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Language Idling

In a comment following an earlier blog post, one of Sean's about "Club meanings,' I suggested "investigative philosophy" as a way of signifying Wittgenstein's way of branching off from what we might agree to call "analytic philosophy," a branch that originally welcomed him as one of its own.

Wittgenstein himself encourages an investigative mindset, drawing from anthropology but also detective work. One must look for clues hiding in plain sight as it were. We are only blind to the workings of language because we are so untrained to really look at it, versus idly fantasizing about hidden mechanisms, fantasies taken up by neuroscience in our own day (2013).

Where there's police work, there must be crime, or in the medical paradigm, a condition in need of healing, and in Wittgenstein's later philosophy that sin is "language idling" or "doing no work". Cambridge is an "influenza zone", presumably infectious as he can only withstand abbreviated visits before he's running off to Norway or Russia or the wars to get cured.

"Language idling" is not the same thing as idle play or nonsense poetry or Alice in Wonderland. Rather, it has the appearance of working, perhaps of doing something profound. It's aspect is of something broken, but not obviously so, something hollowed out and rotten, but appearing to bear a load. As such, it might be dangerous, as "the next thing to really fail" (overtly, not just by failing to pass some subtle smell test). Wittgenstein had a background in engineering, aeronautical in particular, and was no doubt sensitive to the kind of catastrophic failure a more serious investigation might have prevented.

Another way of describing Wittgenstein's approach then, is one of relieving broken language games of load-bearing responsibilities, which in this metaphor would be any responsibilities whatsoever. A language so released from duty might feel newly light and a legitimate target for jibes, whereas earlier its exalted "seriousness" made it untouchable by the mere layman.  A sign of healing is when an older, less admirable form of life becomes risable.  We're out from under its death grip.  We need no longer suspend our disbelief.

In this sense then, Wittgenstein's branching away from the analytic approach, is also his way of starting to lay it to rest as a serious workingman's tool. You may need to learn computer languages but you won't need to obsesses about who cuts the barber's hair. Logicism, positivism, and scientism were all close affiliates of 1900s analyticism. In helping to usher in their demise as serious languages, Wittgenstein is injecting an air of levity, telling jokes, busting myths.

We don't have to let "philosophy" itself go down with that ship. He keeps a firm grip on the word itself, using it for what he's doing (a serious business, this undertaking). We just look over the side and wave, as the good ship Analytic sinks to the bottom. Good riddance.

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