Despite his greatness in so many other areas, there’s a deep shame in Wittgenstein’s declaration that philosophy is what happens when language goes on holiday. Far from being a mark of shame from which philosophy should be cured, the proper response is “yes!” In philosophy, as in the sciences, mathematics, the arts, and poetry, there is an athleticism of language, an inventiveness that challenges and disrupts what the analytics call “ordinary language”. Philosophy breaks language from its moorings, sending it flying in new trajectories. In this respect, it is what Deleuze and Guattari called a “minor language” and stuttering. It’s left handed. To be sure, philosophy draws on the connotations of ordinary language, but only to send them flying in new and unheard of directions. When Plato utters “eidos” it becomes something other than mere shape. When Aristotle utters the term “category”, it becomes something other than an accusation. When Heidegger utters “Dasein” it comes to mean something other than mere “existence”. All of these connotations are drawn upon, but they become something quite different. Maybe this is why the language of philosophy is always a bit grotesque and shares a resemblance to science fiction; even before science or fiction existed. There is no criticism more shameful in philosophy than the criticism that this is not how people normally use these terms. Quite right. And in this philosophy resembles poetry– as Bertrand Russell noted –while also being a sort of mathematics or science. Philosophy is one way in which ordinary language– which is one form power takes –is made to stutter. Like the poet, but a poet that has a taste for mathematical demonstration and formalism, good philosophy strives to be tectonic with respect to the plates that compose ordinary language.
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