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Monday, December 19, 2005

Speaking of God
Explorations in the possibility of theological language from Anselm to Levinas

Theology today is most fundamentally in quest of a language and mode whereby it can speak. Above all it is in quest of a language whereby it can speak of God.
              - Thomas J. J. Altizer

In five succinct paragraphs, Thomas Aquinas makes five straightforwardly philosophical arguments about metaphysics. He argues for an unmoved mover, an uncaused cause, a necessary being, a maximum being, and an intelligent end, and each of the arguments fits solidly in the tradition of philosophical arguments right up until the last line of each paragraph, where he appends this shift. At the very last line Aquinas turns it, ending each philosophical argument with some variation of the phrase “et hoc dicimus Deum” (and this we call God). Aquinas takes the philosophical argument using philosophical terms and then turns them to another purpose, turns them with a phrase to speak theologically. This shift is jarring. It is a change of subject that claims not to be changing the subject at all. It is a move from metaphysics to theology that claims to have made no move, to have been speaking only one language all along. The phrase seems so incongruous that we might do better to ask the statement as a question, noting that in question form this is the basic question of theology – what is it, what is this that we call God? Looking at this incongruity, and the seemingly supposed consistency, let us ask with what language we might answer that question.

When we speak of God in the Western tradition, we have spoken in two ways: philosophically and mystically. With philosophy we explain God’s place in our system of thought, the function of the divine within our world and how, so to speak, God works as a thing in this world. With mysticism we emphasize the otherness and uncontainability of God, the ineffability of the divine. Both of these languages, however, are problematic as theological languages. In mysticism we lose God; in this ineffability he slips beyond our world, beyond our comprehension. We are not speaking here of the worst of mysticism, which is a fetish of secrets and obfuscations that believes itself capable of conjuring or decoding the divine, but rather we are speaking of the best of mysticism which comes from this impulse of due reverence but still always loses the divine into the fog of distance between God and mankind. In philosophy, we lose God in the opposite manner. In philosophy we lose God by containing the divine, bringing God into the circumference of our system and thereby describing God as less than God. In philosophy God reaches mankind and enters into the world but, in fact, becomes a part of the world. He becomes contained and counted among the objects of the world – men and trees and elephants and now, God. If God is included in our philosophy, if our theological language is via affirmativa, God becomes an ontological object, a bit of the furniture that makes up the arrangement of things. If God is beyond our philosophy, if our theological language is via negativa, then the divine doesn’t enter our world and is irrelevant to it. We have God inside and God outside and neither of them are what we want when we want to speak of God. Both our traditional modes of theological speaking, then, are troubled by an inability to say what it is we want to say; we are floundering for a language with which to say what this is that we call God.

We need, somehow, to have God in our world without our world containing God. We need, somehow, God outside our world without eliminating God from it. The God we want to call God is both beyond comprehension and is somehow also comprehensible. If we play it one way we lose God, the other and we still lose God. We seem then to be in an impossible bind. If God is in our world then this thing which we call God is less than God, if outside it, then God is irrelevant. We need a God that crosses the line of outside/inside without falling over it. All of our philosophies and mysticisms attempt this but seem to all fail at crucial moments, letting what we call God be disfigured by our calling, letting that which is hoc dicimus Deum slide disastrously one way or the other.

This is not a problem when speaking of uncaused causes and unmoved movers, or when speaking of Zeus, of angels, or of UFOs. This is the particular problem of theological language. The purpose of speaking theologically is to articulate that which occupies this “space” of entering in and yet still remains beyond. This is not a problem either when we do not speak at all. There is here the distinct temptation to abandon altogether the project of theological language, to stop speaking of God at all or to simply speak of God as no more than a part of the world and a piece of a system. Certainly some have done this and there seems to be no well argued objection to that abandonment. But, for some of us, such a move seems to be impossible. To abandon the project of the possibility of a theological language would not be to abandon a God who both enters into and remains beyond our encapsulating circumference, but to settle for speaking in disfigurements. We seek and have sought a way to speak about God while at the same time feeling that everything that has been said is in some important way wrong, and to stop seeking would not eliminate the problem but accept it. For at least some people, among them both theists and atheists, the search for a theological language and the attempt to describe a “space” such that it is both inside and beyond our world, is an impulse that will not go away. There is a haunting insistence to the question, and we find ourselves asking again, what is this that we call God? Is a theological language possible?

The greatest attempt at speaking of God in such a way as to allow the divine to be wholly other, ineffably divine and yet still to take a place in our world and reach us here, is Anselm’s ontological argument’s thinking of infinity. Anselm attempts to balance God on this line so that God is infinite, so he is the beyond and also enters in. Anselm’s description of God has him piercing into this world and letting us see the Other. The person who approaches God Anselm-wise does so very vertically. He sees by God and through God to a God which cannot be delimited by the sight of humans.

Whether his argument works or not, there is something that feels wrong about it. I find this feeling in the island-argument response of his contemporaneous monk, in Kant’s famous rebuttal, and also in the normal reading of average freshman. It works on paper, the logic is sound, and yet we are deeply uncomfortable with it. There are, I think, two ways it feels wrong: First, it feels like a technicality. There’s a seemingly accidental nature of the proof. It is as if Anselm found a lucky technical solution for God. Second, this God of Anselm’s feels as though he’s present on paper, present to us logically but not viscerally. The common objection here is that Anselm’s God is not personal.

These objections may, however, be caused by asking Anselm’s project to extend way beyond its limited intentions. Anselm is not attempting to prove the existence of God. Anselm’s “proof” is at most secondary, as he is trying to prove that God’s character or nature is as we believed it to be, to answer the question of what this is that we call God, and in doing this he sets out a way we can talk about God. Many readings of Anselm’s argument are trying, really, to follow him backwards. Where Anselm’s move was one of, as he said, “faith seeking understanding,” we read him trying to get from understanding to faith.

Neither we, here in this exploration of the possibility of a theological language, nor Anselm are trying to prove the existence of God or to start from any place other than faith. For the purposes of this paper we are interested in Anselm’s attempt at developing a language with which to speak of that which we call God. Both of the common objections hint at problems in his formulation of a theological language. While not intended as such, both objections can be recast as objections to the way in which Anselm comes to describe God as contained within our world, our logic. What both objections point to as troubling is the way in which Anselm has employed a philosophical syllogism to speak of God and then has spoken of God as a piece of that logical syllogism. Let us ask then, is Anselm describing God in a way that contains God, that speaks of God as in within our world?

Anselm wants to move from meditation on the word “God” to God. He’s echoing Augustine’s language where Augustine says he wants to go from hearing the two syllables of “Deus” to “reach something than which nothing is better or more sublime.” It is unclear whether Anselm knew it or not, but he is also echoing the words of Seneca, where Seneca says God’s “magnitude is that than which nothing greater can be thought.” Where Augustine and Anselm wanted this language to be a theological language whereby they may speak of something that is in but also beyond our world, unencircleable by our systems of thought, Seneca uses the same language to speak of a god that isn’t wholly Other, a god that is one god among many and one worldly thing among many worldly things. The similarity of the phrases brings into question the supposed difference in what is being called God. It is not clear that this theological language is necessarily describing a God who is beyond this world, and it even becomes doubtful how this phrase could possibly be understood to describe such a divine. In a language where God is “that which greater than which none can be conceived,” there is nothing to say that a God such as that must be something more than ontological furniture, more than the world.

Examining Anselm’s own claims for his language leads us to same problem as above. He wants, in the course of his meditation, to move from God in intellectu, in perception, to God in re, in existence or--problematic yet literal--in things. Anselm’s theological language seems constructed then to break the skepticism of idealism, but it is ill designed to speak of a God who is ineffable. He does though, while making the move from God in intellectu to God in re, speak of God as infinite. We cannot rightly read of Anselm’s God in re without remembering that this in re God is also infinite. God is not, for Anselm a thing, but the infinitely greatest thing and great in infinite ways. Yet this language obviously still does not speak of God as beyond and as uncontainable. Anselm wants to explore how this infinite God can be contained within our finite cognition, but in doing that he doesn’t give us a way to speak of that “God” which is beyond our finite cognition.

Following the example of the Christian Apostle Paul’s proclamation that the Athenian altar to an unknown God was actually an altar to the God he had come preaching, Christian philosophers throughout the history of philosophy in the West have found things in one or another philosophical system that they identified as what we had called God. They have undertaken philosophical conversations and then added onto the end of that conversation the claim that “this is what we call God.” This identification always later becomes complicated and troublesome when the thing identified with God did not and could not act as God, and when the system or piece of the system identified with God was later rejected. If what we called God was only some piece of a philosophical system, then God stands or falls with the system and that piece of the system. The examples of this identification becoming publicly troublesome and complicated stretches back from the so called death of God philosophers in the 1970s to Nietzsche’s use of that phrase to Galileo, and back seemingly without end. In one lesser-known example John Scotus Eriugena identifies God with neo-Platonism’s Being and becomes a sort of pantheist condemned by multiple popes.

When those who loved something they called God speak about the death of God, they begin to count our types of God and to show us how the God who is now dead was never the one we wanted anyway. There are of course the old fashioned atheists, like, say, Sartre, who didn’t want a God or believe in any sort of God and who thought an age without God would be a golden one, but there are those who loved something they called God, who’ve lost something they called God. Pascal made this move when he, recording a religious vision on a piece of paper he carried until his death, wrote that he had seen “not the God of the philosophers and scholars,” but “FIRE,” the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,” and the “God of Jesus Christ” Pascal sees that any God who is a piece of a philosophic system is less than God, and he sees us struggling to speak of God in any way so that what we speak of can be the God we and he had set out to love and understand. He wants to stop himself at this point of speaking and say no, something’s terribly wrong with this God who either slips beyond our world into obscure and nonsensical talk or slips into our world and becomes a bit of ontological furniture. He thinks that we began, as Anselm instructed, with faith seeking understanding but that the understanding has destroyed our faith. Let us then, he says, lose this God. We will not, he thinks, have lost something which we wanted. Buber makes this same move, counting in our history two Gods, two things we called God, and saying that now we have lost one but it turns out to be the one that was never really God. We have lost something, but it was the disfigured description of what we wanted. Buber says there is an It-God who was an object, and a Thou-God. Philosophy has always, by the nature of philosophy, been about the It-God, and it may have seduced us into thinking we were loving the Thou-God by speaking of the It-God, but we were mistaken and the sooner the It-God passes away the better.

There is something entirely right about the move these philosophers are making here, but this eagerness to be done with the It-God and the philosopher’s God, to dismiss the disfigurements, seems rushed. There are many things in Buber and Pascal’ analysis and the shift they propose which would be worth exploring, but what their story seems to be missing is the anguish. They’re with Sartre in being too cavalier in dismissing what we said it was we loved, in dismissing that which we would talk about and then say et hoc dicimus Deum. It may well be that the dismissal is right, that we had gotten God all wrong, but to move so swiftly to a solution misses the pain of this loss. Note that Nietzsche’s mad man, after proclaiming in the streets that God is dead and we have killed him, begins to weep and when no one understands him he goes to a requiem for the deceased divine. He is overwhelmed by anguish. When someone says, “God is dead and we didn’t want him anyway” there is something that has been brushed aside. So let us say “yes, perhaps,” but then also query further. When we destroy this idol-god, having thought of it as something which entered into and also remained beyond our world, but seeing now that it was only another thing in the world, we are still losing something, killing something. We are not losing God, but we are losing something nevertheless. We are losing the language by which we were speaking of God. To abandon what we called God, knowing now that it was but a disfigurement, is, it seems, to abandon the possibility of an infinite entering into our world, the possibility of speaking of something which would not by our speaking become a thing.

What we wanted from the Anselmian project was the preservation of the infinite, was the intrusion of the ineffable into our world in such a way that it both reached us and remained beyond us. We need an infinite we can behold without making finite. The initial problem, which still remains, is how to think of and speak of God such that God crosses the space of inside/outside without falling over. Pascal won’t help us if he does nothing more than continue to repeat the phrase “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” Buber seems to offer us only a language within which to speak to God, not a theological language, but a romantic and ecstatic one. Though he had, it seems, intended to, Buber never, from this understanding of God as approachable only as a Thou, developed a new way in which to speak of God. Buber and Pascal still need a way to talk about God, still need a theological language. Let’s look at two modern attempts at speaking of God without disfiguring him: first the ethical and second the impossible.

Tolstoy tells a religious story about a cobbler named Martin who despairs of life and wants to see God. Martin is promised in a dream that he would, the next day, see God. So he goes about his day keeping on the lookout for God and does pretty well, but he is distracted eventually by someone in need. They’re cold and need something to eat and a coat so he takes them in and cares for them and realizes later that he was distracted and didn’t see Jesus. That night again he hears a voice promising that he will see God the next day, if he remains vigilant. The same thing happens the next day and he hears the voice again and then again he’s distracted by someone in need and then the last night, in total despair, he apologizes to God for getting distracted and asks to die. That night in a dream he sees the people he has helped walking by and he hears the voice telling him that he has seen the face of God in the face of these people.

Perhaps the error of Anselm’s attempt at beholding the ineffable was its verticalness. In the most recent scholarship on death of God theology there occurs and reoccurs a turn to Levinas and his talk of the face of the other. The “other” in Levinas, is a conflation of the otherness of people, the faces we see around us, and the Otherness of God. This is not a problem but rather the point. He wants to make an incarnational move. Levinas attempts to make the Anselmian move horizontally, and with that horizontality to let us see God in a way that’s not technical and is very visceral. He thinks the face of the other offers us a way in which to see the infinite, the ineffable, the unthinkable divine, without surrounding it, overrunning it, and destroying it. Through the faces of other people we can let God enter the world and reach us while still remaining uncontainable. This ethics can speak theologically without losing God either by enclosing him in our world or walling him outside of it. Levinas offers us the possibility of a theological language that allows us to talk about God so that he’s in our world without our world containing him, and outside our world without being eliminated from it.

Yet the horizontal theological language has only repeated the problems of the vertical one. Buber’s point about the It-God and the Thou-God applies, originally and especially, to people. How does one go about looking with the Levinasian look that doesn’t deface the face of the other? It is no clearer how we can speak of people without treating them as objects, as things in the world, than we could of God. When we speak about people, we speak about them as things in this world, among the ontological furniture. There is nothing about the horizontal move which allows the face of the other to stay at this inside/outside space. It is constantly slipping into our world of things and being overrun and surrounded. In explicitly Christian terms, notice that the incarnate God-the-Son is no easier to explain and no less prone to heresy than the outside-the-world creator God. This horizontal theological language, rather than solving the problem, has recreated it.

There is, though, perhaps another reason for the turn to Levinas. While it is regularly depicted as a new way to see and speak of God, a way which will avoid the old disfigurments of God, it may be that the Levinasian turn to ethics is a turn away from the problems of the possibility theological language. Perhaps this turn is not to be explained by the Tolstoy story, but by a Hasidic parable told about Adam and Eve. On the day Adam and Eve were cast from Eden the sun set for the first time and as the world passed into darkness they were terrified, believing that their sin had set the world sinking into nothingness. They spend the night trembling in fear, eyes dilated to the darkness, looking each other in the face. For them there was now nothing, God had left them and the world had gone dark and there was nothing left but the face of the other. In the case of Tolstoy’s cobbler, looking into the faces of people was a way to see God, but for Adam and Eve it is all that is left. Perhaps the Levinasian turn is best understood not as concerned with a new theological language but with a way forward in a world which has no theological language. This turn can be understood as a manner in which to bracket off the continued unrest in theological language, to leave it unsettled and to still proceed.

It is as if presented with someone on the side of the road, beaten and bloodied and robbed and saying he was “God forsaken,” the Levinasian has put aside the question of whether or not God has indeed forsaken him. An atheist might have said God had. A theist might have said he hadn't. A Levinasian can claim to not know, can leave that question open, and can then, like the Samaritan in the Gospel parable, act to help the man. Where the entire debate has prepared us to engage the question of what it is that the man on the side of the road is calling God when he says that whatever it was he called God has forsaken him, to debate whether that God was the God he wanted to be speaking of in the first place, the Levinasian seeks to forsake that debate in favor of ethical action. The Levinasian is giving up, at least somewhat, the ability or possibility of speaking of God, replacing that with an ethics. The Levinasian takes on a sort of agnosticism, instead acting as God ought act to the beaten man and acting as if the beaten man were God. There is here a theological language, but it is incidental to the ethics.

This is a move, too, that despite its agnosticism and lack of a theological language
is hailed as “true religion” by Jewish and Christian prophets. “For how,” James asks, “could you possibly love God if you do not love your brother?” This Levinasian ethical agnosticism is the course that Jesus says the inheritors of the kingdom of God have taken. They have turned wholly to ethics and in dedicating their lives to helping people – feeding, clothing, washing, and visiting people - they have, to their surprise, served God. They have imitated the Messiah to the helpless, and the helpless have become the Messiah to them. God is thus found by not looking for God, but found without being looked for by looking into the faces of the worst of society.
This is the course that John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath character the Rev. Jim Casey takes. Casey, when we meet him in the novel's opening, has lost his faith and no longer knows how to speak of God. He's gone out into the wilderness to try and regain his faith, to figure God out, and has now come back down knowing only that he knows nothing. He abandons his ministry and refuses the normal deference paid to him, refusing repeatedly to pray over meals, sick people, etc. As he gives up speaking of (and for) God, though, he increasingly responds to the needs of the people around him, dedicating his life to helping people until, in the end of the book, he becomes a Christ figure, saying “you don't know what you're doing” to the man that kills him.
The Levinasian ethics, however, does not preclude a theological language and in fact can return us to the need for a theological language. If we can, at this point, avoid a theological language, avoid appending again that phrase, et hoc dicimus Deum, then we may find ourselves finished with the question. Here, as before, it is tempting to abandon the project, and perhaps it would be better if we did so, but it still seems that to abandon the question is just to answer it in a bad way, to settle for disfigurements. Even here though, we find ourselves wanting to say this is the solution, to say “this is what we meant by God.” Like Levinas, we want to say something about how that which we behold, that which inspires us to this ethical action, is beyond the world and is ineffable. The Levinasian turn may be a turn away from the question to an action, but the question is even here reasserted. We still want to ask what is this which we call God and how could we say what this is? The search for the possibility of a theological language remains.

Perhaps, however, we must come to recognize that theological language is impossible and that we are offered the choice of either speaking about God in a language that disfigures and defaces God or of saying nothing of God at all. But perhaps this impossibility is the key to theological language. Derrida, who says that he “rightly passes for an atheist” and that he “is always praying,” wants to put forward the possibility of a theological language of the impossible.

This is a language that recognizes and remains ever aware of its impossible task; thus it speaks of God, then notes its own inadequacies, then speaks of God, etc. This is a language that continually points out its own failure, a language that is always restless and disturbed. Our third choice is that of a blind theological language that recognizes its blindness, speaking within that blindness so that we know we’re saying impossible things but we are, by grace, through faith, hanging on by our teeth anyway.

In some sense, though, Derrida has not done something totally new here, but has looped us around and returned us to the place Anselm, and the whole Western tradition of theological speaking, began. Anselm begins to speak only after the caveat of the impossibility of speaking. Aquinas wrote for a mere 20 years and was recognized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, not for his philosophical writings and his systematizations of Catholic thought, but rather for his mystical apprehension of God that was, he is said to have said, so beyond anything that he had or could have written, leaving his writings “as straw.” When we speak of God, in the West, we speak in two languages, not choosing between them but speaking both. In our study of the thought of traditional figures we will separate the languages, but Aquinas, Anselm, et al, speak both in mysticism, placing God outside of our world, and in the philosophy placing him within it. They have, all the time, been referring to God, as it is said, via negativa and via affirmativa. We have normally recognized the difficulties and the errors of these languages, but we have found no solution other than to continue speaking in a cycle of theological language modifying theological language. Derrida's move then is not a novel one, but one that reminds us that theological language must be spoken recognizing and declaring its limitations. Derrida's move is one that reminds us why Anselm with his vertical language and Levinas with his horizontal one can, with their deficiencies, continue to speak of God.

With all of our protagonists agreeing, though, let us ask a question: Is this the best sort of theological speaking we can have? Can we only speak of God in the highly complex interplay of these two languages, in this cycle of languages where the first modifies the second and then the second modifies the first? Could there be a theological language such that we could simultaneously speak of God as speakable and of God as unspeakable? Surely no burden is too great in undertaking this project of theological language, so perhaps the answer simply is, “Yes, this cyclical language of speaking and unspeaking is the best we can hope for.” Still, it seems we must note that this is a highly complicated and confusing manner of doing theology, and, though it is profitable and ought not be abandoned, we ought to accept and champion a simpler language if we had it. Such a language, I think, might be found in Jesus' language of parables.

Jesus describes God in parabolic theological language as a father, a mother hen, a shepherd who's lost a sheep, and the host of a party and none of his listeners stopped him to say, “Wait, wait, how could it be both?” Speaking in parables is speaking in a way that we easily understand. It is simple without being simplistic, and it is somehow actively affirmatively speaking of God, thinking about and considering God, while not overstating or erring and without need of the disclaimers and caveats of other theological languages. By never marking themselves as anything more than “just stories,” this theological language of parables is at once describing a God knowable and unknowable, a God inside and outside, and in such a clear and unconfused way that even the least educated and the least subtle thinkers can figure God without disfiguring God. Not what we would normally consider a science of speaking of God, this methodology of simple stories manages somehow to describe God without being fraught by the errors we have seen wrack theological languages from Anslem to Levinas.

Looking, finally, at the three ways of speaking of God, we see that this is everywhere the case – we seek to state by misstating, to describe by misdescribing, to speak by misspeaking, and always to speak of God humbly.


Altizer, Thomas J. J. Towards a New Christianity: Readings in the Death of God. New York: Harcourt, 1967.

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Allen: Christian Classics, 1981.

Buber, Martin. Eclipse of God, Studies in the Relation Between Religion and Philsophy. New York: Harper, 1957

Caputo, John D. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1997.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy, vol II. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Hamilton, William. A Quest for the Post-Historical Jesus. New York: Continuum, 1994.

Harrington, Michael. The Politics at God’s Funeral, the spiritual crisis of Western civilization. New York: Penguin, 1983.

Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling. London: Penguin, 1985.

Manseau, Peter and Jeff Sharlet. Killing the Buddha, A Heretic’s Bible. New York: Free Press,

McCullough, Lisa and Brian Schroeder, eds. Thinking through the Death of God, a companion to Thomas J. J. Altizer. Albany: SUNY, 2004.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil, prelude to a philosophy of the future. Mineola: Dover, 1997.

O'Connell, Marvin R. Blaise Pascal, Reasons of the Heart. Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Schrag, Calvin O. God as Otherwise Than Being, towards a semantics of the gift. Evanston: Northwestern, 2002.

Silliman, Daniel. “Disfiguring God: How Eriugena ontologically explained the multiplicity of Being and became a heretic.”

Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Viking, 1939.

Southern, R.W. Saint Anselm: a portrait in a landscape. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Tillich, Paul. Dynamics of Faith. New York: Hapers, 1957.

Tolstoy, Leo. Where Love Is, There God Is Also. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1993.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Mind of Wittgenstein
Considerations of how Wittgenstein might approach the problem of mind
take-home exam p. 2
for Dr. Burke

Wittgenstein, whose main interests are the analysis of language and the dissolution of philosophy, does not set out a theory of mind, a philosophy of mind. It has seemed interesting, though, to consider what he might have thought about mind. He does, at various times and in various places, mention existing theories and counter them in particular ways. We can gather from his notes a number of thoughts about the philosophies of mind which, when taken together, do point towards the way in which he might have proceeded to approach that problem.

First, Wittgenstein says that many or most of our bad thinking concerning mind has been due to too many considerations of one example. We ought to consider a healthy variety of examples and thought experiments, lest we be led astray by one example’s peculiarities.

Second, Wittgenstein thinks we have attributed too many things to introspection, treating statements as if they were reports of inner mental states. He thinks that “in some cases it will be possible to say some such thing, in most not.” The example he uses here is the example of expectation. When we say we are expecting something we have thought of this statement as a report of an introspection. As if there were an unmanifest thing going on in the inner processes of the mind which one looked at (somehow) and then stated that others might know. As opposed to this, he considers the possibilities that,

a) the statement may be seen to be the first act of expectation.

b) the statement may be a manifestation of the expectation, rather than a report of it.

c) a state of expectations does not require or imply that something was occupying my thoughts. “Perhaps I don’t think anything at all or have a multitude of disconnected thoughts.”

Third, following and perhaps explaining the second point, Wittgenstein thinks that “an ‘inner process’ stands in need of outward criteria.” In the barest sense, this can be understood as a sort of behaviorism, where inner states are bracketed off and ignored for observable manifested behavior. What we have heretofore called ‘inner mental states,’ he thinks, does not happen isolated from that which is around it, without context. These things are “imbedded in a situation, from which it arises.” The surroundings give these things their importance, he says, pointing to examples of a mouth, which cannot smile independently from the context, the situatedness, of a face.

Fourth, Wittgenstein thinks that even if there is an object which is a mental ‘inner process,’ it can be dropped from consideration. If something is only known and only knowable privately, only by introspection and never anywhere is it observable, then we can stop considering it. It’s attachment to the grammar we speak and share in common becomes irrelevant – even if there is no such inner states we can still speak as if there were, that is to say, our public language could not reflect such private things and would not need to and, therefore, the existence of such private things is irrelevant to our language. This is the famous “beetle in a box” example.

Fifth, Wittgenstein considers the cases of an actor and a stoic. The problem here is that a stoic may feel pain, e.g., but demonstrate nothing and an actor might feel nothing but demonstrate pain. If we hold this position of the necessity of outward criteria, are we to then say that the actor actually feels pain and the stoic doesn’t? Wittgenstein does not think the question is wholly ridiculous. “It makes sense,” he writes, “to ask ‘Do I really love her, or am I only pretending to myself’”? Wittgenstein seeks to answer the stoic/actor problem, and to say how we could answer the question of the perhaps pretended love, in two ways which follow from the third and fourth points above:

a) He overcomes the stoic/actor problem by considering the situatedness of these uses of language. He writes, “let us really think out various different situations and conversations, and the ways in which that sentence will be uttered in them.” The only way one could answer the reasonable question is by imagining situations in which I might be doing one or the other, that is to say, we could only say if I did or did not love by examining contexts. Thus there is a context in which I may speak of pain which is stoically unshown and this is not nonsense, and there are times when I can speak of pretended pain and this in not nonsense. Their meanings are to be understood by their context.

b) Further, such utterances can be uttered and are not nonsense because such statements can be disattached from any object. I need not think that they have real existence in some special space in the world in order for there to be a place for such grammar. I do not have to believe that, somehow, the stoic’s undeclared pain is somehow different than declared pain or that there is a peculiar and special case of a mental object that adhere to pains pretended and not held. I only need to take these sentences grammatically – within language and within context.

While we cannot accurately attribute a position on the question of mind to Wittgenstein, there are here fragments of considerations that might point us plausibly to a theory. It would seems to be behaviorist, in part, but also to go beyond that theory in such a way as not to fall to it’s failings. We might perhaps call it natural language behaviorism, or something of that sort so that we note its behaviorist leanings but also that if it is a behaviorism it is a significantly modified sort. It would seem to be a theory that led us back to our natural manners of thinking as perfectly acceptable and to move us away from the history of weird theories strewn throughout one of the strangest fields of philosophy.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wittgenstein’s queer problem
take-home exam for Dr. Burke

Really the only thing wrong with what you say is the expression “in a queer way.”
                        - Ludwig Wittgenstein

What happens after therapy, Wittgenstein? If we follow you and eschew philosophy, and not just certain philosophical conclusions but philosophy as a whole project, as a whole way of asking questions and a way of queering the world, what are we left with?

I understand how this is supposed to work, this act of analysis leading to dissolution, but let’s take an example. Take the realism vs. anti-realism debate. A man is standing looking at a tree and wondering how we know it is indeed a tree. While you are sympathetic, at least somewhat and at least as an impulse, to realism’s position that this man is wrong, you are uncomfortable with the way that to engage the man’s problem realism has to grant him the possibility that he’s right. You want to move the man’s thinking back, considering not just why this is or is not a tree before him but why he would even ask the question. When the analysis gets moved back like that, it takes in what you think is the anti-realist’s original misconception but it also points out that the realist has to take seriously that misconception and the possibility of that misconception. You want to get rid of not just the wrong belief, but the possibility of that wrong belief, which is a move that also sweeps away the objections to the wrong belief too.

There is a particular move bothers you, this move that both sides of every philosophical debate must always make at the beginning. The move, you say, is the move of assuming we’re lost. “A philosophical proposition has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about.’”

Philosophy, you say, is always lost. Not lost because of it’s conclusions, per se, but because of it’s beginnings. Philosophy always starts in error, always by thinking something’s below or behind, something’s secret, something’s queer. Even when you agree with a conclusion, like you sort of agree with realism, you still have a problem with the way the question’s posed. “Really,” you write, “the only thing wrong with what you say is the expression ‘in a queer way.’ The rest is all right; and the sentence only seems queer when one imagines a different language-game for it from the one in which we actually use it.”

You use that word – queer. It’s a word that, honestly, surprised me. It took me a moment to realize that you maybe hadn’t heard it used as an offensive slang term for homosexuals. You were probably using it in a context where it didn’t have those connotations and meant, strictly, something “deviating from the expected or normal; strange.” So while it’s weird to hear, recontextualized as it is, I understand how you use it. To the realist, to stick with the example, you’re saying you agree with the conclusion but think something’s wrong with the argument and that the argument contains it’s opposite argument and you want to get us away from this whole mode of thinking things are queer.

Your point is well taken. But then, thinking about it, it bothers me. Look: the anti-realist said there’s something queer about reality, then the realist said that that’s a queer way to answer the question and said that reality is exactly like we thought it was, then you said that to answer the question was as queer as ask it. What we have here is a regress of queer. The more I read your works and the more I think about them, I think that your idea of philosophical therapy can be stated really clearly as the proposition “it is queer to think that things are queer.”

Forgive me for being cheeky. Honestly, I’m kind of frustrated. I mean, the idea of therapy that would let the world go back to being as it always was, that would allow us to stop all of this weirdness we’ve been engaged in since Socrates, that idea really excited me. I thought, when I first heard of you and when I first read you, that this was it. I had felt an unease all the way through philosophy, that uncanny feeling that something’s wrong but you can’t see it, and then there you were pointing it out directly. It was like you were the first one who thought to call foul. I imagined it like a big long table stretching all the way back with all the philosophers sitting there all talking at once and there you were way down at the end saying “wait a minute. Why? Why do I have to ask that question?” and when you said that the whole table froze. It seemed like a breakthrough.

Now listen, I’m not saying that’s a bad question. Neither is anyone else. All the way back along that table that’s been the most profitable question to ask. More than epistemology, more than ontology, more than any debate any of these guys has ever had, the most profitable field of philosophical thought has been this philosophology. Everybody who’s famous, back there, from Socrates to Hegel, from Aristotle to Nietzsche, from Descartes to the Logical Positivists, started with the question of why we’re asking the questions we’re asking. I’m not saying that’s a bad question and they’re not saying it’s a bad question – you are.

Maybe you could have done everything else, with natural languages and everything, that you wanted to do if you hadn’t made that move. But at least the way I read you that’s the move you’re really getting to. I could see a philosophy of natural language. But what you want is a philosophy of natural language that gets rid of philosophy. How could that even work? How could we philosophize our way out of philosophy? A scaffold, yeah. A ladder, yeah. But really what those metaphors tell me is that I ought, if I buy them, to walk away.

Imagine a black man who drives up to a restaurant in a blue Cadillac, orders a soy burger, and tells me he’s Elvis Presley. What would I say to such a man? Where could I start? Would I tell him that Elvis is white or that he drove a pink Cadillac or that he ate deep fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches? Maybe I’d just say, “hey man, you’re not Elvis. Elvis is dead.” The thing of it is that I wouldn’t know how to disagree with him because to disagree with him is to assume that he might be right, would be to assume that we can even have an argument about whether this guy is or isn’t Elvis. The guy’d have to be crazy and to argue with a crazy man I’d have to be crazy too. If I talked to him it’d just be because I was fascinated by this man’s craziness. I wouldn’t argue with him, I’d stare. And then I’d walk away without raising that question of how queer it is to call yourself Elvis.

Essentially, this is what you say’s the problem with philosophical problems. They’re just crazy, just queer. I understand how that works. What I don’t understand is how you can argue about it. What I don’t understand is why you don’t walk away. If this whole conversation going back all the way to Socrates is queer, then you’re queer for explaining to the queers how they’re queer. Why don’t you walk away, just shaking your head and going, “wow man, those guys are crazy”?

You tried to do that once too, didn’t you? You said philosophy was nonsense, madness, queer. You said we had to get out and as you looked at that statement I get the feeling that you got the feeling, that uneasy feeling where you began to think that maybe you were crazy for talking to crazy people. You said, “the right method in philosophy would be to say nothing… except…[what] has nothing to do with philosophy.” And then you took that to apply to your own work, getting all the craziness over with at once you said,
My sentences are illuminating in the following way: to understand me you must recognize my sentences – once you have climbed out through them, on them, over them – as senseless. (You must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after you have climbed on it.)
You must climb out through my sentences; then you will see the world correctly.
Of what we cannot speak we must remain silent.

I guess what I’m saying here is that if I hear you, if I believe you, then I’m going to have to get out of this regress of the queer. It’s not good enough to comment about how queer it is to think things are queer. I got to walk away. It’s weird that the only way I know to read you rightly is to abandon your project, to walk away from you shaking my head at you shaking your head at all those other guys. It’s weird, but the only thing you say I can say to you now is this: You’re queer, man.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Counting Wittgensteins,
Understanding the relationship of early and late Wittgenstein

In reading Ludwig Wittgenstein, we must each eventually approach the question of continuity, must consider how the 40 year span of his work hangs together. We cannot consider the texts of Wittgenstein without somewhere considering how they relate and the consideration of their relation may be the most basic first step to understanding these texts. How we answer the questions of continuity, discontinuity, and development serves as the fundamental frame within which we will understand these works and will serve as our first characterization of each work. The reading of Wittgenstein is filtered and interpreted through this answer, making it a primary and necessary question to consider carefully. To read Wittgenstein is to take a position on the continuity of his thought.

There is a standard reading of Wittgenstein that understands him as to be understood in two parts, two stages, so that there are two Wittgensteins, an early one and a late one. The early Wittgenstein is defined as the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, published in 1922, and the later one as the Philosophical Investigations, published posthumously in 1953. Between these two works is held a “fundamental division” by which we may understand the whole of Wittgenstein’s thought. There is, in fact, a middle period of his thinking, collected notably in The Blue and Brown Books, which is generally considered to be transitional and is primarily read as work preliminary to later thinking. There is, also, a later period of works written at the end of his life, e.g. Zettel, Remarks on Colour, and On Certainty, which are considered to be peripheral to and not a marked shift away from the Investigations. So while there are four periods of work and could conceivably be a theory of “four Wittgensteins,” the general consensus of the standard understanding counts only two.

While this is the general consensus, there are three main positions on the continuity of the Wittgensteinian corpus operas:
1) no continuity, a sharp division of early and late Wittgenstein,
2) soft continuity, a development of thought but constant in themes and concerns,
3) strong continuity, Wittgenstein always holding to his “late” project.
It has been said that in the study of Wittgenstein, every possible interpretation has been held by some scholar and the question of continuity is no different. There are other positions on Wittgenstein’s continuity, but these are the main one and the ones which will be considered in this paper. This paper will consider each position, present relevant critiques, and argue that the second interpretation is the most reasonable and the most tenable.

For the standard position holding no continuity between the early and late work, there are three arguments: the obvious presence of stylistic changes, Wittgenstein’s own testimony of his change, and the specific propositions explicitly proposed in the Tractatus and then explicitly rejected in the Investigations.

Even the most superficial reader would have to notice Wittgenstein’s stylistic shift. The Tractatus is a dense and highly compressed work, with cryptic sentences of a vatic tone arranged in a numbered nesting. At the top layer, the work is only seven sentences long and the fully expanded work takes up less than 60 pages. The later works, everything after the Tractatus, particularly the Investigations, are written in series of numbered paragraphs, often making use of examples and thought experiments and considering particular cases. The writing is neither dense nor cryptic and exhibits the looseness of rambling reflections rather than the rigidity of sequences of logic.

Both Wittgenstein’s biography and his writing attest to a discontinuity, to a break between the early and later thought. After writing and publishing the Tractatus, Wittgenstein gave up philosophy. In a period biographers call “the lost years,” Wittgenstein gave up philosophy after publishing the Tractatus. He taught grammar school in Austria, worked as a gardener’s assistant in a monastery near Vienna, worked on the design and construction of a modernist-styled house, sought to emigrate to the Soviet Union and do manual labor, but did nothing in the way of philosophy because, we are told, he believed that he had solved philosophy and there was no philosophy left to be done after the work of the Tractatus. In his biography we see a severe break between the publication of the early work and the undertaking of the later work. Wittgenstein writes that he only returned to philosophy, only undertook the later work, because, having reason to re-read and re-examine the Tractatus, he realized that he had made “grave mistakes” in what he had written. He does not hold up the two works as unified but rather says the later to work is to be understood as corrective, understood in contrast. In letters he describes the early work as “arrogance” and “dogmatism,” saying that “only in recent years have I broken away” from the early work.

Finally, and probably most importantly, there is an explicit change of theory. The Tractatus sets forth a theory of a perfect language which is atomistic, fully analyzable, with a logical structure that pictures the world. The Investigations rejects this theory for a theory of everyday and common language. Norman Malcolm writes that Wittgenstein made this shift with full knowledge of the change he was making, and his later writings form a “massive attack on the principle ideas of the Tractatus.” Malcolm lists 15 propositions held in the early Wittgenstein’s work and rejected in the later:
1 That there is a fixed form of the world, an unchanging order of logical possibilities, which is independent of whatever is the case.
2 That the fixed form of the world is constituted of things that are simple in an absolute sense.
3 That the simple objects are the substratum of thought and language.
4 That thoughts, composed of ‘psychical constituents,’ underlie the sentences of language.
5 That a thought is intrinsically a picture of a particular state of affairs.
6 That a proposition, or a thought, cannot have a vague sense.
7 That whether a proposition has sense cannot depend on whether another proposition is true.
8 That to understand a proposition it is sufficient to know the meaning of its constituent parts.
9 That the sense of a proposition cannot be explained.
10 That there is a general form of all propositions.
11 That each proposition is a picture of one and only one state of affairs.
12 That when a sentence is combined with a method of projection the resulting proposition is necessarily unambiguous.
13 That what one means by a sentence is specified by an inner process of logical analysis.
14 That the pictorial nature of most of our everyday propositions is hidden.
15 That every sentence with sense expresses a thought which can be compared with reality.

These seemingly obvious changes have led many to view Wittgenstein’s work as discontinuous, reading it as two distinct and different periods. For these reasons most commentators hold that we are to understand two Wittgensteins, Wittgenstein in two parts, and that “no unbroken line leads from the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations; there is no logical sequence between the two books, but rather a logical gap. The thought of the later work is a negation of the thought of the earlier.”

This understanding, though, seems overstated, exaggerating the change until it is construed as some sort of radical conversion. The view is straightforward enough, but seems to lack some needed nuance, and we ought not let go unquestioned this method of emphatic implications.

First, the stylistic changes are undeniable, but what is not so obvious is the import of those changes. If, at a younger age, Wittgenstein constructed his works in more highly complex artifices, this could be understood as a youthful intensity that would later mellow. If, at an older age, Wittgenstein wrote less tightly, less cryptically and less pointedly, it could be accounted for as the result of a development of temperance. There are many reasons a writer’s style might change, and it seems odd to understand these different styles as something besides a natural development of age. The implication that this shift marks some total break and radical disconnection between two periods in a thinker’s thought seems an extreme and possibly post hoc conclusion.

Second, Wittgenstein’s own testimony is being interpreted in the broadest of senses. He was a perfectionist notoriously reticent to publish his work, so the fact that he found “grave mistakes” when re-reading something he wrote years before ought really to be understood as the statement of man who held himself to very high standards. Even if we accept his analysis, accept that there were “grave mistakes,” it does not follow that the entire early period is to be understood as a grave mistake and misdirection. We might well do better to understand those mistakes as particular mistakes, to understand Wittgenstein as rejecting particular pieces of his work and not the entire thing and everything that was associated with it.

Third, Malcolm’s 15 changed propositions focus on the atomism and the picture theory which, while present in the early work, is not really the whole of it. Again it is only by exaggeration that we can move from holding that some things changed in Wittgenstein’s thought to the idea that everything important changed and that this thought is without continuity.

This reading is marked by exaggerations, overstatements, and generalizations. We ought especially to be wary of this counting of two Wittgensteins with its theory of a logical gap as it might lead us to not look at ways in which later Wittgenstein was influenced by earlier work, and earlier work might have latently held later Wittgenstein. By declaring this radical change and a logical gap, this theory casts a darkness over a whole aspect of Wittgenstein, saying it is unknowable.

The second option regarding the continuity of Wittgenstein’s work, which this paper will argue for, is the interpretation of soft continuity. This reading understands there to be a change in Wittgenstein, two projects which can be divided into early and late periods of his work, but an overall constancy of themes and concerns. There is no unexplainable gap between two Wittgensteins, but a normal, natural and quite explainable development of the thinking of a smart man.

While the theory of language can be seen to change so that picture theory, atomism, and the impulse towards a logically perfect language are held and promoted by the younger Wittgenstein and rejected by the older Wittgenstein, this change is structured around what remains for Wittgenstein very important and central themes and concerns. There are, in particular, three constants: his disposition towards ‘philosophy,’ his fundamental turn towards language, and his understanding of the analysis of meaning or sense as key to dissolving confusion.

Wittgenstein’s aim, in both the Tractatus and the Investigations, is the dissolution of philosophy. He is never kindly disposed to philosophy and consistently throughout the “change” describes philosophy as confusion, as a bump on the head of thinking. In the early era he thinks this is due to attempting to move past the limits of language, in the later due to attempting to find the occult secret, the “sublime” that is better than language. “It is quite true that his new and old ways of thinking are poles apart,” writes K. T. Fann, “(h)owever, there is an important continuity in Wittgenstein’s conception of the nature and tasks of philosophy.” For all the change, then, there is a fundamental and important consistency here.

In some sense, then, Wittgenstein’s project was markedly constant, and this continuity could actually be understood as the cause of the particular changes. Wittgenstein didn’t undergo some radical conversion where he was knocked off his horse, but rather realized his earlier work participated and perpetuated that which it was intended to oppose. Wittgenstein then returned to his work, which was the same work, determined this time to accomplish what his earlier attempt had failed to do. If this continuity is ignored, how would we explain Wittgenstein’s return to philosophy? The goal of his writing, the final dissolution and abandonment of the confusion called philosophy, does not change.

There is too an important continuity of method. At some point very early Wittgenstein became convinced that philosophy was an exercise of confusion and that these confusions arose from the misunderstanding of language. From this he never wavers. There is no period where Wittgenstein turns to metaphysics or epistemology, for instance. For although Wittgenstein shifts sharply from seeking perfect language to taking language as perfectly good, throughout both periods his work is always turned towards the understanding of language as fundamental to the understanding of the world. The entirety of both the early Tractatus and the later Investigations are concerned with language.

In particular he is always interested in the use of words and the analysis of meaning and sense. His understanding of what makes up the meanings of words changes, and his understanding of how meanings relate changes, but there is constancy to at least this part of his method. He develops his question from “What is the structure of language?” to later opposing that assumption of a possible final analysis and complete exactness, and he moves to the question of why that first question was confused and to a consideration of normal natural language. Even his understanding of language is not a discontinuous as we have supposed, for in both the Tractatus and the Investigations he seeks to justify the vagueness of ordinary propositions, writing in the Tractatus that “all the propositions of our everyday language, just as they stand, are in perfect logical order,” and in the Investigations that “what we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.” This is not to say that the manner does not change, but to illustrate that there certainly is a continuity and a constancy between the two works that ought to be understood.

There is, then, a change in the Wittgensteinian corpus operas, but it not a total change with two unconnectable parts. If we frame our understanding of Wittgenstein within this theory of soft continuity – the moderate middle position on his continuity – we are able to hold to a development in his thought that seems natural and reasonable. We don’t see two radically different and distinct Wittgensteins, but the natural and normal development of a thinker from his early to later thought. This theory does not fall apart when compared to his biography, and it does not result in weird or tortured reading of some part of the work, nor in too easy dismissals. It seems, then, to be quite reasonable and to be the theory that gives us the best account of Wittgenstein’s work.

The third option regarding Wittgenstein’s continuity is strong continuity, notably held by the “New Wittgensteinians.” The idea of strong continuity is that Wittgenstein never changed his theories, which is the theory normally categorized as “later” Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein does not, the founders of the New Wittgensteinian reading Cora Diamond and James Conant think, come later to think that the thrust of the Tractatus is nonsense, but rather always thought so. There is a continuity without development in Wittgenstein’s corpus operas, though it’s a sort of secret one.

This idea depends on two metaphors for Tractatus. The first metaphor, found within the Tractatus, is the metaphor of the scaffold or the ladder. Wittgenstein closes the Tractatus with the words,
My sentences are illuminating in the following way: to understand me you must recognize my sentences – once you have climbed out through them, over them, over them – are senseless. (You must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after you have climbed up on it.)
You must climb out through my sentences; then you will see the world correctly.

The Investigations’ proclamation that the Tractatus is nonsense is not a change, not a shift, for the Tractatus proclaimed the Tractatus to be nonsense. Any reading of the Tractatus that takes it to be actually proposing a sensible and possible theory has, the New Wittgensteinian theory says, missed the conclusion. Under this we read the Tractatus to ‘work through’ its nonsense sentences—to struggle to make sense of them—but only in order to experience them ‘dissolv[ing] from inside,’ or ‘crumbling in upon themselves’ in the attempt. By means of this process, which some have described as a ‘dialectic,’ the reader is supposed to unmask the disguised nonsense that constitutes the ‘body’ of the Tractatus. …Tractarian nonsense nonetheless possesses enough psychological suggestiveness to generate the illusion of sense and, for some advocates of this view, to count as ‘ironically self-destructive.’

This leads us to the second metaphor, that of the stage. The Tractatus, on this theory, was an elaborate stage on which the problem was presented only in the last act to be shown false. The bulk of the work was a ruse, a prank, a mask, a falsity whereby the reader would come to think that nonsense was sense only to have it revealed as nonsense in the final scene. We ought to frame the relationship of the Wittgenstein, then, not into two distinct and separable periods but as a continuous project unchanged. This view – the so called “resolute reading” – holds that the Tractatus proposed no theses and was but an exercise in the debunking of nonsense.

This reading is, above all else, clever. It fails, however, in four areas that ought to lead us to at least seriously question this theory and probably to reject it. First, there is a misreading of the tone of Wittgenstein’s work and biography. Nowhere does Wittgenstein ever take the pose or the tone that would be necessary for this strong continuity to be true. Second, this theory cannot tell us why one Wittgenstein ought to be believed when the other is acting out a deception, thus leaving the reading either unstable or arbitrary. Third, this theory allows one to dismiss and not take seriously the early work. Fourth, this theory recreates the first theory’s two Wittgensteins and thus suffers from those problems in addition to creating new ones.

First, this theory of strong continuity ignores the tone of the Wittgensteinian texts. Wittgenstein is, throughout, saturated with a tone of earnestness. He’s not interested in the games or elaborate ruses of the Continental philosophers Jacques Derrida or Slovoj Zizek. Even when Wittgenstein is employing various and entertaining examples, he does so quite seriously. Yet strong continuity depends on reading early Wittgenstein and the Tractatus up to sentence 6.4 as an elaborate fake secretly demonstrating the failure of perfect language theory, philosophy, et al. Framed thus, for example, the 15 theses pointed out by Malcolm as proposed in the early work and rejected in the latter, were never really proposed but actually examples of what Wittgenstein wanted to disabuse us of all along.

If this is the case, we would have to think that Wittgenstein always attempts to deceive us about what he was saying in the early stages of his work, that he can be believed in some places though not in others though there is little or no textual distinction that could alert us to the deceptions, and that he moved from an elaborately clever way of demonstrating a point to a mostly straightforward one. If framed this way the break, too, the “lost years” in his constant project, would have to be interpreted as a change of at least some sort. The stylistic change, here, cannot avoid understood being read as a change. It becomes even more dramatic – rather than a shift from prose that is compressed to prose that is loose, Wittgenstein is said to move from an elaborate trap of lies to an honest presentation. Unless his abandonment of philosophy was a pre-planned silence with which to take in the suckers who took seriously his early work, he must have believed his first work, the staged demonstration, to have been sufficient to this project and later have changed his mind, deciding that more was needed.

Second, it is unclear how, if we count two Wittgensteins, one of which is deceptive, we are to know where to believe the text and where to reject it. New Wittgensteinians take the preface and the last few sentences as the guidelines within which to understand the fake-philosophizing that takes place in between them. But why ought we to take that Wittgenstein as earnest and not as some further mask demonstrating nonsense? Introducing this instability into the text cannot help but leave all the corners highly unstable, untrustworthy, and unbelievably. There is no way to limit this method of skepticism once it introduces what are essentially conspiratorial and Gnostic readings. If we accept that at some points or in some periods Wittgenstein is demonstratively deceptive, we lose the good faith with which we might take him at other points or in other periods to be honest.

Third, this reading of strong continuity allows one to simply dismiss the early work, where the Tractatus need not be read seriously because it was, by this theory, never meant to be more than a failure. Rather than engage the text, this theory is poised to dismiss it at any point where it becomes challenging. It was never honestly, they say, held by Wittgenstein and only believed by those taken in by what, essentially, was a philosophical prank. Thus when reading confusing things within the Tractatus a New Wittgensteinian may, on this reading, not attempt to consider how it could be the case and might make sense, but rather wave a hand and attribute anything difficult to intentional errors.

Fourth, this move of strong continuity perversely comes to reassert the “logical gap” and total disconnectedness of the Tractatus to the Investigations that the consensus proposal made in the first position regarding Wittgenstein’s continuity. While strong continuity wants to maintain that Wittgenstein the man was always consistent and nowhere developed, this framing also implies that Wittgenstein the text can be understood as divided into two radical periods. This is to say that the theory of strong continuity supports the framing of no continuity, which, as was argued above, is unsustainable and is an exaggeration or overstatement.

The whole theory of strong continuity, then, results in wild readings, bad readings, and an explanation that everywhere is collapsing on itself. While it has the merit of being interesting in its complications, it is not a theory that seems to be, in any real way, probable. It is a wild story with little basis in the text, none in Wittgenstein’s life, and no way to explain the relationships of the periods of his text and his life without undermining itself into meaninglessness.

This we ought to contrast with the extreme normality and plausibility of the soft continuity theory. If we fame these period’s relationships so that they show natural developments and normal consistencies, we see Wittgenstein’s work come into focus without these contortions. It would seem that in the end of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein became troubled with the possibility that his attempt to show the limits was the sort of transgression of the limits he had wanted to avoid. He worked with that fissure and thought that he had resolved it in such a manner that his theory of language and the world was sound and was right. Thus, thinking he had dissolved the process producing philosophical problems, he left philosophy intending to spend the rest of his life in other pursuits. Years later, having reason to re-read his work, to hear other’s explanations, and to attempt himself to explain it, he recognizes those “grave mistakes” that he had worried about formerly and that he had thought he had resolved. He thinks that the fissure is serious enough that it condemns the whole artifice and he sets to work rethinking the manner in which he approached his project, which resulted in the later period of his work. There is no unexplainable logical gap here, no secret, no mystery. We have, rather, the open and obvious development of a great of the thinkers of the 20th century who strongly opposed illogical sequences and assumptions of secrets. This, Wittgenstein said, was the type of thought which he had set out to solve and to stop.

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Fann, K. T. Wittgenstein’s Conception of Philosophy. Berkeley, University of California, 1971.
Hartnack, Justus. Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy. London, Routledge, 1965
Law, Jules David. “Wittgenstein, Ludwig” The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism, Michael Groeden and Martin Kreiswirth eds., 2005.
Malcolm, Norman. Nothing is Hidden, Wiggenstein’s Criticism of his Early Thought. Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1986.
Pears, David. The False Prison, A study of the development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, Volume Two. Oxford, Clarendon, 1988.
Peregrin, Jaroslov. “No Change,” The Philosopher’s Magazine, Winter 2001.
Proops, Ian. “The New Wittgenstein: A Critique.” European Journal Of Philosophy March 1, 2001
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus¬. London, Routledge Classics, 2001.
Philosophical Investigations. Oxford, Blackwell, 2001.


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