Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | September 6, 2010

Four passages from Marx and Wittgenstein

Mark Robertson-bamboo2-2,3drendering--it took so loooong

The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can be made only in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and their material conditions of life. -German Ideology

The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men—the language of real life. –German Ideology

And in the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein wrote:

The speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life… It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life. — Wittgenstein (emphasis in original)

Of course we cannot separate his ‘thinking’ from his activity. For the thinking is not an accompaniment of the work, any more than of thoughtful speech.-Wittgenstein

This shows their philosophical closeness. Wittgenstein was a monkish communist. Both Marx and Wittgenstein in these passages can be read as denying that philosophers adjudicate on truth by manipulating language correctly. Rather, truth is there (albeit opaque to philosophers) as language is employed in real life activities while they take place. …………It would follow from this general point about language and life that specific philosophies contain ‘problems’ that keep philosophers busy, but have no practical bearing on the world. Indeed, in the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein says:

When philosophers use a word—‘knowledge’, ‘being’, ‘object’, ‘I’,  ‘proposition’, ‘name’—and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the  language-game which is its original home?—What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.

But what sort of activity is this? Both Marx and Wittgenstein, on this reading
of their respective selves and texts, were hostile to the practice of philosophy. Again, in The German Ideology Marx wrote:

[W]hen things are seen in this way, as they really are and happened, every
profound philosophical problem is resolved…quite simply into an empirical fact.

–rajesh shukla


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