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Review of The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy and the Mind
by Cora Diamond
The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy and the Mind
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press
Place of Publication
Book Review Citation
David G. Stern
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
August 20th, 2012
gers inherent in some contemporary forms of nihilism represents a chal- lenge that postmodernist thinkers cannot afford to.neglect.
Stuart Z. Charme Rutgers University
The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy and the Mind. By Cora Diamond. MIT Press, 1991. 396 pages. $32.50.
The principal strength of The Realistic Spirit, namely its penetrating discussion of a range of issues that one might ordinarily regard as only distantly related, is also its principal weakness. Because of the way books are allocated to specialized categories, there is a real danger that readers of this review will assume that this is not a book that they need to read. But they would be wrong.
Superficially, The Realistic Spirit belongs to a familiar genre: the col- lection of papers by a distinguished scholar, most of them previously published, that makes those papers conveniently available to a wider audience. Considered in those terms, one can say that the book contains fifteen papers, spanning a twenty year period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, written by a philosopher whose work has focused on Wittgen- stein's and Frege's philosophies of mind, language, and mathematics but extends to related concerns in ethics, the philosophy of religion, and phi- losophy and/as/of literature. One theme that unites these papers is that they are all, in one way or another, concerned with questions raised by Wittgenstein's philosophical method. Apart from the introductory mate- rial and the first chapter, which primarily address these methodological concerns, the book can be divided into three groups. The first group of papers (chapters 2-5) discuss Frege and Wittgenstein on sense and non- sense; the second group (chapters 6-9) is primarily Wittgenstein exegesis, on topics such as how to read the Tractatus, "secondary sense," and criti- cisms of Dummett's and Wright's readings of Wittgenstein that lead to a positive account of Wittgenstein's conception of necessity. The third group (chapters 10-15) is the most heterogeneous, although they all develop or make use of ideas set out in the preceding chapters; it includes a construal of Anselm's discussion of "that than which nothing greater can be conceived as a riddle, rather than an argument; essays on eating meat and experimenting on animals that also address questions about the concept of a person, philosophical method, and the nature of moral phi- losophy; and several discussions of the relationship between philosophy and literature. Unlike most collections of papers, the book really is more than the sum of its parts, a richly interwoven web of philosophical argu- ment that is at the same time a discussion of the limitations of philosoph- ical argument and the blindness of most philosophers to those limitations. But as the first group of chapters will seem forbiddingly dense to anyone who is not well acquainted with the work of Frege, Wittgenstein, and Dummett, it should be stressed that while they are an important part of the argument of the book, the subsequent papers can be read independently and should be of interest to a much wider audience.
Diamond begins the book by saying that she has been reading Wittgenstein since 1965, and that the papers published in the collection "have come out of that reading" (ix.) Her reading of the change of per- spective between Wittgenstein's early and later work occupies a pivotal role in her project. This makes the first chapter, "Realism and the Realis- tic Spirit," particularly central; much of the rest of the book develops ideas set out in that paper or suggested by it. One of her principal achievements is that she provides an original and compelling reading of the later Wittgenstein as a realist, once that term is properly understood, rather than the sceptic or idealist that most philosophers take him to be. In talking of Wittgenstein's "realistic spirit," (she is far too prudent to simply call him a "realist"), Diamond does not mean any doctrine about the reality (or irreality) of objects independent of our sense experience, but rather the rejection of certain philosophical fantasies, fantasies that can mislead us into mistaking linguistic distinctions for facts about a spe- cial timeless realm.
Diamond takes the conception of "the mind that she finds in Frege and the early Wittgenstein as her principal example of the kind of philo- sophical fantasy she is criticizing. Their notion of "the mind arises out of a fundamental distinction between those asDects of our mental life that belong to us as individuals, such as pains, sensations, or ideas, on the one hand, and what Frege called "thoughts," on the other, those mental con- tents whose truth or falsehood is independent of our individual idiosyn- crasies. Both Frege and the early Wittgenstein connected this distinction between a psychological and a non-psychological approach to the mind with a mythological conception of the nature of "the mind: in Frege, a "third world of objectively and timelessly true thoughts in addition to the physical world and the idiosyncratic mental worlds of particular people, and in the early Wittgenstein, an insight granted by the propositions of logic and mathematics into the "logic of the world."
In "Philosophy and the Mind," the first of two introductions that set out complementary views of the themes that unify the book, Diamond states that "the theme of this book, viewed as a book within the philoso- phy of mind, is that we misunderstand our relation to that fundamental idea, that distinction, of Frege's [between "the mind" and the idiosyncratic contents of particular minds]. We may think that the only choices we have are to take it seriously or debunk it, to reject it for a thoroughly empirical view of thought . . . " (1). Like the later Wittgenstein, Diamond rejects this false dilemma. Unlike the later Wittgenstein, she goes to great lengths to explain why most philosophers have the greatest difficulty in appreciating that it is a false dilemma, arguing that it is possible to treat the distinction between the empirical and the non-empirical with the utmost seriousness, yet separate that distinction from the seemingly indispensable mythological interpretations that usually accompany it. While it is, in a sense, well known that the later Wittgenstein aimed to provide a clear view of "the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in despite of an urge to mis- understand them" (Philosophical lnvestigations § log), Diamond's expo- sition of the character of the required change in perspective is much more sophisticated than the schematic accounts that are still far too common in the secondary literature. Her book not only shows how some of Wittgen- stein's best-known expositors, such as Strawson, Dummett, and Wright, have misunderstood Wittgenstein in just the ways that he aimed to avoid, but also provides a detailed and sympathetic account of the approach he advocated.
Diamond's exposition of the implications of Wittgenstein's method receives further development in her original and thought-provoking dis- cussion of ethical, religious and literary issues in the final chapters of the book. One of the principal connections between her reading of Wittgen- stein and these final chapters is set out in her second introduction, "Wittgenstein and Metaphysics." There, she contrasts the "realistic spirit" with the standard philosophical approach of looking for explanations, in which one presses the question why things are as they are until one arrives at either scepticism or metaphysical first principles. While her first introduction argues that we do not have to give up the substance of the distinctions the metaphysician was trying to defend when we give up metaphysics, her second introduction is concerned with the kind of philc- sophical understanding that we can legitimately pursue once we have given up the traditional project of laying down philosophical require- ments and seeing whether language or world conform to them, or can be made to conform to them. Here, she defends Wittgenstein's project of providing a description of our use of language that "leaves everything as it is" (Investigations 8 124) against the charge that it is a conservative quiet- ism that cannot lead to change. While she is quite right to be exasperated by this reading, saying that "the idea of Wittgenstein's philosophy as inherently conservative is nutty," (34) she is also well aware of the preva- lence of such misunderstandings and the need to tackle them head-on. Realistically spirited philosophy does leave everything as it is in the sense that it recognizes the impossibility of using first principles as a point of leverage from which to move the world. But liberation from the philc- sophical requirements that prevent us from getting a clear view of what we ordinarily do, certainly can bring about radical change. For instance, Diamond stresses how the single-minded search for rational justification has rendered philosophers incapable of appreciating those genres of liter- ary, ethical and religious thought that do not conform to this paradigm. Among the examples that she offers are riddles, such as Anselm's in Pros
logion 11-IV ("What is that than which no greater can be conceived?") and Socrates' in the Crito about whether or not it would be right for him to escape his impending execution, and the kind of story-telling that aims at moral education, not by being didactic, but by getting people to change the way they look at things. Like Martha Nussbaum, whom she discusses on a number of occasions, many of her examples are taken from William James.
There is much else in Diamond's book that could not be covered in this short review. But in conclusion, it is worth stressing that the value of her book lies not so much in the particular topics she addresses, but in the approach she brings to them, one that combines an unusually faithful reading of Wittgenstein with her own highly distinctive contribution to philosophy.
David G. Stern University of Iowa and University of California, Berkeley
The Theology and Philosophy of Eliade: A Search for the Centre. By Carl Olsen. St. Martin's Press, 1992. 219 pages. N.P.
Mircea Eliade's Vision for a New Humanism. By David Cave. Oxford University Press, 1993. 218 pages. N.P.
Mircea Eliade, whose towering scholarly stature overshadows the field of the history of religions in the twentieth century, remains, despite the magnitude of his oeuvre, something of an enigma. Like the "sacred of which he writes so intriguingly, he always seems to "conceal" even in the process of revealing his thought. His work invites, even demands, to be interpreted. Yet this is a daunting task, not only because of the ambiguity of the writing but also because of its bulk and the difficulty of access to some of it. It is true that his Romanian writings of the 1920s and '30s, long unobtainable outside his native country, are now being reprinted and distributed around the world, and translations of them into major languages are appearing increasingly. But the full text of his Journal, indispensible for assessing Eliade's thought, reposes in a "Special Collec- tion" at the University of Chicago's Regenstein Library, unavailable to researchers, along with several manuscripts of unpublished books and many boxes of private papers. Eliade once said (in an interview of 1977) that " . . . it is only the totality of my writings that can reveal the meaning of my workn (Ordeal by Labyrinth, University of Chicago Press, 1982, 187). If this be so (and I believe it is), then any book previously pub lished or written today purporting to appraise his thought must be con- sidered a provisional effort, based necessarily on incomplete evidence.
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