"A Better Sort of Reader", Ray Monk's paper from the conference, opens with a line from one of the preface drafts in "Culture & Value".
It is not without reluctance that I deliver this book to the public. It will fall into hands which are not for the most part those in which I like to imagine it. May it soon -- this is what I wish for it -- be completely forgotten by the philosophical journalists, and so be preserved perhaps for a better sort of reader.
His paper is an exploration of Wittgenstein's hatred for "professional philosophers" (which Monk takes to be what LW meant in this passage) and his rejection of the idea that philosophy could be done by means of "theses" or "theories".
This paper lead to the best discussions I heard at the conference. I think it's because what was being argued about was largely inside baseball: everyone there agreed that it was crucial to take seriously Wittgenstein's rejection of "theory", and that most "Wittgensteinians" have not done this. So what was up for debate was how exactly to get this part of Wittgenstein right. Things got down to brass tacks a lot more quickly than they often do at conferences.
Much of the paper is pro forma criticizing Hanjo Glock's claim that "The conflict over philosophical theories may be spurious, since Wittgenstein had a very restrictive conception of theory, confining it either to the deductive-nomological theories of the empirical sciences or to the attempt to provide an analytic definition of what he regarded as family resemblance concepts." But the real heart of the paper seems to be "Here is a collection of interesting Wittgenstein quotes on topics related to this area." Beating up on Glock was just an excuse to string together things to bring up for the benefit of discussion. I'm honestly surprised more conference papers aren't like this; I thought it worked very well.
I'll skip any real recapping of Monk's paper; anyone who's at all interested in this area of Wittgenstein should read it. It's short and punchy, and a copy could easily be gotten by asking someone who had one. (But be aware it's very much a draft -- many of his quotations still lack citations, and there are certainly places where Monk will revise things in light of the discussions at the conference.) So from here on I'll just note some things that seemed worth noting. And because the last post ended up crazily long and I suspect nobody's read it because of this, I'll be breaking this up into shorter posts.
Here's a quotation from Wittgenstein's discussions with the Vienna Circle that I found interesting.
What is ethical cannot be taught. If I could explain the essence of the ethical only by means of a theory, then what is ethical would be of no value whatsoever.This is strikingly similar to part of Tractatus 6.41: "In the world there is no value -- and if there were, it would be of no value." I'm always interested in places where Wittgenstein seems to repeat the Tractatus outside of the limits of 6.54 (which tells us that the propositions of the book are nonsense), and the differences here seem significant.
The Tractarian version of the saying trafficked in a paradoxical notion of a "value" as a sort of thing which there might be in the world, but in fact there cannot be: for not only does the proposition get its sense only by negating the claim "There is value in the world", but the conditional has us entertaining this possibility, only to see that it would lead to "valueless values". The later saying doesn't have this same parallelism: the antecedent of the conditional is not identical with the negation of the first part of the claim. But this shift might just be loose talk on Wittgenstein's part.
The Tractarian saying is also attached to considerations about the accidental nature of all that happens and comes to pass in the world, and seems to say that this is why there can be no values in the world. This sort of thing I take to be attached to all sorts of other nonsense in the Tractatus that we're supposed to climb over in coming to understand its author. The Vienna Circle remark I think gives us more respectable reasons for thinking of "the ethical" in the way (at least the early) Wittgenstein did, in that it opposes two things which do make sense: One might think that ethics is something that you need to be taught, and one might think that "ethics" as a branch of philosophy is concerned with explaining the essence of the ethical. And getting these two points wrong seems to be possible, in an interesting way: it's not so much an empirical mistake as ethical self-deception. One obscures oneself, ethically, by thinking of ethics like this.
With regard to this first, Conant brought up "the footnote in the Groundwork where Kant says that his grandmother knew very well what was right and wrong, without ever having studied philosophy". I can't find any footnote which resembles such a remark in Kant (I think there's something similar in one of his letters -- anyone know what passage Conant had in mind?), but the idea is certainly something Kant is aware of. Here are some passages from the close of the first part of the Groundwork:
Here it would be easy to show how common human reason, with this compass in hand, knows very well how to distinguish in every case that comes up what is good and what is evil, what is in conformity with duty or contrary to duty, if, without in the least teaching it anything new, we only, as did Socrates, make it attentive to its own principle; and that there is, accordingly, no need of science and philosophy to know what one has to do in order to be honest and good, and even wise and virtuous.... Would it not therefore be more advisable in moral matters to leave the judgement of common reason as it is and, at most, call in philosophy only to present the system of morals all the more completely and apprehensibly and to present its rules in a form more convenient for use (still more for disputation), but not to lead common human understanding, even in practical matters, away from its fortunate simplicity and to put it, by means of philosophy, on a new path of investigation and instruction? [AK 4:404]
I think this bit from Kant is actually illustrative for both of the points I want to make: I think that Wittgenstein not only agreed with Kant that philosophy was not needed to appreciate the ethical, but he didn't think that any philosophical presentation of "the system of morals" could actually have the ethical in view. The idea that this could make ethics "more convenient for use" is an illusion. What is of ethical importance in our lives just doesn't lend itself to this sort of systematic treatment. Where there is "system" in the ethical, this is already apparent, and there is nothing to explain. And if a philosophical "explanation" brings out anything surprising, this can only show that it has clothed the ethical in robes that don't fit it. So where you have any sort of philosophical ethics, this "ethics" has no value -- it's not the thing one needs to actually attend to, if one is to be ethical. At best, it's superfluous; at worst, it's a distraction.
I find this sort of thought attractive, but I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It seems clear that most of what philosophers do under the rubric of "ethics" is not worth doing, but I'm not sure if this is inherent to the subject, or if it's just a result of 90% of everything being crap.
A sidenote: I think it's worth noticing Wittgenstein's use of "essence" here. I don't think he's using it with any sort of disdain -- the problem with a theory which would explain "the essence of the ethical" isn't that the ethical doesn't have an essence (because it's a "family-resemblance concept"), but that you're trying to use a theory to explain it. Sometimes the later Wittgenstein is taken to be "anti-essentialist" in that he's opposed to essences; what he is really opposed to is only looking for essences where there aren't any, and thinking you've found one when you haven't. (I recently picked up Wittgenstein Reads Weininger, and Szabados's essay gets just this point exactly wrong.)