1.09.2002

[1.]When you spend four years in the seminary there is simply no avoiding St. Augustine's Confessions. For this I am genuinely grateful -- something I cannot say for all the hours spent on Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. The argument about the relation between thinking and remembering in Book Ten of the Confessions remains profound and worth the time spent contemplating. This was one of the few books on Wittgenstein's shelf (although he read much more philosophy than he ever admitted to).
George Steiner once said that where Heidegger appears to have read everything, Wittgenstein comes across has having read nothing. This is a profound insight into their respective theories of language (although Wittgenstein would say that he offers no such theory). For Heidegger, language is something we are born into -- it is older than us. Language is not used by mortals; mortals are used by language. Language is, as he said famously, "the house of being." For Wittgenstein, it is only a slight overstatement to say that we create language every time we use it.
Both Heidegger and Wittgenstein can be used to describe that experience of sitting down with pen and paper and an idea. The writing begins. Although there is a plan, nevertheless, you feel utterly surprised by what you have created by the time you reach the page's bottom. Heidegger will offer the image of the human as the tool of language; Wittgenstein will talk about meaning as the residue of the positioning of words in a sentence.
You do not start off creating language; rather, you acquire competency in language by interacting with adults. Wittgenstein did not choose this citation from St. Augustine to simply criticize its limitations as a description of what counts as language. The family setting offered by Augustine appealed to Wittgenstein. The intimacy and trust are important elements that become rules we employ in using language. We desire understanding from others, and language is characterized by indeterminacy. For Wittgenstein it is a miracle that we are understood at all. Conventions in language use help increase the odds of achieving understanding.

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