Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What is philosophy Part 3

Yesterday, I made some progress by starting to look at the Ninth Edition of Britannica. Given the quantity and depth of the Britannica article*, it was more than I could absorb in one sitting, so this post will continue from where I left-off yesterday.
From Britannica:
  • The way we commonly speak of "facts" is calculated to convey a false impression
  • The world is not a collection of individual facts existing side by side and capable of being known separately
  • A fact is nothing except in its relations to other facts
  • Moreover, every statement of fact involves certain general notions and theories
  • It is the office of philosophy, or theory of knowledge, to submit such conceptions to a critical analysis, with a view to discover how far they can be thought out, or how far, when this is done, they refute themselves, and call for a different form of statement, if they are to be taken as a statement of the ultimate nature of the real
On reading this section I am reminded of the opening of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein's (1889-1951) first book on philosophy.

When I first read Tractatus, or TLP as the 'professional' philosophers call it, it didn't make a lot of sense. I don't think I was alone**. Here is the opening section:

1       The world is all that is the case.
1.1    The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11  The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.
1.12  For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case.
1.13  The facts in logical space are the world.

I think Wittgenstein is saying something similar to Andrew Seth, but much more obtusely, as is his style. Where Wittgenstein ends up in the final section of TLP is that certain things cannot be said meaningfully:
7       What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
No doubt we will return to this later but in the meantime I will continue with Britannica:
  • The nature of any fact is not fully known unless we know it in all its relations to the system of the universe, or in Spinoza's phrase "sub specie æternitatis"***
  • The sciences, one and all, deal with a world of objects, but the ultimate fact as we know it is the existence of an object for a subject
  • Subject-object knowledge, or more widely, self-consciousness with its implicates - this unity in duality is the ultimate aspect which reality presents
  • It has generally been considered, therefore, as constituting in a special sense the problem of philosophy
I have to confess that I find the above quite difficult to understand. I will try and clarify what this means in my next post. I was keen today to find out more about æsthetics, but it looks like that will have to wait for a future blog entry!

*Older editions of Britannica contain proper long articles, probably because they were written before the widespread intellectual dumbing down of Western society which has been noticeable since the Second World War.

** At the urging of Ramsey and others, Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge in 1929. Keynes wrote in a letter to his wife: "Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train." Despite this fame, he could not initially work at Cambridge as he did not have a degree, so he applied as an advanced undergraduate. Russell noted that his previous residency was sufficient for a PhD, and urged him to offer the Tractatus as his thesis. It was examined in 1929 by Russell and Moore; at the end of the thesis defence, Wittgenstein clapped the two examiners on the shoulder and said, "Don't worry, I know you'll never understand it." Moore wrote in the examiner's report: "I myself consider that this is a work of genius; but, even if I am completely mistaken and it is nothing of the sort, it is well above the standard required for the Ph.D. degree." Wittgenstein was appointed as a lecturer and was made a fellow of Trinity College. (from Wikipedia)

*** Wittgenstein deliberately borrowed the expression "sub specie aeternitatis" from Spinoza (Notebooks, 1914-16, p. 83) (from Wikipedia). This is interesting, could it be the case that Wittgenstein read the Ninth Edition Britannica article before he started on TLP or was he just well versed in Spinoza (1632-1677)?

No comments:

Post a Comment