I believe I only really like three philosophers. There are many of them who are interesting, of course. Some are repellent: Nietzsche had only one good idea, and I forget what it is. (A joke, son, a joke.) Some have so girded themselves with opacity that one lifetime is not sufficient to understand them and also do other things too (I'm looking at you, Immanuel*). Some are too loaded: Marx's critiques of capitalism should be required reading for any educated individual, yet his speculative flights are notoriously unsuccessful, and in any case he has been tainted by persistent demonization. Like Wagner, he was liked by the wrong people. Others, such as Chomsky, seem fractured by their preoccupations. Some, like Adam Smith, I would like to like (How the Scots Invented the Modern World is one of my top dozen or so favorite books, and in my opinion should be mandatory reading for every high school student). And I am drawn again and again to David Hume in the same way that a man can be hopelessly attracted to a woman he cannot possibly have, and yet...well, the problem with Hume seems to be that he wrote in my language, and I have to read him in the original. (You're laughing again? Good.) I would much prefer to be a speaker of a different language and thus find it necessary to read him in translation. (Original texts are timeless, whereas translations are of our own time and culture: that is, they become dated, and need to be periodically refreshed.) I really wish someone would translate Hume into English for me.
The three I like are Schopenhauer, the patron saint of depressives; Socrates, who to my mind is the prototype of the teacher, which is to say, my type (Plato his Boswell); and Wittgenstein, who was the last major philosopher to try to make things clear. Perhaps I like Ludwig because I'm simply anti-dogmatic too—in the same way that perhaps I like the Scots book because my heritage is Scottish, and I identify. (I was born in Indianapolis, an American locus of the Scottish diaspora.) In any case, middle-period Wittgenstein is a delver's delight: there is a Wittgenstein quote for every occasion. He articulates my creed: "Everything that can be said can be said clearly." He even has many wonderful pronouncements that either are, or might be, applied to photography, among them: "Don't think, look!", "Only describe, don't explain," and, of course, the famous "a picture is a fact."
You might have noticed that I have some strong opinions about books. For example, I think Richard Wright's Black Boy should not include "The Horror and the Glory," despite the fact that those of a wonkish cast of mind like that part best. Separate book, sez me. Similarly, I wish I knew of an edition of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations that separated out Part II, which really shows a separate phase of his thought. Bookishly, I like Hacker and Schulte's 4th Wiley-Blackwell edition for this reason; they at least assign Part II its own title (Philosophie der Psychologie —Ein Fragment).
The meaning of Wittgenstein is permanently unsettled, I admit, but we need to look upon that as an asset.
In any case my opinion is that Philosophical Investigations should be the "Kind of Blue" of philosophy, the one book everyone who only reads one book of philosophy should read. (Those whose eminently understandable ambition is to read no works of philosophy might enjoy Ray Monk's books, for instance this short one.) Another of my flagrant little opinionations is that Wittgenstein is the only philosopher other philosophers actually love. How can you not love a guy who prefaces his own work by saying "I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking"?
His certainly doesn't.
*And don't think you're getting away with anything either, Thomas Hobbes—I've fished in your ocean, and been driven, Ahab-like, nearly out of my mind.
P.S. On a completely different subject, we heard from the real John Sexton this morning. Don't miss his "Featured Comment" on the Richard ≠ John post.
"Open Mike" is a series of off-topic meanderings, ranging far from your editor's field of expertise, although falling within the sphere of his interests, that appears, sometimes, on Sundays.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by jginsbu: "English to English translations available here. Hume awaits you!"
Mike replies: It's been done?! I'm honestly astonished. Thank you....
Featured Comment by Lance Evingson: "So it was a most delightful and odd moment when the owner of 'I'll Have Another' quoted Wittgenstein in the post-race interview at Churchill Downs. I thought Bob Costas did a near double-take when he heard it. Will Wittgenstein ever be mentioned at a racetrack again? (That's rhetorical, son....) (This, my first post—about this of all things?!)"
Mike replies: You win the blue ribbon, Lance, for discerning the genesis of this post...I started poking around the Internet to see if I could find that quote. A few hours later, and it's a bouncing baby blog post.
Everything becomes fodder, I guess....