Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wittgenstein vs. DGB Philosophy -- Part 1: What is Philosophy?

Here we go again. I spent 3 or 4 hours writing this essay yesterday, to my reasonable satisfaction -- I think it was a good paper -- and then committed the most grievious of errors among bloggers, writers, and web-site owners...I blew it away into cyber-space. I hit the 'paste' button rather than the 'copy' button...A message of warning to any writer/blogger who may not be completely focused on what they are doing...

Anyway, a new day and a new paper. I spent last night kicking myself and mourning the loss of the last one -- now its time to give my head a shake and move on to the next one. And obviously, make sure I don't commit the same mistake again.

I changed the title a bit for this essay. Yesterday's paper was called 'Deconstructing Wittgenstein' whereas this one is called 'Faceoff: Wittgenstein vs. DGB Philosophy. If anyone finds the first essay in your cyber-travels, please let me know. In the meantime, on with the business at hand.

Philosophy, in my opinion, has a bad rap, a bad steretype -- both inside and outside the universities. The stereotype as I see it is of bearded professors, snoring students -- and 'mind games' -- i.e., let's see what kind of logical contortions we can put your mind through today.

I remember five years back or so I went into downtown Toronto to check out a 'School of Philosophy' around Spadina and Bloor. I met with the receptionist and asked what kind of philosophy they taught there. They reinforced the stereotype -- or at least my stereotype of the way philosophy is often taught and presented to students and the general public. I can't remember exactly what the receptionist said, but the gist of it ran something like this. They taught a 'philosophy of soothing stressed out souls' -- kind of like an Eastern, Budhist style of philosophy, a philosophy of meditation, taking your brain to soothing places to relieve it from the day's stressful 'rat race'.

I said that's fine -- but do you teach any Hegel or Nietzsche? What about 'social activist, post-modern, deconstructive' philosophy -- do you teach any of that?

Paraphrasing the receptionist: 'No, we don't teach that kind of philosophy. You have to go somewhere else for that type of philosophy.'

DGB: 'Okay. Thank you.'

Now, 'meditative philosophy' is not where this brain wants to go to...I'm a social activist deep down at heart, even though I've never spent a minute in a social activist group -- other than in the board room of the 'Progressive Canadian Party' here in Newmarket, Ontario. I spent about a year attending their meetings -- a squashed version of the old Progressive Conservative Party that didn't want to merge with The Reform Party. They continue to practise 'PWP' -- Politics Without Power' -- and I decided I could practise 'PWMP' -- Politics With More Power' -- right here at my computer chair without moving a leg from my living room. It's not that I'm lazy or that I didn't like part of the process of being involved in a 'political-social-activist' group; it's just that I hated the group's decision-making inefficiency and felt like i could move my own philosophical and political agenda along faster within the confines of my own blogsite than listen to a group of people that couldn't get their heads together and move together with any kind of quality and efficieny -- in the same direction. Call it one of the drawbacks of 'democracy' if you will, but call it also a lesson in 'group inefficiency'. Regardless, I wanted to move in a different direction. Today, the direction is Ludwig Wittgenstein:

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From Wikipedia...

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.[1] His influence has been wide-ranging and he is generally regarded as one of the twentieth century's most important philosophers.

Before his death at the age of 62,[2] the only book-length work Wittgenstein had published was the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Philosophical Investigations, which Wittgenstein worked on in his later years, was published shortly after he died. Both of these works are regarded as highly influential in analytic philosophy.[3][4]

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DGB: Now I am not here to 'bust egos and intellects' -- well, partly I am -- with allegedly one of the greatest intellects of the 20th century. I fancy myself as having a good, healthy intellect but nothing up around the '160 IQ' range -- to the extent that 'IQ measurements' say anything meaningful about intelligence. (You can be the most intelligent guy or girl in the room but if you don't do anything meaningful with it -- for yourself and/or others -- then what good is it? A gift from God, un-utilized?)

My self-stated job as a philosopher is to ground philosophy in clarity, common sense, rational-empiricism, integration, humanistic-existentialism (compassion, freedom, assertiveness, personal/social/group accountability...), and functional practicality (utility).

Relative to Mr. Ludwig Wittgenstein, my self-stated job is to bring the reins in on him to some extent, to catch him in his own philosopohical hypocrisies, and to in effect say: 'Woah, Mr Wittgenstein -- slow down here. I don't care how much mind-bending logic you throw at me, you are not going to convince me -- like you did Bertrand Russell, according to at least one source (John Heaton, Introducing Wittgenstein, 1994, 2005, Penguin Books, Canada, Totem (Icon) Books, the USA) that 'there is a hippo in my living room'... There is a point at which philosophy needs to come back to earth and meet common sense -- even defer to common sense -- and that point is here and now.'

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DGB: I am going to use John Heaton as my 'interpreting guide' to Wittgenstein. We are going to aim to teach and practise 'DGB KISS Philosophy' here -- Keep It Simple, Stupid.

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Wittgenstein: The purpose of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. (Introducing Wittgenstein, pg. 40).

DGB: Philosophy -- at least DGB Philosophy -- is about much, much more than the logical clarification of thoughts. The clarification of thoughts is very important but philosophy is also about 'putting good thoughts into action': it is about demonstrating passion and compassion towards people (humanism); it is about being accountable for our own freedom -- or perceived lack of it -- and at least partly accountable for the effect that our actions have on others (humanistic-existentialism). Furthermore, relative to logic, logic can be a useless and/or even dangerous tool in the mind of the wrong person -- just like 'statistics' that can be used to support or denounce any thesis and/or brand of ideology. Again, logic needs to be grounded in common sense, rational-empiricism, humanistic-existentialism, pragmatism and functionality, dialectic-democracy, and divorced from the context of narcissistic, malicious, dictatorial people in order to be worth giving any degree of philosophical credibility to it. And again, logic should not be used to play 'non-sensical mind games' -- unless that is the explicit, agreed upon goal of the 'mental exercise' -- with all due respect, it should not be used to try to convince anyone -- Bertrand Russell, I'm a bit disappointed in you -- that 'there is a hippo in anyone's room' unless someone can empirically (observationally) verify it, and/or the room is in a 'zoo', and/or the room is large enough -- including the door -- to actually contain a hippo, and/or the room is actually in a country where hippos are known to exist...You get my drift...

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Wittgenstein: Philosophy is not a teaching but an activity.


DGB: Then why did Wittgenstein teach? Because he was hired to help students learn the dynamics of the types of cerebral activities that he did very well -- and was being paid to pass on to them. Having said this, additional clarification is needed relative to the goals of DGB Philosophy. Philosophy is a 'multi-dialectic integrative activity' that can be constructed in the shape of a 'six-sided figure': 1. sensual-empirical activity (primarily observation and personal experience); 2. cerebral activity (involving a combination of language, meaning, epistemology, and ethics); 3. emotional activity (involving hopefully a combination of passion and compassion for your own creative, self-assertiveness, as well as a passion and compassion for the well-being of other people); 4. behavioral activity (involving putting all your 'good' thoughts into action -- with lots of room to argue over the meaning of the word 'good'), with the evolving support functions of: 5. teaching (someone knowing what they are doing and being excited about the opportunity of passing what they know onto others); and 6. learning ('You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.' Similarily, you can lead a student to a philosophy class but you can't make him or her learn unless he or she wants to learn.)

That makes this six-sided figure a 'sexagon' -- which I am sure will wake students up and make them quite happy -- or, I guess that should be 'hexagon' -- having corrected myself from the internet; previously snoring philosophy students can go back to sleep again.

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Wittgenstein: A philosophical work consists mainly of elucidations.

DGB: When Wittgenstein wrote: 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus', I'm not sure who he thought he was elucidating -- except himself. I get stuck on the title (which I believe I read was named in reference to a work by Spinoza). Essentially, no-one could understand him. He couldn't get a publisher without the credibility and help of Bertrand Russell. And I'm not sure how much he understood the book. Wittgenstein himself wrote in his preference: 'It's purpose would be achieved if it gave pleasure to one person who read and understood it.' This hardly seems like a work that is aimed at 'elucidating' and 'clarifying' ideas for readers. This seems to make up a good part of the paradox -- dare I say 'elucidating hypocrisy' -- that makes up Wittgenstein and his philosophy.

When I first started writing DGB Philosophy, my dad used to complain that he couldn't understand a thing I was writing -- and my dad is an intelligent man. Way too much 'techno-garble'. This was a few years ago. I have since tried to simplify my writing, eliminate much of my own techno-garble, and make my work more reader-friendly. I still wanted/want my work to be academically important and of a scholarly nature but with some educational and entertainment compromises for my intelligent lay readers and beginning philosophy students in the name of trying to make my work feel less dry than the Sahara desert.

All philosophical works could/can use a little -- if not a lot -- of Nietzschean fire, excitement, and passion. I like Fritz Perls as a writer who in my opinion was a modern day version of Nietzsche.

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fritz Perls
Born July 8, 1893(1893-07-08)
Berlin, Germany
Died March 14, 1970 (aged 76)
Chicago
Occupation psychiatrist and psychotherapist
Spouse(s) Laura Perls
Friedrich (Frederick) Salomon Perls (July 8 1893, Berlin – March 14, 1970, Chicago), better known as Fritz Perls, was a noted German-born psychiatrist and psychotherapist of Jewish descent.

He coined the term 'Gestalt Therapy' for the approach to therapy he developed with his wife Laura Perls from the 1940s, and he became associated with the Esalen Institute in California in 1964. His approach is related but not identical to Gestalt psychology and the Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy of Hans-J├╝rgen Walter.

At Gestalt Therapy's core is the promotion of awareness, the awareness of the unity of all present feelings and behaviors, and the contact between the self and its environment.

Perls has been widely evoked outside the realm of psychotherapy for a quotation often described as the "Gestalt prayer". This was especially true in the 1960s, when the version of individualism it expresses received great attention.

Gestalt prayer
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The "Gestalt prayer" is a 56-word statement by psychotherapist Fritz Perls that is taken as a classic expression of Gestalt therapy as way of life model of which Dr. Perls was a founder.

The key idea of the statement is the focus on living in response to one's own needs, without projecting onto or taking introjects from others. It also expresses the idea that it is by fulfilling their own needs that people can help others do the same and create space for genuine contact; that is, when they "find each other, it's beautiful".


Text of "prayer"

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.
(Fritz Perls, 1969)

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Wittgenstein: The result of philosophy is not 'philosophical propositions, but the clarification of propositions. Philosophy should take thoughts that are otherwise turbid and blurred, so to speak, and make them clear and sharp. (Tractatus, 4.112; Introducing Wittgenstein, pg 40).

DGB: I would argue -- I am arguing -- that, in Tractatus, Wittgenstein took a host of intertwined ideas that had the potential to be stated clearly and sharply -- and made them turbid and blurred. DGB Philosophy aims to cut through the smoke and mirrors of the Tractatus and get to what has the potential to be stated more simply, more clearly, and more functionally usefully (i.e., importantly). My main mentor here is Alfred Korzybski, author of 'Science and Sanity', and founder of 'General Semantics'. Personally, I believe that Korzybski was the better linguist, semanticist, and epistemologist -- in fact, I would argue that Korzybski was the best -- and, at the same time, most under-rated -- epistemologist in the history of Western philosophy. The two -- Wittgenstein and Korzybski -- were philosophizing and writing during almost the same period, they wrote about many of the same things -- i.e., the relationship between words, ideas, meaning, and 'things' (existential phenomena), but when you get right down to the nitty-gritty of their respective work in this area, I think you will see -- or at least I will do my best to show you -- that Korzybski was by far the more lucid, down-to-earth, thinker. Wittgenstein's Tractatus was written significantly before Korzybski's Science and Sanity even though Korzybski was ten years the older man. Tractatus was first published in 1922, Science and Sanity in 1933. I need to do more research on a proper comparison and contrast between these two linguistic-semantic-epistemologists, but as of right now, the only thing I can see that is similar between their respective ideas on this subject is that pointing is the main means of teaching language and connecting language with 'existential reality'.

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From Wikipedia...

Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski (July 3, 1879 – March 1, 1950), was called, among many labels, a Polish-American, philosopher and scientist. He is most remembered for developing the theory of general semantics.

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DGB: ...I could do a better introduction on Korzybski than this...and will do so at a future time. The Wikipedia introduction only underscores my point that Korzybski deserves more philosophical attention and recognition than he is currently getting. Korzybski influenced the development of a number of significant psychotherapies today including Gestalt Therapy and various forms of Cognitive Therapy such as NLP -- Neuro-Linguistic-Programming... General Semantics itself is a form of 'Linguistic-Semantic-Epistemological Psychotherapy...or let us just say -- Cognitive Therapy.)

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We will come back to Wittgenstein again shortly and discuss/critique his ideas concerning:

1. The relationship between philosophy and science;

2. His theory of the relationship between: words, meaning, phenomena, and epistemology.

I think we have accomplished enough for today. I'm not sure if this essay is better or worse than the one I wrote yesterday but it shares the same basic focus and theme.

Don't talk about clarity -- and leave us chasing the moon.

(Or looking for phantom hippos in our room -- although we, as independent philosophers, need to take at least half the responsibility here if we are actually so stupid as to allow ourselves to get caught up in this type of nonsense and seriously start looking for them.)

If the argument defies both our empirical senses and our common sense -- then exit the argument. Someone's playing with our head. It's a 'mind game' designed to drive us to drink and/or shake your very sanity. I still can't believe Russell let Wittgenstein take him there.

Shame on you, Bertrand! You were a great philosopher -- you have many, many things to feel very proud of -- but Ludwig must have been slipping you some funny stuff in your coffee on this one. How else could he have taken you for such a magic carpet ride?

For everyone else, alive and ticking, have yourselves all a clear and sharp, rational-empirical, humanistic-existential, common-sense day!

-- dgb, July 19th, 2008.

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