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Friday, 4 February 2011

Quotes worth saving (3) Wittgenstein on Taste

“I am not able to judge whether I have only taste, or originality as well. The former I can see distinctly, but not the latter, or only quite indistinctly. And perhaps it has to be like that, & you see only what you have, not what you are. Someone who does not lie is original enough. For, after all, the originality that would be worth wishing for cannot be a sort of trick, or an idiosyncrasy, however marked.”
Taste is refinement of sensibility; but sensibility does not act, it merely assimilates.”
“The faculty of ‘taste’ cannot create a new organism, only rectify one that is already there. Taste loosens screws & tightens screws, it doesn’t create a new original work.”
(Hence, I think, a great creator needs no taste: the child is born into the World well formed.)
“Taste can delight, but not seize.”
All quotations from ‘Culture and Value’, Wittgenstein, p.68e

4 comments:

natetin said...

I'm just going to take the middle two quotations: the first is too difficult to reach my head around with my hangover from Friday night, and the last one is so slight. I love Wittgenstein's stuff and appreciate these enigmatic quotes are probably cut out of context and also – I don't recall – subject to translation?
“Taste is refinement of sensibility; but sensibility does not act, it merely assimilates.”
Assimilation, unless we are are talking about a mechanical process, is not passive, it requires, if not outright agreement, then certainly a level of acceptance and, hence, endorsement. Sensibility is the “capacity for sensation” and, hence, appreciation is a form of “cognitive engagement”, unless, of course, one subscribes to the “myth of the given”. Sensibility – at least the attribution of such a quality - is a capacity that assumes a certain relationship between subject and object form which action arises ( I take “action” to include the choice – action - “not to act”). Taste is cultivation of certain “refinements” - inverted commas because one could challenge others' sense of taste on the grounds of parochialism, i.e., their discrimination rests on a limited palate: “I know what I like and I like what I know”. Indeed, “taste” can denote “a slight experience” a “nibble” at the banquet of possible.
“The faculty of ‘taste’ cannot create a new organism, only rectify one that is already there. Taste loosens screws & tightens screws, it doesn’t create a new original work.”
I disagree. One's reaction – tasting – of something could lead one to create something new and that does not preclude the “assimilation” of elements from the “old”. To use an analogy from metaphysics, there is the “is” of “composition” and that of “identity”: water is constituted, by-and-largely, from H2O molecules; however, according Leibniz law, they are not identical – they do not share all the same properties, like exhibiting phase states, this latter property is only ascribable to a composite of H20 molecules, viz. water. A “composite” (substance), in this case, meaning more than merely a “mixture” - is an object in its own right. No “entity without identity” as Quine says, and one cannot ascribe the same exact properties to both these entities. Okay, so how does that relate to the issue at hand? Wittgenstein says somewhere, if my serves me correctly, that his work “stands of the shoulders of giants”; he gives credit to the works of those who have gone before and without whom, he could not have formed his own, distinctive vision. Does that mean to say he didn't “create a new organism, only rectify one that is already there”? Can't you make something new out of something old? Is Wittgenstein's work merely a rectification based on taste or does he expand our sensibilities and, by doing so, expand our taste?

god-free morals said...

These are pretty much my problems with Wittgenstein here too. Although, of course, the context is missing. I disagree with the claim that Wittgenstein is 'enigmatic' which is just another way of saying that he is an obscurantist or just a bad writer. I find him one the clearest philosopher's that have ever written, but then I think that certain people 'fit' with certain writers. For example, I find Quine extremely difficult to understand.

Anyway, I'll comment on your comments separately.
1: We have three concepts here working under a fourth (taste). I think the relationship between the three (assimilation, sensibility, refinement) need further detailing and explanation. I wonder if assimilation for W is something like the sensus communis, a binding input. Sensibility, and the refinement of it, is intriguing and this is partially what my PhD thesis is about. The basis of judgement.

2: I think the key word here (in the quote) is ORIGINAL. So, while I agree completely with you (in as far as I understand your analogy) this point is one in opposition of the Kantian 'genius' that creates ex nihilo. I think you've highlighted something important when you say/ask "Is Wittgenstein's work merely a rectification based on taste or does he expand our sensibilities and, by doing so, expand our taste?" I think the second. The faculty of taste is not immobile, it can be altered by education/environment. It's role here is mainly to contrast that of imagination, which is briefly discussed in part two of the Investigations.

As for the 'standing on the shoulder's of giants' the only quote I could remember was from the Tractatus preface:
"How far my efforts agree with those of other philosophers I will not decide. Indeed what I have here written makes no claim to novelty in points of detail; and therefore I give no sources, because it is indifferent to me whether what I have thought has already been thought before my by another."
Which isn't quite the same thing...

Oh yeah, Welcome! Thanks for the comments. I am sure that I've not answered anything here, but as all this is work in progress for me, it's always useful to be made to think about it in different 'new' ways. So, thanks very much for that and with a hangover too! I'm impressed, it takes me a full day to recover now... getting old.

natetin said...

I'd be careful about prizing the notion of “sensibility” from “taste” - it reeks of the old chestnut - conundrum - of trying to defining “intention” and “meaning” in isolation from one another.

I know what you mean about Quine, he harks back to era when reductionism was not only the flavour, but engendered a milieu of optimism with respect to the project of a comprehensive “scientific” evaluation of mind and world (“Theory of Everything”). (Not that that lesson hasn't sunk in.) And while he's not to my taste, have a read of, if you've not already, his classic essay “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”. Not only is it a master-class in style, but also a first-class rebuttal of naïve empiricism, i.e. the alleged distinction between “analytic” and “synthetic”. PS. I stand by my adjective “enigmatic” WRT Wittgenstein, insofar as it implies an appreciation of mystery, I did not mean to imply he was prone to “mystification”.

While I don't fully subscribe to the Kantian 'supposition that genius' creates ex nihilo (“out of nothing”), there is a sense in which creativity is defined from “negative space” - the inferred form of absence in relation to the present.

god-free morals said...

I'm treading very carefully about that particular conundrum, you can believe me on that.

I think the 'early' Wittgenstein certainly had an appreciation of mystery (das mystische). His later vews are more nuanced, but he didn't remove entirely this earlier 'faith'. However, while enigmatic might not seem too problematic, in philosophy it is almost entirely a pejorative adjective.