Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I don't read philosophy. It is at its essence an argument -- otherwise it would be a sermon -- and it's flusterating for me to have objections that some long-dead philosopher can't respond to. Well, maybe the Lord God allows him in Hell to hear my objections, but then it is I who cannot respond. As I say, flusterating. Nevertheless, I'm reading Wittgenstein. Generally proclaimed to be one of the true geniuses of the 20th century. Who am I, so humble, so lowly, to dispute it.

His Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Lofty sounding title. A gnomic work but not by any means impenetrable. He imbues common words with special meaning, which is just annoying. If at a first such usage he would define his meaning, it would be better. Instead there is much circling, unnecessary. First eight paragraphs, also sentences: "The world is everything that is the case. The world is the totality of facts, not of things. The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts. For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case. The facts in logical space are the world. The world divides into facts. Any case can either be the case or not the case, and everything else remain the same. What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts." And so on.

So, the world is the totality of facts, and the case, which is facts in logical space and also the existence of atomic facts. Why not just say that? The world is all the facts, determinedly so, and divides into facts, yet atomic facts are made up of objects, things, which are not the world. You see why I don't read philosophy. It comes off as a guy who is really fast on his verbal feet, able to out-argue Bertrand Russel. This is not to say he's wrong. Although he later changed his mind about just about everything he argues for here.

He had thought he'd solved all of Philosophy's Difficulties. What he'd actually done was bind himself up in a one-to-one correspondence between symbolism and meaning, sort of a Platonic Forms thing, or do I mean Ideals, and Aristotelian? No matter. Like Descartes, their ideas came out of the oven half-baked. The universe is not linear, not binary. It is a hologram, analogue, and a continuum. No one loves boxes more than I. But in a universe of Schrodinger's cats, what sort of boxes can we make out of foam?

The trick with dealing with the Wittgensteins in our lives is to pin them down. "If I can think of an object in the context of an atomic fact, I cannot think of it apart from the possibility of this context." There is some technical meaning here, but the common meaning is that, if I can think of a horse in Oz, then since a horse is real Oz must be possible. But it isn't, because Oz is a self-contradictory fairyland. I should know, having read all the Oz books, and also having lived there for a number of years. Good Dr. Johnson refuted Berkley's metaphysical quaverings re the existence of existence thus: to demonstrate the reality of a rock, and therefore of everything that exists, Johnson kicked the rock. Either you get it or you don't.

Johnson was also a true genius.

What's that you say? Jack H is so impressive and fantastic that he too must stand shoulder to shoulder with these other giants of intellect? Well, it would hardly be appropriate for me to comment. The grace with which he passes through the brambles of argument may be due to some factor other than genius. That Jack H can identify and correct the flaws of his peers is perhaps just a quirk of, say, genetics? His celerity of wit is a sort of savantism hovering like a barrage balloon above the no man's land of his life? It is a mystery. Enough occasionally to dip into the sweet pool of delight that is his prose, and return refreshed and enlightened to the wasteland of your mere existence.

And that, my dear, is the meaning of life.


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