Monday, December 24, 2012

More notes on "One-Dimensional Man"

The discussion of language is really exceptional and should be studied most carefully by anyone with even the slightest interest in philosophy and critical thought.  The section is obviously a product of its moment since the centerpieces of his critique are analytic philosophy and "ordinary language" linguistics, specially touching on Wittgenstein, G.E. Moore, Anthony Flew and J.L. Austin.

I find his emphasis on the openness of meaning especially important.  This is emphatically not the relativity of meaning from various viewpoints none of which has priority, but rather that meaning is contradictory and contested, that if it is situated, its situation is not given in advance from the perspective of speaker because that is also contested and contradictory.  It is a historical actuality insofar as it has a background and baggage and a lineage; it comes from some place and time, some usage and meaning that was and which might no longer be or which is struggling to continue to be or which the present wishes to suppress it having been, as much as the present might want what it might become to also be suppressed and denied.

There is no doubt of the reactionary quality of this specific hatred of metaphysics because it wants to put an end to meanings that might mean more or less than they seem to.  In this section is in fact one of the most damning critiques of the pragmatist notion of truth central to Nicole Pepperell's work.
deflationary theory of truth According to the deflationary theory of truth, to assert that a statement is true is just to assert the statement itself. For example, to say that ‘snow is white’ is true, or that it is true that snow is white, is equivalent to saying simply that snow is white, and this, according to the deflationary theory, is all that can be said significantly about the truth of ‘snow is white’.

Exactly this notion that truth resides only within the context of the statement is utterly reconciled with what is.  The entirety of Marcuse's critique of analytic philosophy and its consequent linguistics applies to this notion of truth, that is utterly barren of contradiction, of the unintended, of surplus, of anything that might not be utterly banal and trivial.

I'll need to site examples from the text later.

It is now 'later'.  All references to the Beacon Press 2nd edition, 1991.

171-82 refer specifically to the kind of linguistic analysis common to J.L. Austen and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

p. 171

Like  any  philosophy worthy of the name, linguistic analysis speaks for itself and defines its own attitude to reality. It identifies as its chief concern the debunking of transcendent concepts; it proclaims as its frame of
reference  the  common  usage  of  words,  the  variety  of  prevailing   behavior.  With  these characteristics, it circumscribes its position in the philosophic tradition-namely, at the opposite pole from those modes of thought which elaborated their concepts in tension with, and even in contradiction to, the prevailing universe of discourse and  behavior.

In terms of the established universe, such contradicting modes of thought are negative thinking. "The power of the negative" is  the  principle  which  governs  the  development  of  concepts,  and  contradiction  becomes  the distinguishing quality of Reason (Hegel). This quality of thought was not confined to a certain type of rationalism; it was also a decisive element in the empiricist tradition. Empiricism is not necessarily positive; its attitude to the established reality depends on the particular dimension of experience which functions as the source of knowledge and as the basic frame of reference. For example, it seems that sensualism and materialism are per se negative toward a society in which vital  instinctual  and  material  needs  are  unfulfilled.  In  contrast,  the  empiricism  of  linguistic analysis moves within a frame- work which does not allow such contradiction-the self- imposed restriction to the prevalent behavioral universe takes for an intrinsically positive attitude. In spite of the rigidly neutral approach of the philosopher, the pre-bound analysis succumbs to the power of positive thinking.

p. 173

Austin's  contemptuous  treatment  of  the  alternatives  to  the  common  usage  of  words,  and  his defamation of what we "think up in our armchairs of an afternoon"; Wittgenstein's assurance that philosophy “leaves everything as it is" - such statements exhibit, to my mind, academic sado-masochism, self-humiliation, and self-denunciation of the intellectual whose labor does not issue in  scientific,  technical  or  like  achievements.  These  affirmations  of  modesty  and  dependence seem to recapture Hume's mood of righteous contentment with the limitations of reason which, once  recognized  and  accepted,  protect  man  from  useless  mental  adventures  but  leave  him perfect1y  capable  of  orienting  himself  in  the  given  environment.  However,  when  Hume debunked  substances,  he  fought  a  powerful  ideology,  while  his  successors  today  provide  an intellectual  justification  for  that  which  society  has  long  since  accomplished-namely,  the defamation  of  alternative  modes  of  thought  which  contradict  the  established  universe  of discourse.

p. 175-8

Paying respect to the prevailing variety of meanings and usages, to the power and common sense of  ordinary  speech,  while  blocking  (as  extraneous  material)  analysis  of  what  this  speech  says
about the society that speaks it, linguistic philosophy suppresses once more what is continually suppressed  in  this  universe  of  discourse  and  behavior.  The  authority  of  philosophy  gives  its blessing to the forces which make this universe. Linguistic analysis abstracts from what ordinary language reveals in speaking as it does-the mutilation of man and nature.

Moreover, all too often it is not even the ordinary language which guides the analysis, but rather blown-up atoms of language, silly scraps of speech that sound like baby talk such as "This looks to me  now  like  a  man  eating  poppies,"  "He  saw  a  robin",  "I  gad  a  hat."  Wittgenstein  devotes much  acumen  and  spare  to  the  analysis  of  "My  broom  is  in  the  corner."  I  quote,  as  a representative example, an analysis from J. L. Austin's "Other Minds":
“Two rather different ways of being hesitant may be distinguished. (a) Let us take the case where we  are  tasting  a  certain  taste.  We  may  say  I  simply  don't  know  what  it  is:  I've  never  tasted anything remotely like it before ... No, it's no use: the more I think about it the more confused I get: it's perfectly distinct and perfectly distinctive, quite unique in my experience! This illustrates the case where I can find nothing in my past experience with which to compare the current case: I'm certain it's not appreciably like anything I ever tasted before, not sufficiently like anything I know to merit the same description. This case, though distinguish- able enough, shades off into the more common type of case where I'm not quite certain, or only fairly certain, or practically certain, that  it's the taste of, say,  laurel. In all  such cases, I am  endeavouring to recognize the current item by searching in my vast experience for something like it, some likeness in virtue of which it deserves, more or less positively, to be described by the same descriptive word, and I am  meeting  with  varying  degrees  of  success.  (b)  The  other  case  is  different,  though  it  very
naturally combines itself with the first. Here, what I try to do is to savour the current experience, to peer at it, to sense it vividly. I'm not sure it is the taste of pineapple: isn't there perhaps just something about it, a tang, a bite, a lack of bite, a cloying sensation, which isn't quite  light for pineapple?  Isn't  there  perhaps  just  a  peculiar  hint  of  green,  which  would  rule  out  mauve  and would hardly do for heliotrope? Or perhaps it is faintly odd: I must look more intently, scan it over  and  over:  maybe  just  possibly  there  is  a  suggestion  of  an  unnatural  shimmer,  so  that  it doesn't look quite  like ordinary water. There  is  a  lack of  sharpness  in  what we actually  sense, which  is  to  be  cured  not,  or  not  merely,  by  thinking,  but  by  acuter  discernment,  by  sensory discrimination (though it is of course true that thinking of other, and more pronounced, cases in our Fast experience can and does assist our powers of discrimination).”

What  can  be  objectionable  in  this  analysis?  In  its  exactness  and  clarity,  it  is  probably unsurpassable - it is correct.  But that is all it is, and I argue that not only is it not enough, but it is destructive of philosophic
thought, and of critical thought as such. From the philosophic point of view, two questions arise: (1) can the explication of concepts (or words) ever orient itself  to, and terminate, in the actual universe  of  ordinary  discourse?  (2)  are  exactness  and  clarity  ends  in  themselves,  or  are  they committed to other ends?

I answer the first question in the affirmative as far as its first part is concerned. The most banal examples  of  speech  may,  precisely  because  of  their  banal  character,  elucidate  the  empirical world in its reality, and serve to explain our thinking and talking about it - as do Sartre's analyses of  a  group  of    people  waiting  for  a  bus,  or  Karl  Kraus'  analysis  of  daily  newspapers,  Such analyses  elucidate  because  they  transcend  the  immediate  concreteness  of  the  situation  and  its expression, They transcend it toward the factors which make the situation and the behavior of the people who speak (or are silent) in that situation. (In the examples just cited, these transcendent factors  are  traced  to  the  social  division  of  labor.)  Thus  the  analysis  does  not  terminate  in  the universe of ordinary discourse, it goes beyond it and opens a qualitatively different universe, the terms of which may even contradict the ordinary one.

To take another illustration: sentences such as "my broom is in the corner" might also occur in Hegel's Logic, but there they would be revealed as inappropriate or even false examples, They would only be rejects, to be surpassed by a discourse which, in its concepts, style, and syntax, is of a different order - a discourse for which it is by no means "clear that every sentence in our language 'is in order as it is,'" Rather the exact opposite is the case-namely, that every sentence is as little in order as the world is which this language communicates.

The almost masochistic reduction of speech to the humble and common is made into a program: "if the words language, experience, world, have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words table, lamp, door.”
We must "stick to the subjects of our every-day thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to describe extreme subtleties ...” - as if this were the only alternative,  and  as  if  the  extreme  subleties"  were  not  the  suitable  term  for  Wittgenstein's language games rather than for Kant's Critique  of  Pure  Reason,  Thinking  (or  at  least  its  expression)  is  not  only  pressed  into  the straitjacket of common usage, but also enjoined not to ask and seek solutions beyond those that are  already  there.  "The  problems  are  solved,  not  by  giving  new  information,  but  by  arranging what we have always known."

The  self-styled  poverty  of  philosophy,  committed  with  all  its  concepts  to  the  given  state  of affairs, distrusts the possibilities of a  new experience. Subjection to the rule of the established facts is total-only linguistic facts, to be sure, but the society speaks in its language, and we are told to obey, The prohibitions are severe and authoritarian: "Philosophy may in no war interfere with the actual use of language."  “And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be  anything  hypothetical  in  our  considerations.  We  must  do  away  with  all  explanation,  and description  alone  must  take  its  place."

One  might  ask  what  remains  of  philosophy?  What remains  of  thinking,  intelligence,  without  anything  hypothetical,  without  any  explanation?  However, what is at stake is not the definition or the dignity of philosophy. It is rather the chance of preserving and protecting the fight, the need to think and speak in terms other than those of common usage-terms which are meaningful, rational, and valid precisely because they are other terms.  What  is  involved  is the spread of a  new  ideology which undertakes to describe what  is
happening (and meant) by eliminating the concepts capable of understanding what is happening (and meant).

p. 181-2

Ordinary  language  in  its  "humble  use"  may  indeed  be  of  vital  concern  to  critical  philosophic thought,  but  in  the  medium  of  this  thought  words  lose  their  plain  humility  and  reveal  that "hidden" something which is of no interest to Wittgenstein. Consider the analysis of the "here" and  "now"  in  Hegel's  Phenomenology,  or  (sit  venia  verbo!)  Lenin's  suggestion  on  how  to analyze adequately "this glass of water" on the table. Such an analysis uncovers the history in every-day speech as a hidden dimension of meaning - the rule of society over its language. And this discovery shatters the natural and reified form in which the given universe of discourse first appeals. The words reveal themselves as genuine terms not only  in a grammatical and  formal-logical  but  also  material  sense;  namely,  as  the  limits  which  define  the  meaning  and  its development-the  terms  which  society  imposes  on  discourse,  and  on  behavior.  This  historical dimension  of  meaning  can  no  longer  be  elucidated  by  examples  such  as  my  broom  is  in  the corner"  or  "there  is  cheese  on  the  table."  To  be  sure,  such  statements  can  reveal  many ambiguities,  puzzles,  oddities,  but  they  are  an  in  the  same  re  language  games  and  academic boredom.

Orienting  itself on the reified universe of everyday discourse, and exposing and clarifying this discourse  in  terms  of  this  reified  universe,  the  analysis  abstracts  from  the  negative,  from  that which is alien and antagonistic and cannot be understood in terms of the established usage. By classifying and distinguishing meanings, and keeping them apart, it purges thought and speech of contradictions,  illusions,  and  transgressions.  But  the  transgressions  are  not  those  of  "pure reason." They are not metaphysical transgressions beyond the limits of possible knowledge, they rather open a realm of knowledge beyond common sense and formal logic.

In barring access to this realm, positivist philosophy sets up a self-sufficient world of  its own, closed and well protected against the ingression of disturbing external factors. In this respect, it makes  little  difference  whether  the  validating  context  is  that  of  mathematics,  of  logical propositions, or of custom and usage. In one way or another, an possibly meaningful predicates are prejudged. The prejudging judgment might be as broad as the spoken English language, or the  dictionary,  or  same  other  code or  convention.  Once  accepted,  it  constitutes  an  empirical  a priori which cannot be transcended.

But  this  radical  acceptance  of  the  empirical  violates  the,  "empirical,  for  in  it  speaks  the mutilated, "abstract" individual who experiences (and expresses) only that which is given to him (given  in  a  literal  sense),  who  has  only  the  facts  and  not  the  factors,  whose  behavior  is  one-dimensional and  manipulated. By  virtue of the factual repression, the experienced world  is the result of a restricted experience, and the positivist cleaning of the mind brings the mind in line with the restricted experience.

In this expurgated form, the empirical world becomes the object of positive thinking. With an its exploring,  exposing,  and  clarifying  of  ambiguities  and  obscurities,  neo-positivism  is  not concerned with the great and general ambiguity and obscurity which is the established universe of experience. And it must remain unconcerned because the method adopted by this philosophy discredits  or  "translates"  the  concepts  which  could  guide  the  understanding  of  the  established reality   in   its   repressive   and   irrational   structure-the   concepts   of   negative   thinking.   The transformation of critical into positive thinking takes place mainly in the therapeutic treatment of universal  concepts;  their  translation  into operational  and  behavioral  terms  parallels  closely  the sociological translation discussed above.

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