[lit-ideas] Re: The nothing noths

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  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 08:41:47 -0500

Geary had written about "'Twas brillig...":

"Words certainly do not  have to mean anything to me, just please me. ... 
Here's a start:  The  slithy toves did gyre and gimble  upon the wabe, all 
mimsy were the  borogroves and the mome raths outgrabe.  What greater truth 
could be said  than that?"

McEvoy protested. 
Geary inspired R. Paul in a further post where he develops the theme that  
the only valid signature for an artist, is, say, not "Mondrian" (or 
"Mondriaan")  but simply "Artist" (or its equivalent in Dutch). 
Geary went on to thank C. B., made a distinction between what I might call  
'poetic language' and 'philosophical language' (such as that of Martin  
Heidegger, the Meßkirch-born German philosopher):
Geary: "Had he [the Meßkirch-born German philosopher that Grice, also a  
philosopher, referred to, once, as "the greatest living philosopher"] been a  
wonderful ... artist whose works spoke to me, I would have no trouble 
separating  his art from his person.  In one sense I insist on doing that.   
Philosophy, though, seems to me to have a kind of "moral element" attached to 
-- as if, in a way of speaking, it "preaches" about what it means to be a 
human  being and urges us to own up to that."
C. B. had uttered the adage, commenting on a passage that dwelt on the  
Meßkirch-born German philosopher's infamous obscurity, 
If you haven't read Heidegger in German, you haven't read Heidegger  
_simpliciter". (adapted).
which may equivocate on 'read' (cognate with English 'riddle'). 
The text quoted by C. B. is by W. Barrett and it may be worth re-quoting it 
 in full.
It may connect with Popper, who was in Vienna at the time when Carnap was  
laughing at the the Meßkirch-born German philosopher and making a career out 
of  that -- Ayer followed suit in Oxford just to provoke his tutor, Gilbert 
Ryle,  who had reviewed the Meßkirch-born German philosopher for "Mind".
Barrett seems to be working with an adage:
"Clarity is not enough" (Lewis)
and one of Grice's maxims,
"Avoid obscurity of expression" -- a maxim of "MANNER", a conversational  
category that refers NOT to WHAT is said, but to HOW what is said has been 
said.  It can be exploited for the purpose of triggering a conversational 
implicature  (the only interest in Grice in postulating the maxims in the first 
Barrett writes as follows, and we should consider
"The nothing noths."
"Das Nichts nichtet"
if you must(n't).
"Then again, there is the matter of Heidegger's famous 'obscurity', which  
would seem to require that special comment be made upon him.  A great deal  
of this 'obscurity' is a matter of translation, and disappears when 
Heidegger is  read in German."
I.e. Barrett is suggesting that the implicatures of 
ii. Das Nichts nichtet.
differ from those triggers by
i. The nothing noths.
Barrett goes on:

"To be sure, his German is at times a very highly  individualized vehicle 
of expression: Heidegger does coin his own terms when he  has to, and usually 
these are coinings that stick very close to the etymological  roots of 
I suppose 'nichten' is a case in point. But cfr. 'noth', qua verb (and the  
quote by P. L. Heath cited in this same thread).

"Heidegger thinks very much within the matrix of the German  language, and 
his expressions hugs the particularity of this language to its  bosom.  All 
of this makes for difficulty in translation."
We should thus compare
iii. Carnap's laughter (-- or 'hilarity' as Heath prefers) as he (Carnap)  
read the Meßkirch-born German philosopher in the vernacular he shared: i.e. 
the  German language).
iv. Ayer's laughter, who found "The nothing noths" -- a mere translation of 
 the 'joke' -- laughable enough. Vide Ayer, "The elimination of metaphysics 
via  the logical analysis of language". 
Barrett goes on:
"If we compare Heidegger with two classical German philosophers, like Kant  
or Hegel, his sentences are remarkably compact and incisive, his expression 
 notably terse."
Yet Grice loved Kant, and would say his favourite philosopher EVER was  
Kantotle (vide Bennett, "In the tradition of Kantotle", Times Literary  

"Very often, in reading Hegel, we get the feeling ... that  the philosopher 
is deliberately willing to be obscure."
Grice played with Kantotle and Ariskant. I once played with Plathegel.  
Hegel can be brilliant, in both the vernacular and the rough translation. For  
example, the keyword: CUNNING OF REASON I find unique and in great need in 
any  dictionary of philosophy worth its name. Kant could critique reason, 
both  theoretical and practical, but lacked the humour to coin 'cunning of 
reason',  that manifests in history, as Hegel does.
Barrett goes on:
"One never gets this impression from Heidegger: he is struggling to  
communicate, and his command of his own means of communication is powerful and  
impressive.  The difficulty comes, rather, from the obscurity of the matter  
with which Heidegger is grappling."
This is controversial from a Griceian point of view.
If "Avoid obscurity" pertains to STYLE, rather than content, Barrett is  
i. The nothing noths.
Carnap and Ayer criticised this for breaching logical syntax. The obscurity 
 is a matter of style. Content -- can it BE obscure? There was this adage,  
'obscurus per obscurius", and it may be argued that obscurity (the opposite 
of  clarity) may pertain to the realms of metaphysics -- when the 
philosopher tries  to swim in the depths, rather than stay in the 'shallow 
berths' as 
Grice prefers  of ordinary language.
"Avoid obscurity" then, which pertains to the MODE or manner or style, and  
keep in mind that, still, clarity is not enough, which is yet not a 
propaganda  for obscurity.
Barrett goes on:
"That there are obscure matters at all in our experience is a contention  
that rubs against the prejudice of some positivistic philosophers that 
whatever  cannot be said clearly and distinctly cannot be said at all and the 
effort to  say it can only result in 'meaningless' verbalism."
In the obituary to P. F. Strawson, Grice went to the extreme, as quoted,  
"If you cannot put it in symbols, it is not worth saying it at all".
Barrett goes on
"Every philosopher, in this view, ought to be able to express himself with  
the simple-minded clarity of, say, Bertrand Russell"
a favourite philosopher with Grice who wrote, "Definite descriptions in  
Russell and in the vernacular". 
He is thinking of Russell as USING his own symbols (co-invented with  
Whitehead, after Peano), like the iota operator for things like 'The king of  
France is bald'.
In other words, there's Russell and there's Russell.

Russell in fact criticised Strawson for not taking symbolism seriously  
("Mr. Strawson on referring", Mind).
Barrett goes on:

"and if the philosopher does not do this, it is a  clear sign of 
intellectual incompetence.  All this, of course, is  oversimplified 
psychologizing.  A 
philosopher may be quite capable of  mastering one or the other of the 
clear and distinct dialects of philosophy and  bouncing the ball of dialectic 
deftly back and forth across the net; but he may  be drawn by other subject 
matters into following a quite different path in  philosophy.  From the point 
of view of a philosopher like Heidegger there  are parts of our experience 
that ordinary language finds itself hard put to  express, if it can express 
these matters at all."
The keyword here is: "ORDINARY LANGUAGE", that Grice defended (in "The  
learned versus the vulgar'). He found it idiotic that Eddington should think  
that English -- or ordinary language -- is inapt to describe Eddington's 
table,  and that therefore, the ordinary language way to describe a table is 
WRONG and  that a scientist equivalent, learned, rather than vulgar, is RIGHT. 
Mutatis  mutandis, the Meßkirch-born German philosopher ""preach[ing]" about 
what it  means to be a human being and urges us to own up to that", to 
quote genial  Geary. Because, however obscure, one CAN or MAY get the point 
behind (i), the  implicature as it were. The nothing noths because
iv. Nothingness annihilates.
A preface to nihilism in one form or other. There is some preaching about  
what it means to be a human being if the nothing noths. Why should we let 
the  nothing noth? Perhaps the nothing does not noth as much as the pretty 
nihilistic  Meßkirch-born German philosopher (and later Parisian Sartre) 
thought it  did.
Barrett: concludes the quoted passage: "[I]ndeed, this ordinary language  
seems to have been formed out a kind of conspiracy to cover over or forget 
these  parts of experience altogether."
Well, as McCreery has reminded us, we think it was Rorty who pointed out  
the similarity between the rather COMPLEX philosophy of language by the  
Meßkirch-born German philosopher and John Dewey (Grice gave the Dewey 
 Heidegger has a place for 'ordinary language': one way of describing 
things is  through their ability to be 'to hand', and there's the 'one' as in 
'one says',  which incorporates an anonymity that seems to be characteristic of 
those who  stick with ordinary language expressions. 
Carnap and Ayer would still stick with the fact that there is still no real 
 need to breach the rules of logical syntax. A poet (or artist) can do that 
--  and seldom do. But a metaphysician shouldn't?
Apparently, it all started recently, as Palma informed us, when the chair  
of the Heidegger Society resigned from his post. This was upon the 
11-volume?  publication of the Meßkirch-born German philosopher's works in 
may be  some time before they are available in the native language of Sir 
Freddie Ayer,  that is, some form of English or other. And it seems it's 
other keywords than  "NOTHING" and "NICHTEN" that are the controversial reason 
why the chair  resigned. Not pure abstract metaphysics, but those segments of 
the Meßkirch-born  German philosopher's extensive work on areas like 
political philosophy and  stuff. 
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