Monday, March 11, 2013


One problem I think many people have when looking at events going forward is having an assuredness about the correctness of their thinking and the solidity of the foundations of their belief system.  In general most people are so tied into a very localized, situational understanding of the world, that it is very difficult them to extrapolate outside of the system.

So if you look at changes beyond our current here and now, people are lost at sea.

This of course is why people look to the philosophers.  To find a deeper meaning to our place in the world.

The problem is that while the Nihilists  may have been fended off for the moment, Wittgenstein has not.

Was Wittgenstein Right?
Paul Horwich, New York Times Opinion, 3 March 2013 (hat tip: NC)
The singular achievement of the controversial early 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was to have discerned the true nature of Western philosophy — what is special about its problems, where they come from, how they should and should not be addressed, and what can and cannot be accomplished by grappling with them. The uniquely insightful answers provided to these meta-questions are what give his treatments of specific issues within the subject — concerning language, experience, knowledge, mathematics, art and religion among them — a power of illumination that cannot be found in the work of others.
A reminder of philosophy’s embarrassing failure, after over 2000 years, to settle any of its central issues.
Wittgenstein claims that there are no realms of phenomena whose study is the special business of a philosopher, and about which he or she should devise profound a priori theories and sophisticated supporting arguments. There are no startling discoveries to be made of facts, not open to the methods of science, yet accessible “from the armchair” through some blend of intuition, pure reason and conceptual analysis. Indeed the whole idea of a subject that could yield such results is based on confusion and wishful thinking.
If [we think otherwise], then we are duped and bound to be disappointed, says Wittgenstein. For these are mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking. So it should be entirely unsurprising that the “philosophy” aiming to solve them has been marked by perennial controversy and lack of decisive progress — by an embarrassing failure, after over 2000 years, to settle any of its central issues.
As Wittgenstein put it in the “The Blue Book”:
Our craving for generality has [as one] source … our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness. I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is “purely descriptive.

I am not overly enamored with taking this concept too far.  I don't think science is meaningless, I just think it is very hard to derive higher truths from it.  You can figure out how to make things work in peculiar ways, but it won't tell you if its a good idea.  Which


JaneofVirginia said...

I think philosophers are a lot like sociologists. They struggle to find an explanation for the thoughts and behaviors of others, from their own limited and flawed frame of reference, and then express surprise when they can't explain the attitudes of others to their own satisfaction. I think only God can understand us, and that often HE has a hard time. LOL

Francis Lee said...

I believe we're well behind in society where we should be mostly due to religious beliefs!

PioneerPreppy said...

My knowledge of philosophy doesn't extend up to a date that high so I have no opinion. However I did just want to comment. SO there!!!

Russ - Have you noticed a lack of commenting across the blog sphere of late? Seems like all the blogs, even the ones who really just post fluffy stuff are suffering reduced commenting.

Maybe it's just me.

Anonymous said...

I think scientific illiteracy is at the root of the treatment of science as a religion. On the one hand the basic assumptions of the reader in many older books clearly illustrate how much society has lost. On the other science is obviously a valuable toolkit that can make life easier if not better. Combining the two it is easy to see how this can lead to a reverence for science that isn't warranted. The ideal that it an amoral tool akin to a hammer, and answers to more basic questions must come from something else, just doesn't occur to people.


russell1200 said...

Well Jane and Francis, you did a nice job of displaying the two polar sides of an argument!

Jane: that may be true, but the nature of God and our relationship to him has less resolution between the competing views (not Gods of course) so that doesn't really help us all that much in so far as a universal solution. It's easy enough to stake yourself out as a believer, but where do you go from their.

Francis: The Twentieth Century did a pretty good job of showing that the athiests are just as capable of staking out a set of noxious views that can do all sorts of harm without any religious views required.

Dan/Anon: Yes, you state well the point I was rather clumsily making.

Pioneer: I think Google may have shifted its search algorythm with regards to blogs. I have noticed, and seen for myself a drop in overall traffic count. At the same time spam has become a large problem again as the false click game seems to have taken a different approach. I generally get comments from a small group of regulars. I think the moods of different groups of people with similar viewpoint can move in tandem in reaction to external events. Presuming that we are not over analysing a statistical blip, you have anything from severe weather problems, a slight improvement in some parts of the economy, possibly boredom (how long can the zombie meme keep going?) to explain the change in commenting patterns.

If I had to pick a guess, I would say that frustration/malaise is setting in.