7.11.2002

Your treatment of logical atomism is good and suggestive. The reductionism it entails gains its authoritativeness from its relation to scientific activity. Indeed, scientists on occasion might simplify their description of what they do by appealing to similar models of reduction. In seeking the causes of things, I need to break the whole into its components. Of course, this search for underlying logical structure is not all that we call science. Rather it is a philosophical reflection on the logic of science. Where reductionism does occur in scientific activity we also find ethical dilemmas. In reducing something to its constituent elements we bracket it off from the larger social reality. When that something is an animal or a process that can be coopted for military ends, the reduction functions to blind us from unethical consequences. I think Wittgenstein understood this.

What interested me most in your treatment of logical postivism/empiricism/atomism, is that you must have covered some of the same ground as Wittgenstein in confronting the limitations of this philosophical approach. Wittgenstein was careful to include "the author of the Tractatus " in his critical reckoning with the belief in an underlying logical structure to reality. It is a reverse metaphysics, no less dualistic, that detracts from complexity of appearances. This rejection of reductionism places Wittgenstein in a line that includes Aristotle and Owen Barfield. They contest the opposition between appearance and reality that ends in the negation of appearance. As a result, they run the risk of being regarded as superficial thinkers.

Why do we require distance to express the truth on difficult subjects? Thanks to Kierkegaard I now think of distance in terms of irony. Thanks to Wittgenstein, distance appears as a clinical orientation to a world of pain. Maybe I am hiding something here though. The appeal of blogging and fiction is that it might reveal something of the process of writing. How do we make creativity visible? Cinema has tried with risible results: the writer, bottle half empty on the table, typing furiously; the mathematician having it all come together in a moment of startling revelation; the composer finding the song in the ambient noise of the forest. Can't we do better than this?

I wanted to move on to some remarks today, but I seem to have yet another meeting to sit through. You gave me a lot to think on.

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