03 June 2011


Day two of the Wittgenstein conference was better. On reflection, part of my trouble yesterday was just that I was tired from the previous day; I was in a bad mood to start with, and then little things bugged me more than they should have.

I got to the first presentation about halfway through, because Hyde Park is hard to find a parking spot in. The paper being discussed was just what I wanted, though: It included a discussion of Ramsey's remark about double-meanings I posted about a while ago, and much ado was made of Wittgenstein's personal aesthetic demands (which were always serious and severe). A welcome shift from the previous day's discussion, which just spent too much time explaining how the resolute readings of the Tractatus are supposed to work, and not enough actually poking at Wittgenstein or his weird little book.

The line pitched about Ramsey's remark seemed to be a very general one: Wittgenstein really liked puns and wordplay, and apparently often took quite seriously a pun he would notice in something he'd written, or would reorganize his remarks to emphasize the repetition of certain words, etc. The main example discussed was something from the middle period: Wittgenstein started a few typescripts with a discussion of "übersehen" and its dual meaning of "miss" and "get an overview of". ("Overlook" has some of the same ambiguity, in English, though generally in descriptions like "a scenic overlook".) I can buy this. It would mean that Ramsey was probably talking more about the things Wittgenstein was saying/writing while he was visiting him than in the Tractatus itself, but it wouldn't surprise me to find some German wordplay in the Tractatus with a deeper point to it.

The discussions about Wittgenstein's aesthetics seemed to not really reach a resolution, or at least I didn't write down much. I suspect there were some points made in passing that I either was already aware of, or just didn't think to write down. We seemed to spend a good deal of time today just looking very hard at passages from "Culture & Value", then having someone mention their original context, then doing it again. Amusingly, one of the presenters had been meaning to read "Culture & Value", but hadn't gotten to it yet because he was trying to buy a German copy. ("Culture & Value" is a collection of various coded remarks from across his corpus, so it doesn't correspond to anything specific in the German edition of his works.)

David Wellbury claimed that Wittgenstein's aesthetics were responding to/criticizing Schopenhauer's aesthetics, or something like that (it was a very broad and vague claim, made in passing). I asked him about literature on the Schopenhauer/Wittgenstein connection. Basically all he could think of was one chapter of Brian Magee's "The Philosophy of Schopenhauer" (which was one of the first things on Schopenhauer I read). He told me to ask Ray Monk about this.

Monk was good to talk to. The first thing that came to his mind was the chapter from Brian Magee's book. I told him that I'd read it, and some other things, and that I'd had trouble finding anything other than pieces that just list all of the places where it looks like there's some connection between early Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer (and there are a lot!) -- that nobody ever has much of a story to tell about what this comes to. He mentioned "Insight and Illusion", which (in fairness) I should look at again, but we both wished there was something that told a story about this which was tied to a better reading of the Tractatus than Hacker gives. Monk asked if any of the "resolute" readers had discussed Schopenhauer, and I realized this was something I should've already asked.

Monk also said he thought Michael Tanner's Schopenhauer book had something about Wittgenstein; Amazon search-inside says it's just a brief note that Wittgenstein thought music was important. He also said that the Blackwell Companion to Schopenhauer has probably commissioned an essay on Wittgenstein, which is probably true: I'll find out when it comes out in 2012.

The Blackwell "Great Minds" volume on Schopenhauer does have a brief chapter on Wittgenstein, though. The reading of Wittgenstein isn't very good (I just read it, while writing this post), but it does make a suggestion that I can't remember if I've seen before (Holbo's dissertation might have made it): Just as Schopenhauer replaced Kant's architectonic (the categories, the forms of intuition, Reason and Understanding etc.) with his (fourfold) Principle of Sufficient Reason, Wittgenstein replaces Schopenhauer's PSR with modern formal logic. And just as Schopenhauer's shift lead him to deny things of the thing-in-itself that Kant had affirmed (at least problematically), like that practical reason could be causally efficacious, so Wittgenstein denies even more than Schopenhauer did of the thing-in-itself: he now denies everything of it (since there is nothing "outside" logic), so the thing-in-itself shrinks to an extensionless point.

I don't think the story can go this quickly, but there's probably something to it. Wittgenstein had told Frege he still believed there was a "deep and true core in idealism, an important feeling that is wrongly gratified, hence a legitimate need" in a letter lost in WW2, and Frege brought this up again when Wittgenstein complained about "The Thought" attacking idealism on its weak side instead of its strong side (Frege's reply was, in effect, to wonder why Wittgenstein was defending those dorks, since he agreed with Frege that they were dorks, right??). And the 1916 notebooks have Wittgenstein saying "There are two godheads: the world and my independent I". You can take the story we get in the Tractatus about the solipsistic self shrinking to an extensionless point, apply it to the other "godhead" of the thing-in-itself, and get the sort of picture the Blackwell "Great Minds" book paints. (This is probably moving too quickly, but I'm just thinking aloud here.)

Weirdly, the "Great Minds" book says that Schopenhauer's ending in mysticism is just inconsistency on his part, and should be jettisoned. The worry is that if Schopenhauer allows that there are mystical truths that he can't talk about, then they might include things like "The thing-in-itself isn't actually Will, it's this other thing, Pwill" and this would make his metaphysics inconsistent. But surely this is putting things backwards: I don't doubt for a moment that Schopenhauer would abandon his metaphysics, if he could be assured of the sorts of mystical bliss he thinks the Vedic sages had. It also means you lose what's surely the most striking parallel between the Tractatus and "The World as Will and Representation": they both end by saying "Oh yeah, there's also stuff I can't talk about. It's really important. It's called the mystical. The book is over now, bye!"

One thing that's obvious now that I think of it, but which had slipped from my view: The Tractatus at least nominally says there is value outside of the world (and not in it). Schopenhauer says this. Frege never says anything like this. I doubt Russell ever said anything like this, though I'd need to check. (I suspect he generally just went with Moore's "non-natural" property of goodness as part of the world, or else just denied that there is value to be found anywhere -- but I really don't know. Surely Russell wrote about moral philosophy at some point during his early work, at least in passing?) So this is a big area of the Tractatus that can't have been meant to be appealing to either Frege or Russell. Today I saw Conant and Kremer not have much of interest to say about the "Death is not lived through" parts of the Tractatus, and I am feeling more and more firmly that the "New Wittgensteinians" need a story to tell about Schopenhauer. (That the world ceases with death is something Schopenhauer has to say, since the world only exists as long as the subject exists, and the subject is mortal. This is not the most awkward thing Schopenhauer has to say about the subject.)

Kremer noted that "In death the world does not change, but ceases" is said in a book dedicated to a dead friend, David Pinsent. I thought this was a cute thing to notice. I suspect that one of the things Wittgenstein is playing with in the Tractatus is an ambiguity in the notion of "world". There can't be more than one world of "the totality of facts", but "the world of the happy is quite another from that of the unhappy". Relatedly, the metaphysical subject is the limit of the world, but (if good or bad willing changes the world) willing changes the limits of the world. Our ordinary talk of "world" is ambiguous in a way that allows this, of course (two people who share an apartment can live in different worlds), but it's also an oddness you get in Schopenhauer: the world as representation is a correlate of the subject, so there should (it would seem) be as many worlds (as representation) as there are subjects. Schopenhauer dodges this by claiming that all of us are one subject. And also different subjects. We're each two subjects, one of which is the only subject. (You can see why a Schopenhauerian young Wittgenstein could be attracted to solipsism: it lets you keep the world-subject correlate without the weirdness about how many subjects there are. Incidentally, Schopenhauer's argument against solipsism is literally "It's crazy". He admits it's theoretically irrefutable, but only crazy people could hold it, so he passes it by. And then gives arguments that only work if solipsism is false. Schopenhauer's a glorious mess.)

So anyway: Next I asked Michael Kremer if there was any good work on Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein. He said he wasn't the one to ask, as he'd never read Schopenhauer(!), but mentioned Brian Magee's book. He also said there was a really bad book about Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein, but he couldn't remember the title. He said Conant would probably know what it was called.

This is pretty much how the conversation went after this point:

Kremer: Hey, Jim, what was that book called? The small one? Wasn't any good?
Conant: ... you need to give me more to go on.
Kremer: The one about Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein.
Conant: Oh, that one. It was small. No idea what it was called.

Kremer later guessed "Art and Talent". I've since figured it out: "Genius and Talent: Schopenhauer's Influence on Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy" has to be what he meant. It's 138 pages, according to Amazon. I figure I should read it, even if it's not any good, since it's small.

I then asked Conant if there was any good work on the Schopenhauer-Wittgenstein relationship. His answer: No. Everything he'd seen just read the Schopenhauer into Wittgenstein.

So, I now know why Schopenhauer hasn't been coming up in these discussions: Nobody's done any good work on his relation to Wittgenstein, and some first-rate Wittgenstein scholars haven't bothered reading him. These both seem fair excuses.

Oh, I should probably say something about the other two papers discussed today. One was by a French guy and used Flaubert for some purpose, and Michael Fried tore him a great many new assholes. I honestly don't remember much else about this paper. But know this: Do not claim that Flaubert was responding to a crisis in the French novel if Michael Fried is within earshot. He will end you.

(It was fun to watch.)

The third paper of the day was about a little travelogue Berkeley wrote about visiting Vesuvius, and also Martin Gustafsson suddenly realizing his daughter would outlive him, and also Wittgenstein's remark "Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur Dichtung", which remark's translation was discussed so much that I didn't have to look up the German to type that. It was actually a really good discussion (until they opened questions up to the floor), but I'm not sure I took much away from it. Other than "Dichtung is hard to translate" and "Holy crap, Berkeley almost got killed by a volcano".

And then I went to Powell's and got a hardback of "Science and Metaphysics" for $20. Good day, all in all.


Duck said...

Actually I think it's "dichten." ("Dichtung" is surely ungrammatical here, noun that it is.)

Thanks for this; I can't read it now though. Back later!

Daniel Lindquist said...

You are correct. I shall leave it as a testament to my hubris in not double-checking the German.

N. N. said...

So Brian Magee's book came up a number of times. Is it any good on Schopenhauer? I thought he was just a well-read interviewer.

I must confess that I've never read Schopenhauer either.

skholiast said...

Excellent overview of the Schopenhauer-Wittgenstiein field, even if the punchline is, "so far, not much." I had forgotten about the "deep & true core to idealism" letter to Frege -- thank you for that. I think your instincts are right about to ask after L.W.'s aesthetics in this connection-- anyone who can say "ethics and aesthetics are one" sees something deeper than pretty pictures and poetic scansion.

As to wordplay & puns, where is it that LW asks "why do we think a grammatical joke is deep?"

Daniel Lindquist said...

N.N.: He's certainly not bad; it's a well-written book, and covers a lot of interesting material. Magee's a popular writer, but that's the book's main flaw: you won't get a good picture of the shape of the secondary literature from reading the book.

"The World as Will and Representation" is a pretty smooth read. Schopenhauer wanted his German to be as smooth as Hume's English, and for my money he did better than that. The unclarities in his work seem always to be in the thoughts themselves, never in his expressions of them.

skohliast: The october 7 1916 Notebook entry is also really interesting here. Talking about seeing "the object sub specie aeternitatis" is a Schopenhauerian way to think of aesthetics. Michael Fried also brought our attention to a really, really interesting passage from "Culture & Value" here... I should just leave some of this for another post, the third day was too deep for a blog comment. Fried had absolutely wonderful things to say about Wittgenstein and art criticism.

Grammatical jokes passage is PI 111.