Thursday, March 10, 2005

In Defense of Ludwig

More than sentries for dawn
I watch for the Lord.

Isn't this the answer to Wittegenstein?

Watching, listening for the dawn, the presence of God, you feel more than can name in the moment of such Presence. Much time spent thirsting, hungering craving that presence; and sometimes, waiting quietly, listening beyond words, you feel the warmth of sun even if weakly, warming the earth, warming your life, turning your heart to Spring.
Wittegenstein, actually, would probably agree.

Wittgenstein is directing himself against those who would say that what you experience is delusional, because it is not expressible in terms that "they" understand. That is, you are using language differently than "they" are, and therefore your use of language is incorrect. Wittgenstein's point is that, actually, no particular use of language is privileged above another, and that we engage in "language games" when we either try to "purify" the language (one of Eliot's aims), or limit its application to, say, only the vocabulary of Empiricism or, in his case, the more extremely refined vocabulary of Logical Positivism.

Which is why Wittgenstein would say something like this:

If I even vaguely remember what I was taught about God, I might say: "Whatever believing in God may be, it can't be believing in something we can test, or find means of testing." You might say: "This is nonsense, because people say they believe on evidence or say they believe on religious experiences." I would say: "The mere fact that someone says they believe on evidence doesn't tell me enough for me to be able to say now whether I can say of a sentence 'God exists' that your evidence is unsatisfactory or insufficient."


Suppose there is a feast on Mid-Summer Common. A lot of people stand in a ring. Suppose this is done every year and then everyone says he has seen one of his dead relatives on the other side of the ring. In this case, we could ask everyone in the ring. "Who did you hold by the hand?" Nevertheless, we'd all say that on that day we see our dead relatives. You could in this case say: "I had the experience I cna express by saying: 'I saw my dead cousin.'" Would we say you were saying this on insufficient evidence? Under certain circumstances I would say this, under other circumstances I wouldn't." Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Lectures on Religious Belief," Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett (University of California Press, pp. 59-60).
The point is not that reality is relative; but that what we say about reality, is really quite slippery. More slippery than we usually acknowledge. And while Eliot's phenomenology via F.H. Bradley, and his theological leanings via the Anglican Church, combine to create a dynamic poetry that express a truth, Wittgenstein defends the validity of that "truth" against the complaint that it is not conducted in the language of Logical Positivism or of Empiricism.

Which, as Wittgenstein shows from within those disciplines, have no greater privilege to "truth" than Eliot's poetry does; and no lesser privilege, either. Which, when I can get to it, has some interesting implications for the practice of lectio divina.

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