Thursday, August 28, 2008

Philosophy, Silence, and Poetry

Western philosophy in the twentieth century, especially that of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, is marked by silence. The great three perennial problems of the West, namely, human freedom, God and immortality, were largely considered unverifiable propositions. Only space and time were a priori intuitions — the rest was a language-game.

There has been, in the history of Western thought over the past century, an acceptance of the limitations of pure reason, a turn toward metaphor and interpretation, a casting about in the realms of poetry and literature.

For example, Nietzsche gave birth to the mythical Zarathustra, Heidegger wrote about the "valid poetry" of Rilke, and Sartre wrote plays and novels.

In his writings, Wittgenstein prodigiously employed metaphor, analogy and simile, his pianist fingers rising effortlessly to the black keys.

(Even Kurt Gödel, of all the twentieth century’s great minds, the most silent, the most reluctant to publish, appreciated fairy tales.)

Historically speaking, this turn to the language of beauty is a paradigmatic shift in Western thought. While in prison, Socrates had dreams that bid him “practice and cultivate the arts.” So, before his death, he composed a few poems, a hymn to Apollo and a few versifications of Aesop’s fables. Nevertheless, in the final analysis, Socrates believed the art of philosophy was the highest kind of art. His student, Plato, of course, famously banned all poets from the Republic.