In order to make determinations about the world, determinations which can be either true or false, one must make certain presuppositions. Some kind of enabling feature is required, a horizon, in virtue of which the space of reasons appears as that about which one can make determinations.
To reveal a particular discourse’s presuppositions, let’s say one’s own discourse, in order to determine whether or not these presuppositions are true or false generates thereby a new discourse grounded on its own presuppositions. The attempt to transcend the finitude of one’s discourse leads, paradoxically, to an infinite regress. The infinite regress proves one’s finitude. This insight seeks to articulate the constitutive instability upon which our stable claims about the world rest. Once we seek to stabilize unstable presuppositions we generate new instabilities which thus occasion another round of stabilization and so on ad infinitum.
To organize or determine a situation as such and so requires the introduction of limitation into a situation qua situation. That is, a condition for the possibility of a situation is limitation insofar as in order for a situation to count as a situation it must be finite. Human subjectivity must impose a limitation upon an otherwise presumably infinitude of multiplicities if it is to have anything at all like what we call experience. However, human subjects can’t be held responsible for infinite (the Absolute, Unconditioned, etc) , organizational limitations given that subjects find themselves always already thrown into a “mythology” in virtue of which the objects of determination can, in fact, be objects of determination.
I’ve been nosing through Anscombe’s work on intentionality; more specifically, I’m reading her work as it relates to some of my developing ideas regarding a reconception of Hegel’s much-misunderstood concepts “absolute”, “the idea” and his important distinction between general and formal logic. Anscombe’s work, Intention, hints at something important which I’m seeking to develop for an admission paper and, while reading a short review of the text, found this hilarious excerpt which I’d like to share.
I was a student of Anscombe’s when she was a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, along with her spouse Peter Geach, circa 1980. I took a class on Wittgenstein from Anscombe and a class on Frege from Geach. Anscombe was a wonderfully friendly raconteur with dry wit and lofty memories of Wittgenstein, who apparently “blessed” her. For the class we used her book Intention, a great read and even better when read aloud by her. Geach’s class was a frightening exercise in intimidation, as few of us were brave enough to even be in the room with him, much less have him lecture to us on Frege. I remember being the sole person in the class, and saying nothing for 12 weeks. Meanwhile Geach lectured at the board, completely ignoring me. From what I understand when they headed back to England they boarded the wrong plane and wound up in Mexico City. I did spend some time discussing McTaggart with Geach, and almost went abroad to write my dissertation with him on said, but was warned that he probably wouldn’t remember me when I showed up.
A few minutes ago a good friend and I discussed some aspects of Mill’s relationship to developments within German liberalism. I made the claim that, despite the disclaimers proffered by anglo-american political thought, Mill and other British and American liberals display an incredible reliance on the work of a number of German liberals, most specifically von Humboldt and Herder. After a number of comments tossed back and forth, I glanced quickly at a number of quotes on a PDF copy of Herder’s Letters for the Advancement of Humanity, a text to which I’ve not returned since Dan Breazeale’s German Philosophy course. Here’s the two quotes which came to mind. After some searching I found them:
“Should not the voice of each citizen, even assuming that it appeared in print, be considered a freedom of the fatherland? Especially valuable for the man of understanding are the hints and looks of those who see further. They inspire to activity when everyone is asleep; they sigh perhaps when everyone is dancing. But they do not only sigh; they show higher results in simpler equations by means of a certain art. Do you want to make them be silent because you calculate merely according to the common arithmetic? they go silent easily and continue to calculate; but the fatherland counted on these quiet calculators. A single step of progress that ehy successfully indicated is worth more than ten thousand ceremonies and eulogies”.
“Free investigation of the truth from all sides is the sole antidote against delusion and error of whatever sort they may be…The river current of human cognition always purifies itself through oppositions, through strong contrasts. here it breaks off, there it starts; and in the end a long and much purified delusion is regarded by human being as truth”.
“Let the deluded person defend his delusion, the person who thinks differently his thought; that is their business. Even if both of them fail to be corrected, for the unbiased person there certainly arises out of every criticized error a new reason, a new view of the truth”.
Also, in On the Ability to Speak and to Hear there’s this gem:
“We see everywhere that men in whom there was a great drive to become acquainted with the truth from all sides sought even on remote sides intercourse with people who dared to speak freely.”
I’d like to thank my good friend Brad Johnson for inspiring the Herder search.
Here’s a nice piece from the otherwise avoidable John Gray.
“As a child, Elias Canetti treasured Robinson Crusoe. The author of Auto da Fé (1935), the nightmarish story of a self-absorbed sinologist who is tricked into marriage by his illiterate housekeeper and who sinks first into the lower depths of society and then into madness, seems to have had the lifelong feeling of being solitary, separate from the rest of humankind. According to his later study in mass psychology Crowds and Power, crowds form in an effort to shake off the burden of individuality. Perhaps surprisingly – as he always claimed to value the individual human being above all else – the impression the reader takes from the book is that, for Canetti, this process of self-obliteration held a powerful attraction.
Born into a Sephardic Jewish family in a small port city on the Ottoman Danube and growing up amid the festering anti-Semitism of interwar Europe, Canetti had no illusions about the wisdom of crowds. Yet he seems to have been drawn by suddenly formed masses of humanity, finding a sense of elation in being swept up as a student by a flood of people marching on the Palace of Justice in Vienna in 1927. The crowd was a threat, but also a way out from painful self-consciousness.”
The opening paragraphs of Denis Johnson’s forthcoming novella Train Dreams—
In the summer of 1917 Robert Grainier took part in an attempt on the life of a Chinese laborer caught, or anyway accused of, stealing from the company stores of the Spokane International Railway in the Idaho Panhandle.
Three of the railroad gang put the thief under restraint and dragged him up the long bank toward the bridge under construction fifty feet above the MoyeaRiver. A rapid singsong streamed from the Chinaman voluminously. He shipped and twisted like a weasel in a sack, lashing backward with his one free fist at the man lugging him by the neck. As this group passed him, Grainier, seeing them in some distress, lent assistance and found himself holding one of the culprit’s bare feet. The man facing him, Mr. Sears, of Spokane International’smanagement, held the prisoner almost uselessly by the armpit and was the only one of them, besides the incomprehensible Chinaman, to talk during the hardest part of their labors: “Boys, I’m damned if we ever see the top of this heap!” Then we’re hauling him all the way? was the question Grainier wished to ask, but he thought it better to save his breath for the struggle. Sears laughed once, his face pale with fatigue and horror. They all went down in the dust and got righted, went down again, the Chinaman speaking in tongues and terrifying the four of them to the point that whatever they may have had in mind at the outset, he was a deader now. Nothing would do but to toss him off the trestle.
They came abreast of the others, a gang of a dozen men pausing in the sun to lean on their tools and wipe at sweat and watch this thing. Grainier held on convulsively to the Chinaman’s horny foot, wondering at himself, and the man with the other foot let loose and sat down gasping in the dirt and got himself kicked in the eye before Grainier took charge of the free-flailing limb. “It was just for fun. For fun,” the man sitting in the dirt said, and to his confederate there he said, “Come on, Jel Toomis, let’s give it up.” “I can’t let loose,” this Mr. Toomis said, “I’m the one’s got him by the neck!” and laughed with a gust of confusion passing across his features. “Well, I’ve got him!” Grainier said, catching both the little demon’s feet tighter in his embrace. “I’ve got the bastard, and I’m your man!”
The party of executioners got to the midst of the last completed span, sixty feet above the rapids, and made every effort to toss the Chinaman over. But he bested them by clinging to their arms and legs, weeping his gibberish, until suddenly he let go and grabbed the beam beneath him with one hand. He kicked free of his captors easily, as they were trying to shed themselves of him anyway, and went over the side, dangling over the gorge and making hand-over-hand out over the river on the skeleton form of the next span. Mr. Toomis’s companion rushed over now, balancing on a beam, kicking at the fellow’s fingers. The Chinaman dropped from beam to beam like a circus artist downward along the crosshatch structure. A couple of the work gang cheered his escape, while others, though not quite certain why he was being chased, shouted that the villain ought to be stopped. Mr. Sears removed from the holster on his belt a large old four-shot black-powder revolver and took his four, to no effect. By then the Chinaman had vanished.
Nothing to post for the next few days, not for a lack of material, rather because we have a long weekend in Trier, a beautiful and impressive city. In fact, the oldest German city.
“The world is woven all of dream and error
And but one sureness in our truth may lie —
That when we hold to aught our thinking’s mirror
We know it not by knowing it thereby…
We know the world is false, not what is true.
Yet we Think on.”
Pessoa 35 Sonnets