Saturday, April 21, 2007
Having undertaken some picturesque voyages around twitchers, kayaks and hats, Diana, squirrels, Kellogs, Jeff and Amanda, the Cannes Film Festival and, most poignantly, lawn darts, this blog seems to be returning safely to its home port of thought experimentation. My commenters are at their best and most prolific on philosophical matters like evil, sanctity and the wilderness. (Okay you are also at your best and most prolific about black cherry yoghurts, but we can take those posts as R & R ports where we rest prior to the next stage of the voyage.) So, I conclude, it is time to say something about philosophy itself. I don't go all the way with my friend - a distinguished thinker who would probably not wish to be named in this context - when he says philosophy is just arguments about arguments or that it is little more than a way of finding good reasons to hold utterly conventional views. But I do go quite a long way. I don't think Daniel Dennett, for example, is a philosopher at all, but merely a flunky at the court of secular, materialist scientism. He's just there to assure Dawkins and friends that they are wonderful in every way. I find no sense of exploration or meditation in Dennett. Much academic philosophy is like this and I am constantly disappointed when, having read the works of hyper-intelligent philosophers, I find they are, in the real world, amazingly, well, unamazing. Perhaps philosophy necessarily inspires conventional views, but surely it should also inspire wonder in at least some form. My problem is, I think, that I got Wittgenstein at an early age. I don't mean I got him in any sense that an academic would find acceptable, I mean I grasped something - a style, an attitude - that lay at the core of his thought. He says he writes the same sentence over and over again and I think I saw what it was at once. The contents of this sentence can be shown but not exactly explained. For example, he says somewhere that the one thing in the world we can say with certainty is not a metre long is the standard metre bar in Paris. And, in Culture and Value, 'Perhaps what is inexpressible (what I find mysterious and am not able to express) is the background against which whatever I express has its meaning.' And also, 'For the place I really have to get to is a place I must already be at now.' True philosophy is a system of metaphors, a way of talking about something that cannot be discussed at all. In this context, dear commenters, your thoughts are much closer to philosophy than most academic works. They seem to be attempts to find the place you are already at. I am flattered that you make the attempt in my presence.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:15 am