I have never been able to attach myself to a single philosopher as my guru. There are those who find all their philosophical enlightenment in Aristotle or Confucius, in Kant or Nietzsche or Marx, in Heidegger or Derrida. I have never been able to follow them. As soon as I read a philosopher, critical questions start swirling in my mind. That's certainly also true when I read Wittgenstein.
Here is the power point file of the lecture I just gave at the World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing.
In his Tractatus Wittgenstein speaks both of the world and of descriptions of the world. I argue that his use of that second term derives from its occurrence in Alexander von Humboldt's "Kosmos".
My project is simple but demanding. I am trying to reread Wittgenstein from the beginning without, however, relying on any established interpretations. My question is whether we can look at his work with fresh eyes. Ignoring the halo of secondary writing that now surrounds that work does not mean that I will always end up disagreeing with what previous interpreters have said. But my plan is to re-discover their insights where they are such and otherwise go my own way.
In doing this, I want to look more thoroughly at Wittgenstein’s own words than has previously been done. I don’t know how far I will get with this but completeness is not my goal. It is rather to start with the first sentence of the Tractatus and work myself forward from there as far as I can manage.
“In what sense are my sensations private? – Well, only I know whether I am really in pain; another person can only surmise it. – In one way this is wrong, and in another nonsense. If we are using the word ‘to know’ as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?), then other people often know when I am in pain. – Yes, but all the same not with the certainty with which I know it myself! – It can’t be said of me at all (except perhaps as a joke) that I know I am in pain. What is it supposed to mean – except perhaps that I am in pain.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the leading philosophical minds of the twentieth century and his thought remains of live interest. Twenty years ago, David Stern and I published the Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein which was intended to help readers of Wittgenstein along. We have now brought out a second edition of this work with some great new contributions and a completely updated bibliography.
There are a few philosophical aphorisms I keep coming back to. At their best, they succeed in compressing a whole philosophy into a single sentence. They are suggestive of a multitude of ideas but also often difficult to decipher. They often throw a sharp and surprising light on our reality. Above all, they give voice to the pleasure of casting thoughts into words.
We are living at a moment of political disorientation. Distrust is common. Suspicion is rampant. Why do we consider some things assured and certain while others are contested? What is the difference between physics and politics? We need to think about how trust and distrust work in these domains.
August 13, 2018
The answer seems to be about eight hundred. That many philosophers from all over the world have come to Beijing for the 24th World Congress of Philosophy ready to meet for a full week under the banner "Learning to be Human."
On the gravestone of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke we can read one of his last poems which says: Oh rose, you pure contradiction. To be nobody's sleep under so many eyelids." Is there a self and if not, who am I?
Hegel famously wrote that the owl of Minerva starts its flight at dusk. He meant to say that philosophy, far from being avant-garde, is, in some ways, always behind its time. For first comes reality and only then, belatedly, comes our understanding of it. Our words and theories are always chasing after the facts.
January 19, 2018 - Our sharpest break with the tradition has come with the realization of the disunity of knowledge (of thought, the mind, the world, and pretty much else that concerns philosophy). We are no longer trying to construct “a system;” we are not looking for “the foundations” of a single structure; we have abandoned the belief in completeness and in our capacity to make everything cohere.
Raymond Geuss, Changing the Subject. Philosophy from Socrates to Adorno, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Mass. 2017
Does philosophy have a future? That is the question Raymond Geuss asks in his latest book. And the answer he gives is unsettling. Philosophy, as we have known it, may, in fact, have already come to an end behind our backs – sometime in the second half of the twentieth century - without any of us realizing this.