Posts Tagged ‘Russell Goodman’

The POV gun glimmers & twinkles too.

April 16, 2011

“It would be an awful universe if everything could be converted into words, words, words.” Those were William James’s own words.

Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught, and for which reflection comes too late. No one knows this as well as the philosopher. He must fire his volley of new vocables out of his conceptual shotgun, for his profession condemns him to this industry; but he secretly knows the hollowness and irrelevancy.

A  ”dumb region of the heart” may well be, as James said, our deepest organ of communication with the nature of things.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein agreed: there’s much we ought to shut up about. Or at least restrict ourselves to pointing at. Show, don’t say. Stop wasting time trying to eff the ineffable.

Russell Goodman has written at length about the James-Wittgenstein connection, and shown that the younger philosopher held his elder in much greater regard than is commonly assumed. Wittgenstein liked James’s “nuanced and broad-minded” vision, and confessed to Bertrand Russell:

Whenever I have time now I read James’s Varieties of Religious Experience [and Principles of Psychology], it does me a lot of good.

I’ll bet Witty (as one of my clever former students dubbed him) would have benefited as well from occasionally swapping James’s conceptual shotgun for Douglas Adams’ Point of View gun. Most guys would. “Give me that thing.”