Thursday, June 16, 2022

What Cavell added to this feast of ordinary language philosophy was something he called ‘scepticism’. This begins, crudely put, from the insight that however much we can see from a conventional set of behaviours that someone is experiencing embarrassment or pain or guilt we can’t ever know what those experiences are like from inside. ‘I feel your pain in my finger’ is not something I can say outside the realm of science fiction or philosophical thought experiments, and in this case the norms of verbal usage reveal something about what human beings in general can and cannot do. Cavell regarded this scepticism as internal to Wittgenstein, and it is why he didn’t follow the Roger Scrutons of the world in regarding a ‘form of life’ as a set of codes embedded in a culture which enable human understanding through being both shared and more or less unalterable, and which might therefore justify the conservation of even apparently barbaric cultural practices such as dressing up in scarlet and encouraging dogs to tear foxes apart. Instead Cavell’s Wittgenstein is principally about the big dark things we don’t actually know about ourselves or one another, and which philosophers spend their time seeking.

The next step in Cavell’s scepticism was to argue that although we don’t have ‘knowledge’ of another’s pain we can ‘acknowledge’ or ‘recognise’ it. Making claims to be acknowledged and to have emotions, claims recognised by the other, and in return to acknowledge the claims of the other, is fundamental to living in language, which is a realm (as it is for Austin) of interpersonal ethical demands and needs. The world of art, in particular, is ethically charged: ‘The creation of art, being human conduct which affects others, has the commitments any conduct has.’

He liked to quote Erich Auerbach’s assertion that in reading literature we need an ‘empirical confidence in our spontaneous faculty for understanding others on the basis of our own experience’. 

All this effort to rediscover the obvious.

History and historians now frequently perform the role to which sociology and sociologists once aspired: to narrate and contextualise the conflicts of the present.

The beginning of the article is a bit absurd. Davies is a bit of an idiot, but I'll take it.

Cavell belongs with Derrida. The same desperation, the need to feel superior, as a philosopher, to those who merely play. Reversing the claims of philosophers that fiction is parasitic, philosophy becomes parasitic in relation to art. I've said it all before.

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