Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Institution is the Message

In English Departments amongst the literary criticism people (not the "critical theory" people, but the history of literary criticism people), there are some reservations concerning our colleagues engaged in “Author Studies”. Their conversations, though generally interesting, often depress to matters of ephemera; eg. “What did D. H. Lawrence have for breakfast on the morning of September 13, 1913?”, etc.

Is it possible that instituting Wittgenstein in a similar project of “Philosopher Studies” is distracting students and scholars from the more “appropriate”, “competent” and “fluent” application of his ideas to institutional and cultural questions that (after 2500 years of this business) are properly the material of philosophical inquiry? The “meaning” of Wittgenstein himself suggests this emphasis is in the order of things.

In tangent to this question, I might suggest Peter Hacker's three volume study of Human Nature is pushing philosophy in the direction of anthropology, and properly so; just as Anthony Kenny is indicating that many “philosophical” questions are rather historical phenomena, and are most profitably addressed through that kind of understanding.

After all, if we are to take Wittgenstein at his word and conceive of philosophical questions as specimens of credulity rooted in the misapprehension of language, then we might have a “duty” to look at the institutions which are harboring these kinds of credulous languages.

In fine, we might echo, as it were, Marshall McLuhan, and observe that “the institution is the message.”

Marshall McLuhan

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