Dawn M Wilson discusses the differences between reading science, literature and philosophy. Philosophy is usually read in similar sense as science, and Wilson argues that it should rather be read in similar sense as literature, and she uses the writings of Wittgenstein to support her point. She writes “[T]he imaginative activity of reading literature is to be seen as a model for understanding Wittgenstein’s philosophical method. My claim is that the way we read literature can help us to understand the way that Wittgenstein wants us to do philosophy.”
Some appetizers from the text:
– “When reading science we assume that the sentences say something, we take for granted the specific context of application that is required, and we only worry about whether what the sentences say is true or false.”
– “In literature we do not make this assumption and instead look to see which context of application, if any, makes sense of the language. We imagine unlimited models of discourse for comparison without having to say that the sentence is reducible to a true claim. ”
– “When we are doing philosophy we should look at our language in the way that we do when we are reading literature, rather than the way that we do when we are reading science. We must be active, imaginative and pluralistic rather than inactive, dogmatic and monistic.”
“The task of philosophy is not to say something, but to see clearly what can be said. ”
(Recently I’ve been thinking a lot in terms of Jungs typology. And this description of the task of philosophy makes it sound like a task for an introverted intuitive mind. One can wonder, is philosophy really an introverted intuitive business?
I think, several ways to answer that question. But we may note Wittgenstein himself was strongly introverted intuitive (that I’m quite certain of).)
“For Wittgenstein, all philosophical problems are confusions arising from a failure to see clearly whether sentences have sense. They are brought about because we look at sentences and assume that they say something. This is easily done because we confuse forms of expression that has a similar appearance and assume that the application is the same”
“In the case of philosophical problems, as soon as we see that the utterance says nothing then the problem disappears, because the problem was nothing more than the confused idea.”
Reference and further reading:
Dawn Wilson – Reading literature and doing philosophy
Earlier I posted a review on an article by Carter Kaplan, “Games critics play”, which seems to me have a lot in common with this article. Both are in the borderland of philosophy and literature, discusses how to encounter a text appropriately, and uses Wittgenstein to support their points.
One famous scholar who treats Wittgenstein in a context of history of literature is Terry Eagleton. Here is a link to a nice essay by Eagleton Wittgenstein’s Friends
I specially liked the part about Wittgenstein and the Bakhtin brothers.