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2022 Week 3 Reading Material

Read the following short passages, slow down and read several times, think and wrestle with them, ask yourself the following questions while you are reading each passage: (1) What is its point/purpose? (2) What could be its assumption, implication, or consequence? (3) How can it relate to other ideas I know? (4) Do I agree with it, why or why not? (5) What does it mean to me, personally?—Can it change my way of seeing and doing things?

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Regarding each passage below, you can write down notes of what you think on one or two of these questions listed above, as preparation for Major Project No.1 (the commentary part).


Passages are number with [A], [B], [C], …. so it is easier for you to refer to them when you write your commentary.

Lecture 3: Philosophy (like your life) is to be done/lived personally.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)


Philosophy and temperament

In C&V Wittgenstein wrote: “Working in philosophy… is really more a working on oneself. On one’s own interpretation. On one’s way of seeing things.” (p.16) And Wittgenstein added: “it is sometimes said that a man’s philosophy is a matter of temperament, and there is something in this” (C&V p.20)



The Value of Philosophy: (Wittgenstein’s letter to Norman Malcolm in November 1944)

[Recalling their talk on the accusation of the British government of instigating an attempt to assassinate Hitler] “I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any….journalist in the use of the dangerous phrases such people use for their own ends. You see, I know that it’s difficult to think well about ‘certainty’, ‘probability’, ‘perception’, etc. But it is, if possible, still more difficult to think, or try to think, really honestly about your life & other people’s lives. And the trouble is that thinking about these things is not thrilling, but often downright nasty. And when it’s nasty then it’s most important.—Let me stop preaching. ….You can’t think decently if you don’t want to hurt yourself. I know all about it because I’m a shirker… ( Ludwig Wittgenstein, A Memoir, Norman Malcolm, London: Oxford University Press, 1958, pp. 39-40, underlining added.)”



Ethical questions are personal

Rush Rhees, “Some Developments in Wittgenstein’s view on Ethics” (p.21)

“Once (in 1942) when I had asked something about the study of ethics, Wittgenstein said it was strange that you could find books on ethics in which there was no mention of a genuine ethical or moral problem. He wanted to speak of a problem only where [p.22 starts] you could imagine or recognize a solution, I think. When I suggested the question whether Brutus’ stabbing Caesar was a noble action (as Plutarch thought) or a particular evil one (as Dante thought), Wittgenstein said this was not even something you could discuss. “You would not know for your life what went on in his mind before he decided to kill Caesar. What would he have had to feel in order that you should say that killing his friend was noble?”


“I suggested the problem facing a man who has come to the conclusion that he must either leave his wife or abandon his work of cancer research. “thanks, said Wittgenstein, “Let’s discuss this.


“Such a man’s attitude will vary at different times…….[he may choose either way]….[But] If he has, say, the Christian ethics, then he may say it is absolutely clear: he has got to stick to her come what may. And then his problem is different. It is: how to make the best of this situation, what he should do in order to be a decent husband in these greatly altered circumstances, and so forth. The question ‘Should I leave her or not?’ is not a problem here. [p.22]



Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)



Truth for me

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