On Certainty - Über Gewissheit

"Das Kind, möchte ich sagen, lernt so und so reagieren; und wenn es das nun tut, so weiss es damit noch nichts. Das Wissen beginnt erst auf einer späteren Stufe." Ludwig Wittgenstein, Über Gewissheit - On Certainty, Clause 538, p 71-71e, Blackwell Publishing, 1969.

Official English translation below.


Philosophy of language is mostly known in its synchronic version. The method of language analysis has been extremely productive. The early Wittgenstein - a sentence corresponding to a certain state of affairs.. - is still quoted heavily for his contributions in this vein, however much his name is discredited by the opaque writings (like the one above) of the late Wittgenstein.

I am certainly not original in not buying the dichotomy between early and late versions of Wittgenstein (apart maybe from biographical details which are not specifically interesting to me). Nevertheless, I don´t believe ever having seen the attempt at unifying his thought using the traditional aspects of the study of language: synchronic & diachronic or - as I understand it - static analysis of language & the dynamic analysis of an evolving (grasp of) language.

Most of us reading texts like these will immediately understand the difference we want to convey in talking of dead & living languages. Dead languages are no longer evolving, they allow being analyzed or dissected - living languages on the other hand are not as easily analyzed. Although vivisection on them is not as morally questionable as vivisection on animals, the living nature of the language prevents us - in my view - from exhausting all explanation by 'static' explanation.

This does not mean that dissecting language into truth/falsity, recursiveness, truth conditions & so on is a wrong or unproductive labour. Far from it, maybe one of the more stupid assumptions of Wittgenstein was that he said all that could be said on the matter. Almost a century of further developments in this tradition show not only continueing progress but fundamentally new insights. Charles Darwin did not make further study of physics after Galileo, Keppler & Newton superfluous.

It does however mean that this statical analysis is fundamentally insufficient to come to terms with language. Giving lip service - as many do - to language evolution & language acquisition is doing a great disservice to us. There is a difference between using a language and knowing something (& expressing this knowledge in a language). This is just one of the differences one needs to appreciate if one wants to study important differences between knowing something and intending for something to be the case (& necessarily putting this intention in a linguistic way for social use). If one persists in not noting & contemplating these differences one is condemned to the false belief that the thing that makes us specifically human is something similar to those computer processes that admit exhaustive mathematical analysis.

My guess is that the great Ludwig never attempted an explanation like I did because that explanation is necessarily too static to do justice to what is to be studied. Forgive me my arrogance, maybe one day I´ll be able to reason & argument my case better than an old lady that always forgets where she last put her keys ;-)


"The child, I should like to say, learns to react in such-and-such a way; and in reacting it doesn´t so far know anything. Knowing only begins at a later level."

22:53 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: language, wittgenstein, dynamics |  Facebook |


The Soul of Man Under Socialism

"(..)But the past is of no importance. The present is of no importance. It is with the future that we have to deal. For the past is what man should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are."

"(..)But it is exactly these existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and human nature will change. The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. (..) The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.
It is to be noted that Individualism does not come to the man with any sickly cant about duty, which merely means doing what other people want because they want it; or any hideous cant about self-sacrifice, which is merely a survival of savage mutilation. In fact, it does not come to a man with any claims upon him at all. It comes naturally and inevitably out of man. (..)"

"(..) The new Individualism, for whose service Socialism, whether it wills it or not, is working, will be perfect harmony.(..)" 

Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism",  The works of Oscar Wilde, Collins London & Glasgow, 1949, pp. 1039-1043.

I could have wrote this better. William Blake could not. Oscar Wilde is older than I am but by far the younger of Blake. As simple as that.

Not quite what you would expect of the decadent Wilde. Many would like us to believe that the absence of sour grapes is the absence of thought. Quite the opposite, sour grapes comes from rehearsing worn thoughts & jealously preventing others from coming up with new ones.

Sour grapes is a particularly political state of mind. I always wondered about Nietzsche's eternal recurrence, and I'm sure I will never get it, but just listen to the everyday politicians and you feel the weight of the thought. There is a certain something that makes politicians repeat over & over again what some leader or other quoted from an "original" text. It is the readymade, but worn out, analysis of the past applied to the present. This counts as the 'authentic' whilst it is not more appetizing than the sunday meal warmed up and served for the fifth time on friday.

But it does not have to be like that. Socialism is not different in its duty-bound and self-sacrificing everyday outings; but it is different in that it is condemned to follow everyday man. Willing or not, this everydayman is a man of his time, a man having no options but to live for the future. Creation is man's business for a simple reason: every moment creates a situation that is entirely new, to which situation one can only respond creatively ... or die. This is not stress or fulfilling whatever kind of claim; it is unavoidale authenticity. To John Smith, it will always seem oddly unreal, this strange repetitive business of politics.

One of the more ironic twists in socialism is its periodic confusion with political 'progressive' movements. Progressive rarely correlates with the Soul of Man & if it does it is by sheer coincidence. In essence the file rouge of all progressive movements is to claim 'authenticity' by repeating tunes slightly older than the one currently mainstream (funnily enough conservatives are more progressive in adopting a tune that is older still).

Progressives on the average hate progress. They abhor change - just look at the way they - sometimes literally - doom individual consumption as damning. One will be hard pressed to find progressives which do not in some way want us to be redeemed. As individuals we need to be improved, one by one, not by allowing us the freedom to create a new kind of life but by reconforming us to some 'authentic' image. You fill in the dots, progressives just complete the Christian tradition of self-loathing. Conservatives are to be preferred then as they merely ask us to put on the show of self-loathing for the benefit of some public and stable order.

Organized socialism rarely wills change - just see how opposed they were to general voting rights - but organization does not matter too much to the long run of socialism. Socialism is condemned to follow the individual's desires - as the only real claim of socialism are the furthering of those individual's desires. There simply is no historical framework or other form of melancholy present in the movement as long as one is optimistic about the natural way the perfect harmony will come to be. Organized socialism is self-defeating. The organized aspect of it needs for its cohesion some progressive or other frame but in the long run the final goal of the people's progress will always break down these adopted frames.

Luckily for socialism, the least stable star on the political firmament is socialism.

If you're interested, whilst writing this I was listening to: "The ornette coleman trio at the "golden circle" stockholm" Vol 1, Blue Note.

21:33 Gepost door Guido Nius in Vrije tijd | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: wilde, decadence, dynamics, boldness |  Facebook |


To the Christians

"(..) I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination    Imagination the real & external world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow & in which we shall live in our Eternal or Imaginative Bodies, when these vegetable Mortal Bodies are no more. (..)
(..) O ye Religious discountenance every one among you who shall pretend to despise Art & Science! I call upon you in the name of Jesus! What is the Life of Man but Art & Science? is it Meat & Drink? is not the Body more than Raiment? What is Mortality but the things relating to the Body, which Dies? What is Immortality but the things relating to the Spirit, which Lives Eternally? What is the Joy of Heaven but Improvement in the things of the Spirit? (..)
Let every Christian as much as in him lies engage himself openly & publicly before all the world in some Mental pursuit for the Building up of Jerusalem"
William Blake, Jerusalem Plate 77 " To the Christians", The Complete Poems, Penguin Books 1977, pp. 797-798.

Again not the most quotable of quotes, I guess it maybe risks to scare even the few interested away but I´m  not here for the success anyway, so: deal with it (to console you a bit I added below a hopefully more readable piece, down below).

My interest in Christianity is quite limited. I´m not, as Blake was, immersed in Christian symbols. I am, as most probably are you, immersed in more modern neo-liberal symbolisms with its rituals of stress & strife and its sacraments of personal merit. The quote works as well when titled "To the Neo-Liberals". It is pointing to something which is not less radical now than it was then. Blake - bless him - makes no excuses. Imagination, Art, Science makes us us & that is the only thing worth anything, at all. In an age where innovation is more & more instrumentalized to 'help' us achieve stuff merely 'help' us neutralize an adverse effect of previous innovations, this is radical. Much more radical than art for art's sake because it is not the result that matters but the mere act of creation.

Enough dwelling on today, today will soon be past & nothing is more boring - less productive - than history. The only significant aspect of history is that it invariably evolves to the future. The dynamic nature of evolution culminating, for now, in humanity - progressing continuously to more splendid creations - is something that is still not receiving the attention it deserves. More than a century after Darwin people are still mostly mesmerized into pillars of salt in looking back, taking static snapshots for detailed analysis & fighting over the subtler differences these snapshots cause in various beholders.

I should not be ashamed, but I am, to write an unabashed story of how all of us will be delivered into eternal bliss when finally letting go of the static to be fully committed to the dynamic. A thinker like Bergson was relegated to a 2nd tier list of philosophers for attempting to start with hard science but end up in something that was more than classical science. The Einsteinian curse, which condemns creativity to come up with the final clean fit of science to nature or vice versa, is proving to be a strong curse. We do not only want our houses to be clean, we expect our thought to be clean. Nevertheless, analytical as I may be, logic and mathematics are just one result of human evolution and we need to be able to break the spell they have on us. Not by breaking logic and mathematics - that won´t work - but by realizing that what makes us well & truely us is what we can do beyond logic and mathematics.

I was and I am sceptical of anybody sceptical of logic and mathematics. There is a simple reason for this: in most cases those sceptical of mathematics are a raving new agey idiots that convinced themselves that life in the Stone Ages was somehow preferable. In all other cases they are dementing scientists in which the feeling of mystery surrounding mathematics outweighs reason. I´m not sceptical at all of mathematics (or as Blake would have it: Science), as it is our human tool to perform any Mental craftsmanship. I just believe that there is something like Imagination that comes not only before reason but that also should come after reason. Imagination is the dynamic element - & analyzing it in a mathematical way brings me most mental joy - & that´s where our target or purpose lies if target or purpose or adequate words to express that.

I´m not quite there. Probably I won´t ever get there. I wouldn´t be spending time on this if I had it clear enough to tackle it head on. In commonplace - the point is not getting there but going there. That´s why I read Blake, this ' mad hatter' reminds me to be arrogant in trying to create. Because after all what is needed is to publicly & openly engage in some Mental Pursuit for Building of Jerusalem.

Human life requires leaving a mark. Once I hope to be able to explain how we live on forever not via our thoughts our actions but literally as our thoughts - in the form of our thoughs. Not in the form of written down thoughts or in an otherwise metaphorical sense but literally we live on actively as our thoughts.

Your mad hatter.


Little Fly
Thy Summers play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush'd away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing;
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.


18:19 Gepost door Guido Nius in Algemeen | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: blake, dynamics, imagination |  Facebook |