augustine's words, Wittgenstein argues, provide a particular picture of language; they are embedded in and inseparable from a way of thinking whose consequences are much more widely dispersed. Wittgenstein's concern is not so much with the theoretical correctness of an alternative theory of meaning but with the intractability of certain presuppositions about the ways in which our language functions. To correct such habits of mind we need therapy, and not just theory, and the therapy must address the many facets of the problem and not just its most visible manifestation.

What is primarily at issue in the reference theory of meaning is that it offers a comforting and apparently commonsense explanation of the principles of control that enable our language to function. And assumptions about that mode of functioning persist, even amongst those most aware of the problematic status of reference. Though there are many variations on the theme, Wittgenstein is less concerned with addressing any particular variant than with correcting an intractable and misleading habit of mind. Characteristic of that habit of mind are the assumptions that the object-world provides language with a firm external foundation, important rules of use, a major privileged function, and an obvious preeminent form. It is these larger implications as well as the local issue of meaning that Wittgenstein is seeking to confront.

The foundation, of course, has long been regarded as empirical: "the individual words in language name objects.… [The] meaning is.. the object for which the word stands." The important rules have been those of referential logic, the kind of logic taken to an extreme by positivist philosophers. The privileged function (to cite Bertrand Russell) has been regarded as follows: "The essential business of language is to assert or deny facts" ["Introduction," in Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1969] (the primary function, coincidentally enough, of philosophical propositions). And the preeminent form has been, of course, the form of the statement, the assertion, the philosopher's true/false proposition. Wittgenstein had, at one time, shared many of these convictions and, early in his career, had recorded in a notebook that "my whole task consists in explaining the nature of the proposition." But a key strategy of his later work is to dismantle the whole conceptual apparatus that had so arranged this set of assumptions that they seemed to provide each other with mutual support.

As far as the proposition is concerned, he is now prepared to reconsider its status and its importance: "Why," he asks, "do we say a proposition is something remarkable?" Well, he answers, partly because of the enormous importance philosophers have habitually attached to it, and partly because "a misunderstanding of the logic of language, seduces us into thinking that something extraordinary, something unique, must be achieved by propositions." Wittgenstein's readiness to reconsider the importance of the proposition is accompanied by an interest in upgrading various other forms of language. He asks us to imagine languages without propositions, such as a language consisting only of orders and reports in battle, or of questions designed simply to elicit the answers "yes" and "no." And he once suggested, as Norman Malcolm records, "that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes (without being facetious). Another time he said that a philosophical treatise might contain nothing but questions without answers). In his own writing he made wide use of both" [Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, 1970].

Having queried the status of the supposedly preeminent form of language, Wittgenstein moves steadily along to question whether language is primarily in the business of asserting and denying facts, and to suggest that it has a multitude of equally important functions embedded in a multitude of language-games that we regularly play. And this leads logically enough to his efforts to dismantle once and for all the empirical foundation of language by contrasting meaning as reference with meaning as use in a language-game.

Though it is important to recognize the habits of mind Wittgenstein is opposing, it is just as important to note the techniques of correction he adopts. Wittgenstein is not interested in substituting another set of privileged elements for those he is now trying to dismantle. His aim is not just to revalue one mistakenly privileged form of language, but to remove the notion that there is or should be a single privileged form. He likewise wishes to do away with the notion that there is or should be a single primary function for language; he resists the temptation to replace one set of comprehensive rules for language use with another set; and he displays no interest in offering a new foundation for language to replace the one he is dismantling. "Philosophy," he argues, "may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundation either. It leaves everything as it is." Philosophical problems are solved "not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known."

It is this concern for rearranging what we have always known that leads Wittgenstein to rely less on conventional philosophical argument and more on illuminating reminders. Rhetorical presentation and philosophical procedure merge in the focus on exemplary instances. Rather than relying on philosophical assertion, Wittgenstein regularly resorts to illuminating examples. If we are inclined to think, for instance, that all words function in the same way, he asks us to imagine a text in which punctuation marks are typed out as words ("comma," "period," and so forth). The possible confusion between ordinary words and punctuation marks would be, he suggests, a confusion no less significant than the one that occurs because our various word types (noun, adjective, and so on) are not always distinctively marked, with the result that we regard their typographical similarity as registering a functional similarity. He asks us to think of the diversity of tools in a tool box, and offers this as a reminder that they cannot all be equated just because they are all tools. He asks us to think of the control handles in a steam-locomotive which all look more or less alike (because they are all meant to be handled): "But one is the handle of a crank which can be moved continuously (it regulates the opening of a valve); another is the handle of a switch, which has only two effective positions, it is either off or on; a third is the handle of a brake-lever, the harder one pulls on it, the harder it brakes; a fourth, the handle of a pump: it has an effect only so long as it is moved to and fro." The images multiply and we can add our own. Today we might conceive of a control panel at NASA, where pressing one button activates a television screen, pressing another sets off a fire alarm, another opens a door, another launches a rocket, and so on.

It is, of course, open to us to construct our own examples, for Wittgenstein's use of multiple examples registers a clear refusal to establish a single definitive example. He does not try out several and then recommend the best one, nor does he circumscribe the task and the examples needed to complete it. Each example sheds one kind of light on an issue, and that is then supplemented by others. None covers all aspects of an issue and none achieves a uniquely privileged status; and this is, of course, in keeping with the antifoundational thrust of Wittgenstein's therapeutic activities.

Wittgenstein's album of examples is designed to replace any privileged picture (like Augustine's) that we might allow not only to guide but to govern our thinking about language. Examples as he wishes to employ them cannot constitute a closed set or a privileged series. Their function is designedly therapeutic; they address our persisting ills and contribute to our continuing health. And one of the key ways in which they do so is their very multiplicity. Many of the philosophical problems that we encounter, he argues, arise because of our tendency to nourish our imaginations with only one kind of example. Wittgenstein's technique is to offer us examples of many kinds so that we can see by the light of their variety and thus resist the tendency to absorb the multiplicity of language into some reductive explanatory schema. For one of the key reminders that he is trying to accommodate and to share is the reminder that the multiplicity of language is not the multiplicity of a fixed state but the multiplicity of an evolving organism, in which the uses of words, sentences, and modes of discourse are constantly open to extension and revision and will constantly outrun our capacity to unify them: "How many kinds of sentence are there? Say assertion, question, and command?—There are countless kinds: countless different kinds of use of what we call 'symbols', words', 'sentences'. And this multiplicity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten."

This emphasis on existing and emerging multiplicity is characteristic of Wittgenstein's argument about language; it dictates the structure of his text, explains the function of multiple examples in his chosen mode of discourse, and clarifies the role that example-making plays in the philosophical discourse he illustrates and incites. And it is important to recognize that the procedure his work exemplifies is a procedure that invites emulation rather than replication. It is a procedure that redirects thinking, rather than one that compels thinking to travel in any particular direction or to arrive at any particular goal.

Exemplary instances, rather than achieved conclusions, thus play a key role in Wittgenstein's argument, and they function not by offering comprehensive coverage but by supplying local correction and larger guidelines. Cumulatively, they register not a philosophical position but a philosophical process of positioning. And to recognize that is to recognize that Wittgenstein's interest in assembling reminders for particular purposes is something more than a diverting variant on in-house skirmishing between professional philosophers. To ask whether Wittgenstein has a philosophy or not, or whether he has a theory of language or not, is to register presuppositions about the possibilities of philosophy and theory that he does not share. Wittgenstein's aim is to reconceive the nature of philosophy and of theory. His interest is in philosophizing as a form of philosophy, in learning how to move around rather than in how to arrive, in showing how to continue an intellectual journey rather than how to end it prematurely. As a result, his philosophizing becomes of interest and consequence to anyone with any kind of personal, social, or professional concern for understanding how language works. In a narrow sense, it is true, he does not have a "philosophy" to offer at all: There is little in his later work that is reducible to a systematic array of beliefs or rules of procedure. What he offers is a philosophical technique displayed in action. What he is able to demonstrate is less a philosophy, or a theory, or a position, than a technique of philosophizing, theorizing, positioning—a technique based not upon postulates and propositions but upon images, examples, and models. And it is a technique that we are invited not just to learn, but to develop. As Wittgenstein puts it in his preface, "I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own."

These emphases upon multiplicity and creativity have served for some to locate Wittgenstein in the camp of the philosophical skeptics rather than in the camp of the system builders. Indeed, so brilliantly has Wittgenstein displayed the multiplicity and contingency of language that followers of the current strategist of skepticism, Jacques Derrida, seem uncertain whether to regard him as an ally or as an adversary. Seduced by the siren-song of continuous contingency, deconstructionists have a great deal of difficulty locating any clear goal beyond it. But Wittgenstein's exploration of contingency is designedly therapeutic—it refuses us one kind of closure while opening up access to others. To argue that "the method that Wittgenstein is teaching is precisely the method of destabilisation" [Henry Staten, Wittgenstein and Derrida, 1984] is to recognize the anticredulity strain in Wittgenstein's work but to overlook the strain that is, as Altieri points out, just as strongly antiskeptical [Charles Altieri, "Wittgenstein on Consciousness and Language: A Challenge to Derridean Literary Theory," Modern Language Notes, 1976].

Wittgenstein's technique of positioning does not imply the endless deferral of locating a position. The very fact that he went on to write a manuscript on the viability of "certainty" is indicative of his interest not just in dismantling premature conviction but also in dismantling premature doubt. A philosopher who wishes to describe and not simply prescribe must not only expose the premature but also find a place for conviction and doubt in language-games. Wittgenstein's images are thus characteristically double-edged: they respect the unity and variety of concepts, the repetition and revision of language-games, the replication and renovation of meaning.

If it seems difficult to conceive of entities that are both single and multiple, Wittgenstein's most famous images display those features repeatedly and register the vital importance of both. Indeed, his two most characteristic voices diverge on precisely this point of the viability of attempts to reconcile unity and variety. But it is important to recognize the direct connection between attempts to reconcile unity with variety and attempts to mediate between foundationalism and skepticism. What is very much at issue in this conflict of voices is whether Wittgenstein's concept of language-game (or form of life) inadvertently supplies what he has been seeking to avoid: a new foundation to replace the one he has so determinedly dismantled.

Here we come up against the great question that lies behind all these considerations.—For someone might object against me: "You take the easy way out! You talk about all sorts of language-games, but have nowhere said what the essence of a language-game, and hence of language, is: what is common to all these activities, and what makes them into language or parts of language. So you let yourself off the very part of the investigation that once gave you yourself most headache, the part about the general form of propositions and of language."

And this is true.—Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all,—but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relationships, that we call them all "language."

It is in this context of unity and variety that the most famous of Wittgenstein's images emerges, but what is also at stake is a concerted effort to accommodate both contingency and control.

As is well known, Wittgenstein's description of the variety of games we play with the word game generates an image of "family resemblances" to indicate the way in which various similarities serve to unify this otherwise disparate grouping. It is not necessary that specific similarities run across the whole group or that the various similarities form a closed set. The continuities serve to supply what other conceptual approaches cannot—a due observance of the unity and variety of the concept. And it is important to note how quickly Wittgenstein moves on from this image to another in which continuity is the most visible feature: "Why do we call something a 'number'? Well, perhaps because it has a—direct—relationship with several things that have hitherto been called number; and this can be said to give it an indirect relationship to other things we call the same name. And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres." At another point Wittgenstein uses the image of language "as an ancient city" whose multiform organization provides an evolutionary record of the various forms of architecture, transportation, and community living that have created it. In one image after another it becomes apparent that continuity is Wittgenstein's key to reconciling the competing claims of unity versus variety, foundationalism versus skepticism, and certainty versus doubt. We repeatedly encounter images of unity, continuity, and multiplicity, each of which Wittgenstein is at pains to incorporate into his album of reminders.

What is important is that we recognize that the stability invoked in these images of contingency is a stability that is neither feeble nor foundational but provisional and historical. Wittgenstein's examples repeatedly display patterns of similarities that invoke chains of similarities. Concepts don't just have a use, they have a history of use, and though we are free to revise it, we are not free to ignore it. There is a principle of control as well as a principle of contingency exemplified in these various images: the variety exemplifies the contingency and the continuities the control. The much abbreviated slogan about meaning that Wittgenstein almost casually offers—"the meaning of a word is its use in the language"—is a phrase that invokes not just use, but "use in the language." As Wittgenstein's examples repeatedly indicate, as his insistence upon offering reminders repeatedly exemplifies, language is a historical phenomenon and signs are "souvenirs." To use them is to invoke their history of use in the language—a history of combining with and contrasting with other words in language-games made up of words, things, events, processes, and actions which constitute, in another of Wittgenstein's famous phrases, "forms of life."

Henry Staten finds the latter term either metaphysical if applied strongly or misleading if applied weakly. And it is in their differing estimates of the power, importance, and diversity of historical constraint that Derrida and Wittgenstein most strongly diverge. It is helpful in this respect to bear in mind a comment made by philosopher William James when defending his philosophy of pragmatism and pluralism against charges that it offered no principles of control beyond situational expediency. In matters involving change of belief we are in general, he argues, "extreme conservatives." Acceptable novelty, he goes on, "preserves the older stock of truths with a minimum of modification, stretching them just enough to make them admit the novelty, but conceiving that in ways as familiar as the case leaves possible. An outre'e explanation, violating all our preconceptions, would never pass for a true account of a novelty. We should scratch round industriously till we found something less eccentric.… New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions" [Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, in "Pragmatism" and "The Meaning of Truth," 1978]. The past as a series of forms of life, as a set of residues of earlier community activity, is alive in us and in our language. It provides us with regulative principles and also with points of departure, and to fail to do justice to both is to fail in general to establish "a clear view of the use of our words." To lose contact with the regulative principles is to fall prey to the very philosophical skepticism Wittgenstein is at pains to avoid. Such skepticism fails to command a clear view of the role that doubting plays in our discourses of assertion and belief. To lose touch with regulative principles, to fail to establish an adequate account of them, is to give ourselves, as Wittgenstein puts it, "a false picture of doubt. " Paradoxically enough, the false picture of doubt must be adjusted not just to rescue the viability of certainty, but to lend credibility to the process of doubting itself.

Recognizing that his activity of explaining by example is never complete, never definitive, and therefore always subject to doubt, Wittgenstein seeks to redraw our picture of doubt and its role in language-games. When skeptical philosophers deal with doubt, he notes, they tend to convert it into an unending process, one that destabilizes everything. Yet, he argues, in ordinary use no explanation "stands in need of another—unless we require it to prevent a misunderstanding. One might say: an explanation serves to remove or to avert a misunderstanding—one, that is, that would occur but for the explanation; not every one that I can imagine." He argues against the notion that "secure understanding is only possible if we first doubt everything that can be doubted, and then remove all these doubts." Furthermore, he notes, it is folly for us to say that "we are in doubt because it is possible for us to imagine a doubt." These remarks and others which register the antiskepticism stance of Philosophical Investigations are subsequently picked up and extended in On Certainty, a book which goes on to ask the key question about philosophical skepticism: How is doubt introduced into language-games and consequently how is it controlled?

Once again Wittgenstein employs his characteristic technique of showing that philosophers tend to ask words (in this case, "doubt" and "certainty") to perform tasks that are inconsistent with their ordinary language uses. To say we "know" something is, for Wittgenstein, to be "familiar with it as a certainty." But certainty does not necessarily reside either in our having investigated the issue or in our having had the issue proved to us or in our having had all imaginable doubts about it addressed and discounted. Many things count as certain to us because of the forms of life we have experienced. And such forms of life are necessarily historically based:

There are countless general empirical propositions that count as certain for us.

One such is that if someone's arm is cut off it will not grow again. Another, if someone's head is cut off he is dead and will never live again.

Experience can be said to teach us these propositions. However, it does not teach us them in isolation: rather, it teaches us a host of interdependent propositions.…

If experience is the ground of our certainty, then naturally it is past experience.

And it isn't for example just my experience, but other people's, that I get knowledge from.

For someone to come along and imagine ways in which we might doubt such certainty is to disturb our quiet but not to disturb our conviction. And it is just such a role that radical skepticism has come to play in literary theory. Once again Wittgenstein resorts to an example to embody the point at issue. We are asked to imagine a pupil who will not accept anything said to him and who constantly interrupts the teacher with doubts about the existence of things, the meanings of words, the uniformity of nature, and other such issues. The teacher eventually cuts him off by telling him to stop interrupting and by pointing out that "your doubts don't make sense at all." The pupil, Wittgenstein argues, has not learned how to ask appropriate questions, he has not learned the range and role that doubt has earned in this language-game. These illustrative doubts are deliberately extreme, but they serve to force radical skeptics to come to terms with the difference exhibited—not just in our practice, but in their own practice—between doubts that are reasonable and doubts that are unreasonable and also to consider how they and we differentiate between the two.

The impracticality of doubting everything is obvious enough, but Wittgenstein's point is stronger. There is built into every language-game a role for doubt and a role for certainty, and we learn what they are as we learn the language-game. But if this is so, are language-games, whose evolution Wittgenstein had earlier insisted upon, suddenly locked once more in place? Does every language-game have, after all, a fixed and unchallengeable foundation? as Wittgenstein, in his efforts to restrict doubt, done so only by reintroducing the very unmoving foundation that he had sought to dismantle in Philosophical Investigations? Wittgenstein is quick to address this problem. If there are such things as reasonable doubt and reasonable certainty, we must nevertheless take into account the fact that "what men consider reasonable or unreasonable alters." Wittgenstein seeks to maintain the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable doubt, to accommodate the fact that the distinction can change, and nevertheless to retain it as a form of control that prevents contingency from sliding into chaos.

Wittgenstein's solution to this problem is a subtle one and a crucial one. Instead of linking unity with fixity and variety with change, he reverts once more to the possibilities of continuity that had been implicit in his earlier image of extending a concept as if we were weaving a thread. But now the image of continuity switches from that of a thread to that of a river—a river which exhibits not just unity and variety but two contrasting speeds of change. The two contrasting speeds of change register two differing kinds of continuity that characterize two separable but not separate components.

I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.

The propositions describing this world-picture might be part of a kind of mythology. And their role is like that of rules of a game; and the game can be learned purely practically, without learning any explicit rules.

It might be imagined that some propositions, of the form of empirical propositions, were hardened and functioned as channels for such empirical propositions as were not hardened but fluid; and that this relation altered with time, in that fluid propositions hardened, and hard ones became fluid.

The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other.

This image of two different speeds of change, of the riverbed moving more slowly than the river waters, registers Wittgenstein's ability to accommodate our competing convictions about unity and variety without allowing either to substantiate claims about foundationalism or skepticism. The possibility of further variety leaves room for doubt to function; the actuality of inherited stability prevents doubt from having unlimited play. Things stand fast for us without needing to stand permanently. What is certain and what is doubtable are separable without being separate. We are not in doubt just because we can imagine a doubt; a doubt needs to impress us as a useful doubt, and to do so it must reveal its own certainties so that we can indeed regard it as a doubt worth taking seriously. As Wittgenstein puts it, "If I wanted to doubt the existence of the earth long before my birth, I should have to doubt all sorts of things that stand fast for me. And that something stands fast for me is not grounded in my stupidity or my credulity.… A doubt that doubted everything would not be a doubt.… Doubt itself rests only on what is beyond doubt."

The process of locating the appropriate role of doubt in a language-game serves to clarify both the role of doubt and the role of certainty without making the former unlicensed and the latter unchallengeable. Things stand fast for us because we learn with particular language-games the slowly evolving relationship between reasonable and unreasonable doubt.

It is tempting, of course, to ask for the criteria that enable us to distinguish reasonable from unreasonable doubt, but this is once again to ask in general terms more of the local stabilities in our language than they can be expected to deliver. "Our talk," says Wittgenstein, "gets its meaning from the rest of our proceedings," and we cannot look for final grounds: "As if giving grounds did not come to an end sometime. But the end is not an ungrounded presupposition: it is an ungrounded way of acting." If it is not possible to give our actions final grounds, it is nevertheless possible to characterize the constraints that guide action without governing it. Things stand fast for us not because of external grounds but because of conventional history of use, because of established forms of life, because of inherited characteristics of discourse, because of recognizable generic constraints, because of all those things we have learned to exempt from doubt in order to investigate things it seems more fruitful to doubt. Since the river-bed of thought does change, it is possible to imagine situations in which anything can be doubted. But this does not make everything equally worth doubting and it does not remove from doubt the necessity of leaving something exempt from doubt if the word doubt is to function at all.

To the skeptical mind, this may still prove too likely to leave us trapped in inadequate systems of belief. But it also forces the skeptical mind to acknowledge and account for the certainties that circumscribe its own doubts. Wittgenstein's insistence on the stability and continuity of language and knowledge, as well as on their contingency and multiplicity, leaves us free to make a variety of cases for reasonable doubt and also free to offer a variety of defenses against unreasonable doubt. More important, it reminds skeptics and believers alike that they have to find ways of accommodating both fixity and change. If some certainties are presupposed in particular language-games, it makes no sense to doubt them, for one is not then engaging the language-game in play: "I really want to say that a language-game is only possible if one trusts something," says Wittgenstein. "It may be for example that all enquiry on our part is set so as to exempt certain propositions from doubt, if they are ever formulated. They lie apart from the route travelled by enquiry." The caveat about formulating such propositions is, of course, an important one, for there is much that governs our actions that cannot be summarized but only displayed. This is one of the reasons why an inability to describe definitively the typical case is not to be equated with an inability to recognize untypical ones. And Wittgenstein's concern for what can only be displayed is registered in his insistence upon actions, events, journeys, and multiple images. As a consequence of these concerns, he brings forward to On Certainty several of the techniques he employed in Philosophical Investigations. The latter is, however, a more finished work, while the former is an assemblage from notebooks, so it is difficult to assess its overall form. But the concern for multiple images, and the concern for what can only be shown, take us back to the form of Philosophical Investigations and to the consequences of both books for the status and function of literary theory.

What sort of procedure, we might ask, will enable us to make the key distinction between reasonable and unreasonable doubt if the language-game in question, if the very concept of language-game itself, is neither clearly defined nor firmly bounded? How are we guided in our playing of games that do not have complete and exhaustive rules? ell, says Wittgenstein, putting this question to himself, "How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: 'This and similar things are called "games."' And do we know any more about it ourselves?" The answer, of course, is that we do not. And Wittgenstein's elaboration of this point is also an elaboration on both the technique of positioning his philosophizing exemplifies and the structure of the book he writes to exemplify it.

One gives examples and intends them to be taken in a particular way—I do not, however, mean by this that he is supposed to see in those examples that common thing which I—for some reason—was unable to express; but that he is now to employ those examples in a particular way. Here giving examples is not an indirect means of explaining—in default of a better.…

… Isn't my knowledge, my concept of a game, completely expressed in the explanations that I could give? That is, in my describing examples of various kinds of game; shewing how all sorts of other games can be constructed on the analogy of these; saying that I should scarcely include this or this among games; and so on.

The mode of definition may well be inexact, but, in another of Wittgenstein's famous phrases: "'inexact'… does not mean 'unusable'." Indeed, such inexactness is a necessity for usability. There is no point in trying to establish exact definitions for concepts whose history of use exemplifies their multiplicity and open-endedness. It is like asking which shade of green is the real green; or precisely how old is someone who is middle-aged; or trying to decide how sharply defined we wish to make a photograph of a speeding car. We offer examples as modes of orientation, recognizing that any other mode of orientation can be misunderstood, too. Working against "our craving for generality" and our neglect of "the particular case," Wittgenstein searches for particular cases in the light of which we can characterize sets of particular cases. And it is in this context that judgments about reasonable and unreasonable doubt are made. But it is important to recognize that the exemplary instance can only characterize and not prescribe the possibilities of a language-game, and this reminds us once again of the need for several such instances, and not just one.

To recognize this is to recognize the importance of one further implication of Wittgenstein's use of examples that bears directly upon his concerns for multiplicity, for reminders, for provoking further thought, and for provoking others to thoughts of their own. And it is an implication with large consequences for those interested in linking Wittgenstein's techniques to literary theory. Discussing the various examples he has invoked, Wittgenstein points out that one of the reasons they are neither definitive nor foundational is that they are meant to function as an array of orientating images. The examples of language-games he has employed serve not to conclude investigation but to help it continue.

Our clear and simple language-games are not preparatory studies for a future regularization of language—as it were first approximations, ignoring friction and air-resistance. The language-games are rather set up as objects of comparison which are meant to throw light on the facts of our language by way not only of similarities, but also of dissimilarities.

For we can avoid ineptness or emptiness in our assertions only by presenting the model as what it is, as an object of comparison—as, so to speak, a measuring-rod; not as a preconceived idea to which reality must correspond.

Wittgenstein's album of exemplary pictures, of characterizing reminders, thus functions also as an array of measuring rods, a series of investigative instances in the light of which we can perceive, by way of similarity and difference, the key characteristics of particular cases. And it is in this context that we can perceive the larger implications of Wittgenstein's philosophizing for what we might now wish to conceive of as literary theorizing rather than literary theory.

What we have long conceived of as literary theory has taken many forms, but it has constantly sought to locate the appropriate relationship between general principles and particular cases. The current revulsion against literary theory is in part a revulsion against the totalizing imperative, visible in endeavors as various as those of high structuralism, vulgar Freudianism, and (old) historicism—an imperative that compels us to subordinate particular cases to general patterns. Whether the complaint arises from those defending the aesthetic integrity of unique texts, or from those who argue that literary study is unusual in seeking to grapple with language-games that are played only once, or from poststructuralists committed to exposing the instability of all system-building, the complaints register a widespread concern. It is not, however, a concern that is readily addressed by conceding the case for irreducible particularity or by capitulating to continuous contingency, for such concessions generate further revulsion against theoretical arguments. Yet efforts to get beyond the particular seem so quickly to impose on us the reductive commitments of the imperialistic general. And it is here that Wittgenstein's mode of positioning can exemplify a procedure that allows general and particular to interact to the benefit of both.

Wittgenstein's reliance upon the evocative example places him in one major modern tradition, and it is important to recognize how he resolves one of the dilemmas with which it is confronted. Theorists in many disciplines have been seeking in recent years to come to grips with the recognition that our activities of speaking, thinking, and knowing are grounded in figurative concepts rather than empirical data. One of the widely recognized consequences of such activities is that any framework of inquiry, whether it is psychological, sociological, anthropological, or (otherwise) figurative, is that it tends to become both departure point and destination. The same is also true of literary inquiry. If, in literary criticism, critics invoke psychological neuroses as a point of departure, they often end up discovering what they began by positing. If they rely on arche-types as their point of departure, they usually end up discovering yet another exemplification of an archetype. Mythic patterns, dream structures, hermeneutics of desire, New Critical ironies and paradoxes, structuralist binary oppositions, and deconstructive chasms and abysses constantly remind us, in the achieved conclusions, of a critic's initial presuppositions. As everyone recognizes, figurative language as a ground for interpretative activity has the capacity to serve as a mode of orientation, a mode of characterizing the particular. But does it also have the capacity to serve as a means of investigation, as something that offers not just a ground upon which to stand but a point of departure from which to proceed? Can the figurative mode of orientation also function as a means of discovery; can it help us locate the unexpected and not just uncover what figuration presumes to be there?

What so often happens when we apply our investigative metaphors is that "seeing something in terms of X" degenerates into "seeing something as X" and then finally into simply "seeing X." The figurative mode of orientation becomes not the means of discovery but the thing to be re)discovered. What we need to establish is that there is a possibility of discovery even when what we see is constantly encountered in the context of presuppositions about what we are likely to see.

The question that faces us is how our figurative means of knowing can provide access to knowledge that is neither given in some ontologically prior form nor fully codified by us in advance of our encounter with it. To recognize the function of Wittgenstein's album of orientating examples is to recognize what theorizing can offer that theory in its more global forms cannot. The choice we often force upon ourselves of discovering either what we presuppose or the real facts out there independent of presupposition is an unnecessary one; and it emerges from a recurring erroneous assumption—that our mode of inquiry should consist of a single, unified, harmonious set of procedures. And it is this assumption that Wittgenstein's multiply constituted philosophical album most visibly opposes.

Wittgenstein's insistence upon the model as measuring rod, on the example as an object of comparison, and on the importance of multiple measuring rods and multiple perspectives are all means of insisting that the mode of measuring is also measured. And only if the mode of measuring is itself subject to measure can it function as an instrument of discovery. Wittgenstein's concern for similarities and differences prevents us from converting the investigative example into "a preconceived idea to which reality must correspond. (The dogmatism into which we fall so easily in doing philosophy.)" Such dogmatism is not restricted to philosophers. Literary theorists and theorists in other domains are also prone to the error of "[predicating] f the thing what lies in the method of representing it. Impressed by the possibility of a comparison, we think we are perceiving a state of affairs of the highest generality." The difficulty here lies in maintaining control of the instrument of investigation, the mode of inquiry, the means of understanding, so that it does not convert into something that controls us.

When we ask ourselves what is being measured by the theoretical model and whether it is simply the things the model posits or the things in themselves beyond the model, we force ourselves to choose between two unpalatable options. What is being perceived beyond what a particular model posits is related data seen from a related point of view. The measured data are neither completely inside the model nor completely outside it. What the model measures and what measures the model is something seen in terms of another model or another component of the same model. This is neither to be trapped in a hermeneutic circle nor to be free of hermeneutic circles, but to participate in a polysystemic process of discovery in which the various modes of orientation function as a polysystemic means of discovery. Wittgenstein's album of exemplary reminders is itself both an example and a reminder of our need to establish, whatever our field of inquiry, an armory of investigative instruments.

In the field of literary criticism, that armory of investigative instruments cannot be elevated to the level of grandeur that literary theory, in its more ambitious forms, has sought to grant it. It remains important for us to characterize as best we can literary conventions, genres, and periods, for these are some of our major instruments of investigation. It also remains important that we remember the difference between characterizing such things and rigidly defining them. We must overcome our tendency to forget that conventions, genres, and periods are irreducibly multiple and also our competing tendency to dismiss these instruments as unwieldy once we remember their multiplicity. As Ralph Cohen has demonstrated in persuasive detail, an acknowledgment of the historical complexity of genres is not incompatible with a recognition of their various continuities, and an appropriate understanding of the relationship between continuity and change restores to genre study its credibility and viability ["History and Genre," New Literary History, 1986]. What we must bear in mind in describing these investigative instruments is that our descriptions of them are always tentative and approximate, and that appropriate use of such descriptions always involves treating them as provisional points of departure rather than as necessary destinations. We recognize the particularity of a text by locating it in the context of a set of related but unsynthesizable generalities. Whether we use actual instances of literature as exemplars or whether we use descriptive summaries, the provisional nature and investigative function of the exemplary models remain the same. Such exemplars serve to characterize the continuities that make the form of a text recognizable and thereby provide access to the discontinuities that make it individual and unusual.

Literary theory can suitably multiply the armory of instruments: it can invite us to appropriate the most advanced forms of thinking in related fields such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, linguistics, and anthropology. But it must resist the urge to elevate any one of these to privileged status, or to try to synthesize them into an all-embracing model. It must also resist the urge to convert those recognitions into an acknowledgment of an empty pluralism or into a metaphysics of multiplicity, irreducibility, and interability. When theory has had its say there remains a great deal of practical work to be done, but if theorizing has done its work appropriately, the practical work is neither untidy nor unlimited.

Theory goes most sadly wrong when it seeks to govern rather than guide acts of literary interpretation, when it tries to replace rather than regulate the kinds of evidence that literary scholarship provides. Its role is not to replace or dismantle historical evidence but to guide our use of it, to help us sort out issues of relevance, priority, and persuasiveness. This is, of course, a much more humble role for theory, because such theorizing is, in many ways, a matter of problem-solving rather than field-defining. While local issues can thus be resolved, it is not necessarily the case that definitive rules of procedure will consequently emerge. This is not, however, an unacceptable loss, and an adjustment of literary theory to a more humble role may well be long overdue. It has always been apparent that if we ever found a grand schema that incorporated all of literature and which guaranteed that interpretation would have predictable results, we would instantly lose interest in literature. A grandiose supertext of our culture that could mean only one thing is about as interesting as the notion of a pitiful multitext that can mean anything. We need to find our way back to the aggregate of constraints supplied by the past, to the continuities that provide novelties with their appropriate context and significance. This is not a return to historicism but to the recognition John Ellis supplies when he characterizes literature as a set of modern archaic texts whose conventions are neither old nor new but repeatedly renewable. In such a context literary theorizing and literary interpreting become parallel rather than sequential activities. Together they confront not certainty or doubt but certainties and doubts whose reasonableness or otherwise is weighed in the light of the conventionality and novelty of language-games that accommodate the continuities of our culture.

Without appropriate attention to such continuities we are, of course, likely to lose our way. It is in the nature of literary language-games, as it is in the nature of other language-games, that many things neither proven nor susceptible to proof are to be taken as givens. To refuse assent to their givenness can be to refuse to acknowledge appropriate conventions and thus to refuse to play. The investigative urge to doubt whatever it is possible to doubt is constrained by the certainties our language-games supply—not absolute certainties, but certainties that are "as certain as such things are." These certainties, these regulative principles, provide the conventional river-bed through which meaning flows. Though never fully formulatable, they are nevertheless there, in particular circumstances, to be exemplified and invoked. And the context in which they are invoked is one in which "consequences and premises give one another mutual support."

What we are appropriately unwilling to doubt is that which our experience of literary language-games has shown it is unlikely to be productive to doubt and what our related modes of measuring suggest should not be doubted in this case. As Wittgenstein points out, we do not evaluate doubt on a piecemeal basis. Our convictions belong to a nest of convictions and some doubts run counter to too much of what we are satisfied that we know. J. Hillis Miller may well be right to argue that good strategies of reading must surely include "the elementary assumption that the text being read may say something different from what one wants or expects it to say or from what received opinion says it says" ["The Triumph of Theory, the Resistance to Reading, and the Question of the Material Base," PMLA, 1987], but we should be very wary of converting "may" into "must." Indeed, if studying literature involves, as Ellis and others have argued, a study of the continuities of our cultures and our communities, we should be very wary indeed. The concern of interpretation is not the rediscovery of diverting facts about the peculiar instability of language structure, nor the rediscovery of the metaphors that guide interpretative procedures, but the discovery, via a variety of modes of orientation, of valued possibilities of structuring that particular texts have sustained and can disclose. Knowing when to stop interpreting is as important as knowing where to begin and knowing how to proceed beyond one's starting point. To err on any of these is to fail to engage the language-game that is in play.

The difficulty, of course, is that knowledge of the appropriate parameters of interpretative behavior is not knowledge that can be converted into explicit theory. It can be registered in exemplary theorizing and displayed in exemplary interpreting, but it cannot be wholly reduced to explicit rules. As Wittgenstein puts it: "Not only rules, but also examples are needed for establishing a practice. Our rules leave loop-holes open, and the practice has to speak for itself." To conceive of literary theorizing as both a practice and a guide to practice is to help restore elements of action and multiplicity to literary theory, which has long seemed unable to establish stability without degenerating into reductiveness nor to incorporate contingency without collapsing into chaos. To restore mobility and multiplicity to literary theory is to maintain in the means of inquiry features that are indispensable when that which is being inquired into is itself mobile, multiple, and elusive. We have long known that we misconceive the nature of literature when we treat it as an object containing a message instead of as an event with an experience to share. The function of interpretation is not to provide paraphrases, nor to abstract messages, nor even to summarize meaning (though it may make use of any of these); its function is to provide access to an experience that is always more than and other than the interpretation can incorporate. The function of interpretation is to provide us with an orientation, a point of departure, a means of access, a set of sign posts for a journey we must make on our own. To have read a successful interpretation is to have learned principles of access, not to have received the final results of such access; the appropriate feeling is not that we have arrived but that we have learned how to go on by ourselves.

Though it would be possible to abstract many principles from Wittgenstein's philosophizing, few are more important to modern literary theory than those that relate to our capacity to control our own investigative procedures. Wittgenstein's aggregate of philosophical reminders reactivates our awareness of the problematic status of our investigative instruments. If we ignore their inexactness, we become prematurely certain of results that overlook counterevidence. If we overemphasize their inexactness, we become convinced that all possible doubts are necessary doubts. To maintain control of our figurative modes of knowing, I have elsewhere suggested two principles to guide interpretative practice and investigative theory: No interpretative practice or investigative theory is persuasive if it offers no general principles or procedures for constraining doubt, for preventing possible doubt from converting into necessary doubt. No interpretative practice or investigative theory is persuasive if it succeeds only in rediscovering in the data its own origins in figurative language, if it displays no general procedures for preventing possible certainty from converting into premature certainty. In both cases the model as measuring rod is misused and the means of discovery dissolves into the problematics of the mode of investigation.

It thus becomes apparent that the premature doubts of interpretative procedure are part of the same problem as those of premature certainty. In both cases the mode of orientation fails to function as a means of discovery and is judged by that failure. Only to the misguided metaphysicians is the loose and multiple structure of languages and texts endlessly worth rediscovering, and only to their alter egos does interpretation require a precision and finality to which it can never aspire. As Wittgenstein's album of illustrative reminders and exemplary measuring rods repeatedly displays, appropriate therapy consists of guidelines to action—not guarantees to certainty. When we rely, as we must, on images, examples, metaphors, models, case studies, instances, and so on, as the figurative basis of our hermeneutic activities, we rely on their status as multiple approximations; it is folly to lament their individual inexactness and folly to rely unjustifiably on their individual precision. What we need is an acknowledgment of and repeated reminders of their status as various and mutually measuring approximations—approximations that help us confront the mobility of signs and their complex but controllable modes of signifying. In the context of convention-based language-games we confront reasonable and unreasonable doubt, reasonable and unreasonable certainty, and seek to distinguish between them by locating them in the variedly moving river-bed of historical continuity and historical change. Though such pictures of the linguistic landscape remain considerably complex, we can, as a consequence of Wittgensteinian philosophizing and literary theorizing, view such complexities with equanimity, for the models we use to measure can also be measured, and the historically grounded instruments of investigation can indeed function as means of discovery.

Though there is, of course, no fixed set of rules for distinguishing valuable from valueless discovery, any more than there are final rules for distinguishing reasonable from unreasonable doubt, the investigator using examples to investigate some body of data is himself providing an example of what it is like to use examples in an appropriate way. Our decision to model our activity upon his has no higher court of appeal than the forms of life, forms of discourse, forms of discovery, and forms of community that are invoked by it and follow from it. Wittgenstein's album of exemplary reminders provides a set of signposts that guides us through the "labyrinth of paths" that constitutes our language, and it does so without diminishing the labyrinth or disguising the paths. To follow Wittgenstein's example is not to be constrained by an inherited picture but to be educated into a process of picturing—one that invites us to find our way toward the future by judiciously representing to ourselves characteristic examples of the sharable past.

Peter C. John (essay date 1988)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7022

SOURCE: "Wittgenstein's 'Wonderful Life,'" in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XLIX, No. 3, 1988, pp. 495-510.

[In the following essay, John discusses the importance of "wonder" in the life and writings of Wittgenstein.]

In The Illusion of Technique William Barrett asserts that the experience referred to in the well-known passage at 6.44 in the Tractatus, "Not how the world is, but that it is is the Mystical," was of life-long significance for Wittgenstein. Its importance for him at the time it was composed is clearly seen in his letter to the publisher Ludwig von Ficker. Barrett claims, however, that the experience to which the words at 6.44 refer is potently present and influential throughout his life. "It circulates from beginning to end through his later Philosophical Investigations, present but not announced—not even by way of a thunderous declaration of silence, as in the earlier work." While Barrett correctly, albeit intuitively, appreciates the importance of this experience for Wittgenstein's life and work, he nevertheless insists that this sense of wonder at the fact that anything at all exists, "is acknowledged explicitly, or almost explicitly, only once …" and "after … momentary contact (in the Tractatus ) seems to drop out of view for Wittgenstein." I have cited Barrett's opinion because, regardless of how bold it may appear, the actual evidence compels us to an even broader interpretation of the importance this experience held for Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein mentioned his experience, which he most often described with the words, "I wonder at the existence of the world," to friends and colleagues and in many places throughout his written work. Whenever he spoke or wrote about it, he did so invariably with the greatest emphasis and passion. Despite his numerous attempts to say something about this experience, Wittgenstein was conscious that such attempts were futile and could at best convey only metaphorically what he felt. Nevertheless, he continued throughout his life to make reference to this experience, a habit which he did not condemn in himself or in others. His persistence we may take as evidence of the importance of this experience in the unfolding of his life and in the development of his work.

My emphasis upon this particular experience as a means of understanding Wittgenstein's philosophical accomplishments allies me with the revision in Wittgenstein scholarship begun by Janik and Toulmin [in Wittgenstein's Vienna, 1973], who were the first to argue that the Tractstus, to be properly understood, had to be viewed in its Viennese cultural context and, more particularly, in its personal ethical context. As a work which invited others to consider more carefully the connection between this philosopher's values and his thought, Wittgenstein's Vienna was invaluable. At about the same time William Bartley offered [in Wittgenstein, 1985 ed.] quite a different sort of analysis of Wittgenstein. His primary task was to understand how Wittgenstein's name and thought have managed to captivate us. Bartley relies heavily, in his first and later work, on Wittgenstein's alleged homosexuality for explaining the apparent mythological status that this individual has achieved. More in the tradition of Janik and Toulmin, Peter Munz has recently sought to understand Wittgenstein's thought by linking his strict bifurcation of the subjective and objective to the cultural and political conditions of fin-de-siecle Vienna ["Bloor's Wittgenstein or The Fly in the Bottle," Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 1987]. Munz illustrates through Klimt, and with a quick glance at Hofmannsthal and Musil, the failure of that culture to reconcile the subjective and objective. The implication is, of course, that Viennese culture is unique not in its failure but in being among the first moderns to struggle for such a reconciliation; and Wittgenstein is an early response to its failure. At best, Munz claims, life and art, life and poetry, objectivity and subjectivity "could be reconciled only in terms of … unclarity …" (Verschwommenheit). He concludes, "If subjectivity and objectivity could only be linked in Verschwommenheit, Wittgenstein's austere puritanism and his passion for clarity forced him to sever the verschwommene link between the two." He sums up Wittgenstein's inevitable course of action by echoing Englemann's conviction that "he could not deny to himself the passionate truth of subjective feeling, of what really mattered in life.…'" This very interesting, though somewhat hasty explanation of the genesis of Wittgenstein's philosophy ignores, however, the very issue of "what really mattered" to Wittgenstein and what it was he was trying to enshrine and protect in his act of bifurcation. It is this issue that I wish to discuss.

The Notebooks, 1914-1916 offer one of the first written mentions of his experience. Dated October 20, 1916, the passage reads, "Das künstlerische Wunder ist, dass es die Welt gibt, dass es das gibt, was es gibt." Rendered in English this reads, "The aesthetic miracle is that the world exists, that what exists does exist."

We find an analogous remark in the Tractatus, which he completed during the war, just after the period embraced by the Notebooks. At proposition 6.44 we read, "Nicht wie die Welt ist, ist das Mystische, sondem dass sie ist." "Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is." Although the obvious point here is Wittgenstein's astonishment that anything at all exists, he uses, in these passages, two different terms in an effort to convey his meaning. "Wunder" and "Mystiche," miracle and mystical, are apparently being used in an effort to point to something. We are given some clue as to what is being pointed to when we look at 6.432. Here "das Mystische" points to what is "higher" (das Hohere); perhaps this is even meant as a synonym for God. It moves counter to the function of these words to try to articulate precisely what they point to. For Wittgenstein these terms were significant to the degree that they pointed not to but away from the "hows" and "whys" of our existence. Miracle and mystical are markers for that which cannot be explained; both words serve their function in directing the reader away from the explicable toward the inexplicable and ineffable.

It may be objected that although this experience is mentioned in the Tractatus, it apparently holds no special status among all the other numbered propositions, except perhaps for the fact that it is near the end, which Wittgenstein recognized as significant in itself, in that it was the only portion of the work likely to be understood. But the accessibility of this passage does not by itself argue for its importance. What does, however, argue for the primacy of this proposition in our understanding of the work and its author is Wittgenstein's self-confessed purpose in composing the Tractatus.

As is now widely recognized, Wittgenstein's letter to his friend and prospective publisher, Ludwig von Ficker, states in unequivocal terms the meaning the Tractatus held for its author. Explaining his intent in composing his work Wittgenstein states:

The book's point is an ethical one. I once meant to include in the preface a sentence which is not in fact there now but which I will write out for you here, because it will perhaps be a key to the work for you. What I meant to write, then, was this: My work consists of two parts: the one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part that is the important one. My book draws limits to the sphere of the ethical from the inside as it were, and I am convinced that this is the ONLY rigorous way of drawing those limits. In short, I believe that where many others today are just gassing, I have managed in my book to put everything firmly into place by being silent about it.

Although Wittgenstein purports to explain in this passage his purpose in writing the Tractatus, it tells at best only half the story. To say that the point of any work is an "ethical one" without more specific qualification does not illuminate the matter. What, we must ask, does Wittgenstein intend by the "ethical"? In his Lectures on Ethics, delivered at Cambridge in late 1929 or early 1930, Wittgenstein explains what he means when he employs expressions such as "absolute good" and "ethical value." "In my case," he says, "it always happens that the idea of one particular experience presents itself to me.…" "I believe the best way of describing it is to say that when I have it I wonder at the existence of the world [italicized in the original]. And I am inclined to use such phrases as 'how extraordinary that anything should exist' or 'how extraordinary that the world should exist.'"

Ethical value for Wittgenstein, it appears, was singularly informed by the experience referred to in his Notebooks, in his Cambridge lecture, and most notably in the passage at 6.44 in the Tractatus. As his Lecture on Ethics makes abundantly clear, if the notion of ethics had significant meaning for Wittgenstein, his sense of wonder that anything should exist was an essential component of that meaning. We may sensibly conclude upon the basis of his remarks to von Ficker, therefore, that the "book's point" is inextricably linked to Wittgenstein's sense of wonder.

This is, however, but a preview of the role that this experience played in shaping Wittgenstein's life and work. In 1929, we see Wittgenstein making reference to his particular experience, this time in the company of the Vienna Circle. In a rare conversation on the subject of religion, Wittgenstein endeavors to clarify his thoughts on the matter by saying, "The facts of the matter are of no importance for me. But what men mean when they say that 'the world is there' is something I have at heart." In another discussion recorded by Waismann, this time between Wittgenstein and Schlick on the subject of Heidegger, Wittgenstein suggests something very important about the connection between this experience and his work as a philosopher. He is recorded by Waismann to have said,

Man feels the urge to run up against the limits of language. Think for example of the astonishment that anything at all exists. This astonishment cannot be expressed in the form of a question, and there is also no answer whatsoever. Anything we might say is a priori bound to be mere nonsense. Nevertheless we do run up against the limits of language. Kierkegaard too saw that there is this running up against something and he referred to it in a fairly similar way as running up against paradox). This running up against the limits of language is ethics. I think it is definitely important to put an end to all the claptrap about ethics—whether intuitive knowledge exists, whether values exist, whether the good is definable. In ethics we are always making the attempt to say something that cannot be said, something that does not and never will touch the essence of the matter. It is a priori certain that whatever definition of the good may be given—it will always be merely a misunderstanding to say that the essential thing, that what is really meant, corresponds to what is expressed.… But the inclination, the running up against something, indicates something.

In this passage, while offering yet another reference to his experience, Wittgenstein suggests where his work as a philosopher stands in relation to such matters of value. A task he feels is "definitely important" we may view as his task as a philosopher, that is "to put an end to all the claptrap," to undermine "attempt[s] to say something that cannot be said.…" What is achieved as a result is an avoidance of the "misunderstanding" that "the essential thing" (for Wittgenstein, what he attempts to convey with words describing a sense of wonder) somehow "corresponds to what is expressed."

We can begin to see the inextricable relation of Wittgenstein's "one particular experience" and his activities as a philosopher as we look closer at his work. Take, for example, his brief reflections on a work by Ernst Renan. After objecting in numerous ways to the presuppositions inherent in Renan's investigations, Wittgenstein announces emphatically, "Man has to awaken to wonder.…"He proceeds to broaden his criticism of Renan into a general critique of science. "Man has to awaken to wonder," he insists, and objects that "Science is a way of sending him to sleep again."

Wittgenstein's values, implied in his hostility toward the prejudices displayed in the work of Renan, are echoed in his observations on James Frazer's The Golden Bough. Frazer, for example, explains that ancient man found the resemblance between fire and the sun impressive because it was for him mysteriously inexplicable. Wittgenstein exclaims in response, "how could fire or fire's resemblance to the sun have failed to make an impression on the awakening mind of man? But not 'because he can't explain it' the stupid superstition of our time)—for does an 'explanation' make it less impressive?" Here Wittgenstein attacks Frazer's anthropological approach but, more importantly, attacks a tendency that for him Frazer only exemplifies. Wittgenstein is hostile to the notion that explanation should be thought to dispel mystery. That it can and does dispel wonder at the mystery of things occurs in significant degree because individuals like Frazer believe it can. Wittgenstein intimates that fire's resemblance to the sun should in fact be impressive to us still. The fact that we have theories and formulas which endeavor to explain this resemblance should not, in his view, make the resemblance less impressive or wonderful. Certainly, he was quite aware that explanations do indeed seem to undermine an individual's capacity for wonder, thus his unflagging hostility toward theories and other forms of explanation.

This can be brought into sharper focus if we return to some further comments he made on Renan. Renan offers an explanation of a primitive response to natural phenomena analogous to that offered by Frazer. Wittgenstein quotes the History of the People of Israel: "Birth, sickness, death, madness, catalepsy, sleep, dreams, all made an immense impression and, even nowadays, only a few have the gift of seeing clearly that these phenomena have causes within our constitution." Again, Wittgenstein reacts sternly to the idea that explanation, causal or otherwise, should imply that one cannot be impressed or filled with wonder. He goes on to insist that there is nothing necessarily "primitive" about the capacity to wonder. Wittgenstein states that for people to "suddenly start to wonder at" natural phenomena such as those mentioned above "has nothing to do with their being primitive. Unless it is called primitive not to wonder at things, in which case the people of today are really the primitive ones, and Renan himself too if he supposes that scientific explanations could intensify wonderment." Returning to his remarks on Frazer, Wittgenstein believes that it is "the stupid superstition of our time" that we endeavor always to explain and thereby convince ourselves, perhaps unwittingly, that the mystery of things is somehow no longer there. Wittgenstein objects to Frazer and Renan on the same grounds that he criticizes the use of dogmatic or rigid concepts in science or mathematics. As soon as one adopts a matter-of-fact, explanatory posture toward the phenomena under investigation, whether in the form of a law or an inviolable theory, one often sacrifices the capacity to be in awe of those phenomena.

Such criticisms are part of a consistent and discernible appraisal, developed by Wittgenstein, of a form of human inquiry that best epitomizes our age, that is, science. His remarks in the Tractatus on the proper place of facts, laws, and theories were only the beginning of a life-long denigration of the means man employs to undermine his own capacity to wonder. He speaks of science as a source of "impoverishment" because "one particular method elbows all others aside." As a consequence, "They all seem paltry by comparison, preliminary stages at best." Wittgenstein believed that one should endeavor to go "right down to the original sources so as to see them all side by side, both the neglected and the preferred." The result, he believed, would be "enrichment" through the multiplication of "fertile new points of view."

Wittgenstein's remarks on science accord remarkably with his devotion to his sense of wonder. "Enrichment" in science is not the outcome of an endless refinement of technologies or the constant displacement of unsuitable theories by superior ones; Wittgenstein's criticism of modern science is indicative of his criticism of a wide range of matters and implies that enrichment or progress arises out of an openness to a multiplicity of points of view. Wittgenstein's quotation from Nestroy, at the beginning of the Investigatons, intends to suggest just this, that progress is not the product of transcending the old but grows from the appreciation of perspectives, new and old.

As should be expected, Wittgenstein's thoughts on the philosophy of mathematics show a marked similarity to his thoughts about science. In 1947, by which time he had recorded the ideas that now constitute his Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, Wittgenstein exclaimed that a mathematician "too can wonder at the miracle … of nature.…" "But," Wittgenstein wonders, "can he do so once a problem has arisen about what it actually is he is contemplating? Is it really possible as long as the object that he finds astonishing and gazes at with awe is shrouded [verschleiert] in a philosophical fog?" We may immediately note two very revealing features of this passage. Wittgenstein, first of all, assumes in this passage that "wonder" is something naturally to be desired, and second, he implies that the path to it necessarily requires the dissipation of "philosophical fog."

What causes this "fog" and what, in Wittgenstein's view, could dissipate it? The answer to the first part of the question is implied in the passage itself. The "fog" arises "once a problem has arisen about what it actually is [one] is contemplating." Wittgenstein argues elsewhere that mathematicians, like other investigators, become confused and forsake their capacity for wonder when they concern themselves with the actual foundation of their discipline. "What a mathematician is inclined to say about objectivity and reality of mathematical facts, is not a philosophy of mathematics, but something for philosophical treatment." What needs to be avoided, for the sake of evoking a sense of wonder, is an inquiry into what knowledge, in any of its forms, actually consists of. One expression of this tendency is the conviction that mathematical technique must necessarily conform to certain rules.

We say: "If you really follow the rule in multiplying, you must all get the same result." Now if this is only the somewhat hysterical way of putting things that you get in university talk, it need not interest us overmuch.

It is however the expression, which comes out everywhere in our life. The emphasis of the must corresponds only to the inexorableness of this attitude both to the technique of calculating and to a host of related techniques.

The mathematical Must is only another expression of the fact that mathematics forms concepts.

And concepts help us to comprehend things. They correspond to a particular way of dealing with situations.

Mathematics forms a network of norms.

For Wittgenstein the mathematical "must" seems to have been of the same species as the scientific "explanation." Both harbor the pretense of not obeying the limits of a form of knowledge; thus both are antagonistic to the mystery which persists beyond the forms of knowledge.

What can dissipate the philosophical fog? For Wittgenstein what seemed to be required was the awareness that mathematics, like other areas of knowledge, was a human technique, formed of "concepts [that] help us comprehend things." They are formal and limited "way[s] of dealing with situations." To achieve this, he seems to indicate, requires battling against the supposition of the "objectivity and reality" of our forms of knowledge. What he battled against was the desire for an absolute or "god's eye" view, which he appears to have felt still captivates our scientific and philosophical investigations of the world.

What harm is done … by saying that God knows all irrational numbers? Or: that they are already all there, even though we only know certain of them? Why are these pictures not harmless? For one thing, they hide certain problems.

Suppose that people go on and on calculating the expansion of ir. SO God, who knows everything, knows whether they will have reached "777" by the end of the world. But can his omniscience decide whether they would have reached it after the end of the world? It cannot. I want to say: even God can determine something mathematical only by mathematics. Even for him the mere rule of expansion cannot decide anything that it does not decide for us.

More than just concealing certain "problems" though, such an assumption, Wittgenstein intimates, divorces one from the sense of wonder which is evoked with the realization that complete knowledge or a complete explanation does not reside anywhere, not even with God.

Wittgenstein's views on mathematics embody in encapsulated form many of the assumptions and techniques of his entire later philosophy. A fundamental assumption for him, as I have indicated, was that wonder is valuable in its own right and something to be desired. In addition it was his conviction that there is something in the way we look at things, in our "picture" of things, that inhibits our capacity to wonder. His technique as a philosopher was specifically designed for the removal of what stood between him and the capacity of wonder. To see how this worked in his later philosophy in particular and his philosophical work in general, we must briefly return to some propositions of the Tractatus.

At 6.44 Wittgenstein states what for him is mystical and what, we later discover, is a fundamental criterion for what he feels is absolutely good and valuable, that is, his sense of wonder. At 6.45, however, he indicates what technique is required in order to evoke his mystical sense of wonder. To see and feel the world as a "limited whole—it is this that is mystical." To evoke his sense of wonder Wittgenstein sought a view of things as a "limited whole." On the basis of these propositions and the evidence showing his devotion to his sense of wonder, it appears that interpreting Wittgenstein's philosophical corpus as an "ethical deed" (to use Janik and Toulmin's phrase) or as a "single work of thinking" (to use James Edwards's) means interpreting it as a protracted endeavor to view things as a "limited whole."

We may clarify this a bit more by considering some remarks from his Notebooks. Seeing the world as a "limited whole," Wittgenstein equated with viewing the world sub specie aeternitatis. At 6.45 we read, "To view the world sub specie aeternitatis is to view it as a whole—a limited whole." In a remark dated 7/10/16, which comes after a month of passages recounting Wittgenstein's struggle to identify something he could classify as good in an ethical sense, he writes, "the good life is the world seen sub specie aeternitatis." I find this an uncommonly significant statement for anyone wishing to understand Wittgenstein's philosophical and personal objective for the simple reason that ethical declarations of this kind are so rare in his corpus and in the record of his spoken words; and what it indicates is that Wittgenstein consciously equated his capacity for wonder, that is, for achieving the "good," with his capacity for seeing things as a "limited whole."

We discover with what deliberate intent Wittgenstein sought a view of the "limited whole" in his later philosophy as well when we look at the proposed preface to his Philosophical Remarks, which, more than the Brown Book, signals the beginning of his later philosophical investigations. He writes,

Our civilization is occupied with building an ever more complicated structure… even clarity is sought only as a means to this end, not as an end in itself. For me on the contrary clarity, perspicuity are valuable in themselves. I am not interested in constructing a building, so much as in having a perspicuous view of the foundations of possible buildings. So I am not aiming at the same target as the scientists and my way of thinking is different from theirs.

This interesting confession from a one-time architect provides us with one of Wittgenstein's few explicit declarations of what he was actually trying to achieve in his later work, particularly in the Investigations. This passage suggests that the later work is a protracted exercise in which he traces, to borrow Engelmann's metaphor, the island of objective fact, so as to clearly distinguish it from the ocean of boundless mystery. But as Engelmann has observed, "When he nevertheless takes immense pains to delimit the unimportant, it is not the coastline of that island which he is bent on surveying with such meticulous accuracy, but the boundary of the ocean."

It is at that boundary, I believe, that Wittgenstein encountered a sense of wonder. The important thing was for Wittgenstein clearly and repeatedly to witness that our knowledge, as he later suggests, is located within a particular form of life, and that beyond our forms of knowledge all is mystery. Wittgenstein's ambition in the Tractatus, for a view of the facts of the world as a "limited whole" and through a description of how all facts are represented, is transformed in his later work into a description of how particular facts achieve significance within particular language-games. In his early work he desired to view the world of facts sub specie aeternitatis; beginning with the Remarks, he begins to grope after the same, but now usually termed Ubersichtlichkeit, a clear, perspicuous, and "synoptic" view of the facts. He complains that it is the "chief trouble with our grammar" that it does not give us such a point of view. In an uncommonly poetic description of his own activity as a philosopher, Wittgenstein announces the relation of his sense of wonder to his philosophical effort to see a limited whole.

But it seems to me too that there is a way of capturing the world sub specie aeterni other than through the work of the artist. Thought has such a way—so I believe—it is as though it flies above the world and leaves it as it is—observing it from above, in flight.

This passage tells us several things, one of which is indicated by the metaphor that is employed. This remark, which was made near the beginning of Wittgenstein's later philosophical endeavors, eschews the limitations imposed by his earlier metaphor, the ladder. What he is here setting out to achieve is not to be achieved only once, but repeatedly; he wishes continually to recapture the world as a limited whole. Moreover, his choice of metaphors, early and late, tells us that he can only do this from "above" by acquiring a synoptic overview. Most importantly, this passage indicates not only the end but also the means with which to achieve it, which is to say, thought.

Wittgenstein, late in life, wrote a letter to his long-time friend Arvid Sjögren in which he discussed in unusually frank terms the value he placed upon thinking. Ostensibly the letter is a discussion about religion, which stemmed from a disagreement between Wittgenstein and Arvid's wife over a passage from Wilhelm Kiigelgen's Lebenerrin eines Alten Mannes. At the beginning of the letter Wittgenstein outlines two possible paths to religion, as he views it. One of them leads through a concept or a particular understanding ("durch eine Art von Philosophie"). Another leads through actions and deeds to the point where religious words begin to actually mean something but not to a point which brings one within the vicinity of a philosophy ("der Andere auf einem Weg, der ihn nicht einmal in der Nahe einer Philosophie"). Wittgenstein does not attempt to argue for the superiority of one or the other path but merely wishes to equate himself with the latter path. His identification with this path, the path of deeds, is achieved, however, in a very peculiar manner. In explaining this identification to Arvid, his emphasis is upon thought, not what we commonly regard as deeds; as a result, Wittgenstein's assumed devotion to the belief that Am Anfang war die Tat appears diminished, and his stated preference for action, as in his letter to Arvid, may seem insincere. But it is clear from what has been observed that Wittgenstein never considered philosophical thought to be an end in itself or a deed. Thought was an activity he was engaged in for getting past "a concept or a particular understanding" or form of knowledge which would otherwise stand between him and the performance of a deed. Thought was not his goal; it was his path. He writes to his friend, "I am myself, like you, a thinker. The natural way for me, which, at first, had likewise led me astray, leads through [my emphasis] thinking." Again, Wittgenstein immediately disclaims that his is a better way and instead refers to it simply as a "roundabout way" ("den Weg von aussenherum").

Thinking which brought with it fresh, innocent points of view, perceptions of things as if seen for the first time, totally original ways of tackling problems, the capacity to undermine stultifying theories and to wonder anew at the things of this world without regard to skeptical doubt or matter-of-fact explanations—these were some of Wittgenstein's paths to a meaningful and valuable existence. His golden path, however, was the ability to capture through thought a vision of things as a "limited whole."

This use of thought as the means of achieving what for him was most valuable, gives substance to a remark he once made to his friend Drury. Wittgenstein stated, "I am not a religious man," but, he added, "I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view." I take this to imply that the foundation of Wittgenstein's religion was a profound sense of mystery about the existence of the world and of oneself and of God's relation to these things. As I have endeavored to argue, Wittgenstein's work as a philosopher was singularly oriented toward resurrecting in himself a sense of wonder and mystery, particularly by isolating by means of thought the "limited whole" of what is known. In practicing his philosophy, he was performing a religious deed in his effort to direct his attention and the attention of others to the profound mystery of life.

For one who practiced this form of religion, nothing was more crippling than the cessation of thought. Such a cessation occurred for a prolonged period only once in his life, and it was in this period that he was most desperately suicidal; I refer to the period after the completion of the Tractatus, to which, I surmise, Wittgenstein also refers in his letter to Arvid with the statement that his "way" had "at first… led astray." In a myriad of ways Wittgenstein announced his fear, often mortal, of whatever might bring thought to an end. Late in life his letters and words to Malcolm express in all seriousness his preference for death should he no longer be able to think productively. To Moore he praised fertility and derided conclusions. To members of the Vienna Circle he insisted that theory gave him nothing, that for him it was "without value." To Russell he praised the science of logic because it was, to him, a science that was infinitely strange; and later on, when he was expounding new thoughts about language, he again confronted Russell with a vision of language that was protean and infinitely strange. For Renan, Frazer, Eddington, Jeans, and their likes, who, in his view, endeavored to explain mysteries or simplify complexities, he offered nothing but the harshest criticism.

In revealing the importance of Wittgenstein's "particular experience" for his work and the simultaneous function of his work in the evocation of his sense of wonder, I have thus far ignored the significance his sense of wonder had for his everyday life. Norman Malcolm, one of Wittgenstein's closest friends from about 1938 through 1951, notes in his Memoir the significance of Wittgenstein's experience. "I believe," Malcolm says, "that a certain feeling of amazement that anything should exist at all [Malcolm's emphasis], was sometimes experienced by Wittgenstein, not only during the Tractatus period, but also when I knew him." In the new edition of his Memoirs Malcolm confesses that he tended in his original memoir to overlook or not to have given due emphasis to Wittgenstein's preoccupation with such matters. This is an important confession from someone who emphasized, in the first place, the apparent significance a "feeling of amazement" had for Wittgenstein. Malcolm amends his original characterization of Wittgenstein as "fiercely unhappy." He notes Wittgenstein's numerous friendships that "were surely a source of richness in his life." In his consideration of the potential "richness" of Wittgenstein's life Malcolm's emphasis is not on friendships however. He emphasizes rather the good emotional effects arising from "prolonged and intensive intellectual work." Through philosophical work, Malcolm argues, Wittgenstein was "continually arriving at fresh insights, seeing connections between one region of thought and another, spotting false analogies, trying out new ways of tackling the problems that have kept philosophy in turmoil for many centuries." Malcolm is convinced that this "activity of creation and discovery" gave Wittgenstein delight; I would go further and say that this activity produced in Wittgenstein the sense of things that he valued most highly. Malcolm's latest thoughts point out that it was in large measure because of philosophical work that Wittgenstein could experience "joy and much that was 'wonderful.'"

Wittgenstein's ethical value was, if anything, more conspicuously displayed in his behavior than in this work. Engelmann describes Wittgenstein reading passages from Moricke with "a shudder of awe" and tells how, upon hearing the sounds of a quartet, he was "carried away by passion." Drury recalls attending a sermon with Wittgenstein during which Wittgenstein "leant over and whispered …, 'I am not listening to a word he is saying. But think about the text, that is wonderful, that is really wonderful.'" Fania Pascal noted that "To watch him in a state of hushed, silent awe, as though looking far beyond what oneself could see, was an experience next only to hearing him talk." She continued, "that there was nobody else who could … make you feel that your mind was stretched, thrown of its course, forced to look at matters it had never considered before." What he appeared to seek was the "newly created piece of art or a divine revelation."

This desire is displayed in his attitude to the work of others. Russell recalls that Wittgenstein "spoke with intense feeling about the beauty of the [Principia]"; "he found it like music." Pascal recalls him "picking up [a] volume of Grimm's tales and reading out with awe in his voice 'Ach, wie gut ist dass niemand weiss dass ich Rumpelstilzchen heiss.'" "Profound, profound," he exclaimed. She notes, "I liked Rumpelstiltskin, understood that the strength of the dwarf lay in his name being unknown to humans; but was unable to share Wittgenstein's vision." About Tolstoy's Hadji Murat Wittgenstein wrote to Russell, "Have you read it? If not, you ought to for it is wonderful [Wittgenstein's emphasis]." In another letter he commends Russell for having read the lives of Mozart and Beethoven because, he exclaims, "These are the actual sons of God." Pascal even notes the expression of Wittgenstein's values in the manner of his gaze. He "showed me around the Fellow's Garden," she writes, "stood in awe before some plant saying, 'You can almost see it grow hourly.…' "And as is to be expected, Wittgenstein's ethical criterion expressed itself as he taught, a fact conveyed in the observations of Rudolf Carnap. Carnap observed that Wittgenstein's "point of view and his attitude toward people and problems, even theoretical problems, were much more similar to those of a creative artist than to those of a scientist; one might almost say, similar to those of a religious prophet or a seer." Carnap also noted Wittgenstein's "internal struggle" when engaged in philosophical thought, a struggle "visible on his most expressive face." He continues: "When finally, sometimes after a prolonged arduous effort, his answer came forth, his statement stood before us like a newly created piece of art or a divine revelation … [T]he impression he made on us was as if insight came to him as through a divine inspiration, so that we could not help feeling that any sober rational comment or analysis of it would be a profanation." A student expressed much of this in the succinct observation that "We have never seen a man thinking before." Carnap's description is also captured in what C. van Peursen called Wittgenstein's style of "thinking aloud."

The profoundly serious, which Carnap practically views as the "revelatory," nature of Wittgenstein's thought and speech conveyed itself to others. Frank Ramsey, who travelled from Cambridge to Austria during the early 1920s to engage Wittgenstein in discussion about the Tractatus, came to appreciate his seriousness. In 1924 he wrote to Keynes in an attempt to explain Wittgenstein's apparent reluctance to visit England: "To come to Cambridge and just to go out to tea and see people, is, he thinks, not merely not worthwhile, but positively bad because such intercourse would merely distract him from his contemplation without offering any alternative good." Precisely the same sentiment was expressed by Wittgenstein to Norman Malcolm when Wittgenstein decided to visit the United States and was faced with the prospect of having to travel by car for several hours with someone whom he suspected would have attempted to engage him in chit-chat.

It would be very easy to interpret Wittgenstein's behavior in this regard as sheer rudeness; but this would ignore entirely his persistent struggle to think, speak, and behave in a manner which was true to what he recognized as valuable. Wittgenstein sought to appreciate the world in a way that was not simply given but had to be striven for. Pascal recognized that he "was driven to distraction by the manner in which people spoke." It was in an attempt to minimize the distractions of his world that Wittgenstein would often behave abruptly. We can see the same motivation in his choice of places to live and work. He has been characterized as arrogant, callous, and even mad; but when he is considered within the pattern of his entire life, his behavior appears no longer as aberrant but as deliberate attempts to achieve a certain goal.

What Wittgenstein sought upon successfully avoiding the perils of banality and matter-of-factness, was the "stretch[ing]," the "throw[ing] of course," that "forced [one] to look at matters it had never considered before." Wittgenstein sought in his own work and in the work of others, including the work of nature, the "newly created piece of art or a divine revelation." As Engelmann noted, what above all else had intellectual value for Wittgenstein was the "spontaneous idea." Ideas and understanding which came in a flash obliterating in an instant confusion and incoherence are what he esteemed.

Accordingly, he denigrated the tendency to mouth the teachings of others. He especially abhorred the thought that he himself should have followers, and so he never actually taught but merely thought and, if someone were willing, discussed. H. D. P. Lee recalls Wittgenstein's "insisting that (he) should think any problem out for himself." Wittgenstein expressed surprise to Lee that one could be very interested in "other people's thoughts." He sternly berated G. E. Moore for lecturing upon Ward's views on psychology instead of Moore's own. Wittgenstein is paraphrased as having once said, "if we took a book seriously it ought to puzzle us so much that we would throw it across the room and think about the problem for ourselves." For his own part, Wittgenstein successfully avoided any formal training in philosophy; to the end of his days he managed never to have read Aristotle. But this was not done out of pride; he simply viewed one's own creation of a thought as much more valuable than one merely imbibed. He said of the Tractatus that its value would be if someone were to come along some day and create the entire work anew by their own efforts.

Friedrich Waismann, noting in conversation with fellow member Moritz Schlick that Wittgenstein appeared to have the marvelous ability to look at things as if seeing them for the very first time, describes this as if it were some innate talent. What he did not seem to realize is that this way of seeing was a skill Wittgenstein had struggled for and was to struggle for all of his life. Trying to see things as though for the first time was his deliberate means of struggling to resurrect in himself a sense of wonderment about that which exists.

Finally, what has long been a mystery to Malcolm and others who knew and cared about Wittgenstein, are the words he spoke just before his death in the house of a friend. Mrs. Bevan, the wife of the physician at whose house he was then living, records that shortly before he passed away Wittgenstein asked her, with supposed reference to his friends, to "tell them I've had a wonderful life." These words struck Norman Malcolm, as "mysterious and strangely moving." The fundamental importance of wonder in Wittgenstein's life, however, should give us every reason to take his final words quite literally. That Wittgenstein should refer to his life as "wonderful" should be seen neither as pun nor as glib appraisal of his own life. On the basis of what we know of the man, his last words must be read as a profoundly sincere declaration of what he cherished above all else during his life.

What Wittgenstein sought in his life is identical to what he sought in his work. For a time, in his early years, these were at odds; but for the greater portion of his life Wittgenstein lived to wonder, and for this reason he lived to trace the limits of the known and thereby free himself to wonder at the mystery of what lay beyond.

Donald Peterson (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3794

SOURCE: "The Mystical," in Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy: Three Sides of the Mirror, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990, pp. 151-61.

[Peterson is a Scottish educator and author. In the following essay, he examines Wittgenstein's notion of the mystical within his Tractarian philosophy.]

In venturing behind the great mirror, the Tractatus acquires a breadth of vision uncommon in the philosophy of language. The first sections of the book concern the reflection of the world in the mirror, the middle sections address the inside of the mirror, and now at the end we find remarks on the 'mystical' domain of what lies behind the mirror and cannot be reflected in it. To this last division Wittgenstein assigns the 'sense of the world', value, ethics, aesthetics, the 'problems of life', the revelation of God, and what is 'higher'. These things—which he tends to group under the title of 'ethics'—are not to be found in the world: they cannot be represented by 'sentences', and the attempt to put them into words results in nonsense.

The discussion of the mystical in the Tractatus is brief, and although the essentials of Wittgenstein's view are given there, useful supplements are provided by the 'Lecture on Ethics' and by Waismann's records of his conversations with Wittgenstein. As Wittgenstein put it in his 'Lecture on Ethics':

Our words used as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of containing and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense. Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural and our words will only express facts; as a teacup will only hold a teacup of water if you pour a gallon over it.

Although the meaning of the passage is clear, the metaphor of the teacup is not ideal, since the inadequacy of a teacup concerns the quantity rather than the type of what it can hold. It might be better to say that a sieve (language), which will hold some things (facts), will not hold water (the ethical). The ethical is distinguished from the factual: it does not exist in the world of facts, but outside it:

Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute[ly] valuable, can be no science.

Everything I describe is within the world. An ethical sentence never occurs in the complete description of the world, nor even when I am describing a murder. What is ethical is not an elementary fact.

It might be thought that:

… what we mean by saying that an experience has absolute value is just a fact like other facts and that all it comes to is that we have not yet succeeded in finding the correct logical analysis of what we mean by our ethical and religious expressions …

But according to Wittgenstein, the difficulty of expression and analysis goes deeper, since:

I see now that these nonsensical expressions are not nonsensical because I had not yet found the correct expressions, but that their nonsensicality was their very essence.

To attempt to describe the ethical is to 'run against the boundaries of language': something akin to the Kantian hubris of extending Reason beyond its limits. Since the ethical is intrinsically indescribable, the attempt to describe it results in nonsense, and no sound analysis can turn nonsense into sense.

Here, as in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein uses the expressions 'world', 'sentence', 'fact', 'elementary fact', and 'science' as technical terms. The 'world' is composed of 'elementary facts', and is represented by 'sentences' which have 'sense', and which belong to 'science'; but the ethical is not factual, and cannot be so described. Elsewhere Wittgenstein says that 'theories', 'descriptions', and 'explanations' cannot capture the ethical.

Wittgenstein's, however, is a moderate mysticism. When Hugo von Hofmannsthal cries that words 'leave me in the lurch' or 'crumbled in my mouth like mouldy mushrooms', or when the Taoist says that words attach only to the secondary reality of the 'myriad creatures', they express a thesis of general ineffability—the view that language is altogether inadequate. In opposition, Naive Representationalism amounts to the thesis of the general efficacy of language in describing everything without distinction. These two polar views—that everything is mystical, and that nothing is mystical—run counter to common experience, and part of the achievement of the Tractatus is that it incorporates the mystical, the representational, and the syntactic into a single, broader, perspective.

For Wittgenstein, the world may be all that is the case, but it is not all that is. The domain of facts is all that representational language can describe, but the syntactic and the mystical have their own reality. In contrast to the reductive, homogenising, 'nothing-but' effect of Naive Representationalism, the representational, the syntactic and the mystical are all allowed to live.

It has often been suggested that the remarks on the mystical are out of place in the Tractatus. But while it is true that it is unusual to find a discussion of the ineffable in a book much of which concerns logic, this only emphasises the contribution of the work to the theory of representation. For the Tractatus shows that the great mirror's three sides are not incommensurable, and can be viewed and considered together.

The diversity of the Tractatus is obvious in its investigation of a variety of topics—but if this were its whole character, the book would be merely interestingly wide-ranging. The unity of the Tractatus is also perceptible, although harder to identify—but if this obliterated diversity, as in Naive Representationalism, the book would be merely hygienically consistent. As it is, the Tractatus creates a balanced Gestalt, incorporating unity of perspective with diversity of topic, and allowing place—as any mature philosophy of language must—to all three sides of the mirror.

The rest of the present [essay] is intended to make two points: first that, outwith the particular context of the Tractarian system, Wittgenstein's views on the mystical are by no means eccentric or whimsical; and second that, within the context of the Tractarian system, we are not given a satisfactory criterion of demarcation for the mystical domain.

For Wittgenstein, 'the ethical' is the whole realm of value—moral, aesthetic, religious etc. It is perhaps not often claimed that moral matters are indescribable, but in religion and the fine arts it is widely held, especially among practitioners, that what is most important eludes verbal description.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James endeavoured to find the common factors in religious or spiritual experience, and the four he identified were (1) ineffability, (2) noetic quality, (3) transiency, and (4) passivity. It is frequently stated in this context that what is most essential lies '… far hidden from the reach of words' Wordsworth, 'The Prelude', Book III). Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, for example, opens with the lines:

The Tao that can be spoken of,
Is not the eternal Tao.

The doctrine of ineffability is prominent in many spiritual traditions, especially in Japanese Zen Buddhism, and in the Chinese Ch'an Buddhism from which it derived. Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of the Ch'an school, referred to the method as 'A special transmission outside the scriptures; no dependence on words or letters…'. In the Zen tradition, among others, language is linked to the discursive intellect, and it is the inability of the intellect to capture what is spiritual, rather than a limitation specific to language, which is emphasised. In particular, it is held, language and the intellect operate with distinctions and oppositions, and in the state of mind which is sought—Satori—these are dissolved.

In the arts also, what is most valuable—aesthetic experience—ludes verbal description. If I go to a concert, a performance of dance, or an exhibition of paintings, I cannot then give someone else an adequate description of my reaction. The concert, the dance, or the painting does not have a content which can be expressed in any of various media, including the medium of verbal description—and if it did, it would be enough to read about it. It is possible to make technical points concerning interpretation and execution, and it is possible in this vein to make historical and comparative points, but one's actual aesthetic reaction cannot adequately be conveyed in words. To this end, the most which can be done is to use suggestive metaphors and similies, but if the other person is not acquainted with the work, even this conveys little. This is not to say that the points which can be made are intrinsically wrong, and it is not to say that they are uninteresting or uninformative, but regarding the aesthetic itself, they are largely irrelevant.

This restricts what can effectively be said, for example, in a newspaper review of a concert: the standard of the musicians' execution, the conductor's sense of rhythm, and the more technical aspects of his interpretation can be described and hence criticised, but these are all means to an end, and what is most important can only be gestured at. The performance of a passage can of course be described as 'glorious', 'yearning', 'moving' etc., but the amount conveyed by such terms is very minimal, and reading the review cannot be a substitute for attending the concert. (It is often said that aesthetic reaction is 'subjective': the point here is that it is verbally incommunicable, not that it is idiosyncratic.)

In rehearsals, the interaction between a conductor and an orchestra does contain a verbal element. The conductor will ask the second violins to play a passage more quietly, he will ask the bassoonist to play a sequence of notes in a more staccato manner etc. But even when indicating phrasing, he has to use manual or facial gestures, or sing the passage. It is significant in this respect that the expressions in the international vocabulary of Italian terms used in music mostly concern technical points of execution: piano, allegro, rubato, diminuendo etc. Some of these terms, such as animato and maestoso are quasi-aesthetic, but these only give a rough idea of how a passage is to be played, and they only convey to a minimal extent the aesthetic impression to be created by the particular passage in the particular piece being rehearsed. A conductor does not usually stand up at the beginning of a rehearsal and give a prolonged lecture on the aesthetic impression he wants to create, and if he does so, it is unlikely that this will be effective. Rather, as the rehearsal proceeds, and the execution of the piece is altered in various ways, it becomes clearer what is desired. The means to the end can be described and criticised, but the end itself, though it can be perceived, cannot be properly stated. It is significant in this respect that the conductor's profession is one of the few co-operative occupations in which it is unnecessary to be a linguist in order to work effectively in different countries. Apart from the standard terms describing execution, the conductor's most effective means of communication is through the gestures made with his hands or with his baton.

It is true that the conductor and the orchestra work together to produce an aesthetic effect which is usually better than that produced by the first run-through of the piece. And it is true that the conductor and orchestra speak to one another. But the nature of this interaction is not one in which the conductor says what aesthetic effect he wants, and the orchestra does as he asks—otherwise it would be enough for him to write the orchestra a letter.

The point might be put by saying that the musicians work within the factual world to produce an aesthetic effect which is outwith the factual world. The instruments, the manual movements etc. are factual, and plainly physical, while the aesthetic result is not; and so the means is describable, while the end is ineffable.

It is often said that music and painting 'cannot be taught' r 'cannot be learned from a book'. The point is not that a teacher or a book cannot help the student on technical issues, but rather that the guiding appreciation of the aesthetic impression to be created cannot be transferred by verbal means. And even with respect to what can be communicated, bodily gesture plays an important rôle: it would be easy to tell someone over the telephone how to get from Green Park to Picadilly on the London Underground, but a music lesson conducted in this way would be severely hampered. It is true that a book can help a student on technical points, but it is not true that an adequate description of what is essential and aesthetic is given in the book, and is transferred to the student when he reads it. Even at the level of manual execution, it is often difficult for the teacher to tell the student in literal language what he or she should do, and it is frequently more effective to use analogy and metaphor, saying that the kinaesthetic feeling of executing some particular technique is like that of some other well known action. In teaching violin bow technique, for example, reference is made to such sensations as those of catching a bouncing ball, and applying thick paint.

In the field of human relations also, it seems that much of what is essential eludes description. If two people are friends, for example, they can certainly describe the external, circumstantial, and behavioural factors in their relationship, and they can describe one another's characters and attitudes; but the essential nature of the relationship is difficult or impossible to express, and has to be indicated through description of these other factors. If one person describes to another a friendship which he or she has, the albeit important points which are made lie, so to speak, to the side of the actual topic of discussion. The listener may then try to imagine himself or herself in this situation—in the speaker's place—and may divine how the speaker feels, but this is not the same as straightforwardly being told a fact.

Statements by artists and theorists alike, to the effect that art cannot be 'understood' or 'explained' and addresses something not captured by words, are myriad:

Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? People who try to explain pictures are usually barking up the wrong tree. [Pablo Picasso, quoted in Goldwater and Treves, 1976]

One could not express in words what one feels with one's eyes and one's hand. [Alberto Giacometti, quoted in Ashton, 1985]

A painter should always imagine he is painting for someone with no gift of articulate speech. [Paul Valéry, 1960, vol. 12]

The necessity for the plastic symbols of the art of painting is to some extent dictated by the inadequacy of our linguistic means of communication. To explain art, therefore, is often an effort to give words to nameless processes … [Herbert Read, 'Introduction', in Klee, 1948]

In religion and the arts at least, it is a commonplace that what is essential eludes verbal description, and that the most that can be done is to talk around it, or to address the practical means by which it is produced.

This is not to say that Wittgenstein's treatment is complete: it is very brief, and does not address the questions which immediately arise concerning the rôle of shared experience in communication, subjectivity and relativity of value, the relations between language, understanding, explanation, and feeling etc.

And it is not to say that Wittgenstein's view is original: as argued above, it expresses common experience, and many thinkers who may have influenced him asserted the existence of the ineffable.

Rather, the value of Wittgenstein's treatment of the mystical consists in its lack of originality—the well grounded belief in the ineffable is incorporated into the Tractarian perspective, thus creating a breadth of vision, and a nontriviality, uncommon in the philosophy of language. To complain that the remarks on the mystical are not original, or that they are out of place, is to miss this point. The Tractatus gives us no new thoughts about the ineffable: what it does is to encompass the mystical in its scheme, so allowing us to cast one glance over all three sides of the great mirror of language. And this is surely right: the ineffable is here to stay, and it is therefore the task of the philosophy of language to accommodate it, rather than to dismiss it.

Within the context of the Tractarian system and the Tractarian terminology, Wittgenstein's points about ineffability somehow seem abstruse and contentious. However, despite this appearance, they are—at least in the spiritual and aesthetic realms—the expression of common experience. In those areas of life which involve ineffability, the limits of language may not often be discussed and stated, but they are certainly understood and assumed. And so it seems that the points in the Tractatus which are most widely held outside the philosophical community are those made near the end of the book. What is perhaps most striking is that ineffability is not only real, but unproblematic: in the relevant activities we get on very well without words.

It cannot be said, though, that Wittgenstein's discussion is itself unproblematic. In particular, it is not clear that the line between what can and what cannot be described is as sharp as Wittgenstein's discussion suggests, or that it falls exactly where he says it does. On one hand, we have no guarantee that language has the potential to give a wholly adequate representation of everything factual. And on the other hand, the religious and the aesthetic do seem to admit of a minimal degree of description through metaphor and poetry.

It might be argued, in favour of a sharp division between the mystical and the describable, that metaphorical and poetical discourse can be clearly distinguished from normal, literal discourse, and does not constitute proper description. But metaphor is a matter of degree, and there is a continuum passing from literal speech, through 'dead' etaphor, to 'live' metaphor. Ordinary discourse contains a multitude of half-dead metaphors, and these words owe some of their semantic resonance to their original nonmetaphorical meanings, as is brought out if there is 'mixing'. For example, the awkwardness of the phrases 'he devoured the new perspective' and 'this is the highest of fundamentals' is due to the practical impossibilities of eating something visual and of being both high and low. Thus literal discourse differs in degree rather than in kind from metaphorical discourse, and we cannot neatly divide them from one another.

Wittgenstein makes it quite clear that the mystical does not belong to the 'world' of 'facts', and that its study cannot be a 'science', but he does give more attention to removing it from the world than to locating it exactly outside the world. It is not suggested, though, that these things constitute internal syntactic features of representational systems, and it is certainly not a doctrine of the Tractatus that they are to be grouped together with logical relations, probability, modality etc. It is evident that Wittgenstein means in these passages to address something beyond the reach of language, rather than something internal to it: something behind, rather than inside, the great mirror.

Wittgenstein's strategy in delineating the mystical is not to address it directly. His intention is rather to give an explicit description of what is not mystical, and so by the same act to draw a boundary on the other side of which lies what is mystical. A line has two sides, and the idea is to say what is on one side, and where it ends, and thus by implication indicate what is on the other side, without the error of directly talking about it. In the Tractatus he says of philosophy:

It will signify what cannot be said, by presenting clearly what can be said.

And discussing the Tractatus in a letter to Ludwig von Ficker, he wrote:

The book's point is an ethical one … My book draws limits to the sphere of the ethical from the inside as it were, and I am convinced that this is the ONLY rigorous way of drawing those limits.

The project is to delimit the ethical from inside the factual—from what is not ethical. Paul Englemann discussed these issues at length with Wittgenstein, and later wrote:

When he nevertheless takes immense pains to delimit the unimportant, it is not the coastline of the island which he is bent on surveying with such meticulous accuracy, but the boundary of the ocean.

The idea is that a delineation of the 'unimportant' factual world would also serve as a delineation of the mystical.

What is perhaps most surprising is that Wittgenstein does not in this context exploit the atomistic character of his account of representation. It is often suggested that the ineffable has a holistic, Gestalt, or even undifferentiated nature which cannot be captured in language. The thought is that this organic wholeness does not reduce without remainder when dismantled in atomistic analysis, and that language is inevitably atomistic, analytical, contrastive, or differential. Wittgenstein's account of representational language, and of the world it describes, is thoroughly atomistic, and so he is in a position to use and investigate atomicity as a criterion by which to differentiate the factual world from the mystical. Oddly enough, though, he does not do so.

In any case, two problems attend Wittgenstein's undeclared strategy. The first is simply that outside the factual world lie not only the mystical, but also the syntactic, and so to show that something is non-factual is not enough.

The second, less soluble, problem is that with this strategy, the shortcomings of the Tractarian account of the factual transfer to that of the mystical. In particular, we lack a method of analysis, and so we cannot, on the basis of what is provided in the Tractatus, actually draw the delimiting line. If we had to discover whether something were factual or ethical, we should have to determine whether it were a Sachverhalt (or a Tatsache) or not: but since we cannot identify configurations of Tractarian objects, we cannot do this. And on the linguistic side, since it is not explained how to reduce an ordinary sentence to a truth-function of Elementarsdtze, we cannot tell in individual cases whether sentences are fact-stating or not. Thus the problem of the absence of a method of analysis, which vitiates the Tractarian theory of representational language, arises again with respect to the mystical.

Renford Bambrough (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5423

SOURCE: "Fools and Heretics," in Wittgenstein Centenary Essays, edited by A. Phillips Griffiths, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 239-50.

[In the following essay, which is a revised version of the J R. Jones Memorial Lecture given at the University of Swansea in 1979, Bambrough addresses issues of belief certainty, and adherence to dogma in the works of Wittgenstein.]

'Where two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and a heretic.' This sentence from Wittgenstein's On Certainty is the source of my title. A passage in George Orwell's Shooting an Elephant might have prompted the same choice: 'The Catholic and the Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent. Each of them tacitly claims that "the truth" has already been revealed, and that the heretic, if he is not simply a fool, is secretly aware of "the truth" and merely resists it out of selfish motives.'

The word 'heresy' is most at home in religion, where we also find the Psalmist and St Anselm confronting the fool who hath said in his heart that there is no God. The passions of the orthodox and the heterodox may express themselves in physical as well as in logical conflict. Besides religious debates there have been religious wars. T. E. Hulme remarked that the point of all creeds is to draw 'a peculiarly complicated but quite definite line which will mark you off finally and distinctly from the people you can't stand.' He had a solid brass knuckleduster designed for him by Gaudier-Brzeska, and when a critic made disrespectful comments on some Epstein statues he declared that 'the most appropriate way of dealing with him would be a little personal violence'.

W. H. Auden's understanding of heresy, besides associating it with public conflict, also hints that part of the purpose of othodoxy is to bolster the individual's shaky faith: Dogmatic theology is designed to exclude heresy rather than to define orthodoxy.' Politicians are another pugnacious breed, and their fighting, literal and metaphorical, is associated with much waving of banners and affixing of labels, much crying of folly and hunting of heresy. And for good or ill—for good and ill—even philosophers form parties, coin slogans, and attach labels to each other if not to themselves: logical positivists, Wittgensteinian Fideists, Swansea Wittgensteinians, and other badges of folly or heresy.

In all these fields the role of dogma is much the same: to help us to preserve some sense of security and some conviction of certainty in the face of what we recognize to be the almost intolerable complexity of the issues we struggle with in morals and politics, philosophy and religion. The metaphors of frameworks and of foundations are commonly used when there is talk of conflicts of principle and of the quest for certainty, and these pictures are in place here just because of their suggestion of fixity amid the flux of opinion.

The work that provides my title also treats my theme. Wittgenstein intervenes in the conflict between G. E. Moore and the sceptic of the senses about the existence of an external world; a conflict, he implies, in which each party can only declare the other to be a fool and a heretic. He invents the example of a king who has been brought up to believe that the world began with him: 'I do not say that Moore could not convert the King to his view, but it would be a conversion of a special kind; the king would be brought to look at the world in a different way.'

Similar conflicts are common outside the sphere of academic philosophy. Bertrand Russell refers in An Outline of Philosophy (1927) to an inner conflict in the mind of Edmund Gosse's father. The elder Gosse was a believer in the literal inspiration of Holy Scripture, but he was also well read in the scientific writings of his day. As a fundamentalist reader of the Bible he thought he knew that the world was created in 4004 B.C., but he knew from his reading of modern science that the work of biologists and geologists provided strong evidence for a much more distant date. Since he had a general confidence in the methods of scientific investigation, and a close familiarity with the evidence, he was in a dilemma between two apparently well attested but mutually contradictory beliefs.

Here it will be useful to introduce the notion of a pivot in thought, of which I shall be making use later. It is akin to Wittgenstein's ideas of the axis and the hinge:

I do not explicitly learn the propositions that stand fast for me. I can discover them subsequently like the axis around which a body rotates. This axis is not fixed in the sense that anything holds it fast, but the movement around it determines its immobility.

… the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.

When we find ourselves in a dilemma between two incompatible opinions we may move in either of two directions. We may turn on the pivot either to reject one of them because it conflicts with the other, or to reject the other because it conflicts with the first. Most of those who shared Gosse's knowledge of science, on noticing a conflict between geology and a literal understanding of the scriptures, rejected or reinterpreted the meaning of the scriptures. Gosse turned in the other direction on the pivot: he rejected or reinterpreted the results of geology. The fossil record, taken by itself, strongly suggested that the world had existed for many millennia before the scripturally authenticated date of 4004. It followed that the fossil record was misleading. God had created the world in 4004, but had created a world in which there were misleading indications of its age and origin, designed to ensnare unbelievers and to try the faith of God's children.

The mechanism of the pivot comes into operation wherever there is such a stark dilemma, whatever its subject matter. Parmenides thought he could prove by pure reason, by reflection on the nature of being, that all variety and all plurality is an illusion; that time and change and motion and differentiation are all alike impossible. He was driven by the force of inescapable argument to deny the actuality of all the movements and changes, colours and sounds, that we perceive in the world around us. His follower Zeno produced his notorious paradoxes in support of the same conclusion. Achilles can never catch the tortoise, the arrow does not move through the air, the athlete never reaches the turning post in the stadium. When we are presented with the same arguments we turn them to another purpose. We take the obvious falsehood of the conclusions as showing that there is something wrong with the arguments, and seek to locate and expose and rectify the misunderstandings of the nature of being and motion and change that are the sources of the inspiration that Parmenides attributed to his patron goddess.

The structure repeats itself in all the contexts of controversy. Again and again, in ethics, politics, philosophy and religion, we choose between opposed views or pictures by using one of them as our ground for rejecting the other. And again and again we find that others choose differently, rejecting our view just because it conflicts with another to which they are more deeply attached. In all such cases we may ask the questions asked by Wittgenstein: 'What is to be tested by what? (Who decides what stands fast?).' e hold fast, hang on with a stubborn resolve that Wittgenstein is thinking of when he asks whether it would be 'unthinkable that I should stay in the saddle however much the facts bucked.'

To many philosophers and many others it seems clear that conflicts about values are specially likely to take this form. Two men may share a loyalty to a particular conception of society, embodying what they see as an ideal of justice. They may then come to see and to agree that only a powerful and determined authoritarian government could impose on society the pattern that they both find attractive. This is one of the best known forks in the political road, a juncture at which one of them may be impelled to sacrifice liberty to justice and equality and the other to sacrifice equality to liberty and justice.

Often a controversial thinker or prophet is the focus of dissension, as in some picturesque instances from the history of the University of Sydney, where the Department of English divided into two over arguments about Leavis, and the Department of Philosophy divided into two over arguments about Marx, and where the Department of Economics came to the brink of a similar division over Marx and Keynes.

W. H. Auden, in the essay from which I have quoted, gives a good example of the operation of the pivot in theology and religion, the natural home of heresy and dogma. The Gnostic philosopher or theologian argues that Christ was God, and therefore cannot have been crucified. The Crucifixion must therefore be an illusion. Another, whom Auden describes as a liberal humanist, argues: 'He was crucified, and therefore he was not God.' The opponents share a premise, as those whose disagreement turns on a hinge or pivot always do: that the concept of God and the concept of crucifixion are incompatible. Simone Weil rotates on a different axis, but illustrates the operation of a similar mechanism in the same context, when she declares that it is the Resurrection that is the stumbling block; the Crucifixion is enough.

In considering such conflicts of principle as these, we are raising the chief questions of epistemology. How are we to resolve our deepest disagreements? On what foundations can we build our system of knowledge or belief? here are we to find the archai, the principia, the beginnings or sources of our understanding? Must all reasoning be founded upon an unreasoned choice? If not, is there any alternative to founding it upon unreasoned intuition, declaring that some things are self-evident, and that he who will not drink his health is not to be answered, but just anathematized as a fool and a heretic?

These are accordingly the questions that Wittgenstein considers in On Certainty. But it is not so clear what answers he wants to give. In some places he speaks of the possibility of making a decision that something is so or not so. And some of his talk of persuasion is in line with this way of thinking: 'At the end of reasons comes persuasion.' Here there seems to be an implication that persuasion is to be contrasted with reason, to be thought of as beginning only when reasoning has already come to an end. But there are other and more numerous places where Wittgenstein puts the matter quite differently:

In certain circumstances a man cannot make a mistake. ('Can' is here used logically, and the proposition does not mean that a man cannot say anything false in those circumstances.) If Moore were to pronounce the opposite of those propositions which he declares certain, we should not just not share his opinion: we should regard him as demented.

Similar language is used in other passages. The man who supposes that all our calculations are uncertain may be described as crazy. One who doubts whether he has a body will be taken to be a half-wit. There are some cases where doubting would seem to amount to a form of madness, or at least to raise the question whether it is the doubter or the confident majority that is of sound mind. The same point is put positively: 'The reasonable man does not have certain doubts.'

Wittgenstein's remarks in these passages have a clear relevance to the topic known as the ethics of belief. Sometimes, he says, one might admonish the doubter rather than reply to him. And certainly heresy, like folly, is often rebuked, treated as a perversion of the will rather than a failure of the understanding. It is natural that Orwell should speak of self-deception here, or of deliberately concealing an apprehension of the truth. One of the questions at issue is where the line is to be drawn, if a line can be drawn, between the ethics of belief and the pathology of belief; between madness, some infection of sickness in the understanding, and failure or perversity of the will. This leads in turn to questions about the relation between the active and the passive in understanding and in action, and hence about the nature and extent of our responsibilities for our thoughts and beliefs as well as for our actions. Can we, by taking thought, alter either our theoretical beliefs or our practical attitudes? 'Is it maybe in my power what I believe? or what I unshakeably believe?' If we cannot choose any of our beliefs it is hard to see how it could be our duty to believe something, and yet the notion of heresy seems to require that it might be our duty to modify our beliefs. The notion of folly, analogously, seems to imply that a suitably directed and supported rebuke should be able to change a man's mind, cause him to give a different answer to a question, and yet remain sincere.

J. H. Newman, in one of his Parochial Sermons (1835), raises this problem and gives some indication of where we might look for a solution:

Which of our tastes and likings can we change at our will in a moment? Not the most superficial. Can we then at a word change the whole form and character of our minds? Is not holiness the result of many patient, repeated efforts after obedience, gradually working on us, and first modifying and then changing our hearts?

Collingwood recognizes that the adoption of a theory or a thesis is an act, undertaken by an agent, when he remarks in The New Leviathan (1942) that somebody who is below the level of free will is below the level of rationality. We ordinarily recognize that we and others bear some responsibility for our beliefs as well as for our characters and actions. It is not just that we bear a straightforward moral responsibility for the amount and kind of effort we devote to the consideration of a question. In propounding a belief, just as much as in adopting a practical attitude, we endorse the belief as something that we are prepared to defend and to take responsibility for. My beliefs are part of what constitutes my identity, what makes me who I am. That is part of the reason why it is so natural to speak of a commitment to a view or a theory, as well as to a programme or a policy.

I believe that we can cast some new light on our familiar conflicts about conflict if we think of the special case of inner conflict, and in particular of the case where inner conflict is resolved by the conversion from one side to another of the person who is the scene and subject of the conflict.

Wherever there can be conflict between one person and another, there may be conflict between a person and himself. Wherever there are two opinions or doctrines or dogmas that are the lines of division between two people or two parties, there may be an individual human being who is divided against himself, who halts between those two opinions. And it often happens that a person changes sides, becomes what until then he would have called a fool or a heretic. The structure of such inner conflict is parallel to the structure of external conflict, of dissension between the two parties between which an individual thinker may find his allegiance divided. There are ex-Marxists and future Marxists as well as Marxists, and the same applies to Christians and positivists, liberals and levellers, Baconians, bimetallists and vegetarians.

The kinship between inner conflict and outer conflict is implicitly recognized in the modes of expression that are naturally adopted for the conduct of inquiry and debate about philosophical and religious and moral ideas. There have always been philosophical manifestos, ancient and modern—from Gorgias of Leontini to Radical Philosophy—but much of the thinking of philosophers and moralists has been recorded in meditations and confessions. Heraclitus declared 'edizesamen emauton'—'I searched within myself'—but he also denounced the folly of those whose wide learning had not taught them understanding, those whose eyes and ears were bad witnesses because their souls were not dried by the light of reason. Even when philosophers write treatises they usually give them the structure of conversations, a structure that is found equally in the exchanges of one thinker with another and in that dialogue of the soul with itself that is, according to Plato, the form of all human thought. The Seventh Letter scarcely goes far enough to stand by Plato's own principles: what is fundamental is not the duologue of master and individual pupil: when we go right down to the root of any matter what we find is a philosopher arguing with himself, like Augustine, Descartes and Wittgenstein. And these examples confirm what the case of Heraclitus illustrates, that the philosopher who is alone in his room, meditating, confessing, engaging in criticism and self-criticism, can at the same time be in contact and in conflict with others in the Academy, in the Agora, in the Temple.

To think of conversion is to think again of inner and outer conflict, and hence of the central themes of the theory of knowledge. A conversion is commonly either a reaction against an upbringing or, as Evelyn Waugh puts it in Brideshead Revisited, 'a twitch on the thread', a return to an upbringing; and no topic is more germane to the problems in this field than this notion of upbringing, training, initiation into the thoughts and customs of a community. We might remark of Gosse, as Wittgenstein remarks in a parallel case, that in order to have such a strange belief, one needs to have 'grown up in quite special circumstances.' He is again noting a remarkable fact about human beings, a feature of our natural history that is of great significance for the theory of knowledge, when he reminds us that 'one can instruct a child to believe in a God, or that none exists, and it will accordingly be able to produce apparently telling grounds for the one or the other.'

Wittgenstein may seem here to be supporting the suggestion that there can be no rational means of resolving conflicts of principle. Even if we refrain from branding each other as fools or heretics, are not some of our disagreements so profound and intractable that we cannot hope to reconcile them, and must simply agree to differ? When Hume derides the monkish virtues, when Boswell grieves at Hume's deathbed unbelief, it seems to many that there is necessarily nothing more to be done. Upbringings differ from time to time and place to place, and understandings change with them. There are different practices, opinions, beliefs. That is a plain fact and we must reckon with it. Wittgenstein notes that 'what men consider reasonable or unreasonable alters', and he asks 'But is there no objective character here?' As he points out, 'Very intelligent and well-educated people believe in the story of creation in the Bible, while others hold it as proven false, and the grounds of the latter are well known to the former.'

In the passage from which I take my title, he speaks of fighting an opposed belief; if there is a conflict between our trust in physicists and some other people's trust in oracles, and we say that they are wrong, 'aren't we using our language-game as a base from which to combat theirs?' If we do give reasons, they end in persuasion, as when missionaries convert pagans. Two impressive examples are given earlier:

I believe that every human being has two human parents; but Catholics believe that Jesus only had a human mother. And other people might believe that there are human beings with no parents, and give no credence to all the contrary evidence. Catholics believe as well that in certain circumstances a wafer completely changes its nature, and at the same time that all evidence proves the contrary. And so if Moore said 'I know that this is wine and not blood', Catholics would contradict him.

All this is perfectly true. But it is also true that the same applies in every sphere of human inquiry. There is nothing here that is special to religion and ethics and philosophy. Even in physics, there are orthodoxies that live and die. Even in physics, people believe and understand in accordance with their education and training, so that as Planck said, new ideas in physics are accepted only when old physicists die. He presumably did not imply that there is no objective validity or invalidity in the ideas of physicists. Nor do I think that Wittgenstein wished us to draw any such consequences from his remarks about his own examples.

Stark conflicts plausibly tempt us to think of them as irresoluble, but there is one natural step from the present position that takes us in the opposite direction. I have argued that inner conflict and outer conflict share a common structure. There is one element in that shared structure that is easily forgotten or demeaned. In order for a change to be recognized as a conversion, it is necessary that it should be an event in the history of a single identifiable person. Paul the Apostle is a new man, but this new man is nevertheless the man who was Saul the persecutor. Logan Pearsall Smith, in his introduction to a selection of passages from Donne's Sermons, traces the continuity between a rakish poet and an ascetic divine:

Donne was in the habit of drawing a distinction, in his letters, between the Jack Donne of his earlier life and Dr Donne, the Dean and grave divine and preacher. But, as he himself said, men do not change their passions, but only the objects of them …

So Donne retained his old passions and ways of thought; but whereas he had formerly, as he himself says of St Augustine, made sonnets of his sins, he now made sermons of them. Dr Donne was still Jack Donne, though sanctified and transformed, and those who have learned to know the secular poet will find in the writer of religious prose the same characteristics, the subtle, modern self-analytic mind moving in a world of medieval thought, the abstract, frigid scholastic intellect and the quickest senses, the forced conceits and passionate sincerity, the harsh utterance and the snatches of angel's music—in fact all that has attracted or perhaps repelled them in the author of the 'love-songs and satiric weeds', the sensual elegies and rugged verse-letters of his earlier period.

A man cannot disown responsibility for things he said or did or believed before his conversion by pointing out how great a conversion he has undergone since he said or did or believed them. He is the man who said or did or believed those things. Many a justified sinner, recognizing this, is inclined to harp on the evil days and doings of his life before he saw the light.

This requirement of personal identity before and after conversion must include some continuity of beliefs, and that continuity provides an analogue in the case of inner conflict for something that I have long urged to be a requirement for the occurrence of external conflict, namely that the two parties to the conflict should share some beliefs and understanding that are relevant to the making of a decision, to the determination of the question on which they are divided. Wittgenstein is attending to this point when he refers to a conviction that is 'anchored in all my questions and answers, so anchored that I cannot touch it.' He goes on to speak of a system as a necessary environment for the confirmation and disconfirmation of any hypothesis: 'And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of, what we call can an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life.' He points out that a man cannot even make a mistake unless he already judges in conformity with mankind.

Two men who quarrel about the truth or falsehood of a belief can refer their dispute to the system that is the element in which their arguments have their life. My disputes with myself take place in the same element. A divided self must also be a united self. What I had initially regarded as an alien creed must come to have some appeal for me before I can be in conflict about it. However deeply divided I may be, I remain an identifiable individual person, answerable for what I say and do and believe and doubt. When I stand at the fork in the road, halting between two opinions, my indecision or inner conflict is intelligible, to others and to me, only by reference to a unity and a continuity that it does not call in question; and it will be resolved, if at all, by the achievement of a reintegration of my thoughts, and of my feelings, and of my thoughts with my feelings, that is to say by the restoration of that state of harmonia that is for Socrates and Plato the fruit of self-knowledge: the integration of mind and heart, each with itself and each with the other.

Self-knowledge is still knowledge. The search for it, described and enacted in dialogue after dialogue, is at one and the same time a search for a resolution of intellectual conflict and perplexity and a search for the achievement or restoration of wholeness and harmony of life. The old and the new self, like other parties to other disputes, share most of their understanding. They have followed the same road to this point. They share the upbringing that confers a core of understanding that persists and must persist in spite of those differences of upbringing and influence that arise from and lead to the disputes that call for resolution. Too often we are content with a static picture of conflict, of trench-mortar fire directed from and at prepared positions. To look at cases of inner conflict is to be helped to remember the dynamic of conflict, external and internal alike. Every enquiry that is of any interest or value has this dynamic character; it moves on. Such movement is illustrated by the theology and the geology of the elder Gosse. The collocation of those two sciences recalls to me a visit I paid many years ago to a house near Dublin where George Bernard Shaw had lived in his youth. On a plaque at the gate was inscribed a quotation from Shaw: 'The men of Ireland are mortal, but the hills of Ireland are immortal.' My host and guide, Professor W. B. Stanford of Trinity College, was caustic: 'Altogether typical,' he said. 'It's not just bad theology, it's bad geology.' What Gosse needed was better theology. Perhaps, like Planck's physicists, he had to die so that others could give birth to the better theology that would preserve what was central in Gosse's inheritance, and show that what had to be sacrificed to good geology was not good theology but bad geology in theological disguise. What was needed was a proper and necessary shift of ground, a turning in one direction rather than the other on the pivot. It happened, and it led, at least for a time, to changes in upbringing by which later generations were guided through or round Gosse's fork in the road.

Parmenides was a pioneer of philosophical logic, and his logic led him to his dilemma, spiked him to the turning spit. What he needed was even better logic. With a better understanding of existence and predication we do not now think that we must choose between our respect for logical necessities and our trust in our five senses. Eyes and ears, as Heraclitus said, are bad witnesses for men who lack understanding. But they are invaluable witnesses when they give evidence before an intelligent judge.

No conflict can be total. Every conflict is between something that we have come to believe and something else that we have come to believe, and both beliefs will need to be compared again with what we have throughout this process continued to believe. There is therefore inexhaustible scope for further enquiry, both to separate one question and one kind of question from another and to answer one by one the questions that we can understand and handle. But the dynamic of enquiry is conducted against a stable background, against what Wittgenstein calls 'the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.' If someone who shares this inherited background tries or pretends to believe something that the background excludes, we shall notice that his life shows that he knows or is certain of things that his attempt or pretence would require him to question: 'My life consists in my being content to accept many things.' 'His conduct exhibits exactly that which he denies.'

These quotations at once remind us of a famous sentence from the Philosophical Investigations: 'What has to be accepted, the given, is—so one could say—forms of life.' The same expression occurs in On Certainty itself:

One might say:'"I know" expresses comfortable certainty, not the certainty that is still struggling.'

Now I would like to regard this certainty, not as something akin to hastiness or superficiality, but as a form of life. (That is very badly expressed and probably badly thought as well.)

It is admirably thought, but dangerously expressed. Yet it is less dangerous than the parallel sentence from the Investigations, since it uses the singular rather than the plural—a form of life. There is a clear implication that there are many other forms of life, but no suggestion, such as people have felt able to read into the Investigations passage, that there is a variety of alternative forms of life, between which we may be represented as choosing: having different ones at different times, or different ones in different generations or continents. That is not what Wittgenstein means. He is talking about the life of human beings, of all of us, as being that upon which that human understanding is based, by reference to which we settle what is a heresy and what is a piece of folly. I draw strong support for this interpretation from other passages in On Certainty. Immediately after using the phrase 'forms of life,' Wittgenstein goes on: 'But that means I want to conceive it as something that lies beyond being justified; as it were, as something animal.'

That last word strengthens my confidence that Wittgenstein is here doing what he calls elsewhere 'natural history'. The nature of the beast is the key to the nature of the beast's understanding. ('If a lion could talk, we could not understand him'.) It is not that some upbringing peculiar to our tribe or sect or society blinds us to what we might have seen if we had been brought up differently elsewhere—true and important though that can be—but that there is a human understanding, the understanding of a human animal in any society, in any time or place, in which some particular forms of doubt can secure no foot-hold.

My conclusion is that there are no conflicts of principle so profound that there is nothing left for the parties to do except to cry out against folly and heresy. I am not saying that folly and heresy do not occur. I am not even saying that it is never suitable to cry out against them. I am saying only that there are always other and better ways of dealing even with the most intractable of conflicts.

J. Bouveresse (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13261

SOURCE: "'The Darkness of This Time': Wittgenstein and the Modern World," in Wittgenstein Centenary Essays, edited by A. Phillips Griffiths, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 11-39.

[In the following essay, Bouveresse discusses Wittgenstein's philosophy in the context of twentieth-century history and culture, particularly that of Germany.]

In the preface to the Philosophical Investigations, written in 1945, Wittgenstein remarks that: 'It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another—but, of course, it is not likely'. There was quite obviously no question for him of endeavouring to dissipate the darkness of the age itself, but at the most of introducing light into a small number of receptive minds, the existence of which he considered, moreover, as problematical. In a rough draft of the preface to the Philosophical Remarks that he wrote in 1930 he says:

I realize… that the disappearance of a culture does not signify the disappearance of human value, but simply of certain means of expressing this value, yet the fact remains that I have no sympathy for the current of European civilization and do not understand its goals, if it has any. So I am really writing for friends who are scattered throughout the corners of the globe.

It is quite characteristic of his manner that he should have had the conviction of writing for people who like himself were situated outside the main current of European and American civilization which was profoundly antipathetic to him, and that at the same time he should have refrained practically from any explicit indication as to the spirit in which he was writing and hoped to be read, leaving to his writings themselves the care of effecting the discrimination between the few 'friends' to whom they were addressed and the mass of readers incapable of understanding them:

The danger in a long foreword is that the spirit of a book has to be evident in the book itself and cannot be described. For if a book has been written for just a few readers that will be clear just from the fact that only a few people understand it. The book must automatically separate those who understand it from those who do not. Even the foreword is written just for those who understand the book.

In 1949 Wittgenstein said to Drury: 'At the present time I do not think people want the sort of ideas I am writing about, but perhaps in a hundred years time it will be what is wanted'. But even though he was, like Nietzsche, persuaded that he was writing but for a small number of readers of the time and, in fact, of addressing himself essentially to men of another day, for whom his way of philosophizing could finish by becoming completely natural, he energetically resisted the temptation of proclaiming this sort of thing and that of trying to explicate in what his philosophical approach was so untimely. Though, in different places in his manuscripts, he expressed his antipathy for modern civilization and his feeling of belonging to a world which was condemned to disappear, and had practically already disappeared, one would look in vain for some trace of that in the philosophical texts that he intended for publication. Indeed, they contain no explicit judgment about the modern world and no allusion concerning questions of the day: a situation which, it should be said in passing, could but singularly complicate the problem of Wittgenstein's reception in France where, widely during the recent period, philosophy was precisely identified with the adoption of a position concerning questions of the moment and sometimes even explicitly with some form of direct political action.

Wittgenstein was obviously anxious that the problem of his relations with the world in which he found himself bound to live and to work, and to which he considered himself to be profoundly foreign, should remain, as much as was possible, a private affair. It would most certainly not have come to his mind to construct, as others have been able to do, a whole philosophy on such a basis. McGuinness, in his biography of Wittgenstein, remarks that Wittgenstein was attracted by Schubert, amongst other things, for one reason: 'in which the ethical and the aesthetic were intertwined: the contrast of the misery of his life and the absence of all bitterness'. It is clear that Wittgenstein himself sought to produce a philosophical work which would present the same sort of contrast and would realize the same sort of sublimation, a work the perfection of which would have a quasi atemporal character and would let nothing transpire of the author's personal problems, of the moral misery and the torments of his existence, of his dealings with the modern world and his resentment against the age. In a remark of 1930 he states that: 'The nimbus of philosophy has been lost. For we now have a method of doing philosophy, and we can speak of skilful philosophers'. What is characteristic of an age of declining culture or without culture, such as ours, is, as he remarks, to limit the occasions for the expression of the personality in favour of a methodical and professional approach to all problems, philosophical ones included. He himself most certainly did his utmost to avoid his philosophy appearing to be a direct expression of his personality, at least in the usual meaning of the term 'personality'. It is precisely this sort of temptation which a philosophy that really pretends to be of our age should, to his mind, resist, on pain of being condemned as not genuine.

Musil, in The Man Without Qualities, states that the virtues which rendered possible the great scientific discoveries are at bottom of the same type as the vices to which one generally attributes the success of warriors, hunters and merchants:

Before intellectuals discovered the pleasure of facts only warriors, hunters and merchants, that is to say precisely men of cunning and violent natures, had known it. In the struggle for life there is no place for sentimentalism, there is only the desire to suppress the opponent in the quickest and most effective way; everyone is a positivist.

The 'spirit of facts', as Musil calls it, led, in the realm of the intellect as in all other aspects of existence, to the triumph of a type of man whose dominant qualities are skill, cunning, tenacity, the absence of any scruples and inhibition, the distrust of any sort of idealism, the courage to destroy as much as to undertake, the art of waiting and of profiting from the slightest circumstances. Numerous remarks made by Wittgenstein, of whom the least that one could say is that his vision of the modern world and of human affairs in general certainly did not sin by an excess of sentimentalism, indicate that he was not insensitive to this exigency of the time. In 1930, he said to Drury: 'Yes, I have reached a real resting place. I know that my method is right. My father was a business man, and I am a business man: I want my philosophy to be business-like, to get something done, to get something settled'. After having heard a talk which seemed to him to be lacking of any interest, he remarked: 'A bad philosopher is like a slum landlord. It is my job to put him out of business'.

It is likely that Wittgenstein would later have hesitated more in affirming that he really had found the firm ground on which one can build in all safety, and the appropriate method in philosophy. But the impression that he gives at the beginning of the 1930s is unquestionably that of someone who considers that philosophy had finally found the means of completely resolving its problems with the sobriety and the efficiency which characterize the way in which scientists proceed and, in a more general way, that of the whole age. This will to be 'business-like', even in a domain like philosophy, effectively to end up with concrete results, never disappeared from his preoccupations. Speaking of Lenin with Drury in 1934 he says: 'Lenin's writings about philosophy are of course absurd, but at least he did want something to be done'. Nothing, of course, proves that he himself considered the fact that philosophy resembles, much more than it did before, a technique enabling the attainment of safely precise objectives, as being a decisive achievement of which our age may be proud. On the contrary everything leads to the belief that he would have preferred to live in an age where philosophy was able to produce something more grandiose and more exalting. He visibly did not consider that philosophy could be the most appropriate expression and the most convincing of the value of an age such as ours. But whether or not he had been influenced by Spengler on this point, he was convinced that in matters of art or of philosophy, an age which is one of decline should not endeavour to produce anything which no longer corresponds to its possibilities, even though there be nothing particularly enthusiastic about them. Drury reports that he had said of the Georgian architecture of the streets of Dublin: 'The people who build these houses had the good taste to know that they had nothing very important to say; and therefore they didn't attempt to express anything'. In a remark which dates from the 1930s, he notes: 'Architecture immortalizes and glorifies something. Hence there can be no architecture where there is nothing to glorify'. In his view honesty and good taste require that an age such as ours, which probably does not have very much to immortalize and glorify, equally abstains from trying to do it nevertheless.

Musil said of capitalism that it could be considered as 'the most gigantic organization of egoism'. The characteristic of this type of system is precisely that of counting on what is most stable and most sure in man and of constructing what Musil calls 'an order d la baisse' based on the rational exploitation of the most inferior of man's capacities, an order remarkably flexible, efficient and creative. Wittgenstein who was the son of one of the founders of the Austrian steel industry, classed by Karl Kraus in the category of 'the steel devouring beasts' (die eisenfressenden Bestien), certainly experienced a strong feeling of guilt and considered the fact of being born in a family as rich and privileged as was his own as a sort of original sin that he sought to expiate in one way or another during the whole of his life. But it is most probable that, whatever his feeling of profound dislike for the values and way of life of the people of his social milieu, he was none the less sufficiently realistic to recognize that the form of capitalistic organization had at least the merit which Musil attributes to it, namely, of a certain productivity and efficacy. He seems, in any case, to have been much too pessimistic as to the human condition in general to have really believed in the possibility of appreciably improving things by a change in the political organization. Wuchterl and Hübner note, concerning the attitude of the Wittgenstein family towards politics before the First World War.

Even though the grandfather had, in his time, in some of his letters, expressed a keen interest in Austria's foreign policy, his children and grandchildren were at that time living as if politics did not exist at all. It is not by accident that among the family's close friends none were politicians; politics were ignored and politicians despised. So it was that even the war and the developments that had brought it about were received almost as a fatality.

It is in like manner that Wittgenstein seems to have accepted the upheavals and political catastrophies which happened later. He reacted towards them as towards things which the situation of the modern world and the perversity of human beings rendered more or less inevitable and against which it would have been perfectly vain to revolt. It is significative that he should have pointed out to Drury in 1936 that the atrocities of the First World War were in fact neither as horrible nor as exceptional as one tended to believe: 'Nowadays it is the fashion to emphasize the horrors of the last war. I did not find it so horrible. There are just as horrible things happening all round us today, if only we had eyes to see them'. Fania Pascal says of Wittgenstein that 'his rarely expressed political opinions could be naive'. But his judgments on humanity in general were certainly lacking in any sort of naivety and romanticism. When Drury told him in 1930 that one of his acquaintances was working on a thesis concerning the reasons for the failure of the League of Nations, he replied: Tell him to find out first why wolves eat lambs'. Kraus said that: 'Social politics is the dispaired decision to undertake a corn operation on someone who has cancer'. This is perhaps not far from what Wittgenstein thought of politics in general and of the kind of intervention by which it pretends to heal the incurable and probably mortal illnesses of modern society.

Independently of that which he himself indicated, that is to say the privileged relationship which the review had with Kraus, the reasons for which Wittgenstein chose the review Der Brenner and its editor Ludwig von Ficker as an intermediary when, on his father's death, he decided to distribute a sum of 100,000 crowns to Austrian artists in want are not difficult to understand. As McGuinness writes:

The magazine seems to have been an attempt to do in a less personal and individualistic manner—in a less fastidious one too—what Kraus also was attempting; something very Austrian, and something, we can now see, very Wittgensteinian, to achieve a moral reform of life and thought without attempting to alter the conditions of life. The unworldliness can be seen as a reflection of the actual political impotence of the intellectuals of the time, or as a reflection more generally of the rottenness of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but it can also be seen as an important discovery, the discovery that the revolution needed (however impossible it might be) as not one in institutions, but one in the thinking and the sensibility—Kraus would say, in the language, of men.

In an article in Der Brenner in November 1920 entitled Revolution', Theodor Haecker begins by announcing that:

there must currently be some metaphysical decision of European peoples by which they allow themselves to be governed not by kings, but by parliaments, ministers and presidents, and reject monarchies recognizing henceforth 'democracy' s salvation.

But he concludes by remarking that:

The revolution of our day must be taken seriously only because it does not come from God, it has only been allowed by him in order to punish those who made it and those against whom it was directed; it cannot, as a 'revolution', be taken seriously by us who recognize but He, who are waiting for the only one, that which will destroy worlds and build the heavens, we who await with the unquiet preoccupation of being that day amongst those who can proclaim with innocent heart or delivered of his sins and in complete openness: Blessed be he who comes in the name of God!

On reading this kind of thing one understands better why, and whatever his sympathies for Der Brenner may have been before the war, Wittgenstein wrote to Englemann in 921: 'Ficker keeps on sending me Der Brenner and I keep on wanting to write to him to stop it, as I believe Der Brenner is nonsense (a Christian journal is intellectual make-believe)—but I never come down to sending the notice of cancellation of Ficker, as I cannot find sufficient peace and quiet to write a lengthy explanation'. Wittgenstein was certainly convinced that the real revolution could not be that which simply overturned institutions: 'That man will be a revolutionary who can revolutionize himself'. But he was also undoubtedly closer to Kraus' individualism and little disposed to according superiority to a particular form of religious organization rather than to others. As he said to Drury in the 1930s: 'As if nowadays any one organization was better than another'. He also said to Drury in 1929: 'Make sure that your religion is a matter between you and God only'. The revolution of which he was thinking could but be a strictly personal affair between the individual and God or between oneself and the world. As convinced as he said he was that the real reform, the only one which was susceptible of really changing something, had to be an internal reform, he always received with repugnance and scepticism the idea of trying to create it by some form of predication. In the talks with the Vienna Circle, he says, employing, in a modified form, a formula from Schopenhauer: 'Preaching morals is difficult, founding it impossible'. In a letter written in 1912, Russell speaking of Wittgenstein remarks: 'He abominates ethics and morals generally; he is deliberately a creature of impulse and thinks one should be'. It is clear that what Wittgenstein detested was in reality much less ethics itself than the efforts undertaken to found it on a theoretical discourse of the philosophical or religious type. More generally, he considered the pretension of giving reasons there, where there are none, as a blunder or characteristic dishonesty.

It is difficult to determine what exactly could have been Wittgenstein's position on what Musil called the problem of 'Buridan's Austrian' divided between two bales of hay, those of the Danubian Federation and Great Germany, the latter being definitely richer in calories and the former emitting a much more inviting spiritual perfume. But it would certainly be no exaggeration to say that some of the virtues that he appreciated the most were of a typically Prussian character and that he did not have a very high opinion for the most reputed of Austrian deficiencies, those that the autochtons strove to pass as qualities. We know, in any case, that he had a great admiration for Bismark and was fond of talking of him. Drury remarks that in 1949, at a time when the books that he was fond of reading were historical works, he had at his disposal a personal copy of Bismark's Gedanken und Erinnerungen.

It always seems, at first sight, somewhat surprising that a man as unconventional as Wittgenstein should have been so profoundly patriotic and have felt so bound to his country's destiny. Like many other Austrian intellectuals of his time, his relation to Kakania was certainly quite ambivalent. But it is obvious that he had been considerably affected by the decline and the disappearance of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, even though it is true that he would not have been tempted into giving the sort of idealized and even somewhat idyllic representation of pre World War One Austria that one finds in Stefan Zweig's The World of Yesterday (1943). When the First World War broke out, Wittgenstein accepted military service as a civic duty. But he did it in a frame of mind that had nothing to do with the bellicose enthusiasm and even sometimes hysteria that the opening of hostilities gave rise to nearly everywhere. Whereas the servicemen of the different countries enlisted in the war with the certainty of a rapid victory, Wittgenstein did not think that Germany was in a position to win the war. On 25 October 1914 he wrote in his Notebooks:

It makes me feel today more than ever the terribly sad position of our race—the German race. Because it seems to me as good as certain that we cannot get the upper hand against England. The English—the best race in the World—cannot lose. We, however, can lose and shall lose, if not this year, then next year. The thought that our race is going to be beaten depresses me terribly, because I am completely German.

McGuinness remarks that at this time Wittgenstein was: an admirer of much in English patterns of behaviour and personal relations'. Later, in 1940, when England found itself threatened with annihilation by Hitler's Germany, he said to Drury: 'You have often heard me speak of my dislike of many features of English life. But now that England is in real danger, I realize how fond I am of her. How I would hate to see her destroyed'. He did not, at that moment, however, believe that Hitler's opponents were really capable of winning the struggle: 'England and France between them can't defeat Hitler. But if Hitler does manage to establish a European empire, I don't believe it will last long'. It is at the least interesting that he should have ignored Hitler's projects for Austria to the point where on the eve of the Anschluss he reacted to the news that Hitler was preparing to invade his country saying to Drury: 'That is a ridiculous rumour. Hitler doesn't want Austria. Austria would be of no use to him at all'.

Though he certainly had no liking for Hitler and everything that he represented, Wittgenstein seems to have been persuaded, like many German and Austrian intellectuals, that the existing democratic governments, after having by their inability and their inefficiency rendered fascism almost inevitable, would not be capable of presenting Hitler with any real resistance. It is a fact that many people, estranged a priori from everything in Hitler's ideas, unhappily did not believe sufficiently in the virtues and chances of democracy in order to take its side against the threat that the rise of fascism represented. Musil expressed a feeling which was probably widespread when he wrote:

One should make the thought experiment which consists in asking oneself whether one could imagine national socialism replaced politically by something else. A sensation that is independent of desires and fears, that would even often go against them, generally replies after all that such a change can no longer be accomplished simply as a return to the old state or to an even older one. This sensation should most probably not be interpreted otherwise than as signifying that national socialism has its mission and its hour, that it is not a flurry but a step in history.

When the Nazis took the power in Germany, Wittgenstein said to Drury: 'Just think what it must mean, when the government of a country is taken over by a set of gangsters. The dark ages are coming again. I wouldn't be surprised, Drury, if you and I were to live to see such horrors as people being burnt alive as witches'. But Wittgenstein considered precisely that the indignation of the democrats was powerless against the gangster type methods that Hitler had chosen to use. To him they visibly resembled a form of inefficient gesticulation, the sort of thing that according to him should be avoided at all price in all clashes of this kind: 'The difficulty is: not to make superfluous noises, or gestures which don't harm the other man but only yourself'. Rhees, in connection with this, says the following:

A month or two before the Nazis entered Prague in 1939 a German refugee paper printed en face: a page giving a statement by Benes of what is essential to a liberal regime showing respect for individuals, and opposite this a page from Hitler's Mein Kampf on the need for ruthlessness and Realpolitik. It was meant to honour Benes. I thought it was well done, and I showed the two pages to Wittgenstein. When he'd read them he paused and then, nodding, reflectively: 'At the same time, this (pointing to the Mein Kampf page) is much more business-like than that one.'

We know, in any case, that just like Kraus, who declared that all in all he dreaded much less the misdeeds of censorship than those of the sacrosanct freedom of the press, Wittgenstein was not, by any means, an unconditional partisan of the liberal political system. Manifestly, he had always been convinced that a political system could be reproached with more serious matters than the limitation or the suppression of individual freedom; and the recourse to methods of government of a more or less authoritarian type did certainly not seem to him to be a priori inadmissible. Near the end of the Second World War he said to Rhees that the essential problem after the war would be that of everyone being able to find work. The question of the means to be used for that and the price to pay in order to attain this result seemed to him to be relatively secondary:

He thought the new regime in Russia did provide work for the mass of people. If you spoke of regimentation of Russian workers, of workers not being free to leave or change their jobs, or perhaps of labour camps, Wittgenstein was not impressed. It would be terrible if the mass of the people there—or in any society—had no regular work. He also thought it would be terrible if the society were ridden by 'class distinctions', although he said less about this. 'On the other hand, tyranny … ?'—with a questioning gesture, shrugging his shoulders—does not make me feel indignant'.

Karl Kraus more or less adopted as a motto for the life long battle that he led against the scandals, the perversions and the atrocities of the time a sentence from Kierkegaard: A man cannot alone help an age nor save it, he can only express the fact that it is waning'. One could ask oneself whether Wittgenstein did not already consider the attempt of saying to his age that it was going toward its end as impossible or absurd. In a remark written in 1931 he wonders whether there were not problems in the Western intellectual world with which people like Beethoven (and to a certain extent, Goethe) had been confronted but which no philosopher had ever encountered. It is possible, he remarks, that 'Nietzsche passed by them'. These problems, which are perhaps lost to Western Philosophy, are linked to the presentiment of the death of a great culture at a time when it is precisely still a culture and not a civilization (in Spengler's sense), a time at which its decay and its end can be but obscurely felt and described in the epic mode by a few of its greatest creators. At the time at which a culture is really disappearing there is no one to write the Epic of this disappearance, as had been (or could have been) done before:

It might be said that civilization can only have its epic poets in advance. Just as a man cannot report his own death when it happens, but only foresee it and describe it as something lying in the future. So it might be said: If you want to see an epic description of a whole culture, you will have to look at the works of its greatest figures, hence at works composed when the end of this culture could only be foreseen, because later on there will be nobody left to describe it. So it's not to be wondered at that it should be written in the obscure language of prophecy, comprehensible to very few indeed.

Though the tone adopted by Spengler in The Decline of the West resembles much more that of an inspired prophet than the rigorous and imperturbable scientist which he pretended to be, he was quite obviously not in the position of someone who was attempting to write something like the Epic of the disappearance of his own culture. Firstly, he came too late for that, at a time when this culture had already entered its terminal phase, that of decline and death; and, secondly, he expresses himself in a language that has nothing to do with that of more or less obscure feelings, but which, to the contrary, is that of certainty based on unquestionable 'scientific' data. Spengler begins The Decline of the West by announcing that 'in this book the task is undertaken for the first time of attempting to predetermine history'. According to him one can already see 'in the words youth, ascension, zenith, decline, which until now, and today more than ever, were regularly the expression of subjective evaluations and of very personal interests of a social, moral and aesthetic nature, finally, the objective designations of organic states'. Spengler considers that it is already possible to adopt towards the present itself, the phase of historical development which is presently in course and in which one is involved, a perfectly distanced and objective attitude:

One could … perhaps say, and it will be said one day, that in a general way there has until now lacked a real vision of history of a Faustian style, that is to say a vision which possesses sufficient distance to consider even the present—which is but relatively to one and one only among the innumerable human generations—as something infinitely remote and foreign, as an interval of time that weighs no heavier than the others, without measuring it to the falsifying standard of some ideals, without regard for oneself, without desire, anxiety and internal personal implication, such as practical life demands; a distance which consequently allows—to say it with Nietzsche, who was far from possessing as much as he would have needed—to overlook the fact of Man being completely from an enormous distance; a view on cultures, even on one's own, as on the line of the summits of a mountain range on the horizon.

Wittgenstein notes that all these problems, those that concern doubts, anxieties and finally the anguish that a culture can, at a given moment, begin giving birth to as regards its future are not part of his philosophical universe, and that, in a general way, tragedy is absent from the world which is his. The result of his work could be described as consisting in putting the world with the infinite diversity that it contains and which engenders the conflict and the tragedy to one side: 'The whole outcome of this entire work is for the world to be set on one side. (A throwing-into-the-lumber-room of the whole world.)'. The will to be finished with the world considered as an amorphous, transparent and more or less indifferent mass seems to be characteristic of his philosophical attitude.

Just like Heidegger, who said in Was heisst denken? that the Spenglerian idea of the decline of the Western World was but the negative, yet correct, consequence of Nietzsche's 'The desert is growing', Wittgenstein certainly found spontaneously enlightening the idea that Western culture was already, and had been for some time, engaged in an irreversible process of decline. A number of remarks in his manuscripts clearly indicate that the ideal world from his point of view, the one to which he would have liked to belong, was not that to which he belonged but one which had disappeared and had ended near the middle of the nineteenth century:

I often wonder whether my cultural ideal is a new one, i.e. contemporary, or whether it derives from Schumann's time. It does at least strike me as continuing that ideal, though not in the way it was actually continued at the time. That is to say, the second half of the Nineteenth Century has been left out. This I ought to say, has been a purely instinctive development and not the result of reflection.

Then again it is clear that just like Spengler he was convinced that an age must not try and do something other than that which corresponds to its possibilities and was quite opposed to the voluntarist illusion which consists in imagining that, in a period of decline, one can will and in spite of everything realize things which were possible in an age of great culture, but which, from a given moment, ceased to be once and for all.

It is, however, no less obvious that whatever the instinctive sympathy that Wittgenstein felt for it he could not use the idea of decline in the manner in which Spengler had done. For in order to do so, it would in effect have been necessary for him to believe, like the author of The Decline of the West, in a rigorous historical determinism that allows the prediction of, if not the details, at least the general form of future evolution; and in the possibility for an historian who at the same time as he is himself an actor in the historical process in course, can treat the present with the same kind of detachment and objectivity as the past. Spengler says that one can but wish that which will happen in any case or nothing at all. He concludes The Decline of the West with a quotation which perfectly summarizes the spirit of the work: 'Ducunt fata volentem, nolentem trahunt'. Wittgenstein's reaction toward the historical events which overwhelmed the world in which he was living was on the whole most certainly closer to resignation or (purely and simply) fatalism, than to the desire of openly opposing the unacceptable, even when externally it presents all the appearance of the inevitable. Wittgenstein said of Hitler in the year 1945: 'It isn't sensible to be furious even at Hitler; how much less so at God'. But perhaps he could have also said: 'One cannot be angry with God nor with History nor with Humanity, and consequently not with Hitler either.' Whatever his admiration for Kraus, the absurdities and horrors of the present age, to which he was certainly as sensitive as Kraus, never led him to the sort of revolt which is expressed by the will to combat, in all possible ways, the intolerable, without taking into account the fact that the battle is perhaps vain and already lost. If indeed he effectively opposed the spirit of the time, he did it in an indirect way and with what he believed to be the only weapons that a philosopher has at his disposal today. In philosophy he gives the impression of behaving like someone who was working for a hypothetical distant future, the realization of which depends on factors over which neither he nor philosophy in general has any real hold, and who has renounced intervening directly in the present situation.

Nevertheless, he manifestly did not, contrary to Spengler, believe that the limits imposed on the will, power and duty of individuals by the characteristics of the age to which they belonged could be plotted with the kind of 'scientific' recision that the author of The Decline of the West believed himself capable of attaining. He was to the contrary convinced that the course of history remains today, as it did in yesteryears, fundamentally unpredictable and uncontrollable. The reality of an age is, by definition, never the realization of the anticipations and dreams of the preceding age. As he remarked in 1929: 'When we think of the world's future, we always mean the destination it will reach if it keeps going in the direction we can see it going in now; it does not occur to us that its path is not a straight line but a curve, constantly changing direction'. In another remark, in 1947, he notes that the behaviour of historical agents is not determined by laws of development the knowledge of which could permit both to explain the events and to orient them in such or such a way:

A man reacts like this: he says 'No, I won't tolerate that!'—and he resists it. Perhaps this brings about an equally intolerable situation and perhaps by then strength for any further revolt is exhausted. People say: 'If he hadn't done that, the evil would have been avoided.'. But what justifies this? Who knows the laws according to which society develops? I am quite sure they are a closed book even to the cleverest of men. If you fight, you fight. If you hope, you hope.

You can fight, hope and even believe without believing scientifically.

In accordance with a general tendency of his philosophy which sees in instinct and will, and not in judgment and the intellect, what is foremost and fundamental. Wittgenstein rejects any intellectualistic interpretation of history and maintains that the evolution of societies results essentially from desires, hopes, beliefs, refusals and acceptances, which are anything but scientific, and the awaited consequences of which are for the most as different from those that will effectively happen as are dreams from reality. In a remark written in the same year, he speaks derisively of the kind of verbiage that one can read on cause and effect in books on history: 'There is nothing more stupid than the chatter about cause and effect in history books; nothing is more wrong-headed, more half-baked. But what hope could anyone have of putting a stop to it just by saying that? (It would be like my trying to change the way women and men dress by talking.)'.

At one moment, Wittgenstein asks himself what in fact distinguishes his conception from Spengler's: 'But then how is a view like Spengler's related to mine? Distortion in Spengler. The ideal doesn't lose any of its dignity if it's presented as the principle determining the form of one's reflections (Prinzip der Betrachtungsform). A sound measure (eine gut Messbarkeit)'. One cannot apprehend this age under the category of decline but by reference to an ideal which one has fixed. But this ideal must function only as an object of comparison or a standard of measure. One must at all costs avoid conceiving it as 'the preconception to which everything must conform', an attitude that Wittgenstein qualifies as 'dogmatism' and which Spengler did not escape from. For Wittgenstein it is there that lies the danger par excellence in philosophy: 'The ideal, as we think of it, is unshakeable. You can never get outside it; you must always turn back. There is no outside; outside you cannot breathe. Where does this idea come from? It is like a pair of glasses on our nose through which we see whatever we look at. It never occurs to us to take them off'. The ideal must not be something to which we aspire or something which was once realized and is so no longer, something which would justify a depreciatory judgement of reality, whether it concerns language, as it is, or in another style, the age in which we live.

The dogmatism and injustice that Wittgenstein reproaches Spengler with apparently did not prevent him from having an unquestionable sympathy for the distinction between culture and civilization and the cyclic conception of the evolution of any culture, including that of the Western world:

Perhaps one day this civilization will produce a culture.

When that happens there will be a real history of the discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries, which will be deeply interesting.

In his talks with the Vienna Circle, Wittgenstein in 1931 formulated an extremely negative judgment as to the future of European culture: 'What should one give to the Americans? Could it be our half-rotten culture? The Americans don't yet have a culture. But they have nothing to learn from us.… Russia. Passion is promising. The chatter that is said against that is powerless'.

One could incidentally remark that Spengler, in The Decline of the West, had predicted that Russia was going to shortly give birth to a new culture. Universal history in the higher sense of the term, that is to say the history of great cultures, should continue, which constitutes a relative consolation for the historian who is obliged to resign himself to the idea that Western culture is near its end. Spengler never believed that the triumph of technology would survive the disappearance of the Faustian world. He thought that technology would be adopted provisionally by other peoples as a means of opposing the domination of the West whose spectacular development of science and technology assured, for the moment, its superiority; but that as soon as the West ceased to play an historical role, the peoples who at the moment were in a position of inferiority compared to it would quite simply abandon the technology. The civilization of machines would disappear with the Faustian man; it will one day be destroyed and forgotten.

Neither the theme of the West's decline nor the interest in Soviet Russia and the conviction that something really new and promising was probably there in the making constituted for Wittgenstein at that time particularly original elements, for equally one encounters them among a good number of European intellectuals and they were, in a certain sense, even part of the Zeitgeist. As Fania Pascal remarks: 'It must be a matter of comfort for some of us that, however unusual and autonomous a man he was, Wittgenstein still belonged to his time and place'. One could suppose that his idealization of Russia was concerned more with the Russian spirit, the virtualities of which the influence of Faustian civilization had not succeeded in smothering, than with the political system that issued from the Revolution of 1917. He could even have thought just as Spengler did that Bolshevism merely corresponded to an episode relatively superficial and misleading that would be overcome by the only really significative thing: the rebirth of Russian Culture.

To my mind, (writes Fania Pascal), his feeling for Russia would have had at all times more to do with Tolstoy's moral teachings, with Dostoievesky's spiritual insight than with any political or social matters. He would view the latter, which certainly were not indifferent to him in terms of the former. His rarely expressed political opinions might be naive.

What is clear is that it is unnecessary to suppose that Wittgenstein felt any particular enthusiasm for what was newly emerging in Russia or elsewhere. His reactions seem to have been more those of someone who considered the attempt of assuring the survival of things which had had their day useless, and even to speak as Nietzsche, who had a propensity to push that which is already falling. But someone who thus takes the side of things which have a future against those which do not can do so in a frame of mind that is finally nearer to the resignation to things which in any case will happen sooner or later than to a personal adhesion, even a mitigated one.

Wittgenstein, as we have seen, considered that when the vision that a man has of the culture of his time is determined, as was the case for his, by an idea of decline, it must not be used as a norm which could allow of formulating objective judgments of value. In a remark written in 1949 he says: 'My own thinking about art and values is far more disillusioned than would have been possible for someone 100 years ago. That does not mean, though, that it's more correct on that account. It only means that I have examples of degeneration in the forefront of my mind which were not in the forefront of men's minds then'. A representation of things from the aspect of decline which was not possible 100 years ago can become possible and even natural today. That does not for all that mean that it is correct.

It has become common, in particular in literary and artistic circles, for Wittgenstein to be considered as a more or less typical representative of the Viennese modernist movement. This is something which on first sight is very surprising, and for at least two essential reasons. Firstly, it is easy to realize that he had practically no link with the milieu to which he is supposed to be attached. McGuinness for example notes that:

Ludwig gave little sign of any period of interest in contemporary literature. Hofmannsthal was a distant family connection and his idea of a return to the Baroque as a refuge from the decline of culture in his own day had some attraction. At any rate Ludwig liked to quote his saying:

'One has to behave decently Some day, somehow, somewhere, it will pay off.'

But on the whole he was a stranger to Young Vienna and he hardly knew the names of the writers Ficker selected for his benefaction in 1914: Musil with whom he has often been compared he probably never read: there could have been no question of that before 1906 in any case. The chief exception to this disregard for contemporary literature—an exception proving the rule—was his respect for Karl Kraus, one of the chief influences on his thought, he said in the 1930s, listing those influences in the order Boltzmann, Hertz, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler and Sraffa.

Secondly, it is quite obvious that his literary and artistic tastes were, just like Kraus', altogether extremely classical and even in some cases openly reactionary. He most certainly shared Kraus' cultural pessimism and his conviction that the great cultural works are already behind and not in front of us, his cult of tradition and his scepticism with regard to the future of the forms of art the most representative of the spirit of the age. Wittgenstein, like Kraus, had the distinct tendency to use the great classics, especially Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, and Morike, as an antidote to the literary production of his time which, with rare exceptions, he did not appreciate—it is the least that one could say—very much. As to music his opinions were not very different. In 1930 he told Drury: 'Mendelsohn's Violin Concerto is remarkable in being the last great concerto for the violin written. There is a passage in the second movement which is one of the great moments in music. Music came to a full stop with Brahms; and even in Brahms I can begin to hear the sound of machinery'.

After having, in the rough draft of the preface to the Philosophical Remarks, opposed the spirit of his book to that of European and American civilization, he continues:

This is not a value judgment. It is not, it is true, as though he accepted what nowadays passes for architecture as architecture or did not approach what is called modern music with the greatest suspicion (though without understanding its language), but still the disappearance of the arts does not justify judging disparagingly the human beings who make up this civilization. For in times like these genuine strong characters simply leave the arts aside and turn to other things and somehow the worth of the individual man finds expression. Not, to be sure, in the way it would at a time of high culture. A culture is like a big organization which assigns each of its members a place where he can work in the spirit of the whole; and it is perfectly fair for his power to be measured by the contribution he succeeds in making to the whole enterprise. In an age without culture on the other hand forces become fragmented and the power of an individual man is used up in overcoming opposing forces and frictional resistances; it does not show in the distance he travels but perhaps only in the heat he generates in overcoming friction. But energy is still energy and even if the spectacle which our age affords is not the formation of a great cultural work, with the best men contributing to the same great end so much as the unimpressive spectacle of a crowd whose members work for purely private ends, still we must not forget that the spectacle is not what matters.

I realize then that the disappearance of a culture does not signify the disappearance of human value, but simply of certain means of expressing this value, yet the fact remains that I have no sympathy for the current of European civilization and do not understand its goals, if it has any.

We could here think of what Nietzsche said about the concept of 'decadence':

It is shameful for all socialist systematicians that they should think that there could be circumstances, social combinations, in which vice, illness, crime, prostitution, destitution would no longer develop themselves … But that would mean condemning life. A society does not have the freedom to remain young. Even at the height of its force it must create rejects, refuse. The more it proceeds in an energetic and audacious manner the richer it will be in badly-formed beings, failures, and the nearer it will be to decline. One does not eliminate age by institutions; illness neither nor vice.

Nietzsche maintains that: 'what has until now been considered as the causes of degeneration are in fact its consequences'.

I do not, of course, wish to suggest that the concept of 'decline' as used by Wittgenstein could be usefully compared to the Nietzschian concept of 'decadence'. Wittgenstein, as we have seen, precisely refuses to envisage the idea of decline other than as a principle to which one can decide to submit the form of one's examination of things, but which has nothing obligatory or correct about it. But it is obvious that he too considers that it is not within the power of a society to remain young, and that it would equally be absurd to reproach an aging one with the fact that it no longer has the possibilities or the means of youth. One can neither rejuvenate a society by institutional changes nor be indignant that it suffers from the illnesses of its age.

Spengler maintains that cultures decline and finally perish by the impoverishment of their vital force. Musil proposes a different hypothesis which is that, despite appearances, the quantity of spiritual energy available at any moment remains to a considerable extent the same: it is simply distributed otherwise. It could quite simply be that modern societies are by their dimensions and the extreme complexity of their mode of organization condemned to divert a greater and greater part of this energy simply to maintaining the minimum of order, stability and security, indispensable to daily existence and normal relations between men. What diminishes is not the total quantity of energy but the quantity of useful energy. The difference between culture and civilization is probably that one must:

speak of culture there where reigns an ideology and a form of life still unitary, and on the other hand define civilization as the state of culture which has become scattered. Every civilization was preceeded by the expansion of a culture which disaggregated in it; every civilization is distinguished by a technical mastership of nature and a very complicated system—that requires, but at the same time absorbs, a very large amount of intelligence—of social relations.

Musil considers that civilization, as opposed to culture, does not suffer from a fundamental lack of spirituality, idealism or generosity, but rather from the fact that due to the excessive complexity of the forms of economic, social and political organization there is greater difficulty for the guiding and organizing impulses to be transmitted and for them to act. Correlatively, the individual finds himself placed in a situation of uncertainty which he no longer succeeds in dominating:

What we call civilization, in the poor sense of the term, is, in fact, essentially, nothing more than the fact that the individual finds himself laden with the burden of questions of which he hardly knows the first word (just think of political democracy and newspapers). Consequently it is quite normal that he should react in a completely pathological manner, today we impute any shopkeeper with decisions in which a conscientious choice would not be possible even for a Leibniz.

Wittgenstein himself, in the first version of the preface to the Philosophical Remarks, also seems to reason within a framework of what one could call a principle of conservation of spiritual energy, which is why all ages could be considered as equivalent as regards the total sum of energy they mobilize. As he says, 'energy is energy'. The difference resides in the distribution and the smaller or greater fraction of energy that is spent simply in resisting contrary forces and in overcoming the friction. In an age where culture is lacking, individual forces are not expressed as the quantity of real and useful work in the sense of the whole, but are spent in the effort made in order to get the better of the frictions and are manifest only in the heat thereby produced. From Wittgenstein's point of view, an age of this kind is characterized by its incapacity to impose a common direction on the individual efforts, the consequence of which is that they are condemned to be dispersed and opposed. The dissolution of the traditional organic relations consecrates the triumph of individualism, and instead of a differentiated and hierarchical system in which each individual works at his assigned place, one obtains a more or less amorphous mass in which, as he says, the best themselves can pursue only objectives that are essentially private.

Just like Nietzche, Wittgenstein saw in the disappearance of the will of tradition and the triumph of disorganizing principles the essential characteristic of the modern age:

What is most deeply attacked today is the instinct and the will of tradition; the modern age finds distasteful all the institutions that owe their origins to this instinct. At bottom, one thinks and does nothing the goal of which would not be the pursuit of the tearing-up with the roots of this sense of tradition. Tradition is taken as fatality: one studies it and knows it (as 'inheritance'), but it is not wanted. The tension of a will over long temporal distances, the choice of states and evaluations that allow one to dispose of the future over centuries—that is precisely, and to the highest degree, anti-modem. The result of this is that the character of our age is given by the disorganizing principle.

Wittgenstein is also close to Nietzsche when he expresses his incomprehension of the aims of a society that seems to have given itself the programme of eliminating constraints and suffering in whatever form, or more precisely that of proceeding as if they did not exist. He remarks for example:

I think the way people are educated nowadays tends to diminish their capacity for suffering. At present a school is reckoned good if the children have a good time! And that used not to be the criterion. Parents moreover want their children to grow up like themselves (only more so), but nevertheless subject them to an education quite different from their own.—Endurance of suffering isn't rated highly because there is supposed not to be any suffering—really it's out of date.

Since Wittgenstein himself manifestly did not believe that we are on earth essentially 'to have a good time', it is not surprising that he felt but little sympathy for a type of civilization in which the only thing that gives the impression of still bringing individuals together, and at the same time can, by definition, but constantly divide them, is constituted by aspirations of a purely egoist and hedonist type. It nevertheless remains that, as Musil said: 'never again will a unitarian ideology, a culture, give birth to itself in our white society; even if they existed in former times (though as regards this things are probably much too embellished), water comes down from the mountains and does not go back up.'

In spite of his obvious predilection for societies of a traditional type, strongly organized and hierarchical, even when they function in a more or less authoritative manner, Wittgenstein reacts towards this in the same way as Musil did. It would be of absolutely no use to advocate something like a return to a former state; and even if the spectacle that the present civilization offers us is, from the aesthetical point of view, much less grandiose than one could wish, in any case much less than the sublime and heroic philosophical conceptions d la Spengler would like it to be, the aesthetic aspect is none the less not the most important thing and does not, from a moral point of view, authorize any condemnation of the value of this civilization and even less that of the individuals who belong to it.

Wittgenstein, just as Musil, considered that due to the absence of any efficient organizing and guiding impulses the individual, abandoned to himself, is today regularly confronted with problems much too complicated for the capacities at his disposal:

Earlier physicists are said to have found suddenly that they had too little mathematical understanding to cope with physics, and in almost the same way young people today can be said to be in a situation where ordinary common sense no longer suffices to meet the strange demands life makes. Everything has become so intricate that mastering it would require an exceptional intellect. Because skill at playing the game is no longer enough; the question that keeps coming up is: can this game be played at all now and what would be the right game to play?

Older people generally finish, of course, by resigning themselves simply to playing the game, as it is. But this ceased a long time ago to appear as the only possible and legitimate one to the young generations, who must if possible not only acquire the mastership of it, but also resolve for themselves the question as to whether it is the right one or not.

Wittgenstein's remarks as to the future of scientific and technological civilization remind one, in many regards, of Kraus' apocalyptic conception. In a note written in 1947 e describes, in the following way, what he calls the 'apocalyptic conception of the world':

The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn't absurd, e.g. to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are.

Kraus precisely had the tendency to see in the advent of scientific and technological civilization the probable beginning of the end of humanity. In a text entitled 'Apocalypse', he says:

It is my religion to believe that the gauge is at 9, gases are escaping from all parts of the pus of the world's brain, culture no longer has the possibility of breathing and in the end there is a dead humanity laid next to the works that cost it so much spirit to invent that none was left to use them.

We were complicated enough to construct the machine, and we are too primitive to make it serve us.

In Kraus' view, the First World War was essentially that of technology and industry themselves. Moreover, modern technology is in itself already of warlike essence. It is a form of war against nature which will in the end probably lead to the destruction of humanity itself. Kraus says: The soul is dispossessed by technology. This has made us weak and warlike. How do we make war? By transferring the old sentiments to technology'.

One could, however, also imagine an issue other than that of apocalypse, but which is not necessarily more heartening than the perspective of humanity's final disappearance. In another remark written in 1947 Wittgenstein suggests the following possibility:

Science and industry, and their progress, might turn out to be the most enduring thing in the modern world. Perhaps any speculation about a coming collapse of science and industry is, for the present and for a long time to come, nothing but a dream; perhaps science and industry, having caused infinite misery in the process, will unite the world—I mean condense it into a single unit, though one in which peace is the last thing that will find a home.

Because science and industry do decide wars, or so it seems.

As we saw, this is a possibility which Spengler prevented himself from envisaging, and yet it is that which seems to be realizing itself today. It is not obvious that for Kraus this compared to the pure and simple annihilation which he dreaded would have made a great difference. As he says:

The real end of the world is in the destruction of the spirit, the other depends on the indifferent attempt that can be made to see whether, after the destruction of the spirit, there can still be a world. It is the reason why I believe that I am, to a certain extent, justified in the extravagant pretension that the continuation of the 'Fackel' epresents a problem whereas the continuation of the world is simply an experience.

It is sure that Wittgenstein, given the destructions and the miseries that would be the consequences of it and the fact that the united world that would perhaps finally be so produced would be anything but pacific, could not consider the perspective of the unlimited continuation of scientific and technological progress as a comforting one either.

That Wittgenstein was more than sceptical toward the idea of progress itself is something which is beyond doubt. Rhees reports that in 1943 at a meeting of the College Philosophical Society at Swansea he remarked in the discussion that:

When there is a change in the conditions in which people live we may call it progress because it opens new opportunities. But in the course of this change, opportunities which were there before may be lost. In one way it was progress, in another it was decline. A historical change may be progress and also be ruin. There is no method of weighing one against the other to justify you in speaking of 'progress on the whole'.

According to him, it is in this way that even the change which gave birth to modern science should be considered, despite all the new possibilities which it created: 'Science: enrichment and impoverishment. One particular method elbows all the others aside. They all seem paltry by comparison, preliminary stages at the best. You must go right down to the original sources so as to see them side by side, both the neglected and the preferred'. Carnap, in his Autobiography, says of Wittgenstein: 'I sometimes had the impression that the deliberately rational and unemotional attitude of the scientist and likewise any idea which had the flavor of "enlightenment" were repugnant to Wittgenstein'.

The phrase from Nestroy that Wittgenstein chose as an epigraph for the Philosophical Investigations, 'it is in the nature of every advance that it appears much greater than it actually is' (Der Schützling, Act IV), was also one of those that Kraus was fond of quoting. McGuinness remarks that the passage from Kümberger that Wittgenstein used as an epigraph for the Protractatus, 'And anything a man knows, anything he has not merely heard rumbling and roaring, can be said in three words.', was also quoted by Kraus and could have been borrowed directly by Wittgenstein. McGuinness says that:

It… seems likely that he knew Kraus from adolescence on. The little brochures (Die demolierte Literatur, Sittlichkeit und Kriminalitdt and so on) are to be found in their original editions on the shelves of family libraries and his sister Gretl (perhaps other family members too) had a complete set of Die Fackel, despite its fierce attacks on her father.

Wittgenstein's and in general his family's relations with Kraus are effectively, at first sight, somewhat paradoxical since the father, Karl Wittgenstein, had, on a number of occasions, been the target of Kraus' polemics and sarcasms in Die Fackel. It is quite easy to realize that, in fact, he occupied exactly the sort of position particularly susceptible of being designated for Kraus' verdict, for whom he represented one of the most typical examples of the collusion between the major industries, unscrupulous dealings on the stock exchange and the lies of the liberal press, in particular those of the Neue Freie Presse for which Karl Wittgenstein wrote articles in economics. In Die Fackel No. 56 (1900), Kraus states that 'The Vienna Stock Exchange fears God, Taussig, Wittgenstein and outside them nothing in the world'. The reproaches he formulated against the methods of 'the American Wittgenstein' anged from falsified balance sheets to the most shameful manipulations on the Stock Exchange and the blackmailing of the newspapers. The Wittgenstein family's patemalism and the money spent in charitable activities (what Kraus calls the 'Lumpengeld') constituted in Kraus' view, of course, but an aggravating circumstance. As to the father's activities as a patron of the arts, such as, for example, the support given, at one time, to the artists of the Secession, they were evidently not of a nature to really impress the author of Die Fackel.

I do not know whether the Wittgenstein family was in a position or not to acquire from time to time sufficient distance as regards everything it represented from an economic, social, and cultural point of view in order to understand and really appreciate Kraus' irony. But, as I have already remarked, Wittgenstein himself, who, quite obviously, amply shared Kraus' point of view on industrial civilization and on the clear conscience and the progressive well-meaning intentions of the enlightened upper-class, could, from this point of view, not but have been placed in a somewhat embarrassing position. Wittgenstein's vision of the world, and his conception of philosophy itself, unquestionably contain, whether their presence should or should not be attributed to Kraus' direct influence, the most significative elements of the Krausian Fortschrittskritik.

When Kraus, in 1899, published the first number of Die Fackel, he recognized that the review's political programme could seem somewhat poor: 'It is not a resounding "What we bring" (Was wir bringen) but an honest "What we kill" (Was wir umbringen) that has been chosen as its motto.' Even if Wittgenstein himself probably had the tendency to exaggerate the aspect of his philosophy, which is at first sight purely destructive, it is perhaps not quite incongruous to say that he too could have chosen a like motto for his philosophical enterprise. In 1912, when he began an attentive reading of philosophers, he expressed, according to Pinsent, his 'naive surprise' in noting that those that he had 'worshipped in ignorance' were finally 'stupid and dishonest and make disgusting mistakes'. One can therefore suppose that he had initially approached philosophy in a frame of mind which at bottom was not very different from that of Kraus, with the will to settle at least those things that were neither credible nor respectable, without necessarily feeling obliged to replace them by something else. He seems, at the same time, to have considered that men such as Kraus and himself found themselves confined, by the very nature of the age, to tasks that were essentially negative and which were in a way subaltern compared with what is possible in an age of great culture. Kraus states that: 'What tortures someone are the lost possibilities. To be sure of an impossibility is a gain'. In philosophy as elsewhere, the problem of an age such as ours is, in Wittgenstein's view, that it must understand that certain things are not possible, on pain of ridicule or characteristic dishonesty, and be able to give them up. But the difficulty is precisely that of perceiving as a gain what at first sight seems to be an essential loss.

McGuinness may be right in affirming that Kraus' influence on Wittgenstein was on the whole secondary and indirect. For it is difficult to determine to what extent the remarkable concordance that exists between the appreciations that they both formulated as regards the situation of the modern world is the result of a real influence rather than a simple chance encounter. The two essential things that Kraus really worshipped and which he passionately defended on every occasion were Nature, attacked by technological progress, and language, attacked by journalism and bad literature. Evoking the 'cosmic discontent' nd Nature's justified revolt against the excesses of human stupidity, a revolt which is manifested in earthquakes, tempests and the sinking of technological wonders such as the Titanic, along whose route Nature had forgotten to remove the icebergs, he says: 'It procures one a certain tranquillity to feel Nature's fury against civilization as a pacific protest against the devastation which it has provoked in Nature'. Kraus reproaches modern man with having, with the complicity of the press, become a simple voyeur of progress, who appreciates in it but the performance and the spectacle, without bothering to ask himself of what use it can be: 'The feelings of man's superiority triumphs in the expectation of a spectacle to which only modern people have access'. In The Discovery of the North Pole, Kraus suggests that in reality it was stupidity that conquered the North Pole and that it is its flag which victoriously flies there in order to indicate that the world belongs to it.

In his view, the modern religion of progress represents exactly the sort of inversion of values which precisely constitute real decline. Progress as it is conceived today is nothing more than an inordinate and paranoiac affirmation of humanity's will of power to the detriment of what he calls the 'will of essence' (Wille zum Wesen), that is to say the will of the essential, it has put the mean (Lebensmittet) above the ends (Lebenszweck): 'Civilization is the subservience of the aim in life to the means of living. It is this ideal that progress serves and it is to this ideal that it furnishes its weapons. Progress lives to eat and from time to time shows that it can even die in order to eat'.

I do not know whether Wittgenstein would or would not have approved the sarcastic judgments that Kraus formulates with regard to some of the most remarkable performances of modern science and technology; what is obvious is that his doubts concerning the reality and the usefulness of what is called 'progress' were at the least as serious as those of Kraus and it is on this very point that he considered himself as being far from and almost at the antipodes of the spirit of his time:

Our civilization is characterized by the word progress'. Progress is its form rather than making progress being one of its features. Typically it constructs. It is occupied with building an ever more complicated structure. And even clarity is sought only as a means to this end, not as an end in itself. For me on the contrary clarity, perspicuity are values in themselves.

I am not interested in constructing a building so much as having a perspicuous view of the foundations of possible buildings.

Of course, the fact that progress is the form of our time, and in any case the form under which it is perceived and represents itself, does not necessarily mean that it really progresses. It could properly be a formal property more than a material one. Perhaps, when it believes that it is progressing, it makes the kind of mistake that Wittgenstein denounces in the Philosophical Investigations: 'We predicate of the thing what lies in the method of representation'. Kraus said that: 'Progress is a standstill and has the air of being a movement'. The question that is posed concerning progress is the following:

How does it reveal itself in daylight? In what form does it show itself when we imagine it as a more agile servant of the age? For we have bound ourselves to a representation of this kind, we would like to render account of progress, and we simply lack the perception of something of which we are convinced. We see, of everything that walks, runs and rolls but feet, hooves and wheels. The tracks fade away.

Progress, Kraus says, is a representation that we have imposed upon ourselves, but we still do not know and in some respects we know less and less as to what it resembles. Musil, who, unlike Kraus, protests against the temptation of prematurely dispairing of the rationalist and progressivist ideal that we inherited from the age of the enlightenment, is led to the same sort of finding. Remarkable discoveries and advances certainly occur in each field of science, culture and art, envisaged separately, but the addition of all these things no longer succeeds in being really perceived as a progress. Progress which is something that we believe by obligation is at the same time something that we do not or no longer 'feel'.

Failing progress, we do have, of course, at least movement. We are living in an age where there is, in any case, no question of staying where one is. One must, as Musil said, stir oneself and advance or, as Wittgenstein said, participate in the construction of more and more elaborate and complicated devices. This is exactly what men such as Kraus and Wittgenstein, who chose to stay put, refused to do.

Kraus, in the poem 'Zwei Laufer' ('Two Runners'), opposes the optimists who believe in an unending progress, who despise tradition, who come from nowhere and who pursue an aim that forever escapes them to those who come from the origin and for whom 'the origin is the goal', those of whom one can say that, in a certain way, they have already arrived there where they wished to go. The opposition between the two types of runners could easily be found in the field of philosophy itself. A philosophy that wishes to conform to the spirit of the time, as Wittgenstein perceives it, would see in the conjectural method and the progressive approach of the empirical sciences the ideal to which philosophy should set itself. The misunderstanding between Wittgenstein and Russell and later between Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle arose mostly because he had always been, in Kraus' sense, a runner of the second type and had never shared this kind of rationalist and optimistic conception. For him, philosophy's approach is fundamentally different from that of the sciences and does not consist in formulating hypotheses and explications that one can hope to improve progressively, but rather in the indefinite deepening of things already known. As he says in a passage which is strongly reminiscent of Kraus:

I might say: if the place I want to get could only be reached by way of a ladder, I would give up trying to get there. For 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.

McGuinness, in his biography of Wittgenstein, characterizes the position of the Tractatus as regards science as having for its central element 'the rejection of any claim by science to explain, if (that is) explanation is taken to be anything other than presenting the phenomena in some clear and easily grasped form. Of course, Mach had already effected this reaction: but Wittgenstein's position is of special interest in that it proceeds from purely logical considerations, not from any empiricist prejudice'. Wittgenstein thinks that we owe to modern science, or perhaps more exactly to the spirit in which it is practised, some of the most characteristic superstitions of our time, in particular that which consists in believing that everything has been or will be explained one day or another. In the Tractatus, he wrote:

The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.

Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God and Fate were treated in past ages.

And in fact both are right and both are wrong: though the view of the ancients is clearer in so far as they have a clear and acknowledged terminus, while the modern system tries to make it look as if everything were explained.

It is because science accustoms us to the misleading idea that everything has been, or in any case, can be explained that we have the tendency to consider propositions such as 'It is God's will' or 'It is Fate' as being essentially the expression of ignorance and impotence, whereas what they express is above all another attitude, another way of behaving toward events:

In the sense in which asking a question and insisting on an answer is expressive of a different attitude, a different mode of life, from not asking it, the same can be said of utterances like 'It is God's will' or 'We are not masters of our fate'. The work done by this sentence, or at any rate something like it, could also be done by a command. Including one which you give yourself. And conversely the utterance of a command such as 'Don't be resentful' may be like the affirmation of a truth.

Another of the most characteristic superstitions of our time and which is as it were constitutive of the spirit of the age is, in Wittgenstein's view, the illusion that scientific and technological progress, or at the least progress in general is capable of providing a solution to all the fundamental problems of humanity. It is quite possible that the usual discourses on humanity's progress are finally of the same kind as 'the chatter about cause and effect in history books'. They probably were at any rate in Wittgenstein's opinion. But he most certainly did not believe that one can hope to change them by merely saying and repeating that they are absurd. The ideology of progress has been denounced over and over and over again and the modern scientific and technological civilization has given rise to a great number of radical philosophical critiques. But, to speak as Wittgenstein, the whole problem here is to know whether philosophy, in so doing, has not done itself more harm than it did to the type of civilization that it was attempting to combat. One of Wittgenstein's essential preoccupations was, as I have said, to avoid—and especially in philosophy—gestures that risked being useless and inefficient. As he used to say, 'Nur kein Geschwatz!' or 'Stop gesticulating!' Bouwsma records a conversation with Wittgenstein in July 1949:

He made such remarks as that some people are interested in a system; other are interested in preaching. He makes the distinction clear between something up in the air—using his hands—the talk of philosophers, and now someone saying: Don't be revengeful; let not the sun go down on thy wrath, etc. This is the distinction between nonsense and exhortation.

In a time such as ours, it is particularly difficult for philosophy to recognize and to follow the narrow path that passes between nonsense and predication. The greatness of Wittgenstein is, it seems to me, to have passionately looked for it and probably to have found it.

Marjorie Perloff (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: "Toward a Wittgensteinian Poetics," in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 33, No. 2, Summer, 1992, pp. 191-213.

[Perloff is an Austrian-born American critic and educator. In the following essay, she applies Wittgensteinian poetics to the works of several contemporary writers and poets.]

Philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition.

The limit of language is shown by its being impossible to describe the fact which corresponds to (is the translation of) a sentence, without simply repeating the sentence.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value

Wittgenstein's scattered notebook entries on cultural, aesthetic, and humanistic topics, collected by G. H. von Wright in a volume called Vermischte Bemerkungen (1977), appeared in English translation under the title Culture and Value in 1980. The date of publication may be taken as emblematic of the role a Wittgensteinian poetics was to play in the decade when the cult of personality that had dominated American poetry from the confessionalism of the fifties to the "scenic mode" (Charles Altieri's apt phrase) of the seventies began to give way to a resurgence of what was known, in the heyday of the New Criticism, which regarded it with some asperity, as the "poetry of ideas."

But the poetry of ideas that has become prominent in the course of the past decade by no means fits the conventional model in which a pre-formed "content" is expressed in "pleasing" language and verse form. For if, as the second epigraph above puts it, the only way to "describe the fact which corresponds to…a sentence" is to repeat the sentence, a "poetry of ideas" is one which makes manifest the process whereby ideas are formulated, rejected, discarded, and replaced. As Wittgenstein put it in 1937, "I find it important in philosophizing to keep changing my posture, not to stand for too long on one leg, so as not to get stiff." If we substitute "dichten" for "philosophizing" in this sentence (in the original German version of the epigraph with which I began, Wittgenstein says, "Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten "), we have the notion of poetic writing as self-interruption, the production of short units—aphorisms, fragments, gnomic sentences—that undergo repeated correction, contradiction, and especially recontextualization. Like Gertrude Stein, whom he so curiously resembles, Wittgenstein treats ordinary language to the process of "beginning again and again." "Each morning," he observes, "you have to break through the dead rubble afresh so as to reach the living warm seed."

In a 1936 entry in Culture and Value, Wittgenstein remarks on "the queer resemblance between a philosophical investigation … and an aesthetic one," thus underscoring the famous formulation in the Tractatus that "Ethics and aesthetics are one." However we interpret this aphorism—and I shall come back to it later—the Wittgensteinian equation of philosophy (and especially ethics) and dichten, with its corollary that both depend on beginning again and again, provisionality, and especially on the testing of language limits, has had a startling impact on contemporary poetics. In a review essay on recent Wittgensteiniana, Charles Bernstein discusses Bruce Duffy's novel The World As I Found It and the following poetic texts: Alan Davies's Signage, Steve McCaffery's Evoba, Tom Mandel's Realism, Ron Silliman's "The Chinese Notebook" in The Age of Huts, Keith Waldrop's Water Marks, and Rosmarie Waldrop's The Reproduction of Profiles. But these are only a handful of the works recently written under the sign of Wittgenstein. From novels like Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina (1971, English translation 1990), Thomas Bernhard's Wittgenstein's Nephew (1986), and Terry Eagleton's Saints and Scholars (1988), to poetry collections like Michael Palmer's Notes for Echo Lake (1981), Joan Retallack's Circumstantial Evidence (1985), Jan Zwicky's Wittgenstein Elegies (1986), and Charles Bernstein's own The Sophist (1987), to performance pieces like David Antin's "The Idea of Poetry and the Poetry of Ideas" (1985), John Cage's Charles Eliot Norton Lectures I-VI(1989), and Laurie Anderson's "Language Is a Virus from Outer Space" (1985), to artist's books like Johanna Drucker's Through Light and the Alphabet (1986) and hybrid critical/poetic texts like Guy Davenport's Geography of the Imagination (1981) and Louis Zukofsky's Bottom (1963, but out of print until 1987), poems and fictions have declared themselves as manifestly Wittgensteinian. And even when the link is less overt than in the examples just cited, much of the experimental poetry of the eighties could be said to take its starting point from such Wittgenstein propositions as the following in the early (1913) "Notes on Logic": "Distrust of grammar is the first requisite for philosophizing." In nine words, we have here a kind of base line for Language poetry, in which "philosophizing" and "dichten" (making poetry) become one, even as the "distrust of grammar" determines the figure the poem makes.

Wittgenstein's presence in the poetry of the eighties is all the more remarkable when one considers that he himself made no claims to propounding any sort of poetic. Unlike Heidegger, he wrote almost nothing on poets and poetry, professing ignorance and incomprehension, especially when it came to the avant-garde. True, in an impulsive act of legendary generosity, he bequeathed, in 1914, one hundred thousand crowns (roughly the equivalent of one hundred thousand dollars today) to Ludwig von Ficker, the editor of the literary magazine Der Brenner, instructing Ficker to distribute the money "among Austrian artists who are without means." But of the three main beneficiaries—Rainer Marie Rilke, Georg Trakl, and Carl Dallago—Rilke was the only poet with whose work Wittgenstein was at all familiar. Of Trakl's poems, he wrote Ficker, "I do not understand them, but their tone makes me happy. It is the tone of true genius." Some months later, however, when Ficker sent him a posthumously published edition of Trakl's works, Wittgenstein's only comment was that they were "probably very good" but that, just now, he had "no desire to assimilate foreign thoughts." On the contrary, the books he specifically asked his friend Karl Engelmann to send him at the eastern front were familiar classics—Morike's poems, Goethe's Roman Elegies—and he much preferred the nineteenth-century "folk" novels of Gottfried Keller and the historical dramas of Franz Grillparzer to the work of his Viennese or later) his English contemporaries. His taste in music reflects the same conservatism: Mozart but not Mahler, whose music he pronounced "worthless," Beethoven but not Richard Strauss (at a 1913 concert, where Strauss's Salome was wedged between a Beethoven symphony and the Brahms Requiem, he refused to sit through the Strauss), Schubert but not Schoenberg.

In the same vein, when Wittgenstein comments directly about the nature of "art" in the notebooks and lectures, his remarks tend to be modernist commonplaces. "A work of art," he observes in 1930, "forces us—as one might say—to see it in the right perspective but, in the absence of art, the object is just a fragment of nature like any other." Here Wittgenstein echoes, probably unwittingly, Victor Shklovski's famous doctrine of "making it strange" or defamiliarization, with its emphasis on the "artistic" removal of the object from its usual surroundings so as to recharge its potency, the object itself being "unimportant." Or again, Wittgenstein will pay lip service to the romantic/modernist doctrine of artistic uniqueness: "Every artist has been influenced by others and shows traces of that influence in his works; but his significance for us is nothing but his personality."

The paradox is that Wittgenstein's philosophy could not be of use to poets until the doctrine of poetic uniqueness and of the sharp divide between a "poetic" and an "ordinary" language began to be called into question. The equation of poetry with figurative language and metrical form had already been challenged by the Russian formalists, who argued that the syntagmatic axis might play just as large a role in poetic language as did the paradigmatic one.

But the issue that remained largely unresolved was that of voice. For even as poststructuralist theory was proclaiming the "death of the author," the dissolution of the "transcendental" subject, the denial of writing as the transcription of a "living" and unique parole, lyric poetry seemed, by definition, trapped in the oppressive circle of self-presence, the "cry of the heart" designed to convey some sort of mysterious essence.

Perhaps—and many theorists today are inclined toward this view—lyric poetry is therefore obsolete, the demand for a palpable individual presence where there can be none. Or perhaps, as Wittgenstein understood as early as 1916, the word "I" simply needs redefinition. In a notebook entry, later revised in the Tractatus, we read:

Here we can see that solipsism coincides with pure realism, if it is strictly thought out.

The I of solipsism shrinks to an extensionless point and what remains is the reality co-ordinate with it.

What has history to do with me? Mine is the first and only world!

I want to report how I found the world.

Solipsism coincides with realism because "I" can only report how "I" found the world. But not "I" in the usual sense of the word:

The philosophical I is not the human being, not the human body or the human soul with the psychological properties, but the metaphysical subject, the boundary (not a part) of the world. The human body, however, my body in particular, is a part of the world among others, among animals, plants, stones, etc. etc.

In the Tractatus, this notion of "boundary" point is rephrased as follows:

The limits of my language means the limits of my world.

That the world is my world, shows itself in the fact that the limits of the language (the language which I understand) mean the limits of my world.

The subject does not belong to the world but it is a limit of the world.

This is connected with the fact that no part of our experience is also a priori.

Everything we see could also be otherwise.

Everything we can describe at all could also be otherwise.…

There is therefore really a sense in which in philosophy we can talk of a non-psychological I.

Here Wittgenstein formulates important distinctions that lead eventually to the concept of the "language-game" in the Philosophical Investigations. In rejecting Augustinian language theory (the famous axiom that "the individual words in language name objects") in favor of the proposition that "only someone who already knows how to do something with it can significantly ask a name," that "the meaning of a word is its use in the language," Wittgenstein points the way toward a notion of the self in the "language-game" we call poetry:

When philosophers use a word—"knowledge," "being," "object," "I," "proposition," "name"—and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language-game which is its original home?

What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.

But isn't poetry precisely the language that transcends "everyday use"? Isn't the "original home" of this particular language game a separate realm that we define as belonging to the imagination? Here the notion of language limits is central. Poetry, we might say, extrapolating from Wittgenstein's discussion of "philosophy," is that discourse which "run[s] its head up against the limits of language" ( Philosophical Investigations). For those "limits," even as they spell out the "limits of my world" ( Tractstus), can only be derived from a "language full-blown" ( Philosophical Investigations), a language that is already given to me. And it is in this sense that the "I" becomes a boundary point, that it ceases to function as primarily a psychological subject.

The confrontation with limits can, however, never reach a point of resolution; on the contrary, it is always subject to revision. In a lecture delivered in Vienna in 1953 (written without knowledge of the Philosophical Investigations), the Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann remarked, "What merits our renewed and endlessly renewable consideration are not [Wittgenstein's] clarifying, negative propositions, which limit philosophy to a logical analysis of scientific language and restrict the analysis of the real world to specialized scientific fields; but rather his despairing attempt to chart the limits of linguistic expression, which provides the Tractatus with its inner tension, a tension into which he eventually disappears." Bachmann's own poetry and fiction have their wellspring in this "inner tension." The attempt to chart the limits of one's language becomes a kind of spiritual quest, there being, so Bachmann implies, no other. For "God does not reveal himself in the world" ( Tractatus), an aphorism that, Bachmann believes, "is one of the most painful sentences in the Tractatus." Its corollary, that "The sense of the world must lie outside the world," means that inevitably "Ethics and aesthetics are one" ( Tractatus), the good and the beautiful being equally unamenable to expression or definition. Indeed, as the famous conclusion of the Tractatus puts it, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Given these rigorous limits, the language of every day—the language that constitutes the world—becomes all the more remarkable. "When Wittgenstein asks us to think hard about the philosophical implications of saying 'I have a pain' and 'I think I understand what you are driving at,' "observes Guy Davenport, "he is being a dramatist at a primal level, trying to get us to wake up in the midst of dreaming." And again, "Wittgenstein did not argue; he merely thought himself into subtler and deeper problems." How this particular kind of "thinking" finds its way into poetry—my particular examples come from Ron Silliman, Rosmarie Waldrop, and John Cage—is my subject.

In his manifesto-essay "The New Sentence," Ron Silliman envisions a paragraph that might organize sentences even as a stanza organizes lines: it would function as "a unity of quantity, not logic or argument," the sentences within its "frame" relating to one another not by normal continuity but by a complex system of polysemic and syllogistic relationships. In this scheme of things, individual units (at the sentence or phrase level) that seem to make no sense may take on meaning by contiguity. And Silliman quotes Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations:

498. When I say that the orders "Bring me sugar" and "Bring me milk" make sense, but not the combination "Milk me sugar," that does not mean that the utterance of this combination has no effect. And if its effect is that the other person stares at me and gapes, I don't on that account call it the order to stare and gape, even if that was precisely the effect I wanted to produce.

499. To say "This combination of words makes no sense" excludes it from the sphere of language and thereby bounds the domain of language. But when one draws a boundary it may be for various kinds of reasons. If I surround an area with a fence or a line or otherwise, the purpose may be to prevent someone from getting in or out; but it may also be part of a game and the players be supposed, say, to jump over the boundary; or it may shew where the property of one man ends and that of another begins and so on. So if I draw a boundary line that is not yet to say what it is for.

It is not surprising that this passage appeals to Silliman, whose own poetry, whether in verse or prose, has been committed to testing the boundary between the "sense" of "Bring me sugar" and the "nonsense" of "Milk me sugar." "The Chinese Notebook," which appears in The Age of Huts (1986), is a sequence of 223 aphorisms, most of them on questions of language and poetics, that sometimes echo, sometimes gently spoof the Philosophical Investigations. For example:

29. Mallard, drake—if the words change, does the bird remain?

35. What now? What new? All these words turning in on themselves like the concentric layers of an onion.

60. Is it language that creates categories? As if each apple were a proposed definition of a certain term.

94. What makes me think that form exists?

And so on. The poet Alan Davies, who is a friend of Silliman's, recalls that "one morning.… I received from Ron a lovely chinese notebook.… I read the text enthusiastically. I was impressed by the number of interrogatives in the work. My own tendency has often been to suppress questions and, where they did occur, to end them with a period. I knew that I would make my most considered response to the text by answering each of the questions in it." Here are Davies's responses, appearing in the text "?s to. s: for Ron Silliman and for The Chinese Notebook," in Signage (1987):

29. Ask the bird.

35. Unpeel the onion a layer at a time; at center, the still point.

60. Categories create categories; language gets used, again, again.

94. Having the thought that form exists, you have the fact that it does. This operation, seeming to prove itself, supports itself.

The question-answer format (unanticipated by Silliman when he wrote "The Chinese Notebook") generates a witty homage to Wittgenstein, Davies's text depending on Silliman's even as Silliman's is most effective when read against Wittgenstein's. But The Age of Huts contains another text that is perhaps more genuinely Wittgensteinian than "The Chinese Notebook"—namely, "Sunset Debris," a thirty-page text made up entirely of questions. In an interview, Silliman explains:

My idea with Sunset Debris was to explore the social contract between writer and reader. As sender and receiver do not exist in vacuums, any communication involves a relationship, an important dimension of which is always power. In writing as elsewhere, this relationship is asymmetrical—the author gets to do the talking. The reader can shut the book, or consciously reject its thesis, but an actual response is not normally available. As advertisers have known for decades, the process of consuming information is an act of submission. To have read these words is to have had these thoughts, which were not your own.

… It was this aspect of intersubjectivity which caused me to introduce so much explicitly sexual language.…

… Every sentence is supposed to remind the reader of her or his inability to respond.

Every poem is, of course, a "social contract between writer and reader," but what makes "Sunset Debris" distinctive is that, in Wittgensteinian terms, the "psychological I" is absent, even as the limits of the poet's language are the limits of his world, even as the landscape of "Sunset Debris" is very much "the world as [Silliman] found it." Solipsism "coincides with pure realism" ( Tractatus). Consider Silliman's first forty-four questions:

Can you feel it? Does it hurt? Is this too soft? Do you like it? Do you like this? Is this how you like it? Is it alright? Is he there? Is he breathing? Is it him? Is it near? Is it hard? Is it cold? Does it weigh much? Is it heavy? Do you have to carry it far? Are those hills? Is this where we get off? which one are you? Are we there yet? Do we need to bring sweaters? Where is the border between blue and green? Has the mail come? Have you come yet? Is it perfect bound? Do you prefer ballpoints? Do you know which insect you most resemble? Is it the red one? Is that your hand? ant to go out? What about dinner? What does it cost? Do you speak English? Has he found his voice yet? Is this anise or is it fennel? Are you high yet? Is your throat sore? Can't you tell dill weed when you see it? Do you smell something burning? Do you hear a ringing sound? Do you hear something whimpering, mewing, crying? o we get there from here?

"In the language of everyday life," says Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, "it very often happens that the same word signifies in two different ways … or that two words, which signify in different ways, are apparently applied in the same way in the proposition." "Sunset Debris" seems to carry this process to its furthest possible limit. The first question—"Can you feel it?"—normally refers to a sensation: can you feel the cold? the pain? the touch of something? The second question—"Does it hurt?"—would seem to support that view. But we have no way of knowing what "it" is or whom the poet is addressing as "you," and so, when "it" changes to "this" and we have the sequence "Do you like it? Do you like this? Is this how you like it?" the simple shift from "what" to "how" and the predication relating "this" to "it" produces an erotically charged sexual reference, reinforced by "Is it alright?"

One of the central subjects of the Tractatus is the question of identity, the verb "to be" being endlessly ambiguous. "The word 'is,'" writes Wittgenstein, "appears as the copula, as the sign of equality, and as the expression of existence." The conundrum is expressed in the opening passage of "Sunset Debris," in the triad "Is he there? Is he breathing? Is it him?" where the seemingly similar constructions signify quite differently: the first demands simple information, the second requires judgment on someone's part, and the third is one of identification—who is "he"?

Throughout the passage, indeed throughout the poem, such syntactic indeterminacy plays with the reader's expectations and forces him/her into submission. Consider the pairs "Has the mail come? Have you come yet?" or "Do you prefer ballpoints? Do you know which insect you most resemble?" where a neutral question suddenly gives way to a very personal and, in the second case, nasty one. Or again, the triad "Do you smell something burning? Do you hear a ringing sound? Do you hear something whimpering, mewing, crying?" where the questions are deceptively parallel: the first doesn't necessarily implicate the "you" at all, the second implies that there's something wrong with "you" (that is, "you hear things!"), and the third implies that someone—you?—is failing to show concern to a lost cat, or a cat in distress.

So far as I can tell, not one of the approximately three thousand questions in "Sunset Debris" is repeated, except for the penultimate one—"Can you feel it?"—which takes us back to the beginning. The prose poem is an extraordinary tour de force: it takes ordinary language and everyday events—eating, working, talking, making love—and, by the seemingly simple rhetorical device of turning statement into question, creates a verbal vortex that becomes increasingly explosive as the reader becomes increasingly disoriented:

Is it time to think time? Do the words time? How many times? Is it locatable? Has it a space? Does it have a secret? When will you tell it? Are you anxious? Are you ready? Is it simply because you do it?

The questions remain entirely uncontextualized, the "you" continually shifting from self to lover to friend to reader—a reader who cannot know what language game is being played. "How is it," asks the poet on the last page, "[that] with all this language there is still this thing so vast that we have no name for it, even if we sense it as a thing we have seen?" And neither he nor the reader has an answer. There are, it seems, no more romantic sunsets, only "sunset debris." As for the poem's readers, "Is not communication an act of violence? Is not writing an act of privacy?"

Language, Rosmarie Waldrop observed in a recent interview, is "the one transcendence that is available to us, that we can enter into.… It is like a sea. I often think of it as a space." And again, "we cannot get out of language. Only God can, and He doesn't exist. So there's the problem."

The subject of this particular interview, conducted by Edward Foster, the editor of Talisman, is translation, specifically Waldrop's own remarkable translations of Edmund Jabes. But she might have been referring to her own book of Wittgensteinian meditations, or more accurately Wittgenstein parodies, The Reproduction of Profiles, published in the same year as Ron Silliman's The Age of Huts. Like Silliman, Waldrop is especially interested in the way meanings are created in everyday language use, but writing, as she does, from a feminist perspective, she raises questions about the "everyday" that Wittgenstein would not have considered. "A main source of our failure to understand," we read in the Philosophical Investigations, "is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words." To which Waldrop would add, yes, and men and women further "fail to understand" one another because they are likely to use the same words quite differently.

The Reproduction of Profiles is written in short prose paragraphs that recall those of the Investigations, although the overall structure of part I (thirty-nine paragraphs) is modeled on the Tractatus, the five sections ("Facts," "Thinkable Pictures," "Feverish Propositions," "If Words Are Signs," and "Successive Applications") following the Tractatus' s development from "The world is the totality of facts, not of things" to the picture theory of language in section 2, to the discussion of different kinds of propositions in section 3, and so on. But despite Waldrop's adaptation of this structure, part 1 of Profiles is essentially a narrative, a love story of sorts in which a man and a woman spar, on the whole good-naturedly, about their divergent modes of perception and behavior. In part 2, "Inserting the Mirror," there are thirty numbered paragraphs, the emphasis being more speculative and abstract than the Tractatus section.

Waldrop herself explains on the dust jacket, "I used Wittgenstein's phrases in a free, unsystematic way, sometimes quoting, sometimes letting them spark what they would, sometimes substituting different nouns within a phrase e.g., his famous antimetaphysical statement that 'the deepest questions are no questions at all' becomes 'You could prove to me that the deepest rivers are, in fact, no rivers at all')." What Waldrop is too modest to say, however, is that her knowledge of Wittgenstein's writings—not only the Tractatus and the Phbilosophical Investigations, but the minor writings as well—is remarkably thorough: the "profiles" here "reproduced" allude, among other things, to the picture theory of language, the discussion of the meaning of the word "red" in Remarks on Colour, of the communication of the word "pain" in the Investigations, and the proposition that "the limits of language are the limits of my world" in the Tractatus. Consider the following paragraph from "Feverish Propositions":

You told me, if something is not used it is meaningless, and took my temperature which I had thought to save for a more difficult day. In the mirror, every night, the same face, a bit more threadbare, a dress worn too long. The moon was out in the cold, along with the restless, dissatisfied wind that seemed to change the location of the sycamores. I expected reproaches because I had mentioned the word love, but you only accused me of stealing your pencil, and sadness disappeared with sense. You made a ceremony out of holding your head in your hands because, you said, it could not be contained in itself.

Here the first sentence plays on number 43 of the Investigations: "the meaning of a word is its use in the language." By submitting this aphorism to false syllogistic reasoning that is, "The meaning of word X is its use, but X is not used, therefore X is meaningless") and having it reflect the opinion not of the "I" but the "you," Waldrop gives Wittgenstein's theorem a sardonic twist. For what if "use" involves imposition? We know from the context that the "'you" is a man—the poet's lover or husband—and that it is he who insists that "if something is not used it is meaningless" and then proceeds to "take" the woman's temperature. In the context, the ordinary idiom ("to take one's temperature") has overtones of "take away," especially since the poet refers to her "temperature" as something "which I had thought to save for a more difficult day."

"In the mirror, every night, the same face, a bit more threadbare, a dress worn too long." This might be a sentence from a Victorian novel, except for the peculiar use of "threadbare" as a transferred epithet (from dress to face) and the ambiguity of the construction "worn too long" (too long a time or is the dress literally too long?). The simplest phrases, Waldrop implies, have their difficulties. What, for instance, are we to make of the assertion, in the third sentence, that "The moon was out in the cold"? "The moon was out" is simple constatation of fact; "X was out in the cold" is a common idiom for being left out or rejected. But to say that "the moon was out in the cold" sounds absurd, even though it makes perfect literal sense: the moon is indeed out in the cold night sky. Further, the moon is now placed on the same spatial plane as the "restless, dissatisfied wind" romantically transforming the sycamores—the pathetic fallacy full-blown.

"I expected reproaches because I had mentioned the word love, but you only accused me of stealing your pencil." The language game here refers to sexual politics—the "I" is always ready to offer "love," while the "you" accuses her of stealing his pencil, even as he wanted to "take" the temperature she wanted to "save." But perhaps the nameless "you" is just teasing the "I," perhaps his "accusations" are not to be taken seriously. The "I," in any case, is more or less placated: "sadness disappeared with sense." In the final sentence, Waldrop slyly draws upon the discussion of objects in part 2 of the Tractatus. "Objects form the substance of the world. Therefore they cannot be compound". "In the atomic fact the objects are combined in a definite way." If a definable object, in this case the human head, is always found in combination, if it cannot be "contained in itself," then, it seems, we must invent "ceremon[ies]," in this case the "ceremony" of "holding your head in your hands." As if such actions would resolve personal differences!

Waldrop's "Feverish Proposition" thus shifts Wittgenstein's ground imperceptibly and ironically: if the Investigations demonstrates the inability of words to have precise meanings outside their particular language games, Profiles is more interested in the interactive deployment of these language games, in the way language games are related to gender and power. He takes her temperature but then accuses her of stealing his pencil. He makes a ceremony out of holding his head in his hands while her face keeps getting a little bit more threadbare. He has both the first and the last word ("You told me," "you said"), while she "expect[s] reproaches."

In the course of Profiles, the identity of "you" begins to shift, the later sections involving primarily self-address, as in "It is best to stop as soon as you hear a word in a language you don't know." The male voice largely disappears. "As long as I wanted to be a man," we read in number 18 of "Inserting the Mirror," "I considered thought as a keen blade cutting through the uncertain brambles in my path. Later, I let it rust under the stairs. The image was useless, given the nature of my quest." The quest is to escape the imposition of someone else's logic, even someone as close to her own sensibility as Wittgenstein. "I had inferred from pictures that the world was real and therefore paused." The picture theory of language of the Tractatus, which Wittgenstein himself later repudiated, forces the language user into ridiculous positions, as when the poet says, "I thought I would die if my name didn't touch me," or when, in poem after poem, we meet words of causality like "because," "so," "therefore," "in response to," even as causality is understood to be a meaningless concept. "The events of the future," we read in the Tractatus, "cannot be inferred from those of the present. Superstition is the belief in the causal nexus." But the next step—which Wittgenstein doesn't take—is to assent to this proposition and nevertheless to concern oneself primarily with causeless sensation—the "chance rain pouring down from the clouds," "Duck wings opened, jeweled, ablaze in oblique flight," and so on.

Image, in other words, plays a central part in Waldrop's poetry even as her Wittgensteinian syntax marks a departure from the norms of modernist and, for that matter, many postmodernist poetic sequences. From Whitman's Song of Myself to Pound's Cantos to Olson's Maximus and Ginsberg's Howl, to Ron Silliman's "Sunset Debris" and "The Chinese Notebook," the grammatical structure tends to be prominently paratactic rather than syntactic—the structure of "and… and… and then… and then also," a structure that, as we have seen in the case of Silliman, has elements that could easily be transposed and reversed. In contrast, Reproduction of Profiles relies on the syntactic structures one associates with a more classical poetry: structures of subordination rather than coordination, conditional and subjective verb forms, clauses beginning with "although" (or "though"), "because," "if only," or "despite." Here are some instances of "though":

Though a speck in the visual field must have some color, it need not be red.

The gulls stood still, though the light fell on their strained bodies.

My thoughts began to share the darkness of the river, though we were miles from the nearest reactor.

In these examples, the use of casual clauses is consistently parodic: of course the presence of color doesn't guarantee that the color is red, any more than that the light falling on the gulls' bodies has a direct relationship to their standing still, or that the dark thoughts experienced on a walk along a river can only be produced by proximity to a reactor. "A proposition," as Waldrop puts it, "flaunts every logical scratch that follows from it." And this sentence is followed by the sentence, "I felt sleepy, no doubt because I have a long past and don't speak foreign languages."

Syntaxis, the poems imply, can heighten the poet's sense of the absurd by providing contrast, the seemingly neat container refusing to contain. In a poem that begins with "Snowflakes float[ing] to the ground," for instance, we read that "A woman opened her window and overlooked the difference between the sexes," a wonderfully Wittgensteinian conundrum, "overlook" having the two opposed meanings "to have a view of or over (a place) from above" and "to fail to observe or consider." But of course—and this is where language is so tricky—the second meaning is inherent in the first: to overlook a wide enough panorama from a great height is necessarily to overlook this or that detail.

Toward the end of Profiles, we read, "This is where grammatical terror opens a distance between you and yourself in order to insert the mirror." "Grammatical terror" characterizes the entire sequence, in which the insertion of the mirror into the poet's vagina refers, like the insertion of the thermometer into her mouth, to the violation of her body and to the "lesions of language" that are her subject. For Waldrop, as for Silliman, the Keatsian life of sensations is always already mediated by language; no longer is it possible to adopt the "O Taste and See!" formula of an earlier generation. Indeed, the language used to "express" one's own emotions can never be wholly distinct from the language others use in similar situations. It is in this sense that solipsism and realism are one, as Wittgenstein says. Of course the poet can only describe the world as he or she found it, of course the limits of my language are the limits of my world. But given the power of culture and convention to control the language game, the questions we ask (witness "Sunset Debris") and interpretations we offer (as in Reproduction of Profiles) inevitably show some overlap. The language pool thus becomes our new Spiritus Mundi.

The notion of language pool as hunting ground is central to the third and very different text I want to discuss: John Cage's I- VI, the printed version of the Charles Eliot Norton lectures that Cage delivered at Harvard in 1989. Like so many of Cage's works, the Norton lectures are composed as "mesostics," and, as is usually the case, Cage uses as his "source texts" the work of writers to whom he is especially drawn. But unlike earlier mesostic texts like Empty Words (based on Thoreau's Journals) or Roaratorio (based on Finnegans Wake), I-VI follows Cage's earlier Composition in Retrospect in making up elaborate source "files" that are themselves artful collages—in this case, 487 quotations were put in fifteen files corresponding to the key words in Cage's subtitle: method, structure, intention, discipline, notation, indeterminacy, interpenetration, imitation, devotion, circumstances, variable structure, nonunderstanding, contingency, inconsistency, and performance.

The single largest set of quotations (ninety-three) in the source files comes from the writings of Wittgenstein. "I have long been attracted," Cage explains in the introduction, "to his work, reading it with enjoyment but rarely with understanding. Peter Yates introduced me to it. John Holzaepfel, who has written a text relating Wittgenstein's use' to my 'process,' offered to help me by finding Wittgenstein quotations suitable for some of my files. I accepted his help but found his choices as mysterious as the books from which they were taken. I decided to subject the Wittgenstein corpus to chance operations. Which book? which page? were my questions. Given the page I made a choice."

What Cage doesn't say here—and I discuss the question of chance operations more fully elsewhere—is that the particular method whereby the mesostics of I- VI draw on source material gives "choice," not "chance," pride of place, although its operations are carefully hidden. Thus, although I- VI is entirely made up of "found text," Cage's "writing through" Wittgenstein (combined as it is with "writings through" his own earlier works, and through passages from Emerson, Thoreau, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, L. C. Beckett's Neti Neti, and assorted newspaper articles on global events) cuts, splices, and collages the originals so that the sources of specific mesostic passages may well be unrecognizable, even as—and this is the paradox—their tone is remarkably faithful to Wittgenstein (insofar as Wittgenstein's philosophy intersects with the ideas of Thoreau, McLuhan, and Fuller, and of Cage himself), the newspaper quotations functioning as a kind of reality principle upon which the "commentaries" play. As Cage explains in the interview sessions (coordinated with the "lectures" and printed at the bottom of each page, running continuously from beginning to end), "i take out the words i don't want… i'm hunting for ideas and in order to find them i have to take out the ones that don't allow them to exist."

Consider the STRUCTURE section in Lecture 1: thirteen mesostics (hence 117 lines) that draw heavily on passages from Wittgenstein's Lectures 1932-35, as well as on the Tractatus, the Philosoplilcal Grammar, Culture and Value, and the Notebooks 1914-16, all of which are found following the Cage entries in the STRUCTURE source file. Here, for example, is a portion of the first passage filed:

In language as we use it there are not only words and their combinations but also words which make reference to samples. The word "blue," for example, is correlated with a certain colored patch which is a sample. Samples such as this are part of our language; the patch is not one of the applications of the word "blue." The phenomenon of love plays the same role as the patch in the use of the word "love." Two people in love may serve as a sample, or paradigm. We might say that it is the paradigm which has given the word "love" content. But for this purpose we need not discover two people in love, but rather the paradigm, which belongs to the language.… To say that the paradigm fits the symbol, e.g., that the blue patch fits the word "blue," means nothing. It is added to it. And the schema is now useful.

In the mesostic text itself, we read:

          a 'Sample' samples such as
would you wriTe
          is oR as a thinker is or as
         who tUrn away
       who paniC' now
    colored paTch which is a sample' samples
what was not lifE living

And a little further down:

         of objecTs' so
         bUt also words
           Unknown in advance'

the paRadigm fits
      thE phenomenon of

The first line above splices the end of one sentence with the beginning of the next: "a 'Sample' samples such as" undercuts Wittgenstein's explanation as to how a "certain colored patch" is a sample and then how "Samples such as this are part of our language." "Would you wriTe" is an interpolation from a text by another author, whereas the next line, "is oR as a thinker is or as" comes from McLuhan's "The Agenbite of Outwit": "Man in the future will not work—automation will work for him—but he may be totally involved as a painter is, or as a thinker is, or as a poet is." By cutting where he does, Cage takes the emphasis away from McLuhan's discussion of the painter's (or thinker's or poet's) role in an automated society and shifts attention to the copula ("is") and to the preposition of likeness ("as"). And this is as it should be, for Wittgenstein's central concern in the "sample" passage is with the meaning of identity and paradigm. Thus, despite those "who tUrn away," "who paniC 'now," the "colored paTch which is a sample' samples" come back as a kind of "adeqUate / infoRmation'."

What Cage does, in short, is to give Wittgenstein's tightly argued propositions a slight spin. If "the meaning of a word is its use in the language" ( Philosophical Investigstions, ) the mesostics imply, let's see what these everyday words will mean when we change their context, simply by omitting neighboring words, ignoring punctuation marks, and then splicing the words we want together. How is it that "a 'Sample' samples"? "The phenomenon of love," says Wittgenstein, "plays the same role as the patch in the use of the word 'love.' … But for this purpose we need not discover two people in love." And again, "To say that the paradigm fits the symbol, e.g., that the blue patch fits the word 'blue,' means nothing." But in Cage's lecture-poem, these three propositions are subjected to rigid condensation:

       Unknown in advance'
he paRadigm fits
     thE phenomenon of

—a statement which fits Wittgenstein's own paradigms nicely enough.

In the course of the STRUCTURE mesostics, Cage modulates the key words "langUage," "woRd," "woRk," and "iS"—words that appropriately provide the mesostic letters of STRUCTURE even as Cage rearranges them in constructions containing what he calls "empty words"—particles, connectives, prepositions, conjunctions. And further: the collaging of Wittgenstein texts with those by Thoreau or Fuller or McLuhan or Cage himself as well as with the everyday language of the newspaper produces a text that carries Wittgenstein's notions to their logical conclusion. For it is Cage who shows that Wittgenstein's plain, denotative, and "simple" language, a language that questions all truth claims as well as all pretensions to put forward ethical and aesthetic propositions, is itself inherently poetic, that there is indeed a "queer resemblance between a philosophical investigation … and an aesthetic one."

"My propositions," we read in the famous passage at the end of the Tractatus, "are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it)." Climbing out through them, on them, over them—this is what many of our most interesting poets are now doing to Wittgenstein's aphoristic propositions, themselves so poetic in their unique blend of opacity and lucidity. "Unknown in advance' / the paRadigm fits."

Joseph Margolis (essay date 1992)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5918

SOURCE: "vs. (Wittgenstein, Derrida)," in Wittgenstein and Contemporary Philosophy, edited by Souren Teghrarian and Anthony Serafini, Longwood Academic, 1992, pp. 134-53.

[Margolis is an American author and educator. In the following essay, he discusses Wittgenstein's works in relation to those of the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida.]

I have for a long time wanted to look at Wittgenstein and Derrida together; but beginnings are difficult. Derrida, of course, solves the problem of how to begin by explaining the sly function of prefaces, that cannot seriously be supposed to introduce innocently what follows and is intact without them [in "Outwork, prefacing," Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson, 1981]. Equally cleverly, Wittgenstein solves the problem of how to begin the Philosophical Investigations—which, after all, borrowing from Derrida's "This (therefore) will not have been a book" by way of a sort of Socratic postcard, was not to be a book—by beginning straight off with a quotation from Augustine's Confessions adumbrating a conventional view of language that he intends to supersede without altogether discarding. Of course, Wittgenstein also says, significantly, in what is collected as his little book On Certainty: "It is so difficult to find the beginning. " (He italicizes the word 'beginning', der Anfang, in what must be a point of serious convergence with Derrida, regarding origins.) "Or better," he says, "it is difficult to begin at the beginning. And not try to go further back." I see therefore that I have somehow managed to make a start and even to prepare the ground for a second start by way of an intended tally of warnings (not yet supplied) about how to compare Wittgenstein and Derrida quickly and effectively.

Let me put that before you first, and then retreat to the variety of prefatory starts that I need in order to assemble all the impulses I would have liked to let loose without preliminary caution. The largest, perhaps the most comprehesive, difference (actually, more than a difference, a genuine opposition) between Wittgenstein and Derrida is this: Derrida insists on the radically metaphorical nature of language, in the Nietzschean sense, and Wittgenstein insists on natural languages as socially viable forms of life that, in effect, preclude the subversive possibilities of the Nietzschean notion. In this sense, Derrida is the arch-skeptic, who, in the physician's role, reconciles us to our fatal condition; and Wittgenstein, the arch-foe of the arch-skeptic, again in the physician's role, keeps philosophical disorders at bay as best he can while he advises us of the modest but effective forms of linguistic and conceptual help. Nearly all commentators on Derrida and Wittgenstein approach this point of comparison, but none as far as I know has sensed its full profoundity, its organizing power in reading and forcing a confrontation between these two magicians; and indeed none, I venture to say, has grasped how remarkably vital their implicit dispute is for the entire movement of Western theorizing (not merely of the philosophical sort) or has grasped what might actually help in resolving their contest. What I promise here I can only give you an inkling of, here; I know that. But I hope it is enough to buy time for the prefaces I have also promised—and frankly need. But it is relieving to be able to say that this matter of the metaphorical and its relationship to philosophical certainty is a most potent matter, most important for getting clear about Derrida and Wittgenstein separately and compared, absolutely crucial for understanding the puzzles of our own time, and, above all, formulable succinctly and directly.

In fact, the contrast between Derrida's emphasis on the metaphoricity of language and Wittgenstein's on the biosocial nature of natural language provides an essential clue for understanding the difference among series of important remarks that are otherwise misleadingly bound to signify a strong convergence between the two. Here, I refer to Derrida's well-known comment, "There is nothing outside of the text [il n'y a pas de hors-texte]" [Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spirak, 1969] and any number of Wittgenstein's remarks, meant to disallow "exiting from language," for instance: "the term 'language-game is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life" [Philosophical Investigations]; or "And how he takes' the definition is seen in the use that he makes of the word defined"; or "For a large class of cases…in which we employ the word 'meaning' [for instance, excluding philosophical idling] it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language."

So I begin—argumentatively. I am disappointed in Wittgenstein, but in that fine sense in which I owe him the discovery of where he falls short of my expectations. I don't believe that philosophical questions must be therapized or therapeutically suppressed. I don't believe that linguistic expression is satisfactorily clarified by construing it as a replacement for natural expression. I am not convinced that Wittgenstein has completely disabled the private-language argument, not because I see a way to resurrect a necessarily private language but because I think he never provided a remotely adequate account of the peculiarities of a public language. And I firmly believe that Wittgenstein can only have had the most preliminary grasp of the essential complexities of what he so aptly focused as the forms of life of human societies. So I shall not represent myself as a champion of Wittgenstein, though I think there can be no question about preferring his conceptual orientation to Derrida's.

Derrida fatigues me, but in that fine sense in which the monotony of his incredibly florid plainsong can neither be forgotten nor ignored nor permitted to imagine itself to convey in a reliable way a coherent theme. It poses an unavoidable question that in the nature of things cannot be answered the way straightforward questions can be, a nagging question that we learn to live with, that cannot be fruitfully pursued, certainly not pursued along the lines Derrida appears to recommend. Life, it turns out—as both Nietzsche and Derrida always knew—forever baffles and obviates what Derrida calls deconstruction; and what Derrida quite marvelously exposes with his expectable but unpredictable skill in the pretensions and presumptions of the whole of Western theorizing both falls short of deconstruction and could not survive if it actually were required to achieve deconstruction. These of course are meant to be theatrical remarks, to suggest the sense in which I am frankly a much admiring, but probably too streetwise and unbending, opponent of Derrida's. Still, one of the warnings I had in mind in beginning before I began concerned precisely what to oppose in Derrida in order to make stubbornness serious and productive.

There are a small number of readers who have actually discussed Derrida and Wittgenstein together in a relatively sustained way. They are aware of one another, at least successively in the order of writing; and quite remarkably, though they have obviously pondered the same passages, they have taken up nearly every conceivable stance with respect to them. For instance, Newton Garver, who, in his preface to the English translation of La Voix et le Phenomene, may well be the first analytic philosopher to have compared the two, treats Wittgenstein and Derrida as substantially in agreement on major matters. I think it is only fair to say that, appearing so early, Garver's preface does not satisfactorily present Derrida's surd, the non-word, the non-concept, difference, which Garver somehow quite mistakenly, I believe) marks as "a complex essential characteristic of signs" or, alternatively, as linked to "the phonemic structure of the sound system of [a] language, as essential to any language or sign system." This is perhaps not surprising, since, in her most instructive preface to Derrida's Grammatology, Gayatri Spivak makes a similar mistake, clearly construing differance as a proper concept. I press the point without explanation, because I wish to mark it as the holy mystery that we must ultimately penetrate. Garver does see that, in spite of their joint rejection of formalism and timeless, totalized schemata for all possible systems of thought and cognition, "Wittgenstein never doubts the possibility of veridical knowledge and sound inference"; and he, Garver, can only hope that Derrida will come around one day to the same confidence. Apart from this (again wrongly, though that's not the point of speaking of it), Garver takes Derrida's deconstructive strategy "in terms of time" to be "equivalent" to Wittgenstein's analysis of the meaning of linguistic expression "in terms of use"—which (he thinks) signifies, for both, both the priority of rhetoric (or context) over logic or necessary conditions of intelligibility) and the truth that "the timeless [is] an abstraction from temporal occasions." Garver also notes that both oppose versions of the private-language argument; both oppose the alleged necessity of metaphysical foundations ("ultimately incoherent"); both oppose the doctrine of immediate perception or awareness and, in effect, as structuralists manques, the correlated notion that "what is signified … is wholly independent of the nature of the sign that signifies it"; both even suppose that "there is something ultimately incoherent about the notion of a 'philosophical thesis.'" Garver, then, finds a fraternal convergence between Derrida and Wittgenstein, though it must be said that he perceives this as directionally favoring Wittgenstein.

The most remarkable discussion of Wittgenstein and Derrida—only partly so because it appears so early—is Marjorie Grene's, which was published the same year as Garver's preface. Grene genuinely compares Derrida and Wittgenstein, viewing both as opposed to "the traditional conception of language, [which,] both insist, immobilizes thought" ["Life, Death, and Language: Some Thoughts on Wittgenstein and Derrida," in Philosophy In and Out of Europe, 1976]. But Wittgenstein, Grene says, means to teach us how to let "the fly out of the fly bottle," whereas Derrida is concerned to show us that "the fly can never get in." For Wittgenstein, she adds,

signs have been too singlemindedly, and simple-mindedly, correlated with things, and/or the process has been stubbornly misdirected to some inner' goings-on that somehow philosophers have thought it must befor. In Derrida's view, the single-x-simplemindedness of the tradition has resided in its belief that the outer (sound) refers univocally to an inner (thought), which in its turn is intuitively united with the Being present to it in that thought.

Again, Wittgenstein asks us to look at "a working machine too simply understood"; whereas Derrida, "at a dream of language, an alleged machine that has never existed and never worked at all." Finally: "Wittgenstein's technique … is to reconstruct language at work. Derrida's, in contrast, is to deconstruct its actual working"; "Wittgenstein argued: no private language, because only language in public works … Derrida argues, on the contrary, yes, language must indeed be public … because it always fails." Hence, Wittgenstein and Derrida both "want to show us what philosophy cannot do." It is hard to imagine a more perspicuous and accurate contrast. I borrow it here to save time.

Nevertheless, it does leave a trail of philosophical dissatisfaction. This is partly because Grene never really compares the power of the two conceptions: in fact, she pretty nearly rejects both as "Wonderland philosophies [that] exhort us to work terribly fast, in order to stay where we are." But there are at least two seriously unresolved issues that she identifies and fails to formulate correctly.

On the first, Grene is absolutely right but inappropriately cryptic. Derrida, she says, wishes to expose a dream of language—in effect, what elsewhere, as in Grammatology, he calls 'the philosophy of presence', 'onto-theology', 'logocentrism', 'phonocentrism', sometimes merely 'metaphysics'—a dream of language that "is a dream we cannot escape": "how [are we, she says Derrida asks] to dismantle a deeply mistaken yet inevitable conception?" "Language is always the trace of a trace," which is to say, not a structured network of signifiers and signifieds (in Saussure's idiom) in which the signifieds to be supplied are already present-as-absent, reliably recoverable within the total system that (alone) enables language to make sense, but as an ultimately unrecoverable absent, a 'radical alterity' hat cannot even be regarded as a relatum within a structuralist-like system of meanings (which every conceptual network must be, or must be construed as being—even according to Derrida), a surd, a non-conceptualizable 'origin' that neither is nor is not (which of course is redundant) but counts, in Derrida's heady prose, as "no longer simply a concept, but the possibility of conceptuality, of the conceptual system and process in general." That, to use that indexical pronoun nonreferentially, is differance.

Surds, of course, are not absurd; but one must be careful. Derrida is careful, but only in that fine sense in which he deliberately risks all caution. His serious readers understandably believe that the incoherence, the paradox, the contradiction that he flaunts are provisional, arresting, heuristic, part of a serious rhetoric—which is to say, capable in time of being set in as intelligible an idiom as that in which he originally introduces the surd to an audience receptive and prepared for it by the standard power of his criticism of familiar texts and traditions of discourse. The habits of thought of the tradition to be discharged are (one might suppose) too strong to be replaced at once. We see here (one thinks) only the inkling of a new and corrected idiom yet to be. Such a touching risk is familiar in analytic philosophy in Paul Feyerabend's well-known juggling. But it is not Derrida's thesis at all. It is not what differance could possibly mean.

Derrida apparently wants to expose the utter failure of all discourse (all possible discourse) to say how things are. Now, by the familiar (perhaps tired) heterological paradoxes, he must fail by succeeding, and he can only succeed (per impossible) by failing. Not only that, but he does succeed: he does get us quite marvelously to see how the whole structure of intelligibility, of meaning, cognition, significance, sayability, hangs on a thread—no, not on a thread, on a surd; no, not hangs, but instantiates an ineffability of no sort that radical metaphor recommends we treat as the relational space between world and word. Put uncompromisingly, Derrida has somehow recovered Wittgenstein's own picture metaphor from the Tractatus—now, via Husserl and Heidegger and Saussure and Nietzsche and Levi-Strauss and Rousseau and … and …—which Wittgenstein had himself rejected, which Derrida now rejects, which Heidegger said he rejected, which Nietzsche surely rejected but claimed we couldn't do without; and which Wittgenstein tried to offer a replacement for. It is very hard, here, to avoid siding with the rather neat criticism of Derrida that Charles Altieri (another of that small number who have pitted Wittgenstein and Derrida against one another) has drawn from Wittgenstein's rejection of his own Tractatus. Wittgenstein, Altieri says (he himself professes to be a Wittgensteinian), "recognizes [that] scepticism is only the reverse demonic side of essentialist thinking and seeks to establish the grounds of knowledge in a new, less problematic way" ["Wittgenstein on Consciousness and Language: A Challenge to Derridean Literary Theory," MLN, 1976]. Altieri obviously has this point in mind when he remarks, again perceptively, "that Derrida, insomuch as he makes claims, remains trapped, like his master, Nietzsche, in an ironic or demonic version of the logic he wishes to deconstruct." If all discourse is, in some sense, committed to the transparency of being or reality before the word—if all discourse is committed to the presence or presentational accessibility of the real world—or the 'self-presence' of discourse—and if that doctrine is false, then we have both required of language what we know it cannot convey and we have actually shown that that part of reality which is language, functioning to say how the world is, does indeed have that property. The incoherence, therefore, is not contingent, not accidental, not rhetorical, not artful: it is simply a conceptual scandal.

Now, Christopher Norris—perhap the most recent of our small group of commentators—says as much. True, he hardly regards a Wittgensteinian countermove as proof against deconstruction. But he does fix the essential aporia of Derrida's venture in a way he seems to regard as insuperable—though not particularly bothersome. Here is what he says: "Deconstruction is … an activity performed by texts which in the end have to acknowledge their own partial complicity with what they denounce. The most rigorous reading, it follows, is one that holds itself provisionally open to further deconstruction of its own operative concepts" [Deconstruction: Theory and Practice, 1962]. Strictly speaking, what Norris says "follows" does not follow; or if it does, then the texts that are being deconstructed are merely open to further structuralist supplements and not to denunciation because of their commitment to 'self-presence': for even deconstruction is so committed, to the extent that it can be said (as it must, to have any point at all) to have identified the texts and their provisionally assigned sense that the practice then proceeds to deconstruct. Derrida argues, says Norris, that "deconstruction must 'bore from within', or work to dismantle the texts of philosophy with concepts borrowed from philosophy itself."

Actually, in the essay "White Mythology" Derrida suggests—toying with his own aporia—that deconstruction acts "to dismantle the physical and rhetorical structures which are at work … not in order to reject or discard them, but to reconstitute them in another way… ." Is that a reaffirmation of logocentrism? If not, then there need not have been such a problem in the work of all the anti-foundationalist, anti-essentialist philosophers of the Western world—and deconstruction cannot but be a rather tame sort of enterprise. But if it is, then deconstruction strains for an impossible disclosure—and Derrida is as glorious a victim of its endeavor as are the rest of us.

If one ponders the puzzle, then the required resolution is clear. It is, I may say, a resolution that is dawning and that quite powerfully draws in the entire range of Western philosophy. First of all, one must distinguish between those doctrines that maintain, one way or another, that there is a fixed, necessary and sufficient, transparent, certain, or presentational access that human cognizers have to the world, reality, Being, or the like, and those doctrines that maintain, one way or another, only that there is a reasonable, reliable, functioning, operative sense in which human cognizers find their way around in the actual world—even to the extent of being able to make testable claims about the way the world is, without being committed to any doctrine of the first sort. Deconstruction, if that is a strategy for exposing the first, has nothing to say about the second; it is what very nearly every contemporary thinker is attracted to. Also, doctrines of the first sort are (to use an ugly term) cognitivist as well as cognitive, because they hold not merely that we have knowledge of the world, but that we have such knowledge of our cognitive relationship to the world as to insure that we have such knowledge. Doctrines of the second sort are emphatically not cognitivist in this sense: if they theorize at all, they theorize that within the space of our inquiries, our very survival, or related considerations, provide plausible—one may even say, special inferential (but rhetorical)—grounds for affirming that we must have a fair grip on the way the world is. The latter view need not deny that there may be indefinitely many competing orientations that succeed in this way without being compatible with one another and without yielding in the long run to any ideally convergent doctrine. In the analytic tradition, these possibilities are standardly identified with the work of W. V. Quine and Nelson Goodman at least. They are now often called pragmatic views, sometimes quite misleadingly opposed to so-called realist views (for example in the idiom that Richard Rorty has recently preferred); but that way of speaking is more worried about our drifting back to theories of the first sort than it is about the suggestion that would-be cognitive discourse of the second sort is merely 'arbitrary' or 'conventional' or not in any fair sense in touch with the actual world. What is usually ignored in this way of speaking—what, ironically, undermines its supposed caution—is simply that postulating a human aptitude for adopting and applying arbitrary or conventional distinctions presupposes a remarkably complex native ability that conventionalism cannot hope to explain.

This puzzle, formulated more and more deliberately in the United States at least, as a choice between realism and pragmatism, actually harkens back to the deeper sort of deconstruction that Derrida means to practice. Norris himself offers an inadvertent, and inadvertently subversive, clue, in opposing Wittgenstein and Derrida. He says: "Wittgenstein's philosophy of language clearly has its antideconstructive uses. If our ways of talking about the world are a matter of tacit convention, then scepticism [that is, Derrida's deeper deconstruction] is simply beside the point, a misplaced scruple produced by a false epistemology." Here we come to the linkage of the deconstruction of metaphysical thinking and the theory of metaphor—also, of the most profound opposition between Wittgenstein and Derrida. For Wittgenstein does not hold that natural languages (that is, languages spontaneously learned from infancy within a human community) "are a matter of tacit convention." No, 'forms of life' (which in a sense Wittgenstein never successfully examined) are not conventions at all, or arbitrary agreements of any sort. They are unpredictable at the same time they exhibit regularity; they are not based on grounds, agreements, rules, or anything of the sort, though it is possible to generate useful maxims in moving within them. Perhaps the best that Wittgenstein says about them, significantly in the context of what counts as testing empirical propositions, is this: "What counts as its test?—'But is this an adequate test? And, if so, must it not be recognizable as such in logic?'—As if giving grounds did not come to an end sometime. But the end is not an ungrounded presupposition: it is an ungrounded way of acting." Oddly, the conventional and the arbitrary are the common coin of both the extreme pragmatists (who, rather like Goodman and Rorty) tend to oppose realism and pragmatism and of self-styled deconstructivists (like Geoffrey Hartman and Hillis Miller) who seem to believe that we live entirely within the fictions or myths of our own invention: we live in language apparently, which is rather different from living in a physical world or a culturally altered physical world. These thinkers have, in a way, attempted to replace one metaphysics with another—which is hardly Derrida's purpose.

Having said all this in a somewhat meandering way, I can now fix an essential part of the contrast between Wittgenstein and Derrida fairly crisply. Derrida believes that human conception must be structuralist in its effort and aspiration—but, quite correctly, he sees that that is impossible: conception is always (to adopt the prejudice of a structuralist description) fragmentary, contingent, changing, 'plural' or hopelessly fecund, historicized. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, rejects the need for structuralist systems by seeing something of a biological fluency in the second nature that is human culture, and by tolerating the radical open-endedness of social habits, the viability of which does not depend on any and every human member's sharing or pretending to share some timeless, totalized schema of signifiers and signifieds. Derrida postulates a would-be system of conventional or arbitrary linkages—which must fail; and Wittgenstein postulates the as yet unexplained emergence of the obviously viable social existence of man—which man's somewhat arbitary or conventionalized reflections merely try to approximate and typically fail even to engage. Derrida sets an impossible cognitive condition as the sine qua non of intelligibility; Wittgenstein treats cognition itself as tempered and tested by a more fundamental—never explicit or even explicable—reliance on the conditions of social survival. Derrida postulates an 'originary' origin, which (correctly) he denies we can discover; Wittgenstein repudiates the whole question of origins in order to celebrate the needlessness of mystifying the condition into which we have clearly emerged. This is the sense in which Derrida has confused perhaps deliberately) the false realism of a completely transparent metaphysics with the mundane realism of actually functioning societies which it would be merely mad to deny.

Once one concedes the force of this contrast, then the puzzle of metaphor collapses as well. Here again, Marjorie Grene asks (and answers) the Kantian-like question that attracts both Derrida and Nietzsche:

What kinds of human activity … must we presuppose as the necessary conditions for the existence of language? One of these necessary conditions, I would like to argue, is uniquely exemplified in poetic language. In other words, there could be no discourse were it not for some human power that is expressed par excellence in the work of the poet.

But she means poetry in the sense of the Platonic doctrine of poiesis (metaphysically neutralized), that is, "any kind of bringing into being what formerly was not. It is making in general"—and only derivatively what we call poetry. What she says of course is true, but I'm afraid it is also trivial—and necessarily vacuous: language does not exist in nature before man emerges as the language-using creature that he is; but what the sense is in which language is made is the unanalyzable question Wittgenstein rejected in rejecting the presumption of the Tractatus and which Derrida endlessly dangles before us. By a sort of cunning of exegesis, Grene observes that Creative Imagination Coleridge's gloss on poiesis) "applies in general to the originating activities of human beings." The Nietzschean or Derridean voice is not accidental; for Grene goes on to trace the theme of the 'substantiality of language' (von Humboldt's thesis)—"its existence as a world between minds and things, that is uniquely evident in poetry"—and traces it down to Derrida's 'Mythologie blanche'. As she puts it:

The aim of language as traditionally understood, Derrida holds, has been to bring the mind, through speech, into the presence of the real… [But] language is a world between ourselves and things [the thesis, also of the Yale deconstructivists]. It never mirrors them precisely; yet only through its images, its resonances, do we have the world at all… [Language or text is a] kind of frame—a frame in which we find ourselves enframed—or better, perhaps, a film, translucent not transparent, which we have put between ourselves and things and through which things reflect themselves back to us.

Seen more dispassionately, this is simply the distinction between the two sorts of realism already mentioned: of the transparent realism that both Derrida and Wittgenstein reject and of the pragmatized realism that Wittgenstein adopts and Derrida will not acknowledge because he favors instead the more charming and more dangerous paradox. But the Nietzschean notion of metaphor—which is what Derrida's differance is all about—clarifies absolutely nothing. Paul de Man inadvertently makes this unblinkingly plain in one of his more explicit accounts of metaphor. Deconstructing Locke and Condillac, de Man concludes that "concepts are tropes and tropes concepts" ["The Epistemology of Metaphor," Critical Inquiry 5, 1978]. Hence, he says, structuralist systems (and all would-be codes, on de Man's view, aspire to the structuralist ideal) "are always again totalizing systems that try to ignore the disfiguring power of figuration." There is, therefore, no distinction between philosophy and literature; that is, logocentrism is false. De Man means here to recover Nietzsche's argument about metaphor: that a word is formed by "making what is different equal" and by "arbitrarily dropping individual differences." But that's just the problem. Nietzsche—and de Man and Derrida and Grene and Norris—cannot even formulate the originary metaphoricity of language without first introducing distinctions already in place in any actual language: 'different', 'equal', 'arbitrarily dropping' this and that, make sense only within a functioning language (Wittgenstein's condition). The deconstructivists, then, in Derrida's sense, must "bore from within" in order to remind us of the allegedly external conditions of every system—must conspire with what they would overthrow. But they cannot overthrow the language they would overthrow—and they know it. And the metaphorical 'origin' they pursue is nothing more than the rejection of the pretension of shall we say) the Tractatus: it is not and cannot be an articulate insight about any formulable distinctions whatsoever. This is why when Norris says that Derrida has unearthed "the history of 'logocentric' strategies [that have] itherto managed to repress or marginalize the threat of an unbridled figurative language [that is] doomed to defeat by the radical metaphoricity of all language," he is either repeating what cannot but be incoherent in Derrida and Nietzsche or else, like Derrida himself, he merely prefers that sublimely self-destructive mode of speech (called deconstruction) of exposing an untenable conviction that Wittgenstein, at least, has shown we need never adopt in the first place.

It is certainly possible—even reasonable—to view the difference between Wittgenstein and Derrida as a difference of rhetorical spirit with regard to common problems. But then, contrary to the conviction favored in the analytic tradition that had hoped to capture Wittgenstein and to resist Derrida, philosophical problems are themselves of a profoundly rhetorical nature; and the acknowledgment that that is true, contrary to Wittgenstein's therapeutic excesses as well as to the often perceived intent of Derrida's excessive absorption with the preconditions of whatever could be regarded as philosophically productive (apart from the usefulness of that very insight), hardly entails (or endorses) the claim that the rhetorical force of philosophical invention and discovery is inimical to professional rigor, testing, the demonstration of moderate advantage. The strength and limitation of both is that they help us to make a serious beginning—and exhaust themselves in doing so.


I have gone back to this paper for what may well be my first rereading of it since the Kirchberg Wittgenstein Symposium of August 1983, now on the occasion of its being reprinted. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find that it stands up pretty well. The past eight years have witnessed enormous changes in Western philosophy as well as in the political and economic life of the West.

There are some minor themes—or, major-minor themes—that I might have picked up in the original paper, two in particular: the looming figure of Heidegger favoring his well-known doctrine of aletheia, as mediated (somehow) y the disclosing power of language that is not to be identified with the historically acquired natural language of this or that society; and the marginal figure of Popper interposing his World Three between subjective experience and the objective order of science. Well, perhaps more the convergence between these two themes than their local distinction, and perhaps more the misuse of that convergence than the convergence itself. Derrida successfully deconstructs Heidegger in this regard, and Wittgenstein successfully precludes the need for demystifying language and concepts. But commentators like Grene and de Man show us how misleading it can be to think of language or the textual as an original or third medium of some sort.

Now, rereading the paper in the light of all that has gone on since those still comparatively early days of the Symposium, it is clear that the strong theme shared between Derrida and Wittgenstein concerns the indissoluble symbiosis between world and word and the impenetrably affected locus at which human cognizers imagine they stand in order to discern the all-inclusive conceptual resources with which they map the cognized world they do. Wittgenstein and Derrida divide between them the reflexive sense of limitation with which any such totalizing or objectivizing features may be claimed. In Derrida, the disordering presumptions seem to be inherent in thought itself; something like Saussurean structuralism and Husserlian phenomenology infect even the most 'natural' thought. In Wittgenstein, a form of life is only locally viable, one among many, but conceptual disorder is itself only an exceptional departure from that viable process.

There is, therefore, an extravagance in both. For, there is no demonstration in Derrida that one cannot learn his lesson at all while pursuing any of the usual uses of language that harbor truth-claims and the like; and there is no demonstration in Wittgenstein that philosophy cannot support critical or second-order questions regarding what we do with language within the constraints of the form of life from which we cannot exit, without producing the conceptual disorders his own therapy is meant to relieve.

Philosophy has moved into a new age—at the end of the twentieth century and on the threshold of the twenty-first. We must give up the transparency of the world, necessities of legitimation, transcendental universals, total conceptual closure, the escape from preformative horizons, transhistorical essences, and the like. Wittgenstein's and Derrida's alternative strategies implicate these concerns, but they do so by pretending to stand outside the philosophical quarrels through which those promising constraints are themselves discerned. In short, they do not quite admit their own philosophical entanglement. The caricature of their convergence in this respect is surely the pop theme of Richard Rorty's philosophical rejection of philosophy. The recovery of philosophy—under the constraints both Derrida and Wittgenstein clearly favor—rests with the recognition that first-order discourse and second-order discourse (speaking here in a jargon that is benign enough, though it can be treated as itself unresponsive to the debunking work Derrida and Wittgenstein pursue) are inseparable one from the other: one can make no claims at all without implicating questions about the legitimacy of treating claims as claims, and therefore as open to confirmation in some sense; and, of course, legitimation is entirely parasitic on the admission of first-order discourse.

We need, therefore, to explore the prospects of a new sort of philosophical undertaking—one, that is, that has learned the deep lesson thinly sketched by Wittgenstein and Derrida, and somewhat misrepresented by them: the development of a second-order legitimative discourse whose regularities are as general as we can imagine within our horizoned vision, but that are never construed as exceptionless, strictly invariant, substantively necessary with regard to the symbiotized world to which they apply. Their regularities must now be seen as keyed to no more than the saliencies of an age or a form of life, open to change but not altogether predictably, and grounded in the conditions of biological viability but not altogether definably. Philosophy, in short, pursues its new 'universals' that is, legitimative regularities relative to the horizonal saliencies of our inquiry) within a holism of viability and a 'brute' contact with reality that is not open to straightforward analysis.

These three themes, we may now say, constitute the strongly convergent lesson to be drawn from Derrida and Wittgenstein: the indissoluble symbiosis of world and word, the preformed horizonal attraction to saliencies in both first-and second-order discourse, and the impenetrable holism within which all our particular inquiries are confined in discerning the regularities they do. These latter themes begin to suggest quite radical options of their own that signal the direction in which a recovered philosophy may move. In pursuing them, however, we must see that we leave Wittgenstein and Derrida behind, not in the sense of abandoning or rejecting their original work, but in the sense of admitting the difference between ancestors and progeny—in the sense of having learned our lessons. In our own time, the various threads of pragmatism, postmodernism, poststructuralism, renaturalized phenomenology, and radical hermeneutics, which dominate at the moment, are all infected with the double theme we can at least attribute (not exclusively, of course) to Wittgenstein and Derrida.

Joachim Schulte (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: "Connecting Links," in Wittgenstein: An Introduction, translated by William H. Brenner and John F. Holley, State University of New York Press, 1992, pp. 69-95.

[In the following essay, Schulte examines the relationship between the Tractatus and Wittgenstein's later works.]

Much of what cannot be said but only shown, according to the doctrine of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein attempts to express indirectly. Although meant to cancel themselves in their entirety, the "propositions" of the Tractatus are still supposed to convey a message, if only a negative one. In the years of silence after the publication of his book, little at first seems to change in Wittgenstein's basic ideas. His writings, and the statements of others from the first years after his return to philosophy in 1928/29, are strongly reminiscent of the Tractatus—this despite the fact that he was attempting to slough off what, in the following conversation with Waismann, he termed the "dogmatism" of that work:

First of all, one can criticize a dogmatic presentation for a certain arrogance. But even that's not the worst part. There is another, much more dangerous error, that permeates my entire book—namely, the conception that there are questions for which answers would be discovered at a later date. Although one does not have the answer, one thinks that one has the method by which an answer can be found. I for one thought that it was the task of logical analysis to discover the elementary propositions. I wrote that we are unable to specify the form of elementary propositions, and that was quite correct too. It was clear to me that there are no hypotheses here and that one cannot proceed with these questions in the way Carnap did, by assuming at the outset that elementary propositions consist of two-place relations. But I did think that one would be able to specify the elementary propositions later.…

What I want to oppose here is the false idea that we could hit upon something that today we do not see, that we can discover something entirely new. That is a mistake. In truth, we already have everything; in fact, it is present, so that we do not have to wait for anything. We move within the realm of something already there, the grammar of our accustomed language. Therefore, we already have everything and need not wait for the future.

From this point on, the stress is on the meaning of the propositional system as opposed to the individual proposition; the boundary between sense and nonsense is drawn differently; the criteria for the sense of a proposition are given a more complex formulation, and increasingly linked to the use of linguistic expressions. There is, then, a plethora of new ideas and the gradual emergence of a conception that could not be foreseen from the standpoint of the Tractatus. In spite of all that, it remains that the point of these writings—the Philosophical Remarks and Philosophical Grammar, the oral statements passed on by Waismann, Moore, Lee, Ambrose, among others—was to reconcile the new with the old, to elaborate and illuminate the statements of the Tractatus. There is no question of a new philosophy or of a radical rejection of the ideas of the first book. Wittgenstein certainly practices self-criticism, but it remains within the framework of the Tractatus philosophy.


The ethical is equated with the aesthetic and connected—in a way impossible to elucidate—with mystical and religious ideas. According to the conception of the Tractatus, it belongs in the realm of what can be shown but not said. In the strictly philosophical manuscripts of his later period, Wittgenstein hardly addresses these matters, although he continued to express himself on them in conversations, lectures, and remarks such as those collected in Culture and Value. This material provides ample evidence that, in the first period after his return to philosophy, Wittgenstein was developing the complex of ideas from the Tractatus relating to the ethical. The items making up this evidence include an outline written for a lecture on ethics in 1929 nd a detailed set of notes taken by Waismann on conversations with Wittgenstein. It is striking and characteristic that these two documents relate to Wittgenstein's oral statements, and that they are not included in the philosophical writings proper.

The "Lecture on Ethics" is not an original contribution to ethics as a philosophical discipline; it is a thoroughly characteristic document of Wittgenstein's personality. The fact/value distinction is stressed just as much as it was in the Tractatus where it was stated that "all propositions are of equal value." In the "Lecture" it is said that just as with facts, so with propositions: all are on the same plane. The description of a gruesome murder is no less about facts than is the description of a stroll in the park, even though the former arouses outrage and horror while the latter arouses no strong emotions. Feelings are also facts and can be described quite impartially; they can by no means be used to assign value to things to which they relate. Language in its meaningful use—in science—is able to express only factual matters:

Our words used as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of containing and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense. Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural, and our words will only express facts; as a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water even if I were to pour out a gallon over it.

The "Lecture," but not the Tractatus, contains the distinction between the relative and the absolute (or ethical) use of "good" and "correct." The relative use is involved when the action's purpose fixes the (generally recognized) riteria for carrying it out "well" or "correctly." Suppose that I play the piano, and an expert judges that I do not do it well: it is open to me to answer that I have no desire to play any better. But now suppose I peddle some slanderous publication from door to door and then someone reproaches, saying that I have "behaved disgracefully": it is not open to me to answer by saying, "Of course I behaved badly, but I have no desire to behave decently." The judgment that I ought to behave decently is on a different level than any judgment of relative value. The difference goes back to the fact that judgments of relative value can be translated into statements of fact containing no value terms, but that such a reformulation is precluded in the case of judgments of absolute or ethical value. One consequence Wittgenstein draws from this is that there is no science of ethics. Nothing "intrisically sublime," nothing above other subject matters could be described in a scientific book: "If a man could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world." In spite of all that, Wittgenstein does not want completely to exclude judgments of absolute value; what he wants is for us to take seriously the indicated "change of level," leaving behind whatever pertains to description, explanation, and intersubjectivity when speaking of absolute value:

If someone gives me a theory, I would say "No, no! That does not interest me." Even if the theory were true, it would not interest me—for that would never be the object of my search.

The ethical cannot be taught. If it took a theory to explain the nature of the ethical to someone, then the ethical would have no value at all.

At the conclusion of my lecture on ethics I spoke in the first person. That, I believe, is something very important. Here nothing further can be substantiated. I can only step forth as an individual and speak in the first person.

For me theory has no value. A theory gives me nothing.

I have to "speak in the first person" about what seems to me to have absolute value. In line with this, Wittgenstein proceeds to describe certain experiences of his own that have absolute value for him—although the "descriptions" he employs are necessarily allusive and metaphorical. He characterizes the first experience as amazement that there is a world—amazement that anything at all exists. The second experience is one of complete confidence—the feeling that "I am safe whatever happens." The linguistic expression of these experiences is, strictly speaking, meaningless, however. I may be amazed that the world is made this way rather than that, thus and not otherwise. But what is it to be amazed that anything at all exists?—that would be like being surprised at the tautology "The sky is either blue or not blue." Equally senseless is the statement that I am absolutely safe no matter what might happen. For to speak of being safe is meaningful only where there is a corresponding situation of uncertainty or danger. But "absolute" certainty is supposed to exclude precisely that contrasting situation. Then what is "certainty" supposed to mean? The obvious response to this challenge—suggesting that the idiom in which these experiences are described is figurative—actually leads nowhere. For if something can be expressed in an image or figure, it also can be expressed objectively. Wittgenstein's view is that we simply have to acknowledge the paradox in the situation he describes. An experience is a fact, and a fact cannot contain any absolute, supernatural value. Yet the experiences mentioned are for him—from his personal "first-person") standpoint—examples of the ethical, the absolute. He says that some people will respond to his examples and know what he is getting at, while others will prefer to appeal to quite different experience, or perhaps to religious scriptures.

The scientific explicability or inexplicability of the experience in question is not the issue here. The most amazing "miracle" can be examined from a scientific point of view, but as soon as it is examined in this way it loses its miraculous character, regardless of whether one can explain it or not. On the other hand, common, uncomplicated, inconspicuous things can acquire a meaning if viewed in a certain way—a meaning that can be communicated even though not open to sensible rendering in factual language. An example is "Count Eberhards's Hawthorne," a poem by [Ludwig] Uhland that Wittgenstein admired, and wrote about in a letter to Englemann dated April 9, 1917. "If one makes no attempt to express the inexpressible," he wrote, "then nothing is lost, but the inexpressible is—inexpressibly—contained in what is expressed!"

Wittgenstein says that we have to come to terms with the fact that the miraculous, the religious, and indeed everything that appears really valuable to us, eludes meaningful expression in the sensible language that is the only one suited for science. He is not saying that science is base, nor is he saying that all personal attempts to express what is of absolute or ethical value have to be rejected as nonsense. We are dealing here with two fundamentally different levels; there is no middle level where the speech is simultaneously scientific and (in the strict sense) ethical:

Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense.

We can say in advance of experience that the attempt to put the ethical into words is doomed to failure. "Running up against the limits of language" is how Wittgenstein characterizes this attempt, and he mentions Kierkegaard in connection with it. This running up against the limits of language constitutes ethics, according to Wittgenstein. And although he regards it as completely futile, he also regards it as manifesting a "drive" of mankind that he, for his part, respects deeply and would not ridicule for anything:

But the tendency, the running up against something, indicates something. St. Augustine knew this when he said: "What, you filthy beast, you don't want to talk nonsense? Go ahead, talk nonsense! It makes no difference."


That the objective, factual language of science stands on another level than the sphere of absolute values is a constant in Wittgenstein's thinking. Thus in the "Lectures on Religious Belief " from the late thirties (when part of the Investigations already was written), Wittgenstein keeps emphasizing that words such as "proof," "reason," and "probability" in religious expressions or discussions play an entirely different role than they do in scientific presentations or discussions and are used in a completely different sense. Not even the concept of truth can have the same function as in scientifically oriented language:

The historical reports of the Gospels could be manifestly false in the historical sense, and yet belief lose nothing by this: but not because it appealed to "universal truths of reason." Rather, because the historical proof (the historical proof-game) has nothing at all to do with belief.… A believer's relationship to these reports is neither that of a person to historical truth (probability) nor that of a person to a teaching of "truths of reason."

The absolute separation of the level of values from the level of the scientifically (objectively) describable is characteristic of Wittgenstein. Also characteristic is the way he connects the difference in levels with a difference in practical conduct. In the previously introduced remark, therefore, he denies that the "game"—the context of action where historical proofs are employed—has anything to do with belief. Thus historians, to the extent they espouse "absolute" convictions, will not allow themselves to be impressed one way or the other by the presence or the absence of historical proof in the area of religious belief—even though they accept nothing in their field that is not appropriately authenticated by the methods of their discipline. Statements that have the same outward grammatical form are treated differently, according to the context. This also means that language used in the context of actions defined by absolute values functions differently than does language used in scientific investigation.

Take the word "proof." Its meaning in criminology is similar to its meaning in physics or art history. (Or perhaps we should say that it has several slightly different but closely related meanings.) One reason for this is that the proofs are similarly dealt with, have similar significance, and are highly valued in all of these areas. In all areas accessible to objective language, if a conviction is proven false, its contradictory is accepted as true; if the defendant is shown to be innocent, then the hypothesis of his guilt is rejected as false, and he is released. By contrast, questions about the truth or falsity of reports in the Gospels play no role in belief. To the extent that the words "proof," "true," and "false," are used here at all, their use is quite different from that in the context just mentioned. The meaning of the Gospels for my life—whether I experience repentance in certain circumstances, feel relief after confession, etc.—can be very closely connected with the contents of these reports. Because, however, there is no need for concern with their veracity or falsity, they are not reports in the same sense as are those of police officers or natural scientists.

The whole function of language is different in the area of absolute values from what it is in the area of scientific statements. For example, "When speaking goes on in religion, that is itself a component of religious behavior and not a theory. It is therefore not a question of whether the words are true, false, or nonsensical." Although this view may be theologically contestable, philosophically it points ahead to fundamental ideas of Wittgenstein's mature view, stressing as it does that linguistic meaning cannot be conceived independent of learned, institutionalized contexts of action.

This theme is pertinently dealt with in the "Remarks on Frazer's The Golden Bough," which come mainly from the early thirties. Wittgenstein again and again insists that Frazer goes wrong in presenting the rituals and magical practices of other cultures as if they were based on pseudoscientific theories. If they were so based, we would be able to see nothing profound, dark, or uncanny in them. They would be nothing more than mistakes we no longer make or have discarded. If we came across a tribe with such customs, we would have to be able to persuade them to give up their erroneous practice:

It can, and frequently does, happen today that a person gives up a practice after recognizing an error on which it is based. But this happens only where making the person aware of his error is enough to dissuade him from his behavior. It does not happen where the religious customs of a people are concerned, and therefore there is no question of error in that case.

A fundamental difference exists between being confronted with behavior having the status of a magical or religious procedure, and being confronted with behavior having the status of a practice grounded in science or experience. This difference is expressed in various ways, for example in whether or not we introduce proofs and reasons, refer to documents and reports of witnesses, and speak of truth and error, or probability and confirmation. The connection between institutionalized behavior and language becomes particularly clear in this context, for the same words are assigned totally different values in different fields. Suppose, for example, that a certain torchlight procession is based on the legend of a saint. The proposition, "The saint walked to the cathedral after three days of fasting, with the torch in his hand," may keep its meaning for those who sympathetically follow the torchlight procession, even if historians irrefutably prove that the proposition is false. The meaning—radiance, weight—of such a proposition is often quite independent of whether it is true or false.

Another side of the connection between language and ritualistic or magical actions is revealed in the fact that such actions sometime imitate linguistic functions:

To burn in effigy. To kiss the picture of one's beloved. These are of course not based on the belief in a certain effect on the object represented by the picture.

… One could also kiss the name of the beloved, and here the representation through a name comes out clearly.

It also happens that linguistic elements of this kind are woven into ritualistic actions, so that language and action are in a sort of mirroring relationship:

In the old rituals we find the use of an extremely well-developed language of gestures.

And when I read Frazer, I want to say in every instance: All of these processes, all of these changes of meaning, are still present in our word language. If "the Corn Wolf" is the name given not only to what conceals itself in the last sheaf, but also to the sheaf itself, and to the person who ties it, then we recognize here a well-known linguistic process.

From the example of linkage and mirroring of linguistic and magical/religious processes, one can gain insight into a more general connection between language and action. This is because "There is a whole mythology in our language," and a mythology stands in an entirely different relationship to action than does a theory.


Again and again Wittgenstein criticizes authors who, like Frazer, interpret the customs of foreign cultures as though they rested on beliefs in the manner of scientific theories. He is equally opposed to the widespread tendency to represent the scientific method of explanation as the only useful or acceptable method. He gives an abbreviated version of this conviction in the demand: "We must do away with all explanation and allow only description in its place." Explanations are viewed very negatively, characteristic of his later writings in general and of the Philosophical Investigations in particular. (Wittgenstein has scientific-theoretical explanations in mind here; he does not object to "explanations" in sense of clarifications of meaning.)

With regard to representations of practices of foreign cultures, Wittgenstein writes that "the historical explanation, the explanation as hypothesis of development" is

… just one way of summarizing—or giving a synopsis—of the data. It is possible to see the data in their relationships to each other, and to summarize them in a general picture, without resorting to an hypothesis of temporal development.

The crucial thing, according to Wittgenstein, is to summarize the data in a way that enables us to gain insight and understanding. In order to make knowledge or understanding possible, it is not necessary for explanations to follow always the same—"hypothetico-deductive" or axiomatic—pattern.

"And so the chorus indicates a secret law." Thus quoting Goethe, Wittgenstein develops in the briefest way the method of his later philosophy. While discussing customs described by Frazer in the same passage, he writes:

This law, this idea, I can present through an hypothesis of development, or also, analogously to the scheme of a plant [as in Goethe's theory of plants], by means of the schema of a religious ceremony, or by just arranging the factual material in a "clearly arranged" presentation.

"Clearly arranged presentation" [übersichtliche Darstellung] is one of Wittgenstein's most important concepts. In criticizing other authors, he frequently deplores the lack of clarity in the arrangement of what they present. This is especially true in his remarks on proofs in mathematics. While not especially emphasizing either the rigor of the inferences or the evidence of the premises, he persistently stresses the importance of clarity.

Many may be surprised at the mention of Spengler in this connection. But, as with the quotation from Goethe, the reference to Spengler points the way to a more specific interpretation of the idea of a clearly arranged presentation. "This concept," writes Wittgenstein:

… is of fundamental importance for us. It characterizes the form of our presentation, the way we see things. (A variant of the apparently typical "weltanschauung" of our times. Spengler.)

It is characteristic that the much later version of this thought in the Philosophical Investigations reduces the parenthetical remark to: "(Is this a 'weltanschauung'?)." Spengler's name, as well as the Goethe quotation and the allusion to a "schematic plant," make it clear that Wittgenstein is thinking of a "morphological" interpretation in Goethe's sense. The simple, basic idea of morphology is that of a representation that links together the phenomena to be explained in a continuous series, a representation that can be taken in at a glance. The phenomena are arranged as clearly indicated steps of a stepladder free of gaps. As Wittgenstein often formulates it, this idea requires that the rendering of the objects in question, or the proof, present a "gestalt," "face," or "physiognomy."

If for no other reason than the inexactness of expressions such as "all steps" and "with no gaps," such a method of explanation can never satisfy the strict requirements of an exact science. Nor is that its goal. What is essential is that connections be presented in a continuum. If one step is missing, we have to find it, for otherwise we do not yet have a clear view of things. Understanding provides an overview "by allowing us to 'see connections.' Hence the importance of finding connecting links." It is significant that in a later version of this remark, Wittgenstein spoke of inventing, as well as of finding, these connecting links ["intermediate cases," in some translations]. Already in the version written in 1931, he spoke of "hypothetical"—thus invented—connecting links:

A hypothetical connecting link should in this case do nothing but direct attention to the similarity, the connection, of the facts. An internal relation between the form of a circle and that of an ellipse is illustrated by gradually changing an ellipse into a circle. But this is done not to establish that a certain ellipse is in fact historically derived from a circle (developmental hypothesis), but only to sharpen our perception of the formal connection.

This remark relates, of course, to the representation of actually exiting practices. However, philosophers do not have to rely absolutely on facts when explaining, or trying to prevent confusion about, the concepts we actually employ. "We are not engaged in natural science; neither are we engaged in natural history—for we can, of course, fabricate natural history for our purposes."


The frequent use of the words "grammar" and "grammatical" is characteristic of Wittgenstein's later philosophy generally and of the writings from the '30s in particular. But these words are used in two senses. Wittgenstein often speaks of the grammar of a certain word or phrase—for example: "to fit," "to be able," "to understand"; "to know," "to opine." In these cases it appears that "grammar" is supposed to mean "the way these words or phrases are used"; here the discussion is about fine distinctions in the rules of usage. In other places, "grammar" seems to refer to the totality of the rules of a language or a language-fragment—as in the remark: "Grammar does not say how a language has to be constructed in order to fulfil its purpose, in order to have such and such an effect on people. It only describes, but never in any way explains, the use of signs."

These apparently very different uses of the words "grammar" and "grammatical" are connected by the fundamental idea of the later philosophy, that linguistic meaning is essentially the use of expressions. The sort of systems of rules he talks about are not independent of use—they have application either in real or in coherently imaginable situations.

In a sense, the concept of grammar in the later writings is the successor of the concept of logic in the early writings. "Logic has to take care of itself "; thus reads the first sentence of the extant diaries. Wittgenstein continues by emphasizing the independence of logic from facts:

A possible sign must be able to signify. Everything that is at all possible is also legitimate (permitted). Let us remember the explanation of why 'Socrates is Plato' is nonsense. It is nonsense because we have not made an arbitrary specification, NOT because the sign is in and of itself somehow illegitimate.

And the following passage from notes on a 1931 lecture is reminiscent of the Tractatus in its choice of words and its characterization of the "calculus" of language:

The place of a word in logical space fixed by grammar is its meaning. You cannot say that in order that a word should be used as it is it must have these rules. The meaning of a word is given if you describe language by all its rules. All explanations take place inside language. They would only transcend language if they made assertions of fact, which they do not. The meanings of the words are part of language.

For Wittgenstein in the early '30s, language is a kind of calculus, a system determined throughout by exceptionless rules. But the reason he gave in support of this "calculus view" contained a seed of the later "language-game" conception, as well as the reason for abandoning the calculus model itself: "Language is for us a calculus; it is characterized by linguistic activities."

Wittgenstein thought that rules of grammar formed a total system: A system that can, in principle, be reconstructed. A system that, completely presented, would remove the problems of philosophy—for then there would be nothing left to explain. He claimed to be speaking of grammar in the strict sense only when he actually was able to explain the rules:

Can one then also speak of a grammar when someone is taught language purely through training? Clearly, I could use the word "grammar" only in a degenerate sense if I used it in such a case: for then I could speak of "explanation" or "agreement" only in a degenerate sense.

Although in later writings Wittgenstein certainly will not maintain that explicitly formulated (or formulable) rules do (or should) play no role in learning language or solving philosophical problems, he will emphasize the role of tactily learned rules, making it clear that rules learned in this way are not a whit less valuable than those learned explicitly. He speaks of "agreement" in the passage just quoted, seeming to insinuate that linguistic rules are, or should be, conceived as explicitly learned conventions. And he says in one place, straight out, that "grammar consists of agreements." Grammatical rules are conventions to the extent that they cannot be justified by proving that "a representation made in agreement with them agrees with reality. For this justification would itself have to describe that which is represented." Therefore grammar—like the "logic" of the early writings—is completely independent of the facts. Can it, then, be said about grammar as it was about logic that its employment is a matter of "arbitrary specification"? Apparently so. "Grammar is not beholden to any reality. The grammatical rules are what determine the meaning—constitute it; they are, therefore, not answerable to any meaning and are, to that extent, arbitrary."

The Philosophical Investigations puts the matter much more carefully when it says that one can "call the rules of grammar 'arbitrary' if one means thereby that the purpose of grammar is only that of the language." Still, this more cautious formulation rests on considerations proposed in the '30s and illustrated by means of the following comparison:

Why do I not call the rules of cooking arbitrary? And why am I tempted to call the rules of grammar arbitrary? Because I think that the concept "cooking" is defined by the purpose of cooking, but that the concept "language" is not defined by the purpose of language. Whoever cooks according to rules other than the proper ones for cooking, cooks poorly. But whoever follows rules other than those for chess plays another game; and whoever follows grammatical rules other than the customary ones, is not therefore saying something wrong, but rather speaking of something else.

It is certainly surprising that here Wittgenstein takes it as a matter of course that someone speaking a language determined by "other rules" must not only be playing a different game but also referring to other states of affairs—for the words "speaking of something else" must indeed be interpreted in this way. But, aside from this peculiarity, Wittgenstein articulates an especially important insight in this passage: the insight that language cannot be defined by a purpose external to it. To be sure, one can do all sorts of things with language—which makes it useful for various purposes. However, none of these purposes determines the nature of language—not even if "the purpose" is formulated in some such general way as "understanding" or "expression of thought."

Wittgenstein's admittedly fluctuating concept of grammar also is tied to thoughts of the Tractatus period through the notion of a "grammatical proposition." In the Tractatus Wittgenstein speaks of "pseudo-propositions" that are "nonsensical" because, rather than symbolizing formal concepts ("object," "proposition," "number," etc.) with variables (as they should), they treat them as if they were "actual" concept-words. He, of course, constantly uses such pseudo-propositions himself. For despite their nonsensicality—or because of it—they indirectly facilitate certain insights.

Only in a few quite special cases do grammatical propositions have a function—for example, in teaching a language or in warning about misuses of language that occur in doing philosophy—as when one reads substantive content into a proposition that is either self-evident in virtue of customary usage or functioning to explicate a concept. Wittgenstein offers the following examples of grammatical propositions: "My thoughts are private"; "Only I can know if I'm feeling pain"; "Every stick has a length"; "An order orders its own execution"; and "The class of lions is not a lion, but the class of classes is a class."

Grammatical propositions have no function in most language games, and they can be misleading because of their formal similarity to more common propositions. They are not, in reality, part of any verification/falsification game. If I say, "This garden is private," one knows how to verify it; its contradiction is not only thinkable but quite possibly true. But if I say "My feelings are private," then the thought of a possible contradiction does not even arise, for the assertion contains no factually related information about my feelings; at most it can teach the hearer something about the use of the word "feeling" or remind him of it. Because it remains completely on the linguistic level, the proposition is outside the dimension of truth and falsity. Using an expression Wittgenstein applied to tautologies in Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, one could characterize grammatical propositions as "degenerate propositions on the side of truth."


Problems in the foundations of mathematics were a recurrent interest of Wittgenstein's. Already in 1909 he formulated an analysis of Russell's paradox, and during the early years at Cambridge his major work was on logic and mathematics.

There is a very concise presentation of his thoughts on mathematics in Tractatus 6.2ff. According to that, mathematics is basically equations, and equations are "pseudo-propositions." An equation does not express a thought; it brings together expressions and characterizes a standpoint from which they are to be viewed. Mathematics is a logical method: "… in life it is never the mathematical proposition that we want, rather we use the mathematical proposition only in order to make inferences from propositions not belonging to mathematics to propositions which also do not belong to mathematics."

As we have seen, Wittgenstein's return to philosophy was in part occasioned by his reflection on ideas that Brouwer had presented in a lecture in Vienna. The constructivist element in Brouwer's intuitionism appealed to Wittgenstein as did the formalism of David Hilbert and his school. Accordingly, Wittgenstein said in a conversation with Schlick and Waismann that Frege did not

… see what is justified in formalism, namely that mathematical symbols are signs but lack meaning. For Frege the alternatives were as follows: either we are dealing with ink marks on paper, or else these ink marks are signs of something, and what they stand in for is their meaning. That these alternatives are not exhaustive can be seen in the game of chess. Although we are not here concerned with the wooden figures, these figures do not stand in for anything; they have no meaning in Frege's sense. There is still a third alternative: the signs can be used as in a game.

However, Wittgenstein himself did not take sides in the allegedly fundamental issue between formalists, logicists, intuitionists, and platonists. He understood the task of the philosopher not as that of contributing to mathematical research, but as that of coming to an understanding of the specifically philosophical questions that can be raised through mathematics. Therefore, in section 124 of Philosophical Investigations, where he insists that philosophy leaves everything the way it is, Wittgenstein adds: "It also leaves mathematics as it is, and no mathematical discovery can bring it any further." Of course, he does not want to deny that one and the same person can be doing mathematics and philosophy; he wants to say that mathematics and philosophy are completely separate activities. He sees the philosophical debate about foundations as an interruption: once past this interruption, mathematics will be able to do without the various ideas involved in that debate. "Once the conflict about its foundations is over, I believe that mathematics will look again as it does in elementary school, where the abacus is used."

In Wittgenstein's opinion, the peace of mathematics is disturbed by demands for consistency proofs—demands such as the following from Hilbert:

.. a satisfactory conclusion of the investigations of these fundamentals [can] be reached only by solving the problem of the consistency of the axioms of analysis. If we succeed in this proof, then we will have established that mathematical pronouncements are indeed unassailable and definitive truths—a point that is of the greatest importance for us because of its general philosophical character.

Wittgenstein raises several objections to the attitude expressed in this demand, objections that are of special interest because of the connection they reveal between his thoughts on mathematics and his "verificationist" conception of sense or meaning.

He develops his basic verificationist ideas in connection with "seeking and finding." The activity of seeking in mathematics is fundamentally different from the activity of seeking a material object. The way I seek a material object, and the possible places I look for it, are in principle unlimited. But in mathematics, the calculus prescribes where I am to seek, and the techniques of search are more or less determined. A compass and straightedge are not suitable instruments for solving a problem in addition. I know what I am looking for in mathematics only when I know a technique and procedure for finding it. The situation is similar in other areas. To state the matter with some exaggeration: "… it is only the method of answering a question that teaches you what the question was actually about. I cannot know what I have asked until I have answered the question. (The sense of a proposition is the method of its verification.)."

Should we come up against contradictions in mathematics, we must do something—for example, make new arrangements to prevent them in the future. However, when we talk of looking for a contradiction in mathematics, we really have no idea what we are looking for; our "question" lacks sense because it is not connected with any known technique of seeking. Where no verification procedure is known, our utterances have no sense and we have no idea what is actually going on. One tends to confuse seeking and finding in mathematics—which is basically calculation, according to Wittgenstein—with the seeking and discovery that takes place in nature: "One imagines that there could be a contradiction that no one has ever seen hidden in the axioms from the beginning, like tuberculosis. Suspecting nothing, one suddenly drops dead. And so it is thought, by analogy, that a hidden contradiction could erupt and bring catastrophe."

Nearly ten years after the conversation with Schlick and Waismann from which we have been quoting, Wittgenstein discussed similar problems with Turing and others. Again he complains about the view that one must always be on guard against hidden contradictions and that one cannot trust one's calculation so long as it has not been proven free of contradiction. Turing objected that the fear of hidden contradiction is justified inasmuch as a calculus permitting contradictory calculations could have fatal practical results. He also objected that a system permitting derivation of the contradiction "p.-p" is of no use, inasmuch as any arbitrary conclusion can be drawn from it. These objections are not without justification. Wittgenstein had to make concessions to them in the course of the discussion, repeatedly retreating to precarious distinctions between possible uses of mathematical rules and procedures. Where seeking a contradiction can be based on certain techniques, Wittgenstein has no convincing reason for opposing the desire for a consistency proof. What bothers him, in essence, is the attitude of those who speak of not being able to trust computations in the absence of a consistency proof. Absolute certainty—the protection against every possible mistake—cannot be required, even in mathematics. Thus:

One can even imagine a savage's having been given Frege's logic as an instrument with which to derive arithmetical propositions. He derives a contradiction without noticing that it is a contradiction, and from that he now derives arbitrary true and false propositions.

[Interlocutor:] "Till now a guardian angel has protected us from taking this path." [Wittgenstein:] Well, what else do you want? I think one could say: "You'll always need a guardian angel, whatever you do."


"With a full philosophical rucksack, I can only climb the mountain of mathematics slowly." This, from a 1929 notebook, implies that there is something for the philosopher to do in mathematics; the following, from Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, implies that the philosopher would be ill-advised to work from a traditional "foundations problematic":

Why the need to lay foundations for mathematics? Foundations are needed for mathematics as little, I think, as analysis is needed for propositions dealing with physical objects, or with sense impressions. To be sure, mathematical propositions as well as those other propositions need clarification of their grammar.

Mathematical "foundations" problems are for us just as little at the foundations of mathematics as the painted rocks are at the foundations of the painted mountain.

Instead of getting involved in the traditional arguments, Wittgenstein makes comparisons—between laboratory experiment and mathematical calculation, for instance. Through one new example after another, he emphasizes how important it is for a proof to have a "face" or "physiognomy"—to be organized in such a way that it can be easily followed. He frequently invents situations intended to depict possible alien contexts for our mathematical techniques. In doing that, he is not arguing that mathematics and its techniques depend on the purposes set by society. They may, indeed, be just a game, with no purposes at all. Yet even a pure game requires a context, for only in a context are there customs, practices, and institutions. It is "the motley of mathematics" that Wittgenstein is most of all concerned to bring out. "Mathematics is a MOTLEY of techniques of proof," "a family of activities for a family of purposes."

One may want to admit that mathematics may well be a game, a game played according to fixed—compelling—rules and regulations. But one will want to insist that we do not calculate arbitrarily, first this way then that, but rather infer just those conclusions that inexorably follow from our premises. But what do such inferences amount to?

What we call a "logical inference" is a transformation of our expression. E.g., the translation of one measure into another. Inches are on one edge of a ruler, centimeters on the other. I measure the table in inches and then convert to centimeters on the ruler.—And certainly there is correct and incorrect when converting from one measurement to another. But what reality does "correct" correspond to here? No doubt with a convention, or a custom, and perhaps with practical needs.

But does it not have to be shown that our inferences are justified by laws of inference that are independent of such conventions, customs, and practical needs? Certainly there are such laws, and in fact we often do employ them—for example, when we write down detailed mathematical proofs or present them on the blackboard. But there are other situations in which we speak of "inferring":

… it is necessary to look and see how we make inferences in the course of using language, what sort of process inferring is in the language game.

E.g.: a regulation says: "Everyone over 1.8 meters tall is to be taken into the… department." A clerk [A] reads out the names of the people and their heights. Another [B] separates them into departments.—[A:] "N. N. 1.90 meters." [B:] "So N. N. goes into the … department." That is inference.

Should the clerk proceed in any other manner, that would have unfortunate results: he would come into conflict with the law and there could be all sorts of undesired practical consequences. But, of course, that does not mean that the laws of society together with practically relevant facts determine the laws of inference and their validity. Rather, it means that what we call "inferring," "thinking," "deducing," etc., exists only under certain circumstances. Many things come together: customs, institutions, the limits of our intellectual powers, facts of the most general sort. These things also contribute to the "motley" of mathematics. And it is decisive that what we call "inferring" is a process in which we proceed strictly and inexorably. If the process were not strict and inexorable, it would not be inferring; we would not call it inferring:

Now we talk about the "inexorability" of logic, imagining the laws of logic to be even more inexorable than the laws of nature. We now call attention to the fact that the word "inexorable" is used in several ways. Very general facts of daily experience correspond to our logical laws—facts allowing us to demonstrate those laws again and again in a simple way (e.g., with pen and paper); they can be compared with the facts that make it easy and useful to measure with a meter stick. Very general facts suggest the use of exactly these laws of inference, and now we are inexorable in applying them. Because we "measure", and it is basic to measuring that everybody uses the same scale. But in addition, one can distinguish inexorable from ambiguous rules of inference—in other words, unambiguous rules of inference from those that leave an alternative open to us.

Just how unambiguous and inexorable our mathematical procedures are depends on how we go about using and teaching them. If we draw crooked lines at irregular intervals on a sheet of paper, we quickly loose count of them; if we draw clearly organized and separated groups of lines
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we see at a glance how many there are and can count on a similar immediate and unhesitating response from others. If we combine such figures with additional "gestalts," we can undertake coordinated procedures while achieving with a certain consistency the same results. A change will occur at a certain point in this game, however, namely, when we remove some of the arbitrariness from the process, declaring the regular process to constitute a proof and an especially reliable configuration to constitute the picture of the proof. From now on the game is so played that this configuration is treated as an example or model. When comparing two figures, we orient ourselves by means of this clear gestalt—use this figure as the measure, that as the thing measured. It is not as if we could find out something else by means of our coordinations:

The proof does not examine the essence of the two figures; it expresses what I will take to be part of the essence from now on.—Whatever pertains to the essence, I deposit among the paradigms of language.

The mathematician creates essence.

Through our actions—through types of procedures recognized as practical and declared to be such—we establish paradigms, thereby constructing what is essential, so that what belongs to, and corresponds to, the essence is just that way and cannot be otherwise. What is essential—counted as essential—does not reside in things themselves, for "… 'essential' is the mark of a concept, never the property of an object." When reflecting on the structures of mathematics, which are intangible and at the same time very rigid and inexorable, we lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with a projection of our own decisions and their consequences. We see the system of laws lying before us as a newly discovered continent, whose essence is hidden but now to be explored.

… talking about essence—is merely noting a convention. But to this one wants to retort: nothing is as far from a proposition about the depths of the essence as a proposition about a mere convention. But what if I reply: the depths of the essence correspond to the deep need for the convention.

In his reflections on mathematics, more than in most of the other writings, Wittgenstein is concerned with the exposure of idols. He is especially concerned in these writings, to show (in ever new examples) the delusiveness of the search for a single principle of things, and the delusiveness of the demand for universally valid or absolutely necessary philosophical knowledge. And he wants to demonstrate that attentively observing the conditions that actually bring about these erroneous thoughts and endeavors can lead to real—perhaps beneficent, useful, or satisfying—insights. With these insights, the mathematician no longer appears to us as someone unable to escape from the "hardness of the logical must." We come to see him as one who is:

… always inventing new forms of representation. Some inspired by practical, others by aesthetic requirements,—and yet others in a variety of ways. Imagine here a landscape artist designing paths for a garden; it may well be that he sketches them on the drawing board like ornamental ribbon and does not even imagine anyone will walk on them.

The mathematician is an inventor, not a discoverer.

James Guetti (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7566

SOURCE: An introduction to Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Literary Experience, The University of Georgia Press, 1993, pp. 1-28.

[In the following essay, Guetti attempts to determine how Wittgenstein's philosophical principles relating to the nature and function of language may be used in the analysis of "literary experience.']

"When we look into ourselves as we do in philosophy," Wittgenstein says, "we often get to see just such a picture. A full-blown pictorial representation of our grammar. Not facts; but as it were illustrated turns of speech." He was not speaking at that moment, of course, of our "introspections" in literary studies, nor were literary or "aesthetic" matters ever his first concern. But… what we get both from reading literature and from thinking about that reading, no matter how "inwardly" we think, is precisely a perception of "illustrated turns of speech," and it is a perception so powerful that we mistake its object for what we suppose must be more important to us—for "facts," as Wittgenstein suggests, or, as he suggests much more frequently, for meanings. "When we look into ourselves" about our literary experience … what we are looking at is the language in us; our "imaginative life" is inseparably entwined with language and its life, and in our introspections we are focused on and brought up against just what we can say. Why this must be so, and, more importantly, why this apprehension of language is for us so powerful, so seductive, and—when we try to account for it—so confusing, are the questions that concern me.…

One of the reasons why Wittgenstein provides such a valuable access to these "literary" questions is that his philosophy privileges nothing above language; for him, all deeply philosophical questions are either questions about language or questions whose philosophic concern with the presumably "unverbal" is actually generated by linguistic confusions. The first guideline that I take from him, therefore, is simply that we cannot account for what happens in language—what we do with it and what it does to us—by recourse to other "sources" of one sort or another—cultural habits or social developments or psychological principles, and so on—as if these things were themselves somehow unlinguistic—foundations or exoskeletons forming language from beyond itself. For such "origins" are nothing if they are not themselves verbal; our very perception of them depends upon and is provided for by what we know how to say. "Grammar" for Wittgenstein "comes before facts."

Wittgenstein's work may be seen to support, then, both an overriding concern with language itself and a descriptive rather than an explanatory method of enacting this concern. For if it seems, as it often does to me, that his arguments are irrefutable, that is because he usually gives nothing in the way of "explanation" to refute. He describes how we speak, and in so doing he shows that ultimately our speech is "ungrounded," that it makes no sense to ask why we do as we do; the varieties of verbal behavior can be delineated, and within themselves each may be intelligible in its own way, but our "whole language-game," the entire "grammar" within which we operate, is only the aggregation of these varieties of behavior, which are responsive in a multitude of ways both to themselves and to the actual situations where they may be applied. Attempts to "essentialize" this aggregation do nothing so much as reveal its lack of uniformity, while attempts to attribute its disparities to some imaginary, stable source fall back themselves into language. We can know how language functions from place to place and time to time, and those functions are all contained in the general grammar itself, which we can also invoke … in certain ways. But we should not, as Wittgenstein has it, say more than we know, nor confuse all the language that we can call up with that which we can actually and locally use.

"Swell advice," as Jake Barnes says in The Sun Also Rises: "Try and take it sometime. Try and take it." For, as I shall suggest more fully in a moment, one of the most important features of language … is the urgency within language of the motive to "say more than we know"; in conversations or in individual texts or even within language's entire history, this inclination to say more than could be "known" is not only our most dominating verbal interest but also generates the verbal forms we find most compelling. If Wittgenstein, as I have suggested, is concerned with the differences among all the various language-games that we play, he is also concerned with the philosophical necessity of marking one difference above all: the difference between verbal expressions that are meaningful and those that are not, the difference between the active and applied uses of words and the "mere" saying of them.

His first interest, again, was not in "literary" expression but in the nature of "ordinary," meaningful employments of language, and this is perhaps why some philosophers maintain that his investigations are irrelevant to literary studies. But I shall try to show that what in Wittgenstein's view so confuses philosophers about meaning in language is both a source of related confusions in literary criticism and also the source of the power of certain kinds of literary expression. When in Wittgenstein's accounts a philosopher holds up his hand in front of his face and declares, "This certainly is a hand," or when another stares fixedly at a tree and says, "That is a tree; I know that," both, I would claim, are engrossed by an "experience of words" in many of the same ways that we may be in reading literature, and both philosophers are just as mistaken as we are if we suppose that what engages us in these instances, what so compels and exercises our attention, is a matter of certain "knowledge" or "meaning." In this way, not only is philosophy as Wittgenstein practices it relevant to literary studies, but the forms of language that stimulate and obstruct that philosophy may be found, and perhaps best described, in literary process itself.

These fascinating and confusing verbal forms I shall call… "grammatical displays." I now want to give a fuller description—though still a tentative one pending further demonstration—of what that concept means. Wittgenstein is primarily occupied, once again, with language's meaningful action, and his most fundamental argument is that it means in its "use." But a use of language for him is not a mere saying of words; it is an application of words to do something, an application that is both purposive and consequential. This application takes place, furthermore, on public ground and may be recognized and measured by "outward criteria." To the extent that are meaningful, our "intentions" must be "embedded" in "situations," for example; and "obeying a rule" is not thinking that one is doing so, but consists in the actual and particular application of the rule; and our "mental experiences" of words—our attendant "associations," perhaps—are never necessarily relevant to or restrictive upon the meanings they constitute and accomplish, which depend upon communal institutions and practices. In all such meaningful usage…it is the action of language that is important; in meaningful verbal activity, words themselves are relatively self-effacing in favor of the changes their uses achieve.

What Wittgenstein constantly struggles with and exposes, however, as he pursues these dynamics of meaningfulness in language, is a set of verbal conditions that may be seen as opposite to those that yield meaning. In these conditions, language is not doing any work; it is "idling." One's attention is drawn to it as language, and so it no longer functions as a foundation or vehicle or background for meaning, but is itself foregrounded and dominating. And it is here—with language in this relatively inactive and self-isolated condition—that the "mental" or "imaginative" experience of words comes into play, both as a philosophical problem and as the very substance of certain forms of literary expression.

This is language in its "grammatical" state, in which its effects are generated and governed not by local or particular application but only by a language-wide system of verbal possibilities. The "sense" that words may have—may even be felt to "possess"—under grammatical conditions is not tied down to specific uses and situations; words therefore communicate an awareness of "possible meanings," of the potential and capacity in language (and so in ourselves) for making meaning. Under these conditions our apprehension of words is more physical and substantial than it is meaningful usage, since language does not disappear into action but takes all our attention, and this is one of the reasons why the perception of it may be felt as an "experience," as an actual "content. But at the same time this perception is flexible and multiple, and the words in view may attach to all sorts of actually remembered, lived situations. Thus, the displayed power of language generates the imagination of both past and potential experience, of capacity and capability, in the audience of its display.

Throughout his philosophical work after the Tractatus, Wittgenstein is most often concerned, once more, with "grammatical" expressions for the confusions they generate in seeming to be what they are not. They cannot be meaningful, for in their expression they are disconnected from any actual situations that would give them any particular meaning, that would render them, to put this another way, true or false. And yet the danger of language in this grammatical mode is that, precisely because of its evident independence from particular situations, it seems extraordinarily "sayable," apt, and immune from the criterial judgments to which words in particular applications are susceptible. It is therefore philosophically crucial to distinguish between grammatical expressions and those expressions that are meaningful, that provide information, function as descriptions, and apply to particular cases: "empirical propositions." In Wittgenstein's later philosophy, this discrimination depends largely, as I have suggested, upon the criterion of "use"; the easiest way to determine that an expression is a legitimate proposition is to ask if the language in it is being used to a purpose. But it is not only this later connection between meaning and use that both enables and requires the identification of grammatical expressions. Wittgenstein was assured of the possibility of this identification, in a less practical and more logical way, in the Tractatus.

To understand the usefulness of this earlier approach, and, more important, to appreciate the enormous force of the contrast between propositional and grammatical language, we might begin with an apparently commonsense distinction. Some expressions, we might say, are "about" the world, and describe our experience of it, and these are "empirical." But others, in one way or another, are statements about our language, and draw out or draw attention to its rules, and these are "grammatical." One trouble with this distinction, however, is that it presumes both a clarity of motive and process and a set of proportions that are not enacted in our general verbal behavior. For that behavior constantly features expressions that are in fact language-directed and language-oriented, even as if we were continually teaching language to each other, but which are offered as or seem indistinguishable from statements about the world, about our changing experience. This is most easily demonstrated by observing how frequently our remarks to each other take the form of definitions or redefinitions, or of logical—which is here to say, "grammatical"—extensions from them, while these remarks may seem to be further descriptions of "empirical" facts, or new information. It is only, perhaps, when we stop and examine such verbal gestures that we may see that they are not devoted to any particular case in question, that they do not advance whatever verbal sequence is in progress. Instead, and even though no "language teaching" would seem obviously legitimate in such instances, their appeal is not to temporary situational description. They draw attention to themselves as expressions, and in doing so take on a strangely substantial, nontemporary, and authoritative status. Even though they are not the implements of any recognized "teaching," they incline toward the character and force of a rule of expression because they seem to reach toward or even to exemplify such a rule, and thus they seem ways of access to principles or laws higher or more permanent than those that might govern more applied, active, and meaningful verbal sequences.

Perhaps more often than anything else in our verbal behavior, to put this another way, we speak as if we were "citing" language, and merely this can convert our expressions from one status to another and seem to give them a special and strange force. If such self-exposed, citational utterances were to occur in a classroom, of course, or in a philosophical discussion, then their relevance to the conceptual situation at hand would be measurable—which is another way of saying that they would function as propositions. But I am suggesting that we often speak this way to no such obvious pedagogical purpose, and that when we do, what we produce, rather than propositions of any sort, are undirected verbal displays, shows of signifying power that seem the richer precisely because they have no immediate relevance, and whose weight derives from the unlimited authority of grammar.

Part of the difficulty in distinguishing the grammatical from the empirical, the "idling" expression from the working one, then, resides in the frequency and force of the grammatical in our general linguistic behavior. For it seems natural to suppose that our most telling utterances are so because of their relation to our experience, to suppose that a "strong" remark must be so because it is "about" the world we observe. And even if on examination many of these utterances did seem more "about" words than the world, they might still seem to be descriptive of something; their very "aboutness" might seem a sign that they yielded information. So how is one to say where talk about the world ends and talk about words begins?

This problem traces back to a fundamental flaw in the commonsense distinction, which proposed that the difference between the grammatical and the empirical was to be defined by the "object" or the "material" toward which each mode of speech was directed. The very assumption that both are "directed," however—which follows inevitably from the seemingly harmless supposition that language's "aboutness" is reliably constant—blurs their difference; it implies that both verbal modes are meaningful because both are applied to some purpose. To suppose that these different sorts of expression are "about" something, in other words, begs the question of "use" and seems to render the criterion of "meaning as use" impotent for the discrimination between the grammatical and the meaningful.

We might therefore conclude either that there is not any decisive difference of the sort I have been claiming between grammatical and meaningful expression or that the concept of "meaning as use" is itself faulty. Neither inference, in my view, is ultimately warranted; there are arguments out of this predicament. But these arguments are quite complicated, and their complications might belie the sharpness of the distinction between "idling" and working language of which Wittgenstein seems convinced. Yet we may, again, approach this difference in another way by means of a measure that seems fundamentally unchanged throughout Wittgenstein's philosophic career: his discrimination between what can be said and what can be shown.

This distinction may itself seem puzzling, especially if one first encounters it, as I did, in Wittgenstein's later philosophy, where it is usually unexplained. But what it means is fully spelled out, I believe, in the Tractatus in Wittgenstein's treatment of the logical form of propositions. Here is Anthony Kenny's account of this effect of "showing" in language:

The would-be propositions of philosophical logic, Wittgenstein thought, were attempts to say what was shown by the tautologies. The distinction between saying and showing was fundamental in both his earlier and his later philosophy. For instance, Wittgenstein wrote:

What expresses itself in language we cannot express by means of language.

Propositions show the logical form of reality.

They display it.

Thus, one proposition 'fa' shows that the object a occurs in its sense, two propositions fa' and 'ga' show that the same object is mentioned in both of them …

What can be shown cannot be said.

But later in Wittgenstein's thinking, as Kenny also observes, this "displaying" function of propositions was not supposed evident merely in the "tautologies" of logic, nor was the "logical form" of language itself so narrowly conceived. The latter concept expanded and articulated into Wittgenstein's conception of "logical grammar," or "logical syntax," and the "tautology" came to be considered as "only one way of displaying matters of syntax." The "objects" so displayed, furthermore, are "real" not in any phenomenal sense but because they are "elements of the method of representation.… It is senseless to ask whether objects are more like substances or like properties or relations: objects belong to the method of representation.…"

The density and ramifications of this argument may be difficult to comprehend easily in this short space, but they may be summarized, I think fairly, as follows: every proposition, even as it says what it says—as it describes a case, provides new information, generates meaning, and so on—also displays its form of doing so, its grammar, comprising both the "elements" and the "mode" of representation, and this grammar is the most fundamental property of our world. Some expressions, such as tautologies, do nothing but function as such displays. They do not "say" anything. They do not describe, nor give information, nor apply to any particular case. And this means that they are not "about" anything at all, and that so to conceive them is fundamentally mistaken. Rather, they confirm or reconfirm what the speakers of a language already "know," or presuppose in their verbal behavior, by exhibiting some part of the rules of their language. But this phenomenon of the exposure of linguistic form is not limited to such severely logical expressions.…

This distinction between utterances that "say" and those that "show" the forms of saying is the truest means of identifying what I am calling "grammatical expressions." But this test itself, once more, is only important because the seductive and deceptive power of these expressions—which is perceptible even in low-energy cases like tautologies—needs to be marked and distinguished from the process and effects of verbal "meaning." For these purposes the crucial inferences to be drawn from Wittgenstein—from a line of argument that runs, once again, from the Tractatus throughout his philosophic work—are, first, that certain verbal organizations may function to exhibit their mode of saying rather than to assert or propose anything, and, second, that what is exhibited in such instances is language's logical—or, more flexibly, grammatical—form. What is exposed is the very capacity for meaning, the potential and possibility of signification, and this is why these verbal forms are both so powerful and so mysterious.

The ways in which the logical form of language may be foregrounded, and in which its meaningful applications may be deemphasized … are various. But one further clarification must be made at this point: the grammatical aspects of expressions, which are quite different from their meanings and indeed become most evident when meaning is in abeyance, amount to the sense that they possess apart from their applications. Early in the Notebooks 1914-1916, Wittgenstein gives a sketch of two stick figures fencing and comments upon it as follows: "If the right-hand figure in this picture represents the man A, and the left-hand one stands for the man B, then the whole might assert, e.g. 'A is fencing with B.' The proposition in picture writing can be true and false. It has a sense independent of its truth and falsehood. It must be possible to demonstrate everything essential by considering this case." "The proposition in picture writing can be true and false": it will be true or false depending upon the actual, real situation to which it is applied, or which it is held to "represent." But "it has a sense independent of its truth and falsehood." This "sense," then, is the capacity of the proposition for truth or falsehood, for meaningful application, but it is not itself a matter of meaning. And it is this sense that we may understand in propositions, whether they are brought to bear upon any actual case or not. This fundamental distinction between the isolated sense that a proposition may display in itself and the meaning that is generated only in the relation of the proposition to "reality" is crucial, both to Wittgenstein's thinking and to my purposes, for it explains not only how we understand unapplied, unmeaningful expressions but also what we understand in them, and what it is that "grammatical expressions" show rather than say.

These expressions that have sense but not meaning, these "grammatical displays," thus seem to contain the possibilities of meaning because they express not what applies to any particular situation or purpose but what might apply to any number of situations; the coherence of such language, and its sanction, has nothing to do with specific conditions but is founded, merely, upon the grammatical conformations shown in it. Grammatical expressions thus possess both the arbitrariness and the certainty of language involved only with itself. They seem truer than any more applied language—though of course they are no more true than they are false—because they are detached from any local developments that might verify or contradict them. They are beyond truth.

Although such grammatical exhibitions make up a large part of our everyday verbal behavior, they are most remarkable and powerful in certain forms of literary expression. Indeed, it is the revelation of grammatical capacity that may be seen to generate the power of these expressions; for when extended verbal sequences take on "grammatical" status, they may be recognized … as alternative and integral languages in their own right, with all the signifying capacity that such recognition acknowledges, and a reader's response to them will then be both willing and versatile.

In some ways this disposition to grant language unrestricted power when it is presented as a language is the same as an attitude in the original learning of language as Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes it. He suggests, in Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, that we are mistaken if we think that such learning involves an aggressively assertive effort, as if to translate what one heard into some already known protolanguage. This amounts to a misconception of the action and role of the self in the process, which should be figured not so much as an inherent intelligibility trying to assert itself but as a more undetermined and receptive disposition to an imposing and articulated linguistic establishment. This is not to deny egoistic motivation, or individual ambition, in such cases but to reverse the form which that ambition is usually imagined to take: to see it as an effort to fit the self to the language rather than vice versa. One "masters" a language not by conquering it, but by infiltrating it, inhabiting it.

But this has to do with an original learning of language. And one obvious difference between that and the kind of case into which I am inquiring is that in the latter there is much more to the "self "; we are already in full possession of various languages prior to encountering a new one. If, therefore, we find ourselves responding as receptively to a text as if we were learning a language, then we must somehow have been moved to relax our hold on what we know in favor of what we do not.…

When language's meaningful functioning is suspended, when the possibilities of meaning hold sway, the imaginative situation seems renewed, and new knowledge, new uses, seem imminent. Perhaps this is because we have learned the trick of such situations, and the very fact of knowing many useful vocabularies increases our receptiveness to a possible new one and inclines us to think that any verbal set that is disconnected from use might be, eventually, turned to it. More likely, it is because the more uses for certain words that we know, then the more powerful will be a display of those words that suspends those uses, the greater the expectation of some meaning beyond our present capacity. However else we might explain the matter, it would seem that grammatical exhibitions appear original to us in proportion to the number and complexity of working vocabularies that they appear to set aside.

For these and other reasons, grammatical displays are so engaging that they appear to be one sort of thing we live for. They may generate, as I have suggested, a powerful illusion of capability. Or they may present us with a real "grammatical" capability that, if we try to use it, to apply it more locally and particularly, most often dissolves as an illusion, though usually not without causing some trouble where we thought it would work. When extended beyond aesthetic contexts, for example—by which here I mean merely contexts of verbal "play," obviously "fictional" contexts—the confidence generated by grammatical displays may become very dangerous indeed. Probably it is what stimulated Plato to throw out the poets.

When we perceive language "as such," therefore, language isolated from and more forceful than any use of it, we should also recognize that it cannot be turned to any immediate use. This is to say that because it is not "interpretable" in any single direction, because it seems irreplaceable and untranslatable, it cannot be used. Thus, to be aware of language's presence and potential in the ways I am considering is not, at that moment, to "understand" anything in the ordinary, workable sense of that term. In Wittgenstein's conception, once again, language in this condition is "idling," though one would want to add here that when the revolutions per minute get as high as they can in some literary expressions, "idling" is no longer the right word for verbal forms whose inertia—their resistance to singular employments—is enormous but whose activity within themselves—in the integral and complex play of their exposed possibilities—is very quick indeed.

It is this meaningless and inapplicable power that makes the "experience of language" an experience, whereas the functional working of active words cannot be said, by Wittgenstein's measure, ever necessarily to involve "experience" at all. Where meaning is concerned, it is the imagination that is "idle," and meaning itself is an action that is not perceptible or definable as a feeling or conceivable as any other sort of what one might call "experience content." But grammatical exhibitions do seem to hold or to carry a "content" and inevitably to engender some of the kinds of perception we call "experience," here indissociable from the life of the language itself.

We should not suppose, however, that this experience of language is to be explained by what are called in psychology "associations." It is true that in "grammatical exhibitions" the normal accompaniments of meaning—certain feelings for certain words, for example—are foregrounded with the words they attach to. And it is equally true that our perceptions in these cases involve imaginative "experiences" that seem deeply personal, but these are neither necessarily secret or hidden, nor are they restricted or determined only by one's individual history. For it is not so much what particular "associations" we have for the words of a text that matters—since one could never insist on the exclusive relevance of his associations as opposed to someone else's—but that the imaginative act of having associations is built in, or evidently called for, by "grammatical displays." Evidently we should say that it is possible associations, like possible meanings, that are in question here—since one does not have to remember them to imagine having them—and that the activeness or substantialness of such possible feelings for language is yet another result of the suppression of meaning.

Of course, our feelings of and for words are not public in the way that meanings may be, nor can we communicate them as we can meanings, for we can never be sure, as Wittgenstein says, if other people "have this experience too." Nonetheless, we learn such feelings as we learn language; and we have continual evidence that they are experienced—whatever their specific qualities may be—by other people. In this way they may be said to be part of language, properties of language that are more vitally exposed when language is "idling." I would propose, then, that in grammatical exhibitions it is the associative capacity of words that comes intensely into play and invites those personal responses that neither restrict nor exhaust their source.

It is one of the signs of the power of this "associativeness" of language in its grammatical condition that we characteristically adopt toward it a double and paradoxical attitude: we think of it, again, as secret, hidden, and personal to ourselves, but at the same time we think of it as the truest sort, or the realest sort, of "meaning." This is the attitude, I believe, that is reflected in our cultural interest in or appetite for certain features of Freudian psychology, for example, and specifically for Freud's proposition—in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) and in the Introductory Lectures to Psychoanalysis (1916-17)—that certain sorts of grammatical accidents are meaningful, his conception that slips of the tongue and other parapraxes "faulty acts" or "faulty functions") are revealing of unconscious thoughts and purposes, and hence of meanings, that are more real or significant than conscious ones. I have suggested elsewhere that Freud has a great deal of trouble justifying logically the existence of the "unconscious," not only because he conceives it as a source for motives and behavior that we are accustomed to think of as "conscious"—since these involve rapid editing and rewriting of our speech, for example, as well as all sorts of elaborate plotting and scheming—but also because he himself must paradoxically describe this unconscious with the vocabulary of consciousness. Wittgenstein has characterized the trouble here precisely.

The idea of there being unconscious thoughts has revolted many people. Others again have said that these were wrong in supposing that there could only be conscious thoughts, and that psychoanalysts had discovered unconscious ones. The objectors to unconscious thought did not see that they were not objecting to the newly discovered psychological reactions, but to the way in which they were described. The psychoanalysts on the other hand were misled by their own way of expression into thinking that they had done more than discover new psychological reactions; that they had, in a sense, discovered conscious thoughts which were unconscious.

And it should be clear from this excerpt that Wittgenstein is not claiming that there is no "unconscious," no such "psychological reactions" that might be so designated. Nor am I making such a claim. For it is not Freud's postulation of unconscious processes that seems wrong, but his insistence that these processes are secretly similar to and continuous with conscious ones, and that both of them must work to produce singularly interpretable results. What I want to propose instead, which may be obvious from what I have already suggested about the operation of "grammatical" motives and effects in human speech, is that a slip of the tongue, for example—a remark inappropriate to or nonsensical in an otherwise meaningful verbal sequence—amounts to an eruption into that sequence, whether more or less "accidental," of general grammatical possibility, from which we are made momentarily aware of what else might have been said, said often in "opposition," to the immediate and actual purposes of the sequence in question.

Now any display of grammatical possibility, as I have begun to show, may be very powerful for us. It reveals to us our capacity for all manner of speech; it generates an illusion of imaginative freedom; and it gives us to suppose that we could "mean" anything we liked. For all these motives and more, therefore, it will be tempting to take such displays as actual meanings, or rather as meanings more real than any actual ones we might ordinarily accomplish. This is because grammatical possibility, once more, is in its peculiar way indeed more "real" or "certain" than any locally and temporarily defined significance. In the case of the latter, one may be mistaken, and what one says may be proved false; whereas in the "grammatical," so long as one makes some sort of sense, neither mistakes nor truth are in question.

It is this characteristic strength and independence of grammatical expressions, I would argue, that italicizes them when they occur as slips or accidents, that makes them seem to invite greater attention than the sequences they interrupt, and gives us to attribute to them some sort of meaning beyond meaning. The difficulty with such a response is that these accidental grammatical displays are evidently not, by ordinary criteria, meaningful at all; they do not possess the characteristics of meaning, the most crucial of which here is a singularly purposive application as opposed to an undetermined multiplicity of implication and association. How, then, could their "grammatical" condition ever be seriously or finally mistaken for that of meaning? How can what occurs as complex verbal possibility be ostensibly restricted to some single and telling sense?

Freud tries to accomplish such a conversion by recourse to verbal situations that he presumes—and I shall say more about this presumption in a moment—can be regarded as sources of language that is both "accidental" and "meaningful." The examples of revelatory slips of the tongue in which he has most confidence, and to which he most frequently appeals, are taken from imaginative literature, and more specifically from the speeches and actions of characters in novels, poems, and plays. And what such examples appear to provide him with, more than anything else, are apparently human situations in which there is a guaranteed hierarchy of "knowledge." A "literary" situation, in this view, is authored, and its author is one who knows something, and knows it best. His audience, for its part, wants to know what the author knows, wants to discover, that is, what is already known and determined. What both author and audience know about, furthermore, are characters who are presumed ignorant.

Of course, we may not usually suppose that most literary expression lays itself out in this way—as a source of meanings so determined as to amount to matters of "knowledge." I have already suggested—and shall continue to show—that the dramatization or display of "possible meanings" in various literary forms is not the same as meaning itself, and that therefore the response appropriate to it is not any reductively "interpretive" act that might result in the sort of knowledge Freud wants. What one "knows" about in these "grammatical exhibitions," once more, is that expressions or gestures are complex and potential. It is not what the man who habitually deposits his ten-bladed pocket knife in the ladies' laps is doing, but all that he might be doing—all this gesture might mean—that we "understand." The "knowledge" supplied by even the rather simple literary examples that Freud fancies is not of some singular solution to a puzzle but of an irreducible set of possibilities. Thus, we may consider that a good deal of violence has to be done to them in order to transform them into one-way streets to someone's "knowledge" about someone else. But this sort of transformation is invaluable for Freud because when a literary situation is perceived in this way, it corresponds to a clinical one; the ignorant or mistaken character becomes analogous to the neurotic patient who submits himself to one who knows or will know his case better than he himself does, and, like a knowing audience, will discover in it a meaning that was unknown to the subject but nonetheless present and predetermined, as if by an author, in the form of a "mental illness." Of course, the great majority of the cases under Freud's scrutiny in his discussions of parapraxes in the Introductory Lectures and in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, as the title of the second work indicates, are not clinical ones; they are "normal" incidents of apparently accidental behavior to which Freud wants to attribute the same sort of ground rules that he could presume in cases of admitted neurotic disease. This is why the "literary" examples that he gathers are so important to him. They avail him—at least given the determined spectacles through which he sees them—of a pattern identical to the clinical model but evidently more legitimately applicable to human behavior at large. And his grounds for such application is simply his own conviction that human life is just as patently significant as life on a stage in his peculiar view of it. If someone supposes that parapraxes are "just small chance events," Freud declares: "What does the fellow mean by this? Is he maintaining that there are occurrences, however small, which drop out of the universal concatenation of events—occurrences which might just as well not happen as happen? If anyone makes a breach of this kind in the determinism of natural events at a single point, it means that he has thrown overboard the whole Weltanshauung of science."

Whether we find such an attitude ridiculous or irritating or embarrassing, we shall not be surprised to discover that the "cases" that support it have been very violently revised indeed; they are so determined and pat that they seem fantastic. There is the story of the waiter who, after announcing that the price of a dish had been increased by a certain amount but not so noted on the menu, fumbled with the money he was given and dropped a coin of just that amount back on the table—thus demonstrating his dishonesty and remorse at the same time. Or of the woman who forgot to try on her wedding dress on the eve of the wedding, and soon after the ceremony was divorced. Or of the married woman who "frequently signed documents in her maiden name" and was subsequently divorced. Or of others "who have lost their wedding-rings during the honeymoon, and I know too that the history of their marriages has given a sense to the accident.—And now here is one more glaring example, but with a happier ending. The story is told of a famous German chemist that his marriage did not take place, because he forgot the hour of his wedding and went to the laboratory instead of to the church. He was wise enough to be satisfied with a single attempt and died at a great age unmarried."

Such examples are indeed glaring, of course, but not for the reason that Freud supposes. The truth is that one is hard put to find even in literature plots so neat or characters so mechanical and predictable as these. Such prescribed behavior, such lip-smackingly inevitable outcomes, are rare—except perhaps in Poe, or in certain children's stories. And like such stories, Freud's examples to show that "faulty actions" have a "sense" always read from back to front. Hindsight is indispensable to their form; it is what reduces grammatical possibility to something that Freud can figure as an actual, realized meaning. He tells of the officer who while riding in a horse race with his fellows fell and was fatally injured. Before the race "he had been deeply depressed by the death of his beloved mother, had had fits of sobbing in the company of his fellow officers, and to his trusted friends had spoken of being weary of life.… Finally, before the race … he expressed gloomy forebodings; with the view that we hold in these matters, it will not remain a surprise to us that these forebodings turned out to be justified." But neither would it have surprised us, who may not hold such a view, if they had not, all depending on what ultimately happened to the officer. So many of Freud's examples resemble certain detective shows on television, such as Columbo, in which the crime is committed at the beginning, in the audience's sight, so that the detective's positively clairvoyant reading of the clues—his restriction of the possibilities—seems utterly natural. Knowing what happened, knowing what will happen, is a foolproof angle from which to convert the multiple implications of a set of expressions to a singular meaning, and this conversion can be so impressive that one may forget—as Freud constantly does—that these expressions can only be read as a meaningful sequence because their structural possibilities were never really possible, because their eventual restriction was preordained.

Here again we may see that the logical problem of Freud's arguments concerning slips of the tongue and the like—in which "unconscious" processes are unsatisfactorily distinguished from conscious ones—goes very deep. For it be-speaks his own actual unrecognition of the unconscious itself. There is nothing free or wild or irrational about the unconscious—attributes that Freud will claim for it elsewhere—in its function in Freud's "literary" cases. It traffics in the same sort of meanings and purposes as do the conscious operations it sometimes interrupts and replaces. It is not revelatory of associative possibilities, but rather of "meaningful" chains more determined and foregone—and, of course, more boring—than anything the conscious mind has ordinarily to offer.

It should be noted again that I am not proposing that the "unconscious" does not exist, but only that the modeling of it upon processes and motives that are if anything hypermeaningful is nonsense. More important, I am certainly not objecting to the notion that an "unconscious" might be composed of some sort of language. Rather, I would suggest, once again, that "accidents" in speech are the results of our assimilation of and perpetual access to the grammatical possibilities of our language. This is a recognition that some of Freud's revisionists—most notably Jacques Lacan—sometimes seem to approach.

Lacan considers, for instance, that phrases like Freud's "unconscious thought" are not contradictory precisely because "the unconscious participates in the functions of ideation, even of thought," and it does so just because it is itself composed of language—as if the unconscious might be figured as the entire learned totality of the possibilities of language—which I have called the "grammar"—unrestricted by any immediate and particular applications or intentions. Here one may be so gratified to discover that the importance of such grammatical possibility is acknowledged by a psychologist that Lacan's formulation may become too eagerly accepted. But we should proceed with caution here, for this agreeable assumption of "the omnipresence of human discourse"—in which even the unconscious mind should be considered as somehow "structured like a language"—often reveals itself as a much more restrictive conception where language is not present as a system of possibilities but working, even unconsciously, as a secret but quite meaningful code. A "subject" is introduced by the analyst into a 'primary Language in which, beyond what he tells us of himself, he is already talking to us unbeknownst to him" (Lacan's emphasis).

This conception of "unconscious language" as a source of meanings and knowledge to which only psychoanalysts are privy may be indistinguishable from Freud's own. The powerful influences and effects of the body of language, of the grammar, within our speaking behavior that I am describing are neither so occult as this nor, when discovered, so revelatory, exactly because they are merely a matter of language's complex and variegated texture, of its surface of possibility as we learn it. And if they seen magical—or "significant" beyond anything we might say in a meaningful way—this is not because they are varieties of some sort of hypermeaning, but because they are not meanings at all; rather, they are signs of our very capability of, and of our language's potential for, meaningful expression, exhibitions of verbal power and freedom that in fact can never be realized since they are meaningful only in restrictive applications, when we know what we must say, or when the mystery has already been solved.

I have tried to suggest that this is a discrimination that Freud willfully ignores not in order to single out his conceptions or our interest in them as perversely misguided, but to show that these conceptions and this interest are indicative of a fundamental and natural problem within our verbal behavior and of the self-contradictory lengths to which we may go in order to solve it. The difficulty, once more, is in our inclination to imagine our experience of language, to imagine our feelings for words, as matters of meaning, and to justify that imagining by supposing that grammatical possibilities both originate and are turned to meaningful purposes in the mind. But these possibilities—whether they end up, as everything usually does, "in the mind" or not—would not be so fascinating to us, I think, if they were originally "mental," if they were not perceived within our most substantial and direct apprehension of language itself, and if it were not so hard for us to conceive that something so vital to ourselves could be a matter of grammar.

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