Philosophical Tastes

This is a note from quite a while back, over at Kelly Dean Jolley’s common-place blog, which I stashed to chew on later, and which I’m chewing on a bit now. Here’s Jolley:

I’ve been thinking again about Wittgensteinian reminders, and, while I was doing so, I ran across the following from Henry James.

There are two kinds of taste, the taste for emotions of surprise and the taste for emotions of recognition.

It strikes me that much of the power of Wittgenstein’s work in PI is only available to those who have the taste for emotions of recognition. In fact, I wonder if the juxtaposition of PI 127[1] and 128[2] is not itself a juxtaposition of the two tastes: in 127 Wittgenstein engages the taste for emotions of recognition and in 128 he denies the taste for emotions of surprise.

–Kelly Dean Jolley, Reminders and a Kind of Taste
Quantum Est In Rebus Inane (March 20, 2012)

  1. [1][Philosophical Investigations § 127: The work of the philosopher consists in marshalling recollections for a particular purpose. — CJ.]
  2. [2][Philosophical Investigations § 128: If someone were to advance theses in philosophy, it would never be possible to debate them, because everyone would agree to them. — CJ]


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  1. Roderick T. Long

    I wonder whether Socrates counts as resisting the distinction. On the one hand, the dialectical process is supposed to lead us to surprising, paradoxical, initially counterintuitive conclusions: no one willingly does wrong, a good person can’t be harmed, all the virtues are one. Yet he generally portrays the process as one not of changing someone’s mind but rather of revealing what they’ve thought all along. He doesn’t tell Polus, for example, “I’m going to convince you to believe that suffering injustice is more beneficial than committing it,” but rather “I’m going to show you that you already believe that suffering injustice is more beneficial than committing it.”

    Perhaps a theory of Recollection is a theory neither of surprise simpliciter nor of recognition simpliciter, but rather one of surprising recognition.

    • Rad Geek

      I’m pretty strongly inclined to agree with you about that, and to see that as one of Socrates’s great merits. Part of the reason I mentioned Kelly’s post here was actually that I was going to lead in to contrasting the move there, with the move being made by Marcel on experience and empiricism here. On the one hand experience is — by definition? — the most familiar thing that there is. On the other hand it is something that we’re needing to constantly approach as more alien than our received notions, something perpetually beyond, something we can be constantly surprised or perplexed by, etc. So we may need to seek recognition in experience. But the recognition is not necessarily like strolling around the old haunts to see how nothing has changed, everything’s just as you left it, etc. It may be more like the feeling of recognition that people describe when they say that they come to a new town, and yet feel like it’s been their real home all along.

      I particularly like your mention of the Meno, since the theory of Recollection there may have a . . . complicated relationship with the kind of reminders and recollections that L.W. says it’s the philosopher’s task to marshal. Because on the one hand Wittgenstein seems to want to put some very tight constraints on how much these can possibly overturn about ordinary speech and practice. But on the other hand he clearly expects them to be surprising recognitions in some of the same ways. (So e.g. language-games are not something sublime but they are much richer and trickier than we are accustomed to see them as being, and much richer than any of the sets of ordinary categories we have for parsing up sentences, etc.) I wonder whether part of the difference in emphasis may simply be a difference over where Socrates and L.W. each tend to suggest that bafflement comes from — whether they see it as arising from a specialized, philosophical kind of approach, or whether they see it as frequently, spontaneously arising within seemingly non-philosophical everyday talk and reflection. So if you think the problems you’re encountering are part of the former, then it might seem the taste for recognition is too dulled, like this is a sort of conceptual avant-gardism or gourmandism. If you think the problems you’re encountering are coming from the former, then it might seem like the taste for surprise is too dulled, like this is a sort of gluttony for conceptual comfort foods. But in both cases it looks like it is an attempt to get someone to see the surprising in the everyday, without losing focus on either. (So in conclusion, I guess what Polus actually should be doing is getting the gourmet grilled-cheese from an insufferable hipster food truck?)

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