Posted by alexandra_k on January 1, 2005, at 2:33:04
Wittgenstein was always interested in the nature of philosophy, and from the 1930’s on he became clear that philosophy was a THERAPY – a very ancient view of it, for Socrates and many ancient Greek philosophers practiced it that way. The aim of philosophy is [for Socrates] “Thoughts that are at peace”. Wittgenstein thought that our way of life is mirrored in language. “Human beings are profoundly enmeshed in philosophical – i.e. grammatical confusions. They cannot be freed without first being extricated from the extraordinary variety of associations which hold them prisoner. You have as it were to reconstitute their entire language. – But this language grew up as it did because human beings had – and have – the tendency to think in that way”.
The trouble with the Tractatus [his earlier view] was that it had tried to penetrate things. It was as if the essence of things was hidden from us, and we had, by means of analysis, to dig out what lay within it. It then claimed to have found “unassailable and definitive” truths and “the final solution of the problems”. “My new therapy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. – Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us…’ The work of the philosopher consists in assembling REMINDERS for a particular purpose. “The aspect of things that are most important to us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity”.
So what is Wittgenstein’s method of therapy? He is not concerned with arguments to establish a position, as in much traditional philosophy. Rather he is teaching a skill that is critical and destabilizing, seeking to fracture the artificial unities we construct with our minds, so that we can see differences. “There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies”. The therapy must be appropriate to the persons involved and the problem. In contrast to psychological therapies, Wittgenstein’s therapy does not depend on any theory of mind. All of these notions tend to make the problem subservient to the theory, as the theorist tends to see the problem through the spectacles of his theory. Language is a poison that can be used to seduce, mislead, and bewitch us, but it can also heal, as when we speak truly. The ambiguous nature of language is central to Wittgenstein’s thought. “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language”.
Can be seen as a triangular hole, as a solid, as a geometrical drawing, as standing on its base, as hanging from its apex, as a mountain, as a wedge, as an arrow or pointer, as a half parallelogram, etc.
[Is it possible to see without seeing as?]
Thinking is at the heart of human life. Logic is sometimes said to be the science of thinking and Wittgenstein was particularly interested in it. So Wittgenstein’s approach to thought is important and illustrates his method well. Thought appears simple until we reflect upon it. “Reflection brings obscurity – which is the result of the shadow cast by the inquirer himself”. “Thinking, a widely ramified concept. A concept that comprises many manifestations of life. The PHENOMENA of thinking are widely scattered”. Now compare these different ways of thinking:
Speak thoughtfully, speak without thought, think before speaking, speak before thinking, think while speaking, speak to yourself in imagination, think of someone, think of a solution to a puzzle, let a thought cross your mind, whistle a tune thoughtfully and then without thought, now just be thoughtful.
The word ‘thought’ is a simple everyday word and appears to correspond to a simple activity, but when we try it out in different situations we see that it is ragged. We had a false picture of it. “Because it is ONE word we think it represents ONE sort of activity”. We forget that a word’s meaning depends on its staging, the scene or circumstances in which it is used. Is thinking an activity? We talk of ‘running hard’ and running is definitely an activity. We were told at school to ‘think harder’. So what did we DO then? If we frown and look solemn, does that mean we are thinking HARDER? What is the difference between trying hard to run faster and trying hard to think? Is thinking a sort of ghostly activity that we cannot see but that occurs in the mind? There is a great temptation to imagine we can actually look into our minds and watch ourselves while we think. What we observe will be what the word means! We imagine that we can inwardly point or look (by introspection), as if we had some sort of ‘inner space’ where inner activities occurred that could be named. “It would be as if without knowing how to play chess, I were to try and make out what the word ‘mate’ meant by close observation of the last move of some game of chess”. In other words, to understand thought we need to understand the rules for the use of the word ‘think’. Instead we are hypnotized by the idea of the mind as working in an invisible space in which we can ‘see’ or ‘infer’ that thinking is going on. Can we use the little word ‘this’ to point to thinking, and so say ‘this is thinking’ as we certainly can do to running?
We can observe activities and say ‘this is running’ or infer processes and say ‘this is particle spin’ but we can’t meaningfully say ‘this is thinking’ in the same sense. Supposing two people are asked to find the square root of a number. One strides up and down, frowns, holds his head in his hands, and comes up with the wrong result. The other pauses a moment and answers correctly. The first has thought hard? We could say so, but we could also say he did not think much at all. Striding up and down is not thinking. Nothing NEED go on when we think – neither bodily gestures nor interior monologue, nor mental images. It is finding it that is the mark of thought. A thought may occur in a flash. But the report of it cannot. The report of the thought is not a slowed down version of it. It is not like taking a video of a train going by in a flash, and then slowing the video down and seeing what the train looked like. You can have half a train, but not half a thought – but you may be half way through expressing a thought or may not have worked out its implications. When thoughts occur in a flash it means we suddenly see what to do or say, rather than something happening suddenly inside of us.
Many people when they ‘think’ get headaches, because they ‘think’ with their heads. “One of the most dangerous ideas for a philosopher is, oddly enough, that we think with our heads or in our heads. The idea of thinking as a process in the head, in a completely enclosed space, gives him something occult”. Wittgenstein’s therapy seeks to free us from such painful delusions.