[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.


[113,114] There is some overlap here that I want to try to draw out. In 113, Wittgenstein appears to say that when the ordinary and the ideal diverge we philosophers are left blaming ourselves. It is as if we fail to perceive ideally because of an internal or personal defect. "I feel as though, if only I could fix my gaze absolutely sharply on this fact, get it in focus, I must grasp the essence of the matter." That is I must achieve that static perfection implied in the claim or assertion, "This is how things are ...."
This thought is pursued in 114 where Wittgenstein seeks to reveal the idealism in realism. (I reflect on the rhetorical strategy of calling yourself a realist. It reduces your opponents to mere idealists.) Open with the realist's phrase, "This is how things are." Wittgenstein is engaged in self-criticism because the logical form of this proposition is generalized, idealized, and reified in his Tractatus. But he manages to sound like Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism where, in the midst of the Russian Revolution, he engaged in an intellectual attack on the underlying idealism of Ernst Mach's empiricism. Wittgenstein writes, "One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing's nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it." We cannot escape or peer around the edges of our theory of reality.


[112,113] These remarks need to be taken together. Indeed, it raises a question about how remarks are divided. Why isn't this one remark on the disquieting effect of a simile that disguises differences by creating a sweeping similarity. Think of how upsetting it is for physicists when novelists misuse the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle or superstring theory.
What does Wittgenstein have against similes? He opposes only those that create false appearances of unity. His goal for philosophy is to provide a rich description of the world in all its variety and complexity. Simile is at the heart of enterprises that seek underlying unity.
There is a philosophy of education implied here. Learning is a matter of moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar. It is a painful process because in learning you are moving to a different level of conceptualization. Teaching students requires you to help them make this difficult move; it is not about simplifying what they need to learn to make it more familiar (palatable). Evolution is not like creationism. They are incommensurable orientations to reality. They cannot be synthesized into creation science or some other accomodation.


[111] Who or what is Wittgenstein criticizing here? Is it Heidegger's conception of language as "the house of Being"? Is it Freudians who came to regard language as a repository of urges and images akin to the unconscious? Language does appear to have the "character of depth . It appears to have a surface of what is aid or written at this moment and a depth of rules, and a deeper level of possible meanings waiting to bubble to the surface.
Wittgenstein's focus in this remark are the feelings that accompany misinterpretation. I say something to a friend meant to be funny or ironic. It is taken literally and the result is an argument or bad feelings, or just that awful sensation of being falsely accused with no path to redemption. Misinterpretations reveal the fragility of understanding.
As we move from our home culture to another, we have an expectation that misunderstandings will occur. This explains the appeal of traveling -- to see the world differently -- and the fear of traveling. When I was in Korea visiting with my wife's family, I was super sharp for the three weeks. I was alert to every cue and to any sign of confusion or discomfort in others. But I also felt like my adulthood had been taken away. My Korean is awful and rudimentary. My wife had to translate everything and this was arduous (as I like to talk). When misinterpretations occurred, there was no sense of cataclysm. Everyone was patient with me. But within my home culture, thanks to the pace of communication and impatience, things can spin out of control very quickly. Misinterpretations, as Wittgenstein observes, are not merely demands for new information. Rather, their effect is shattering. Why is that? Something important about the relation between language and world is being revealed.


[110] These remarks are simply arresting. Where I was struggling to work through 80 to 100, now I find I cannot turn off the thoughts provoked by Wittgenstein. Everything I write seems inadequate. I look over the last entries and I feel this rising shame that I cannot meet the challenge.
Why do we produce and succumb to grammatical illusions like the uniqueness of language and thought? Wittgenstein contends that these illusions are not mistakes, but superstitions -- stories we tell in order to make sense of occurrences that cannot be confronted directly. We want to say, "Of course thinking is special!" I have a conversation going on in my head. It is private; it is between me and myself; and keeps me from falling into a deep chasm of solitude. This is a divinity within. It creates and it comforts. I regard it as a halo, a source of illumination and warmth, as a sign of unvarnished truth as apprehensible. Moreover, it remains something private. All attempts to commit this pure thinking to the page fails. The brightness is gone as soon as it is made visible. Words appear inadequate to the task of conveying thinking.
Wittgenstein wants us to get rid of all of this, beginning with the inner/outer duality that houses the illusory uniqueness of thinking. But before I begin this, I feel like I must see an alternative. I can intuit that Wittgenstein is correct, but now the creative impulse must fill the vacuum created by devastating critique. To me, at this juncture, I feel I must call upon the uniqueness of thought -- its utopian dimension -- and in doing so I fall back into the duality I was seeking to escape.


[109] I keep thinking about the assertion, "And we may not advance any kind of theory." The kind of theory Wittgenstein appears to be criticizing here is instrumental in nature -- theory as a net that catches empirical claims, theory as a covering law, theory as a guess that then must be instantiated, and so on. But this is not theory in its etymological sense. Theoria, is rooted in the act of seeing. A theory is a substantive claim about the nature and organization of reality. In this sense, we cannot help but to advance a theory. Wittgenstein certainly does. Reality is linguistic or conventional. It is organized in the form of language-games. What Wittgenstein is doing in the Philosophical Investigations is offering a travelogue of language-games he has visited.