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"I believe that if, faced with the extraordinary pronouncements of metaphysicians, we avoid asking them to define their terms, but instead press them to present us with instances of what they refer to contrasted with what they do not refer to, then their pronouncements will no longer appear either as obvious falsehoods or as mysterious truths or pretentious nonsense, but instead as confusingly presented attempts to bring before our attention certain not fully recognized and yet familiar features of how in the end different types of questions are met." ("A Feature of WIttgenstein's Technique," in Paradox and DIscovery 101-2).

My fondness for John Wisdom stems from his being broadly and Ordinary Language philosopher who nevertheless believes that the things philosophers worry about are not nonsense, but have substance either as clashes between--for lack of better word--language-games, areas of discourse, or as revealing to us other aspects of our experience that for one reason or another find expression as philosophical questions. That, broad though it is, is my general theoretical orientation. I could not be a dogmatic ordinary language philosopher because I do think some philosophical questions worth pursuing.

The Received (Dogmatic) View is that all philosophical questions arise from 'misused' terms, terms applied out of their natural homes; and what we must do to answer these questions is to remind the asker that she doesn't know what she's talking about. If the asker returns her words to their natural habitats the questions will disappear. I think this turns a blind eye to philosophy--and not only to philosophy, to a real, important feature of experience: a feature of experience not unlike aspect phenomena. My metatheory is that philosophical questions arise from the contrast--not only that, but the 'flipping'--of multiple natural, but evidently opposed, ways of viewing the same subject matter. There are very good reasons for this, where it occurs.

I think philosophical dilemmas are interesting for conceptual reasons, structural reasons. For example, extreme external world skepticism shows us something about the limitations of knowledge based on evidence, and is insoluble for the same reason that it's impossible--that it may not be possible to doubt all our beliefs about the world simultaneously, without retaining one on which to base the doubt. But taking this sort of interest in philosophical problems does not mean that I think they are 'constructs' (whatever that means), of some kind, or ought to disappear with a shift in one's attitude towards the world (though that may happen--but that's not the most interesting thing to say about them). The skeptical mindset may be a peculiar one to get into, but it's not simply that.

Does this amount to the same as Wisdom's "not fully recognized and yet familiar features of how in the end different types of questions are met"? Possibly, though I would subsume "how different types of questions are met" under aspect-switching phenomenology; from one point of view, we are tempted to address the question as to whether the will is free by referring to causal chains, and from another, with the conviction that we could have done otherwise. And in a way, "how in the end different types of questions are met" is exactly what we learn from the skeptic above: we learn about what it means to base a belief (or a doubt) on evidence, and how our ability to meet certain questions runs up against the limits of our methods of finding out about things.
apolliana: (Default)
In my sections, we discussed the process by which a Knight of Infinite Resignation becomes, if she does, a Knight of Faith. The difference between the two Knights, we will recall, is that the KIR knows that her central wish is unattainable, is resigned to that, but continues to act as if it were attainable. The Knight of Faith knows her end is unattainable, and simultaneously believes it is.

Of the transition, Kierkegaard says this:

"Infinite resignation is the last stage before faith, so that anyone who has not made this movement does not have faith; for only in infinite resignation does my eternal validity become transparent to me, and only then can there be talk of grasping existence on the strength of faith" (75).

Now, what does this mean? Infinite resignation seems to be a necessary step towards faith. My interpretation of what happens is characteristically (of me) nonreligious. Holding on to a wish the world refuses to grant puts one at odds with the world, in a way. Two pages prior, K. emphases the KIR's imperviousness to the world: "one who has infinitely resigned is enough unto himself" (73). That is, the Knight will not "lose the resilience of resignation" if, say, something changes with respect to the object of her wish. ("There was a person who also believed he had made the movement, but time went by, the princess did something else, she married, say, a prince, and his soul lost the resilience of resignation. He knew then that he had not made the movement correctly" (73).)

'Eternal validity', I believe, is a sort of boundless self-sufficiency with regard to one's estimation of whatever it is that is one's central wish. What the world does, doesn't matter; and cannot matter. One's own heart will be enough, indefinitely; the wish itself will seem to be the right one, indefinitely. That seals one off from the world, but also imparts strength. (This may be the strength K. is talking about in the delightful passage on the shirt of tears that "also gives better protection than iron and steel" (74), and which one has to make for oneself.) But how does that independence of heart take us to believing that one both will and will not attain one's wish?

Kierkegaard often talks of the rest of the world depending, for the KoF, on the Knight's central wish. I'm not sure how to render this poetic expression more precise, except perhaps to say that the KoF perceives her wish first, and the rest of the world after. The thing that matters most--and there is only one thing, for a Knight--seems bigger, more salient. When one has one's central wish, every other thing in life becomes valuable through that. The Knight of Faith attains that state through faith, with the result that one cannot tell a Knight of Faith from an ordinary person who is enormously content in various domains of her life.

The transition from KIR to KoF is made possible by the KIF's independence. If it does not matter what the world, the princess, the object of one's wish does, then one's belief that obtaining the object of one's wish is impossible might as well be independent from evidence too. Once one realizes that one will have a wish regardless of what the world does, that wish itself will seem to have a kind of 'truth': it is true that it will always be one's wish, and as the most important thing in the world, it is a particularly 'solid' kind of truth. It's still a leap from "I will always love the princess most of all things in the world" to "I will get the princess (even though I know it's impossible)." But if one will always have one's central wish regardless of what the world does, one might as well believe one will get it. Perhaps having a wish in the way a Knight does--intimately, foundationally for one's value-structure--amounts to having the object of one's wish. The princess in some way belongs to the non-princely Knight by virtue of his wish.
apolliana: (Default)
Years ago when I taught Existentialism over the Summer at Tufts I emphasized the connection to external world skepticism, though I'm not quite sure what I said. Now I'm leading my sections through Nausea, asking them to try to figure out the cause of Ronquentin's nausea. On any given Friday when I ask this, someone invariably says "fear of freedom!", which is true, but not etiologically enlightening. I want them, as I did with Kierkegaard, to look at R. as a therapist, or a friend might. It's difficult, because he's slippery; the first time I read it, I wasn't sure there was a character there at all, but plenty of real people elude me just as much.

I've come to the conclusion that the problem is that he doesn't believe in his project, but isn't aware of it until 1/2-3/4 of the way through the book; and not believing in the thing he thinks justifies his existence leads to the insidious feeling that the world is coming apart. Literally coming apart: objects lose their identities, things that should be easy to do become hard, little cracks in the sense that the world is coherent appear everywhere. (One of my students has taken this and run with it. "Why can't he see that he should just stop taking things out of their contexts?" --"Because self-knowledge is hard....") Why should one unacknowledged anxiety lead to this extrapolation of anxiety into everything? Why should the fact that I could be wrong about nearly any belief lead to the worry that I could be wrong about every belief?

Perhaps it is the centrality of the original worry. One's main goal, however much one's heart is or isn't in it, is central to how one sees oneself and the world. Similarly we construct the world we think of ourselves as living in with our beliefs ("in the fulness of time produces a theory..."). If one thinks that our beliefs are our world (and, in a sense, they are) a crack in them might really seem to threaten to bring the whole structure down. The existential antihero's ominous cracks are every bit as much a paranoid extrapolation as the skeptic's are.

There is a similarity too in what the person in these predicaments dwells on: something impossible--though in a different sense than Kierkegaard's beliefs that one one both will and will not get the princess: the impossibility of imagining one's own nonexistence, fully, of imagining being dead, for the existential antihero, and the impossibility of imagining the totality of one's beliefs to be false, for the skeptic. Each of these is a paradox, since imagining one's own existence is still imagining, and thus entails that you exist to do the imagining; and imagining the totality of one's beliefs to be false cannot justifiably be done unless one holds at least one belief firm as a reason for calling the rest into doubt.

I'm not sure if it's the impossibility of fully imagining either of these that gives them their paranoia-inducing power. The mind stops (because it literally cannot go any further), and shudders, and is somehow in spite of this (or because of it?) convinced that it is something one should be concerned about. But the concern stems, probably, from a worry not about the world but about oneself--about the coherence of one's own desires and attitudes, or the reliability of one's beliefs.

It probably shouldn't be surprising that an inconsistency in or insecurity about oneself ought to manifest itself as a perceived inconsistency in or insecurity about the world.


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