Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein. Paradox

I haven’t been blogging for months. One reason is that I’ve been writing a paper about the philosophy of paradox in Søren Kierkegaard and Ludwig Wittgenstein. It looks like it will be published later this year in a collection on Wittgenstein.

I just looked at Wittgenstein’s first book. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, but a few books on Kierkegaarrd’s side since it is difficult to isolate his writings from each other. I quoted from ‘Johannes Climacus’, Fear and Trembling, Philosophical Fragments, and Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Similarities between Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein suggest influence of Kierkegaard on Wittgenstein. It is well established that Wittgenstein was an enthusiastic reader of Kierkegaard, but I did not look at how that works. I simply looked at connections of ideas between Kirkegaard’s writing concerned with literature, aesthetics, ethics, psychology, and religion in comparison with Wittgenstein’s thoughts on logical philosophy.

The major points I made include:
Kierkegaard is concerned with three stages of thought tied up with life
Aesthetic (experience of the isolated moment)
Ethical (experience of universal rules over time)
Religious (experience of the self as an absolute self over time)
The three stages are all concerned with paradoxes of thought, the way that contradictions are generated from within a point of view.
The aesthetic life is faced with the contradiction between momentary experience and experience over time
The ethical life is faced with the contradiction between the self which follows rules and the self which has agency, the decision making capacity, that can follow or not follow rules. This opens up the problem of why any individual would choose to follow rules.
The religious life is faced with the contradiction between the contingent self of the moment and the self that is absolute over time. That contradiction is also an affirmation of unity which extends to the contradiction and unity of the passing moment and eternity, and other paradoxes.

These paradoxes in Kierkegaard are compared with the the paradoxes Wittgenstein faces in the Tractatus, I look at those in the transitions between the 7 basic propositions on the Tractatus, which are joined by sub-propositions. For example, the transition from seeing the world as a whole to a world of distinct states of affairs. The reframing of propositions as they are shown to lead to contradiction establishes a structure which has parallels with Kierkegaard’s arguments.

The connection around the issue of paradox becomes particularly clear towards the end of the Tractatus as Wittgenstein refers to the world as a whole and the status of philosophy. I make some distinctions between Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein here, suggesting that there is an element of mystic quietism in Wittgenstein, in contrast with Kierkegaard’s embedding of paradoxes of thought in life.

Both Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein are deeply concerned with the paradoxes that come from trying to represent experience as whole, represent the world as a whole, represent representation itself. If we try to think about the limits of thought, we are trying to think about what cannot be thought.

Original version of this post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

Free Market Libertarians and Left Egalitarians Agree on Third World Poor

Some links on how egalitarian left moral and political philosophers concerned with Third World poverty and under development can find themselves in agreement with free market libertarians.
Peter Singer, a leading moral philosopher committed to strong egalitarianism, in conversation with Bill Easterly at
Easterly is a passionate advocate of Third World development and a passionate critic of state and celebrity based aid politics. A Professor of Economics at NYU, who runs the blog AIDWATCH: just asking that aid benefit the poor.
Singer and Easterly agree on the following points: the moral obligation of individuals to help the poor, the wasteful of many aid organisations and the importance of getting information about organisations before donating (details of useful websites given), wastefulness of state aid when as often happens it is designed to help a constituency in domestic politics rather than the Third World poor.
Also listen to Thomas Pogge being interviewed by Alan Saunders, or read the transcript at ABC’s The Philosopher’s Zone, ‘The Right to Property and the Right to Health’.
Pogge has a very different philosophical foundation from that of Singer. Singer is a Utilitarian, Pogge is a follower of Rawlsian reasoning from first principles about justice. Like Singer, he is deeply concerned with equality between nations as well as within nations. Though definitely not an advocate of libertarian (i.e. free market individualistic limited government liberalism), Pogge points out that there is an mportant areas of agreement between egalitarians and libertarians, on issues concerning the Third World poor:
Property rights and patent laws.
Patent laws which prevent all physical production of objects which are covered in very broad interpretations of intellectual property conflicts with basic property rights which have at their centre ownership and control of physical possessions. The importance for the Third World here is that patent laws make it extremely difficult for Third World pharmaceutical producers to manufacture medicine which has any resemblance, however accidental, or secondary, with already patented medical product. The same issue applies to developing new seed strain.

As Pogge points out this only applies to the position that some libertarians take on property rights, but he is certainly right to point out that there is a form of free market libertarianism which opposes broad and strict intellectual property rights. This often comes up in discussion software and computerised products. Two ‘libertarian’ points come up: it stifles innovation and interferes with property rights if companies can prevent others from incorporating existing knowledge into new products; innovation is an interactive discovery process involving many people and this should not be covered over by IP laws which presume that one person or company is solely responsible for innovation. On this version of libertarianism, complete reproduction of someone else’s product is wrong but no use of knowledge incorporated into that product.