Saturday, February 17, 2018

(in parenthesis)

This website, dedicated to Anscombe, Foot, Murdoch, and Midgley, looks great.
“The Golden-Age of Female Philosophy” is a rare case of women flourishing and achieving collective prominence in the discipline, at a standard that rivalled their male counterparts. Through a detailed historical study of this period, with particular focus on the life and work of Mary Midgley, Iris Murdoch, Elizabeth Anscombe and Phillipa Foot, In Parenthesis describes the particular conditions under which this happened. As well as illuminating some of the more well-documented barriers to inclusion, there is scope to discover unknown factors and ultimately new strategies for gender activism within philosophy. By examining a brief window, albeit in parenthesis, where the social and intellectual landscape of academic philosophy was altered as a result of the disruptions of the second World War, the current project promises to reflect on the questions facing contemporary women philosophers and the more general question of ‘women in philosophy’, as it is known.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Grappling with every donkey

Some interesting stuff about Wittgenstein on an essay by Ludwig Hänsel on p. 19 of this catalogue.
Summarising his opinion on the front wrapper, Wittgenstein writes: "Auch ein Museum braucht einen Kurator, der weiß, was wohin zu stellen ist, und nicht Dreck und Wertvolles durcheinander in alle Schränke stellt" (museums need curators who know what goes where, and don't jumble up the rubbish with the valuable stuff). In the margins of the text, like a schoolmaster, he convicts Hänsel of waffle ("Geschwätz, gehauen nicht & nicht gestochen!"), ambiguity ("Wie verschwommen!") and lack of focus ("Wenn man sich mit jedem Esel herumschlägt, wird man leicht selber einer" – if you grapple with every donkey you'll become one yourself). He asks at one point "Was ist durch diese Fassung geleitet?" (how does this get us any further forward?), and at another writes "Hier wird kein Problem gelöst, sondern nur das, was problematisch wiederholt" (here you haven't solved the problem, only restated it). He also observes "Nimm die Wiederholungen fort & das Leere der Paragraphen wird sich zeigen" (take these repetitions out, and the vacuity of the paragraphs will be manifest). Towards the end, in mock-exasperation, he declares "Wenn das Philosophie ist, dann sollten die Menschen ein für allemal auf sie verzichten" (if that's philosophy, then we should all give it up for good), and against Hänsel's closing paragraph he suggests he keep his pearls of wisdom to himself - "Behalt's bei Dir!"
H/t Julian Baggini on Twitter.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Anscombe and Wittgenstein

Looking for information about this book I came across a blog post with some nice memories of Anscombe. It's by Louis Roy O.P., and he writes:
During homilies, she and her husband Peter Geach, himself also a renowned philosopher, would look at the preacher with severe, apparently distrustful eyes. Given that they had got in touch with the Dominican prior provincial of England to accuse of heresy a friar at Cambridge who was on the whole more traditional than me in his ideas, it was intimidating to preach in front of these two powerful and highly critical intellects.
If accusing people of heresy doesn't sound very nice, this is more heartening:
Yet they cared for Dominicans and they invited me to dinner once. Their residence had no curtains – a bit like the bare house Wittgenstein had designed for his sister. Seated on the floor, they drew for me the truth tables (or logical constants) of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus on a little black slate. Realizing that I was not understanding much about those tables, I was afraid they would summon me to rephrase the gist of what they had taught me – which I would have been incapable of doing. Fortunately, I did not undergo this humiliation, because it was soon time for supper. The prayers were pronounced with piety. Suddenly John, a simple-minded person who would spend his days in town, speaking with anybody – including me –, appeared and ate with us. The Geaches had invited him to occupy a room in their home, but he declined, explaining he would prefer staying next door, in the shed.
The whole thing is worth reading.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

God as the creator of the world

Something that I would expect someone (specifically DZ Phillips, if I had to guess) to have done is to take Wittgenstein's sentences "My attitude toward him is an attitude toward a soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul" and "The human body is the best picture of the human soul" and use them as a model for talking about God. A quick search on Google suggests that someone (indeed it is DZ Phillips) has done this for the latter but that no one has done it for the former. On p. 240 of Religion and Hume's Legacy, edited by Phillips and Timothy Tessin, Phillips writes:
Wittgenstein said that the human body is the best picture of the soul. Maybe for religious believers the world is the best picture of God -- the face and gesture of God. They believe there is something to be seen here. When the Psalmist says that the heavens declare the glory of God, he does not mean that the heavens are evidence of the glory of God. What he means is not captured by the cosmological argument. 
This seems about right to me, and yet:
  1. Is it better to say that the world is the best picture of God or that it is the only true picture of God, that it is the picture of God? Ramanuja says something like: the world is the body of God. (Sally McFague sounds like someone else to read on this too.) Perhaps that goes too far, but if so it's going too far in a good direction.
  2. I don't like the addition of the words "the face and gesture of God," as if there is much to God that is not to do with the world. The idea I want to see expressed is that God is the creator of the world, so that as long as we accept the idea of the world then it almost goes without saying that God exists. 'God' means: whatever brought this about. But without accepting any such thought as: There is some x such that ...   
  3. I'm also not sure about "there is something to be seen here." There is everything to be seen here, I would say.
  4. As for the Psalmist, why not say that the heavens are evidence of the glory of God? What else might count as such evidence? What better evidence could there be?  On the one hand I would say this, but on the other hand, point 2 implies (rightly) that talk of evidence is really out of place here. That is: there is no question of evidence, really. But if we are going to allow such loose talk, then the whole (natural) world and each thing in it is all the evidence you could ever need. The world is evidence of God in the way that a dead body with a knife in its heart is evidence of a murder.
  5. There are different cosmological arguments made by different people for different purposes. Couldn't some of them be attempts to express what I am trying to say in 2 above?
The idea that belief in God might be something like an attitude probably sounds too much like atheism for some people. But if it's an attitude that cannot be expressed or explained without reference to God then it is surely not exactly atheistic. 

Wittgenstein himself might be brought in as a witness against the idea of belief as attitude. In his lectures on religious belief the following exchange is said to have taken place:
Suppose someone, before going to China, when he might never see me again, said to me: “We might see one another after death” – would I necessarily say that I don't understand him? I might say [want to say] simply, “Yes. I understand him entirely.”
Lewy: “In this case, you might only mean that he expressed a certain attitude.”
I would say “No, it isn't the same as saying "I'm very fond of you” – and it may not be the same as saying anything else. It says what it says. Why should you be able to substitute anything else?
But Wittgenstein doesn't here (assuming he is being quoted accurately) deny that the person going to China is expressing an attitude. What he primarily denies is that what is expressed can be equally well expressed in different words. There is also an implication that we are not talking about a mere attitude. On p. 12 Wittgenstein is reported as saying:
“He could just as well have said so and so” – this [remark] is foreshadowed by the word “attitude”. He couldn't just as well have said something else.  
This is his objection to the word 'attitude' here. If we use the word' attitude' in some other way, as in the "attitude toward a soul" case, I would think, then the objection doesn't stand.

What if the same idea could be expressed in other words? In the Lecture on Ethics he says that:
all religious terms seem in this sense to be used as similes or allegorically. For when we speak of God and that he sees everything and when we kneel and pray to him all our terms and actions seem to be parts of a great and elaborate allegory which represents him as a human being of great power whose grace we try to win etc. But this allegory also describes the experience which I have just referred to. For the first of them is, I believe, exactly what people were referring to when they said that God had created the world; and the experience of absolute safety has been described by saying that we feel safe in the hands of God. Third experience of the same kind is that of feeling guilty and again this was described by the phrase that God disapproves of our conduct.
The suggestion here is that we describe or point to certain experiences by saying certain things, in this case about God. Saying that God created the world refers to the experience of wonder at the very existence of the world. It sounds a bit odd to say that we are referring to or describing experiences here, and to talk as if describing an experience is the same thing as referring to it. Imagine a dialogue:
A: I sometimes have this feeling of absolute safety
B: What's that like?
A: We are safe in the hands of God
Or this:
A: God created the world
B: What are you referring to?
A: I wonder at the existence of the world
These are not the best dialogues ever written, but they don't seem that odd to me after all. In the abstract, referring to something and describing it seem like different things, but in these cases they seem to more or less come to the same thing. It is clear that we are not in the business here of simply describing or referring. It's more that something is being expressed, and I don't know what to call that something except an attitude. Wittgenstein calls it an experience, but it's not an experience that can be described without reference to the attitude in question. It isn't an experience like the feeling you get when x happens (the dentist gives you laughing gas, say), or the experience of  Mardi Gras in New Orleans (which might not be any particular kind of feeling). Wondering at the existence of the world is not just feeling wonder. (The existence of the world is not a state of affairs that happens to be the cause of feeling W in this case.) Nor is it the experiencing of some particular event or state of affairs. Whatever it is, it is something (not some thing) that cannot be understood without reference to something like the existence of the world or God's act of creation.

Whether it is (rightly or best called) just an attitude will depend, I would think, on how it goes with the rest of one's life.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Nordic Wittgenstein Review

Volume 6, Number 2 is out now.

There are papers by Lars Hertzberg and Edmund Dain, among others, and a review of Roger Teichmann's new book by me.

Mark Smith is dead

If you know who he is then you already, almost certainly, know this. But it's still sad.

Rather than pick one of his songs, here's one that was inspired by him.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

If a whale could speak

Melville:
Furthermore, as his windpipe solely opens into the tube of his spouting canal, and as that long canal- like the grand Erie Canal- is furnished with a sort of locks (that open and shut) for the downward retention of air or the upward exclusion of water, therefore the whale has no voice; unless you insult him by saying, that when he so strangely rumbles, he talks through his nose. But then again, what has the whale to say? Seldom have I known any profound being that had anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living