Wednesday, November 14, 2007

5.62 This remark provides the key to the resolution of the question, to what extent solipsism is a truth.

What solipsism itself [nämlich] means is completely [ganz] right, only it cannot be said, but rather shows itself.

That the world is my world shows itself by the limits of language (the only language that I understand) meaning the limits of my world.

Black (p. 309) says that meint should not be translated as ‘means’ (as P&McG, Ogden, and I have it) but as ‘intends’ or ‘wants to say.’ It means something like ‘thinks’ or ‘believes,’ and is presumably related to the English word ‘mind.’ So perhaps we could say "What solipsism has in mind..." instead.

On the translation of the parenthetical remark, see Anscombe p. 167 footnote: “Dr. C. Lewy has found a copy of the first edition of the Tractatus with a correction by Wittgenstein giving ‘the only language that I understand’.”

On understanding language, and the relation between this and the self, see Russell: “The fundamental epistemological principle in the analysis of propositions containing descriptions is this: Every proposition which we can understand must be composed wholly of constituents with which we are acquainted.”[1]

“The chief importance of knowledge by description is that it enables us to pass beyond the limits of our private experience. In spite of the fact that we can only know truths which are wholly composed of terms which we have experienced in acquaintance, we can yet have knowledge by description of things which we have never experienced.”[2]

Schopenhauer linked the riddle of existence to the connection between inner and outer, the very issue Russell seems concerned with here. Kant’s ideas on free will, on how we can conceive of ourselves as determined phenomena and as free noumena, Schopenhauer says, mark “the point at which the Kantian philosophy leads to mine, or at which mine springs out of his as its parent stem.”[3] But, what Kant says we only conceive, Schopenhauer claims to know, and his idea of the noumenal self is different from Kant’s.

How do we know that others have such a will and are not mere phenomena? It cannot be proved, but to believe in such “theoretical egoism” is madness, according to Schopenhauer (see WWR vol. I, pp. 134-5). We each feel deeply that the rest of the world shares our nature. This is not to postulate noumena as entities in any way distinct from phenomena. I am one, but can be conceived as phenomenon or as will. The same goes for everything else. Noumena do not cause phenomena. So far as noumena = will, noumena are phenomena, merely conceived under a different aspect.

“I … say that the solution of the riddle of the world must proceed from the understanding of the world itself; that … the task of metaphysics is not to pass over the experience in which the world exists, but to understand it thoroughly, because outer and inner experience is … the principal source of all knowledge; that therefore the solution of the riddle of the world is only possible through the proper connexion of outer with inner experience, effected at the right point …”[4]

See also TLP 6.5 on “the riddle.”

If what solipsism means cannot be said, can it be thought? And if not, can there be a meaning here to be correct? Presumably, if there is any truth here at all, it is what the solipsist wants to say, but without realizing it. It is not solipsism, in other words, but something that can sound like it. Here the distinction between, say, language and my language seems to be blurred or denied. So the limits of my world are the limits of language or logic or the world. Not really, I think, limits at all. So I don’t think there is any real truth being got at at all here.

Schopenhauer says: “’The world is my idea’: this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and knows, though only man can bring it into reflected, abstract consciousness.”[5]

“[N]o truth is more certain, more independent of all others, and less in need of proof, than this: that all that is there for the knowing – that is, this whole world – is only object in relation to the subject, perception of the perceiver – in a word, idea.”[6]

“Everything that in any way belongs, or can belong, to the world is inevitably affected by this: it is conditioned by the subject, and exists only for the subject. The world is idea.”[7]

This view, Schopenhauer says, is true but one-sided. The other side which, if not frightening is at least solemn, sobering, and serious, says that each of us can and must say, “The world is my will.”[8]

“For as the world is in one aspect entirely idea, so in another it is entirely will. However, a reality which is neither of these two, but an object in itself (into which even Kant’s thing-in-itself has unfortunately degenerated in the course of his work), is the absurd product of a dream, and its credence in philosophy is a treacherous will-o’-the wisp.”[9]

Schopenhauer on solipsism: “While theoretical egoism [i.e. solipsism] can never be proved false, in philosophy it has never been used other than as a sceptical sophism, i.e. only for show. As a serious conviction, on the other hand, it could be found only in a madhouse, and as such it would need not so much a refutation as a cure. So we will concern ourselves with it no further …”[10]

Schopenhauer, then, is a self-confessed idealist (of a particular kind), but denies being a solipsist. Julian Young, though, criticizes Schopenhauer for being too egoistic. It is not that one has a triumphant sense of one’s own immortality when one experiences the sublime, as Schopenhauer suggests when he quotes the Upanishads in this connection as saying: “I am all this creation collectively, and besides me there exists no other being.” (WWR I p. 205) “It may well be that, temperamentally, Schopenhauer was a solipsist.”[11] In the experience of the sublime, it is not, Young asserts, that the world shrinks into one’s self, but rather, on the contrary, that the self expands into the world.

To get it right we need a different metaphysics, Young claims. We need “the anti-metaphysical metaphysics to be found in the work of later Heidegger.”[12] We need not idealism of any kind, let alone solipsism, but a “magic” or “poetic” realism.[13] Building on Nietzsche’s perspectivism, Heidegger sees that there are multiple ways to see things, multiple true ways to see things. Dreyfus calls this “plural” realism, apparently. “Being, that is to say “nature”, in a deep sense of the word, is multi-aspected, a “plenitude” of “facets” (PLT p. 124) nearly all of which are unknown to, indeed inconceivable by, us. So, like an iceberg, Being is, almost entirely concealed, almost entirely, as Heidegger puts it, “secret”, a “mystery”. And this makes it magical, awesome. In other words, “sublime”.”[14]

For Nietzsche on all this, see The Gay Science §374 (and 124) where, “What we need, I think Nietzsche is saying, is something like a return to the ancient Greek understanding of the holy as the “uncanny”.”[15]

For the importance of the sublime, see note on TLP 1.

LW might have discussed solipsism because of (i) Russell’s problems with knowing of other minds and with words’ being able to mean anything other than immediate, private experience (see Glock p. 444), (ii) Schopenhauer (see above and Hacker’s Insight and Illusion), or (iii) Weininger (see Haller pp. 95-96).

See TLP 6.51 on LW’s reaction to Schop’s way of dealing with solipsism, i.e. to saying that it cannot be refuted. On solipsism and LW generally, see Glock pp. 446-449, where he argues strongly that LW was a solipsist of some kind.

Rush Rhees: “Wittgenstein has never held to solipsism, either in the Tractatus or at any other time.” (Mind, 56, (1947), p. 388, quoted in Magee p. 337)

In The Problems of Philosophy p. 10 Russell writes that while solipsism “is not logically impossible, there is no reason whatever to suppose that it is true.”

[Apologies for the lack of organization in these notes.]

[1] Ibid., p. 206.

[2] The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 59.

[3] The World as Will and Idea trans. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp (3 volumes, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1883), vol. II, p. 117.

[4] Ibid., vol. II, p. 20.

[5] First sentence of book, here quoted from Everyman edition.

[6] Ibid., p. 3.

[7] Ibid., p. 4.

[8] See ibid.

[9] Ibid., p. 5.

[10] WWI book two, §19 (p. 37 in Everyman edition).

[11] Julian Young “Death and Transfiguration: Kant, Schopenhauer and Heidegger on the Sublime” Inquiry Vol. 48, No. 2, 131-144, April 2005, p. 140.

[12] Ibid., p. 139.

[13] See ibid., p. 141.

[14] Ibid., p. 141.

[15] Ibid., p. 144, note 17.

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