This is the final post in the series about Wittgenstein – what he wished to accomplish with philosophy and a summary of his thoughts.
The following are taken from Culture and Value and Philosophical Occasions.
“People say again and again that philosophy doesn’t really progress, that we are still occupied with the same philosophical problems as were the Greeks. But the people who say this don’t understand why it has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions. As long as there is a verb ‘to be’ that looks as if it functions in the same way as ‘to eat’ and ‘to drink’, as long as we still have the adjective ‘identical’, ‘true’, ‘false’, ‘possible’, as long as we continue to talk of a river of time, an expanse of space, etc. etc., people will keep stumbling over the same puzzling difficulties and find themselves staring at something which no explanation seems capable of clearing up.
And what’s more, this satisfied a longing for the transcendent, because in so far as people think they can see the ‘limits of human understanding’, they believe of course that they can see beyond these.”
The preceeding emphasizes two points – first, Wittgenstein believes (in my opinion rather rightly) that philosophical difficulties derive from a tricky tendency of syntax. This has been highlighted repeatedly in our discussions about language games and other philosophical confusions.
Our “longing for the transcendent” is piqued by such tendencies. Although Wittgenstein talks of how these make us believe we have found limits, something great outside ourselves, I would add that it also makes us forget the beauty within these boundaries, of the magic of reality, the mesmerizing fantasy of the commonplace.
“One of the great impediments of philosophy is the expectation of new, unheard of elucidations.”
This is a danger for each new generation, that the solutions must take a new, revolutionary form. “Revolution” refers synonymously to the spinning of a wheel, which constantly follows familiar positions to reach new ground.
“Tolstoy: the meaning (meaningfulness) of a subject lies in its being generally understandable. – That is true and false. What makes a subject difficult to understand – if it is significant, important – is not that some special instruction about abstruse things is necessary to understand it. Rather it is the contrast between the understanding of the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things that are most obvious can become the most difficult to understand. What has to be overcome is not a difficulty of the intellect, but of the will.”
Our purpose is to prepare a safe landing. We speak not of the complicated, but the simple, and this is often the more important to explore.
Buddhists speak of sitting meditation. The goal is “just sitting” for an extended period of time. Once the boredom sets in – the rose has blossomed. This boredom merits chasing – what is it? Where did it come from?
“When people most ought to engage in philosophical investigation, they act like someone who is looking for an object in a drawer very nervously. He throws papers out of the drawer – what he’s looking for may be among them – leafs through the others hastily and sloppily. Throws some back into the drawer, mixes them up with the others, and so on. Then one can only tell him: Stop, if you look in that way, I can’t help you look. First you have to start to examine one thing after another methodically, and in peace and quiet; then I am willing to look with you and to direct myself with you as model in the method.”
A search is sometimes best examined from without. I am reminded of the elusive pursuit of happiness which seems to dominate modern life. At a frantic pace this will be difficult to pinpoint, it seems to make much more sense to remove oneself and in a more peaceful setting try again.