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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

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Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

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john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

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JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Literary Wittgenstein and Theory’s Empire

Posted by John Holbo on 05/12/05 at 04:48 AM

As mentioned a few days ago, I am planning a few Massive Multi-Thinker Online Reviews on the lines of the China Miéville event at CT. This post gives some advance detail, in case you want to do your homework early.

The idea: one book, many reviewers. Authors invited to be guest posters, given full right of response. Go around until everyone gets tired. A maxi-review/mini-conference, if you will. All of you readers encouraged to join in, naturally.

It is now reasonably certain our first two titles will be The Literary Wittgenstein (eds. John Gibson and Wolfgang Huemer); and Theory's Empire (eds. Daphne Patai and Will H. Corral). I figure we'll give each at least a couple days of dedicated attention. Dates for these events are uncertain and detail needs hashing. Academics - frivolous things - are hard to herd. I have a tentative commitment from the Wittgenstein folks to provide at least a few papers as PDF downloads. This is good because Terry Eagleton favorably reviewed the book for TLS a couple weeks back and, boom, the world's supply of The Literary Wittgenstein dried up. You can't get it at Amazon for a month. If this proves to be a serious supply problem, and the PDF offerings are insufficient, we may delay until new drilling in Austria reaches known reserves.

A bit about the The Literary Wittgenstein. Twenty pieces by eighteen authors. Although the title may seem to hint otherwise, the approach taken is predominantly – though not exclusively - academic philosophical. All contributors are academics, no novelists, poets or other artist-types. Only three contributors are literature professors. (Nothing wrong with this, but it could be otherwise.) I think the volume contains two very good papers: Timothy Gould, "Restlessness and the achievement of peace: writing and method in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations". And Richard Eldridge, "Rotating the axis of our investigation: Wittgenstein's investigations and Hölderlin's poetology". (Maybe I shouldn't prejudice you with my judgments, but it's a big book and I think these two should not be missed if you dip in.) Stanley "this new yet unapproachable" Cavell does pretty well to defeat our reasonable expectations of diminishing returns in "The Investigations' everyday aesthetics of itself". (If you've read three Cavell papers on Wittgenstein, you've read them all. But it turns out this one adds a little - and it isn't about Cavell!) A number of other pieces contain material worth discussing. A couple are ostentatiously useless, but Wittgenstein's focus on use seems to encourage that. Add a couple scholastic puzzle-pieces: twiddly-fine stuff that isn't as exciting as the volume title tantalizes (but I sort of think it's OK.) I hope to bring some philosophers to the table to hash over this volume, but I think it will also be interesting for lit studies folk to join in.

I think there is no more interesting philosophical puzzle than the peculiar hybrid of art and analytic philosophy that is Ludwig Wittgenstein. No, really.

About Theory's Empire. It's 725 pages, 47 pieces, plus introductory matter. A gobstopper. Table of contents here. I've read half in just two days. So far it's very good. Those who know me know I'm a Theory critic and sometime basher. That I am liking a book that expresses my point of view, as this one does, is not surprising. But I'm impressed by the way that ... well, I'll just reach for Fred Crews Postmodern Pooh. Dudley Cravat III, "The Twilight of the Dogs". (A Roger Kimball/Gertrude Himmelfarb mash-up, if I make no mistake.) Our fictional author is indicting the papers of his fellow fictional conference attendees: "Nearly all of them are exactly alike: uncivil, adversarial, monotonous, and redundant. And this is a damning indicator of how "English" has lost its way, for those qualities - incivility, adversarialness, monotony, and redundancy - are just the ones that a real gentleman would eschew at all cost." Getting back to Empire: these pieces have been published before, except the intro matter. I was worried most about redundancy; also that the explicitly negative stance would not wear well over the long haul, even if contemptsmanship were kept to a minimum.

But the book avoids these problems, so far. For example, theory is not beaned with a phonebook composed of individually slight slices of journalistic snark against the MLA (much as I love well-done comedy in that vein: funny is funny, and contains its drop of wisdom.) What we have are thoughtful, knowledgeable, scholarly, historically-nuanced and philosophically careful critiques. The division of labor, getting different areas and angles covered, is efficient and comprehensive. I'm not reading the same points again and again, and it would be hard to complain 'but you're ignoring this side of the question' to this collection. That last point is pretty crucial.

So the editors have worked to put paid to their cheeky subtitle, 'an anthology of dissent', even while resisting hitting the slapstick of that joke again and again until it stops being funny. (They think they're the dissenters! But we're dissenting from them! Classic Hope-Tipping.)

So far I like best Morris Dickstein, "The Rise and Fall of "Practical" Criticism: From I.A. Richards to Barthes and Derrida"; and Denis Donoghue, "Theory, Theories, and Principles". Also, I have been ill-disposed to Geoffrey Galt Harpham in the past. I read Shadows of Ethics and his Zizek piece in CI. Bad. Since then I keep running into good stuff by him. I have yet to solve this riddle, but - in light of past abuse dished - unqualified praise seems in order. "The End of Theory, the Rise of the Profession: a Rant in Search of Response" is good.

The editors suggest their volume may stand as a reproach to The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Mark Bauerlein, who has a good piece in Empire - "Social Constructionism: Philosophy For the Academic Workplace" - has expressed an interest in putting the two volumes toe-to-toe when our little event comes off. Let me step on his toes by taking first crack.

You can view the Norton table of contents at Amazon. The Empire editors (following a Harpham review) make the point that it is lopsided in favor of contemporary figures. (Alternatively, one could argue that because no one did 'theory' - as opposed to 'theory of' something - before 1965, a lot of this old stuff that isn't 'criticism' shouldn't be included at all, so it isn't lopsided enough.) In fairness, I don't know whether the second half of a volume of this sort can avoid being to some degree a fashion show that will look quaint in 25 years. It has to serve students; students need to know what's hot now; never mind that these names will be forgotten. But the editors of Empire think - I think they are clearly right - that their 700-page volume is a whopping great beam in the eye of the Norton. Surely if you have some aspiration to comprehensiveness, you must see SOMETHING in this quadrant of your visual field? But no, apparently not. (It might be reasonable - in a half-crazy way - to say that, by and large, the contributors to Theory's Empire don't 'do theory'. So they have no business in a 'theory' anthology. But this point falls foul of all the old stuff that occupies the first half of the volume. If 'theory' is a narrow school, it doesn't get to own the history of philosophy after Plato. If it's part of the broad stream of philosophical, intellectual life that starts with Plato, it's very wrong to refuse to admit the perspective of Theory's Empire.)

Here's something that amused me. The Empire editors on Norton: "what can one say about the exclusion of Shlovsky, Empson, Trilling, and Steiner from a volume of over 2,500 pages in which ample space is given to a host of trendy but ephemeral contemporary figures." Shlovsky I don't know. Steiner I can take or leave. Too holbonic. But they cut Empson and Trilling? The engine doesn't get a safety valve? The function of the little magazine shall be neglected? It's like these folks went out of their way to write the Norton Anthology of Bizarro Holbo Studies. Hence I like Theory's Empire. And very reasonably priced.

UPDATE: Today I learn great minds think alike, but four years and one week ago. Josh Lukin emails a 2001 Scott McLemee article about the Norton from the Chron of Higher Ed. [now a free link - thanks, Scott!]. At first I was confused by the dateline - May 4, last week - and thought a new-new Norton was squeezing through the pipes as we speak and Scott was moonlighting back at the Chron (for some reason) to write about it.

Here's a bit that speaks to a point raised in my post.

Both Mr. Simon and Mr. Leitch [Norton editors] had been impressed by Mr. Williams's [another editor's] essay "Packaging Theory," which appeared in the journal College English in 1994. In it, he suggested that the recent spate of anthologies revealed something important: The field known as "theory" (which he defined broadly as "speculation on language, interpretation itself, society, gender, culture, and so on") was no longer just one specialty within literary studies. Rather, he argued, theory had become an essential part of the discipline. It was "a body of professional lore that functions to distinguish those inside the profession" -- while also providing a "marketing concept" for new journals, articles, conferences, and courses. Through the mid-1980's, scholars who "did theory" had been an embattled minority, championing ideas from philosophy, psychoanalysis, and other fields that challenged the foundations of literary study. But those days of stridency were over, Mr. Williams said. Furthermore, the entrenchment of theory had yielded a curious side effect. All those mind-bendingly transgressive thinkers now formed a sort of tradition -- a canon of classical figures. The appearance of more than a dozen anthologies in the late 1980's and early 1990's, Mr. Williams wrote, rendered theory "accessible, portable, and eminently teachable."

But then the Norton people said the volume was too fat. And that is when Empson and some others got the axe. (McLemee's title: "Making the Cut".) The problem is obvious, and it points to a saner solution than the one the editors went for. If 'theory' means "speculation on language, interpretation itself, society, gender, culture, and so on" then it is obvious nonsense to say it is something that only got comfortable after 1980. (One of the big achievements of theory is supposed to be laying the gentleman amateur belletristic pontificator in his grave, but then you can't define 'theory' in a way that patently raises him up as an Ur-theorist. What gentleman was ever incapable of 'speculating about culture', after all?) Obviously what is being 'packaged' as 'theory' is narrower than the implied vastness of the definition. Theory is a cluster of figures and styles - a more or less culturally cohesive post-60's intellectual and literary sensibility - found mostly in English departments. If you want to 'package' that, fine; don't include the old stuff. Dante didn't 'do theory'. Maimonides didn't 'do theory'. Just include the essential roots. Go back to Kant, fine. (He didn't 'do theory', but he's essential scenery.) The Enlightenment vs. Romanticism and how that played out to get us where we are, plus a few grace notes from the ancients - Plato, because Derrida. Cramming in other old stuff while squeezing out more contemporary competition looks (ahem) imperialistic. 'Theory and criticism' turns out to be a grue-ish cross-cut. Like having a volume entitled 'analytic philosophy and metaphysics'. Then leaving out Heidegger because ... he doesn't do analytic philosophy.

In short, the Norton looks overweight because it is one big Puffer Fish. When attacked, pretend to be larger than you are. (You don't like theory? What's wrong with it? Dante's a damn fine poet. And Maimonides is one sharp guy. There's a funny bit in the article about how Maimonides made the cut. And I made a Maimonides joke in comments just this morning. Small world.)


Comments

The Literary Wittgennstein seems to be available at Powells.com. For $125.95.

By John Emerson on 05/12/05 at 09:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

it’s very wrong to refuse to admit the perspective of Theory’s Empire.

That’s only true if the perspective in question represents a significant advance beyond Frye, Wimsatt, Richards, Empson (all but the last of whom are included in the Norton volume). If, OTOH, they are merely saying that subsequent developments in the study of literature are all messed up, then their positive views are represented perfectly well by the earlier critics.

By on 05/12/05 at 11:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I just read Eagleton’s review. Pretty good.

I realize that I’ve become a nag on this subject, but the first generation of Wittgenstein’s students missed some of his most important points.

For example, the Tractatus from 6.431 to the end is basically mystical—he used that word. He even has a version of “Why are there things rather than nothing” in there, and he made a sympathetic comment about Heidegger once in a letter (which Max Black censored out when he published the letter).

Wittgenstein’s closing statement in the PI:

“It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another--but, of course, it is not likely."

is usually also simply ignored, as a sort of personal quirk like his sexuality. But I think that there was a reason for it.

My conclusion is that Wittgenstein was not an analytical philosopher at all, even though almost all of his students were. There’s really nothing very counterintuitive or improbable about this kind of conclusion. Happens all the time.

By John Emerson on 05/12/05 at 02:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John E.:  How exactly do the passages and aspects of the Tractatus and PI you mention suggest that W. “was not an analytical philosopher at all?”

It seems to me that being an ambitious analytical philosopher--or any other kind of ambitious philosopher, for that matter--and epecting to be misunderstood are perfectly compatible, right?  It seems to me that the “reason for” the last sentence of PI is that it is true.  What other reason should we expect there to be for it?

By Zehou on 05/12/05 at 08:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I am redefining “analytic philosophy” to exclude the parts of Wittgenstein’s philosophy that were not developed by the analytic philosophers. When Wittgenstein wrote favorably about Heidegger or mysticism, he was not being an analytic philosopher.

By saying that W. was not an analytic philosopher, I’m praising him, of course. And as I understand, most analytic philosophers have jettisoned much of Wittgenstein in the belief that Kripke et. al. have solved most of the problems he raised.

Wittgenstein wrote his pessimistic statement after a decade or more teaching the very people who were eventually to found analytic philosophy. When he expressed pessimism about bringing light to any brain at all, who was he talking about?

He wasn’t saying that the average newspaper-reader wouldn’t understand him.  He wasn’t saying that it the median Briton wouldn’t understand him, or that the median academic wouldn’t understand him. He was doubting that anyone would understand him.

IE, he was saying that his students hadn’t understood him—the founders of analytic philosophy.

By John Emerson on 05/12/05 at 09:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

ktheintz, I assume you are just ribbing me, but if not then your point is a serious one and deserves a serious answer, which is this: as an evident defender of Theory, the first thing that you must do is prove that Theory represents a significant advance over the teachings of Pliny (the elder) and Moses Maimonides. Only after you have done that am I under any obligation to prove that the critics of theory represent a significant advance over the teachings of Frye and Wimsatt. (Seriously, if it looks like something that’s not a slave to Frye, and it walks like something that’s not a slave to Frye, and it quacks like ... hell with it. Connect the dots.)

But I assume you’re just ribbing me ;)

By John Holbo on 05/12/05 at 09:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, I don’t think this ‘Wittgenstein is not an analytic philosopher’ line is of much philosophical use, frankly. It’s like trying to argue that Marx isn’t a Hegelian, or that Aristotle isn’t a pupil of Plato - just because these pupils are very rebellious about the most fundamental things their teachers taught. Wittgenstein was a very adverse pupil of Russell and Frege. So he’s an analytic philosopher. Of course he’s not a ‘pure’ one, but then neither were Russell or Frege. They were individuals with interests and influences that did not become part of the analytic philosophy landscape that they developed. (This is sort of like Yglesias’ point the other day: Newton was the last pre-Newtonian physicist, Einstein the last pre-Einsteinian. Well, Russell and Frege were pre-analytic thinkers in lots of ways.) Still, unless the point is just to blow up the word ‘analytic philosophy’ and leave us with no way to describe what is, roughly, a school, Russell, Frege and Wittgenstein were analytic philosophers.

Now, I think it is fair to say that the spirit in which Wittgenstein engaged in philosophy was very ‘continental’ (I really don’t like these terms.) He’s a post-Romantic, post-Kantian thinker. My dissertation is an attempt to show that the Tractatus is deeply Schopenhauerian, so you don’t have to prod me to get me to admit this. I think it’s true and interesting and some analytic philosophers have been very head in the sand about it. Shame on them. Still, Wittgensteins methods were analytic, and his claims were analytic (if ‘analytic’ has any meaning at all). He adopted his methods out of a sense of the points at which Russell’s and Frege’s methods exhausted themselves. So if you don’t know Russell and Frege, you don’t get Wittgenstein. So if it just has to be a wishbone struggle between analytic and continental, then continental comes away with ‘why he cared’ and analytic comes away with ‘what he said’. I really do not recommend the wishbone method of reading Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein was obviously a very strange hybrid philosophical personality. If that’s all you mean by ‘he’s not analytic’ then fine. But you have to also admit that ‘he’s not continental’. Too much analytic in him. Right?

By John Holbo on 05/12/05 at 09:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

“John, I don’t think this ‘Wittgenstein is not an analytic philosopher’ line is of much philosophical use, frankly."

It’s useful to me, because it makes it easier to for me dismiss analytic philosophy while continuing to read Wittgenstein. The differences from Frege and Russell are the reasons I’m interested in him. I think that the undeveloped potentials in Wittgenstein are important.

I’m not talking about the continental / analytic split. I always get this assumption that if I’m anti-analytic I must be continental. Those are “a and b”—they’re not “a and not-a”. I’m not part of that ballgame.

I’ve been accused of using a sociological rather than a philosophical definition of “analytic philosophy”. I cop to that. Analytic philosophy is what runs the show in American philosophy departments nowadays. Someone who doesn’t like that kind of stuff can still like Wittgenstein.

Even Ryle, Popper, and Austin have things of interest going on. What I don’t like is what’s happened since ~1960.

“If ‘analytic’ has any meaning at all”.

Leiter claims it doesn’t, and people arguing against me seem to be defining the term in more than one way; some claim that analytic philosophy came to an end in 1980 or so, and has been succeded by something different.

By John Emerson on 05/12/05 at 10:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John,

I don’t think (but I don’t know) that Leiter would deny that there is a core meaning of ‘analytic’ that would encompass Frege-Russell-Wittgenstein-(Moore) at a minumum.

If Wittgenstein isn’t analytic, then the term is meaningless and (whereof we cannot speak ...drumroll) the very claim that he isn’t analytic is therefore meaningless. So what are we arguing about?

As an historicist about these matters, I honestly don’t think it’s intellectually healthy to ignore other analytic philosophy while reading Wittgenstein. No more so than saying ‘I’m going to read Wittgenstein and understand him but not think a thing about anything mystical or post-Kantian post-Romantic’.

The proper thing to do is say: I don’t find anything interesting in Frege and Russell, but Wittgenstein did, and he interests me, so I should understand them (even if I find it trying) so I can understand Wittgenstein. The alternative is using Wittgenstein as a source of inspiration, rather than attempting to understand him in his own terms with the help of all the clues his culture, times and influences provide. This is explicitly Kripke’s method. He writes not about Wittgenstein but ‘Wittgenstein as he struck Kripke’. Kripkenstein is what we call the result. Are you writing Emerstein? Since I know that historicism isn’t everything, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s better to be very clear about it upfront. (That Emerstein is not an analytic philosopher is a lot less surprising that the thought that Wittgenstein isn’t one.)

To conclude: I disapprove of blowing up a term - ‘analytic philosophy’ - that is of some minimal historical use as a designation of a line of intellectual descent and community of thinkers, just so you can take inspiration. Because surely you can do that without blowing up the term.

But if you just want to explode the term experimentally, and mostly for entertainment purposes - in a comment box, say - then damage to the study of the history of philosophy should be mostly contained. So OK :)

And we are all jolly friends here, John, and I’m sorry I haven’t gotten around to reading your Soames/Rorty thing but I will. We will discuss it.

By John Holbo on 05/13/05 at 12:34 AM | Permanent link to this comment

If anything anywhere should be nominalist, IMHO, it should be philosophical and literary labels.

Was Whitehead an analytic philosopher when he was working with Russell? Probably, sorta.

There’s a school that started out with Russell/Whitehead, logical positivism and (most of) early Wittgenstein, and ended up with contemporary Anglo-American philosophy.

Some aspects of the later Wittgenstein, but no aspects of the later Whitehead, were picked up by the Anglo-American school. So does that make Wittgenstein, as a whole, an analytic?

Because if Wittgenstein’s an analytic philosopher, I say the hell with him. But I’d hate to have to stop reading his stuff.  So I have a dog in this fight.

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 01:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John,

You like Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein is an analytic philosopher (or the term is meaningless). So you like one analytic philosopher (and are free to think all the rest are useless as air conditioning in a blizzard, except you need them for understanding the one you like, if you want to understand him in his own terms, rather than just take inspiration for your own thing.)

If you are serious about not wanting to read Wittgenstein if he’s analytic, then ... this isn’t a dog fight, it’s one of those nose-cutting-off face-spite things waiting to happen, no? You are threatening to deprive yourself of what you think is valuable. What’s the point? I’m not seeing the motivation for this iron determination to deny the title ‘analytic’ to Wittgenstein. Perhaps I would be more sympathetic if I could see how it helps you take inspiration. Some new way of cutting up the terrain?

As to Whitehead: interesting case. The thing about the later Wittgenstein is not just that some aspects of his thought have been picked up but that “Philosophical Investigations” is one of the books that you can assume everyone has read. At least some of. Whitehead you can assume no one has read, yeah. Or very few.

Please explain what your dog is fighting FOR, John. (Maybe I should go read your Soames/Rorty thing.)

By John Holbo on 05/13/05 at 02:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

If ‘Frege, Russell, and (early and late) Wittgenstein are analytic philosophers’ is analytic, then some analytic philosophers disagree with one another quite a lot.  Which sounds right.

The sort of mysticism (if that’s the right word) W. winds up with is a mysticism he tries to motivate by means of rather a lot of explicit and implicit argument.  I don’t have a clue why being a mystic in that way should keep us from thinking W. has one foot (or both feet) in the analytic tradition in a big way.

As for the final S of PI:  the founders of analytic philosophy were not W’s students, but W’s teachers and idols.  But those brilliant minds had, W. presumably thought, both (i) made grave errors, and (ii) failed to grasp W.’s challenges.  That naturally recommended to W. the expectation that he would continue to be misunderstood.  John E.:  What’s wrong in this reading?

By Zehou on 05/13/05 at 08:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

When did the phrase “analytic philosophy” appear? (I’m serious now). As of 1950 or so, “logical positivism” was the umbrella word. Russell was thought of as a LP, though he denied it and called himself a logical atomist. Popper also denied being a LP, IIRC, but the point is that he had to do so; people thought he was one. The LP’s had tried to recruit early Wittgenstein, but he was resistant, though many still seemed to claim him.

Then PI came along. W’s students were called “ordinary-language” or “linguistic analysis” philosophers. They were pretty harsh toward the LP’s, who returned in kind. No analytic philosophy label yet.

Then Quine and the others came along. As I remember, Rorty called this the “California Revolution” because it came from Berkeley (??—it’s there in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature). And then Kripke. And various ontological and positivistic concerns took over, which were quite distant from what later Wittgenstein was doing.

I imagine that the new kids thought that they had adequately assimilated Wittgenstein, but I say that they hadn’t. I date analytic philosophy from that post-Wittgenstein movement. (One of the people on Yglesias seemed to limit analytic philosophy to the pre-Kripke people; he apparently was claiming that analytic philosophy came to an end and was replaced by something better.)

If the analytic philosophers want to claim Russell, Frege, and the early W. as ancestors, or the logical positivists and Popper, cool. I’m denying them the later Wittgenstein. Or alternatively, postulating a second Wittgensteinian branch.

Even in biology, speciation is terribly difficult and often controversial, and I believe that philosophical typology is especially so. I’m willing to say that the later Wittgenstein was an analytic the way Hegel was a Kantian, in that he proposes Frege and Russell.

Henry Leroy Finch (The Early W.; The Later W.) and Chris Gudmunsen (W. and Buddhism) have developed W’s thought in the way that I’m talking about.

I have lots of various stuff up at my URL.

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 08:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"presupposes Frege and Russell”.

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 08:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The history of the term ‘analytic philosophy’ is indeed a puzzling one. I did research in this area in about 1995. And memory is weak and my notes aren’t handy. ‘Analytic’ started as anti-Hegelian fighting words for Moore and Russell. (Moore was the older one. We think of him as second fiddle now, but young Russell looked up.) Then, as John says, there was a time when ‘analytic’ became the antonym for ‘ordinary language philosophy’ - i.e. Austin, less so the later Wittgenstein. Then later - around about 1960, memory serves - ‘analytic’ started getting use as an antonym for French stuff. There was this conference in France Austin attended (1960? Anybody?) Sorry. The positivism stuff is confused. Sometimes ‘logical positivism’ was described as ‘analytic’ in the 1930’s. I remember reading a review of ‘analytic’ philosophy by some Eastern European philosopher, written in the 30’s, that included the Vienna Circle and Russell and so forth.

I still haven’t read John’s links. I promise to do so but right now I’m full of beer and chili crab. (It’s Friday night in Singapore.) I guess if you want to ‘deny’ the later Wittgenstein to the analytics - and you’ve got some list of conditions for being one that he doesn’t satisfy - yeah, OK. Use language how you like. Sounds a bit punitive to me. And it conflicts with more usage than it agrees with. But the later Wittgenstein is very different from Frege or Russell, yes. So you may want to mark that. Yet they are still his teachers, and you still have grapple with them if you want to understand PI. So long as you admit PI is in intense (although not exclusive) dialogue with the likes of Russell and Frege, fine.

It’s very odd that I am defending the use of ‘analytic’ because it’s a mess. Causes more trouble that it sorts out. Yet all possible uses include at least the early Wittgenstein and most include the late. I don’t think of it in terms of who gets credit for having who on their team. It’s genealogies and line of influence.

By John Holbo on 05/13/05 at 11:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I just realized that I misread John’s comment. John, are you saying that ‘analytic’ philosophy is post late-Wittgensteinian, not pre-late-Wittgensteinian? So Russell and Frege and not properly analytic philosophers but ancestors of analytic philosophy? (I’m confused.) I agree with you that the label got stuck on surprisingly late, but it still is a label stuck on late to an earlier thing. Who do you think is an analytic philosopher?

It is true that ‘analytic philosophy’ was less popular than ‘school of analysis’ and other variants early on. But Russell and Moore and others were bloody clear that they were the ones (unlike those damn Hegelians) who ANALYZED. So ‘analytic philosophy’ is a very appropriate label.

By John Holbo on 05/13/05 at 11:41 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Good question.  I spent too much time doing this, and the result is Holbovian.  Poking around on JSTOR and the online OED, I discover:

1) Shadworth Hodgson used the expression in a series of papers in the 1870s and 80s to refer to one of three branches of philosophy (along with constructive philosophy and ontology) that hadn’t been previously distinguished.  Constructive philosophy is “perpetually inventing’ hypotheses while analytic philosophy is “perpetually analysing and criticising” them. “Philosophy and Science,” Mind, vol. 1, number 3, 1876, p.362.

2) More directly to the point, Wm. Pepperell Montague, used the expression in 1933 thinking “of Moore and Russell, Whitehead in his pre-cosmological period, Susan Stebbing and other members of the Aristotelian Society, and of Wittgenstein.  If I am not mistaken, what is explicitly or implicitly advocated by this group is the policy of restricting philosophy neither to history nor to social problems, but to a determinedly rigorous analysis of experience and its categories” (7).  And, a page later: “the leading member of the group of philosophers that we are discussing declares to us that metaphysics (old style) is nothing but ‘bad grammar.’ And a propos of this famous jibe a colleague of mind has remarked that, while the new metaphysics may be good grammar, it appears to be nothing much else.” He has the Tractatus especially in mind.  “Philosophy as Vision,” International Journal of Ethics, 1933 44:1-22. 

3) The term is used in a J.Phil. review of John Wisdom’s Problems of Mind and Matter in 1935. According to the reviewer, “Those whose interest has been aroused by previous statements of Wisdom, Stebbing, Black, and others as to the nature and prospects of the ‘analytic method’ in philosophy will find in these ‘applications’ less of logical and epistemological novelty than they may have anticipated” (136).

4) And then in 1936, there’s a delightful report for Americans by Ernest Nagel entitled “Impressions and Appraisals of Analytic Philosophy in Europe,” again in J. Phil.  He writes, “I wish to report on the philosophy professed at Cambridge, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, and Lwow . . . They take for granted a body of authentic knowledge acquired by the special sciences, and are concerned not with adding to it in the way research in these sciences adds to it, but with clarifying its meaning and implications” (6).  The first installment, which is the one I read, is pretty damn funny for a J. Phil. paper, and reports on the Cambridge scene. The later Wittgenstein’s views are treated as exemplars of the kind and reported through conjecture and unpublished evidence.  Nagel’s paper seems to have been pretty influential, and it’s probably how the term came into wide currency.  It’s probably what John H. read.  Nagel was born in what’s now the Czech Republic but moved to the U.S. when he was 10.

5) The first use of ‘analytic philosophy’ that I can find as a description of a school to which the author himself pledged allegiance is in a 1947 paper by Wilfred Sellars, “Pure Pragmatics and Epistemology.” If analytic philosophy starts in 1879, it would be noteworthy that nobody says that he or she is doing it until 68 years later. 

Still, my search is limited to JSTOR, and, for all I know, the expression occurs often in Russell’s books.  I kind of doubt it, though, judging by the somewhat stipulative character of the references I found.

By on 05/13/05 at 01:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Facts are stupid things. Who invited Jacovides, anyway? 1947 is earlier than I would have wished, though Sellars was just one guy and the movement perhaps came later.

I would use “analytic philosophy” to mean post-late-Wittgenstein. Russell and Frege and early W. and Popper and LP would be proto-AP. But it seems to me that the “ordinary-language” Wittgensteinians and Austinians got squeezed out, or a lot of them did, as the school developed. Their influence I’ve seen seems to have been mostly in social sciences.

The business of defining schools retroactively according to who you want your ancestors to have been was done by Russell in his various writings on the history of western philosophy. AFAIK, he slighted or ignored people like Epictetus, Scotus, Montaigne who did things which had previously always been considered philosophy, but which did not contribute to the development of the kind of philosophy Russell did.

Part of the reason for my animus against AP is the way that Russell had to split his writing in half, part “real philosophy” and part political journalism which he seems to have written off the top of his head. Very strict standards in one area, and a rather casual, offhand attitude in the other. Certainly his philosophy didn’t inform his other writing.

Russell did try to write philosophically about human affairs in a book called “Power” which I own but haven’t read; maybe there’s a Foucault connection!

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 01:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John Holbo:

The proper thing to do is say: I don’t find anything interesting in Frege and Russell, but Wittgenstein did, and he interests me, so I should understand them (even if I find it trying) so I can understand Wittgenstein. The alternative is using Wittgenstein as a source of inspiration, rather than attempting to understand him in his own terms with the help of all the clues his culture, times and influences provide.

In my reading Wittgenstein is sui generis. The Tractatus was written under Russell’s supervision and in his particular philosophical language and therefore counts as part of the tradition in which we place Russell, whatever that might be. Wittgenstein then spent many years explicitly distancing himself from the academic world in a way that ironically gave him a certain prestige. When he returned to the academic world, his philosophy had nothing to do with anybody else’s philosophy, except for two nonessential features: 1) he felt himself to be in a dialogue with his contemporaries, so his examples were chosen to coincide with their work; and 2) because of his personal prestige, his inferiors fought over his legacy, a process which only (naturally) accelerated after his early death.

Not that I have strong feelings about it or anything.

The alternative is using Wittgenstein as a source of inspiration, rather than attempting to understand him in his own terms with the help of all the clues his culture, times and influences provide. ... Are you writing Emerstein? Since I know that historicism isn’t everything, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s better to be very clear about it upfront. (That Emerstein is not an analytic philosopher is a lot less surprising that the thought that Wittgenstein isn’t one.)

Students today are taught to try to understand the famously difficult late Wittgenstein in part by connecting his examples to the way his contemporaries used similar examples. (They are also first hopelessly confused by starting with the Tractatus.) But this is to assume the conclusion.

Is the orthodox version of Wittgenstein a hybrid, that could be mocked as “Analytistein”?

By pierre on 05/13/05 at 02:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m a little troubled by sweeping generalizations about how “students today are taught to try to understand” late Wittgenstein.  Which teachers do you have in mind?

To add a few sweeping generalizations of my own: 1.  very few folks can claim to have read even Part I of PI all the way through.  In the US, grad seminars on PI are taught regularly at Harvard, Pittsburgh, all the schools in Chicago, and a few other places, but most undergrad or grad students in philosophy encounter PI in bits only.  The “social scientists” you mention read even less, though they often like it more.

2.  Those who are well-prepared to read PI (i.e., those who can see and grasp in Schopenhauer, Freud, Frege, Russell, and Moore something of what W. might have seen) tend to be unimpressed the first few times through the book:  W. seems, after all, to be suggesting that Kripke and Chomsky and Lewis couldn’t possibly do what, some think, they have already succeeded in doing.

But one of the nice things about analytic philosophers is that they like to think they’re being charitable, so that some of ‘em find the time to give PI a 3rd, 4th, or 5th chance.  And the 5th reading sometimes yields some serious converts.

By Zehou on 05/13/05 at 04:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

[M]ost undergrad or grad students in philosophy encounter PI in bits only....Those who are well-prepared to read PI (i.e., those who can see and grasp in Schopenhauer, Freud, Frege, Russell, and Moore something of what W. might have seen) tend to be unimpressed the first few times through the book

So am I correct that the analytic philosophers of today have dumped Wittgenstein, and that he is, in that sense, not an analytic philosopher? (And also—maybe those people were NOT well-prepared....)

The “social scientists” you mention read even less, though they often like it more. Essentially, they did not reject what W. had to say. I didn’t say that they were W. scholars.

Sweeping statements are a good thing, BTW.

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 04:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

As a philosophy undergrad at Minnesota (where the ghost of Herbert Feigl is still present), I audited a senior/grad-level Wittgenstein seminar and we were explicitly encouraged not to think we understood what Wittgenstein was up to… that is: to try (you’ve got to write papers, after all) to understand, but to realize that we (including the professor) probably didn’t. I think we stuck to PI, parts of Blue and Brown books, and maybe something like the Remarks on Color. Not the worst pedagogical approach, but I remember it infuriated me because I thought I understood Wittgenstein completely. Ha ha ha ha ha--well, I know better now.

An anecdote told to me at that time, illuminating my folly, concerns the summer (late 60s) that two faculty at Minnesota--John Dolan and John Wallace (who had both recently finished PhDs at Stanford) were then at Rockefeller University with Kripke, Nozick, and Joel Feinberg. Well, this distinguished crew set out to spend a summer reading the Tractatus and decided, at the summer’s conclusion, that they didn’t understand it fully. I guess they had good company in Russell and Moore, per the famous anecdote of W’s PhD examination. So… I always laugh a little when people claim to represent the “real” Wittgenstein (especially given his own tortured attempts to do so).

As for “Analytic” philosophy… really folks: beyond what Jacovides says (which accords with my own reading/oral history from long hours hanging out with faculty), does anyone really believe the “logic-chopper” stereotype of philosphy this is supposed to denote? The existence of Gregory Vlastos, Bernard Williams, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Nozick, and Donald Davidson--all fantastic philosophers and excellent writers (and you could list many more)--should surely put this canard to rest. Even folks like Charles Taylor and Stanley Cavell, two who come to immediate mind as Anglo-American philosophers willing to engage “Continental” philosophy, surely owe a great debt to the work of “analytic” philosophy--and participate in its discussions.

Meantime, the Literary Wittgenstein blog-posium sounds grand (and expensive!).

By on 05/13/05 at 04:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My version of canard is based mostly on flipping through randomly selected philosophy journals, overhearing the conversations of generic analytic philosophers, and hearing people talk about what philosophy grad school is like and what you need to do there. A sociological median version of the academic philosophy biz.

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 04:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m a little troubled by sweeping generalizations about how “students today are taught to try to understand” late Wittgenstein.  Which teachers do you have in mind?

Well,

... most undergrad or grad students in philosophy encounter PI in bits only. ...  Those who are well-prepared to read PI (i.e., those who can see and grasp in Schopenhauer, Freud, Frege, Russell, and Moore something of what W. might have seen)

Your idea of the necessary preparation (endemic, unless I am mistaken) is what I’m talking about. Who encounters Wittgenstein with the expectation that they will be able to derive some value from a cold reading? Probably the same number that tackle “Ulysses” without a guidebook. I mean, any bright undergrad can dive into Hobbes or Rousseau or even Spinoza and get *something* out of it, and many do. 

My contention is that Wittgenstein is tremendously susceptible to being distorted by the expectations that are created around his work. Particularly as a result of his characteristic format which lacks introduction, problem statement, conclusion or any other common apparatus. Even if that is not the case, doesn’t it seem so likely a danger, given the format of the books and their contentious history, that it would be fair to ask subscribers to the orthodox W to explain why they are so confident this isn’t happening?

By pierre on 05/13/05 at 04:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Joel and John E’s remarks crossed mine and make mine seem a little cranky. What they said.

Joel’s course reading interests me. I would never insist that students *couldn’t* understand, though! That’s crazy. And if the line is that the senior faculty don’t understand it, why teach it at all?

By pierre on 05/13/05 at 05:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Pierre—there’s big difference, on the face, between ‘couldn’t understand’ and ‘not fully understand,’ but I think the crucial thing to note, both with the anecdote about the summer reading group at Rockefeller and the pedagogical approach, is that these amount to generous attempts to do full justice to the definiens of ‘understand.’ (I saw a remark by John Barth once to the effect that ‘all of my MA students who’ve finished a book have gotten published’--a statement whose wry wit is lost on those who take ‘finished’ lightly.)

As for teaching without understanding--well, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it happens all the time (and, for that matter, isn’t the worse thing if done honestly--that was Socrates’ very M.O., right?).

By on 05/13/05 at 07:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Just to refloat a question I raised above—since 1921, what have Wittgenstein’s fellow analytic philosophers done with the ending of the Tractatus (after 6.431)?

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 08:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John… “What do you mean?”

By on 05/13/05 at 08:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Basically, since it was the conclusion of the book, it should be important. So the ideas there must have been developed and discussed.

Why does W. call his conclusion “mystical”, for example? What is the significance of mysticism?

Or take “Is this not the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?”

What does that mean? Seemingly people do find “the sense of life”, but not by a philosophical process.  So what’s up with that?

And how many analytic philosophers care? (The answer is not zero, I know, but this kind of thing seems foreign to 95% of the analytic philosophy I’ve ever seen).

Most seem to think that #7 (silence) means something like “not worth bothering with” or “not my department”.

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 08:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Or take “Is this not the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?”
What does that mean? Seemingly people do find “the sense of life”, but not by a philosophical process.  So what’s up with that?
And how many analytic philosophers care?

All of ‘em.  Name an alleged counterexample and we’ll get him or her on the phone and settle this.

By Zehou on 05/13/05 at 09:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Do they write about it? Is it a theme? How do we know? Are there observable manifestations of their caring. ("Silence" isn’t an answer. Wittgenstein talked about silence, but he had this very serious, explicit streak of intense moral seriousness.)

Your aren’t going to make this into a tag question, are you? “Sir, do you care about the process of ‘finding the sense of life’, or don’t you?”

The analytic philosophers I have run into seemed like nice, conventional, unintrospective guys who had their routines down.

“All of them” is a rather defensive answer. You don’t knwo all of them, and there are individuals in the world who don’t care about these questions.

By John Emerson on 05/13/05 at 09:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It looks like Mike Jacovides has followed my trail very neatly. Susan Stebbings is an important forgotten link: she has that early Aristotelian Society paper about ‘what is analysis?’ Montague is great. He’s got a book about early 20th Century British philosophy. I remember it well. (Or else I’m totally forgetting.) Speculation that the 20th Century will be a philosophical battle royale to see who is heir to the throne of Scottish Hegelianism. (After John McTaggart.)

Actually, that reminds me of a story. A colleague at Berkeley was doing a paper on philosophy of language. The crux was whether the two Boutroses in Boutros Boutros-Ghali were tokens of the same type or not. (Or something. I can’t even remember.) When I pointed out the hyphen, of which my interlocutor had been unaware - two names - given ‘Boutros’; surname ‘Boutros-Ghali’. Obviously not tokens of any one type. Anyway, this scotched the snake of the problem too decisively for the paper to be writable. Fortunately I was able to revive the whole research project with ‘John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart’ - “Eeef it’s naht Scootish Hegaileenism, it’s craaap!” I suppose Duran Duran would be the more obvious go-to.

But I digress. (Ah, three words that should not be heard in comments.) As I was saying - yes, the Nagel piece, exactly. Bingo. It’s really a good read, as Mike says.

Anyway, John Emerson. I disapprove of this strange usage of ‘analytic philosophy’ you have minted: post-1960 stuff. That’s confusing as hell. (It does allow you to prove Wittgenstein was no analytic just by producing the death certificate, 1951. But I am unmoved.) No one uses ‘analytic’ in the way you do, and lots of people use it to pick out almost the inverse of the set of 20th Century Anglo-American thinkers you use it to pick out. May I suggest you find another term?

Second, now that I know you are using it this way, I am no longer willing to let you ‘deny the analytics’ the late Wittgenstein as a major influence. Membership in a class you can stipulate by defining ‘analytic’ how you like (but do try to use your powers to clarify, not confuse.) But influence is not the sort of thing you can stipulate away by saying ‘I deny you x’. That PI has had a massive effect on post-1960’s Anglo-American thought is obvious and undeniable. (If you think they got it all wrong, fine. But there is no denying the massive influence of PI.)

Third, I distrust this ‘I deny you x’ impulse on your part. It feels to me like you are letting retributive justice - retribution for being bad, in your eyes - dictate historical facts. (Verificationism may be an unhealthily limited view of these matters, but vendettaism about facts - you blot one of mine, I blot one of yours - is not an improvement.)

Going back to your first comment:

For example, the Tractatus from 6.431 to the end is basically mystical—he used that word. He even has a version of “Why are there things rather than nothing” in there, and he made a sympathetic comment about Heidegger once in a letter (which Max Black censored out when he published the letter).

Wittgenstein’s closing statement in the PI:

“It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another--but, of course, it is not likely.”

is usually also simply ignored, as a sort of personal quirk like his sexuality. But I think that there was a reason for it.

My conclusion is that Wittgenstein was not an analytical philosopher at all, even though almost all of his students were. There’s really nothing very counterintuitive or improbable about this kind of conclusion. Happens all the time.

Come now: by denying Wittgenstein’s influence on (what you call) ‘analytic philosophy’ aren’t you just doing a Max Black in spades? A thousand eyes for an eye? Instead of expunging the influence of someone you don’t like on someone you do, you are expunging the influence of someone you do like on those you don’t. Same-same. (I mean: you don’t deny, I take it, that analytic philosophers, in your sense, have read and studied Wittgenstein and THINK that they are influenced by him.)

As to the end of the Tractatus stuff: disputes about proper methods of ladder-disposal are a damn cottage industry. Zezhou is right: ‘everyone is interested’ is far too near the truth for comfort. (It’s unseemly to have these stacks of photocopies of articles about the meaning and value of ‘silence’. But there you go. Gotta keep up with the blooming, buzzing literature.)

I am increasingly suspicious that your Wittgenstein must be a rather personal Emerstein, which is a perfectly fine thing to concoct (may I say). You write:

Part of the reason for my animus against AP is the way that Russell had to split his writing in half, part “real philosophy” and part political journalism which he seems to have written off the top of his head. Very strict standards in one area, and a rather casual, offhand attitude in the other. Certainly his philosophy didn’t inform his other writing.

I take it you think the later Wittgenstein would be on your side, advocating more healthy holism. But we don’t have to speculate about what Wittgenstein thought about this division. He thought Russell’s philosophy and politics were too mixed up and should be separated yet more rigorously. He said (and I paraphrase pretty accurately from memory): “Russell’s books should all be bound in two colors: red for logic and language; blue for politics, ethics and religion. Everyone should be required to read the red, and no one should read the blue.” The point isn’t just that what Russell said was wrong about politics and religion, but that it was doomed to be bad because mixed up with the other. Writing about such stuff has no proper place in philosophy - they shouldn’t be mixed. This was, I think, absolutely crucial to the later Wittgenstein’s conception. (Conflicted as it was.) Of course now you get to the stuff that you are being silent about. And of course the later Wittgenstein is fascinating precisely because he obviously does mix it all up together.

Well, perhaps that’s enough to hold you ...

... And of course we are all, and remain, good friends here. John Emerson says being blunt is good and gets to the point. Well, I’m trying to straighten out friend John with some bluntness. It’s blunt in a friendly way.

By John Holbo on 05/14/05 at 11:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I never really intended to rewrite the history of philosophy, though I did say it that way. In blog-comments contexts, points tend to get lost when they are made reasonably.

When I said “analytic philosophy” I meant “what dominates Anglo-American philosophy departments today.” And I guess I’ll let them define their tradition backward, though I’d still like to know when the term “analytic philosophy” became widespread (beyond one man’s statement in 1947).

When I read or try to read contemporary analytic philosophy, I rarely get a sense that they share Wittgenstein’s concern. They all seem more like right-answers-type technicians. (Cavell is something of an exception, but mostly because he has chosen the other side of Wittgenstein as his topic.)

So with regard to Wittgenstein, I think that there’s something that’s just been let sit and not carried on or developed. Someone somewhere said something like “W. was the first of the new, and the last of the old”. The implication seemed to be that the relics of the past in W. can be left in the past. This conclusion is what I object to.

When W. said that a perfectly good philosophy book could be written made entirely of jokes—who picked up on that? If a graduate student did, what would happen to him?  Would W. be comfortable with the repertory of templates being used to write techical philosophy papers these days?

“It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another--but, of course, it is not likely.”

So why did he say that? Was he wrong to feel so pessimistic?

I don’t claim that I agree with W. about everything or most things, and I think that he made an enormous strategic mistake in leaving a major part of his philosophy tacit and expressed only in hints.

I just think that there are major potentials there that are not being developed by contemporary analytic philosophy and that inevitably this has led to a misleading picture of what Wittgenstein is all about. And so I think that, in the actual world of today, that there is something problematic about claiming Wittgenstein as an analytic philosopher, in a way that it is not problematic to claim Frege, Russell, or the logical positivists as analytic philosophers.

Besides the Wittgenstein who was an heir of Frege and an ancestor of [name of important contemporary philosopher here], there still sits on the shelf another Wittgenstein, who in the years before 1951 said and meant what he said and meant.  And for the other Wittgenstein to be read, there would have to be a broadening of the way philosophy is defined.

By John Emerson on 05/14/05 at 12:05 PM | Permanent link to this comment

“Russell’s books should all be bound in two colors: red for logic and language; blue for politics, ethics and religion. Everyone should be required to read the red, and no one should read the blue.”

I think that Russell did follow W’s advice. His popular books were slapdash and journalistic, and Russell was fairly upfront about this; he didn’t really seem to believe that that kind of thing could be done any other way. What I’m pretty sure W. objected to was the shallow, unintrospective, rather thoughtless, liberal secularist atheism of Russell’s thinking and writing.

Early analytic philosophy had a tremendous amount of trouble figuring out what do do with normative (ethical-political-esthetic) discourse.  The boo-hurrah theory (which is oddly reminiscent of the existential leap) was the extreme of this. As far as I can tell, Russell didn’t solve the problem, but just ignored it. Wittgenstein cared tremendously and was working on it, but didn’t come up with much usable product. I do regard that as a weakness, but I think it’s worth following W’s hints and signs.

As far as holism, I’m not so much advocating that—deriving ethics from logic or whatever. I just think that one of the things philosophers should be doing is producing usable discourse on the so-called normative questions, and that despite the metaethical activity we see, they really aren’t much. (Yeah, Rawls / Nozick. I do like Charles Taylor, but is he characteristic or exceptional?)

As I recall, Putnam has written some things along this line, though the thing I read merely seemed to confess that there was a problem.

By John Emerson on 05/14/05 at 12:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The internet can be compared to the coffee shops of XVIIIc France and Britain, or to the free discussions of early humanism (Erasmus, Montaigne, More, Rabelais, et al) or even to the Athenian agora —clichéd though that last comparison may be. Suddenly anyone can participate in the debate—and more to the point, anyone can raise a question. To me this is a wonderful thing. Let’s hope it continues, and grows.

By John Emerson on 05/14/05 at 02:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John E.:

I think your take on contemporary W. scholarship is as idiosyncratic as your way of defining ‘analytic philosophy’.

1.  You might take a peek at the defense of Russell’s contribution to metaethics in the new Cambridge Companion.  Russell’s style in his ethical writings is disarming, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t important and novel (albeit in my view misguided) things going on in them.

2.  In my experience, so many folks who work on W. devote so much energy to making sense of W.’s conceptions of nonsense, ineffability, philosophy (and/or what should replace it), that clarifying W’s responses to Frege & Russell has received comparatively little attention.  You might want to take a peek at A. W. Moore’s POINTS OF VIEW, for example--he has much to say about what (I think) you mean by W.’s “mysticism.”

3.  W.’s influence in recent philosophy is hard to pin down.  Certainly, the 1st wave of scholarship on PI in the 60s was very influential (both in attracting some proponents and in frightening away some folks), though most now think the first wave’s readings were pretty wrongheaded.

4.  On a more positive note, W.’s influence has been VERY DEEP in contemporary ethical theory.  Anscombe, Murdoch, Foot, Diamond, McDowell, Raz--all without question among the most important figures from the last half-century of moral/ethical theory--were huge admirers--and appliers--of Wittgenstein’s philosophy.

5.  Finally, W’s impact on major figures in contemporary theoretical philosophy (at Pittsburgh, Oxford, & Johns Hopkins, especially) has been nearly as profound.  Of course, very many contemporary philosophers haven’t spent much time at all working through Wittgenstein, or they have been influenced more by Kripkenstein than the real thing.  But I think it’s rather a nice thing when folks have different ideas about what the best sources of insight are.  But maybe you’d be happier if everyone followed your reading of W. and strated doing what you think they ought to focus on.

W.’s influence on co

By Zehou on 05/14/05 at 08:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But maybe you’d be happier if everyone followed your reading of W. and started doing what you think they ought to focus on.

That goes without saying, of course.

It’s possible that there are things going on in philosophy that I haven’t heard about. However,—and to you this may sound like blaming others for the weaknesses of my own efforts—it does seem that this means that the ethical work of philosophy isn’t getting out in the community.

And since ethics, if it exists at all, has to do entirely and exclusively with voluntary conscious behavior, it seems that ethical knowledge should get out in the community (whereas thermodynamics only needs to get out to people working with thermodynamics, and whereas critical theory by definition cannot be understood by the benighted masses.)

I do remain convinced that Wittgenstein is more problematic as an analytic ancestor than the others, and that there’s something missing in the development of his work.

By John Emerson on 05/14/05 at 08:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The last time I saw this conversation, it was about whether or not the MC5 were appropriately considered a punk band.

Seriously though, I know I’m way out of my depth and everything, but I think John Holbo is kinda feigning ignorance of a pretty recognizable distinction (between “analytic"/"other" stuff that happens in philosophy departments now). It may be the case that the distinction is bogus for whatever reasons, but that is a different line, and not just settled by etymology, and anyway it is a distinction in common use, at least among the folk, and, finally, it seems to me, pretty adequate in terms of certain ends. I’d even think that John Holbo would have some experience of some of his own stuff being viewed as somewhat trippy and unrigorous in terms of certain conventions governing debate in a lot of the academic philosophy journals and whatnot--which I might even speculate explains some small particle of his blogospheric adventures and investigations. Moreover, I suspect that it’s something like these same conventions that John Emerson is having an issue with--whether they ought to be characterized in terms of historical threads, or maybe just weird behavioral patterns, or what. But it strikes me as a little like a dispute between an ACTUP guy and a log-cabin Republican.

Anyway, I think that who’s really good with stuff at this stage, is Dennet. I’m thinking about stuff like Real Patterns, where he outlines a spectrum of positions from “industrial strength realism” to eliminativism, or View From the West Coast(?), where he has that 2D map. You guys need a map, in my opinion. Even a bad one.

By on 05/14/05 at 08:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

And since ethics . . . has to do entirely and exclusively with voluntary conscious behavior...

Perhaps that’s supposed to be a joke.  But anyway:  your premise here is one of the main things a diverse group of extremely influential students or admirers of Wittgenstein (Anscombe, Murdoch, Foot, McDowell, Diamond, Raz, etc.) have spent the last half century attacking.

By Zehou on 05/15/05 at 09:01 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Explain please. It seems that acting either ethically or unethically would require both acting voluntarily and understanding ethical principles, and that if action is not voluntary or unaware (as many critical theorists, Freudians, Marxists, etc. hold) that ethics would be a dead letter.

What I was trying to say was that while I have no problem with specialist theories in physical science (or for example in linguistics, where much of language never does rise to consciousness), it seems to me that there is a problem with ethical esotericism, especially as philosophers themselves are ethical agents exactly the same as anyone else. So the outcome of ethical study should be a usable understanding of ethics.

Of course, a naturalist study of what people call ethics could be done, in the same way that we could study the beliefs of astrologers and numerologists, but that would not be ethics, but “about ethics”, and if not done carefully can amount to the denial of ethics.

By John Emerson on 05/15/05 at 09:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"involuntary or ethically-unaware”.

By John Emerson on 05/15/05 at 09:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It seems that acting either ethically or unethically would require both acting voluntarily and understanding ethical principles.

John, you might want to sit in on an ethics course sometime or do some reading.  Many of our most prominent moral theorists have been arguing for decades now that both of your requirements are false.  For starters, see:  Robert Adams on “involuntary sins,” Raz’ critique of the voluntary/involuntary distinction (in “Active and Passive"), J. M. Fischer and Raz and others on responsiveness to reasons, the generalism/particularism debate concerning the character and significance of ethical principles, whether there are irresolvable ethical disputes (Gert, Hursthouse, etc.).  The literature here is pretty vast.

By Zehou on 05/15/05 at 10:42 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, now we’ve come to the place where you can say that you have expert knowledge inaccessible to me. So from this point of view, someone can be morally wrong without either being aware of the ethical principles he’s violating, or even consciously choosing to do the action which is wrong?—while observers will be able to agree that he’s wrong?

From this point of view, esoteric studies of ethics would seem valid, and the dissemination of usable ethical knowledge into the non-specialist community would indeed seem unimportant.  An objective science which does not need a general public.

What are the improvements in ethics that have come from ethical specialist thinking? Usually when a field is organized on rational or scientific principles, there are big improvements which come from that. (Compare folk genetics to contemporary scientific genetics, or folk physics to the science of physics.)

I do confess that when I decided some time ago that I was going to quit studying analytic philosophy, that meant that I did not become expert in analytic philosophy, and certainly not up-to-date with the field. However, being told about the quantity of writing on a given topic is not persuasive.

Think of me as a member of the general public wanting to know what the value and interest of the analytic study of ethics is.  In my experience, a moderate degree of philosophical sophistication primarily means that ethical arguments will be extended indefinately into the future without resolution, unless one player is much weaker than the other.

Most scientific areas of study have little difficulty explaining the interest, value and usefulness of what they do. Granted, some of the resistance ethicists get is because for most people some version of folk ethics is part of their core personal identity. However, that’s as much a fact about ethics as it is a fact about people. It’s not an unfortunate historical accident the way the resistance of anti-evolutionism is for evolutionists. (There are peoples without strong folk beliefs about evolution.) In my opinion, at least, ethical principles are and should be, by their nature, diffused through the population.

By John Emerson on 05/15/05 at 12:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

post-1960 stuff....  It does allow you to prove Wittgenstein was no analytic just by producing the death certificate, 1951.

Not really, given that W. was Mr. Perish-and-Publish.  (Joke not original with me.)

John E, I’m Harvard- and Pittsburgh-educated so I’m not the best person to talk about whether everbody else is neglecting W., but I think the fact that undergrads only get W. in bits and pieces doesn’t show that he’s been dumped by analytic departments.  I think that the reason undergrads only get W. in bits and pieces is that W. is HARD. To read a whole book, you’ve pretty much got to spend all term on it, and it had better not be your first philosophy course. 

I’ve heard people--definitely theoretical analytic philosophers--say that Wittgenstein’s lessons have been learned and absorbed. Probably this would infuriate you. One of the projects I mean to get to someday is a paper on the significance of intuition in the method of analytic philosophy that takes off in part from Wittgenstein’s remark “Intuition an unnecessary shuffle,” but it would probably not be to your taste either.

By Matt Weiner on 05/15/05 at 05:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve been beating analytic philsophy to death, or trying to, for the last few months. I think that I’ve pretty much said my piece (everything is posted at my URL). I’m hoping to go on to more fun, less polemical things.

I think that people in the biz ought to think about their public face. I personally don’t think that philosophy should be a specialist topic at all; I think that it should be the most demanding, inclusive form of public philosophy.

The trouble with making philosophy into an arcane specialty is that people will still ask “What have philosophers discovered? What do they do?” People who can’t understand physics still understand that physicists know, and can do, things other people don’t and can’t. It’s harder to answer that question with philosophy.

And of course, we will always have a public philosophy. But by default it will just be a crappy New Age / Pentecostal / Ayn Rand type of public philosophy.

By John Emerson on 05/15/05 at 05:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, I don’t think it is really fair for you to argue that what you are arguing for is ‘more inclusiveness’. In a sense, you are arguing for more, but in a sense less. The whole debate about Wittgenstein in this thread looks, in retrospect, like a bid by you for the supremacy of ‘Emerstein’ over the various other Wittgenstein themes and variations that have been so influential since 1960. (Your attempt to ‘deny Wittgenstein’ to the analytics is patently not an attempt to open up the debate but to turn a very broad stream with many tributaries into a narrow stream running in the way you want it to go. To put it another way, you are arguing for a view of Wittgenstein. Which is fine. But don’t call what you are doing ‘championing openness’.)

Your exchange with Zezhou. You write:

It seems that acting either ethically or unethically would require both acting voluntarily and understanding ethical principles, and that if action is not voluntary or unaware (as many critical theorists, Freudians, Marxists, etc. hold) that ethics would be a dead letter.

Fine, this is your view. Obviously you are hereby writing off huge swathes of competing positions. Again, fine. That’s what it means to have a position. But when Zezhou points this out, you try to hint that he is taking some sort of elitist position, i.e. merely by raising the possibility of a view outside the area you favor, he is narrowing the terms of the debate by trying to carve out some little area where profs can know all the answers. Look, all he was saying was: you are only looking at one corner of the picture. Why not consider alternative views?

I realize I am being snarky by turning the tables on you like this, but I think it is important to see that this is why some of us are resisting you: we are trying to keep the terms of the debate more open than you seem to want them to be.

I suggest you parse your complaints into two piles: the complaints about lack of openness (I believe you do have some actually complaints in this area, and probably some of them have merit); the championing of your own, necessarily narrow (because they are just yours) views. Do not construe resistance to your views as resistance to openness.

By John Holbo on 05/15/05 at 09:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

well, I’ve said my piece. I don’t really think, that as a nameless freelancer throwing spitballs from the audience, I should be accused by people in the biz of trying to close off debate. At some point the debate came down to specifics and I did start asserting my point of view.

I still think there’s a lot missing in the English-language philosophy world, but I’ll let it drop and go on with my life.

By John Emerson on 05/16/05 at 02:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, if you were a nameless spitballer you might well be legitimately accused of trying to shut down debate. (Hard to debate if you have to take refuge from spitballs behind the lectern, obviously.) But I know your name and don’t regard you as a spitballer but as someone worth debating. But I do think you have two quite different - rather polemical - lines of attack. One: you want more openness. Here my objection would be: you are right. There should be more openness. But there is already a lot more than you seem to credit. A gripe like yours, to be effective, needs more nuanced appreciation of the anthropological situation on the ground in Anglo-American philosophy departments. “Back to the rough ground!” Would then be my plan for defense. Draw you in where your abstract notions of what has gone wrong will be weakest. Two: you want folks to agree with you about Wittgenstein and (for good measure) about ethics. Here, my objections would be that 1) well, let’s have an argument about what Wittgenstein is up to. Maybe you will win it. 2) I’m sort of partial to potential denial of truth to “acting either ethically or unethically would require both acting voluntarily and understanding ethical principles.” Mostly because, on largely Wittgensteinian grounds, I’m not so convinced that ethics has to be based on principles.

But, to repeat the point in my previous comment, you should not cross your argument about the need for openness in philosophy with your championship of a particular line on what Wittgenstein is up to. Either of these lines may win, but they are not mutually-reinforcing. (Or if they are, you need to make clear how and why.)

All this push-back is meant in a friendly spirit, John. This sort of debate is very useful to have, I think.

By John Holbo on 05/16/05 at 03:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The anthropological situation on the ground in Anglo-American philosophy departments has, so long as it is not split into two or more distinct factions, an implicit authority on any topic somewhat comparable to apostolic succession.

Is it even possible to imagine the consensus (on L.W. or anybody else) being thoroughly misguided? What would it mean to imagine such a thing?

By pierre on 05/16/05 at 11:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, I basically changed the subject in my last few posts. Think of it as a Platonic dialogue, where from time to time you have to ask, “Where is this going anyway? Did he really mean that?”

Somewhere along the line I defined myself as a philosophy critic rather than as a philosopher—a generalist humanist looking at philosophy from the outside. In part this is because, as philosophy is professionally defined, it’s just true. But even if philosophy were defined my way, I still haven’t written anything philosophical of any importance, though I think I’ve sketched out some interesting approaches.

Or you could call me a rhetorician (my favorite philosophers, Toulmin and Michel Meyer, are students of rhetoric, philosophically defined). My proposed redefinition of “analytic philosophy” turned out to be a pretty effective rhetorical device (of the attention-getting sort), even if I didn’t succeed in rewriting philosophical history.

Now, one of the big issues for me here is whether what an outsider generalist humanist philosophy critic says about philosophy should be of any interest to philosophers. From what Soames and others have said, many seem to think that the answer is no. (I first encountered this kind of attitude decades ago in the composer Milton Babbit, who said something like “Advanced music doesn’t need an audience any more than advanced mathematics needs an audience”. Utter refusal to deal in any way with the simple folk and their folk concepts is pretty pervasive in academia, and a specialist in one area will normallyt regard specialists in most other areas as simple folk.)

And from what I see, the autonomous technical ethical debates are especially problematic, since ethics strikes me as intrinsically applied and practical, in a way that formal logic doesn’t need to be. I can see an abstract stage of the discussion, but it would seem that at some point there would have to be re-entry into general, disseminated ethical thought.

And yeah, this is a different question that whether Wittgenstein’s heritage has been properly developed, or whether parts have been neglected. But even though W. was hardly a popular writer, he is read by people outside philosophy (the official theme of this thread!), whereas the technical work descendent from him isn’t, and apparently doesn’t want to be.

Sorry if I seem so surly. This is an old beef of mine, and part of my beef is the fact that the way philosophy had been professionally organized, these questions can hardly even be raised within the field itself. Rorty tried, but as far as I can tell his proposal in PMN sank like a stone, without leaving a ripple.

By John Emerson on 05/16/05 at 12:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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