January 05, 2010
Love of love of wisdom
Lady Philosophy, from the Jefferson Building in Washington DC.
I have been a philosophy geek for roughly as long as I've been able to legally buy beer (a not altogether unrelated activity). My tastes are pretty wide ranging, but there is one strand of it that I have always avoided like the plague.
That would be the tradition that began as "logical positivism" in the first half of the 20th century and morphed into what has become known as analytic philosophy, which is mostly an Anglo-American thing.
The positivists wanted to purge philosophy of metaphysical jibberish and argued that only those propositions were meaningful that could be empirically verified or logically demonstrated. Anything else--including much of the human lifeworld--was nonsense. Later strands of this tradition spent enormous amounts of time and ink diddling around with questions of what words mean.
One person associated with that tradition who eventually broke with it was Ludwig Wittgenstein. In his early phase, he wrote a hard core positivist book titled Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in which he laid out his rules of meaningful propositions. The punchline was "What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence."
My reaction to that has always been, who the hell is this guy to tell anybody what they can and can't speak about? After all, the motto of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia is Montani Semper Liberi or Mountaineers are Always Free.
But lately, I finally made myself read his magnum opus, about which more tomorrow.
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