Letting The Fly Out Of The Fly-Bottle

“Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by the resources of our language,” said Wittgenstein. And again: “The results of philosophy are the discovery of some piece of plain nonsense and the bumps that the understanding has got by running up against the limits of language.” Reading the Philosophical Investigations very late in life, I keep finding things like this that I could have said myself and probably have. The reason is that a key part of my education was provided by people obviously taught by this book, so that readers of Hugo, if any there be, are getting Wittgenstein at third hand.

However, this must not be understood in defence of any kind of mystical wittering about special intuition by some grifter who proposes to take us beyond the limits of language and into bankruptcy. My take-away is much more the first leg of the second quote above. And the worst of the plain nonsense, which might for all I know be a part of Chomsky’s “deep structure”, is the treatment of existence as a predicate. The notion that our “lives” are something possessed by some “us” or other, something that “we” can acquire, have or lose.

Imagine a man called William who recently had an appointment with Henry VIII’s headsman, for which he had to take his boots off. Well then, his boots are now here and his head is over there. Should these statements rightly share a single syntactical form like that? William without his boots we understand; but is William without his head the same sort of thing?

Posted on May 10, 2009 at 18:33 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: Religion And Conceptual Muddle

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