7.14.2003

[91,92] This is Wittgenstein's more general response to the question of exactitude in expression. We are trapped by a picture that perfect representation or perfect communication is possible is we reveal what is hidden in what we are trying to express, or express with such precision that all misunderstanding is eliminated. This impulse to achieve exactness is part of a larger impulse to eliminate contingency from the universe or to achieve perfect representation by creating the perfect language (symbolic or mathematical logic, esperanto, etc.)
These impulses take the form of essentialism. The essence of language lies beneath the surface, and some contend that it is the task of philosophy to uncover it. Wittgenstein might be referring to the syntactical explorations of Carnap and other members of the Vienna Circle, but this critique applies to Heidegger as well. Essentialist philosophers seek techniques that will reveal the truth by enabling philosophers to look into a thing. "For they see in the essence, not something that already lies open to view and that becomes surveyable by a rearrangement, but something that lies beneath the surface." Rearrangement of things on the surface is what Wittgenstein recommends. Delving beneath the surface, uncovering an occult truth (altheia) is what Wittgenstein warns philosophers away from. When we ask "What is...?" questions, our bullshit detectors should be sounding loudly.

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