Monday, 7 April 2014

Ludwig Wittgenstein and A.E. Taylor


Wittgenstein did not it seems read much philosophy but reading the classic work by A.E. Taylor, Elements of Metaphysics (1903) I was struck by the uncanny similarity between their statements on the difficulty of metaphysics which leads me to think that this at least was one book that Wittgenstein read. He could have done worse. It is also a matter of record that he approved of the distinction between being a clever man and being a good philosopher. Taylor’s puzzlement about Hume as to whether he was the one or the other or even both seemed to Wittgenstein a general truth. He did not commit himself to the sorting of Hume.

First from Elements of Metaphysics:
(1)
It is always difficult, in treating of any branch of knowledge, to put before the beginner a correct preliminary notion of the nature and scope of the study to which he is to be introduced, but the difficulty is exceptionally great in the case of the body of investigations traditionally known as Metaphysics.^ The questions which the science seeks to answer are, indeed, in principle of the simplest and most familiar kind, but it is their very simplicity and familiarity which constitute the chief difficulty of the subject. We are naturally slow to admit that there is anything we do not understand in terms and ideas which we are constantly using, not only in the special sciences, but in our non-systematised everyday thought and language about the course of the world. Hence, when the metaphysician begins to ask troublesome questions about the meaning and validity of these common and familiar notions, ordinary practical men, and even intelligent students of the special sciences, are apt to complain that he is wasting his time by raising idle and uncalled-for difficulties about the self-evident.

(2)
. We can now see some of the reasons which make the science of Metaphysics a peculiarly difficult branch of study. It is difficult, in the first place, from the very simplicity and generality of its problems.

From Philosophical Investigations#121:
The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. - And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.

It was of course Wittgenstein’s great genius to be able to evoke the sense of oddness of the everyday. The ‘Now go on’ instruction to complete the series or name the odd one out etc. How do you learn that concept of ‘going on’? It takes a philosophic mind to feel that we are stuck on that reef. “In my art or sullen craft” said Dylan Thomas. It is a type of stubborn brooding - there you are sulking over some wretched puzzle and it won’t leave you alone. Go out, dig the garden, make a cup of tea.

Find Elements of Metaphysics here: Elements

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