BREAKING: Lucid and concise, the blurbs said!

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2018

By page 4, the truth had emerged:
Anthony Kenny's book about Wittgenstein was published by Harvard University Press in 1973.

Did we purchase our copy that year? We're not sure, but we'll guess that we probably did.

If we did, 1973 was the year in which we finished our fourth year teaching fifth grade in the Baltimore City Schools. We were continuing to study topics like Kenny's on the side, from deep inside a painful exile, with two more exiles to follow.

People who purchased Kenny's book may have read a set of upbeat blurbs about the book's vast greatness. On the back of the book's dust jacket, that famous university's press had published excerpts from four reviews. As we look today at our hardback edition, the first blurb reads like this:
From the reviews:
"Dr. Kenny is a first-rate philosophical scholar, and he explains lucidly the motives and reasoning that lie behind Wittgenstein's often surprising but influential teachings."
The Economist
According to The Economist, Kenny's book was lucid. The reviewer also seemed to think that Wittgenstein's teachings had been influential, though that somewhat peculiar belief went unexplained.

The other blurbs on the back of the book agreed with The Economist's general view:

According to the Times [of London] Higher Education Supplement, "Few commentators offer such a comprehensive survey of Wittgenstein's writings as does Kenny."

According to the Jewish Chronicle, Kenny's book was "an excellent and lucid guide through the labyrinth of Wittgenstein's thought." The fourth blurb came from The Guardian. That blurb told book buyers this:
"Dr. Kenny does the job as well as one can imagine it being done; there are no gratuitous obstacles for the reader to surmount."
The Guardian
According to The Guardian, "the reader" would be well served by this book, and the publisher seemed to agree. On the front inside flap of that same dust jacket, potential buyers received these assurances as part of a longer profile:
HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS (1973): Dr. Kenny has succeeded in being unusually comprehensive as well as concise...

Dr. Kenny's book will be of value mot only to students of philosophy but also to general readers with no special knowledge of the subject. He has endeavored to explain...enough of the background of modern logic to enable the reader to confront Wittgenstein's works without bafflement.
The general reader needed to fear no bafflement if he or she purchased Kenny's new book. Due to the lucidity of the concise new book, it would be a sensible choice for "general readers."

That's what book buyers were told. But by the time the general reader had reached pages 4 and 5, he or she would be confronting the incoherent material we've puzzled over this week. Indeed, by the time the reader reached page 5, the reader was reading this:
KENNY (pages 4-5): However, even in ordinary language, there is a perceptibly pictorial element. Take the sentence 'My fork is to the left of my knife.' This sentence says something quite different from another sentence containing exactly the same words, namely 'My knife is to the left of my fork.' What makes the first sentence, but not the second, mean that the fork is to the left of the knife? It is the fact that the words 'my fork' appear to the left of the words 'my knife' in the context of the of the first sentence but not in that of the second. So here we have a spatial relationship between words symbolizing a spatial relationship between things. Such spatial representation of spatial relationships is pictorial in a quite straightforward way (TLP 4.012).
Take that sentence, please! Mix with strange observations.

On Monday, we'll continue to the next two paragraphs in this book's lucid text. But as we noted in Thursday's post, the first few pages of this book—the passages in which Kenny provides an overview of Wittgenstein's "famous picture theory of meaning"—are almost comically incoherent.

Things get no better in Chapter 4, which bears this chapter title:
Chapter 4: The Picture Theory of Meaning
We plan to show you parts of that chapter after a Thanksgiving excursion. To our ear, the chapter reads like an exposition of academic "philosophy" as written by Forrest Gump.

As we emerge from our third and final exile, we're offering these ruminations as a way of raising certain "anthropological" questions. We're asking you to consider a basic question:

Was Aristotle essentially right in what he is famously said to have said—in the widely-bruited alleged claim that "man [sic] is the rational animal?" Or is it possible that Professor Harari is more nearly correct when he says that our warlike species, Homo sapiens, came to rule the planet when our ancestors, through the magic of chance mutation, acquired two highly adaptive abilities—the ability to engage in "gossip" and the ability to promulgate sweeping group "fictions?"

Which heuristic is more nearly correct? We're also asking you to consider a basic question about the silence of the logicians:

Where have the logicians been as our broken public discourse has sunk into the sea? By now, the process has gifted us with a deeply disordered (and dangerous) president. But this process has been underway for decades, and no logicians have ever stepped forward to help us find our way out of the various journalistic swamps which have led to this terrible place.

Where have the "philosophers" and logicians been? As we reread Kenny's "lucid" book, we're asking one more basic question:

Aristotle's assessment to the side, has our comically self-impressed species ever produced any logicians at all?

Have we ever produced any philosophers or logicians? It seems to us that the later Wittgenstein suggested an answer:

No.

16 comments:

  1. “Have we ever produced any philosophers or logicians? It seems to us that the later Wittgenstein suggested an answer:

    No.”

    And how did Wittgenstein come to this conclusion? Surely not by logical reasoning. Or philosophical inquiry.

    Some other way then.

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  2. "eople who purchased Kenny's book may have read a set of upbeat blurbs about the book's vast greatness."

    You're a curious case, Bob.

    It appears that you, like most of us, ordinary people, feel contempt for the pretentious dembots in the establishment media. That's good, good for you.

    And then - inexplicably - you follow their every bullshit advice, and buy every bullshit book they're selling.

    What is it, Bob? Some sort of intellectual S&M?

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    1. Sir Anthony Kenny is a dembot?

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  3. “Where have the logicians been as our broken public discourse has sunk into the sea? By now, the process has gifted us with a deeply disordered (and dangerous) president. But this process has been underway for decades, and no logicians have ever stepped forward to help us find our way out of the various journalistic swamps which have led to this terrible place.”

    Decades? Surely all of human history is full of catastrophes. Why limit oneself to the past few decades in the United States? A little short sighted, don’t you think?

    “Journalistic swamps?” Again, that’s rather too limiting. Surely, other sources of dysfunction besides journalism can be located. Most of human history was devoid of “journalism” in the modern sense. After all, if we’re surveying mankind in terms of Aristotle’s supposed views and all....

    But if you want to narrow your focus, then why would you assume that “philosophers and logicians” would be in agreement amongst themselves on public policy or public discourse? Some “logicians” come to conclusions that fit the conservative view, others the liberal. That is not because of irrational tribalization, but rather a different sensibility. Thus, logicians are no more in a position to function outside the political realm than the rest of us. They also, being very few in number, have no significant ability to direct public discourse.

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  4. "Was Aristotle essentially right in what he is famously said to have said—in the widely-bruited alleged claim that "man [sic] is the rational animal?" What a convoluted way to repeat a lie knowing that it is a lie (that Aristotle ever said that "man" is "the" rational animal)!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Was Aristotle wrong about a thing he didn’t say?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Somerby proves today that he was right to give up grad school in favor of teachings, right to give up teaching in favor of comedy, and is now right to give up political blogging in favor of meandering rants about Wittgenstein. It makes it much easier to sign off this whole obsessive exercise in wasted time, which is clearly meant to be an analogy for his wasted life.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Somerby needs to read Hilary Putnam.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Bob, better to light one candle than curse the darkness. Why not read, reflect on, write about, and thereby publicize the work philosophers are doing *now* to grapple with global challenges? I mean, for example, Stanley on fascism, Nussbaum on fear in politics, and Curren on sustainability. Surely that would be a greater contribution than complaining about blurbs about Kenny on Wittgenstein from decades ago.

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