Monday, August 30, 2010


My own philosophical training is squarely within the Anglo-American analytic tradition; perhaps the perspective that best informs it is the quote by the 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who said, “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.”

The philosophical project most familiar to me is the one proposed by Wittgenstein’s colleague, A.J. Ayer, who wrote, in his most famous work, Language, Truth, and Logic, “The traditional disputes of philosophers are as unwarranted as they are unfruitful. The surest way to end them is to establish beyond question the purpose and method of philosophical enquiry.”

Consequently, I’ve tended to not read a lot of what people think of as “philosophy,” all that really dense stuff by philosophers like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Heidegger, or more contemporary “Continental” philosophy from writers like Derrida, Foucault, and even Zizek.

This weekend, though, at Philosophy Camp, I had a chance to be reminded of how absolutely mysterious and mind-expanding philosophy can be when you’re grappling with texts that seem to be pushing the limits of language beyond their borders in the attempt to get a handle on the nature of reality, the self, and what it means to be human.

Take this bit from Kierkegaard: “The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.” WTF?

Or check out Heidegger: “Once we are so related and drawn to what withdraws, we are drawing into what withdraws, the enigmatic and therefore mutable nearness of its appeal.”

I’m not sure I have any real idea of what either of these quotes mean, but I do know that when I’m sitting around with other people and we're trading ideas back and forth about what they might mean, that philosophy is taking place.

Even Wittgenstein, who said, “philosophy is not theory, but an activity,” would agree.


Blogger lisa marie said...

I think that I think it was a thought provoking experience, even if no proper thoughts were really thunk, but I think that I need to keep thinking about that thought.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an analytic philosopher, I guess you didn't pick up on the fact that that Kierkegaard quote you quoted was intended to make fun of the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel. Kierkegaard really is a great philosopher, even Wittgenstein called him "by far, the most profound thinker of the [19th] century".

3:46 AM  

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