Born-Again Mystic Back On The Ropes




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Mystical Mayhem


Yet another mystic has sallied-forth and attempted to prove that Hegelian 'Logic' doesn't destroy brain cells faster than a diet rich in Potassium Cyanide. In this case, this neuronally-challenged comrade (Mr G) has very gamely proved the exact opposite.


[The background details to what follows below can be found here, and now here.]


Visitors may view the trail of shame here and here (where the reason for my acerbic tone will soon become apparent -- these links, alas, no longer work!), but I will merely respond to Mr G's latest droppings here (earlier responses to this individual can be found at the above links -- I have also corrected his spelling mistakes, and added links to terms that some readers might not understand):


Again Rosa, you seem to simply misunderstand the word conservative. I was using the word in two senses. First of all in the sense that Wittgenstein at times expressed hostility to what might be called modern scientific civilization (cf., culture and value as well as the debate about the relationship between his ideas and theology).


Our friend here has clearly read very little Wittgenstein, or if he has read any, he did so while heavily inebriated, or with a bag over his head -- or both.


Wittgenstein began his career in science (in aeronautics -- on this see Sterrett (2005)), so he can't be accused of being anti-scientific. What he set his face against was scientism. I suspect that Mr G doesn't know the difference between these two. I think it best if we leave him in that condition.


His reference to theology is no less inept, for Wittgenstein set his face against that fraudulent discipline, too, even though he made many remarks about religious belief. Mr G probably doesn't know the difference between these two, either. He should remove that bag; it might help.


I'm not at all convinced that Stalin's Russia might not have offered him a post simply because he was a prominent philosopher....


Wittgenstein is on record saying that his most important ideas were the result of his conversations with Sraffa (which discussions began in the early 1930s). He also gathered around him some of the brightest young communists in the UK (at Cambridge University); the vast majority of his friends were prominent communists or Trotskyists. He is on record saying that he felt himself a communist at heart; he identified with the results of the October revolution. His friends say he made remarks supportive of the gains made by workers post-1917. Even acquaintances said he was "of the left".1


In spite of all this, Mr G draws the least obvious conclusion possible -- of course! --, other than, perhaps, that Wittgenstein was a Martian. I suspect that that will be his next 'big idea'.



Mr G Gets Another Bright Idea


Furthermore, Wittgenstein was offered the post of Professor of Philosophy at Kazan University, Lenin's old college! This prestigious post wasn't something the Stalinists of the mid-1930s would have offered to a non-red.


But, Mr G has an explanation for this Stalinist 'aberration':


This was the era of the popular front.


This is quite remarkable! Does Mr G have evidence (surely overlooked by students of this dismal decade in the terminal decline of the Bolshevik Party) that the internal regime in the USSR grew internally more liberal in the 'Popular Front' period (whatever class-collaborationist antics the world-wide Communist movement was forced to perform at Moscow's behest outside the USSR)?


Remember, this was the era when everyone was under suspicion of being a fascist or a "Trotskyite wrecker", when Kirov was assassinated, and when Bukharin and other prominent Bolsheviks were being fitted-up and then executed on trumped-up charges -- hardly an opportune time for such Stalinist paranoiacs to appoint a German-speaking Austrian (and allegedly non-red) to the chair at Lenin's old University!


Mr G accuses me of a lack of knowledge of this period, but the grimy fingers he points in my direction need rotating through a full 180 degrees.


So, the weight of evidence and testimony suggests that Mr G should consider sobering up before drawing any more conclusions about Wittgenstein and Stalinism. Alternatively, once more, he could try working without that fetching bag over his head.


And now we encounter this baseless slur:


But I think you know so little about political ideologies that its hardly worth pursuing (although its disturbing in relationship to your very grand claims about Marxism and its (un)relationship to philosophy).


Coming from Mr G, the President of the Nescient Society (PENIS for short), this is praise indeed. But, given the above, his tantalising failure to explain does at least save Mr G from advertising his own self-imposed ignorance yet again.


Mr G now resurrects a tired old cliché:


Secondly, I referred to the fact that the dominant reading of Wittgenstein and the later evolution of Ordinary Language philosophy was conservative in the traditional sense of closing down radical avenues of enquiry (whether or not as individuals people supported Labour governments). There were always dissenting voices (Cavell etc) but a Marxist would surely have something to say about this, and poor old Marcuse could hardly be blamed for taking the dominant interpretation as the one he had to fight.


Earlier, Mr G had alleged that Wittgenstein was a conservative; now he has changed this to the "dominant reading" of his work can be so depicted.


More dishonesty.


He claims that this "closes down radical avenues of enquiry", but this isn't so, as he has been told. This approach merely refuses to allow the non-sense and incoherence that runs through all of Traditional Philosophy to spill over into other areas (for instance, into science and political theory), areas it has helped to ruin for millennia by corrupting them with "ruling ideas".


Naturally, this "refusal" would in fact (and did and has in fact) allow genuinely radical lines of enquiry to develop.


It is rather like a farmer who removes poison from the soil before planting fresh and healthy crops. Of course, Mr G can't see this since he has poisoned far too many of his own brain cells by his unwise infatuation with boss-class theory.


He now alleges that Marcuse can't be blamed for adopting the "dominant view" of Wittgenstein. First, Marcuse pinched many of his ideas from Gellner (a notorious anti-Marxist), who in turn retailed a minority view of Wittgenstein, and one based on no evidence of any sort. Second, even if this were the "dominant view" (it certainly predominates on the left!), Marcuse's sloppy work can't be absolved on that basis. Consider an analogy: the "dominant view" of Marx is demonstrably incorrect, but would Mr G defend anyone who adopted it, and who failed to check their facts before they then retailed yet another pack of lies about Marx? Surely, even he wouldn't do that. And yet he defends the Marcuse's sloppy work (and thus that of Gellner, too). [On Marcuse's many other errors, see here.]


Yet more dishonesty.


Now we encounter even more invention:


It is entirely unclear that Wittgenstein believed that science could replace philosophy (one way in which both thinkers have been understood) or that this is how his project should be understood.


Not only is this not "entirely unclear", it is on the contrary quite clear that Wittgenstein set his face against such a policy. For Wittgenstein, philosophical problems can only be solved philosophically (in his new sense of that word), and scientific problems can only be solved by scientists. [On that, see here. (This links to a PDF.)]


Mr G's odd claim once more confirms his status as a rank amateur Wittgenstein commentator -- but I fear that even that descriptor might be to praise him too highly. [More of the same to come.]


It's unclear that Wittgenstein thought any form of social theory at all was possible.


This is, of course, Peter Winch's idea, not Wittgenstein's.


Mr G, now:


I have of course never claimed that Wittgenstein was an empiricist (indeed I would enjoy a response from the anti-philosophers on what exactly his 'objects' in the Tractatus refer to) but it is true that the philosophical crisis he was responding to had been deeply shaped by that tradition deriving back to Hume, which insofar as analytical philosophers admit to being part of a tradition, is very much part of it. [Links added.]


Mr G, before he was rumbled:


I'm even less convinced by the success of Wittgenstein's project. The cry 'I have dispensed with philosophy' too often in the history of ideas resembles the cry 'I'm beyond ideology and entirely objective'. Subjectively very convincing but open to lampoon.

Discussing the need to dispense with philosophy cannot be equated with actually dispensing with it. I should clarify that I'm not entirely sure that one can dispense with ontology even in everyday talk, let alone theoretical languages. I think there are always assumptions 'on what there is', and that the project of replacing ontological talk with 'observation statements' is not a linear path.

If there is such a path then its littered with ontological talk along the way, and we're far from reaching its end. It's possible that there is not such a path, and that the kind of transparency envisaged by the project is an illusion.


From this, it is quite clear that Mr G has confused Wittgenstein's method with the empiricism and positivism of the Vienna Circle -- which confusion was itself spread by ill-informed Stalinists sixty or seventy years ago. Hence, it is interesting to see a Trotskyist of Mr G's 'stature' echoing it when we now know better.


As my good friend, 'Babeuf', noted:


John, that's the project of empiricism you're talking about, which Wittgenstein rejected along with other metaphysical clutter. Please don't arrive at judgements without some prior familiarity. But as I said, the exposure of Dialectical Materialism for the junk that it is doesn't require you to take any decisions about the success of Wittgenstein's project, whatever anyone says that was.


Mr G has now compounded this sophomoric error by asking what the 'objects' of the Tractatus are (with the obvious implication that they are objects of experience). Once more, this is to confuse Russell's system with Wittgenstein's. Wittgenstein's objects are (as he clearly says), logical objects. Russell's system was avowedly empiricist, but in aligning Wittgenstein's with the latter's, Mr G is saying Wittgenstein is an empiricist.


The reference to Hume and the empiricist tradition is equally ill-informed (and damning). That current in Philosophy had a profound influence on many Analytic Philosophers (particularly Russell and the Logical Positivists), but not on Wittgenstein (and he was not reacting to it).


I'd challenge Mr G to prove otherwise, but I have already taxed his overworked brain cell enough as it is.


One thing I notice again and again in these arguments. There is no desire to clarify questions, there is no desire to teach anything, there is just this endless braying and denunciation.


This, of course, is the equal of the kettle calling the sterilising dish "sooty", but given the above exposé of Mr G's studious lack of honesty, his continual invention and his baseless accusations, are the denunciations he constantly receives really all that surprising?


Mr G(rime) Offers To Clean Up


Alas, the tirade continues:


It is quite simply the language of anti-marxism in the philosophical academy dressed up as Marxism. But if either of you don't believe this (you seem a multi-headed beast) why on earth can't you engage in a civilized way with these objections.


This, from a comrade who would rather listen to the mystical ramblings of that arch-academic, and non-materialist, Hegel, than a philosophy based on the ordinary language of the working class!


In response to my allegation that he has allowed the last 2500 years of boss-class theory to colonise his last remaining, but ailing, brain cell, he chirrups back:


Why 2500 years exactly? Why not 1500 years? Or 3000 years? Why not 200 years? So 'the bosses' since developments in the ancient Greek world, have been responsible for mystifying social relations (oh sorry metaphysical language) and Rosa has now come along to explain everything.


Unfortunately enough for our chronologically-challenged friend, the overwhelming weight of evidence counts against him, once more. Is this just bad luck? Or, is it that Mr G simply can't think like the radical he claims to be? He is happy to accuse Wittgenstein of being 'conservative' while defending ideas that go back at least to Heraclitus.


Plainly he hasn't examined the evidence I have amassed since it hasn't been published yet (although brief summaries to it can be found here, here, here and here), but he is still happy to pontificate in blissful ignorance (not having sufficient materialist curiosity to ask the obvious questions I have posed) --, just like other DM-clones we have come to know and loathe.


However, one can easily imagine --, for example 150 years ago --, a ruling-class hack/"prize fighter" saying this of Marx:


Karl has now come along to explain everything...


At some point in human history, someone has to innovate, despite the upset this might cause to the know-nothings of this world, like Mr G. He must learn to let the rest of us advance beyond the mistakes and dead-ends of the past, without him throwing any more of toys out of his pram.


Mr G is, of course, welcome to cling on to such errors, and continue to meander down these and similar dead-ends while us genuine materialists pass him by. I can think of no better punishment.


And, believe it or not, that is the best defence Mr G can cobble-together to excuse his own weak-kneed capitulation to ruling-class thought.


If he had the capacity to show any, I'd suggest he hung his head in shame.


At least then that bag might fall from his wilting shoulders.


Fittingly, Mr G capped his latest tantrum with another prize example of dishonesty:


Surprised to see Rosa defending a philosophical ontology of atomism above (i.e., deeply hostile to the idea of the connectedness of the (social?) world). Is this on the basis of scientific observation or is it merely another philosophical thesis? I think we should be told. [Link added.]


Of course, only the inventive and lying eyes of Mr G will be able to find where I defend, or promote, any sort of ontology, let alone atomism. And Wittgenstein's atomism isn't an ontology, as anyone familiar with his work would know.


This is quite apart from the fact that even Wittgenstein abandoned his early analysis of language, which Mr G seems not to have noticed.


And it is also quite apart from the fact that I don't agree with everything Wittgenstein said.


Unlike Hegel, Wittgenstein wasn't a 'god'.


And, as I have noted here, I am quite happy to accept an HM account of social interconnectedness (since this is given in our use of ordinary language -- you know, the sort of working-class discourse that isn't good enough for elitists like Mr G).


But, from Mr G, all we get is more dishonesty, more fabrication -- just like every other Dialectical Mystic I have had the pleasure of annoying over the last 25+ years with my materialist barbs.




1. The full details of Wittgenstein's left-wing/Marxist sympathies can be found in Cornish (1999), pp.40-87. While I do not endorse all, or even most of Cornish's claims, his book at least has the very great merit of gathering together the vast amount of evidence that others have missed attesting to Wittgenstein's Marxist leanings.


I have now added to the above material new and original research, here.




Cornish, K. (1999), The Jew Of Linz (Arrow Books).


Sterrett, S. (2005), Wittgenstein Flies A Kite (Pi Press).


Word Count: 2880


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