Friday, April 23, 2010

Paying Attention

"Don't for heaven's sake, be afraid of talking nonsense. But you must pay attention to your nonsense."--Ludwig Wittgenstein

By way of this:

But if it be true of the reward for Good in the world, that the reward the world gives is so dangerous, then the Good has almost an edifying quality here in this world (even if this edification is somewhat softened in the blessed smile of eternity). For here the man who in truth wills the Good, by willing one thing, is very rarely led into the difficulty of being tempted by reward. Now, that the Good has its own reward is indeed forever certain. There is nothing so certain. It is not even more certain that God exists, for that is one and the same thing. But here on earth, Good is often temporarily rewarded by ingratitude, by lack of appreciation, by poverty, by contempt, by many sufferings, and now and then by death. It is not this reward to which we refer when we say that the Good has its reward. Yet this is the reward that comes in the external world and that comes first of all. And it is precisely this reward which the man is anxious about, who wills the Good for the sake of the reward. For he has no time to wait, no time, no years, no life to give away -- for an eternity. Hence that reward which comes in the external world is so far from being desirable, that, on the contrary, it is both valuable and encouraging when it does not come in the outer world, so that the double-mindedness in the inner realm may perish, and so that the reward in heaven may be all the greater.
I find myself brought back to this.

Which returns me to the real nature of Christianity, and of belief, and of faith. Or maybe just Wittgenstein:

And now I must say that if I contemplate what Ethics really would have to be if there were such a science, this result seems to me quite obvious. It seems to me obvious that nothing we could ever think or say should be the thing. That we cannot write a scientific book, the subject matter of which could be intrinsically sublime and above all other subject matters. I can only describe my feeling by the metaphor, that, if a man could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world. Our words used as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of containing and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense. Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural and our words will only express facts; as a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water and if I were to pour out a gallon over it.
For it is clear that when we look at it in this way everything miraculous has disappeared; unless what we mean by this term is merely that a fact has not yet been explained by science which again means that we have hitherto failed to group this fact with others in a scientific system. This shows that it is absurd to say 'Science has proved that there are no miracles.' The truth is that the scientific way of looking at a fact is not the way to look at it as a miracle. For imagine whatever fact you may, it is not in itself miraculous in the absolute sense of that :om. For we see now that we have been using the word 'miracle' in a relative and an absolute sense. And I will now describe the experience of wondering at the existence of the world by saying: lt is the experience of seeing the world as a miracle. Now I am tempted to say that the right expression in language for the miracle of the existence of the world, though it is not any proposition in language, is the existence of language itself. But what then does it mean to be aware of this miracle at some times and not at other times? For all I have said by shifting the expression of the miraculous from an expression by means of language to the expression by the existence of language, all I have said is again that we cannot express what we want to express and that all we say about the absolute miraculous remains nonsense. Now the answer to all this will seem perfectly clear to many of you. You will say: Well, if certain experiences constantly tempt us to attribute a quality to them which we call absolute or ethical value and importance, this simply shows that by these words we don’t mean nonsense, that after all what we mean by saying that an experience has absolute value is just a fact like other facts and that all it comes to is that we have not yet succeeded in finding the correct logical analysis of what we mean by our ethical and religious expressions. Now when this is urged against me I at once see clearly, as it were in a flash of light, not only that no description that I can think of would do to describe what I mean by absolute value, but that I would reject every significant description that anybody could possibly suggest, ab initio, on the ground of its significance. That is to say: I see now that these nonsensical expressions were not nonsensical because I had not yet found the correct expressions, but that their nonsensicality was their very essence. For all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond the world and that is to say beyond significant language. My whole tendency and I believe the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language. This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless. Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it.
And so, then:

Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For 'consciousness of sin' is a real event and so are despair and salvation through faith. Those who speak of such things (Bunyan for instance) are simply describing what has happened to them, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Ethics, Life and Faith," The Wittgenstein Reader, ed. Anthony Kenny (Oxford, Blackwell Press 1994).

Which reminds me that almost no one is talking about the real nature of God, or of faith, or of belief. Though some are doing it better than others:

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1 comment:

  1. Having pontificated (no pun intended) on the subject ad nauseam, I've no doubt spoken a good bit of nonsense and not paid proper attention to my nonsense.

    A good many years back, I concluded that the cover-up of child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church was orchestrated from the Vatican. However, another theory is circulating, and at the moment I can't think where I read or heard the theory, that the actions to protect the institution first at the expense of children came about not so much because of a vast Vatican conspiracy, but rather because the hierarchy was enculturated to protect the institution to such an extent that the initial reaction was to circle the wagons "for the good of the church", rather than to care for the children.

    Both theories make sense to me, and I'm not sure to which I lean toward at this moment. From experience, I know that the enculturation is powerful, and not confined to the hierarchy.