31 July 2006

Ethics - Ontology + Hilary Putnam

[Hilary Putnam]

Hoping to get a better idea of the ethical tradition surrounding Wittgenstein, I read Hilary Putnam's Ethics without Ontology this weekend. Rather, I read Part I. I'd never before read anything by Putnam, and I found this piece a little difficult. It wasn't conceptually difficult (although, if I had found it impenetrable, indefatigable or idiotic, such an opinion would be accounted for by his notion of conceptual relativity); rather, I found his writing style a little unbecoming. It might be because the book was adapted from a lecture series and was, therefore, modeled more on how one speaks (parenthetically, that is), with lots of stops, and starts and, heretofore unmissed, and, for good reason, generally omitted by one's editors, commas were inserted all around. The man must breathe a lot.

Ignoring for now his anti-ontological thesis, let's look at his ethical one: That ethical propositions are part of a language game to which no object corresponds (anti-ontological), yet they still are objective. The lack of agreement about ethical propositions has to do with their being generally about practical, concrete problems about which people rarely agree anyway. Which is to say, even in the sciences people don't necessarily agree about practical problems. If math is motley, then ethics is, so to speak, motley squared. (What a corny line [that preceding one is {a paraphrase of} Putnam's].)

The anti-ontological thesis was attendant to this ethical thesis. It stated roughly, I think, that there is not one reality to which things must fit and about which we just have different ways of speaking. No. Rather, looking at things from the lens of 'conceptual relativity' Putnam says that the concepts which we use to speak about reality determine what actually exists. (After making this strong claim, Putnam seems to back off and says, rather, that conceptual relativity is a relativity in terms of what we say exists--a big difference.) This idea is supposed to obviate the need for inflationary and reductive metaphysics. It explains everything in a Wittgenstinian way, where we work with what's before us and look for what's really going on in language. I agree. This thesis doesn't necessarily explain why we disagree in ethical matters. But as Putnam points out, philosophers seem rather blind to the fact that we disagree in a whole lot more than ethical matters. It seems as if some consider ethics and aesthetics to be the only areas in which humans disagree. These philosophers have obviously never tried to pick out a restaurant with their girl or boyfriends--only to be stymied by silence, exasperation or the eventual defeat of making TV dinners at home and eating them in separate rooms because you'd just had a huge argument about where to go and why don't you ever pay the check. It's not like I make more money than you; I don't care if I'm the guy. And so on. Disagreements come up in other places than philosophy.

Is this the way for the fly to escape the bottle, though? That there is conceptual relativity--i.e., for me a terrorist is Mohammed, here, who is strapping on some dynamite and for you America is a terrorist and Mohammed is doing the right thing--and that ethical problems are more like practical problems rather than metaphysical problems of trying to find some actions that accord with the Good. Is it just a superstition, or am I partaking in a myth, if I feel that there should be more to ethics? Why does Wittgenstein seem to always appeal to law courts in his writing? It seems like Putnam is almost describing a legal setting rather than an ethical setting when he talks about ethics being composed of practical problems. The civic status of a dispute? The jury is still out on Putnam's take. I'm going to read the second Part of his book tonight.

29 July 2006

New Post + Monday

It should go without saying that there won't be new posts until Monday.

28 July 2006

Mathematicians + Ethics

Last night I said that mathematicians don't get in fistfights over whether a problem is solved. I think the relevant passage shines a light down on ethics. When Wittgenstein says,
Disputes do not break out (among mathematicians, say) over the question whether a rule has been obeyed or not. People don’t come to blows over it, for example. That is part of the framework on which the working of our language is based (for example, in giving descriptions). (240)
He's talking not about rules, but about people. He doesn't see logic as being normative, but from his work in the TLP, I think ethics must be. He calls ethics earlier in the PI an unclearly defined concept (paraphrase, citation missing). But there are certain ways to sharply define ethics: I.e., by figuring out what is not ethics. All the time I was reading OC, certain things came up that I thought could not be ethics. At first I thought acting with certainty would count as a sort of ethical act (along with Professor Benjamin of U. Mich.). But that commits one to a sort of ethical plurality, for people around the world act differently. Merely describing a person's actions as an ethical action is just the same as to say that one is always following a rule, no matter what he does--it's to say nothing. (A 'cold-hearted killer' would act with certainty in killing.)

But in the above quote Wittgenstein gives us an area in which there are no physical disputes. (I take physical violence to be for the most part unethical.) In the domain of mathematics, say--and Wittgenstein's phrasing makes it seem like there are other domains in which people do not get in fistfights--in the domain of math people don't come to blows over whether a rule was followed. People do come to blows in the domains of baseball, basketball, weapons inspecting, international negotiations, marriage, law, poker and innumerable others. Whether or not to use violence against someone else for his failure to act according to your rule. To say that the decision is an ethical decision is to already have an idea of ethics. And regulating blows is not the sole provenance of ethics. So what's going on? It seems like there isn't any more light shed on ethics after all.

If there must already be an ethical structure in place for there to be propositions about ethics, then from where does the ethical structure come? Is it something to which our actions fit? Are ethics and aesthetics the great super-concepts, the status that Wittgenstein denies to logic and cause?

27 July 2006

Wittgenstein + Ramsey + Logic + Rules

[Mathematicians do not get into fistfights about whether a problem has been solved; but as "normative scientists" logicians obviously do.]

Wittgenstein drops this cryptic notion in the PI,
F.P. Ramsey once emphasized in conversation with me that logic was a 'normative science'. I do not know exactly what he had in mind, but it was doubtless closely related to what only dawned on me later: namely, that in philosophy we often compare the use of words with games and calculi which have fixed rules, but cannot say that someone who is using language must be playing such a game. (81)
which characterizes two things: Ramsey's view of logic and Wittgenstein's view of rules. Ramsey, one would think, thinks of logic as telling men how to think, i.e., as normative; i.e., logic is something to which men's thoughts, action and language must fit. Humans needn't play by logical rules. It's something to which they could aspire, maybe.

Wittgenstein's remarks later in the PI concerning 'able to go on' and rule following better characterize his view on rule. (Of course, I'm conflating rule and logic here taking Ramsey to mean that logic is a higher order-type set of rules.) It seems from sections 201 and 202 that Wittgenstein sees grasping a rule to connect to being certain of a rule, and the obeying of a rule is an actual--an act--and not discursive--thinking. That is, every time someone acts, he is obeying a rule. The thought might hold better in the converse: Every time someone obeys a rule, he is acting. The operative contrast is to thinking one obeys a rule.

This all seems to connect to OC, certainly. To be able to go on is to act without reasons; just as to act under threat of soon impending physical harm is to act with certainty. Logic seems to me to be wholly discursive, a set of symbols that fail to fit (i.e., belong necessarily to) our every day actions. I believe this thought lay behind Wittgenstein saying, "My symbolic expression was really a mythological description of the use of a rule" (221). (Which also relates to his remark on rules being ornamental and architectural.) The symbolic expression--the discursive irruption of logic onto the scene--is merely an inadequate stand in for the actual events. The difference between a box score and a ball game.

But his use of the word "mythological" is quite suggestive, too. This passage relates, and it's quite packed; when he says,
Would it not be possible for us, however, to calculate as we actually do (all agreeing, and so on), and still at every step to have a feeling of being guided by rules as by a spell, feeling astonishment at the fact that we agreed? (We might give thanks to the Deity for our agreement.)
it seems to link up to his use of "mythological" above. It seems as if Wittgenstein were taking a dig at the logical positivists' absolute worship of logic. Why not a Deity guiding us? Why must logic guide our actions? We made logic. Our tendency is to sublime logic. But logic is just another language game. Being guided is a family of situations, and all but the most rudimentary I think Wittgenstein precludes our being guided by logic. But what else guides us? Institutions, culture, traditional practices and training? But wherefore ethics? That's the question I continually ask.

Married To The Sea

[from Married to the Sea]

Really good Wittgenstein content will return tomorrow. I've added several new philosophy links to the sidebar [stage right].

Lucidity + Cora Diamond

I've ended my fast after only two days. I feel however quite lucid and awake--even though I didn't sleep much and I have a cold. I'm addicted to eating; I had to get my fix. If I had some sort of cause--i.e., being indefinitely and illegally interned in a human rights-violating facility--then I'm sure I could bring myself around to hunger striking.

I'm still reading Diamond's Realistic Spirit and I think it's marvelous. I've lost the last few days to other activities, but I expect to be far into it by the weekend. Her writing style is much different than the other Wittgenstinian whom I've read (Cavell). (Come to think of it, regarding my post on Shoshana Felman... I seem to remember Cavell having written an introduction for a Felman book. His nonsense detector must be a little better than mine.)

I've been thinking about Diamond's distinction between philosophic realism and the realistic spirit; I haven't yet taken far the idea, but I was surprised by her bringing in Berkeley immediately as a comparable figure to Wittgenstein. I've only read loose characterizations of Berkeley, and some limericks, but now I'm tempted to look into him.

Post-Socratic dialogues like Galileo's and Hume's crack me up.

26 July 2006

Fasting + Culture of Life

What was ruminated during a late night drinking session turned into a competition amongst friends; then it turned into something more... I've been fasting (only on the second day, now) along with my housemate, Robin. As went over supra, the fast has now taken on the characteristic of a proxy hunger strike for those who can't, i.e., the detainees in Guantanamo Bay detention center. I know that this is old news,
The hunger strikers are restrained during the feeding. "But of the people I've seen, they're smiling when they're putting the tubes down, not struggling. They tell the nurse which nostril to put it in."
but tyranny never jumps the shark (unfortunately). There is no concept to which facts must fit: Look at the current culture of life, which on the one hand peddles death, and on the other hand deprives human beings of their only human dignity--freedom. Life isn't at the essence of humanity for it goes without saying that the human is alive. This statement ('I am alive') is similar to 'I know I have two hands'. They're both out of place in most contexts. When life is foisted upon the human, the context really should be looked after closely. It's probably a very strange one.

25 July 2006

Ethics + Common Sense

As was pointed out by Blender, this thoughtful backpack rapper had to change his name from Common Sense to Common back in 95. He dropped the sense and remained common. I would do the opposite, I suppose, and drop the common and retain the sense. I trust everything else will stay the same.

A few days ago the Executioners Thong had this post about ethics and common sense. The great symphony of text comprised of different fonts, sizes and colors made the post quite entertaining to read; but I don't know if it all quite sunk in. In any case, I think I disagree or I think the author is not thinking well about what's at issue.

What is at issue, I think (those pink links are, like, blistered onto my fucking eyes now) is whether people deliberate about their moral actions or whether we use common sense. Assuming the latter, what is common sense? Common sense is actually "psychological essentialism" by which I mean we have psychological categories into which we sort very quickly all data that are presented to us. If I see an apple I might think "good" if I see a knife-wielding fellow I might think "bad". Or sort into said relevant category. OK. From the post,

If it gets any attention at all, my suggestion that "good and right" is a kind from the psychological essentialist viewpoint will probably be shredded or at least get marked down for sloppiness. What I find most appealing about it as a model of mental processing is that it fits with the way we either deemphasize the negatives or the positives about many things that require our judgment, particularly as the those negatives and positives impact us personally. Nobody, well, nobody I know, intentionally works to do wrong but lots of us have to deal with gray areas. The ease with which we binarize to black or white ought to give us pause. To avoid coming into the grip of harmful or selfish decision making, if indeed we operate on the basis of some self-interest essence, is to teach ourselves to draw the largest possible circle of beings and cultures with which we can identify.

with which, well, I just don't agree. I especially disagree with the last line. I think that everything we need we have before us. More data and more analyses offer us what? Machiavelli’s vaguely diachronic analysis of Italian politics lay before us only a few good examples from which to extrapolate the necessary ruling maneuvers. I would say, though, that Machiavelli doesn't engage in heavy analysis--and most people would agree with him (or disagree on a moral ground).

One more point about analysis that will link back up to the sense, which is common. In their recent book, The Wages of Wins, the authors say that Allen Iverson was not as good a basketball player as 90 other players during the season in which he won the MVP award. No one that follows basketball would seriously consider that statement. It would be a piece of nonsense. If I came up to you and said that I'd analyzed all the data, considered all the facts and I've proved that you're standing on thin air (which most people are--there aren't many atoms per volume under us) or that you're the most morally reprehensible person whom I've ever seen--well, what are you going to say? Isn't such a claim to further analyzed data much like a claim to idealism? That there's a noumenal data world behind the apparent phenomenal world, and the scientists/economists/mathematicians are going to pear behind the edges of the everyday world to bring us a report, to enlighten us?

Not to resist science. Science underlies our actions and certainties, certainly. But in what sense does science refute intelligent design? If you thought it really did, then the only evidence that I would accept for there to be no more people believing in intelligent design. That has not happened. In what sense can you affirm one language-game over another while the two are at war? I think it may be best to be neutral in some cases--or at least not expect too much. (However, we play a language-game [some of us] that involves the Constitution; and this language game clearly stipulates the supremacy of certain other language-games within it; and one of those language games, whose claim to supremacy it seems to deny, is a religious or faith-based language-game; so I'm not saying that intelligent design should be taught to sixth graders or anything.)

Our everyday actions may be analyzed into discrete psychological concepts. But to think that our everyday actions must then fit these psychological concepts would be a great fallacy. And if they don't have to fit them, then what's the point of the psychological concepts?

24 July 2006

Wittgenstein + Rilke

I feel Wittgenstein like a call. I do yield to him. In this sense... what's wrong with fideism? I'm reminded of Rilke's first Duino Elegy,

Strange to no longer desire one's desires. Strange
to see meanings that clung together once, floating away
in every direction.

but, of course, Rilke is talking about a purely spiritual yielding, a death and a giving up of all human custom. Wittgenstein would have us yield to his non-philosophy, to give up the human philosophical custom. Does this release entail a release of wonder or inquiry? But a child wonders and inquires.

To link philosophy with love: Plato's case in the Symposium. But can philosophical inquiry be done while giving up this most unfulfilling relationship?
Shouldn't this most ancient of sufferings finally grow
most fruitful for us? Isn't it time that we lovingly
freed ourselves from the beloved and, quivering, endured:
as the arrow endures the bowstring's tension, so that
gathered in the snap of release it can be more than
itself. For there is no place where we can remain.
A lover is a blanket, which we use to hide our cold emptiness from others and ourselves. Can we not give up the notion of terrestrial love and be called--yield--to something much higher?

Wittgenstein + University

A) The problems of philosophy aren't really problems.

B) You agree with everything that's said; i.e., it's obvious and mundane.

Why don't more people teach Wittgenstein? How many people teach Wittgenstein? I've been compiling a list of Wittgenstein scholars and where they teach for my own reference. There's a paucity. I mean, he's no Toni Morrison or anything. But he was gay, Jewish and obsessed with sin (aside from being the most insightful philosopher of the 20c). It seems like scholars would be doing more with him.

Later there will be a real update.

22 July 2006

On Certainty + The End

I finished reading Wittgenstein's OC yesterday afternoon. It builds rather slowly, and--to use a cliche--the end is a foregone conclusion long before it's even close. Still, there are many things going on here; the most obvious connections are to the PI: language-games, appropriateness of use and so forth. But there are tons of connections to the TLP. The relation between fact, picture and language game, for instance,
[T]he possibility of a language-game is conditioned by certain facts. (617)
which connects to two passages from the TLP,
again and again the individual case turns out to be unimportant, but the possibility of each individual case discloses something about the essence of the world (3.3421)
We are also told something about the world by the fact that it can be described more simply with one system of mechanics than with another. (6.342)
and others: i.e., that a "logical picture of facts is a thought" (3). The quote from OC, that facts condition possible language-games is important. There may not be any a priori pictures, but there seem to be necessary a posteriori pictures. The way things are is a limiting condition. The way things are also gives us a rough idea of something we may call logic. The "essence of the world". Our empirical pictures let us in on what must be the case.

I really appreciate OC, but I'm glad to be done with it. I'm going to start Cora Diamond's The Realistic Spirit and Wittgenstein's Culture and Value today.

21 July 2006

Dreams + Ha

Two nights ago I dreamed about a word that I read off a card or on a form. I can't remember what it meant, but it was a great word.

Last night I dreamed that Phish played through a Fiery Furnaces album during that concert where they cover a whole album. I also dreamed it was awesome.

20 July 2006

Certainty + Logic

Look at Wittgenstein's earliest (1921) thoughts,
A tautology's truth is certain, a proposition's possible, a contradiction's impossible. (TLP 4.464)
Indee people even surmised that there must be a 'law of least action' before they knew exactly how it went.
(Here, as always, what is certain a priori proves to be something purely logical.) (6.3211)

and contrast them with his final thoughts on certainty,
Am I not getting closer and closer to saying that in the end logic cannot be described? (OC 501)
and we'll see that Wittgenstein's thoughts on certainty seem not to have changed much in the intervening thirty years. The logical, the certain and the a priori. Wittgenstein says in the TLP that "there are no pictures that are true a priori" (2.225). But that makes sense: A picture is tied up with sense, the empirical, and as such cannot be a priori--by definition. The only avenue to knowledge is the empirical--"It is always by favor of Nature that one knows something" (OC 505). The facts must line up with with a proposition, case-ness must map onto one's picture. Truth and falsity constitute knowledge, and therefore, the subject of any sentence of the form, 'I know ____.'

The indefensible, non-propositional bedrock of our action--certainty--is logic(al). I was surprised to come across Wittgenstein making this move in his last thoughts. Had he reverted to his youthful Tractarian days? I think not. If I were to look into the PI, for example, I'm sure his thought would still align. Wittgenstein didn't change so much as grow. If you have a limp or a hairlip as a child, you'll probably have it for the rest of your life.

When Wittgenstein says, the "propositions of logic describe the scaffolding of the world, or rather they represent it" is he maybe talking about the understanding (TLP 6.124)? One could interpret him as trying to map out the understanding in a manner similar to Kant. Induction is that which goes without saying, must go without saying. For how could one derive the law of induction? By induction? I think that this is the point, but I don't think there's a similarity to Kant, per se.

What is the relation between my being certain I have two hands and logic? Does this certainty represent a logical framework without which I would be thrust into retard-like apoplexy? This may be approaching the right way. Speaking about a proposition on which all other propositions hinge, Wittgenstein makes the parenthetical remark that it calls to mind Frege's remarks on the law of identity (494). A's do not become ~A's while one isn't looking; your car won't just disappear. If you gave this up then you'd have to give up everything.

There is more, though. Wittgenstein's remark supra, that logic can't be described: That might be exactly right. Even though advances in logic were made (after two thousand years) I would be tempted to say that advances in our notation were made. What is logic? Logic is the invisible hand guiding our actions. Putting my hand in a wood-chipper is not logical; nor is walking in front of a moving bus. Logic can be seen in our actions, when we act with certainty.

19 July 2006

Pain + Ethics

Wittgenstein says in OC that there is no intermediary between the source of a pain and the pain, i.e., between a pencil jabbed in your hand and the feeling of pain (417). I take this point to related to Wittgenstein's writing in the PI about pain--both the certainty of one's own pain and the certainty with which one acts when faced with someone else in pain. (I apologize for lacking the relevant section citations for this part.)

For instance, you never doubt that you're actually in pain. And if your friend exhibits action that you associate with pain--falling down and writhing, making that face, shrieking--then you aid him. It seems as if you act without an intermediate step; you act without thinking, as it were. It seems like feeling pain and one's reaction to another's feeling pain can be conflated.

Consider what you do when you're in pain. If you stub your toe: You may grab it, hop around or curse. If you cut your hand: You wrap it in a towel or apply pressure. If you fall down on your elbow: You probably rub it or brush away any debris from the cuts and scratches. Consider what you do when other people are in pain. If someone falls down: You go over to him and ask if he's ok, help him up. If someone cuts himself: You offer a towel or a bandage. And so forth. Generally you act with certainty in both situations. (The amount of certainty is irrelevant, nonsensical.)

I think the ethical argument one could extrapolate here is this: In certain cases you act with no intermediary. In cases of someone being in pain and in cases of ethical dilemma. You simply act. If someone needs help crossing the street, you do not doubt if he really needs help crossing the street: You help him across the street. This view is directly opposed to the Kantian ethical view in the GMM. The outcome is of prime importance, not the end or intention. I've always thought the Kantian perspective on ethics placed actual ethical action in the backseat to a metaphysical/religious notion of dignity and contemplation. You meet many people in a day, and can you will the maxim of not killing each? Is this something you contemplate? Do you try to legislate your kingdom of ends? Don't you just act?

A macro and micro level of ethical action. The latter: global politics; legislation; legal rulings. The former: helping someone across the street; giving a friend some change for the meter. It seems like one acts in the former sense many times every day--without thinking. Thought, satisfaction, critique are all epiphenomena of the ethical action. But larger ethical actions such as the decision to go to war, to execute someone, to ban abortion: These actions bear some deliberation in the Aristotelian/Kantian sense. How can we reconcile this apparent discrepancy? Does the earlier section of OC, in which Wittgenstein seems to be writing about a coherence model of epistemology bear on this question? (Benjamin seems to think so.) I'm not sure if one can conflate ethics and epistemology.

18 July 2006

Animal Certainty + Ethics

Regarding my previous post on Wittgenstein's so-called animal certainty: What about situations in which we fail to agree? Every non-philosopher, non-amputee/casualty agrees that he has two hands. He may even agree in a non-propositional way. Granted.

The next step: Thou shalt not murder. There will be contexts in which it makes sense to murder (exactly just as there are contexts in which, "I know I have two hands" makes sense). When someone steps on your toe--you fail to murder someone. Animal certainty. What about this situation? I remember reading about it roughly during Katrina and thinking, "that seems right." Well, what about people that think it's wrong?

The animal certainty model of ethics cannot cope with this. Can it?

Shoshana Felman + The End of English Literature

[The screw in window keeps on turning.]

This article (from al daily) outlines some of the reasons why I eventually fled the study of English in graduate school. My very first English class was introduction to theory (in which we read no literature): I loved it. But after four years of reading post-structuralism and post-colonial discourse theory I tended not to want to study English. To this day I have no idea how to analyze or parse a piece of literature that doesn't rely on vacuous statements (either 'I really liked that book' or 'Partaking in the general stream of pre/post-Western hegemonic dominance, this novel both subverts and amplifies the rhetoric of violence, the grammar of destitution and the general spiritual penury of the subject by means of tragic jouissance and the unspeakable other). Writing about his undergraduate students, many of whom are thinking of graduate studies in English, he writes,
It makes me sad to think how little those motives will be acknowledged if they go on to graduate school. They will probably go for the wrong reasons: to continue their experience as undergraduates. They are romantics who must suddenly become realpolitikers. Maybe that's why most drop out before they complete their doctorates. Those who stay have political commitments (and probably come from undergraduate programs where those commitments are encouraged early), or they develop them as graduate students, or they feign or exaggerate them to get through.

which doesn't exactly describe why I didn't want to study English--but it's close. The political nature of the academy is som
ething that I think I could handle. I think the clinching experience that precluded for me the graduate study of English was the writing of three papers on James' Turn of the Screw. I haven't really thought of this in quite some time. The breaking point didn't come from being genuinely in love with and confused by James' story: a typical conflict that might end with a broken heart. My love for English was done in by bad argumentation, poor logic and jargon. Two words, one funny-sounding name: Shoshana Felman. She killed my love of English and convinced me not to go to graduate school for English. Her book, Literature and Psychoanalysis, in which she writes a lengthy, sustained whackjob essay on Turn of the Screw is one of the most bald-faced inventions of bad faith-thinking across which I've ever come. I only regret that I was too young to be more upset at the time; and now I'm too old to remember the gory details. I will never revisit that book.

I'm serious. I was just looking for one particular howler I remember concerning whether a screw can be turned twice. Just flip through that book. (You can flip through it on amazon.) I dare you. It's scarier than anything the masterful James can suggest. A riddle wrapped in a secret wrapped in a Yale Press jacket wrapped in which is wrapped self-delusional twattle.

Wittgenstein + Animal + Certainty

Yesterday I looked briefly at a Wittgenstinian picture of certainty: non-propositional certainty, which as it were goes assumed and forms the structure, river-bed, edifice etc of one's action. We act with certainty; we play different language-games with the words 'know' 'believe' and so on. I'm interested in shedding light on the relations among certainty, action and ethics. The relations have been obfuscated by religion, transcendentalism and political science/economics.

Last night I was reading OC and (listening to Mitch Hedberg). I was struck by one passage, and that passage made me think of another.
"I want to regard man here as an animal [...] As a creature in a primitive state [...] Language did not emerge from some kind of ratiocination" (475).

"I want to conceive [certainty] as something that lies beyond being justified or unjustified; as it were, an animal" (359).

First, what is going on here? The latter, textually earlier, quotation seems prima facie to give one more way of conceiving of Wittgenstein's notion of certainty. Wittgenstein loves to obviate the need to resort to mental processes. (Thought is an epiphenomenon of action.) Consider this quotation from the PI,
“[w]hat is the natural expression of an intention?-Look at a cat when it stalks a bird; or a beast when it wants to escape” (Philosophical Investigations 647). Juxtapose it with, "[d]oes a cat know that a mouse exists?" (478 OC). Wittgenstein sees in animals the perfect expression of what goes on in humans. Intention is thought to be somehow connected with the will. Look at the lengths to which Kant goes in order to try to make this connection clear. In the Groundwork for a Metaphysics of Morals Kant's examples serve to try to show a good will. That the examples are so ridiculous is supposed to isolate the will. If a shopkeeper charges a regular price, he may be said to do so out of a good will, but he may be doing so by inclination: in order to keep people coming back to his shop so that he'll make money.

The Wittgenstinian view of intention is that the shopkeeper intended to do one or the other depending on the outcome. (I think.) It seems totally external. It is the exact opposite of Kant's view of intention (and morality): That no matter what the outcome is, the intention trumps all. Wittgenstein would say--How do you know someone intends such and such? It would be discernable by the outcome. (Setting up the chessboard is part of intending to play chess.)

Since we take animals to be incapable of thought, it is perfect to look at them to give meaning to various words that don't require thought. I.e., intention. Does a cat know that a mouse exists? We would never say, 'That cat thinks a mouse exists' except in maybe one situation, where the cat was mistaken: maybe it was playing with a toy. Wittgenstein says somewhere in the 400s of OC (I cannot find it right now) that part of knowing something means being able to doubt it. If you agree with this delineation of the word 'know' then you'd have to admit a cat doesn't know anything. (If you thought cat's unable to think (therefore to doubt).)

And this is the crux of Wittgenstein's statement about treating humans here as animals. (Is the "here" important? I think it is--but this is unrelated to the point at hand.) There are certain times when a human cannot doubt, and therefore he cannot be said to know. He is certain.

I'd like to look more at this topic later in the day. Many miles to go.

17 July 2006

Dreaming + Wittgenstein + Mental Processes

From the PI,

How does the philosophical problem about mental processes and states and about behaviorism arise?——the first step is the one that altogether escapes notice. We talk of processes and states and leave their nature undecided. Sometime perhaps we shall know more about them—we think. But that is just what commits us to a particular way of looking at the matter. For we have a definite concept of what it means to learn to know a process better. (The decisive movement in the conjuring trick has been made, and it was the very one that we thought quite innocent.)—and now the analogy which was to make us understand our thoughts falls to pieces. So we have to deny the yet uncomprehended process in the yet unexplored medium. And now it looks as if we had denied mental processes. And naturally we don’t want to deny them. (308)

I take this quote to mean that Wittgenstein thinks we can never know mental processes better--philosophically. (Philosophers of mind, the modern pseudo-scientific ones are damned.) I thought of this great passage (how droll is, "And naturally we don't want to deny them"?!) upon reading this article on dreaming. Here are the lines that made me think specifically of Wittgenstein,

Some scientists take the position that dreaming probably has no function. They feel that sleep, and within it REM sleep, have biological functions (though these are not totally established) and that dreaming is simply an epiphenomenon that is the mental activity that occurs during REM sleep. I do not believe this is the most fruitful approach to the study of dreaming. Would we be satisfied with the view that thinking has no function and is simply an epiphenomenon--the kind of mental activity that occurs when the brain is in the waking state?

What's wrong with seeing thought (or dreaming) as an epiphenomenon? This scientist states the Wittgenstinian point of view quite well--and in a way in which I'd never think. Thought is an epiphenomenon of action. Thought is an epiphenomenon of action. Wow! This is not to say that we cannot investigate thought. And by 'we' I mean scientists. This just has to do with Wittgenstein's much earlier (in the PI) writing about analyzable propositions and exactness.

--Stand here.


--Right there. Good.

And now I can take a photograph. Compare to thoughts.

--What are you thinking?

--How now? What do you mean? I'm thinking... well I wasn't thinking of just anything at that moment. Now I'm thinking about how annoying you are. I'm trying to study: Leave me alone.

Thought accompanies action--as it were after the fact: an epiphenomenon. This sounds to me perfectly right.

Ethics + Epistemology + Wittgenstein

I said in the previous post that this blog would be getting back to philosophy. Well, it is. We're getting ready to launch a new blog that will be hilarious and heartbreaking, a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n roll. We just have to get our drinking caps on, and then I'm sure we'll come up with some good content.

+ + +

If your actions are overlain by a framework, a system, that supports itself based on its own general coherence; if your actions fall all within the parameters set by that system; then there's no mind of which to speak. That's O.K.

Mr. Benjamin, a professor emeritus at Michigan State, has sent me a brief paper arguing the above epistemic picture. It would be misleading to call it epistemic, though, since the On Certainty-Wittgenstinian model doesn't make a claim to knowledge. This takes some major getting into, but a good place to start: When people think 'I know' must be a certain and infallible proposition (that those are the standards of the use of 'I know'), they have forgotten the phrase, 'I thought I knew'. Action shows our epistemic picture of the world. There are certain pieces of knowledge-belief-information (when you're acting, I don't think it matters what you'd call it; there are, however, different circumstances under which you'd call something a knowledge, belief, certainty, etc) certain pieces of knowledge under which one acts; certain assumptions give intelligibility to my and all your actions. These assumptions are not propositional, even though it appears they can be put into propositions. But the instances in which I'd say, 'I know I have two hands' are so limited as to render the statement in general complete nonsense. I'd certainly get more into this if it seems interesting to anyone.

In his paper Mr. Benjamin doesn't base ethical actions on the picture supra; rather, he says ethical actions are similarly underlain by a similar ethical, non-propositional assumptions. Roughly speaking, this view is all right. But can it withstand close scrutiny? (We murder to dissect.) I do not think Wittgenstein shifts his views radically from the TLP to On Certainty (which are practically the first and last things he wrote). Mr. Benjamin's reconstruction of a Wittgenstinian ethics denigrates the importance of ethics; ethics is "transcendental". I think Mr. Benjamin is on the right track, though. (Mr. Benjamin specializes in bioethics and he is the author of a book, Philosophy & This Actual World, which seems to deal somewhat with his Wittgenstinian ethical picture.)

15 July 2006

Fraud + Bulgaria

We wuz robbed!

Someone in Bulgaria (WTF!?) got my digits and went straight for the cash. I'm broke.

No posts until Monday or Sunday maybe.

The theme of this blog, if it can be said to have one, is getting to be all over the place. All the music/news/popculture stuff will be sublated into a larger, group blog in maybe a week. Look forward to the latest (maybe the first) snarky scene blog for Santa Fe, NM.

Then no sound will return to being staunchly boring: I.e., about Wittgenstein and related philosophy.

14 July 2006

I + <3 + The Killers + When You Were Young

The title says it all, I heart The Killers. The new tune that's tearing up the Hype, When You Were Young, fails to match the thoroughbred pop purity of Mr. Brightside (which, come to think of it, given that I've only ever heard four Killers songs, may not be abnormal. I doubt they ever summit that peak again.) But hey, it's all shiny and new and shit.

What the fuck ever happened to Interpol? (Not rhetorical.)

My iTunes' murderers row: Kelly Clarkson, The Killers, Kings of Leon and the Kinks batting clean-up.

Guitar Hero + Led Zeppelin

Enough confessionalism. Here's some more mindless drivel from Stylus. (I've never played this game, and I don't particularly like gettin' the Led out; but this just cracked me up.) On the list of Top 10 Songs Tragically Snubbed by Guitar Hero. Kind of like what a middle schooler would write on the back of his notebook. (Right down to the title: "Tragically"??) Still, laugh I did. [Spoiler alert!]

01. Led Zeppelin: “Black Dog”

Unbelievable. Led Zeppelin, a god among bands, absent from Guitar Hero. I’m not entirely sure how to address this atrocity. Let me take a deep breath here. Gather, gather, focus. Gather, gather, focus. OK. “Black Dog” gets this spot because it’s like Plato’s Ideal of an effective Guitar Hero song.

Malkovitch + Malkovitch + Malkovitch? + Malkovitch + Malkovitch


Ah. After a serious tying of one on, it's wonderful to feel oxygen rushing back into the brain. Giddy-inducing. I'm smiling. I've come to terms with incomplete sentences. (I.e., "Giddy-inducing.") It's known what I mean. And I do actually mean, giddy-inducing. Incomplete sentences aren't incomplete, they're just a class of sentence: Like imaginary numbers are not imaginary, but simply a class of number.

What would it be like to be in someone else's head? I think I know.

[The following is only tangentially related to the preceding.]

Wittgenstein gives up several things: a model of making sense; rules or criteria for following rules or criteria; an epistemic anti-model; means for clarifying our language; etc. But he doesn't really offer any tools for a serious interface session with your self, introspection.

Wittgenstein doesn't argue much, he discusses. He generally seems to make all the steps visible, he works on what's already apparent. Does he? I'd be tempted to say, "Wittgenstein is an obscurantist, a cultish figure. He doesn't do anything so much as provide fodder for quote books." But what about the serious work, the heavy lifting that's apparent from just reading what's on the page? The struggle of a writer who seems not to have edited himself. What if you saw him actually working? There would be a gravitational pull. "But he's unconvincing without systematic argumentation." Are you convinced by him?--sometimes. Well, that's enough.

The man who wrote, "the human body is the best picture of the human soul," generally shows his soul physically, on the page. His writing is closer to journaling. It's therapeutic. Trying to decipher Wittgenstein is, in a manner roughly speaking, like trying to decipher the journal of an Austrian emo kid from the 1940s. What kind of context must be missing?

The human body is the best picture of the human soul. Wittgenstein doesn't offer any tools for introspection, but he requires introspection. To work in good faith: The humanist's highest calling.

I've been trapped in my head. I make notes about this fact at work, post-it notes, and I put them around my cubicle. I think about how I'm only thinking about myself all the time. Insufferable. Philosophy does not seem to be an avenue down which many philosophers go. It seems like there must be heavy lifting done, and it doesn't have to be apparent. It should not be something like learning calculus. Roughly speaking, everything is rule following. Philosophy is rule following, but it's also preparatory to rule following. Before philosophy there is actual life, and after philosophy there is actual life. Philosophy must be part of actual life.

I'm almost in despair about philosophy; but I feel quite invested in seeing this through.

13 July 2006

Ann Coulter + The End of Philosophy

Will I ever be concerned with philosophy again? What was that? I got distracted... But pop culture is saving my life. Having symposiums (minus the young boys, olive oil and butt sex) gets you thinking about the big ideas, but it kills your liver and blackens your lungs. I'd rather be mindless.

All right, well get lost.
That may go down as my favorite line of dialogue. Ever.

[Full Disclosure: I was once physically ejected from an Ann Coulter event. This was during college. During a span called Spring Party Weekend. On a Friday. We'd had a bbq and tossed back a few Keystones when someone remembered it was time to go see Ann Coulter. She was coming to perform speak. Well, I used one of those Nalgenes, which the school gave out like Mardi Gras beads, and I made a stiff drink. I remember Ms. Coulter being very very funny. I smelled like charcoal smoke from the bbq. I made it to the Q & A. I let people skip me, temporizing to formulate something cogent. After seeing one of my friends go down, I stepped up.

--Uh... hi. Wait, no, no wait.

--Do you have a question?

--Yes I have a question. Just hold on a second.


--Uhm. You're really attractive in person. You're actually pretty good looking... what are you doing later?

--Ryan [Trow, the president of the Colgate Republicans], GET HIM OUT OF HERE!

And like that, my face time with Ann ended. My beer goggles were fogging up and I was ready to be converted. But, damn. She's cold as ice. That night I convinced my academic advisor I was a lush, was detained by the authorities and protested the curtailment of my civil liberties.]

I miss Ann Coulter. If her stock sinks low enough, maybe I can get her to speak at the local rotary club or something.

Wittgenstein + The End of Philosophy

Wittgenstein has ended philosophy for me. I can't go on.

12 July 2006

Zidane + Materazzi

This story has totally jumped the shark for me; but it's so compelling... Materazzi, headbuttee, has entered a defense,
"I did insult him, it's true," Materazzi said in Tuesday's Gazzetta dello Sport. "But I categorically did not call him a terrorist. I'm not cultured and I don't even know what an Islamic terrorist is."
I don't even know what an Islamic terrorist is?! A six year-old playing Go Fish is a better liar than that.

Philosophy + Zidane + Headbutt + Your Mother

First things first. (I'm in a reading group in which we're reading Wittgenstein's Philosophic Investigations. The group is composed of philosophy majors, Saint John's graduate students and former SJ graduate students.) After Wittgenstein decapitated philosophy, and her head fell in the water, a robust debate sprang out and up. What's the deal with Wittgenstein? Like, why doesn't he care about philosophy? He just rejects all these issues and says you can't know anything, or he doesn't go into it.

Wittgenstein--of "I make my own air" infamy--doesn't seem to be concerned with, say, Kant's three questions: What can I know? What ought I do? For what may I hope? But really--is Wittgenstein unconcerned with those questions? There's a difference between dissolving philosophic problems and denying that there are any problems in philosophy. There's not a method, but many methods, like different therapies. Like pedophiliaor kleptomania or actions from passion: some problems, like some illnesses, seem resistant to therapy--even very good therapy. Wittgenstein sought the moment when he could stop doing philosophy; he did philosophy until almost the moment he died.

The Guardian looks into the Zidane headbutt and the probable catalyzing insult. It turns out, insulting another's mother (yours is pictured left) is a pretty big deal in Mediterranean countries. The article starts out with an anecdote about Beckham insulting a linesman in Spain. (He received a red card for calling the judge a hijo de puta.)
The Times concocted a letter of apology that Beckham might send to the linesman: Dear Assistant Referee, (Ayudante Arbitro) I am sorry that I called you a son of a whore. (Lo siento que se llamo hijo de puta .) I am sure that your mother is not a whore at all. (Estoy seguro que su madre no es una puta.) I am sure that your mother is, in fact, a respected figure within her community. (Estoy seguro que su madre es una mujer muy respetable en su comunidad.)" And so on.

11 July 2006

All Music + Sufjan Stevens + Avalanche + Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Allmusic hates Sufjan Stevens in this piece by S. T. Erlewine.
It's just that the universal acclaim granted Illinois gives the impression that it's a welcoming listen, when really it finds Sufjan Stevens closing a circle, creating a precious world that is insular and also alienating, since he does very little to draw listeners in. It's where his novelty loses all charm.
Well: Two questions. A) You know what other novelty loses its charm pretty fucking quickly? B) You know who else closes a circle, creating a precious world that's pretty damn insular and also irksome and alienating?

Let me start with B). Stephen Thomas Erlewine.

A) Writing an essay of fewer than 1400 words and name-dropping at least 20 artists, sounds and movements. I'm studying for the GRE math section, and the last part I reviewed was ratios. That's a 1:70 name-drop to word ratio.

To use Erlewin's own words, his writing is "emblematic of how pop [criticism], particularly in indie, has become a bunch of self-serving, self-congratulatory niches." Carpetbomb namedropping Allmusic schlubs aside, I find Sufjan Steven's five or six albums to be pretty repetitive. They all create the same atmosphere. Six words.

More Zidane

Play this Zidane headbutt game. From the website (by way of babelfish translation):
Someone has this night not celebrated, or it has made it way its: an Italian programmatore has realized a small game (without score) in order to make to amuse the Italians: with a solo clic the mouse it can be taken to the control of number 10 of France and debit of the heads to the Italian defender: there is only an inconvenient small, after a sure number of blows the Argentine arbitrator Horacio Elizondo expels Zidane that is forced to abandon the field and to let to the shoulders the possibility to raise the Goblet of the World. But he can always gain the football of gold Fifa....

Syd Barrett + R.I.P.

File under: "I hope I die before I get old". Syd Barrett, misunderstood genius, fighter of evil and piper at the gates is confirmed dead.
Born Roger Keith Barrett in Cambridge in 1946, he acquired the nickname Syd aged 15. He left Pink Floyd in 1968, just as the band was about to achieve worldwide recognition, and lived in the basement of his mother Winfred's semi-detached house, where he boarded up the windows to keep out the eyes of both the press and fans. He recorded two solo albums.
"There's no good trying to place your hand / where I can't see because I understand / that you are different from me." Boomers and stoners should agree, Roger Waters is a fucking asshole.

Zidane + Go Ahead and Break 'Em Off A Little Piece of That Remix

Zidane + Go Ahead and Break 'Em Off A Little Piece of That Remix

That R. Kelly song still dominates my mind, burrowing into the deepest, most dark pieces of, uh, gray matter. Playing several times a night in a college bar affectionately called The Jug. (Words that better suit The Jug: Ruefully, Slurringly, Drunkenly, Freshman-enticingly, As-the-Roofies-Wore-Off-Shaking-Fist-At-the-Sky-ingly.) That song, at first I hated it and now I just can't get it out of my head. La la la, la la la la la, la la la... That song, too.

So from deadspin, here's Zidane (remix).

10 July 2006

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

I've undergone so far this year several desperate bouts of binge listening, and I've survived each in due course: Ryan Adams' early stuff; Boredoms; Bobby Digital (a quite poignant case of near-terminal mania); New Pornographers; Deerhoof; T.I.'s "What You Know"; Belle & Sebastian's Dear Catastrophe Waitress; and several others. I've spent hours and hours of listening, and were they cassettes or LPs my .m4a's would surely have worn out.

My most recent bout marks the midway point of the year so I thought it appropriate to comment. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone is pretty much the greatest music ever made right now. Just about every bio of the band mentions that it's a single man, Owen Ashworth, who is an American film school drop-out. (His being a dropout seems to be a point of pride. But not like Kanye West, I think. Once at a school where I worked I saw a teacher or hall monitor wearing this tshirt that said, 'Kanye was right'. I asked her if what her shirt meant was that he was right about how you shouldn't go to college and that college degrees are worthless [see the Lil Jimmy skit of College Dropout]. She got pretty mad and said, No, my shirt refers to Kanye saying George Bush doesn't care about black people. Well, I still don't think K. West is that great of a role model. But Messr. Ashworth probably isn't either: So maybe the two aren't so different.)

Casiotone, as the name implies, is a guy and some Casio keyboards--that's it. It's a musical act with a premise, not unlike Spinal Tap. The latest album, Etiquette, breaks ranks with the Casio minimalism to great effect. There are some good songs: first single, "Young Shields" and "Cold White Christmas" give an overall impression. (For my money, I like the opener, "New Year's Kiss"
not the way that you'd imagined it
on a balcony with champagne lips
but in a pantry against the pancake mix
you had your New Year's kiss
which offers such kind of droll yet bored-sounding observations you'd except from a band with the name Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.) Pitchfork picked it as one of its favorite mid-year albums, which is how I learned of it. They roughly called it music about being in your middle-20s. No one really cares about such shallow problems, but they still seem important. I kind of thought that's how everyone regarded everyone's problems (other's are shallow, mine are important). (That's not to say pfork is wrong.)

Etiquette doesn't put anything in perspective; it wallows in despair. The juxtaposition of Casio beats and Bright Eyes-type lyrics creates an effect not unlike the one created by Wesley Willis, the Birdman-fighting, McDonald's rockin' schizo from Chicago. Keeping in mind one's context is difficult. Regarding another person's context is what creates the effect of something like art. Willis was absurd prima facie based on his music. Add to that his schizophrenia and probable homelessness and you realized that there was something equal parts sad and hilarious before your regard.

Casiotone creates a pretty similar effect in this way. The lyrics are sad and pathetic, the beats are pretty catchy (or sludgy; you might regard the sludgy as the catchy); but the overall effect is one of creating in the listener a sense of heroic relief. It's like talking to a very upset, word-slurring someone in a bar: You are the shoulder on which he cries, and you thereby feel better about your life. You empathize with his situation and it gives you perspective on your own. If your best friend happens to be the girl with whom you're in love; and if she happens to fall in love with someone else; well, that happens to a lot of people. You'll probably laugh about it later. (But at the time, of course, your heart is broken.)

The guy's voice is really great, too.

Erg + Wittgenstein + Husserl

[And you thought gitmo was bad.]

I've began erging again. (An erg is the technical name for a rowing machine.) It's great. If I didn't live in the desert, I'd be out on the water instead, though. The erg is a modern torture machine. (In a good way, that is.)

Wittgenstein and Husserl, in their respective final books, each quote that famous line of Faust, Part I,
In the beginning was the deed.

and I find this very interesting. I lack relevant citations, but I wonder at a few things. In the Crisis, Husserl uses the line to describe the phenomenological reduction--i.e., in the beginning is the deed: You just do the reduction. The reduction is the catalyst for all phenomenological investigations. (What is the reduction?)

Wittgenstein uses it to give a sense to his particular (anti)epistemology. Rather than look at thoughts or language, there is in the beginning the deed. To see intention watch a cat stalking a bird; to see a piece of knowledge, watch a man getting out of bed.

[Warning: elliptical argument ahead.]

Two very different philosophers whom I find to have startling similarities. Their later thought has happy, accidental coincidences and some seemingly intentional correspondences. Of course, Husserl's whole project is at odds with Wittgenstein's: An historical project is nowhere near what Wittgenstein would ever want to do.

But if you strip bare the notion of Husserlian consititution, what are you left with but a Wittgenstinian worldview?

09 July 2006


Italy has won the World Cup in a penalty shootout after Zidane was sent off. I was pulling for les Bleus. Oh well.

Broken Promise + Grammar

If anything will get me to break a promise, it's grammar. Take a look at this week's On Language column. (It's not by Safire--wtf? Did he finally curl up in a little desicated ball of a shell and blow away in the fucking wind? Is he down in Circle Eight, writing speeches for Tricky Dick? I don't read the NY Times Magazine often enough to follow these things.) [Late update: the, uh, longer, at-the-end by-line says Safire is on vacation. Oh well.] Ben Yagoda writes about parts of speech, or "lexical categories", which phrase I must admit has a little more cachet.

But regardless of name, lexical categories are quite useful. They make possible not only Mad Libs but also the rhetorical device anthimeria — using a word as a noncustomary part of speech — which is the reigning figure of speech of the present moment. [Emphasis added.]

Mister hardcore grammarian writes one of the most most offhand belly-splitting-with-laughter phrases of the year! Mad Libs! I bet grammarians fill out the most ridiculous Mad Libs in their spare time.

--Charles, look at this Mad Lib I filled out: 'After a sesquipedalian micturation, Bobby cogitated that his turkey had become an inextirpable ossification.' Har har, I'm such a latitudinarian!

08 July 2006

I can't go on + I'll go on + Beckett (obviously)

To make everything a little more functional I've decided to tweak the blog template.

There will be no new posts until 10 July.

07 July 2006

Eddie Griffin

This is mostly a non sequitur, but this story about NBA player cum actor Eddie Griffin (kind of old news if you're a sports fan) is hilarious. The lawsuit's legalesse description of the accident is even more hilarious.
Defendant Griffin was under the influence of alcohol and negligently not paying attention to the direction of travel ahead of him due in part to the fact he was watching a pornographic DVD which was displayed on a mounted in-dash DVD player, located near the steering column, in his Escalade video. He was manually manipulating his genitals which he described to a witness, after the accident, as “jacking off.” DVD jackets with pornographic titles “Anal Action” and “Privates” were seen in the driver/passenger area of the vehicle. The items were viewed by the officers at the scene, whereupon they laughed.
(Thanks, Deadspin.)

Grammar + Descriptive + Prescriptive

Remember the Lobster, yo. In a typically can't-tell-if-it's-annyoing-or-really-just-funny-but-not-ha-ha-funny-just-kind-of-chortle-to-yourself-funny way David Foster Wallace gives a pellucid outline of the prescriptive versus descriptive grammar wars. Look at it. I offer no historical facts or figures.

(I'm tired today.)

When I was in high school I remember English teachers wielding a thing called a rubric. Sometimes we'd discuss what color was the rubric: reddish toupe? salmon? pink? As a totem we failed to understand the rubric; its power washed over our writing like (salmon-colored) nuclear waste. I hated rubrics. They told you what the limits were of correct and incorrect interpretations of Grapes of Wrath. I almost always fell in the high-upper-correct range of things, but still. I was no Jim Casey (same initials as Jesus Christ! A Moses-like figure! Land of milk and honey--that's an allusion!); I didn't rail against the system for the people, my classmates, the nonpretentious, unread masses. I just hated to be told what was right.

College: I read me some Saussure, Derrida, Fish, Barthes. Boom! Zap! Pow! Wham! like superheroes all rubrics were before my eyes smashed like so many nameless criminals who never had a chance. Is there an essential meaning to words? The signifier and the signified have no essential connection. Why does the teacher call on you when you raise your hand? Not for any good reason than she's just used to doing that. Don't even get me started on dead authors and systems of differential signs whose meanings are always differed.

(I'm about to fall asleep. To sleep: passive or active verb?)

Pure nihilism. Unadulterated nonsense. Without tradition...well society is nothing, meaningless. Rules! We need rules!!!

(Warning: Elliptical argument ahead, behind and all around you.)
(Here's the money shot, right here.)

I'm afraid descriptive and prescriptive grammar are almost equally conservative. Descriptive grammar (I haven't even defined it!) is a school of meta-grammatical thought that thinks our rules of usage should be dictated by how people actually use language. Prescriptive grammar is a school of meta-grammatical thought that thinks our rules of usage should be dictated by dead white men whose first language seems to be Latin.

Society has been more or less dominated by a prescriptivist-type of grammar since society existed. As such, descriptive grammars tend to describe the status quo. There's a certain fluidity to grammar that both schools of thought accept, I think. That's why stupid-ass words/abbreviations like LOL and baby momma are in Webster's Dictionary.

By the way, Shakespeare wrote in modern English. Zora Neale Hurston wrote in modern English. You figure it out.

06 July 2006


This is hands down the most stupid thing I've seen all year: War on Drugs and War on Terror, meet your new brother, the War on Spelling.
Lurning English reqierz roet memory rather than lojic, he sed.

Intention + Ethics + Rorty + Dread + Fear

Wittgenstein's view of intention (not necessarily moral intention) = diametrically opposed to Kant's picture of the will, understanding and maxim. For the former the result (action) is that matters; for the latter, it is the will (intention) that matters.

I thought that the Kantian view hinged upon one's knowing (it being knowable) his own will perfectly: I.e., a god's-eye view of the soul. Very internal. Does this make sense?

Or to keep it in Kantian terms, you can never know your self in itself (given in the CPR, you can only know an appearance of your self); the examples given in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals are crafted to isolate the will, so that one can know his will perfectly. But this seems to be a merely empirical, psychological testing of the will. Kant grants that you can't know your self in itself. At best you're left with a representation of a representation.

But I still lack even a clue as to what Wittgenstinian ethics would look like.

I started reading last night before bed Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. It's the most exciting book of philosophy I've read in such a long time! (A probably effect of its being the most current one I've read in some time.)

Dread and fear should not be confused;
By dread I'm inspired, fear I'm amused.

05 July 2006

Wittgenstein + Crank Calls

I found a rather funny(ish) piece of fiction. It might not be very funny unless you've read a biography of Wittgensteins;e.g., Monk's The Duty of Genius.
Respondent: British Museum, Curator Pink speaking.
Wittgenstein: I have proof that England was created five minutes ago. Therefore, the contents of your museum are fakes.
Respondent: I didn’t quite get that.
Wittgenstein: I do not find a TRACE of humanity in you. (Thump of receiver.)

Etiquette + Splitting a Check

New York Magazine has a long piece about etiquette (I love these types of articles...). David Cross writes one of the pages. This seems right, doesn't it? Right?
What’s the best way to split the check in a group?
At a group meal, an equal split should be the baseline expectation: It falls to those who ordered more-expensive dishes to offer to pay more, not to others to pay less. Failure to partake in the appetizers or the wine can be cited as a reason to cut one’s contribution only if there was some socially sanctioned reason for declining (veganism, Islam, pregnancy). If you just got the soup and you don’t think that’s fair, well, think about whether it’s “fair” to make your friends eat dinner with a buzz-killing cheapskate.

Jasmine + John Berryman + Consolation of Philosophy

Thanks to Jasmine, a poem.

Hung by a thread more moments instant Henry's mind
super-subtle, which he knew blunt & empty & incurious
but when he compared it with his fellows'
finding it keen & full, he didn't know what to think
apart from typewriters & print & ink.
On the philosophical side

plus religious, he lay at a loss.
Mostly he knew the ones he would not follow
into their burning systems
or polar systems, Wittgenstein being boss,
Augustine general manager. A universal hollow
most of the other seems;

so Henry in twilight is on his own:
marrying, childing, slogging, shelling taxes,
pondering, making.
It's rained all day. His wife has been away
with genuine difficulty he fought madness
whose breast came close to breaking.

-John Berryman

I like that. It still seems--and this is a paradigm in which I'm kind of stuck--it seems like jello molds, front lawns, cigarette smoking, smoking jackets, nine to five, those pastel colors: blue, green, pink--Americana, the fifties and sixties. The sixties were deeply conservative compared to today. This poem seems so innocent; but again, and I really like this, it's something of a fetish. What is it that is the object on which you can focus your attention so as not to go crazy with cognitive dissonance, that keeps your spirit together in storms of trauma.

Henry's dim bulb? The consolation of philosophy. The enjambed line ending the first stanza and beginning the second suggests a few things. Philosophy and religion are separated, yes; but there is a fluidity, a somewhat porous border between the two. Already in the first stanza Henry's thoughts are characterized as discursive ("typewriters & print & ink"). The first stanza definitely suggests a collegiate atmosphere (competition, "fellows").

The second stanza (along with linking philosophy and religion) evokes Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. Mostly the evocation hinges on Henry's being at a loss, and the philosopher's "burning systems". Losing the natural ease of young life, Henry could be said to be experienced after going to college and reading the great philosophers. What is philosophy? Is it the mirror of nature? Is the tiger, a man-made automaton of war and destruction, simply a mirror of the natural state of nature? The burning systems bring to my mind the Tiger tiger burning bright in the forests of the night. (Or it could suggest something like a heretical character to philosophy. Episteme versus doxa.)

The final stanza is what brings to mind the 50s and 60s. Kind of like Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which definitely bears the stamp of its age. But so, there's some sort of dissolution of the typical mise en scene. There's trauma. The first three lines have stops. "It's rained all day" ends with a full stop. Then this last sentence snakes on, insidiously. It's Henry breaking down somewhat? Madness was overcome. The fetish? Philosophy or religion: Athens or Jerusalem?

I haven't even tried to look at poetry in quite a while. Apologies for a clunky reading.

Sins + Action + Intention

I had this crazy math professor. One time he bought my friends and me some 40s and we drove to Syracuse to go do something. (We [underage] drank them in the car: He had no license or insurance.) We stopped at a Wegman's (grocery store) and we stole some beer from the front of store; I had my first bit of sushi from that grocery store.

Gaspar Porta had some ideas that influenced me deeply, though. He was a strongly principled man who treated us undergraduates as equals. When we let him down he let us know. He was always talking about sins of omission and sins of action. People usually think of the latter primarily as a sin: I slept with your wife, I coveted your grill etc. But how could not acting be a sin? Do not the meek inherit the earth?

A nuanced reading of a situation: Hermeneutics, interpreting the topographical features of another's soul. "The human body is the best picture of the human soul" (Philosophic Investigations, II, iv, 178). How could you say that it isn't a sin to fail to act when you see my soul needs your help? A sin of omission. What does this mean?

You of dreary countenance and hunched frame go about your day. Assume no one intends to hurt other people. By failing to help you, I've committed a sin of omission, the failing to help you. I am not honor bound to help you, necessarily. But by not helping, I'm hurting. (I'm allowing to continue in another person his pain.) If I were a doctor (or even a lay person) and I saw one in need, would I not help? Would I wonder? Even Bill Frist came to the unsolicited aid of a man in need of his help. Bill Frist! When you wonder whether you should help someone, think about that...

In Husserlian terms (my possibly deviant, busted reading): Transcendental intersubjectivity can be said metaphorically to be injured by sins of omission just as much by sins of action. ("Sin is geographical.") To try to bring together Wittgenstein and Husserl: The world of the happy man and the world of the unhappy man are different, and the former must be said to be somehow better; the latter's must be characterized as having been influenced by punishment (toward the end of the TLP). This phenomenon, built-in punishment, i.e., bad actions immediately entailing some form of punishment, has to do with the shrinking of the bad person's world. The limit of my world is the limit of my language. Language is a communicative device (another assumption).

The result of acting badly can be stated in two ways: a) the limits of your world shrink because you do not understand your surrounding Lebensform, or your training was insufficient for your Lebensform. b) you cannot partake in transcendental intersubjectivity because the meanings that you constitute are in a sense private, i.e., those of a madman--escaping normativity. (See Foucault's Madness and Civilization.)

The point: One can say, 'I intended _____.', but a sin of omission is a sin of omission. To say, 'I intended to help, but I thought maybe I'd harm...' is an excuse. Where is this intention to which you point? I can see from your countenance that you know you should have acted. You made a mistake, and you failed to act morally.

03 July 2006

Bush + Sunday Bloody Sunday + The Hype

Thanks to the Hype (pictured in the right sidebar), I was reminded of Bush's Sunday Bloody Sunday song. Here's a link to the video: funny, but Epilepsy-inducing.

Silence + Feldman + Beckett + Home

No new posts until July 5. I can only jot down a few personal notes today.

Our wireless network is called 'Silence', but it has little to do with Wittgenstein. When I was a sophomore I had a friend named Natanael. Four of us would play Halo religiously, and then a few of us would study Greek. I was probably the best at Halo, but I scored quite poorly in Greek. Nate's handle was Silence, and I thought it was the baddest-ass handle to have. 'You have been killed by silence.' Our wireless network is named after Nate's avatar in a video game from three years ago...

The name of this blog is not related to Wittgenstein's silence thing, either. (The epigraph under the header is a quotation from On Certainty, prop. 47.) It has rather to do with Morton Feldman, of whom I'm a great admirer. The New Yorker ran a few weeks ago a rather nice profile of the large composer. The title of the blog, then, comes from Feldman.

(I notice a similarity, right, between, say, Earth 2, Sunn 0))) and all myriad dronecore bands and Feldman's later, loooong compositions. They're both glacial-seeming and intense, but really allow for the most careful aesthetic inspection and appreciation. And the similarities between Feldman's later compositions and Wittgenstein's ontological appreciation of the world! There are nodes and wires and in my mind a nearly Pynchonesque plot going about with all this.)

But the blog's title comes only half from Feldman. It comes, really, from the libretto written for Feldman's Opera, Neither, by Samuel Beckett. A libretto written by the greatest philosophical prose writer of the 20c. for one of my favorite modern composers. (Truth be told, the former claim just amounts to 'one of my favorite modern writers'; but have you ever read the Trilogy and then thought about the phenomenological reduction? You'll realize that Beckett's characters slip into the reduction, they live their lives in it. It's funny and sad.)

From the modernworld.com, the libretto (and some backstory) for Neither. (Further, The Modern World was one of those decisive websites of my youth. Just as important as, say, allmusic. The focus has expanded, but I learned so much about my early heroes, Pynchon, Joyce, Gaddis, Borges et al. Quite a fun resource, that Modern World is.)
to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow
from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither
as between two lit refuges whose doors once neared gently close, once away turned from gently part again
beckoned back and forth and turned away
heedless of the way, intent on the one gleam or the other
unheard footfalls only sound
till at last halt for good, absent for good from self and other
then no sound
then gently light unfading on that unheeded neither
unspeakable home
It's those last three lines that really get me every time. Call me a postmodernist!, but one of the great advances in my thought has been breaking down the law of the excluded middle (lem). As DeRose points out, most postmodern insights seem trivial: This is no exception. But life rarely can be propositionalized correctly such that we have a clear-cut situation to judge whose final outcome, value, will be a or ~a (a or not-a). But the form of the answer that the proposition demands is just incorrect. It's a bullying form. Either this or that: choose now! It excludes the middle, by nature; but aren't most people living their lives in the middle?
then no sound
then gently light unfading on that unheeded neither
unspeakable home
The lines remind me of a Frost poem
“Warren,” she said, “he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.”

“Home,” he mocked gently.

“Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.”

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”

“I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” [emphasis added]

What is home. It seems that, for instance, Faulkner and McCarthy, both in their darker moments really get to what home is: And it's not some place where you want to live. It's not a or not-a, because a and not-a are in some sense ideal, constructs. Living on soil is (usually) not sterile; logic is in a sense sterile. Home across the wine dark sea, epi oinopa ponton, is not the home of the Beavers (pictured at the top).

The point: That which we exclude by trying to practice logic (that it's an action--rather than an essential part of one's life--that's a huge deal; logic is implicit and necessary, not a choice) is always included in our lives.