September 2, 2012

Nature of Philosophy

BV: Mr. Wittgenstein, I must ask you right away, what is your view of philosophy? What do you make of it?
LW: Philosophy is an abomination. It is a disease. A deadly vermin which crawls into your brain and lays eggs there and which slowly robs you of all sanity and peace. It is a bewitchment of language. A distortion of our ordinary words. Philosophy lives within us the way the alien lived within Sigourney Weaver, and we can only hope to be as strong as she was in rooting out this vile creature.
BV: Well, that is certainly a strong view. If philosophy is a disease, what do you make of the fact that you are considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century? I believe they mean that as a compliment. What do you make of such praise?
LW: Oh! Don't even mention that inane praise! The people who truly understand my view understand that the greatest philosopher is one who has no need for philosophy. And so one who is not a philosopher at all. I tell you, it is impossibly hard to be me. Most philosophers are trivial windbags who pontificate meaninglessly. And the good ones--that is, the ones who understand me--well, they show their limits by the desperate need they have to praise me, as if I were just another philosopher like Plato or Kant. So even the people who understand me don't understand me. They fail to see that if I have any merit as a philosopher, it is that I am closer than they are to not being a philosopher at all.
BV: Are you saying that your aim as a philosopher is to not be a philosopher?
LW: Exactly! It's good that you are able to grasp this. Even Russell and Moore failed to truly understand this about me. Do you know that apparently in a tenure letter for me, Moore said that I was the Einstein of philosophy? I was so pissed when I heard this. As if there can be a Einstein in philosophy! I tried to tell Moore so many times: philosophy is not a science, and it can never be. And unlike what his idiotic Bloomsbury group thought, philosophy is not art either. That's the thing, really: philosophy is not anything. It is a lack, a negation, a vice. It has to be rooted out of oneself, just that way that an ascetic tries to root out sexual desires from himself.
BV: Wow, that sounds really frustrating. And deep. If not the greatest, you must at least be the deepest philosopher of the 20th century?
LW: Yes, I am.
BV: So have you ever gotten close to rooting out this disease of philosophy from yourself?
LW: At one time I thought I did. It was after my Tractatus was published. I genuinely felt that I had solved all philosophy problems, and that there is nothing to be done in philosophy.

BV: That sounds... unfortunate. No more philosophy? At all?
LW: Silly man. It was not unfortunate. It was divine. I was finally free of the nagging of philosophy. "Ludwig, what is the self? Ludwig, what is language? Ludwig, what does it mean to exist?" I tell you doing philosophy is the greatest burden a person faces. And what makes it worse is that it is utterly meaningless! That is what we fail to see! We think we are asking something profound, as if we were peeling back the surface and looking at the real structures of the world underneath! As if just by thinking we are making a discovery, like a scientist but also not like a scientist! It aggrivates me so to even just think about it. But...were was I? Yes, the year was 1920. The book was completed. And I washed my hands of the whole bloody subject. I was free to do what I always dreamed of doing: teaching elementary school in a remote village.

BV: Really? That sounds great. How did it go?
LW: Not quite as I planned, unfortunately. It turns out not everyone who lives without philosophy is wise and in touch with the deeper forces of nature. Some of them are just as stupid and trivial as philosophers. They don't even understand that sometimes beating little boys and pulling the hair of little girls is necessary to get them to truly appreciate arithmetic. I don't want to talk about it.
BV: Ah…ok. So what happened with the peace you found beyond philosophy? How come you came back to philosophy?
LW: It was those damn positivists. They started coming to me and telling me what a great philosopher I was and that the Tractatus was a work of genius. They really laid it on pretty thick with all that genius stuff. Not that I would have minded really, if only they actually understood the Tractatus. But they totally misread it! And what is more: they were in love with their misreading of it. They took my work and used it for their own science worship view of philosophy, as if philosophy is simply misbegotten science, and that if we set things right, we will be left with true science! I was so mad I wanted to throttle them! My point was that philosophy is misbegotten thinking. Schick and Carnap identified thinking with science, and so thought that philosophy was misbegotten science. They really missed all the nuance of my view.
BV: So what if they misread your book? You had your peace from philosophy, right? How come your peace didn’t protect you from the positivists’ confusions?
LW: I asked myself that question a lot, actually. The only answer I can give is that we are all prone to our temptations. I was so annoyed with them that I started seriously thinking again about what I wrote, and I found myself seriously dissatisfied with that I wrote. That was when I realized: the disease was back. I was not free, after all. And I never managed to be free of it again.

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