Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Intention: #2 in a Series

I'm going to try to do a better job of following through on my ideas in this forum. To that end, I present some quotes from Ludwig Wittgenstein pertinent to my previous entry titled "Nachtträglichkeit". The first concerns the concept of will:
"Willing, if it is not to be a sort of wishing, must be the action itself. It cannot be allowed to stop anywhere short of the action." If it is the action, then it is so in the ordinary sense of the word; so it is speaking, writing, walking, lifting a thing, imagining something. But it is also trying, attempting, making an effort, -- to speak, to write, to lift a thing, to imagine something etc. (Part I, 615).
Like most of Wittgenstein's pithy statements, this one is disturbingly opaque, from the unattributed quote onward. As best I can determine, however, he seems to be arguing -- and this would be consistent with points he makes elsewhere in the Philosophical Investigations -- that the verb "to will" is a ruse, because we cannot authoritatively distinguish actions from the process that sets them in motion. Unless we try to do something, we have no basis for determining an intention to do it:
One imagines the willing subject here as something without any mass (without any intertia); as a motor which has no inertia in itself to overcome. And so it is only mover, not moved. That is: One can say "I will, but my body does not obey me" -- but not: "My will does not obey me." (Augustine)

But in the sense in which I cannot fail to will, I cannot try to will either. (Part I, 617)
This argument renders the sentence, "I willed myself to do it," an absurdity. More broadly, the materialism of this second passage suggests that he's hung up on the Cartesian distinction between extension and intension: the immateriality of our mind's labor poses problems. Above and beyond that, I also get the sense he' s hinting that intention functions for us as a type of god, the mover that cannot be moved.

Two entries later, Wittgenstein couples this immateriality with its temporal equivalent:
Doing itself seems not to occupy any volume of experience. It seems like an extensionless point, the point of a needle. This point seems to be the real agent. And the phenomenal happenings only to be consequences of this acting. "I do . . ." seems to have a definite sense, separate from all experience.
The key here, I think, is this picture of the mental side of action as completely lacking in both extent and duration. There's no "there" there. And there's no "then" either.

In the unfinished second portion of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein revisits the question of intention from the perspective of epistemology. What can we really know about intention? At one point he seems to be making the point I was fumbling towards in my previous entry:
"I know what I want, wish, believe, feel, . . ." (and so on through all the psychological verbs) is either philosophers' nonsense, or at any rate not a judgment a priori (Part II, 188)
I'm assuming that a judgment a posteriori would be precisely the sort that can only be made in retrospect, looking back on an action to determine the intention "behind" it.

I have a mind to quote that famous passage about lightning from Friedrich Nietszsche's The Genealogy of Morals here, but will restrain the impulse since I already did so several months back. Perhaps I'll weave it into a later entry. For now, the distilled essence will have to suffice: "There is no 'being' behind doing, effecting, becoming; "the doer" is merely a fiction added to the deed -- the deed is everything (First Essay, #13, 45)." Or, as Goethe's Faust declares, "Im Anfang war die Tat": "In the beginning was the deed."

Wittgenstein is unwilling to push matters as far as Nietzsche does. He's a far more careful thinker. But I'm pretty sure he's on the same track, even if he got off several stations before the terminus.
Tags: theory

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