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A Natural History of a Lonely Man

A Natural History of a Lonely Man
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  A natural history of a lonely man Tama´s Demeter (ed): Essays on Wittgenstein and AustrianPhilosophy—In Honour of J.C. Nyı´ri. Amsterdam, New York,Rodopi, 2004 Istva´n Danka Published online: 1 February 2008   Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008 Philosophy has a lonely role in Hungarian intellectual life. While celebratingscientists and artists for their international reputation in several fields, there isalmost no one in philosophy who could be mentioned at the same level. This factcould perhaps be explained by pointing out that it was philosophy which had left theHungarian intellectual tradition. On the one hand, had someone done philosophy ata high level then he was not taken to represent the ‘‘Hungarian spirit.’’ And on theother hand, had someone worked in the ‘‘Hungarian style of thought’’ then at theinternational level he was no more than a peculiarity.All the same, in speaking about a special Hungarian kind of philosophy we areclaiming that Hungarian thinking, from the beginning of the 20th century at least,has had a socio-historical character (see Demeter’s ‘‘The Many Faces of Sociological Interpretation: The Unity of Nyı´ri’s Thought’’). Explaining ideas ina socio-historical context presupposes the existence of those ideas. The main reasonbehind the peripheral status of Hungarian philosophy is not that it has no specialnature, but precisely the opposite:  it has its own specific nature . As J.C. Nyı´ri, aparadigmatic figure in this tradition, and whose 60th birthday was the occasion forthis volume, sometimes claims: from the perspective of mainstream philosophy thesocio-historical approach is an  outsider   position.The aim of this review is, using Schulte’s (‘‘Readings of ‘Natural History’’’)happy phrase, ‘‘a clarification of structural relations’’ (187) among the papers.Hopefully, this clarification helps in presenting not only the essays the volumecontains but also those topics of Austro-Hungarian philosophy which interest Nyı´ri.Thus I am also trying ‘‘to discover or invent intermediate cases whose innercongruity and agreement with other cases will not [ … ] be tested by standardhistorical research but by means of something like aesthetic appraisal’’ (194). Thepresent purpose is not to defend Nyı´ri from the consequences of his outsider I. Danka ( & )Philosophy, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK e-mail:  1 3 Stud East Eur Thought (2008) 60:159–163DOI 10.1007/s11212-008-9042-2  position, also acknowledged by himself. A philosopher with a socio-historicaloutlook is a  voluntary  exile. Rather than being left alone by his fellows, he was onlynot followed in leaving the domain of the dominant schools of philosophy. WhatFerenc L. Lendvai calls ‘‘loneliness’’ in his preface (‘‘The Loneliness of thePhilosopher’’), is an act of treachery for a dyed in the wool school philosopher.The editor, Tama´s Demeter, shows in his aforementioned introduction thatNyı´ri’s lonely sociological approach is a continuous part of that sociological trend inHungarian philosophy. The lonely philosopher does not simply reject traditions:originality should be distinguished from individuality (see Barry Smith andWolfgang Grassl ‘‘On Creativity and the Philosophy of the Supranational State’’).Creativity is not rejection of tradition but its reinterpretation (33). Original thinkersare celebrated only from a certain distance ‘‘because what they had to say was, tothe ears of their fellow countrymen, merely platitudinous’’ (36).A socio-historical approach, because of its historical and social sensibility, couldseem, at the first sight, to be similar to some kind of Marxism. That is why it isinteresting to read Lee Congdon’s paper (‘‘Arnold Hauser and the Retreat fromMarxism’’) showing some important  differences.  Congdon finds the roots of Hauser’s sociological philosophy of art in the thoughts of the young, still pre-Marxist Luka´cs and in Mannheim (51–53). Marxism and socio-historical focusseem therefore to be meeting merely contingently in Luka´cs. Hauser criticisedMarxism precisely for its reductionism and teleologism (57), and given that he wasnot interested in active politics, only in scholarship, he did not want to be treated asa Marxist (51).Wittgenstein, Nyı´ri’s favourite philosopher, and hence the central figure of thevolume, was not especially sensitive to the problems of history. For him,temporality was only related to the experience of time and the usage of the term.Wilhelm Lu¨tterfelds analyses a relation between memory and the experience/ sensation of time (‘‘Erinnerung – ‘Kein Sehen in die Vergangenheit?’’’). Wittgen-stein’s  Tractatus  exhibits a timeless, static structure of the relation betweenlanguage and reality—except from the most important part of the work, namely, itsconclusion. Rudolf Lu¨the discusses this part claiming that it is art which must fulfilthe role attributed to epistemology earlier (‘‘The Function of Art in an Age of Philosophical Silence’’). Later, Wittgenstein became more and more interested inless static and more dynamic systems, some of which he called language games (cf.Klaus Puhl’s ‘‘Rule-Following: Difference and Repetition’’).Wittgenstein also referred to history, namely  natural  history, in another context . ‘History’ in these remarks has a double meaning: on the one hand, it means, asSchulte put it, ‘‘the real, established  development   of things,’’ and on the other hand,‘‘a  story  about a real or likely or fictitious development’’(187–188). The socio-historical affinities of Hungarian philosophy should also be emphasised in bothcontexts.Wittgenstein’s natural history is not simply a study of nature; it is not elementarybiology (184). According to Garver’s Wittgenstein (‘‘Beginning at the Beginning’’),‘‘[n]atural history [ … ] differ[s] from natural science in that it involves neithertheory nor hypothesis and is accepted without having been proven’’ (141). Garver,echoing Nyı´ri, claims Wittgenstein to be a conservative thinker. He shows that for 160 I. Danka  1 3  Wittgenstein, epistemology, the study of relating knowledge to certainty, is basedon a category mistake. Thomas Uebel argues (‘‘Naturalism and Scepticism’’) thatNeurath, who in some respects thought in a way similar to Wittgenstein, ‘‘did notseek to answer the sceptical challenge, rather he disregarded it as unfruitful andunscientific’’ (68). This can be said of Nyı´ri as well. For a conservative thinker aresource of certainty is not justification but an ever vital practice, i.e. tradition.Beginning at the beginning, Nyı´ri’s story starts with the socio-historical tradition,from which the investigation of the concept of ‘tradition’ follows straightforwardly.Tradition, as opposed to progression, requires the idea of conservation. Conserva-tive values are, according to David Bloor (‘‘Ludwig Wittgenstein and EdmundBurke’’), characterised by the following oppositions: ‘‘the Concrete has priority overthe Abstract, History over Reason, Practice over Theory, Norm or Custom overRule, and Life over Thought’’ (113). Bloor presents an interesting mirror image of Wittgenstein’s epistemology and philosophy of language in Edmund Burke’sconservative political philosophy. Standards of correctness in following a rule,according to this approach, are ‘‘in Burke’s phrase ‘only wrought by social means’where ‘mind must conspire with mind’’’ (118). Therefore both Wittgenstein andBurke are anti-individualists (or intersubjectivists) regarding standards of correct-ness. There are some limits on these illuminating parallels, however. According toWittgenstein, not only moral maxims of human actions but human life  as such  areimpossible without society. On the other hand, Bloor perhaps overemphasises theanti-individualist tendencies in Burke. Since Burke’s philosophy is a political and/orsocial philosophy, it is not surprising that he begins with society instead of individuals.Bloor himself also mentions an aspect in which Wittgenstein is more radicallyconservative than Burke. This is the question of the status of mathematics.‘‘Whereas Burke effectively cedes the territory of arithmetic and geometry to therationalists Wittgenstein tries to claim it back for conservatism.’’ (121) Similarly forBurke’s category of prejudice applied to other cases, Wittgenstein thought that evenmathematical rules were followed  blindly  (122–123).Jaakko Hintikka investigates, with some socio-historical inclinations, preciselythe question of rule following in mathematics (‘‘Wittgenstein’s Demon and HisTheory of Mathematics’’). He argues that Wittgenstein’s dyslexia plays animportant role in how he conceived of the philosophy of mathematics. Accordingto Hintikka, not everyone but only the dyslexic ‘‘ … follow[s] a rule blindly’’ (97).Even if this appears to be convincing, I should like to stress my doubts. I think thatWittgenstein’s well-known decrease in interest in mathematics by the middle of 1940s is due to the insight that mathematics does not differ from other activitiesrelying on necessity: a mathematical statement is necessary not because of it beingproven but because it has been learnt thus and so (and it  works  thus and so). Fromthis angle, Wittgenstein’s dyslexia can plausibly explain why he mystifiedmathematics in the 1930s, but it cannot explain why he did not think mathematicsmore relevant later.Wittgenstein, probably because of his dyslexia, preferred to write his notes indialogues which imitate verbal communication. Peter Keicher (‘‘‘Ich wollte, allediese Bemerkungen wa¨ren besser als sie sind.’ – Vorworte und Vorwortentwu¨rfe in Book Review 161  1 3  Wittgensteins Nachlass’’) emphasises (276) and demonstrates a claim likewisestressed by Nyı´ri that the appearance of the Bergen Electronic Edition of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass resulted a methodological turning point in Wittgensteinresearch. Its significance is also valuable regarding questions of digital philologyand hence philosophy of communication.Philosophical issues of communication have been recently to the fore amongNyı´ri’s interests: most notably, philosophical questions regarding the internet andmobile phones. Investigating these, he rewrites his natural history once again,tracing back to Wittgenstein. In his recent papers he argues that Wittgenstein is anunconscious prophet of secondary orality and a precursor of a pictorial turn inphilosophy which must be achieved by the Millenium, due to recent changes incommunication technologies.Herbert Hrachovec (‘‘Picture This! Words versus Images in Wittgenstein’s  Nachlass ’’) and Katalin Neumer (‘‘Bilder sehen, Musik ho¨ren – zu WittgensteinsAufzeichnungen zwischen 1946 und 1951’’) discuss this topic of Nyı´ri’s  oeuvre . Notsurprisingly, they have reservations about this most ‘‘outsider’’ part of Nyı´ri’sthought. According to Hrachovec, Wittgenstein did not resort to pictures as much asNyı´ri thinks. Pictures are context-sensitive, embedded in language games like wordsthemselves (205). Neumer claims that Wittgenstein was interested not only inmovies but in music and theatre too. Thus Wittgenstein’s interest in movies andphotos was not that of the new media (271). Moreover, Neumer argues, ‘‘an externalperspective for the observation of the Self is possible precisely through the movies’’(263). The indirectness of pictorial meaning implies that pictures cannot be morefundamental meaning bearers than words.Neumer and Hrachovec convincingly argue that the role of (moving) pictures isnot specific in Wittgenstein’s thinking. That does not in itself contradict, however,Nyı´ri’s hypotheses that Wittgenstein  could be  influenced by new media. Nyı´ri’soveremphasis of these connections directly follows from his own natural history,i.e., from the way he developed his own Wittgenstein-interpretation. In fact, this isthe most dangerous part of socio-historical philosophy: when it tries ‘‘to discover orinvent intermediate cases.’’A socio-historical perspective prefers natural history because telling a storyseems something conservative: it is always concrete even if it tries to provide somekind of unity. Admittedly that is why it cannot be complete. Socio-historicalinclinations tend to agree with Lyotard: the age of grand narratives has expired.Hence, calling for an account in the manner of the grand narratives is senseless.The only question is what to do with our grandiose (but not  grand  ) narratives.Nyı´ri suggests giving up Platonistic philosophy, because its problems presupposeverbal language, literacy, and typography, that will presumably be less important inthe age of multimediated communication. But our age poses new challenges bycommunication technologies which provide new problems to investigate.Nyı´ri himself obviously does something similar. Based on a specific socio-historical approach, i.e., on an interpretative philosophy, he formulates originalphilosophical problems, philosophising beyond school philosophy. It cannot yet beknown to what extent his insights will influence the natural histories of future lonelyphilosophers. But he certainly convinces me—even if not to the extent that I should 162 I. Danka  1 3  continue in his way, but in that I should not write my own natural history as learnt at‘‘school.’’For understanding others, Schulte claims, ‘‘we may start from our own innernature and invent stories that connect this nature with, and recognize it in, thosestrange practices’’ (194). And I am sure that this outsider volume of natural history,by interpreting, thinking with, and critising Nyı´ri, helps the reader (180) under-standing the philosopher who was once alone but has found others who understandhim. If so, then his thoughts will not be excluded from the schools, nor will theybecome pure school philosophy. Book Review 163  1 3
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