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Reviewed by James C. Taggart
In his Preface to Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein confessed his worry that, “It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another -- but, of course, it is not likely.” Unfortunately, Wittgenstein’s worry proved prescient. Certain (in)famous remarks from Investigations, for example, have led respected philosophers to mistake him as endorsing: (i) a behaviorist view of the mind (PI §580: “An ‘inner process’ stands in need of outer criteria”), (ii) a quietist view of philosophical method (PI §124: “Philosophy ... leaves everything as it is”), and (iii) a conventionalist view of meaning (PI §43: “[T]he meaning of a word is its use in the language”). Fortunately, as William Day and Victor J. Krebs discuss in their helpful introduction to Seeing Wittgenstein Anew, more philosophers have begun, in Stanley Cavell’s words, to take Wittgenstein’s seriousness seriously -- his idiosyncratic writing style, the spiritual fervor of his personality, and the distinctive approach to philosophy that these reflect -- and, thereby, to avoid misreading him based on certain remarks viewed in isolation. The sixteen specially commissioned essays in this volume are a welcome addition to this trend.
by William Day and Victor J. Krebs (Editors) Cambridge University Press, 2010 Review by James Taggart, Ph.D. Published: Metapsychology Online Reviews, Oct 15th 2010 (Vol. 14, Issue 41).
The essays in Seeing Wittgenstein Anew are also welcome because, while discussing Wittgenstein’s remarks on aspect-seeing, they elaborate three important themes that should interest not just philosophers and Wittgenstein scholars but anyone concerned with how we find meaning in -- or make sense of -- our lives. As Juliet Floyd observes in one of the volume’s strongest contributions:
Wittgenstein concerned himself with the human drive to the symbolical, including ... the drive ... to seek and find perspectives from which the specific content of what is true and false can take a back seat to our absorption in aspects we can draw from (find or see in) a scheme of 1
. method. of course. if not exactly the same as. Understood narrowly. scattered remarks in Part I and all of those in Part II. Cerbone. Also noteworthy are the essays by Sandra Laugier. these essays are rich with illuminating readings and extensions of the remarks on aspect-seeing and Wittgenstein’s views generally. the volume also includes William Day’s valuable concordance of the unnumbered remarks from the first three editions of Philosophical Investigations. aspect of them. for the same reason that they are apt to be misunderstood. of a proposition. But while many philosophers almost casually ignore this -.. or underappreciated. investigating . “Wittgenstein’s pervasive concern with aspect-seeing” can be understood narrowly and broadly.. For Wittgenstein’s actual views about mind. Not coincidentally. (323) Not. 2 . is . and so on... philosophical issues are often. Edward Minar. “[It] will be closely allied with Romantic investigations of our recurrent human failure genuinely to experience our world and to appreciate the significance of (events in) our lives. ‘the concepts of meaning. and other things’. that all aspect-seeing has “specific content . and Floyd stand out for their depth and clarity.. either conventionalism or realism about meaning. characteristic of certain kinds of significance we find and create in our lives.. As Wittgenstein was well-aware. aspect-seeing often involves particular facts from our everyday lives featured in some novel presentation specially arranged so that we might see in the everyday facts some new. Richard Eldridge. [S]uch finding [of aspects] . and meaning prove interesting.. of logic . states of consciousness. Stanley Cavell..” (273) Before taking up the three topics that I have identified in these essays.perhaps because he fails to fit their preconceptions -. its “long-established grooves of thought” (in Hagberg’s memorable phrase).. in Steven G. (Potential purchasers of this volume might like to know that Cavell’s contribution is closely related to.. if not typically. and William Day.interpretation or arrangement. “It will be directed exclusively toward philosophers . of understanding.. in large part. Victor J. an essay previously published in two other collections. David R.. Affeldt’s words. Those by Garry L. I should mention that. conceived of as dichotomous: either materialism or mystery about mind. tak[ing] a back seat. Krebs. either rationalism or empiricism in method.) Finally.Wittgenstein wants to avoid the straitjacket of philosophy’s dichotomies. The first words of each unnumbered remark are listed with the corresponding page and/or paragraph number for each edition. that is. including Peter Hacker and Joachim Schulte’s recent fourth edition. the three important themes from this volume that I discuss track the three misreadings with which I began.” (272) But understood broadly. Two other excellent contributions have Avner Baz spiritedly critiquing Stephen Mulhall’s work on aspect-seeing and then Mulhall responding in kind.. Affeldt.” Beyond the abstract forms of aspect-seeing in logic and mathematics that Floyd highlights. Or. Timothy Gould.. taken together. Hagberg.
on one hand.. we typically have no doubts that other human beings (as opposed to the lumps of gray matter inside their skulls or the silicon chips inside computers) have self-conscious mental lives. he wants to “turn . in fact..‘willful or pretend ignorance’ might be more accurate -.... even relevant . for materialist and mysterian alike. Here..” that is. these two tendencies provide a way . to the ‘transparency’ afforded by ‘a human facial expression’. as a place or realm where meaning happens . Rather. But what this absence of doubt reveals is not that “the play of the face.” (145) And these “subtleties of glance. we [are supposed to] infer the states picked out by [our everyday psychological] concepts. say.anger.” (145) But seeing this apparent oscillation as significant.to bear on contemporary philosophy of mind. and joy. As Cerbone explains: In our dealings with one another.Cerbone’s basic point that contemporary philosophers of mind are ‘blind’ to “the ‘transparency’ afforded by ‘a human facial expression’” is essentially correct. past the current deadlock in the philosophy of mind since they suggest a kind of blindness on the part of both sides . Wittgenstein “insists on the legitimacy of the concept or category of the soul. hope.” (PI 178d) Though talk of blindness best fits those alien to our everyday ways of thinking and (most) philosophers are not really alien in this sense -.what it means to have a mental life. For contemporary materialists regard our everyday psychological concepts as hypotheses about what’s going on inside our brains/bodies. conscious with thoughts and feelings of their own. we might say: “My attitude towards him is an attitude towards a soul. the ebb and flow of gesture and expression” are evidentially relevant. That is. as an elusive. and tone” (PI 228d) do seem relevant to the “problem of other minds.. the play of the face. On the other hand. On one hand. for instance -. Indeed.” On the other hand. the question of whether other human beings are. away from an ‘occult’ or ‘magical’ conception of the mind.. grief. gesture. mysterians like Thomas Nagel follow Descartes in conceiving of “mind. none of that is . Cerbone argues that: “Taken together . in light of the expressions at play on another’s face.. especially consciousness. mysterious wholly ‘inner’ phenomenon. of talking about and treating others as ensouled without any desire to demonstrate that.... Cerbone brings his remark – “It is as if he became transparent to us through a human facial expression” -... and the basis of our inference is the “behavior” we 3 . though both materialists and mysterians regard it as insignificant. the expressions at play on our friend’s face foreclose the question of her mindedness. the ebb and flow of gesture and expression. David R. They are criterial of -.mind Recognizing Wittgenstein’s desire to avoid philosophically-motivated dichotomies.. as if the question of whether a friend has a conscious mental life genuinely arises for us and her facial expressions soothe our anxiety on this score. materialists like Daniel Dennett would allow everyday psychological categories -. possibly untouchable by the natural sciences.” (143-144) Now Cerbone concedes that Wittgenstein seems to oscillate between materialism and mystery.help define -. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul. Or.only as shorthand for the neuro-physical categories of some nascent brain science. all talk about the soul is really just talk about the body ..
what we see can only be data for constructing theories and drawing inferences about the inner goings on of another’s brain/body. considerations that may or may not support the existence of some hypothesized internal state? Alternatively.” (PI 200b) On their view. this impresses itself sharply upon me. our description of what we see as anger and.. (PI 200a) In other words.” Connecting Wittgenstein’s remarks on aspect-seeing from Part II of Investigations with his distinctive method evinced in Part I.—I look at the landscape..” At least in part. no less legitimate than other forms of description. typically fail to respect this pluralism and subscribe to sophisticated versions of “[trying] to define the concept of a material object in terms of ‘what is really seen’. namely. After all. however.] clarification” (i. Cerbone offers this remark of Wittgenstein’s: The concept of “seeing” makes a tangled impression. Rather.that another’s soul (or mind) can be transparent through what I see expressed on her face -. (157) Thus. gesture.is a case of aspect-seeing. Well.” Describing what is seen -describing reality -. as making another’s thoughts transparent are ways we have of describing what we see. how completely ragged what we see can appear! And now look all that can be meant by “description of what is seen”. the idea that there is “one genuine proper case of . grief-stricken. not just those of fundamental physics nor even. as an “inward thing”) . Cerbone’s fundamental question: why do philosophers feel compelled to treat “glance..is a matter for all of our linguistic resources. denying that the expression on another’s face gives us a window onto her soul stems from a prejudice that materialists (at least) hold dear and Wittgenstein would have us reject. the remarks on aspect-seeing play a part. method On the quietist (mis)reading of Wittgenstein. Beyond such data. Such “states” are thus not anything we perceive: We do not really see another’s joy or anger . Wittgenstein is not hard up for categories. description. reduction) or “be swept aside as rubbish. at least when it comes to seeing others as angry. We should not be either. philosophy is impotent to generate new knowledge. we do not -.. for example. the 4 .and cannot -. or joyful? In reply. As Cerbone reminds us.. Furthermore. that is quite hazy.—But this just is what is called description of what is seen. my gaze ranges over it. why do philosophers feel compelled to reject aspect-seeing. For what is at stake -. denies precisely the kind of transparency Wittgenstein attributes to the face. or which must just be swept aside as rubbish. something which awaits clarification. There is not one genuine proper case of such description—the rest being vague. So. it is tangled. just those of certain privileged scientific disciplines. why do philosophers feel compelled to deny that we can see joy on a child’s face? While any satisfactory answer will be complex. and tone” as mere data. more broadly. seeing the expression on someone’s face as anger is part of the variegated tangle that constitutes seeing for us.. then. [Thus] casting our ordinary psychological concepts in the role of a theory about the inner workings of the human body (treating joy.really see someone’s anger right out in the open on her face and in her gestures.e. Contemporary philosophers of mind... it merely “leaves everything as it is.observe. whatever else we think we see must “await[. I see all sorts of distinct and indistinct movement. more generally.
)” (PI §129) And lastly: • “The concept of a perspicuous representation is of fundamental significance for us. but by arranging what we have always known.” • “A perspicuous representation produces just that understanding which consists in ‘seeing connexions’. his method is a kind of reasoning. ordinary facts.. these essays help us appreciate Wittgenstein’s method of constructing perspicuous representations via (telling) description and (creative) arrangement of familiar.his readers. on his view.. as his talk of “arranging” and “finding and inventing intermediate cases” suggests and the entire Investigations surely attests. Wittgenstein conceives of philosophy as an activity. Hence the importance of finding and inventing intermediate cases. he wants us to pay attention to “what we have always known” and to notice aspects of simple. as PI §109 and §129 imply. when Wittgenstein talks of perspicuous representation. However. But his remarks on aspect-seeing help illuminate his meaning as these passages from Seeing Wittgenstein Anew show: 5 . For though he provides neither deductions nor empirical explanations.” (PI §109) • “Philosophy simply puts everything before us.” (PI §122) That philosophical problems are not to be solved with new information might seem to bolster the case for Wittgenstein’s quietism. Rather. reason with -. literature.essays by Hagberg. More importantly. what he means may not be entirely clear. (One is unable to notice something because it is always before one’s eyes. not something passive or even passively accepting of received ‘wisdom’.” (PI §126) • “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. familiar things that may be difficult to see precisely because they are “always before one’s eyes. the way we look at things. in doing these two things. not by giving new information. the ubiquity of his kind of ‘reasoning’ begins to dawn on us. and description alone must take its place. Krebs. yes. and neither explains nor deduces anything. and Floyd and to a lesser extent those by Mulhall and Affeldt not only help establish the unity of Wittgenstein’s method but put to rest the idea that philosophy. It earmarks the form of account we give. [Philosophical] problems are solved. As we come to understand the distinctive way that Wittgenstein tries to engage -and.” Ironically. Minar. The same goes for his remark that philosophy involves neither explanation nor deduction but only description. and music when they help others see (or hear) meaning in a work. much like the reasoning employed by critics of the arts. Consider these remarks of his on method from Investigations Part I: • “We must do away with all explanation. Eldridge. has nothing to tell us. --Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain..
made the object of his method at least since [his Remarks on] Frazer. 128) The dawning of an aspect . involves my actively placing the object seen in a context of comparisons: seeing “a likeness” [eine Ahnlichkeit.the very understanding (of internal relations) that Wittgenstein . Moreover. in Affeldt’s words. that is.and gravitate towards the latter. Of course. on his view..lies at the core of Wittgenstein’s method. Now “realism” proves attractive. (Eldridge. the availability and importance of such knowledge has not been lost on novelists. because it elides any role for us. the knowledge we get when some new perspective on the familiar facts of our everyday lives dawns on us... 174) In the dawning of an aspect. holds that we have no choice: the classifications effected by our categories (and expressed by our words) are imposed on us by reality. not just seeing an object. a seemingly distinct. one perceives “likenesses” (PI 193a) and “internal relations” (PI 212a). And this leads to the third and perhaps most important theme that recurs throughout the contributions to Seeing Wittgenstein Anew. enabling us to see these ordinary.or seeing -. (Minar. does produce new knowledge and understanding. 184-185) In other words. his remarks on aspect-seeing elucidate how what “lies open to view” and “is always before one’s eyes” possess the depth to support this kind of knowledge. “Realism. peripheral topic -aspect-seeing -. “we have always known” and bring out similarities that we had not -. and other creative users of language. they connect with ordinary. Thus. how they ‘latch on’ to the world.Noticing aspects is precisely that understanding that consists in “seeing connections” -. As Cavell puts it: 6 . poets.appreciated.. a similarity] (PI 193a). familiar things in new ways. Wittgenstein is no quietist. So. For regarding how our words have meaning. in some sense..” by contrast. Whether we find or invent them. Take “intermediate cases” and the connections they reveal. by our failure to “see connections” (PI §122). but in the deeper sense that the classifications effected by our categories (and expressed by our words) are a matter of our choice. after all. under new aspects. meaning Unlike novelists and poets who know well that. in part.. Philosophy. we might say that perspicuous representations are constructed precisely to induce the dawning -. familiar things that. Aspect-dawning is (at least) a metaphor for the kind of understanding a perspicuous representation . we tend to polarize our options -conventionalism or “realism” -.. our construction..or at least not fully -. produce[s]. [c]rucially . (Krebs. “[T]he work of description and simply put[ting] everything before us cannot themselves be simple matters” (274).of aspects. Conventionalism holds that what our words mean is a matter of convention: not just in the superficial sense that we could have settled upon a different word to express this or that category. which have in a sense been hidden not by obstacles in the scene itself. but by barriers in us. others may be unimpressed by Wittgenstein’s emphasis on description.
(94) Thus. the interpretation of experience. (248) And these words of Baz echo those of T.can be understood in an indefinite number of ways -.that how active and engaged we are in making sense of our experience reflects on us. description is essentially automatic such that -. and now Baz. Stanley Cavell. [W]e continually have to restore an intimacy with the world -. “‘Seeing-in’ implies that there is nothing intrinsically necessary that requires us to apply a concept to a particular situation. we will lose our ability to see them. (While Baz’s Romantic project no doubt faces great difficulties. at least with respect to some of us some of the time. As Floyd puts it. The continual danger...by (continually) finding in our experience new aspects of the world to be struck by.” (Eliot’s words. and we fight against this -. Accordingly. writing about William Blake.that is. Wittgenstein has no truck with this passive view of description and his rejection of it relates to aspect-seeing.. in turn. as it were.” (218)) 7 . such a project knows no bounds but encompasses all of our life with language. because many..receives little explicit attention in Seeing Wittgenstein Anew. as if I have no power or responsibility in the matter of the fit between language and my world. and that we therefore bear some responsibility for . obscure what we really are and feel. At the close of his essay. it seems capable of succeeding.. then. dictate to each other.) On Baz’s view. is that.our life with language is everywhere unavoidably an ethical matter.if our perceptual-linguistic faculties are hooked up to the world correctly -. Eliot when. “[T]he loss of interest in the world’s aspects [as an adult] is no less a part of our natural history than having that interest [as a child].. or demand. philosophers included. we put aside our part in speech and expect.. or regarding. leaving no “power or responsibility” for us. succumbing to habitual and convenient ways of treating. that words and world meet.[I]n thinking of the relation of what we say to what there is. in William Day’s words. undermining the idea of ‘ethics’ as a distinct area of study and the related idea that ethical questions only arise when specifically ethical concepts are in play. tend toward “realism” about meaning.S. because experience can be seen under an indefinite number of aspects -..an intimacy that is forever at stake. taking it as a matter of course. for instance. For. this implies that -. he noticed that. we fight “habitual and convenient ways of . without my intervention.. Moreover. and that if taken for granted is bound to be lost.. our world from becoming a rote. Though the idea that our life with language is intrinsically ethical -. [with their] impersonal ideas . on this view. As several contributors to Seeing Wittgenstein Anew rightly suggest. we are responsible for preventing our experience. and what really excites our interest. regarding things” (or Eliot’s “impersonal ideas”) -. on our interests and values -.the conceptual-linguistic response called for by the world is clear.we have a more-or-less active role to play in making sense of it. lifeless affair. find allied with Wittgenstein’s interest in aspect-seeing. what we really want. recall the “Romantic investigations” that Affeldt.. “[O]rdinary processes of society . things. it seems a bit too pessimistic to conclude that. and especially Cora Diamond have emphasized -. Avner Baz declares: [W]e are continually in danger of losing our world. by. Wittgenstein’s emphasis on description leaves them cold.” (322) In other words. in other words. several contributors clearly accept this idea. And surely.as Iris Murdoch.
and Floyd discuss ‘aspects of organization’ which may involve neither representational nor even visual elements. (95) Thus..” But Baz apparently regards the phrase “internal 8 . that we play a role in how experience is characterized -. For instance.. as Avner Baz points out. Wittgenstein is not a conventionalist about meaning. that this thing is a table (not an aspect of a level of water or of a collection of numbers or . But neither is he a conventionalist.. “what seem opposite criteria for the concept of ‘attachment to our words’. We do not have a completely freehand in how we characterize experience because.makes it clear to us what concept is called for. we have “the aspect case” in which. correspondingly. Hagberg. is required. various contributors discuss how aspect perception involves “internal relations” and “seeing connections.Since Wittgenstein allows -.some might even say encourages -. On the other hand. of the word . Cavell observes. to mislead. as we have seen. fleeting references reinforce Baz’s reminder: Baz and Hagberg talk of hearing a stretch of music as an introduction or as a variation on a theme. we do not have a completely freehand to carve up and categorize experience as we see fit. But conventionalism -. given its predominant focus on visual aspects. “[A]spect-dawning can happen virtually anywhere and with anything . Contrary to what an exclusive focus on aspect-seeing might suggest. he does not regard our use of words and concepts as entirely unconstrained. But the overall picture of aspect perception one gets from Seeing Wittgenstein Anew is skewed towards the visual and apt.). I do have two complaints. despite the primary focus in Seeing Wittgenstein Anew on “the aspect case. Granted.. for one thing. new uses for our words and concepts.the polar opposite of “realism” -.requires just such a freehand. Merely recognizing that concepts do not apply automatically through some (magical) meeting between words and world -..” we should not forget “the case of the draw of essence” when characterizing Wittgenstein’s views about meaning. The other complaint concerns how significant disagreements among contributors are handled.” (94) On one hand. therefore. there are these cases that Cavell calls the “draw of essence” in which reality -. Baz’s important reminder comes only in a footnote at the end of his essay. someone thinking about aspect perception for the first time based on Seeing Wittgenstein Anew might be excused for thinking the phenomenon fairly limited in application.. However..” (247) Unfortunately.does not imply that anything goes. however.an active. Since.what a thing is -. For we have. Minar. on Wittgenstein’s view. But. but also something like its being called forth by (the experience of) the reality of what it conceptualizes. he is no “realist” about meaning. First. creative role for us in applying concepts to experience. Eldridge. I find few flaws in Seeing Wittgenstein Anew. two complaints Perhaps because I would regard any decent volume dedicated to Wittgenstein’s remarks on aspect-seeing as long overdue and be grateful for its existence. we also have what Cavell calls “the case of the draw of essence” in which: [S]omething like the absence of the experience . aspect-dawning suggests fresh.and..
© 2010 James Taggart James Taggart received his Ph..” (123) While we might worry here about the imposition of new dichotomies onto Wittgenstein’s thought. “[Wittgenstein] does not mean conceptual (or logical) connections . my complaint now concerns the paucity of enlightening discussion about such crucial matters.. D. Wittgenstein’s method “depends on . and Georgetown University..relations” with some suspicion. Krebs. especially on questions as important to aspect-seeing as the nature of the connections involved. [H]e does not want to make us intellectually understand anything. Though editing a volume like this can be a thankless task. while it seems natural (and harmless) to think of the “connections” and “internal relations” involved in aspect perception as conceptual. Baz objects (“the connections between our attitude to things and the aspects under which we can see them are not conceptual” (244). this reviewer at least would have appreciated a greater effort to have the contributors squarely face and thoroughly engage their differences with their fellow contributors. emphasis in original). in Philosophy from Brown University in 2009. He currently teaches at Washington College in Chestertown... 9 .” he insists with Baz that. Wellesley College..C. one of the volume’s editors.” (125) Rather. Maryland and lives outside of Washington. He has previously taught at Brown University. purports to have no issue with “internal relations. (255) Furthermore. a mode of awareness that does not issue from the intellect but .” And it is not just Baz.D. Though Victor J. is rooted in the bodily. as Krebs understands it. One wonders whether (and how) Baz’s rejection of conceptual connections here relate to his suspicion of “internal relations.