5.20.2002

I'm glad you re-directed us toward the ethics of the Philosophical Investigations. Does Wittgenstein cast us into a hopelessly radical relativism? One thing is clear: Wittgenstein does not leave us with an image of the philosopher as the prescriber of ethical courses of action. He is not of the Platonic school, but of the Aristotelean. The more careful the description of reality, the more choices we have when facing an ethical dilemma. Our tendency is to reduce choice to an either/or. We reduce the menu and get ourselves locked into a room where we cannot find the door. The philosopher's role is to offer us a perspicacious re-presentation of the room that will leave us understanding that the door is behind us and we have to turn around. Ethical dilemmas are akin to this perceptual dogmatism. We are so sure the answer is straight ahead that we miss the range of options that would appear if we simply look around.

For Wittgenstein, it seems, radical relativism is not the condition this world of language-games. There are, rather, a lot of little truths. The truths we live by come from the constellation of language-games that we have traveled through and gained from which we have gained our individual identity. The "big" ethical problem, when we look at the world in this way, is how to lead a life of conviction while retaining an anti-dogmatism that enables us to get rid of bad ideas.

I did a fair amount of nature shaping myself this weekend.

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