Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh, and by the way

Floyd (not Pink)

After having warned us not to think of the early Wittgenstein simply as a Russellian logical atomist, Juliet Floyd follows up with this:
I suggest, more generally, that we should beware of insisting that the best way to do history of philosophy is to look for labels that join these philosophers together in a tradition by way of commonly held doctrine or method. Instead, we should look toward how the Tractatus is transforming the Fragestellungen, the problem-contexts and concepts that it inherits from Frege, Russell, and others. This implies that we may sometimes need to look outside the Tractatus, to its wider intellectual context, in order to gauge its language's purposes, effects, debts, successes, and failures. It also implies that we need to be willing at times to question the idea that the most interesting way to account for Wittgenstein's philosophical evolution, and the evolution of early analytic philosophy as a whole, is in terms of the mistaken-thesis, correction-of-the-mistaken-thesis model. The situation is more complex. The evolution might be better conceived as an evolving expressive tradition within philosophy, a way in which the formulation of various kinds of conceptual questions and problems is constructed rather than foreseen, in which certain questions and problems come to be solved in their very formulation and certain others are, in Ernst's vivid phrase, simply allowed to fall away as silly or insignificant.
This is fairly obvious, but still worth saying (not sure about "constructed rather than foreseen" though, as a way of making the point). It does mean, however, that we may not then turn around and deny the relevance of extra-textual (i.e. extra-Tractarian) evidence concerning Wittgenstein's intentions in that book, as wielded so impressively by those (e.g. Hacker) opposed to the "resolute" reading (or as Floyd calls it, the "Jacobin" reading). This is from her article "Wittgenstein and the Inexpressible," in Alice Crary, ed., Wittgenstein and the Moral Life: Essays in Honor of Cora Diamond. This brand new release (only $36 in paperback from Amazon!) also features that humongous essay by James Conant, "Mild Mono-Wittgensteinianism," (which is also available as a pdf file on his webpage).

I got this from Amazon's "Look inside this book!" feature, which unfortunately does not allow you to copy and paste. I need the typing practice, though, so here's another excerpt, from the beginning:
The most fundamental divide among interpreters of Wittgenstein lies, for me, between those who detect in Wittgenstein's writings some form of semantic or epistemic resource argument, an argument ultimately appealing to the finitude or expressive limitations of language—whether it be truth-functional, constructivist, social-constructivist, antirealist, assertion-conditionalist, formalist, conventionalist, finitist, empiricist, or what have you—and those who instead stress Wittgenstein's criticisms of the assumptions lying behind the desire for such resource arguments, criticisms that in the end turn upon stressing the open-ended evolution, the variety, and the irreducible complexity of human powers of expression. The former kind of reader sees the inexpressible as a limitation, a reflection of what is illegitimate in grammar or fails to be epistemically justifiable; the latter sees the inexpressible as a fiction, an illusion produced by an overly simplified conception of human expression.
Naturally the latter readers are the good guys – including of course Diamond, on whom, Festschrift-style, she bestows effusive praise, as well as Cavell, Dreben, and Warren Goldfarb. Hmm, maybe I should have applied to Harvard after all (I wouldn't have gotten in, but it's the thought that counts, right?). Incidentally, when Columbia/Barnard was searching for a senior woman a while back, we were treated to a round of job talks by the candidates, including Floyd, Jennifer Hornsby, and Constance Meinwald. I would have been stoked (as the kids say nowadays) if one of them had been hired, but none was (although not, rumor has it, for lack of offers).

Anyway, that seems an important connection for the "New Wittgensteinians" (of whom Professor Floyd is of course one) to make – between their characteristic obsession with rejecting the inexpressible, on the one hand, and Wittgenstein's equally characteristic procedure (congenial, I imagine, to Wittgensteinians of all eras) of criticizing the assumptions underlying what he sees as an illicit desire for certain types ("constructive" or otherwise) of philosophical argument. Still, I think that even the metaphilosophical skepticism of the latter approach (as opposed to what we might call the transcendental skepticism of the former) can be overdone. But let's not get into that today.

It's hard to defeat the purpose of the Look Inside feature by reading the entire thing without buying the book, but it's not impossible, so I may be back with more quotes.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Book sale!

It's that time of year again! I don't know if I was concerned more with the limits on my reading time or my shelf space, but in any case I only got six books this time (total outlay = $2.85).

Thomas Hardy – The Return of the Native

I've always wanted to read this, ever since I heard the novel-writing sketch on Monty Python's Matching Tie and Handkerchief, that three-sided LP (both physical sides labeled "side 2") I got as a (birthday?) present in ... well, some time ago now. Here's that first sentence, which the crowd was really getting into:
A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment.
Just think if he hadn't crossed out "the" and written "a" instead. Narrow escape there. (Or, as Dennis the commentator mourned at the time: "It looks like Tess of the D'Urbervilles all over again.")

Lao-Tzu – Te-Tao Ching (R. G. Henricks, ed. and trans.)

You probably thought the title was Tao Te Ching (or Daodejing, as I have also seen it). But no. According to the introduction, this edition is based on recently (=1973) discovered texts which they think are earlier (and presumably less corrupted) than the ones we know. And these "Ma-wang-tui" texts have the Tao and Te sections in the opposite order. So there.

Grant Gilmore – The Ages of American Law (1977)

According to a blurb on the back, the New York Law Journal believes this book to be "an exciting and lively little intellectual history of American law." It's an expanded version of the 1974 Storrs Lectures on Jurisprudence at Yale Law School. What are these ages, you ask? They are 1) The Age of Discovery (post-Revolution through Civil War); 2) The Age of Faith (Civil War through WWI); 3) The Age of Anxiety (post-WWI through what in 1974 was the present). Here's Professor Gilmore on The Age of Faith:
My description of American law before the Civil War sounded like a romp through the Garden of Eden. [...] When we turn to our next period [...] we find ourselves expelled from our lovely sunlit garden and condemned to wander uncertainly in the law's black night. And yet American law apparently achieved its greatest triumphs during this period. Never had lawyers and judges and the new breed of law professors been so confident, so self-assured, so convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they were serving not only righteousness but truth. [...] Perhaps, when everyone is blind, it is child's play to persuade ourselves that we now see better than our sighted predecessors ever did.
Perhaps a revised edition will describe a new age: the Age of Prozac. But I know little of these matters.

Our next book is also an historically oriented work:

F. M. Cornford – From Religion to Philosophy: A Study in the Origins of Western Speculation (1957)

Cornford is the distinguished Plato scholar whose Republic adorns many of our shelves. From the back cover:
[The book] is a needed reminder to our day of the intricate connections which continue to exist between critical scientific thought and social and emotional experience. In Cornford's own words: Philosophy, when she puts aside the finished products of religion and returns to the 'nature of things,' really goes back to that original representation out of which mythology itself had gathered shape.
Related to this, sort of, we have:

Sir James G. Frazer – The Golden Bough

This is a one-volume edition (864 pp.) edited by Sir James himself in 1922. This is of course a very famous work, but actually I only know it from Wittgenstein's brief remarks, which are mainly critical. Here's the beginning of the preface:
The primary aim of this book is to explain the remarkable rule which regulated the succession to the priesthood of Diana at Aricia. When I first set myself to solve the problem more than thirty years ago, I thought that the solution could be propounded very briefly, but I soon found that to render it probable or even intelligible it was necessary to discuss certain more general questions, some of which had hardly been broached before. In successive editions the discussion of these and kindred topics has occupied more and more space, the enquiry has branched out in more and more directions, until the two volumes of the original work have expanded into twelve.
I think we've all been there. Here's a blurb from Harry Woodburn Chase, Chancellor of New York University:
Dip into Frazer's Golden Bough and sense something of the mesh of fear and suffering and regimentation and bloody sacrifices from which civilization has meant escape.
So, good Hallowe'en reading, then. Here's a random selection, from the section entitled "Kings Killed When Their Strength Fails":
[I]t used to be the regular custom with the Shilluk to put the king to death whenever he showed signs of ill-health or failing strength. One of the fatal symptoms of decay was taken to be an incapacity to satisfy the sexual passions of his wives, of whom he has very many, distributed in a large number of houses at Fashoda. When this ominous weakness manifested itself, the wives reported it to the chiefs, who are popularly said to have intimated to the king his doom by spreading a white cloth over his face and knees as he lay slumbering in the heat of the sultry afternoon. Execution soon followed the sentence of death. A hut was specially built for the occasion: the king was led into it and lay down with his head resting on the lap of a nubile virgin: the door of the hut was then walled up; and the couple were left without food, water, or fire to die of hunger and suffocation. This was the old custom, but it was abolished some five generations ago on account of the excessive sufferings of one of the kings who perished in this way. It is said that the chiefs announce his fate to the king, and that afterwards he is strangled in a hut which has been specially built for the occasion.
So they changed to the new way because the king suffered too much the old way. Got it. Of course, maybe the Fashoda chapter of the Shilluk Nubile Virgins Union had something to do with it. We may never know.

Anyway, let us turn, finally, from this barbarism to the modern period of Science and Rationality:

Steven Pinker – How the Mind Works (1997)

Having gotten other books by Pinker at previous sales, I was actually wondering whether I might score this one this time. And lo, it has come to pass. It might be sniffed that this is a popularization rather than Real Science, but according to the index, there are as many references to Descartes as there are to Debra Winger and Andrew Lloyd Webber combined. It'll have to wait, though, not only because I haven't read the other two yet, but also because I have his latest one out of the library, and that one I have to take back. Of course, I'll probably buy it from them five years from now. Maybe I'll have read this one by then.

Monday, October 22, 2007


That is, another Philosophers' Carnival. Reap the bounty here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pinball-Dämmerung usw.

My good friend Herr Professor Doktor J. E. H. Smith, while clearly insane (not really!), is becoming a very good writer indeed. Check out his reflections on his pinball obsession at n+1 (if it's not on the main page anymore, check the web archive for "Freispiel, Berlin") and on race at 3QD. His archive is at

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Philosophical Tribulations

From Wittgenstein Forum: a satire on Philosophical Investigations. This is not Jerry Fodor's parody, but another one. (Interestingly, in both parodies some actual Wittgensteinian points survive their parodic form.) Here's a good bit:
24. Suppose I intend to shoot someone. I tell him, “Stand over there.” Then I raise the gun and take aim. Now he says, “I say there. Hang on. What are you up to?” I want to say, “You stupid git! What part of ‘stand over there’ don’t you understand? Now get over there and shut up!” The hardness of the logical must.
And of course I appreciate §33 as well.

The parodist is one Flash qFiasco, whose remarkable name is familiar to me from his tangle with Douglas Hofstadter in the latter's Metamagical Themas. Unfortunately, I no longer remember what it was about, or who was right. Check out his site, which has some other funnies and some "serious" stuff as well, including reviews of Wittgenstein literature. Here's his take on Philosophical Occasions, published (yes, under that odd moniker) in International Journal of Philos. Studies, Sept. 1995:
The editors apparently hold the opinion that having the entire Nachlass to hand in a definitive edition will solve the problems of interpretation. I disagree. The Nachlass consists of over 120 notebooks, manuscripts, and typescripts, comprising nearly 30,000 pages in all (’scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Wittgenstein?’). Springer Verlag of Vienna is undertaking the monumental task of publishing a definitive edition, in German and English. They foresee the publication of two to five volumes per year; the first 15 volumes will cover only the years 1929 to 1933 of Wittgenstein’s hand-written notebooks. I submit that, even after the Springer Verlag edition is completed, no one in his right mind is going to read the whole thing in order to unravel the ’final interpretation’ of Wittgenstein’s philosophy.
Hard to disagree with that.

Monday, October 08, 2007

What's in a name?

A Philosophers' Carnival by any other name would, uh, be as interesting? (Nah, doesn't scan.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice!

And here I am just giving them away. Our riches consist of ... more Wittgenstein bloggage! Both this'n and this'n seem to be dedicated exclusively to LW. At the latter blog, a book seems to be being written. Here's the introduction. The idea seems to be that practicing philosophy, for Wittgenstein anyway, is very much like (practicing) playing the piano. Go see why.

HT: Yet another new-to-me Wittgenstein blog (intro post here)

Friday, October 05, 2007

One page at a time

I see P. Z. has another book meme thing (following Wilkins). Now the point of this one is not to show how well-read you are, or to list classics (indeed, some of these books are far from great), but to see which books one might have left unread (a commenter at one of those two places thinks the list is of those books most likely to be labeled "to be read" at LibraryThing). Bold means I finished it; italics means I read part of it.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
This one's long, but if you get past the slow beginning you won't be able to stop.
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
I loved this – no trouble here.
One Hundred Years of Solitude
I blazed through this one in a couple of days.
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Same here – what a great book. In fact I think it was the very next thing I read after One Hundred Years of Solitude (so, a good week).
Don Quixote
Okay, you got me. I did read part I though, which is plenty long.
Moby Dick
I read all the way to the end – the last three chapters are brilliant – but I skipped some in the middle.
Madame Bovary
High school extra credit. Not worth it to me at the time.
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Not as gripping as Crime and Punishment, but worth reading. I'm sure a lot of it went right over my head though (read it 20+ years ago).
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Skip Ulysses if you must and read this one instead.
Love in the Time of Cholera
I guess I'm just afraid it won't be as good as One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Brave New World
High school.
The Fountainhead
Foucault's Pendulum
Finished Book I, before it picks up (if it ever does, that is).
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons
Isn't this Dan Brown?
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Never read any Rushdie. I hear Midnight's Children is good.
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
A while ago. Too clever by, well, more than half.
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Not this one, but The Mayor of Casterbridge is a kick in the head (that's good).
Oliver Twist
I barely cracked this. I did a book report on it though.
Gulliver's Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Why would anyone stop reading this one? It's short and very readable.
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
I did bog down in As I Lay Dying, which I picked precisely because it was short. On the other hand, I finished Absalom, Absalom, which is not only long, but also, as I read it, purposely oppressive in its difficult prose. Must be a masochist (I don't hate it I don't).
Angela's Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People's History of the United States : 1492-present
Howard Zinn, right? No thanks.
I like this guy, really I do, but I don't know about those doorstops.
A Confederacy of Dunces
This I found overrated.
A Short History of Nearly Everything
This is a book of short stories, for crying out loud. Just read it.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
This is good, but The Joke is the key Kundera. I think I've had enough though.
I did bog down in Song of Solomon. Just didn't grab me.
The Scarlet Letter
High school. I did finish it, out of pure spite (though not without bitter complaint). I do hope they don't assign it any more.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
About 400 pages too long, but I did get through it.
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Now, Ada is the one to ask about. A long time ago I puzzled through about 20 pages of that one. My guess here also is that once you get over the hump you're set.
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Why yes. (See my post here.)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
I actually liked this. He messes it up ultimately, but for a non-philosopher (okay, he was a grad student in philosophy) he does pretty well. That is, while making mistakes of his own, he at least avoids other mistakes made by certain name-brand philosophers who will remain undesignated by me here today.
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity's Rainbow
Good one to ask about. Never started it. I did read V though, which isn't that much shorter (nothing since except Crying).
The Hobbit
Get real.
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers
Not sure what I was expecting here. I got about half way though.

Now of course there are plenty of others one might ask about. Proust, for example. Like many others, I too have begun Recherche without reaching the end. On the other hand, though, I have read Swann's Way, However you want to translate the second one, and The Guermantes Way, petering out some 200 pages into Sodom and Gomorrah. Great stuff, but it really does take determination.

One more thing. I eventually did read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which I liked, I think. The reason I mention this is that when I picked up his When We Were Orphans at one of those library book sales I said that I had been putting him off, and that I would try Never Let Me Go first. So maybe I'll start The Unconsoled – and not finish it.