Clarity and clarifying

A couple of notes from a couple of different conversations on being clear and becoming clear. (It’s about philosophy, I promise, not about Scientology. . .)

Me, in reply to Andy Bass and Nemo during a conversation on Wittgenstein and philosophical method (Dec. 2011):

[Quoting A.B.:] Wittgenstein’s “end” to philosophy altogether would be some way of living with, and using, language in which linguistic inconsistencies and their resulting philosophical conundrums cannot arise at all. Wittgenstein doesn’t spend much time with this notion of a final treatment… .

I dunno, doesn’t he? It seems like this sort of end of analysis is importantly part of the goal of the Tractatus, and the struggle against that picture is part of the important shift in PI. To live with language in such a way as to end philosophical puzzling would be to become perfectly adept as a logical grammarian — to succeed in catching and keeping the will-o’-the-wisp of logical form. But if there is no such thing to catch, or no such thing as catching it … .

I’m rather inclined to think that if we take seriously what Cavell (for example) has to say about the projectability of concepts — and on the late Wittgensteinian themes that Cavell is drawing on here (on the urban geography of natural language, etc.) — then I think it has to be part of the nature of a certain sort of language-game — of any language-game of the sort you could reason or explain in, say — that there could not possibly be a way of living with language that does not raise the possibility of philosophical problems. To live with a language where concepts and linguistic structures can constantly be projected into novel forms is to live with the pervasiveness of risk, doubt, misfires, mistakes, confusion, — since to acknowledge the possibility of projection just is to acknowledge the risk of failing to cotton onto the novel uses, or to shift contexts appropriately, or to recognize the interplay between the old usage and the new, or . . . .

And often we should like to be perfectly adept at these things, but (1) it seems clear that we cannot do that with any set of ex ante rules about what good language ought to look like (as the positivists seem to have thought); (2) it also seems clear that we cannot do that with any set of ex ante principles about what good linguistic therapy ought to look like (as AoTLP[1] hinting); and (3) setting all that aside, it’s not clear that we possibly could count as being perfectly adept by any means within us (what if the conversational context is not something that’s always up to us, but depends on future contingents about what others will play or non-play? what if it involves external objects, like the meter-stick in Paris or the chemical structure of water, which may not be epistemically transparent to us? etc.). And it’s not even clear if this, were it possible, would always be desirable (what if projection serves a tentative or exploratory purpose, not just an analytical or declaratory one? not to allow a certain degree of risky or even confused behavior may simply be to close us off from some funky new neighborhoods that language might otherwise work itself into. . . .).

. . .

[Quoting Nemo:] After a conversation with Socrates, one would say to himself, I don’t know what t’m talking about! I don’t know what [the thing] really means. I’ve got a problem. With Wittgenstein, I know it now! Avoid logical fallacies and speak proper grammar, there is no problem at all.

Well, I think that the bit after I know it now! is for L.W. much easier said than done, but it’s the doing that he’s interested in. The AoTLP[1] seems to have some faith that there is a state you can be in where you will become perfectly adept in the avoiding and in the grammaticalizing — a state that can only be really understood by reaching it, but which will disclose itself to you, irresistibly when and to the extent that you reach it. (In many ways it ends up sounding something like what Socrates is portrayed as teaching Meno about the unforgetting of true knowledge in the second third of the dialogue.) Now, as I understand the later L.W., that faith in the End of Analysis is one of the things that really does change and come under the later L.W.’s criticism. In some ways this makes his project seem less Socratic (or Platonic, whichever), since it means a much less idealized picture of what logical understanding amounts to; in other ways, it makes it seem more Socratic, since it means that there is no end of philosophy to aim at — it’s not a matter of reaching some perfected state of clarity, only an ongoing process of recognizing confusion and clarifying. . . . (In PI, Wittgenstein says that the real discovery is the one that allows you to stop doing philosophy when you want to — but of course stopping it is rather different from finishing it.)

— Charles Johnson (Dec. 2011), comments re: Wittgenstein on Progress in Philosophy

Kelly Dean Jolley, on Clarity, Combative Clarity (Dec. 2011):

I am Wittgensteinian enough, or Kierkegaardian enough, or Marcelian enough to believe that what philosophy aims for is clarity. But one is always becoming clear; one is never finally clear.

Clarity. Clarity is internal to philosophical investigation: it is not a separable result, isolable from the activity that realizes it and such that it confers value onto the activity because of a value it has independent of that activity. If a result is separable, isolable and independent, then it has a career cut off in an important way from the process that realized it. Indeed, in one sense its history only begins after the process that realizes it is finished. The result can be seized and put to purposes quite different from anything that those involved in the process of realizing it intended or foresaw.

But clarity is valuable because of the process of philosophical investigation that realizes it. And there is no clarity in isolation from the philosophical investigation that realizes it. Philosophical investigation does not realize a clarity that someone could hope to enjoy who is no longer involved in philosophical investigation. (I got clear, you see; and now I am enjoying my clarity, although, thank God!, I am no longer involved in the travails of philosophical investigation.) –Kierkegaard’s Climacus talks about the true Christian, the subjective Christian, as combatively certain of Christianity, as certain in a way that requires that the certainty be daily won anew. Eternal certainty (his contrast-term) is not something that the subjective Christian can enjoy on this side of the blue. Similarly, the clarity realized by philosophical investigation is combative clarity, not eternal clarity.

— Kelly Dean Jolley (Dec. 2011), on Clarity, Combative Clarity, in Quantum Est In Rebus Inane

  1. [1] The Author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the later Wittgenstein’s way of referring to his earlier views when he wished to criticize them.

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