Monday, 5 February 2018

Wittgenstein's obsession

There must be a reason.
There cannot be a reason.
     — This is where philosophy begins, here, in this precise place and no-where else. I've talked about my 'idiotic conundrum'. This is it. Here it is.
     You can well ask 'what sort of person' would be gripped, when so many are not. Heraclitus had words to say about 'the many', and they are not kind words. The many don't count, they have nothing to say that is of any interest to us.
     Or, as the great Parmenides put it, 'two-headed mortals, knowing nothing' (or words to that effect).
     The sort of person who is gripped — I hypothesize — is one whose backstory involves conflict and contradiction, going right back to early childhood. I had a loving father who flew into uncontrollable rages. A survivor of the Holocaust but a victim nonetheless. That's something a child of three or four could never comprehend.
     Wittgenstein was tortured by his sexuality, according to one account (William Warren Bartley III Wittgenstein, 1973). I'm not in the business of guessing. What I do know is that my Question is, or was, Wittgenstein's Question, and that Wittgenstein's Question is none other than the one raised by the great Parmenides.
     My Question? As I have repeated often enough, there are two questions, not one: 'two godheads', as Wittgenstein calls it in his 1914-16 Notebooks. (By the time he wrote the Tractatus, he'd realized that that was something that 'cannot be said', 'The self of solipsism shrinks to a point without extension, and there remains the reality coordinated with it' Tractatus 5.64.)
     Like Parmenides, Wittgenstein's solution (if you can call it a solution) set the agenda for philosophy for the next century, plus. 'There must be a reason.' But the reason is the reason why we can't meaningfully raise the Question. The reason has to do with the very nature of language and the 'Proposition'.
     That was an idea that required detailed work. You can't just state, baldly, that 'language doesn't go there' or whatever. And, as we know, Wittgenstein had two goes at this, the 'simples' of the Tractatus, and the 'language games' of the Investigations — two radically different conceptions of the 'bedrock' (PI para. 217) of linguistic meaning.
     The Question is still there, at the back of your mind. But you know, as a competent, responsible philosophizer, that it exists only as temptation. It's somewhere you just can't go. Wittgenstein called it the 'Mystical'. (Ethics is in there too, but that's just another example, Wittgenstein thinks, of what 'cannot be said' because it doesn't consist of facts.)
     Flip the coin over, and you have Parmenides. What is cannot be 'what is the case', because what is the case is something that might not be, or might not have been the case — which is 'unthinkable', if what we are talking about is Reality as such. There is only 'what is', or, 'It is'. If you want to do philosophy, then 'It is' is the only thing you can say. The rest is just 'two-headed mortal' opinions about the 'world of Appearance'.
     According to Wittgenstein, the Question is unanswerable because of the nature of language and 'what can be said'. According to Parmenides, the Question is unanswerable because there is nothing to think about the very thing in question except that it IS.
     Well, if Wittgenstein and Parmenides are two sides of the same coin, what would my response to the Question be? the edge of the coin?
Reality (the 'that') is a doing, and the I-now (the 'this') is a doing. When it rains, or when someone speaks to me, or the atom bomb drops... that is 'reality doing'. For my part, what I choose to do, or not do, is meaningless apart from what reality 'does'. The two are inseparable. And not just 'joined at the hip' either.
 (Conundrum solved)
     There IS (a metaphysical 'is' that has nothing to do with any notion of existence as such) something that comes before 'all there is' or 'all that is the case'. The doing. The doing is the ultimate reality. I believe that the existentialists in different ways thought that too (as I explained, The actual is the issue of my existence) but they didn't quite cap the point. They missed the target, if only by inches.
     The doing. If I'm serious about that, not just spinning some tale, then there has to be more to say than what I've said so far. Maybe (big leap here) this is what Heraclitus was really on about: the Logos that IS reality and the Logos in me, or that acts through me. There are no 'things', only 'doings'.
     There must be more to say about 'the doing', because otherwise it just looks like another version of the sweeping dismissal of the 'Question' or the 'Mystical' that contemporary philosophers find so easy to do.
     More to say. But what to say? That is my new question.

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