Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Reading of Earth, or of Life

We are justified in saying that philosophy partakes of the nature of art, provided that we are serious about art. The addition made to reality by a great artist is not wilful or disconnected;--it is an unfolding, or a cultivated growth from what was there. Shakespeare says, 'See what life can be; for a Cordelia, for Autolycus, and for Macbeth'. Pheidias says both, 'See what marble can do', and also 'This is what Dew-maidens would be if they existed'; bringing out something which is inchoate in a twilight amongst Greek hills. Holbein shows us a society and a history, and depths of experience sounded or evaded, through a few lines on a canvas. More simply, though on the smaller scale, we see the interpretative office in the secondary arts. The performance of a drama, the playing of an orchestral composition, the reading aloud of a poem, will add to existent reality an evanescent series of movements and of sounds, and through these will unfold what was given. Poets perhaps have bestowed a name which philosophy need not repudiate, when they have called it a reading of earth, or of life.

[Helen Wodehouse, "Language and Moral Philosophy," Mind, Vol. 47, No. 186 (Apr., 1938), p. 213.]

Helen Marion Wodehouse (1880-1964) is a philosopher who deserves a somewhat greater remembrance than she has. Her book, The Logic of Will, for instance, is an interesting exploration of the analogy between the cognitive and the conative, or, in other words, between speculative thought and practical action.

"Language and Moral Philosophy" itself is a very nicely worked-out argument that all language is both emotive and representational (or, as she prefers to put it, emotive and presentative); that is to say, that we cannot separate out 'emotive' uses of language and factual/scientific/assertive uses of language because all use of language is emotive -- it seeks to move, even if only to move people to pay attention to something -- and that it always fulfills its emotive function by presenting the world in a certain way, either directly asserting or suggesting assertions: "Every intentional communication is both presentative and emotive; and if a rule is given, an assertion is made" (p. 209).

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