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by Zettel 

Posted: 08 November 2007
Word Count: 228
Summary: Never quite sure about these efforts at 'philosophical' poetry. As ever, this owes much to Wittgenstein.

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The I that thinks
is an illusion
the I that wills
is not
the I that’s not to blame
because of childhood shame
is just a victim’s lot

When I’m in a movie
I forget the frame
when I’m in the world
there is no frame to see
I am my perspective
the self that is selective
the I that we call me

“I will come tomorrow”
“I will make you see”
“I will be courageous
full of bravery”
If I am failed by coward’s cry
is it enough to try
deny a will that’s free?

The world is all
that is the case
fact not value
is all we find
brains are what we see
but my brain is not me
consciousness is mind

The world is independent
of my will
I can will to act
but cannot will to will
I am angry I am sad
I am good I am bad
responsible for good or ill

Without my will
my body merely moves
but with it I can act
and must accept the blame
I can choose what to see
but cannot choose to be
ethics is action in my name

Just like my eye
in its visual field
my ‘I’ is the limit
not itself revealed
good and evil enter in
with my love or my sin
nothing more nor less will yield

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Comments by other Members

Ticonderoga at 14:50 on 13 November 2007  Report this post
I'm afraid 'I' stumbled at the first hurdle with this, as the first four lines contain, to my mind, an illogical statement which udermines the laying out of anything cohesive (sorry): surely thought and will are inextricably connected - can a thing be willed by someone without thought? This is a huge question which I certainly can't write about at length, but those four lines do rather seem to cancel each other out, philosophically.
The writing is strong and clear, but philosophy works best in poetry, I think, when expressed through metaphor and allusion........I'm not convinced a 'poem' can carry, qua poem, such a burden of naked cerebration.......
But, fine, vigorous language as ever.



Zettel at 01:26 on 15 November 2007  Report this post
Don't know if this will make any sense. Not because of you but because of me and my difficulty in trying to make this make sense.

We are it seems overwhelmed by a metaphor, a picture of mind and thinking we seem unable to resist. Simply because he founded the whole of his philosophical method on it, we can call it the Cartesian picture. Irreducibly dualistic: the image of the 'mind' as an 'inner' entity and this entity is what thinks. On this picture it is of course a short step to identifiying the 'self' 'me' my person, with that inner entity for after all as you say thinking and associated concepts like memories create the continuity over time that enable us to conceive of ourselves as unique thinking individuals. And perhaps the most common criteria used to distinguish human beings from other creatures in creation is our ability to think. And to think self-referentially about ourselves and our experience. These are what one might call the 'furniture' of consciousness.

The history of western philosophy has been dominated by the question of how the inner 'self' connects with the outer world. And the two main strains of 19th/20th century philsophy bridged this 'gap' in different ways - the rationalists like Kant and Descartes said that the mediating link was created by 'ideas' entities of the mind. The empiricist like Locke Berkely and most extraordinary of all, David Hume said that what comes first is sensation and then we establish the link to the world by those sensations that have certain special qualities.

These two apparently mutually-exclusive approaches both have serious problems arising from their distinctive but different dualistic metaphors. As if, having first split the world between subject and object, thought and thinker, etc we then struggle to re-unite them. That WAS the only philosophical game in town for a very long time. W's characteristic quality a a philosopher was to turn things upside down. To look at an old problem with a completely new eye. So if both the empricists and rationalists could agree that the dualistic nature of language with its irreducible subject/object form necessarily developed that way because that was the nature of the world of our consciousness - inner entities that are minds, having thoughts, about what is 'out there' - the world.

W posed this radical thought: suppose instead of the way the world is being essentially dualistic and this having inevitably been reflected in the dualism of language; what if language itself is taken as the 'given' here and that its subject object form imposes this dualistic metaphor of how the world and our relation to it is to be understood. Thus at its most radical - the 'given' of the world as we conceive of it has not generated language as we know it - rather the 'given' of language generated our conception of the world as we 'know' it. If this sounds trivial it is worth asking if we say that language is the way it because of the way the world actually is - then how, except through language itself, do we have any conception of what might bemeant by the expression 'the way the world really is'. This is the point at which people, perhaps rightly, get most pissed off with Philosophers however without trying to go into loads more head of a pin stuff - the consequence of W's way of looking at things was that first language is seen as primarily a 'social' phenomenon with its patterns and consistencies arising not from solipsistic events inside each of our heads creating all the problems of how can we know these events are the 'same' etc etc. Rather W thinks this picture and the long philsophical tradition derived from it is simply alllowing ourselves to be bewitched by langauge. That what creates the patterns and consistencies without which language would not be possible, is simply unalysable facts about the way human beings do respond to the world and one another. From the language that is possible because the range of responses of people, epecially within distinct cultural practices - forms of life - through a sharing with other human beings, having fundamental things in common, we develop a sense not only of ourselves but those 'selves' are predicated upon a sense of connection with other 'minds' other 'selves'.

This way of looking at things as you might imagine, raises its own problems and it was one of these that led to W's remark at the beginning of the poem. It arises around the critical issue of ethics and morality. W admired Goethe's remark "in the beginning was the deed" And he regarded the issue of how ethical value gets into the world of facts as fundamental and indeed transcendental. Traditional philosophy has no problem about ethical value in the world for it is a given idea, but has a bugger of a problem answering the obvious question arising from "you should act this way" which is - what if I don't? You then get into a whole spiral of rewards and punishment etc etc that to say the least are ethically dubious though notoriously the basis of most religions. For W the issue is in what way can I intervene in the world - in what sense am I an agent and his answer was both existential and mystical - this is a possible way of understanding the world a sense things can have, not inevitably do or must have, derived from a shared language wihin a shared 'form of life'. And he wanted to say there is a 'someone' an 'I' who chooses to act this or that way and it can be good or bad, there can be no certainty about it because it is in the choice that ethics as we understand it consists.

Thus the I that acts is a part of the world as a whole* and enters it through its choice of how to act. If you like, we can choose how to act, but we can't choose how to think. Therefore the 'I' that acts has a distinct, necessary freedom to choose that the 'I' that thinks does not. Language again is bewitching us here into reifying these 'I's, W would of course admit as you require that propositions about thinking and thought, would be correctly (or crucially - incorrectly) used about anyone acting, behaving in the world - his point is that what is important about that is obscured by, offending Occam's razor ("do create entities beyond necessity") attributing this thinking to an inner entity that is not just inaccessible physically as the brain largely is, but is inaccessible in principle because you can only access it indirectly. I thing W would say that the willing I is to be seen in our actions for which we are responsible: and the thinking 'I' is to be found in what we say and how we say it. We enter the world through the words we use. And there are limits to what it makes sense to say that cannot be determined by something inner and uniquely inaccessible to other people - other 'minds'.

Having perhaps disaappeared up my own aresehole I'll leave it there. If you were interested in reading W himself of this kind of issue - regarding ethics - he delivered famous lecture on ethics which was the only non-philosophically-directed piece of writing he ever published. Given to a non-philsophical group at Cambridge - he remarked that he wanted to talk to them about someting important - not just technical philosophy.

* And of course there are 'right' ways and 'mistaken' ways to understand what are the limits to your choices of how you actually WILL act rather than the ways you WOULD LIKE to act. This is a profound question that lies at the heart of both Lord Jim (Conrad) and Middlemarch (Eliot). In both cases the main characters think acting courageously or ethically is just a matter of resolving, trying to do so. This is referred to in stanza 3 of the poem.
Sorry about all that.



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