ON BEING RESOLUTE
Professor Paul Standish
University of Herfordshire
About the Speaker
Paul Standish is Professor of Philosophy of Education. He is concerned in his work particularly with questions in ethics and education. Author of the excellent Beyond the Self: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the limits of language (Ashgate 1992), Professor Standish is interested in the relation between Analytical and Continental philosophy and the productive tensions of that relation. He is co-editor of the Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education (2002) and of the just-published Stanley Cavell and the Education of Grownups (Fordham UP, 2011).
A striking feature of Wittgenstein studies over the past decade or so has been debate over therapeutic readings of the texts, especially insofar as these extend backwards to include the Tractatus. “Resolute reading” has become the term of choice for at least some advocates of this view. Opponents of claims of this kind typically take issue not only over questions concerning the continuity of Wittgenstein’s thought but over the nature and possibilities of philosophy itself. Exchanges between the two camps - insofar as they can reasonably be identified in this way - have been lively, engaging, and sometimes insightful, but not always enlightening. To those on the outside, such debates can readily appear overly introspective, and this can muffle the sense of the wider importance of his philosophy. The discussion of Wittgenstein starts from issues that are critical to that importance, but in some respects these are obscured by aspects of the ensuing debate.
My discussion examines the implications of the adoption of the term “resolute” in this literature in the light of the provenance of therapeutic readings. It also turns beyond this towards a consideration of the significance of the virtue the term names for the reception of Wittgenstein more widely. This involves a return to questions regarding language and what it is to follow a rule.
Over the past two decades in Wittgenstein studies, 'resolute readings' have gained prominence. Associated with the work of Cora Diamond and James Conant, they are central to the idea of the 'new Wittgenstein', a term borrowed from the title of a collection of essays edited by Alice Crary and Rupert Read, published in 2000.
Opponents of claims of this kind typically take issue not only over questions concerning the continuity of Wittgenstein’s thought but over the nature and possibilities of philosophy itself. Exchanges between the two camps - insofar as they can reasonably be identified in this way - have been lively, engaging, and sometimes insightful, but not always enlightening. To those on the outside, such debates can readily appear overly introspective, and this can muffle the sense of the wider importance of his philosophy. The discussion of Wittgenstein starts from issues that are critical to that importance, but in some respects these are obscured by aspects of the ensuing debate.
The alternative is resolutely to turn away from the temptations of both standard conceptions - the metaphysical realism of the Tractatus, and the anti-realism of the Philosophical Investigations – by recalling Wittgenstein’s warning that 'The great difficulty here is not to represent the matter as if there were something one couldn’t do'.
Paul Standish’s discussion of these views effectively reflected the interest of these debates but also drew attention to the tendency for the arguments to pass one another by. He cited the views of Hilary Putnam, who has expressed concern that the contemporary debate has become somewhat self-involved, to the detriment of Wittgenstein’s reception in the wider world of philosophy. He went on to raise two questions in relation to resolute readings: first, how far an over-zealous commitment to therapy might purge the metaphysical impulse by which aspects of Wittgenstein’s texts continue to be disturbed; second, how far recent interpretation has departed from the work of philosophers who in their different ways had been influential in the development of the resolute readings – that is, Rush Rhees, Hide Ishiguro, and Stanley Cavell.
Professor Standish pointed out the metaphysical or realist character of resoluteness by recalling Wittgenstein’s acknowledgement of Heidegger’s notion of anxiety. Echoing Stanley Cavell’s reading of Wittgenstein, he regarded Wittgenstein’s treatment of scepticism not as an epistemological truth but as existential in nature. Methods, therapies and so on are the ongoing process in one’s life-struggle and hint at a conception of philosophy as never-ending.
The lecture concluded with the notion of 'the ordinary and language' in the Investigations and its possible affinity with Cavell’s interpretation of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Cavell distinguishes the 'eventual ordinary' from the 'actual ordinary': the latter being that which fatalistically shapes life’s possibilities; the former that of the ordinary to which we return 'encountered with a sense both of new possibility and of intimacy lost: natural or animal absorption gives way to a kind of exile, but this is also the condition of imagination and the opening to the new.'
The ensuing discussion began with questions on the possibilities of more nuanced positions between realism and anti-realism, and with further clarification of what was implied by the new Wittgenstein. The breadth of the significance of Wittgenstein’s claim for philosophy as therapy was then considered. Finally, discussion turned to the meaning of faith and fate and its relation to ordinary language. The impression had by all was that Paul Standish had heeded Wittgenstein’s advice and ‘gone the bloody hard way’, and had done so with much skill and finesse.