Wittgenstein and Philosophy as a Form of Poetry: Second Version

In spite of his frequent emphasis on clarity in language use, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s statement that “Philosophy can be written only as a form of poetry (Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten)” leaves us tangled in knots.  For instance, is he saying that philosophy is like poetry, or that the kinship between the two allows them to be merged productively?  Is he saying that philosophy should be written in the aphoristic style of the early Greeks: philosophy as poetry or as if it were poetry?  This kinship is further complicated by Wittgenstein’s statement that “a poem, even though it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information,” implying that if philosophy were to be written as a form of poetry, then it would not be informative.   For Wittgenstein, indeed, that’s the point: the scope of philosophical analysis pertains to gestalten, concepts or grammars, and problems arise with non-informative logical forms such as tautologies, contradictions, and relations, specifically, expressions of identity: “this is that,” “this is the same as that,” “this is similar to that.”  Also, metaphors and similes, which concern family resemblances, can further complicate our understanding of the identity relation.  As we know, for example, Wittgenstein’s ladder is a metaphor that underscores the dialectics of conceptual analysis: the horizontal back-and-forth of the reductio ad absurdum, the oblique moves of rule-following in language games, the vertical rise of viewing grammar sub species aeternis, a view from nowhere.  But what exact figure is the ladder supposed to represent?  And what did Wittgenstein mean when he said that we can set aside the ladder once we have climbed it?  As an exile well-acquainted with language “on a holiday,” how did Wittgenstein intend the ladder to help us find our way about?  If rule-following in language games resemble steps on a ladder then perhaps we have a clue to understanding the statement that “philosophy can be written only as a form of poetry”; Wittgenstein attempted new similes to demonstrate among other things that certain expressions in ordinary language, such as tautologies and contradictions, are more telling than logic permits them to be.  For example, Wittgenstein’s cryptic statements, “The world of the happy is a happy world” or “Life is the world” are actually supposed to be informative.  But, as Wittgenstein said elsewhere, metaphors and similes often present us with new puzzles, and there are no hard and fast rules to resolve them.  In spite of ambiguity, however, we can come to recognize that “forms of poetry” indeed yield information, and we should be aware of those sufficient conditions.

To be continued…



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