Wittgenstein wrote of thinking that one cannot see one’s way around, saying ‘We feel as if we had to repair a torn spider’s web with our fingers.” And while on the topic of philosophy in general and Wittgenstein’s philosophy in particular, I should like to take this chance to pass on a piece of advice that I have kept in mind throughout the writing of this book, remembering it as his on one of the two occasions when he took part in a public discussion in Oxford. Wittgenstein interrupted a speaker who had realized that he was about to say something that, although it seemed compelling, was clearly ridiculous, and was trying (as we all do in such circumstances) to say something sensible instead. ‘No,’ said Wittgenstein. ‘Say what you want to say. Be crude and then we shall get on.’ The suggestion that in doing philosophy one should not try to banish or tidy up a ludicrously crude but troubling thought, but rather give it its day, its week, its month, in court, seems to me very helpful. It chimes of course with Wittgenstein’s idea that in philosophy it is very difficult to work as slowly as one should.From the introduction to Phillipa Foot “Natural Goodness”
I took these photographs in Bath today as we went in search of the original signage for Hand’s Cafe in the Abbey Square, which I wanted to insert in yesterday’s post to try to illustrate the usefulness of stretching the meaning of “Palimpsest” to include wildflowers that once signified whole industries – now largely forgotten.
That said, I have always been attracted to these so-called ghost signs because they have the effect of situating you in two places at once; the here and now, and the past. The idea of being in two places at once is both difficult and troubling because there seems no way of explaining, even to a sympathetic listener who may well believe what seems to be self-evident – that each moment in time passes by as if caught in the flow of a river – is false.
Just as one example – each time I find a plant that I’ve previously identified, and especially if naming it was particularly difficult, I inwardly relive the moment of discovery, the place, the weather, the exact setting and mood of the place as if I were still there in the past ‘though I know I’m in the present.
I remember once standing at one end of Damery Lake on a packbridge and being overwhelmed by the presence of a young officer in the thick of a First World War battle, standing with me and harnessing my imagination to recall a happy moment in his own past, fishing in the lake. It was all over in an overwhelming moment of intense introspection. I cite this not to push a non-existent reputation as a psychic; but because I don’t understand it and can’t explain it.
If we’re going to develop any kind of Green Spirituality or ethic we have to find a new framework for understanding ourselves which will undoubtedly feel difficult, perhaps insane, to someone steeped in the Cartesian dualism that’s still the dominating culture of our time. So this will be hard – which is why I find Phillipa Foot’s recollection of Wittgenstein so encouraging. Be crude and then we shall get on, and never be afraid of sounding like a fool. Don’t tidy up ludicrously crude but troubling thoughts but give them all the time they need.