Talk given at the conference The Common Roots of Twentieth-Century Philosophy, organized by the Institut International de Philosophie on the occasion of the XXth World Congress of Philosophy, Boston, August 10-16, 1998

J.C. Nyíri:

Post-Literacy as a Source of Twentieth-Century Philosophy

For some ten years now I have been articulating the position expressed in the title of my paper: the position according to which some of the main figures of twentieth-century philosophy can be usefully interpreted as trying to come to conceptual terms with the fact that the dominance of the printed book as the medium of communication has become challenged by the rise of the new, electric and electronic media. I have published bits and pieces of my results in a number of papers; I never had the occasion, however, to summarize them in a comprehensive form. I am honoured that this conference of the IIP now enables me to put forward just such a summary.

The position I am outlining rests on two basic sets of contentions. The first, originating with the classical scholar Eric Havelock, is that the emergence of Greek philosophy, with Plato at its centre, was a response to the crisis of social communication caused by the spread of alphabetic literacy. The second, that the best way to make sense of the struggles of the later Wittgenstein, and in particular of his attitude to Plato, is to see him as trying to liberate himself from the literary bias of Western philosophy at a time when in everyday experience the sources of that bias were drying up. Havelock's work provided me with the perspective from which my interpretation of Wittgenstein's later philosophy proceeded; and it is from the vantage-point of this interpretation that I arrived at the general thesis to the effect that twentieth-century philosophy bears to a significant extent the marks of post-literacy.

While under conditions of pre-literacy language spoken-out-loud, or indeed sung-out-loud, serves as the sole medium of collective consciousness and memory - think, for instance, of Homer - post-literacy has recourse to writing, book printing, and the electronic recording of texts and data. However, from a semantic point of view, pre-literate communication does in important ways parallel post-literal communication. The meaning of utterances is in both cases intrinsically bound up with the extra-linguistic situations in which those utterances occur. Or rather there is no sharp dividing line between the linguistic and the extra-linguistic: Names have a fundamental function, but they belong together with, and do not merely designate, their bearers; and an utterance is not a complex of names, but a dynamic act in itself, a deed. By contrast, written - inscribed, printed - language consists of linearly ordered separate words, each of which has a literal meaning, designates a definite concept or object. Context does play a role, but only as a guide to recognizing the proper designation. The meaning of a written text is open to interpretation, but does not alter with changing circumstances. As the metaphor has it: Spoken language is alive, written texts are dead. The other fundamental parallel between pre-literate and post-literate conditions of course is that under both the cognizing subject is not, as it were, an isolated mind, but rather a collectivity of individuals bound together by continuous flows of communicative interaction.

The philosopher with whom the twentieth century actually begins, namely Friedrich Nietzsche, attacked the notions both of "literal meaning" and of "pure reason". And he made it quite explicit that in his view the idea of fixed word meanings, and the Platonist view of concepts and of knowledge proceeding from that idea, emerge as a consequence of the one-sided allure of written language. Significantly, in his Basle lectures Nietzsche had already developed the untimely notion of a non-literary culture or education. As he said, introducing his course on the "History of Greek Literature" in the winter term of 1874/75: "The word 'literature' is dubious, and contains a bias. Just as it was an age-old mistake of grammar to start from letters and not from spoken sounds, similarly it is the old mistake of literary history to concern itself first with the writings of a people, and not with its spoken linguistic art..." A literature which is exclusively for readers amounts to a kind of degeneration. "Now however", writes Nietzsche, "we live in such an age of degeneration, and thus apply many false standards and presuppositions to Greek history, from which alas only the works for readers have come down to us." [1] Nietzsche, who had very weak eyes, and later became almost blind, inevitably developed a certain keenness of hearing when it came to the pitfalls of written language. His short-sightedness soon drove him to limit himself to jotting down short aphorisms, which he thought up by reciting to himself during long walks and then tried to memorize. He curses this imposed telegraphic style, and turns against the objektive Schriftsprache, "objective written language", propounding a philosophy which detects in grammar and language the source of metaphysics, of that "prejudice of reason" which forces us to assume "unity, identity, permanence, substance"; and he argues against the "old conceptual fiction that posited a 'pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject'." [2]

What Nietzsche began, Heidegger and Wittgenstein continued. The overcoming of Western metaphysics was the professed, all-embracing aim of both; and, in particular, Heidegger's and Wittgenstein's criticisms of the Platonic theory of meaning show significant parallels. [3] Recall Heidegger's efforts to return to Greek thought as it was before Plato. That his philosophy, both in its terminology and its arguments, is put forward in the spirit of spoken language - that he conceives of language as speech - should be immediately evident to any reader of his writings. [4] One of the main concepts of his later thinking is the concept of Sage (meaning both "saga" and "saying"). Heidegger tells us that "myth" means: "the telling [sagende] word", and that the Greeks experienced their "lofty poetry" "thoughtfully"; [5] he connects the saga with "the song that speaks by singing", talks of the saga as in need of (braucht) sounding words, [6] and finally he writes: "The union of mortals releases the human being into custom" (Brauch). [7] These passages, I suggest, can be taken in their straightforward sense, namely as references to an era when the memory of society was preserved in handed-down sayings, sagas, in oral tradition, where poetry was the custodian of knowledge, and where custom and habit were the instruments by which the polity was organized.

The spoken, resounding, heard language constitutes the primary environment of the individual human being. In Time and Being Heidegger alludes to this state of affairs by the formula "The existential-ontological foundation of language is discourse or talk" [8] - where "discourse or talk", Rede, should quite unequivocally be construed in the dimensions of hearing, [9] of intonation and of modulation, and of course of silence. [10] Now Heidegger does not want us to think of sound as of a mediator between separate individuals, [11] i.e. as of the bearer of meanings which as it were could be dissociated from the word [12] - however attractive an idea this might seem from the perspective of written language. [13] Indeed this is the point, he holds, at which the Greeks first went astray. Heidegger is aware of the novel epistemic situation that arose with the shift of the educated classes from language heard to language seen: with the shift, that is, to literacy. His Einführung in die Metaphysik contains a conclusive passage to the effect that the Greeks "in a certain broad sense regarded their language optically, namely from the vantage-point of writing. There what is spoken comes to a standstill. Language is, i.e. stands under the authority of, the word as it looks, the written sign, letters, grammata." [14]

Let me now come to the main topic of my talk - the later Wittgenstein as a philosopher of post-literacy. It was in 1989 that I have first suggested this interpretation, in my essay "Wittgenstein and the Problem of Machine Consciousness". [15] I was very pleased when soon after I discovered that Toulmin in his Cosmopolis, in the section "The Return to the Oral", took a similar course, pointing out that the later Wittgenstein "was moving away from the expression of beliefs in written propositions to their transient, contextual expression in language games, speech acts, and utterances generally". [16] And I was tremendously happy when, quite recently, I had the occasion to read an as yet unpublished, devastatingly brilliant paper by Hintikka, where he actually shows Wittgenstein to be a dyslexic, with many of the latter's central philosophical ideas being indeed attempts to cope with this condition. [17] Dyslexia, that is, as Hintikka puts it, the "slow, impaired recovery of the phonetics and semantics of written text from visual clues", is a "cognitive challenge" which "forces a dyslexic person to look upon language and linguistic skills in a way we usually do not do". Hintikka points out that: "In the same way ... a dyslexic has difficulties in keeping in mind the meaning of a sentence because of the need of concentrating on particular words, [so also] a dyslexic finds it hard or even personally impossible to keep track of an argument or other similar line of thought or at least articulate it verbally." Certainly Wittgenstein was unable to maintain, and, as Hintikka stresses, indeed programmatically denied the possibility of, "a linear or progressive mode of organization of his ideas". Much of Wittgenstein's "actual philosophical thought can be viewed", Hintikka writes, "as a series of attempts to understand his own handicaps and to overcome them or as attempts to articulate and to generalize philosophically his experiences as a dyslexic". What I would like to add here is that Wittgenstein's generalizations of course found a broad echo. It appears that in our emerging age of post-literacy some characteristically dyslexic symptoms simply cease to be extraordinary. Dyslexia is becoming a cultural pattern.To make my point, let me return to Eric Havelock.

What Havelock has shown in his monograph Preface to Plato, published in 1963, [18] is that writing was, for Plato, not just a new medium in which to express his philosophy; on the contrary, writing, the experience of literacy, constituted the very source of Platonism. When Plato inquired about the nature of justice, or the beautiful, or goodness, he was not merely asking new questions; he was asking questions with regard to abstract terms that were simply not there in the Greek language prior to the rise of literacy. It is the syntax of writing that creates abstract terms; and it is written language which gives the impression that all words signify basically in the same manner, namely by designating something. That something, when it came to abstract terms, had to be an abstract object: thus were born Platonic ideas.

It is known that Wittgenstein enjoyed reading Plato; but the significance Plato had for him is quite underrated, and has never been properly understood. In the year 1931 - i.e. during a crucial period in the development of his later philosophy - Wittgenstein refers, in his notebooks, at least eleven times to Plato, quoting a number of passages, even quite long ones. Plato certainly plays a role in those notebooks no other philosopher ever played. The passages Wittgenstein again and again quotes belong to those where Plato's path from a specific view of meaning to a specific ontology becomes particularly clear. Wittgenstein obviously had a feeling that the point in the history of philosophy to which he wanted to return is the one at which Plato had taken the wrong turning. As he said to Schlick in 1931: "I cannot characterize my standpoint better than by saying that it is opposed to that which Socrates represents in the Platonic dialogues." [19] In fact it is quite striking how some of the central passages in Wittgenstein parallel, and run counter to, some of the central passages in Plato. Here is one from the Euthyphro, and one from the Philosophical Investigations. "[M]y friend, you did not give me sufficient information before, when I asked what holiness was, but you told me that this was holy which you are now doing, prosecuting your father for murder. - Euthyphro: Well, what I said was true, Socrates. - Socrates: Perhaps. But, Euthyphro, you say that many other things are holy, do you not? - Euthyphro: Why, so they are. - Socrates: Now call to mind that this is not what I asked you, to tell me one or two of the many holy acts, but to tell the essential aspect, by which all holy acts are holy..." [20] - "You talk about all sorts of language games, but have nowhere said what the essence of a language game, and hence of language, is: what is common to all these activities, and what makes them into language or parts of language. - And this is true. - Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all, - but that they are related to one another in many different ways." [21]

If Wittgenstein's opposition to Plato was motivated, to some measure at least, by the emergence of post-literacy, he was certainly not aware of this. In fact he did not clearly perceive the radical epistemological differences between written and spoken language. Three authors who could have influenced him here, but, judging by the way Wittgenstein's arguments will proceed, clearly did not do so, were Nietzsche, Oswald Spengler, and Bronislaw Malinowski. Wittgenstein does, occasionally, refer to Nietzsche; but never ever to Nietzsche's insights concerning the philosophical implications of written language. Again, in Spengler's Untergang des Abendlandes - a book which, as you well know, Wittgenstein was familiar with - he could have found the idea that writing is, as Spengler had put it, a quite new type of language, implying "a complete change in the relations of man's waking consciousness", liberating the mind "from the tyranny of the present"; so while speaking and hearing take place only in proximity and in the present, writing bridges distance both in space and in time. [22] Malinowski's essay "The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages" appeared as an appendix to the Ogden and Richards volume The Meaning of Meaning. [23] Wittgenstein of course must have had some acquaintance with this volume - he does, occasionally, refer to the views of Ogden and Richards on meaning - but he nowhere mentions Malinowski. In the latter's essay "primitive living tongue, existing only in actual utterance" is contrasted with "dead, inscribed languages". The former, Malinowski stresses, is "to be regarded as a mode of action, rather than as a countersign of thought". [24] In a primitive language, he writes, "the meaning of any single word is to a very high degree dependent on its context"; indeed it is dependent, as he puts it, on the context of situation - i.e., on the extra-linguistic environment. Written documents, by contrast, are "naturally isolated", the statements contained in them "are set down with the purpose of being self-contained and self-explanatory". [25] Spoken linguistic material "lives only in winged words, passing from man to man", word-meanings being "inextricably mixed up with, and dependent upon, the course of the activity in which the utterances are embedded". [26] Language in a preliterate culture, Malinowski emphasizes, is never "a mere mirror of reflected thought". In writing however "language becomes a condensed piece of reflection", the reader "reasons, reflects, remembers, imagines". [27] And it is significant that in Malinowski's estimate such reflection is a philosophically dangerous enterprise, leading to a "misuse of words", bestowing "real existence" upon meanings - giving rise, that is, to Plato's ideas and to medieval realism. [28]

My suggestion is that although Wittgenstein, in his later philosophy, came to represent views we might regard as post-literal ones, he did not receive them from Nietzsche, Spengler, Malinowski, or any possible similar source. Rather, he acquired these views through being directly influenced by phenomena of a post-literal type. To such influences Wittgenstein must have been particularly susceptible. Although he was an obsessive writer, Wittgenstein had a problematic relation to written language, especially to written language in its fully developed form: the printed book. No wonder Hintikka can draw such an overwhelming picture of Wittgenstein the dyslexic. Already in the preface to his Wörterbuch für Volksschulen, compiled in the early 1920s in the course of his activity as an elementary school teacher in Lower Austria, Wittgenstein had complained about the distorting effects of typography; and his reluctance to publish his writings is of course notorious. Here also come to mind his poor orthography; his anachronistic predilection for having people read out loud texts to him; the common observation that his favourite readings he really knew by heart; the aphorism and the dialogue as conspicuous stylistic features of his writing; his tendency to explain arguments by using pictures and diagrams; [29] and his inability or reluctance to put together what one would call a treatise in the modern sense. The genesis of Wittgenstein's manuscripts is a story of a continuous struggle with the logic of fixed textual order; a history of never ending re-editing. "It was my intention at first," he writes in the Preface to his Philosophical Investigations, "to bring all this together in a book" with the aim "that the thoughts should proceed from one subject to another in a natural order and without breaks." But he had to realize, he continues, that he would never be able "to weld [the] results together into such a whole", that even the best he could write "would never be more than philosophical remarks" and that "this was, of course, connected with the very nature of the investigation. For this compels us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction." In an earlier version of the Preface, dated August 1938, this "field of thought" is indeed characterized as one in which thoughts form a complicated network of relations.

A post-literal phenomenon clearly having specific impact on Wittgenstein was the film, both in its silent and in its "talkie" versions - to apply here the terminology of the late twenties. [30] Going to the movies was almost an addiction with Wittgenstein; and it is striking that he regularly used the film metaphor to illustrate philosophical points, in particular points where the relation of the signified to signs belonging to more than one media was at issue. Thus in a conversation with Schlick and others in Vienna in December 1929: "Nicht der Tonstreifen begleitet den Film, sondern die Musik. Der Tonstreifen begleitet den Bildstreifen. ... Die Musik begleitet den Film ... Die Sprache begleitet die Welt." [31] In England the first "talkie" films were shown in 1928, in Vienna towards the end of 1929. Wittgenstein must have been exposed to new experiences of language through watching them, as also, earlier, through watching silent films. One is not left without possible conjectures as to the nature of those new experiences. Béla Balázs, in his book Der sichtbare Mensch, published in Vienna in 1924 - a book that soon became very influential - reflecting on the silent film makes the following observation: "In the film ... speaking is a play of facial gestures and immediately visual facial expression. They who see speaking, will learn things very different from what is learned by those who hear the words." [32] Balázs, a playwright and critic, belonged to the circle of Georg Lukács, and to the circle of Robert Musil. Balázs published a second book on the film, this time on the sound film, as early as 1930, again addressing the issue of how language here comes to be seen in a new perspective.

Now even though coming to articulate linguistic intuitions characteristic of post-literacy, Wittgenstein, as I have already suggested, was not aware of the true nature of his enterprise. Not only did he never arrive at a text he was satisfied with; but his method of re-ordering, again and again, the passages in his manuscripts and typoscripts does not even leave one with the impression that he had a clear view of what he was ultimately trying to achieve. Wittgenstein does not appear to be a reliable guide as to what he was actually driven by, or striving at; the testimony of his notebooks might certainly invite a psychoanalytic interpretation. He did hit the nail on the head when he wrote, around September 1929: "In mir streubt sich ein Freudscher Widerstand gegen das Finden der Wahrheit." [33] The word "sträubt" Wittgenstein himself here spells with an "e" instead of an "ä". In all other instances I have come across in his manuscripts he does get the word right. An appropriate Freudian explanation would be: his resistance is directed, really, against being coerced into standardized spelling - that is, directed against the norms of literacy, and ultimately against the recognition that his philosophical problems somehow pertained to the technique of writing, or to the alternatives to that technique. If I maintain that, all the same, it was precisely this fundamental issue which confronted Wittgenstein, my reason for this is the central place which the notion of meaning as use occupies in his arguments. To think of meaning as use means to think of language as spoken; written words are, typically, used to represent spoken words, and in this sense written words are, typically, names. Under conditions of post-literacy spoken language once more gains a certain dominance, without however losing its ties with writing. It is appropriate that in Wittgenstein's arguments references to both spoken and written signs should figure; a source of confusion, however, is that Wittgenstein himself is not aware of the radically different roles played by spoken signs on the one hand, and written signs on the other; and hence of the radically different implications his arguments can have, depending upon the examples chosen.

Let me first give two straightforward illustrations.

In a crucially important passage from August 25, 1930, Wittgenstein writes:

If I were to resolve (in my thoughts) to say "abracadabra" instead of "red", how would it show itself that "abracadabra" stood in place of "red"? How is the position of a word determined? Supposing that I were to replace all the words of my language simultaneously by others, how could I know which word stood in place of which other word? Is it here the ideas [Vorstellungen] that remain and hold fixed the positions of the words? As if there were a sort of hook attached to each idea, upon which I hang a word, which would indicate the position? This I can't believe. I cannot make myself think that ideas have a place in understanding different from that of words. [34]
One might add that in the last days of July 1930, shortly before this passage was written, we first begin to encounter those stylistic peculiarities which are so characteristic of Wittgenstein's later writings: the dialogue and unanswered question, the familiar "Du" as a form of address. And the proposition I am putting forward is that while in a language devoid of the underpinnings of writing it is indeed impossible to perform the permutation Wittgenstein here claims one cannot perform, to do the same in writing is, though cumbersome, yet perfectly possible. Here, then, Wittgenstein must have had spoken language in mind.

On p.488 of TS 211, compiled in 1932, one reads: "Die Worte sind diskontinuierlich; die Wortsprache eine Abbildung durch diskontinuierliche Zeichen. Das ist einer der wichtigsten Gesichtspunkte, von der man sie betrachten muss." Here we might recall that spoken language is not a discontinuous string of words; rather, it is made up of speech acts inextricably bound up with the situations in which they play their role. Written language however is discontinuous; and in the case of written language one can say that words are pictures, in the sense that written words do indeed represent spoken words. [35] Wittgenstein, here, was thinking about written language.

There are, of course, a number of crucial passages in Wittgenstein's later texts where it becomes explicit that the focus is on written, or indeed printed, language. Thus in Philosophical Investigations §167: "the mere look of a printed line is itself extremely characteristic - it presents ... a quite special appearance, the letters all roughly the same size, akin in shape too, and always recurring; most of the words constantly repeated and enormously familiar to us, like well-known faces." The tone here is friendly, reassuring, with no anxieties felt. In the Wörterbuch für Volksschulen, [36] referred to above, those anxieties are not yet suppressed. This is the remark Wittgenstein makes in the (originally unpublished) preface to the dictionary: "Again and again psychological principles (where will the student look for the word, how does one guard him against confusions in the best possible manner) clash with grammatical ones (base word, derivative) and with the typographical utilization of space, with the well-organized appearance of the printed page, etc." [37] Rather than strictly adhering to the principles of alphabetic order, Wittgenstein envisages various different entry arrangements. Nor does Wittgenstein invariably adhere to literary German. The Wörterbuch does not avoid dialect expressions, and includes some very common words which are typically used in speech, like "geh!" or "hierher". It even utilizes dialect pronunciation in order to bring home some grammatical points, like: "ihm, in der Mundart: 'eam', z.B.: 'I hob eam g'sogt' - ihn, in der Mundart: 'n' oder 'm', z.B.: 'I hob m g'sehn'". [38]

The principles of written, as contrasted with the workings of spoken, language can confuse the elementary school student; but apparently they can also lead to more profound confusions. In MS 113, this is how p.554 [39] begins: "Led astray by the substantive, we assume a substance. Indeed, if we hand over the reins to language & not to life, then there arise philosophical problems. 'What is time?' - in the question already there lies the error: as if the question was: what from, from what material, is time made." [40] There follow some lines on the notion of time in mathematical calculations, and then comes, still on p.554, the well-known passage: "The power language has to make everything look the same, which is most glaringly evident in the dictionary and which makes the personification of time possible." [41] The reference to the dictionary of course amounts to a reference to written, and, in particular, to printed language; Wittgenstein's problem here is the power writing has in making us misunderstand the logic of our language. [42] The reference to the misleading role of substantives is just one among many similar remarks by Wittgenstein; like, for instance, the one he makes on July 15, 1931: "When Augustine talks about the learning of language he talks about how we attach names to things, or understand the names of things. Naming here appears as the foundation, the be all and end all of language. - Augustine does not speak of there being any difference between parts of speech... Certainly he's thinking first and foremost of nouns, and of the remaining words as something that will take care of itself." [43]

What does it mean, however: "if we hand over the reins to language & not to life, then there arise philosophical problems"? My hypothesis is that, according to Wittgenstein's actual logic, "language" here should stand for "written language"; and "life" for "spoken language". In order to prove this, let me compile some more passages from Wittgenstein's Nachlaß. The first one, providing context for the term "life": "The stream of life, or the stream of the world, flows on ['alles fließt'] and our propositions are so to speak verified only at instants. - Our propositions are only verified by the present." [44] A second one, taking up the theme "alles fließt": "It's strange that in ordinary life we are not troubled by the feeling that the phenomenon is slipping away from us, the constant flux [Fluß] of appearance, but only when we philosophize. This indicates that what is in question here is an idea suggested by a misapplication of our language. - The feeling we have is that the present disappears into the past without our being able to prevent it. And here we are obviously using the picture of a film strip remorselessly [unaufhörlich] moving past us..." [45] We have arrived at the film metaphor. So let us continue with the theme "film": "The whole is a talking film, and the spoken word that goes with the events on the screen is just as fleeting as those events and not the same as the sound track. The sound track doesn't accompany the scenes on the screen." [46] And, taking up the term "screen", a fourth passage: "what I call a sign must be what is called a sign in grammar; something on the film, not on the screen". [47]

Comparing these passages, some clear parallels and oppositions meet the eye. The sign - in "grammar", i.e. in written language - is on the film strip, i.e. on the sound track. Onto the sound track signs are written. On the other side of the divide, there is the spoken word, the screen, and fleeting events, "fließende Vorgänge". We are now almost in a position to arrive at a conclusion. Let us, however, look at one more passage dealing with the fleeting, this time Zettel §135: "Conversation flows on, the application and interpretation of words, and only in its course do words have their meaning." [48] Here the cluster is: the spoken word, application or use, and meaning. The conclusion, then: the carrier of uncorrupted meaning is spoken language; if we hand over the reins to written language, philosophical problems will arise. A conclusion, to repeat, Wittgenstein himself has never explicitly drawn.

Assuming that my interpretation of Heidegger and Wittgenstein as philosophers of post-literacy is plausible; and assuming that philosophy, as we pass into the 21st century, will not completely divest itself of the Heideggerian and Wittgensteinian legacies, what course can we expect philosophical inquiry to take? As a general characterization, one may, I think, safely predict that philosophy will further proceed along its anti-Platonist path. Rather than focusing on self-contained entities, concepts, or meanings, it will have to deal with networks, interactions and flows. Rather than confining itself to a logic of mere texts, it will need to come to grips with identities, implications, and demonstrations involving images and sounds. In the domain of the philosophy of mind, it is safe to predict the emergence of approaches developing vocabularies to capture the phenomenon of cognitive agents who, immersed in electronic networks, are practically never isolated from their fellows. They form, in a very real sense, a collective mind. But they still retain strong personal identities, due to the individual paths and niches they build for themselves in the virtual world. In the domain of ontology, we witness the emergence of attempts to explain, and to find a terminology for, the new, overwhelming reality of a non-physical world, the world of virtual objects, events, and connections. [49]

Long before I came to work out my interpretation of Wittgenstein as a philosopher of post-literacy, I had put forward, in the mid-seventies, a thesis to the effect that Wittgenstein's later philosophy was the embodiment of a conservative-traditionalist view of history. [50] The thesis met with incomprehension, and in fact for quite some time my impression was that I had laid myself open to ridicule. I was rather amused when recently I encountered a reference to this position designating it as the "conventional wisdom in social and political theory which holds that Wittgenstein's later philosophy preaches a profoundly conservative attitude towards questions of social organization". [51] I believe now that this conventional wisdom can once more be turned into a vigorous research program by being formulated in terms of the familiar concept of oral traditions. Traditions are institutions of knowledge preservation in pre-literal societies; literacy is the grave-digger of traditions, and the seedbed of enlightenment; Wittgenstein's anti-literal bias and his traditionalism might well be mutually reinforcing attitudes. In Heidegger's case, we saw, such a connection can certainly be established.

So let me conclude with this question: taking the foregoing together, are traditions and traditionalisms once more becoming possible, desirable, or necessary in the new world of electronic networking? Do traditions play a role in the world of virtual objects, events, and connections? The answer, I believe, is that while post-literacy certainly does not bring back pre-literal traditions, non-dogmatic, non-compulsory, yet culturally conscious and place-bound commitments or feelings of belonging do fulfil a necessary function in the virtual world. [52]To provide a terminological framework in which to grasp such commitments will be a formidable philosophical task; a task that should certainly be part of the agenda of a philosophy of the 21st century.


[1] Nietzsche's Werke, Leipzig: Alfred Kröner. Vo1. XVIII: Philologica. Second volume. Unveröffentlichtes zur Litteraturgeschichte, Rhetorik und Rhythmik, 1912, p.3.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, dtv-de Gruyter, 1980, vol.7, p. 48 (Nachgelassene Fragmente: Winter 1869-Frühjahr 1870), vol. 6, p. 77 (Götzen-Dämmerung) and vol. 5, p. 365 (Zur Genealogie der Moral).

[3] Cf. my talk "Heidegger und Wittgenstein" (1989), in I.M. Fehér, ed., Wege und Irrwege des neueren Umganges mit Heideggers Werk, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1991, pp.71-83, English translation in J.C. Nyíri, Tradition and Individuality. Essays. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992.

[4] Marshall McLuhan, in The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, speaks of Heidegger's "non-literate bias in language and philosophy" (University of Toronto Press, 1962, repr. 1964, p.248). And in a short article first published in Explorations, no. 8 ("Eminent Extrapolators") McLuhan indeed referred to the "strongly oral character" of the work of the later Wittgenstein. He quoted the famous lines from the preface of the Philosophical Investigations ("the very nature of the investigation ... compels us to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every direction"), and went on to write: "All that need be said is that Wittgenstein is here trying to explain the character of oral as opposed to written philosophy." McLuhan did not actually spell out the connections between the emergence of post-literacy on the one hand, and Wittgenstein's use theory of meaning on the other; however, a member of the circle around Explorations, the Hungarian economic historian Károly (Karl) Polányi, contributed an article in the same issue, "The Semantics of Money-Uses", in which he utilized what are actually Wittgensteinian insights. As Polányi put it: "Symbols do not merely 'represent' something. They are material, oral, visual, or purely imaginary signs that form part of the definite situation in which they participate; thus they acquire meaning."

[5] What Is Called Thinking?, Harper & Row, 1968, pp.10 and 19.

[6] Unterwegs zur Sprache, Pfullingen: Neske, 1982, p.266.

[7] Ibid., p.260.

[8] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, transl. by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962, p.203.

[9] "Hearing is constitutive for discourse", ibid., p.206.

[10] Ibid., pp.205 and 204.

[11] "Communication is never anything like a conveying of experiences, such as opinions or wishes, from the interior of one subject into the interior of another", ibid., p.205.

[12] "When we are explicitly hearing the discourse of another, we proximally understand what is said, or - to put it more exactly - we are already with him, in advance, alongside the entity which the discourse is about. On the other hand, what we proximally hear is not what is voiced in the utterance. ... Both talking and hearing are based upon understanding" (Being and Time, pp.207f., translation slightly amended). Compare also, for instance, What Is Called Thinking?, p.129: "When we hear directly what is spoken directly, we do not at first hear the words as terms, still less the terms as mere sound."

[13] As Heidegger remarks: "die Sprache ist nicht bloß Sprache, insofern wir diese ... als die Einheit von Lautgestalt (Schriftbild), Melodie und Rhythmus und Bedeutung (Sinn) vorstellen. Wir denken Lautgestalt und Schriftbild als den Wortleib, Melodie und Rhythmus als die Seele und das Bedeutungsmäßige als den Geist der Sprache" ("Brief über den 'Humanismus'", in: Wegmarken, Frankfurt/M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1976 p.333).

[14] Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1983, pp.68f.

[15] J.C. Nyíri, "Wittgenstein and the Problem of Machine Consciousness", Grazer Philosophische Studien 33/34 (1989), 375-394.

[16] Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis, New York: The Free Press, 1990, p.187.

[17] Jaakko Hintikka, "Ludwig Wittgenstein - A Case Study in Dyslexia". Hungarian translation forthcoming in Magyar Filozófiai Szemle.

[18] Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

[19] MS 302:14

[20] Transl. by Harold North Fowler. Plato with an English translation, vol.I, Loeb Library, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914.

[21] Philosophical Investigations, Part I, §65.

[22] The Decline of the West, New York: 1934, vol.II, pp.149f.

[23] London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1923.

[24] Op. cit., p.296.

[25] Ibid., p.306.

[26] Ibid., pp.307 and 311.

[27] Ibid., pp.312 and 307.

[28] Ibid., p.308. Ogden and Richards, too, associate Platonism with specific "linguistic habits" (ibid., pp.30f.), without however recognizing the role writing here plays.

[29] I owe this point to Andreas Roser.

[30] See e.g Jerzy Toeplitz, Geschichte des Films, vol.2: 1928-1933, Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1985, pp.38ff.

[31] Ludwig Wittgenstein und der Wiener Kreis, Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1967, p.50.

[32] "Auf dem Film ... ist das Sprechen ein Mienenspiel und unmittelbar-visueller Gesichtsausdruck. Wer das Sprechen sieht, erfährt ganz andere Dinge als jener, der die Worte hört." Béla Balázs, Schriften zum Film, vol.1, Budapest: Akadémiai, 1982, p.68.

[33] "There arises in me a Freudian resistance against the finding of truth", MS 107:100.

[34] MS 109, pp.45f.

[35] Western philosophy, ever since Plato, ascribes to spoken language, and to language generally, the attributes of written language. The definitive formula was provided by Aristotle, in the second sentence of De interpretatione: "spoken sounds are symbols of affections in the soul, and written marks symbols of spoken sounds". Compare with an interesting, pertinent remark by Wittgenstein: "ich kann von primären und sekundären Zeichen sprechen - in einem bestimmten Spiel, einer bestimmten Sprache. ... Was soll man aber in einem Fall, wie dem der gesprochenen und geschriebenen Buchstaben sagen? Welches sind hier die primären, welches die sekundären Zeichen?" (TS 211:515)

[36] 1926 - repr. Vienna: Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1977, eds. A. Hübner et al.

[37] Loc. cit., p.XXXV, transl. by Elisabeth Leinfellner.

[38] Ibid., p.15.

[39] I am quoting MS 213 according to the page numbers of the copy in the Helsinki Archives. Wittgenstein compiled this manuscript late in 1931.

[40] "Vom Substantiven verleitet, glauben wir an eine Substanz // ... verleitet, nehmen wir eine Substanz an//. Ja, wenn wir der Sprache die Zügel überlassen & nicht dem Leben, dann entstehen die philosophischen Probleme. »Was ist die Zeit?« - schon in der Frage liegt der Irrtum: als wäre die Frage: woraus, aus welchem Stoff, ist die Zeit gemacht."

[41]"Die alles gleichmachende Gewalt der Sprache, die sich am krassesten im Wörterbuch zeigt, & die es möglich macht, daß die Zeit personifiziert werden konnte...", Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980, p.22.

[42] Let me point out once more that it is the intuitions of written language which suggest that meaning equals naming; and of course it is this very equation which is responsible for our bewitchment by language.

[43] Philosophical Grammar (translated by Anthony Kenny, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974, p.56). The original version is:"Augustinus, wenn er vom Lernen der Sprache redet, redet ausschließlich davon, wie wir den Dingen Namen beilegen, oder die Namen der Dinge verstehen. Hier scheint also das Benennen Fundament & Um-und-Auf der Sprache zu sein. ... Von einem Unterschied der Wörter redet Augustinus nicht... Gewiß aber denkt er zunächst an Hauptwörter & an die übrigen als etwas, was sich finden wird." (MS 111, pp.15f.) After undergoing a number of re-editings, the passage will of course reappear in §1 of Philosophical Investigations.

[44] Philosophical Remarks, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975, p.81. The passage comes from MS 107, p.222: "Der Strom des Lebens, oder der Strom der Welt, fließt dahin [»alles fließt«] & unsere Sätze werden sozusagen nur durch Augenblicke verifiziert." The entry is from Dec. 1, 1929, and comes immediately after the psychologically crucial "Vertsag" dream (I have analysed this dream in my "Wittgenstein 1929-1931: Die Rückkehr", KODIKAS/ /CODE - Ars Semeiotica 4-5/2 [1982], repr. in my Gefühl und Gefüge: Studien zum Entstehen der Philosophie Wittgensteins [Studien zur Österreichischen Philosophie, ed. Rudolf Haller, vol.11], Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1986, p.177, Engl. transl. in my Tradition and Individuality, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992, p.22).

[45] Philosophical Remarks, p.83, from MS 108, p.32, entry of Dec. 23, 1929.

[46] Philosophical Remarks, p.104. Originally: "Das gesprochene Wort im Sprechfilm, das die Vorgänge auf der Leinwand begleitet, ist ebenso fliehend // fliessend//, wie diese Vorgänge und nicht das Gleiche wie der Tonstreifen. Der Tonstreifen begleitet nicht das Spiel auf der Leinwand" (MS 113, p.519, subsequently reappearing as TS 211, p.708).

[47] Philosophical Remarks, p.98.

[48] "Das Gespräch, die Anwendung und Ausdeutung der Worte fließt dahin, und nur im Fluß hat das Wort seine Bedeutung." English translation by G.E.M. Anscombe, 2nd ed., Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981.

[49] Compare esp. Manuel Castells' notion of "real virtuality" in his recent The Rise of the Network Society (Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, vol.I), Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

[50] Cf. my papers "Wittgenstein's New Traditionalism", Acta Philosophica Fennica, Vol.28/1-3 (1976), pp.503-512, and "Wittgenstein 1929-31: The Turning Back", in S. Shanker, ed., Ludwig Wittgenstein: Critical Assessments, vol.4, London: Croom Helm, 1986, pp.29-59.

[51] Nigel Pleasants, "Economic Planning and Socialism - Wittgenstein against Austrian Conservatism", Current Issues in Political Philosophy: Justice and Welfare in Society and World Order", Papers of the 19th International Wittgenstein Symposium, Kirchberg am Wechsel, 1996, p.287.

[52] Cf. my talk "Globale Gesellschaft und lokale Kultur im Zeitalter der Vernetzung", held at a conference of the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing, in Rothenburg o.d.T., March 1998: