9.10.2002

[60,61,62] Last Thursday I posted a blog that re-analyzed the color question. Where philosophy has something interesting to say about color perception is in the realm or game of aesthetics. Beyond aesthetics what philosophy has to say about color consciousness -- how we perceive color and how we reflect on how we see color -- is archaic. It is a vestige of seventeenth century rationalism that philosophers would do well to surrender to the vocabulary of neurophysiology. This is a variation on the arguments of those calling themselves "eliminative materialists."

It is time to get back into the text of Philosophical Investigations , even though I remain consumed by color-related questions (as was Wittgenstein). But Wittgenstein offers another anti-reductionist remark in 60. What Positivists wanted to accomplish was the complete reform of language to accommodate science's mission to disenchant reality. There would be, as members of the Vienna Circle argued, only word/object relations; language would be broken down analytically into simples. Animating this enterprise was a deep distrust of ordinary language. Here Wittgenstein comes to the philosophical defense of ordinary expression. "My broom is in the corner," is the example Wittgenstein deploys. The analyzed sentence would break the broom down into its components or simples: the brush and the stick. Expressing this analyzed version leads us to say, "Bring me the broomstick and the brush that is fitted onto it." We feel the awkwardness of the expression. It is alienated from the ordinary expression, "Bring me the broom" (and this extends to the kind of philosophy represented by Positivists, metaphysicians, and other dualists). Wittgenstein offers a pragmatic conclusion to this example of Positivist reformism/analysis: "This sentence, one might say, achieves the same as the ordinary one, but in a more roundabout way."

Next Wittgenstein suggests that there is an analytic dimension to ordinary expression. There is always the potential when we find ourselves not understanding a command to break the command down to its components. A good example comes from Derrida. The command is "Straighten your closet!" If we stop to think about the command, we notice its ambiguous quality. Am I being asked to hang up my clothes and put my shoes in order? Or do I need to get a hammer and nails to repair the structure? Wittgenstein suggests in 61 that the ambiguity is overlooked because there is some general agreement about what this command is meant to achieve. We can break the statement down into components, but this analysis does not achieve greater clarity. He notes in 62 that "it is not everywhere clear what should be called the 'point' of an order." And so inexactitude is to be understood as an inescapable part of communication and, indeed, the human condition. Analysis does not lead us beyond ambiguity and into some deep essence or logic. What is essential about a "lamp" when one orders one? It gives light, decorates a room, fills a space, etc. Wittgenstein sounds like he is responding critically to Husserl when he states, "there is not always a sharp distinction between essential and inessential."

We started with a critical encounter with the sort of reductionism we associate with the various enterprises of science. We end with a flash of insight into the ethical character of Wittgenstein's investigations. How do we live well (justly, happily) in this messy world? If we are going to talk about the just life as the happy life, then we need to jettison the Aristotelean idea that happiness, defined in terms of flourishing, is a unitary ideal. What Wittgenstein wants us to see is that eudaemonia cannot be a "one size fits all" goal or telos.

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