Philosophy’s valuable bumps

What is philosophy good for? People often read Wittgenstein as deconstructing the usefulness of philosophy; and I suppose that is sort of true. As any philosophy majoy will tell you, philosophy is not particularly useful.  They will, however, tell you that it is incredibly valuable.  Wittgenstein helps make this clear; and here’s a little section from Philosophical Investigations to that effect.

The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language.  These bumps make us see the value of the discovery. (PI, #119)

It bears mentioning here that the value of a thing is also a thing that is discovered by the philosophical act of “simply put(ting) everything before us, and neither explain(ing) nor deduc(ing) anything”.  That is, to be precise, that value is something real that is seen, as opposed to something invented or made up. Philosophy is useful in that it helps us value things that should be valued, and enjoy things that should be enjoyed.  In short, it helps us live well.  But it will not help us with smaller projects.  When it is commandeered for that purpose, it simply becomes something that gets in the way. That is why Wittgenstein says about a page later that “(i)f  one tried to advance theses in philosophy, it would never be possible to debate them, because everyone would agree with them.” (PI, #128)


2 thoughts on “Philosophy’s valuable bumps

  1. Wittgenstein really means ‘Platonism’ or classical idealism when he says ‘philosophy.’ He was very aware–especially later, the Wittgenstein of the Investigations–of the history of philosophy in the West, and dissatisfied with the stranglehold Plato continued to have on it. This forced him to search outside the tradition, in Eastern mysticism, Confucianism, Zen, and the works of the early Christian mystics as well, for some other point of gravity.

    His dismissiveness of what he calls (with a sniff) ‘philosophical problems’ is not so much a reflection of any feeling on his part that he had exhausted them. Rather he was referring to the problems posed from the worldview of Platonism, the problems of the ideal and its relationship to the world, and in particular the self of metaphysics and its instantiation. He wanted to break away from, break through, all that. He felt that the modern Platonists refused to see that the penultimate problem was driven right into the heart of their practice: language, the means, and the substance, by which the whole history of Western philosophy had been enacted. In short, he was trying to get them to see the water in which they were all swimming.

    I would say that what he was after was neither something that can be ‘seen’ nor something ‘invented,’ ‘made-up.’ He wanted to talk with the universe in its own language. Maybe Pasolini comes closest to explicating what Wittgenstein meant with his idea of the ‘gestural symbolic,’ as opposed to the mere linguistic symbolic of Christian Metz and Roland Barthes.

  2. I’m very glad to have discovered your blog. I shall be following your posts with interest. I agree with what theothergardener said about Wittgenstein’s philosophy in regard to his denigration of is pertaining to “Platonism” or classic idealism.
    Please continue your wonderful work!

    Alexis, the SuccessDiva

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