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Letters to the Editor
Lies and Nonsense • Wittgenstein’s Mind • Blatant Pornography
The letters page of Philosophy Now is meant to be a space where readers can express their opinions about published articles and about philosophy in general. A good letters page can be the soul of a publication. So far people have been a little shy of writing – don’t be. If your letter isn’t any good, then I’ll simple have a good laugh and then throw it away. You won’t be held up to the ridicule of the nation!
I have been receiving (in large numbers) letters expressing support for the idea of a popular philosophy magazine and good wishes for the success of Philosophy Now. I cannot say how encouraging this has been. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has written.
Lies and Nonsense
Peter Bond, in his note ‘Epimenides and Truth’ (Issue 1, p.40) rather misses the point, I feel. What he writes may be fine as far as it goes – but rationalising away the nature of the paradox like this really hides the fact that such a technique does not work for “sharper” versions of the liar paradox such as :
“This sentence is false.”
The flavour of this paradox is present in Epimenides’ version, and is the essence of the matter.
So, how do we resolve the paradox? We laugh – we jump a level. We realise that the sentence is meaningless – on the assumption that our true/false logic permits of no third possibility.
The limits of such logic and of our language are highlighted by our ability to express the paradox, and this is the source of our joy in responding to the paradox.
If Wittgenstein, who trained as an aeronautical engineer, served with distinction as an artillery observer in WW1, gave away an inherited fortune to struggling artists, worked in a central London hospital in WW2, designed and built houses, furniture and scientific equipment, taught in primary education, was musically talented, made original contributions in the fields of logic, mathematics and philosophy and throughout his life showed concern for his friends, colleagues and relations can be ‘dismissed’ as schizophrenic, where does that leave the rest of us?
Research is showing that psychiatric labels such as ‘schizophrenic’, ‘manic depressive’, etc, are of limited effectiveness both clinically and for classificatory purposes and the aforesaid terms are being viewed in some quarters as merely describing non-average personalities as regards cognitive and emotional make-up. The fact that we do not possess a non-perjorative language (ie abnormal means inferior etc) to evaluate thinking and feeling which deviates from the average enables people to apply spurious ad hominem arguments to denigrate thinkers. Newton, Kant, Einstein, Schopenhauer etc. The prevailing institutional framework within which the debate on mental illness is largely confined ie drug companies and the psychiatric establishment, militates against less rigid and mutually exclusive taxonomies and diagnostic procedures. Fortunately there are some clinicians and researchers less hidebound.
This is not to deny the occurrence of socalled mental illness and the obvious suffering involved. In my opinion Wittgenstein suffered from a mild manic-depressive-like disorder clearly described throughout Monk’s recent biography, although the author himself makes no case for it. I would do so but I think its beside the point.
In fact the fortitude and sometimes heroic endurance which Wittgenstein showed in the face of such torment enhances his achievement and I suggest that his own methods, piecemeal and painstaking as they became latterly would be useful in clearing the fog surrounding the language of mental illness used by psychiatrists and lay people alike.
The meaning of a word is its use within the language game. It does not necessarily say anything about the ideas or the state of mind of the language user or indeed for that matter about the nature of the real world itself. That is what the debate is about in the first place and Thomas S. Szasz’s advice to ‘define or be defined’ is not much use to the ‘schizophrenic’ or psychiatric if by definition his or her thinking is held to be (logically) inferior in the first place.
In my view the worst that can be said of Wittgenstein was that he was original, the best that he was a genius. The least that he had great courage, the greatest that he was a hero or saint. As to the ultimate question : how should we live?, he confronted it with honesty and anguish all his life.
Thank you for the copy of Philosophy Now, and for giving me the chance to comment on Paul Davis’ article on soft porn. As the editor of a magazine which is, rightly or wrongly, lumped in this category, I often find myself in the position of having to defend my magazine, my moral stance and the attitudes of my readers, so it made a refreshing change to read an article which wasn’t an all-out attack on pornography.
Paul Davis is correct when he speaks about the denial of personhood to women. This is not a creation of pornography, as many women believe; it is part and parcel of our society, from the adverts which portray women as mindless automatons cleaning up after their families, to the building-site louts who whistle after any female who passes. The difference between treating a woman as a sex object and as a valid, desirable partner is the difference between a brickie’s leer and a lover’s compliment. Society still persists in seeing porn as that brickie’s leer, when a glance through a magazine such as Forum would see that it bears much closer resemblance to the attitude of an admiring, caring lover. Admittedly, some porn magazines are crude and misogynistic, but they are a product of wider attitudes in society, rather than a creator of them.
I am sure there are many people who will be shaking their heads in disgust, feeling there is no way that pornography can be justified, either morally or philosophically, but the need for sexual gratification is one of our basic urges, and as long as it is satisfied without causing harm, there should be no problem. As Paul Davis points out, there are those who misuse porn. but these people are a very small minority of the huge numbers of men and women who read sexuallyexplicit material. To assume that because pornography produces a socially-unacceptable reaction in one person, it will produce that reaction in all those who consume it is both dangerous and wrong. Those people who commit a crime and then blame it on pornography are only seeking to deny their own responsibility; if porn ‘made’ them do it, they argue, then surely it wasn’t their fault?
The moral debate over pornography is far too complex to be dealt with comprehensively in one article, but anything which takes the time to look at the subject sensibly is a step forward from the hysterical rantings of the anti-porn campaigners.
Elizabeth Coldwell Editor,
Forum Northern and Shell plc, London E14
I read the article by Paul Davis (Issue 1) on soft porn with great interest. May I add to the discussion by offering a parallel?
q. Does a kick in the balls hurt?
a. No. That is, it’s never hurt me.
Ms Dahlian Kirby
A selection of the more favourable comments from letters received recently. (A selection of the less favourable comments will be published in Issue 93, space permitting.)
“It is good to see philosophers and philosophy zooming out into the real world” – Tom Allen, Romford.. “Good luck with your project to bring philosophy to the people” – Helen Chivers, Richmond.. “..an excellent and much-needed venture” – Andrew Thomson, Clevedon… “Philosophy Now – what a great idea!!” – Duke of Anglia de Redonda..“I have had a couple of hours browsing through it and must say it is exactly what I had hoped for” – W.J.Ellwood, Manchester