June 21, 2011
Fred Newman and I have written quite a bit about the specific ways that Ludwig Wittgenstein has influenced the social therapeutic practice and our understanding and articulation of the practice. As I teach a course/lead a conversation, “The Thought Leadership of Fred Newman,” these past three weeks (as part of the process of writing a new book), I am finding the responses to Newman’s and my writing very helpful. And that doesn’t apply only to the responses of the participants, but also to my own! I imagine other authors have similar experiences of reading something you wrote and feeling simultaneously the closeness of the writer and the distance of the reader. I find it a strangely pleasant disconcerting experience.
Here’s a passage from our book Unscientific Psychology: A Cultural-Performatory Approach to Understanding Human Life that participants grappled and/or resonated with (and which I am quite fond of):
[Wittgenstein’s] self-appointed task was to cure philosophy of its illness. (Ours, as we will try to show, is closer to curing “illness” of its philosophy.) We are all sick people, says Wittgenstein. No small part of what makes us sick is how we think (related in complicated ways to what we think and, even more fundamentally, to that we think or whether we think), especially how (that or whether) we think about thinking and other so-called mental processes and/or objects–something which we (the authors) think we (members of our culture) do much more than many of us like to think! It gets us into intellectual-emotional muddles, confusions, traps, narrow spaces; it torments and bewilders us; it gives us “mental cramps.” We seek causes, correspondences, rules, parallels, generalities, theories, interpretations, explanations for our thoughts, words and verbal deeds (often, even when we are not trying to or trying not to). But what if, Wittgenstein asks, there are none?
For centuries, great and not so great philosophers have tried to understand the mystery of thinking and, thereby, for some of them, resolve the “mind-body problem.” I’m glad of their continued efforts and wish them well. But I am equally if not more glad of—and thankful for—the many chances I and my colleagues have to involve ordinary folks (non-philosophers) from all walks of life in such conversations. We learned this from Newman, whose passion for philosophy is inseparable from his passion for changing the world, the synthesis embodied in his practice and, occasionally, in the written word: “Abstraction is something that is dangerous unless it is engaged in by the masses. I think abstraction is not simply something that CAN be done by the masses. I think it is a critical developmental activity for the masses to engage in.” (Psychological Investigations)