Wednesday, October 13, 2010

(hopefully more time for the Platonic geometer tomorrow)

What is the spiritual destiny of a state? This might be the proper way to ask in terms of a phenomenology of spirit how to understand the distinction between state and church. The individual gives himself over to more than one kind of common destiny, so that there are destinies which are not ultimate in the way of the destiny of the church. However, the destiny of an individual fits in with the destiny of the church, but the destiny of a state seems not to fit in so nicely. My American upbringing (read “the manifestation of objective spirit which forms in part (which 'part?') the material for my own self-offering destiny,” if you like) makes it horrible for me to think that a nation might simply have no destiny of its own, might be only a collective tool of individuals — unless such a lack were the determinate self-negation of national destiny itself. On the other hand, the state seems to become something monstrous as soon as it lays claim to destiny. Our own history has involved a gradual abdication from a sense of “manifest destiny” learned perhaps only through the wretched enactments of that perceived destiny. On the other hand, this abdication seems to be nothing peculiar to our history — more of a destiny of the whole Western world. Nevertheless, I find it is beyond me to deny that America is something. If anyone has any idea what, please let me know.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

“For to think does not mean to be an abstract 'I', but an 'I' which has at the same time the significance of intrinsic being, of having itself for object, or of relating itself to objective being in such a way that its significance is the being-for-self of the consciousness for which it is [an object]. For in thinking, the object does not present itself in picture-thoughts but in Notions, i.e. in a distinct being-in-itself or intrinsic being, consciousness being immediately aware that this is not anything distinct from itself.”

I think the following is true—whether it's Hegel is another question:

Thinking an object means more than representing it for consciousness. For what can be represented to consciousness is not what can be thought. I can represent a circular thing to myself but I cannot represent a circle. The most I can do is represent something as representative of a circle. But even this "as" does not appear within representation. Only by hypothesizing the circular as the equal distance of points from a center on a plane do I form the concept of the circle. This hypothesis can be drawn through a figure, or better, through the tracing of a figure, and continually depends on the repetition of such a figure, in order to persist as the superseding of this figure. The circular is the determinate nothing constituted by the vanishing of a circular figure.
This concept of circularity is only a model: the discovery of the circular as the vanishing of a figure is not yet thinking, but it is like thinking. It is like thinking in that it supersedes what can be represented and is this superseding. Thinking, however, does not inhere in a mathematical approach to things, but in the disclosure of the thinghood of things through work. The proper object of consciousness shows up not in the light of the indiscriminate overturning of representation, but in the light of the good. At first this light shines in the proximate good which makes the object of work show up as something to be developed. Something that has to be worked into shape presents itself to the worker as resistance: it resists its own being—what it is supposed to be. Abstractly, the thing seems just to be what it is. In the light of the good which shines through work, it shows up as the concept of itself, which is to say that it shows up as really being what the working consciousness, referring to the good, has placed upon it to become. What from the outside seems to be a projection of the working consciousness on its object shows up in this light as the true being of the thing in itself.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How can an account of the development of consciousness divide itself between two incompatible consciousnesses? The “subservient consciousness” of the bondsman does not have any of the benefit of the developments already conditioning the “independent consciousness” of the lord. It lacks a developed pursuit of recognition, yet it purports to be a result of this development. To be sure, “the action of the [bondsman] is the [lord]'s own action; for what the bondsman does is really the action of the lord.” But the action of the bondsman is what is to become thinking, and at this point doing someone else's action reaches a limit—no one can think for anyone else. On the other hand, it is not the bondsman who encounters this limit of his recognition nor, superseding it, the concomitant vanishing of the one-sidedness of the recognition. Thus, the dialectic seems to allow the lord to have done the thinking of the bondsman.
Perhaps the thinking by which self-consciousness passes from lord to bondsman to develop itself belongs neither to one nor the other. But then, to whom does it belong? The strange drift of the Hegelian wind seems once again to have blown thinking right out of the reach of any one who wanted to accomplish it.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Stand by for more Hegel blogging. In the meantime some thoughts on that other threefold circler:

If, as Patrick Boyde has observed, Dante exploits the indeterminate phases of perception to create suspense, then the prelude to Geryon's arrival in Inferno amplifies this effect by disposing the monster's appearance out of the darkness as the expected, yet answer to a sign. When Virgil throws Dante's girdle down into the pit, the disappearance of the cord cuts a path into the darkness, through which Geryon can make his appearance. Dante, indeed, already perceives this possible arrival as a necessity:
"And surely, something strange must here reply,"
I said within myself, "to this strange sign--
the sign my master follows with his eye."

The sign is a cord, "knotted and coiled." It recently had the practical function of girdling Dante's attire, and once the allegorical function of enabling Dante "to catch the leopard with the painted hide." By divesting himself of it, Dante at once divests it of this its double significance--or rather, he testifies to the loss of its allegorical function. The history of the cord runs thus: once, it was an allegory--or a thing waiting to become one, like a coiled snake waiting to strike, its allegorical destiny bound within it; then, its significance waning, the allegorical occasion having escaped it, it became a mere thing, its knots and coils girdling only attire; now, Dante having "loosened it completely," the cord is loosened from its literal function as well. Yet, it remains "knotted and coiled." Around what, and binding what? Nothing, to be sure. But this nothing is a determinate nothing: the loosening of a thing from its literal and allegorical significance. Its meaning is now only this loosening, which it binds. "Strange sign," indeed.

Friday, September 17, 2010


A thing is infinite. That is, if it is a thing in truth, and not a heap. A heap, too, can be a thing, of course, and perhaps it is in observing the thinghood of a heap that we can see the infinity of a thing most unquestionably, and venture an essay on the source of the infinity of a thing.

Let there be a heap of laundry accumulating on the floor of a young fellow's dorm room. At first, the fellow's roommate kicks off his socks after getting into bed and pushes them out onto the bare floor. The next morning, the fellow returns from class to find his roommate has finally awoken and dressed, which means his underwear have more or less joined the socks. The fellow figures his roommate will clean up later—too busy playing Halo at the moment; the fellow understands how it is. That night the fellow's roommate deposits his pants, undershirt, t-shirt and cap on top of the socks and underpants, perhaps with the idea of putting the same clothes on in the morning. But overnight the loose collection of articles of clothing has transformed into laundry, and the roommate confirms their expiration as components of a wardrobe by jumping out of the top bunk directly over them.

All is not right now in the room, our fellow discerns as he blearily awakens.

To be continued.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Attempted paraphrase of Phenomenology of Spirit, A.I. "Sense-Certainty"

The deficiency of sense-certainty is not the lack of a warrant for following it through to a thing-in-itself, but its incapacity to fix certainty on any “this”—neither the “this” which it claims to sense nor the “this” which it is as absolute source of sensation. It cannot even refer to what it supposes itself to have as certain—since in the moment of grasping it, its “this” disappears—and the “this” which would be left over by negating the “here and now” is not immediate, which is to say it is an abstraction from anything which could be the certain object of sense. The negation of the abstract universal does not, however, simply sweep the last shred of certainty away into a Kritik-al trashcan, but turns universality back over to the world of the senses. “This” insofar as it can have a referent refers to a universal “here-now” which, infinite in itself, comprises many finite “here-nows.” The universal “this” encompasses the “thises” which have proven unreal. It is the thing in its thinghood—a mediated immediacy.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


In reply to my questions about past love, minionofthepope writes:
But why is God dead at the end of your piece? The sentence makes me think I did not understand your post.

He is asking about the question, "How do you keep a promise to a dead god?" In putting this question, I seem to have fallen into (or fallen in love with) a way of talking that I don't understand and which in the past I myself have questioned. Now, I am like a fool who cannot even say what made him say what he said. It strikes me now as empty. Yet, I cannot persuade myself (is this just pride?) that I was a fool to say it.

Can we take this change as a case in point? Was there a god here making me say things I did not understand? Then where is that god now? If it is gone and dead, how can it have been a god? Certainly, it is not the God who "at every time and in every place,...draws close to man" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1). By withdrawing from me after exacting my promise it has withdrawn its right to be called a god. But a god does not change, so it never was a god. Never to have been a god: this is how a god dies.

Well, and if it is not that God beside whom we are to "have no other gods," why should I feel that I ought to remain faithful?

And so after many twists and turns, and feeling that I had escaped the danger, I find myself back in the same position as before, renouncing the unknown god.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ayn Rand romanticized cigarette smoking--I forget in what context--as a profound act of human domination over nature: taming fire to our pleasure, to the point of holding it between our fingers. The same principle could be applied to a plethora of pleasurable indulgences. In a recent Wall Street Journal review of Stan Cox's book on the far-reaching environmental, social, geographical (etc.) effects of air-conditioning, Losing Our Cool, Eric Felten cites this "can-do" defense of technological comforts on behalf of American use of AC:
[Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini] notes that the refusal to suffer the sweaty indignity of equatorial heat is "the antithesis of passive resignation," and thus a perfect expression of the can-do American character. "In America, air-conditioning is not simply a way of cooling down a room," Mr. Severgnini writes. "It is an affirmation of supremacy."

I don't believe Felten and Severgnini have considered the full hierarchy of supremacy asserted in the decision to turn on the AC (to escape the "equatorial heat" which has magically swept up a thousand miles north of the equator). I exercise supremacy over nature, to be sure, when I adjust the thermostat, but my exercise of power is itself subordinated to the hierarchy of power within me. I have often turned on the A/C in my car or in the house with as little thought as a chain smoker gives to lighting his second cigarette. Precisely what compels me I am not prepared to say, but it suffices to observe that pressing buttons, flipping switches, and turning dials is not generally speaking a free act of self-assertion. Compare the will with which one turns on the AC, and the will with which one says, "Enough!" and flips the switch in the other direction.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Everyone knows that marriage is a private affair, right? Two people commit their lives (or maybe just "a chapter" of their lives if they're destined for a no-fault divorce) to each other, and this commitment makes each of them either happy or miserable, but it has nothing to do with politics.

The idea that a given marriage has public significance is considered ludicrous. If America had a failed marriage for every time someone sneered publicly at the notion that countenancing gay marriage would "somehow" undermine the fabric of marriage itself as a political institution, I reckon almost half our marriages would fail. (oh, wait...)

Well, haters, what if it turned out that the success or failure of every marriage had a significant influence on every other marriage within two degrees of separation? Rose McDermott:
'A person's tendency to divorce depends not just on his friend's divorce status, but also extends to his friend's friend.
'The full network shows that participants are 75 per cent more likely to be divorced if a person - obviously other than their spouse - that they are directly connected to is divorced.
'The size of the effect for people at two degrees of separation, for example the friend of a friend, is 33 per cent.

Like most social research findings, this should be obvious. Marriage is not just an arrangement between two people to meet the needs of each other's souls and bodies. It is a ministry to the world. Like any ministry, it turns poisonous as soon as it becomes self-centered.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sound and Sound Judgment

Ashok Karra finds a conflict between civic and private virtue in the Seven Against Thebes. The Theban king Eteocles, he says, displays his civic prudence and "effectiveness in the public realm" in assigning the champion face each of the seven attackers led by his brother Polyneices. He rebuffs the attack through sound generalship, and thus also rebukes the fear of the women who were overwhelmed by the sound of the enemy's approach. The question, Ashok says, is not whether Eteocles as agent of the city has some right and mandate to pit himself against his brother; the question is "to what degree Eteocles’ effectiveness in the public realm threatens the very existence of the private."

His point, I take it, is that the threat to the city's existence justifies the city in sending Eteocles to face Polyneices, even if it does not justify Eteocles in fighting and killing his brother. But is not the destruction of family at the highest level of the city itself a more mortal threat to the city?

Eteocles chastises the women for taking the enemy approach too much to heart:
Chorus: The snorting of horses! There, I hear it.
Eteocles: Do not listen; do not hear too much.
If the assignments of the champions to the seven gates of the city proves Eteocles' prudence, then his prudence consists in not hearing too much, in refusing to take in the terrible flood of merely sensory presentation of danger:
No equipment of a man will make me tremble
Devices on a shield deal no one wounds.
The plumes and bells bite not without the spear.
The correlations which Ashok astutely observes between the emblems of the Theban defenders and those of the attackers work out Eteocles' philosophical policy of pitting being against seeming (Amphiaraus, the only attacker who is "best not at seeming to be such / but being so," is interesting as the exception). Something has purged Eteocles of pity and fear. It has made him a dangerous man. Inasmuch as the sound of jangling war-gear and beating hooves has lost its hold over him, he has become insensible as well to the threat of mutual fratricide, a greater danger to the city than even extinction. If the women hear too much, Eteocles does not hear enough. "Do you hear me or not?" he asks the women. "Or are you deaf?" But he has shut his own ears to the voice of pity, speaking poetically in the bells and plumes of the enemy outside the gates.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Popularization of Toleration [ii]

As a matter of messaging, Addison does present himself as the agent of a transfer of a possession from one place to another. Commentators often quote the passage from Spectator No. 10 in which Addison writes,
“It was said of Socrates that he brought Philosophy down from heaven, to inhabit among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me, that I have brought Philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses.”
What was once the exclusive possession of the educated upper class, Addison strives to make publicly available (with a particular eye to the rising middle-class frequenters of the establishments to which philosophy is to be delivered). The metaphor of transference indicates that the task is to bring an idea into the reach of minds which have not received it before.

This ambition of liberating philosophy from the inaccessible regions in which it lies hidden follows—or perhaps more accurately, initiates—the general democratizing tendency of the Lockean tradition. As Kenneth Maclean argues in John Locke and English Literature of the Eighteenth Century, the project of intellectual equalization becomes conceivable (though not necessarily possible) on the basis of the rejection of innate ideas. According to Maclean, the “new stress on the education of the young apparent in the literature and life of the Eighteenth Century may well have been the result of Locke's philosophy which had cast aside innate ideas and made experience requisite for all knowledge.” The enthusiasm of a Richardson or a Chesterfield for Lockean education shows “the truth that this philosophy was a leveling force and fostered intellectual democracy. The process of equalization begins, it appears, with the denial of innate ideas.”

Yet, when it comes to delivery, the ideas of modern philosophy (which for Addison means above all Locke) come across not entirely in the same form. It would indeed be no exaggeration to say that in some cases they come across completely inverted. The case of wit and judgment is exemplary. Aside from the fact that the eighteenth century intellectual tradition of distinguishing wit and judgment regards Locke as its founder, the concept of wit itself crystallizes the essential difference in approach between philosophy and the popularization of philosophy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Economy of Tradition

From Daniel Kroeker, in the comments:
The economy may be fixed, but until there is something behind the decisions that fix it which touches every citizen with a new self-actualizing power and liberty, we will remain a people unworthy of our tradition...What it's really going to take is some generation or other having the humility and prescience to say, "We must give our children something we have lacked--an education which may save our democracy."

What it takes to be worthy of our tradition is to give our children something the tradition did not supply us with. A generation receives the tradition worthily only if it augments the tradition in passing it on. The virtue of the strong anti-traditional current in the American tradition is this requirement that its inheritors not rest with what they have received.

What has to be added to the American tradition? First of all, Daniel says, "humility and prescience." Then, by the light of these virtues, we must discover "an education which may save our democracy." I don't know whether it would be prescient to study the ancient Greeks: does our future lie in their past? But at least it would require some humility to learn from them while we cherish our own tradition, which has come so far since the fifth and fourth centuries BC.

Plato's Republic may teach us the lesson we need to learn, provided we are not reading it to "meet the demands of [our own] souls" (see rimwell's cautionary remark). I'm learning that the issue in the Republic is what good we can do the next generation (an aspect of the text you don't see when you're reading it in college as part of "GeneratioNext" yourself). The question of the nature of justice arises directly from a consideration of whether diligent stewardship of money supplies this good. Cephalus believes he has done right by his sons by leaving them a little more than he inherited, but if money does not facilitate justice, as Cephalus says it does, one may wonder whether he has augmented the right inheritance. Yet, perhaps Cephalus can redeem his stewardship by passing on an argument: if Polemarchus inherits the question of justice, this may be due not to some kind of intellectual cowardice in his father, but rather (as rainscape has argued in a paper on this subject) a humble, prescient relinquishment of his spiritual possession.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

If love is real, it does not die. By clinging to this maxim, you might avoid the whole problem of past love; past love would never have been real love. But is this bearable: to believe that your life was ruled by something unreal? Is it even possible? If I found that the object of my love was not real or presented a false appearance, nevertheless the love was real. And surely if it was real and called for devotion, it still is and does even if there is no longer any object whereon it may be fixed.

Perhaps the exercise of this devotion consists in finding a true love, or rather a true beloved, meeting and not merely seeming to meet the ideals of the same love. This transfer might preserve the piety of love, but is it true to the beloved? Is it not callous and indifferent thus to fix old, once-or-twice-or-many-times-vexed hopes upon a new object innocent of those old disappointments? Does it not make of the beloved a sort of sacrificial victim to your ideals?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What do you owe to past love? When love first strikes, it demands everything from you – and being unable to resist but not having everything to give you promise it the future. But then through its series of unaccountable disappointments, love withdraws. Then what happens to the promise?

Perhaps in embarrassment you disavow it: you never promised, you never were the one who promised; you begin again.

At sufficient distance from or after too many repetitions of these negotiations, the resulting fragmentation of your life's story becomes a problem. But the only way to recover the whole is to take up the promise. And how can you keep a promise to a dead god?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

pieces of flair

I really don't know what to say when professors give a minimum word count, and then complain when you do not much exceed that word count. So I'll let Jennifer Aniston speak for me:

Well, it seems even she found it too much for words.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Popularization of Tolerance [i]

(more on musical form soon, if anyone is interested)

If we take it for granted that the unity of a morally divided political body is worth working for, and that the remedy for moral division is the development of broad-mindedness, how should we inculcate this virtue in the people? I believe that we have seen the failure of simply expounding this principle by direct promulgation (preaching to schoolchildren), narrative exempla with the moral readily extractable (the after-school special), and habitual disapproval of anything smelling even faintly of "fundamentalism" (passim). Ask around and I'm sure it won't take you long to find someone who will affirm for you the absolute necessity of transcending one's own perspective while they themselves can demonstrate no idea of anyone else's. The political party which in America currently fuels itself with the sentiment (you know what I'm talking about by now, if you've been following the current administration's practice of "bipartisanship") satisfies itself and its constituents with emphatic (no doubt sincere) pronouncements of it--while often evidencing no greater understanding of their rivals' principles than their rivals do of theirs. Getting a moral principle into people's heads gets them no closer to principled moral behavior. Broad-mindedness in particular becomes nothing more than an especially stupid narrow-mindedness when it makes its way into politics by way of an explicit concept.

But didn't Joseph Addison notch down the rancor of the political rhetoric of early eighteenth century England, and encourage a common ethic of tolerance, by teaching the people to read John Locke? It seems he did. But close examination of the methods by which Addison influenced the people, and of his explications and clarifications of Locke's thinking, reveals the incommensurability of his success with Lockean principles of education.

More to follow.

readings yesterday

  • Maclean, Kenneth. John Locke and English Literature of the Eighteenth Century. "Book One: Neither Principles nor Ideas are Innate." [summary]

  • Harper's:
    • Lapham's editorial;

    • de Botton, Alain. "Arrivals." From a book (forgot the title)

    • Farley, Paul. "Quality Street" (poem).

    • Smith, Heather. "Squeal Estate."

  • The Economist (browsed).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Musical Form of Thinking [ii]

Far more than the "technique of finance and the technique of construction" lifted the formal and material limitations of architecture, the technique of digital representation lifts the material and formal constraints on music. One could compose music today by entering a series of hexadecimal characters. Or at least, so one might conclude from the fact that a digital recording of a musical performance is nothing else but a long, algorithmic concatenation of answers to positive yes-or-no questions (i.e., a series of 1's and 0's). If we can reproduce musical performances in this way, why not produce them digitally to begin with? (Here I'm not talking about "digital instruments" like the keyboard or the drumitar, with palpable spatio-temporal interfaces--just typing characters into a computer).

The temptation is to think that one only needs to accomplish a more complete synopsis of the possibilities of sound, and then freely achieve perfect forms of music without regard to any limitations. Well, why not? Is it so different from composing? Doesn't a composer put the tune he hears in his head down on paper according to a standard, completely interpretable notation?

Unlike a software engineer, a composer does not presuppose any algorithmic 'mode of projection' on the part of the executor of his notations. True: the musical notations do to some extent describe a series of sounds with a determinate pitch, volume, duration, and sequence. Yet such a series is not yet a tune. It is merely what the listener has to take no notice of in order to hear the tune. (As soon as you start focusing intently on the tones in a tune and trying to add up the positive features of sound, you stop hearing the tune.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Inelegant Discussion of Confinement

Today the difference between a good and a poor architect is that the poor architect succumbs to every temptation and the good one resists it.
--Wittgenstein, Culture and Value (the quotation is from 1930)

How can the difference between good and poor change so that it is something different "today" than it once was? Isn't it always the criterion of a good architect that he designs good buildings?

Well, what makes a building good? That depends: what is it for? In the light of this question, the architect (to put it roughly) chooses materials suitable to the purpose and within the means of the client to procure, and designs a form within the limitations imposed by this material. However, these last two limitations (the availability of materials and the physical constraints on the structuring of materials), as Le Corbusier observed in 1923, erode over time: "The technical equipment of this epoch -- the technique of finance and the technique of construction -- is ready to carry out this task [of conceiving and planning towns throughout their entire extent.]" The new range of possibility open to the architect, Le Corbusier says, requires a new "breadth of vision" to match it. Only by drawing form and material together under this "breadth of vision" would architects catch up to engineers, whose ready grasp of and application to "problems" had given them the edge. But Le Corbusier raises no question as to whether the first limitation on architecture, namely, what it is for, can in principle open up under the advances of technique, or whether the broadening of vision would always exceed the bounds of purpose within which a 'good building' is even conceivable.

One cannot be certain what Wittgenstein meant by "temptations" of architecture, but certainly enough a temptation was manifesting itself to the practice of architects for the first time as he wrote: a temptation to indulge the architect's vision on a scale indifferent to limitation. Here it is not a question of limitations imposed on a work by technical deficiencies, but of the confines (or in a more architectural term, the enclosure) of the form of life within which the work could take its direction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

readings yesterday

Koethe, The Continuity of Wittgenstein's Thought (browsed) [notes]
Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (browsed) [notes]
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, secs. 477-486. [notes]

The Musical Form of Thinking [i]

It might be unobjectionable to say that thinking has musical form, up to a certain point. You can see that it involves a certain dissonance which is resolved, perhaps by a series of logical cadences or perhaps all at once, in the thought which you have been trying to reach.

"I am thinking my way towards something." Here you feel the thought as what would satisfy, though you can say nothing else about it yet.

But what about the thought itself? Aren't my thoughts punctiform, static, and complete in themselves, once I have arrived at them? At least, those thoughts which I am inclined to call "thoughts about facts." There do seem to be two kinds of thoughts: 1) those having to do with "what is the case," (facts) and 2) those having to do with the directedness/intentionality of the one thinking (shall we say, values). The latter would seem to have something musical about them, but the former, well, not so much: "prosaic" seems more the word.

When do I have a thought about what is the case? I reach for an example, and notice the beer next to me and think the words, "This beer is empty." When does this thought occur to me? When I reach out to drink the beer, perhaps even raise it to my lips and find with a shock of disappointment that nothing is inside. Then of course, there is the case (as in the present) of looking for an example in philosophy--then I say, look, this bottle will do: it has a distinctive fact about it. Here for once it is "the fact that" and not the emptiness of the beer that occurs to me. But I wanted the emptiness of the bottle, that was supposed to be the example. So the thought becomes of no use, it turns out to be empty of its expected exemplarity. (An example, too, I can 'raise to my lips' in expectation, and likewise find it already drained.)

Try and pick up one of those "punctiform, static, and complete in itself" thoughts, and see if it serves your purpose.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How to not say what cannot be said or not said.

It's common to divide Wittgenstein's philosophy into two phases: there is the Wittgenstein of the TLP and then there is the late Wittgenstein (and maybe also a middle one). There is some obvious justification for this division. When he published the TLP, Wittgenstein claimed to have dissolved all the problems of philosophy -- so that the very fact that he later returned to philosophy indicates that at least this assessment of his early career came under revision. Furthermore, it is a fact that Wittgenstein explicitly criticized aspects of the Tractatus. Besides, the reader of the Philosophical Investigations can hardly fail to gather that something radically different from the TLP is going on in this text.

Yet, it is not possible to account for the difference between the early and late Wittgenstein by saying that what earlier he maintained he later denied. Conversely, the important continuity will not be indicated by saying that he continued to assert certain propositions, e.g. that "The world is all that is the case." Part of the problem, I have been trying to say, is that it is not clear in what way Wittgenstein asserted anything at all even in the TLP, since the propositions therein are famously denied the status of propositions, and therefore the possibility of being asserted. But there is more than one way of not asserting non-propositions. The shift or shifts in Wittgenstein's thinking have most fundamentally to do not with what philosophy should say or not say, but how it should go about its task of keeping silence.
Can you really make a promise to yourself? Give yourself a command? Expect yourself to do something? Or should you just say "I will..."?

I resolved yesterday to spend three hours writing every day and immediately I had the feeling that there was no one to whom I could appeal, or apologize when I fail.

If you can make a promise to yourself you can also give yourself excuses.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ashok Karra invites us to rethink the fear of death. Is constant expectation of the exhaustion of time even compatible with a good life, let alone the basis of one? The site of this rethinking is Emily Dickinson's "Each Second is the last:"

Each second is the last
Perhaps, recalls the Man
Just measuring unconsciousness
The Sea and Spar between.

To fail within a Chance -
How terribler a thing
Than perish from the Chance's list
Before the Perishing!

About the opening line Ashok observes, "But something is dubious about the proposition in merely articulating it: it was recalled after a second had passed." In the time it takes to summon up a generalization that can tell us about the present moment, the moment passes. Perhaps instead of "merely articulating" the proposition as such the Man should have gone further--and this is not to say that he should have also applied the generalization to the new present moment (since this, too, makes the moment disappear), but rather that the difference between generalization and application should have been surmounted.

Doesn't one fear what can be present? But the fearful perhaps is already past when the proposition reaches it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Renunciation and limitation seem to be related in the following way: one discovers or invents or receives limitations and thereupon renounces what lies on the far side in obedience to these limitations. This would be, for example, John Locke's sense of the renunciation called for in philosophy. Does this happen in every case? It seems to in these following at least:

If I renounce speaking about God perhaps it is because I have been taught or found out for myself that the concepts of my language are inadequate to God. If I renounce sweets it is perhaps because I recognize the limitations of my metabolism, or perhaps the limitations of my discipline.

But what of the renunciation of the picture of mental processes? Is this renunciation in obedience to a limitation?
"But surely you can't deny that, for example, in remembering, an inner process takes place." -- What gives the impression that we want to deny anything? When one says, "Still, an inner process does take place here" -- one wants to go on: "After all, you see it." And it is this inner process that one means by the word "remembering". -- The impression that we wanted to deny something arises from our setting our face against the picture of an 'inner process'. What we deny is that the picture of an inner process gives us the correct idea of the use of the word "remember". Indeed, we're saying that this picture, with its ramifications, stands in the way of our seeing the use of the word as it is.
(PI, Sec. 305)
Or in another place:
As I have often said, philosophy does not call on me for any sacrifice, because I am not denying myself the saying of anything but simply giving up a certain combination of words as senseless. In a different sense, however, philosophy does demand a renunciation, but a renunciation of feeling, not of understanding. Perhaps that is what makes it so hard for many people. It can be as hard to refrain from using an expression as it is to hold back tears, or hold in anger.

Is this renunciation in obedience to a limitation? If it were a denial of mental processes, it would be easy to understand it in this way. However, Wittgenstein is explicit that "[t]he great difficulty here is not to present the matter as if there were something one couldn't do. As if there really were an object, from which I extract a description, which I am not in a position to show anyone." Wittgenstein here denies denial as an explanation of his thinking. There is in this special denial a development of the position taken in the Tractatus. Here Wittgenstein's thinking becomes more musical. In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein thought that he could draw a picture of the other side of a limitation and deny this picture, provided that this denial came under erasure--under the retractions applying the general renunciation of propositions: the ladder thrown away.
I said last week that I am inclined at times to pursue possible directions of thinking "methodically one at a time as they occur to me." I wonder now how I can have thought that made any sense.

For the time during which I pursued things as they occur to me, one could say that I was following a certain method. But this only proves that the meaning of the word "method" submits so pliably to philosophical extension that it can be applied easily to its opposite. The concept in that case disappears.

This "method" is the same as that to which I contrasted it: pursuing all the directions for thinking "in a frantic mixture."

Apparently my invocation of method was just a cover for my consummately frantic disposition.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Goodness gracious you people have posted a lot of comments lately. I promise I will get to them soon.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The recent discussion here of context, limitation, totality, dialectic, confinement, and no doubt some other sixth thing provides me with many different directions to follow. And unlike a certain person I could name if he were not pseudonymous, my habit in such a situation is to pursue all the directions, methodically one at a time as they occur to me, or in a frantic mixture. The motto which now appears at the top of this blog was originally the motto for just this post, but it occurred to me that I would no doubt be repeating it constantly and it may as well cover the whole enterprise. Take it as you wish, however, for perhaps after all one unwavering rule to which I remain confined guides all the directions I take, without my knowing how.

As to confinement itself, I am struck by the manifold of forms this phenomenon takes in philosophy, and I am all afire to begin cobbling together a history of the task of setting limitations which philosophy has been giving to itself at least since the inception of modernity. What good this will do to anyone I do not know but there you have it: it can't be helped. At any rate nothing more will be done this evening.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Confined to all of it

Pseudonoma has some very good questions in response to yesterday's contextualization of the Wittgensteinian mantra, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world." You may recall that I referred this statement back to the opening statement of the work in which it appears: "The world is all that is the case." Here's part of Pseudonoma's response:

How can a whole be MERELY that which divides into parts? Are we not somehow obliged to account for this prior unity as such? And if, at bottom, propositions are (or even merely signify ---feel free to clarify which--) "what is the case, that is, parts of the world", then what are we to call that "language" which refers to the world and which would otherwise SEEM identical in form to the proposition? Or in other words, how are we to define a proposition if the assertion "The world is not something 'about which' propositions are formed" is not a proposition. And finally, what accounts for its SEMBLANCE as a proposition?

Pseudonoma's confinement of our discussion of Wittgenstein is pretty generous: the point to which he would limit us is the same point to which the Tractatus itself and (by the addition of a sign of negation) Wittgenstein's whole career were confined. In addressing Pseudonoma's questions, I will give myself free range over Wittgenstein's writings which do nothing but clarify and develop the statement that "The world is all that is the case."

I beg you to have patience with this statement, the clear truth of which lies in its eventual renunciation (and now I begin to wonder why Pseudonoma takes it to be 'obvious' that the dialectic of Plato is to be preferred here to that of Hegel). And I do wish this "eventual" to be taken seriously as belonging to the renunciation. The Tractatus tries to renounce the statement ahead of time and this is its most serious error.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

a quotation contextualized

Wittgenstein's statement, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" is in a certain sense a repetition of the starting point of the Tractatus: "The world is all that is the case." This starting point is enriched by the findings of section 5, in such a way that the world interpreted in section 1 as a free indirect discourse now shows itself to be identical with a world that I call "my" world. This enrichment comes about by way of what is original in the treatment of truth-functions.

It is a condition of complex truth-functions that the arguments which are to be comprised by the range of the function should be of the same type. They could not otherwise indifferently determine the sense of the function. If we are to reach the result that a truth-function says something, it must also be a condition that the arguments are either elementary propositions or can be analyzed into elementary propositions. It follows from these conditions that elementary propositions are of the same type as the complex propositions which are supposed to have been constructed out of them by the addition of 'logical constants.' Elementary propositions are already truth-functions of themselves. This claim is easy to overlook and hard to swallow, but it is the heart of Wittgenstein's logic.

If all propositions are of the same type, then there is in fact only one type: what is the case, that is, the parts of the world. It is necessary that the world which is the totality of these facts (not a whole greater than them but "divid[ing] into" them) would itself be constituted of the same type as that of the arguments of truth-functions. The world is not something 'about which' propositions are formed. If it were something beyond language then it would also be beyond language to say anything about the world.

It is characteristic of free indirect discourse not to present itself as such. Likewise the world does not come with quotation marks around it. Yet, we "picture facts to ourselves." In other words, we say the world to ourselves. The self thus simultaneously disappears from the world (realism) and becomes its limit (solipsism).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Understanding a sentence

Take the case of trying to understanding a peculiar sentence in a philosophical text. "The limits of my language are the limits of my world," says Wittgenstein at the beginning of section 5.6 of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. This sub-heading, with all its subsidiary remarks, is so full of resounding, paradoxical statements (one would almost have to quote the entire section to give a full catalog) that it is difficult to fathom how it could be the summation of a a very careful and technical analysis of truth-functions of elementary propositions. Life, subjectivity, reality, the will, the world: none of these themes are fields in which anyone would expect an entirely abstract logical discussion to produce anything. What do truth-tables have to do with these substantial issues?

To be continued.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

When I want to know something, I want to see it as it is. I think that if I could put aside everything else that distracts and clouds my vision (everything competing for my attention), I would see the thing alone and find contentment of understanding in a pure comprehension of it. But when I think of times when I have had the feeling, after long contemplation and puzzlement, --"Now I see it"--, it has always been because I finally understood a context.

To be illustrated in the next post.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I've about reached the end of what I can say about what it means to say that Aristotle does not think there is an art of the good life. Hopefully, yesterday's post made it clear that the important question is whether virtue can in any way be an art (techne), as opposed to some other spiritual activity. We won't get anywhere answering this question completely without a close reading of Book VI of Nicomachean Ethics and probably Book V, too.

For now, I just want to wrap this series up by pointing out that the very question about what spiritual activity constitutes virtue is dependent on Plato's philosophical findings as published in the Republic. Plato could still take it as a reputable opinion (endoxa) that virtue is an art. But he brings this opinion to the point of crisis through his account of justice. Book II , which obliquely introduces justice in the form of a division of labor, shows that art as an activity of the soul is subject to competition, not between artists but within each artist's soul; two arts in the same soul ruin each other. The discovery of this competition makes it impossible to think of virtue as an art.

Although, as we've seen, Aristotle starts his treatise on a dialectical ground of opinions, these probable starting points notably omit the formerly reputable opinion that virtue is an art. In this omission, which makes the inquiry of Book VI possible, Aristotle follows the thinking of Plato.

That is all I mean by "There can therefore be no art concerning the accomplishment of the human good, and that is just what Aristotle thinks." Admittedly, I wanted to mean more by it when I wrote it a few days ago, but perhaps I should say that I wanted to mean less, since I was thinking of an identity in the conclusions, and now I am thinking of an identity in the beginning, and of course the beginning is more than half the whole (as both Plato and Aristotle say).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Whether there is an art of the good

In case you didn't make it through yesterday's post, here's where we're at regarding the different anti-systematic factors of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics:
  1. The guiding question of the work has no ready-made place in a system of valid undertakings, justifiable in advance on the basis of their outcomes.

  2. To determine the object of the spiritual activity of posing this question as something political has at least to begin with no scientific basis.

  3. Now let me just add that

  4. Aristotle leaves in question what the spiritual activity itself is, which when it directs itself to politics seems to supply the governing hold on the highest good.

"But if this is so," he says of the possibility of improving our aim by knowledge of the highest good, "one ought to try to get a grasp, at least in outline, of what it is and to what kind of knowledge or capacity it belongs" (tr. Joe Sachs, emphasis mine). Is politics a knowledge or a capacity? As Sachs point out in a note to his translation, "Aristotle does not specify the noun implicit in the substantive adjective "the political" (he politike), so "politics" here, from its context, means either the knowledge, the art, or some other capacity that is devoted to the things of the city."

Whether this indeterminacy is a deficiency of the starting point, to be scientifically honed down to a single definite spiritual activity, or reflects an indeterminacy in the subject matter, remains to be seen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Kinds of imprecision

It is not enough to point out that Aristotle's thinking is not always systematic. For this observation to amount to anything would require an enumeration and clarification of the differences from systematicity in his writings, as well as a demonstration of the extent to which these characteristics of his writings are not merely the mode of presentation of a set of doctrines which is in itself systematic. (One way of reading the Nicomachean Ethics, once it has become obvious that the text cannot be a coherent set of asserted propositions, is to try to identify which of those propositions represent Aristotle's actual doctrine or "considered opinion," and which were only a imprecise scaffolding or dialectical counterpoint. This seems to me still to attribute too much systematicity to Aristotle.)

As Pseudonoma already pointed out, the first hold Aristotle gets on the good of human life in the Nicomachean Ethics is dialectical: there is no scientific grounding for the position that politics is a master art, or that it would belong to such an art to supply governing knowledge of the highest good, or that the ground of a city is higher than that of the individual. Furthermore, as I pointed out in answer, the entire passage bases its validity on the hypothesis that there is a highest human good at all, and it is only in the context of this hypothesis that it even makes sense to say what that highest good would be (whether scientifically or dialectically). This hypothesis is not a presupposition, but a consciously hazarded entrance into a question which it might do no good to pursue. The study of ethics cannot at its inception justify itself as something ethical--which puts the following limitation on the possible findings of ethics: if in the end ethics does some good, and if this is because it directs us to the highest good, then it follows that the good of human life must be accessible without the introduction of the certainty born of deliberation (which means, a fortiori, without ethics); or if ethics does no good, well, that has almost the same result.

But before I can explain my sense of the first book of the Ethics, there is still one more important imprecision to be enumerated...tomorrow.


Prepare for a new wave of KTL proliferation. I think I've figured out a way to be able to write every day. If you notice, however, in the near future that my posts are less precipitous than usual, that is because I am handwriting everything and copying it in later. I'm not doing this on purpose to improve my writing (though I do hope it will), it's just that I can't use my computer in front of my son without his clambering all over me shouting "BAT BAT BAT BAT BAT BAT BAT BAT..."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You might think of Aristotle as a very systematic philosopher. His treatises are for the most part each devoted to one of a range of themes which are still regarded as though they were departments of philosophy: ethics, philosophy of nature, logic, metaphysics, to name the big ones. So you might expect that he would present in each of these treatises a set of doctrines, along with some arguments for them. You might think that it would be pretty easy to separate the doctrines from the arguments and walk away with the "Aristotelian system" in your back pocket. Or you might not, dear reader, I don't know you that well. But I have always tended to expect this systematic structure in Aristotle, and I am even now surprised whenever I find in Aristotle's writings show more sketches toward a way of thinking than finished representations.

Well, that was supposed to be a preface to some remarks about the first pages of the Nicomachean Ethics, but that's all I can do today. I owe you.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Introduction to the identity of Platonic and Aristotelian theories of the good

One man, one art.

This rule is laid down in the Republic of Plato as indispensable to the true city. If we contextualize this principle, which in the course of the Republic comes to light as the definition of justice (viz., "One man, one art"), we see that Plato defines justice as the principle which ensures maximal flourishing (in the sense of completion of a work) of the whole in which it inheres. This definition is justified by the agreement that justice is the human good, combined with the understanding that humans are creatures whose good consists in the completion of some work.

Justice, if the earlier treatment of it in the Republic as one art alongside others retains its currency, turns out to be the art of success in arts. But this definition renders it impossible to apply. One would have to have two arts, the art of justice and the art whose success it is to ensure. But the former art would consist in having only one art, which would make it impossible to have a second art to which it could apply.

There can therefore be no art concerning the accomplishment of the human good, and that is just what Aristotle thinks.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

readings last week

Anscombe, An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus, ch. 11, "Generality."
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Prologue; Q. 1 [notes]; Q. 2, a. 1.
Des Chenes, Physiologia, ch. 2 (-2.3), "Motus, Potentia, Actus."
Saki, "Wratislav"
Wittgenstein, TLP, 5-5.641
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, pp. 3-20. [notes]

essay on the essential mood of language

Wittgenstein's famous notion of a "family resemblance" is introduced obliquely in the opening discussion of language-games in the Philosophical Investigations. There, the question, "But how many kinds of sentence are there?" implies the eventual unstated answer, "Just look and see how they are related."

In order to bring this answer out implicitly, Wittgenstein 'tries' to reduce all utterance to the indicative mood by making explicit the framework of report which is supposed to insensibly accompany all utterances (i.e. "I want you to...," "I would like to know...," etc.). He rightly observes that this reduction does not help to "bring the different language-games together." The resemblance among them and their innate common referability to the indicative must be presupposed for them to serve as arguments of that frame made explicit.

The significance Wittgenstein sees in the possibility of reduction to the indicative (what solipsism means to say but can't) is doubtful. The analysis here of the common referability of different kinds of sentence completely ignores the findings of the previous sections. The test-cases of highly primitive languages make it more plausible that the common mood of utterance would be on a spectrum from invitatory to imperative. The teaching of solipsism itself could be expressed, "Invite this thought into your head: I am everything."

The above example shows that the correlative of invitation/command is not necessarily acceptance/obedience, at least insofar as the latter is taken to express a completely passive position. Acceptance/obedience must itself be reducible to invitation/command, not reciprocally doubling back on the speaker but experimentally or expectantly or hopefully transmitting the same mood or spectrum of moods forward into reality--urging it to respond to my will, soliciting its meaning, demanding its adherence to a physical model, expecting it to resonate with joyful surprise (as when I laugh at a joke)--and so on. The essence of language shows up clearly in the transmissions of its original mood in a way that renders not hopeless the project of scientifically comprehending the common aspect under which all appear (provided that science, too, can be reduced to the original mood).

Furthermore, the transitivity of acceptance/obedience can be transmitted back into the invitation/command, which itself must have listened to something more original.

Two clarifications: first, a 'spectrum' of mood does not repeat the problematic of an indeterminate diversity of functions. It is one mood with two poles--the orientation to one or the other of which is the whole field of ethics. Second: on this understanding, the equivalence of solipsism and realism (as treated in the TLP) has no place. The essence of language corresponds to a sol-"us"-ism, where the "us" is indeterminately defined but must include whatever is most original. The listener is as much the limit of the world as is the speaker. In the face of this contradiction of multiple limits, language ranges from a sociopathic campaign to regularize the conflict of limits according to my own, to a late, lyrical lament arising out of the pain of contradiction between world and self.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Socrates and Adeimantus:
"And what about this? Who would do a finer job, one man practicing many arts, or one man one art?"
"One man, one art," he said.
"And, further, it's also plain, I suppose, that if a man lets the crucial moment (kairos) in any work pass, it is completely ruined."
"Yes, it is plain."

It is this neglect of the crucial moment, due to the interruption of a work, which I would like to put forward as a Platonic cousin of the 'Aristotelian' cousin of the deviance from a terminus ad quem. (Aristotelian is in scare quotes here not because I am aware of any divergence from Aristotle's doctrine on this point in the late Aristotelians, but simply because I am not yet aware of Aristotle's doctrine on this point, if he has one. I suspect it is not too different from Plato's in any case.)

I don't have a great quote for terminus ad quem but "J" proposes a squirrel eating an acorn, preventing its arrival at becoming an oak. The squirrel is of course only fulfilling its own being--nothing "devilish" about that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I wonder whether the principle--which is supposed to be distinctively Aristotelian--that deviance from nature is the result of an interruption of the interval from a terminus a quo to a terminus ad quem could have a common provenance with the Platonic-Socratic sense of the interruption of one work by another, which robs each of its crucial moment. Is a terminus ad quem a kairos?

I'll have to write something later contextualizing this question for those of you who are not picking up my psychic broadcast.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Historicism as the Substantiation of a Material Conditional

Here is Robert M. Wallace's concise description (in his introduction to The Legitimacy of the Modern Age) of the theory of "reoccupation of positions" as an explanation of modernity's pretensions, in opposition to the then-prevalent theory of secularization:
When modern thinkers abandoned the Christian 'answers,' they still felt an obligation to answer the questions that went with them--to show that modern thought was equal to any challenge, as it were. It was this compulsion to "reoccupy" the "position" of the medieval Christian schema of creation and eschatology--rather than leave it empty, as a rationality that was aware of its own limits might have done--that led to the grandiose constructions of the 'philosophy of history.' And naturally these constructions drew more attention to themselves than did the modest idea of possible progress that was overextended (and discredited) in their service.

Although the context in which reoccupation theory emerges is the explanation of a certain overextending attitude of arrogance typical of early, un-self-critical modernity, Blumenberg finds other explanatory uses for it. One might say of it what Blumenberg himself says, incredulously, of the secularization thesis: "If one took the frequency of its application as evidence, there could be no doubt about the historical applicability of the category of secularization. Its productivity seems to be unlimited" (13). In the chapter entitled "The Epochs of the Concept of an Epoch," Blumenberg uses it to dispel the logic by which epochs seem to be necessarily nominal, not real.

The nominal concept of epoch which held sway in the prior "epoch of the concept of an epoch," as exemplified by Bishop Bossuet's Discours sur l'histoire universelle, had as its function the clarification of times. Bossuet, Blumenberg writes,
had still related the concept of an epoch to the privileged standpoint of the contemplator of history for whom the comparison of ages was to be possible. It is not history but this contemplator of history who halts at a resting place so as to survey what happens before and after and thus to avoid anachronisms, the errors that consist in confusing one age with another. (460)

According to Bossuet, these historical vantage points are like the "principal countries" which one marks on a general map of the world as reference points for the others; their function is "to help the memory in the knowledge" of its object. The student of history is supplied with a framework whereby he can frame a material conditional to determine when any given event might have occurred. In principle then, no necessity attaches to the use of any particular collection of epochs.

Blumenberg rather confusingly subverts Bossuet's model of historical error by showing what happens if one takes the material conditional in a more substantial sense of dependence:
The quality of the 'epoch' presents itself, to begin with, as the summation of those features that protect the historian from leveling off the course of history into the monotony of what is always the same, and thus from the error of thinking that anything can happen at any time. Independently of the clerical universal historian's actual intentions, this would perhaps in fact be the most comprehensive definition of the possibilities of error in historical cognition. (460-1; emphasis added)

The sense "that anything can happen at any time" would mean for Bossuet only that a student of history has so blank a sense of the content of history that they are reduced to brute memorization when trying to fix the time of an event's occurrence. Blumenberg brings out the ambiguity of the material formulation arising out of the study of history that "[not] anything can happen at any time": it can be turned to the use of historicism, which would take it to mean that a substantial rather than merely logical dependence prevents any given event from occurring in any but its proper epoch.

The possibility of this subversion of the formulation fits out the mnemonic function of epochs to put pressure on a new historiography which otherwise would have nothing to do with the chronological historiography of a Bossuet. Why should historicism bind itself to strict chronological articulation? In the shift from nominal articulation for the convenience of the student to real articulation of history prior to any studied apprehension, does not the justification for a requirement of chronological exactitude disappear? But insofar as something makes the real principled division of history present itself as an image of the division of history in the mind, or rather as an immanentization of what originally was in the mind, it may be expected to serve the same function as it did in mind--preventing "confusion of times."

Friday, March 12, 2010

I made the mistake of trying to edit today's post before publishing it. Tomorrow, I promise.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Perhaps because Wittgenstein himself in various places renounced the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, his interpreters seem to feel a need to locate the proof which could definitively dissuade a Tractarian believer. I am suspicious of all such proofs by whomever they may be proffered. Anscombe, for instance, claims that the Tractarian claim that the truths of logic are tautological falls to Church's proof "that multiple quantification theory has no decision procedure; that is, that there cannot be a method by which one could settle, concerning any well-formed formula of that theory, whether it was a theorem or not." But a proof could easily be given in turn that the propositions of the Tractatus itself have no "decision procedure," since they all present themselves under the force of the final retraction which denies them the status of propositions. In order for a proof to demonstrate the falsehood of any claim in the Tractatus, it would first have to regard the claim as something which might be either true or false, and in this way it would fail to receive their meaning and wind up having no relevance to the Tractatus whatsoever.

Here is a typical statement (from Culture and Value) of Wittgenstein renouncing the Tractatus:
I might say: if the place I want to get to could only be reached by way of a ladder, I would give up trying to get there. For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now.
Anything that I might reach by climbing a ladder does not interest me.

What Wittgenstein renounces in the Tractatus is its own manner of renunciation--it "throws away the ladder" only after having used it to get somewhere. "It is a great temptation," says another remark in Culture and Value, "to try to make the spirit explicit." If the temptation tries to mitigate itself by intending subsequently to put this explicitation under erasure, that only makes the temptation all the more insidious, because it betrays the spirit while pretending to piety. It is Wittgenstein's succumbing to this temptation in the Tractatus which calls for its renunciation.

Introduction to Wittgenstein's Secular Demonology

Is this the sense of belief in the Devil: that not everything that comes to us as an inspiration comes from what is good?

I wonder what moved Wittgenstein to venture this formulation. It seems calculated to make viable an integration of pious caution with the bold impiety of the age. The atheist who believes in demons would be like the good architect according to Wittgenstein's earlier remark:
Today the difference between a good and a poor architect is that the poor architect succumbs to every temptation and the good one resists it.

But what is the point of treating the moderation of a secular progressiveness as "belief in the Devil," even when the Devil has nothing to do with it? Is this a secularization theory, claiming that even hard-nosed materialists may secretly still believe in the devil? Or a theory of consequential equivalence, claiming only that we might as well say they believe? Or is there yet another possibility, that "Devil" never meant anything other than the indeterminate source of inspirations which do not come from what is good, and that the secular caution of the type of the good architect only makes this indeterminacy obvious?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

reading notes update

Finally finished notes for Ch.7 of Blumenberg.

Some questions on the City of God

It is peculiar that, on the one hand, St. Augustine's demonology justifies itself on the basis of a syllogism in which Christians draw the conclusion, while in other cases, he takes it to be more characteristic of the Christian habit of theological virtue either to resist the conclusion of a syllogism or to defer the scientific pursuit of a middle term. What determines the Christian position with regard to a particular syllogism? Why does the contradiction of divine foreknowledge and human freedom not force something to give by the rules of hypothetical deduction? Why by contrast is the arbitrariness of a beginning of the world in infinite time decisively contradictory to the divine will? Or how can the essence of the divine justice of history, which indubitably exists as the middle term of a syllogism, be withheld for the final judgment?

Evidently, the role of logic in The City of God is not as determinate as might appear from any particular passage.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Divine Dilemma

We too easily flatten (and think ourselves justified in overlooking) the thinking of the early philosophical lights of the Christian age by reading into them a naive and unreflective Platonism. The polemic of apologetics may veer at times in the direction a heavy-handed condemnation of all the likenesses of truth pretending to the position of the original, but we must ask whether it is after all through some studied intellectual ascent that the original becomes discernible as such.

The always insightful and inspiring Bioluminescences blog offers a reflection (not unflavored by the customary proportion of rosemary) on the situation of idolatry and demonism in the derivation of evil presented in St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation. The familiar Platonic structure of imitation subverting original suggests that we should expect that these two forms of imitative divinity would automatically take pride of place in this derivation. Instead, we find the Doctor of Deathlessness (you can use that one, everybody) thoughtfully developing the imitative impieties in the context of a narrative of descent:
The last paragraph of Chapter 11 traces out a particularly striking picture of that path down through rings of Hell on Earth – a set of dominoes crashing down, one after the other, inevitably. But that idolatry and blatant sinfulness we come to expect are found in the middle of that path. They are neither the first causes nor the final effects, but rather the inglorious unfolding of a tragedy whose root is ingratitude and whose fruit is ignorance.

If ingratitude is the ground from which every impious turn begins, is gratitude a guarantee against impiety? Or are there limiting cases in which the most earnest gratitude would still devolve through demonism into a disappearance of piety? How should we read W. B. Yeats's poem, "Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors?"
What they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.

What is there to be thankful for in this instruction? I wonder with a shudder at the identity of these instructors. There is the cold, unpitying savor of tragic joy in this precipitous dependence of all things upon... what remains--when all things are said to hang--for them to hang upon? Nothing. Can we be grateful for nothing?

I believe that the possibility of a redemption of Yeats's poetics hangs upon the answer to this question.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blumenberg's theory of tradition

The question of the legitimacy of the secularization thesis (no not that secularization thesis, the other one)hinges in part on the interpretation of spiritual ownership, a concept which has been much discussed in the short life of this blog. What Blumenberg calls the "background metaphor" of the idea that progress (and a raft of related modern tropes) are not legimitate productions of modernity but taken and twisted from Christian theology is the notion of ideas as spiritual property. How one takes "property" here will determine in what respects it makes sense to speak of modernity acquiring the property of its historical predecessor.

The "anachronism" of the secularization thesis , according to Blumenberg, lies in the difference between the criteria of legitimate ownership respectively maintained by the Christian and modern epochs. From the perspective of Christian theology, "legitimate ownership arises through acquisition from the hand that has disposition over the object." The modern epoch, on the other hand, "produced the axiom that the legitimate ownership of ideas can be derived only from their authentic production." These concepts of ownership as applied to spiritual ownership determine the possibilities of tradition.
I've decided not to clutter up the front page and RSS feed of this blog with haphazard reading notes, but I will still upload these to the "Reading Notes" page linked above. I'll do no more here than mention that the page has been updated.

Eventually, I'll want to replace this page with an embedded google wave or set of waves, open to your collaboration. For now, if you are interested in this sort of thing, just comment if you think I've got something wrong or am missing the point.

Yesterday's reading: Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, chs. 5+6

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Blumenberg's theory of tradition

My first impression of Hans Blumenberg's The Legitimacy of the Modern Age is that it is an inconclusive, tangled mess of fairly interesting historical analysis. I'd leave it at that, but something makes me think (and this might just be the nagging awareness that there is an assigned essay to be written on the text) it would be worth working through it a little more carefully for the argument as it relates to tradition.

I don't have a grand unifying thesis on Blumenberg yet. For now I am just collecting extracts and trying to comment on them.

Within the overall framework of a response to the widely accepted secularization theory of the modern world definitively authored by Lowitz, Blumenberg argues that the underlying metaphor of an illegitimate transfer of property fails to register in the actual difference between the Christian age and the modern. The criteria which according to this metaphor which justifies the claim of secularization theory are "the identifiability of the expropriated property, the legitimacy of its initial ownership, and the unilateral nature of its removal" (23-4). The investigation of each of these criteria displays the temporality of tradition in the logic of its interruptions.

Under the heading of the "unilateralness of the removal" we find an account of the self-secularization of eschatology by the logic of its own annunciation, as the source of "worldliness:"

Franz Overbeck wrote that to the Church, the end of this world seemed near only so long as it had not yet conquered a piece of it. But this conquest came too late to repress 'immediate expectation,' to compensate for the great disappointment. It must have been the other way around: The energy of the eschatological 'state of emergency,' set free, pressed toward self-institutionalization in the world. But this does not falsify Overbeck's statement of symmetry: "As long as the Church possesses this piece, it will continue to be interested in the continued existence of the world; if the last piece is ever really endangered, then she will join her voice in the old cry again." (45)

The "property" in question here is eschatology, and according to the secularization theory the notion of progress appropriates this eschatology unilaterally.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Do you think it's strange that for the last two hours I have been preparing for a qualifying examination in philosophy by reading about sperm?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Following up on Pseudonoma's "definition" of space, Sebastian has declared the conversation on space both over and not over. I do not know whether my contribution will fit in the space afforded by the interval between these two possibilities, nor whether I will even be able to produce this contribution, but let me just get my foot in the door with an aphorism, and may it come to me how I may amplify it tomorrow:

Space is the grant by which logic, not to say first becomes logical, but rather makes this "first" which belongs inalienably to its logicality into a gift.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Who's been up all night writing about Wittgenstein?

I've written a paper much too long to be suitable for a blog entry, but I will be happy to make it available upon request. Excerpt follows:
6.5 When the answer cannot be put into words, neither can the question be put into words.
The riddle does not exist.
If a question can be framed at all, it is also possible to answer it.

One is tempted at a number of points in reading the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to exclaim, perhaps while throwing the book against the wall, “But that's obviously wrong, Ludwig!” Proposition 6.5 seems to afford such an occasion: surely riddles bedevil us all our lives. Leaving aside for now the question of the meaning of being, what about the not uncommon question, “What do I do?” Whether I ask this question as I stumble blearily out of bed on a Saturday morning, or as I confront an overwhelming pile of unprocessed work, or even at the nadir of despair-—in any case, I ask it precisely because no action immediately presents itself, and I am forced to reconsider my disposition to action in a radically different way than when I coast mechanically from task to task. The question has a reflective turn mirrored in its reflexive structure: what do I do? I might as well ask, what does my doing do? Obviously no answer on the order of “Pour a bowl of Wheaties” or “Write an abstract for a conference submission” will serve here, because it would have to be selected from a range of options already “on the table,” which is just what is lacking when I ask this question. Rather, I have come to interrogate the sustaining source of my doings—-yet, this questioning necessarily occurs only in the absence of that source, at the moment of its sudden abandonment: otherwise it would already be providing me with an action and give me no cause to ask, “What do I do?” Now an answer to this question “in words” would not supply what the question is asking for--its satisfaction would take place only in a grant from the sustaining source of my doings. In other words, the answer to this question can only be a conversion: the source and I must reconcile. Does it follow that the question was never put into words in the first place? With careful attention to Wittgenstein's sense of what it means to be “put into words,” we may see in what way it can be said that a riddle such as the one described above is not ever a question put into words.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010



The "active forgetfulness" of which Nietzsche speaks, the forgetfulness of the child, for which he makes Zarathustra long, seems not to be easy to introduce into history. The divine art of forgetting, which is invoked in the fragments of the "Dionysus Dithyrambs," is not the art of human history, whose irreversibility implies memory. In history the price we pay for our great critical freedom in regard to the answers is the nonnegotiability of the questions.

Nietzsche's indelible memory of the theological questions the answers to which have "lapsed" is a function of his commitment to history. And the commitment to history is precisely the context of that lapse.

I hope to have something to say soon about the urgency of a philosophy of history.

Re: Ereignis @ Seynsgeschichte

Pseudonoma seems very enthusiastic about something to do with thinking and time.

Re: Patzig, Günther. 1969. Aristotle's Theory of the Syllogism. Tr. Jonathan Barnes. Dordrecht: D. Reidel. Ch. I, "What is an Aristotelian Syllogism?"

Includes a nice wind-up of part of the discussion of the absence of particular propositions. The reasons adduced for this omission by Ross (following along with the model of scientific practice) and Lukasiewicz (desire to get everything ready to work as both subject and predicate) don't cut it. Instead, the three classes of being given in I.27 are real types (particular, universal, categorical), and only the middle type fits the generalized program for discovering deductions presented in the following chapter, and serves the purpose of making this program possible.

Only half-way through chapter one, but at least I gather that an Aristotelian syllogism is a conditional proposition, rather than a valid generalized argument form. Can't say I see what's riding on that distinction yet.

Re: Blumenberg, H, 1983, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, R. Wallace (tr.), Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press., Pt. I, Ch. 3, "Progress Exposed as Fate"

I'm interested in the hermeneutic framings and reframings. In Ch. 2 Blumenberg took up Gadamer's claim of a "dimension of hidden meaning" displayed through the concept of secularization (which would require one observing it to undergo a turn in order to be undeceived of the undeveloped surface). Now he puts a new spin on the turn, declaring that the thesis "that the modern age is unthinkable without Christianity...gains a definable meaning only through a critique of the foreground appearance--or better: the apparent background presence--of secularization" (30). The hidden dimension turns out to be just as susceptible to partiality.

A frighteningly rebellious attitude seems to run through the argument. The modern age's legitimacy may be predicated on its impulse to kick free of its genesis, to enjoy its own resources in a project of self-development (self-assertion?).

Re: Anscombe, G.E.M., 1959, An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus, London: Hutchinson., ch. 7 "Wittgenstein, Frege and Ramsey"

A tentative new feature on philosophy ktl: quick notes, trying to describe what I think about whatever I read today.

The thesis, more or less, is that the appearance of universals in language is due to the fact that actual relations have to be represented with a meager supply of spatial relations of words. That something is on top of another thing could be represented easily with pictures, but the pictorial relation is referred to rather than shown in words. Result, there appears to be a universal concept "being on top of." Objects relate to each other, not to the relations which relate them. Because it is by their power of so relating that they are objects at all, the concepts are a function of the being of the objects.

I'm not convinced that Wittgenstein "dissolved" the problem of universals in the Tractatus. Anscombe probably doesn't either, but it's hard to tell. At any rate, she doesn't make anything of the fact that importing universals into objects as "properties" doesn't eliminate them. I think the virtue of this procedure, if its pretense to erasure can be erased, is that it returns the universals to their starting point.

Not sure what I mean by that except that I get an exciting sense of recollection when I think of universals as an illusory residue and transpose them into the unprotected, unguided sheer manifold of being of things.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Now that I think of it

To answer my own challenge in the comments of my recent commentary on the historical syllogism of St. Augustine, I am reminded that The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure by then Joseph Ratzinger gives a model of a pious dilation of the final era (I won't say epoch, so as not to suggest I have any sense of "epochality") of history. Perhaps it is time for me to dust off the old Hexaemeron.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I have yet to find a way to answer the challenge posed last month by City in Speech, to say what space is. I have several anxieties which obstruct my attempting any answer to that question. However, in the next day or two I will have something to say at least in the way of destroying those anxieties.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Introduction to the historical-logical demonology of St. Augustine

At the conclusion of his argument in Book II of The City of God that the "gods who demand plays" are manifestly wicked on the evidence of the disrepute in which everyone holds the players (a discussion whose full relevance to a certain cyberpath lately traversed I have yet to realize), St. Augustine gives the following remarkable summary:
And the whole of this discussion may be summed up in the following syllogism. The Greeks give us the major premiss: If such gods are to be worshipped, then certainly such men may be honoured. The Romans add the minor: But such men must by no means be honored. The Christians draw the conclusion: Therefore such gods must by no means be worshipped.

I call this summary "remarkable" for two reasons. First, the nature of the syllogism here shows itself to be such that the act of drawing a conclusion exceeds and does not automatically follow the manifestation of premises. The Christians do not achieve their conclusion on account of being supplied with any further matter of fact than those which were already available to the Romans. A historical comma transpires between the premises and the conclusion. Perhaps this comma shares its source with the obtuseness of St. Augstine's imagined interlocutors, against whom at the beginning of Book II he complains:
If the feeble mind of man did not presume to resist the clear evidence of truth, but yielded its infirmity to wholesome doctrines, as to a health-giving medicine, until it obtained from God, by its faith and piety, the grace needed to heal it, they who have just ideas, and express them in suitable language, would need to use no long discourse to refute the errors of empty conjecture. But this mental infirmity is now more prevalent and hurtful than ever, to such an extent that even ater the truth has been as fully demonstrated as man can prove it to man, they hold for the very truth their own unreasonable fancies, either on account of their great blindness, which prevents them from seeing what is plainly set before them, or on account of their opinionative obstinacy, which prevents them from acknowledging the force of what they do see. There therefore frequently arises a necessity of speaking more fully on those points which are already clear, that we may, as it were, present them not to the eye, but even to the touch, so that they may be felt even by those who close their eyes against them.

Second, St. Augustine here indicates in passing his general theology of history in a way that amplifies its centrality to philosophy. That Christians are conclusion-drawers has everything to do with the fact that for St. Augustine the Christian age is the final immanent development of history. This fact in turn is not merely a way of interpreting the chronology of events but permeates the temporality of all intellectual learning. The significance of the comma noted above between the minor premise and the conclusion is that only Christ brings anything to a conclusion.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mutual exclusivity of reading and graduate study?

I think I may only be able to read one philosophical text in my life. I still don't know which one it should be.

Obviously I distinguish between a) reading and b) passing my eyes over all the words, perhaps in conjunction with an authoritative statement from someone who has succeeded in reading (a teacher, a commentator). I have had occasion to "read" many works in the latter sense. The more I read in this way (i.e. the longer I remain a grad student and thereby submit to the necessity of having read many books in a certain time without regard to the pace of development of my own understanding), the more discouraged and cynical I become.

Every semester I renew my resolve to pay no attention to the requirements of my classes, and every semester this resolve dissipates in the face of an imposed sense of responsibility.

This makes me wonder whether I should be in school. My pace of understanding certainly isn't matched to what the syllabi demand. I haven't entirely given up on finding room in the graduate program for actual learning (I do have some marvelous evenings in the library these days, and ktl is going a long way), but I do sometimes wonder whether there wouldn't be just as much room for it outside the magical "academic community."

On the other hand, perhaps the tedious acquisition of basic facility with and superficial recognition of the themes of a large set of standard texts really is a necessary part of learning philosophy, and I should just stop complaining and get back to work.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

introduction to the assertiveness of non-assertoric propositions

I would like to reach a decision on the question of whether any proposition can remain without a truth-value on account of its not being asserted. First of all, it seems reasonable to ask whether there is any such thing as a proposition which is not asserted. Perhaps the special content of a propositional question? The question demands and waits for answer: is this so, or not? It incorporates a proposition into the structure of a demand. It asks for a decision, and this decision has built into it the same special content as does the demand. Should I assert this, or not? I should, if I find it true. Then how does this finding happen? Do I examine the proposition as a neutral object and then measure my beliefs for agreement or disagreement? If so, in what does this measuring consist, and how is it commensurable with the proposition? i should be looking for a belief that looks like the proposition or like its negation. This means that I must already know what the proposition says, and what my beliefs say, so that I can see whether my beliefs and the proposition say the same thing. But an unasserted proposition:--what does it say? Nothing, but that its assertion would say something. It is this latter something which is to be measured against my beliefs. Therefore, to undertake this measuring, I must first posit the assertion of the proposition, since the unasserted proposition says something incommensurable with the beliefs which need to be checked in order to decide whether I should make it.

Then it is impossible to reach a decision about an unasserted proposition, as to whether it should be asserted, and we do not find any proposition prior to the assertion of it. The appearance that the assertion of a proposition may be suspended in a question arises from the fact that we sometimes find ourselves trying to reach a decision on some point or other (as even now I am trying to do). We think that, because we have externalized the assertion in a realm of possibility, there has been no actual assertion. But wherever (in whatever "realm of being") we put it, we still actually put it there, as an assertion, and so we put it there along with the truth-value which is supposed to be deferred.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Natality and Fate of Tradition

The manifestation of the temporality of tradition, and therefore of the temporality of being in a community, depends on achieving the sense of a founding in terms of a developed consciousness. This means that the provenance of tradition cannot be given in propositional form, whether this proposition should be an unquestioned authoritative mandate or a hypothesis for future verification. However, there is in this fact a substantial piece of information about the sense of a founding—namely, that it is such as to reveal itself not abstractly but only through historical time, not construed as the mere passing of the seconds, minutes, etc. which regulate the motions of physical bodies, but as the medium of a dialectical development of historical perspective. Insofar as tradition involves a responsibility to a founding (as opposed to the thoughtless aping of a fetishized set of protocols, which can be the foundation of no community), it must relate thoughtfully to this founding: it has to know the founding. This knowledge of the founding in its true temporal meaning turns out, as we have seen, to require a development of temporality itself. Formally speaking, this requirement is the temporality of tradition.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Trying to say the impossible one more time

Allow me once again to repeat myself. I seem to have put things so badly in yesterday's post that a more thoughtful statement corresponding in nearly every point to my own intention could be brought against my statement as its negation.

It is exactly because the external view of tradition is my inheritance from the western tradition that I am loth to give it up, and why I cannot accept the necessity of abandoning the internal/external dichotomy as long as this necessity is interpreted as a mandate to roll back consciousness to a point before tradition came to be seen in an externally historical perspective. That is what I meant to say in point 2 of yesterday's post.

I also said yesterday that I am looking for a way to preserve the achievement of the western tradition in affording me the external view, while not being limited by the fact that this view, taken in itself, obscures any possibility of standing within tradition. I think my intention here was admirably paraphrased by pseudonoma as the pursuit of an "escape from the external view without deviating from its most proper intention and aim."

An impasse shows the way forward, because it shows what thinking still has to do. This is why an impasse is not a "dead end."