Tag Archives: William Barrett

Let there be language

Regarding the word “phenomenology” —

“Heidegger finds around that word a whole cluster of etymologies, all of them having an internal unity of meaning that brings us to the very center of his thought. The Greek word phainomenon is connected with the word phaos, light, and also with the word apophansis, statement or speech. The sequence of ideas is thus: revelation-light-language. The light is the light of revelation, and language itself is in this light. These may look like mere metaphors, but perhaps they are so only for us, whose understanding is darkened; for early man, at the very dawn of the Greek language, this inner link between light and statement (language) was a simple and profound fact, and it is our sophistication and abstractness that makes it seem to us ‘merely’ metaphorical.” — William Barrett, in his book Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy

 

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A language to open the world to us

“…this change from closed to open language is also a passage from a closed to an open world, for our world — the concrete world in which we live — does not come to us as something independent of language; we do not construct a language independently and then add it on to experience; our world transpires within language. Consequently, the essential openness of the language that we have to use for the purposes of life means that the world of our experience is correspondingly open. And that the world should lie open to us is the real and concrete meaning of freedom to which we aspire.” — William Barrett, writing about Wittgenstein, in The Illusion of Technique

‘True mysticism’

“The mystical” is the sheer fact that the world exists, that there is anything at all rather than nothing. This is the cosmological awe at the mystery of existence. — William Barrett, in The Illusion of Technique. Barrett is summarizing a point made by Wittgenstein.

William Barrett: Thinking about living

“…existence and a theory about existence are not one in the same, any more than a printed menu is as effective a form of nourishment as an actual meal. More than that: the possession of a theory about existence may intoxicate the possessor to such a degree that he forgets the need of existence altogether.” — William Barrett, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy

Sturdy’s thorough introduction to Kierkegaard

Check out this outstanding, thorough introduction to Kierkegaard by Rob Sturdy. As a way of saying “amen” while we’re on the topic, here’s one of my favorite quotations by Kierkegaard followed by a favorite quotation about him:

Kierkegaard, in Either/Or: Other people may complain that the present age is wicked. I complain that it is wretched, because it lacks passion. People’s souls are thin and flimsy like lace; and they are spiritual lacemakers. The thoughts of their hearts are too paltry to be regarded as sinful. A worm might be looked upon as sinful to think in such a way; but for people made in the image of God, ‘sinful’ is too big a word. Their desires are drab and sluggish, their passion lethargic. They are like shopkeepers, doing their duty, but clipping little pieces of gold from the coins they take. They think that, even if the Lord is careful in keeping his accounts, they can cheat him a little. Away with them! This is why my soul constantly turns back to the Old Testament and to Shakespeare. The characters are real human beings: they hate and love, they murder their enemies, they curse their descendants, they sin.

William Barrett, in Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy: For Socrates philosophy was a way of life, and he existed in that way. Since he did not profess to have any theory of philosophy, he did not accept pay as a professor. He could teach only by example, and what Kierkegaard learned from the example of Socrates became fundamental for his own thinking: namely, that existence and a theory about existence are not one in the same, any more than a printed menu is as effective a form of nourishment as an actual meal. More than that: the possession of a theory about existence may intoxicate the possessor to such a degree that he forgets the need of existence altogether. … Philosophers before Kierkegaard speculated about the proposition “I exist,” but it was he who observed the crucial fact they had forgotten: namely, that my existence is not at all a matter of speculation to me, but a reality in which I am personally and passionately involved. I do not find this existence reflected in the mirror of the mind, I encounter it in life; it is my life, a current flowing invisibly around all my mental mirrors….And so any man who chooses or is forced to choose decisively – for a lifetime, and therefore for eternity since only one life is given us – experiences his own existence as something beyond the mirror of thought. He encounters the Self that he is, not in the detachment of thought, but in the involvement and pathos of choice.