Friday, May 04, 2007


"When I began my earlier book to talk about the 'world' (and not about this tree or table)..."

Ludwig Wittgenstein
(Redacted from the Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough)

A reader of this blog emailed me about a quote I had posted from Borges's "An Investigation of the Word", one of his "disowned" early works. While I can see why he might have thought it was unsuccessful, I like the approach he takes. "What is the psychological process whereby we understand a sentence?" asks Borges. And his approach to answering it is to analyse a single sentence from the Quixote ("In a place in La Mancha, whose name I do not wish to recall ...") word for word in order to locate "the content its words yield to the reader". It is a naive approach, but one I have great respect for. There is too much philosophy of language that produces apparently sophisticated theories without providing a single detailed application, a single complete analysis.

I called my PhD dissertation Likeness and wanted to call the follow up Composure, but I think both words subscribe to a vain philosophical profundity. (That probably won't stop me in the end, of course.) I'm now thinking of calling it Roundness. In it, I want to provide a full answer to the question, "What is the experience of the roundness of a plate?" We are all capable of having this experience; but in what does it consist?

Composure and likeness are, I think, part of what Wittgenstein called the illusory "super-order of super-concepts". That is, one imagines that the task of philosophy is not to analyse specific compositions or specific likenesses but to provide a theory of composition and likeness "as such". But if these theories are to mean anything to us they must usefully guide our practical investigations (note that Borges and Wittgenstein used the same word). "If the words, 'language', 'experience', 'world', have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words 'table', 'lamp', 'door'." (PI§97) It is in the spirit of that humility that I want to write my first real book.


Thomas Basbøll said...

Note to self: we can take the plate to be round (perception) or we can make the plate become round. We can both see and do that roundness.

Thomas Basbøll said...

making it become round ... i.e., action