[116] With the semester getting off the ground and this being the season for conferences, it sure is easy to let things slip. But look at this remark! "What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their ordinary use." The "we" here is philosophers who work in basic agreemnt with Wittgenstein. But if they follow his example closely enough, the result will be the end of a discernible enterprise called Philosophy.

By using words like "Being" or "Object" in the isolated context of professional philosophy, philosophers necessarily privilege them. That is, the words are removed from how they are used ordinarily and therefore granted a mystical, friction-less quality. They are thought to have an essence. When philosophers stop using words in this way, when they stop considering their activity as somehow purer than other practices that compose the mosaic of ordinary life, then philosophical activity will be dispersed across this varied terrain.

So much for those who think Wittgenstein's conventionalism and descriptivism code words for conservatism.


[115] "A picture held us captive." What pictures hold us captive? Wittgenstein was referring to the picture of language as following the logic of propositional form that was the foundation of his Tractatus. I think of the role that pyramids or hierarchies play in the way we organize reality. There are pyramids for class structure, for the organizations of phyla, for decision-making processes, and so on. They are there to justify a claim, usually, by whomever sees themselves at the apex. Think of those who bastardize Darwinism by talking of survival of the fittest and the domination of humans as the top predator.

Another picture was been dissembled by Wittgenstein through his Investigations: the picture of binary oppositions from mind/body, subject/ object, inner/outer to word/object, signifier/signified.

Let me a take a moment here to note the passing of Donald Davidson. Davidson's work on the relations between language, others, and reality constitutes one of the great contributions to philosophy in the contemporary era. He has been called the most important philosopher in the world by Richard Rorty among others. There is accuracy here, but it is a little like being called the most important opera singer in Arkansas.

Back to the pictures that hold us captive: In this elegant little remark, Wittgenstein offers a clear program of study for aspiring philosophers.