Friday, September 25, 2009
Jacquette, Dale. Review of Garry L. Hagberg, DESCRIBING OURSELVES. NDPR (September 2009).
Hagberg, Garry L. Describing Ourselves: Wittgenstein and Autobiographical Consciousness. Oxford: OUP, 2008. We describe ourselves when we articulate the condition of our bodies and minds. Since other persons from an external standpoint can often do at least as good a job of characterizing the public facts about us as we can ourselves, it seems to fall to a certain kind of introspective philosophical autobiography to delve into the inner world of first-person psychological experience in the self's encounters with itself. Or so we might naturally think from the standpoint of naïve but commonly accepted assumptions about the literature of autobiography as self-descriptive linguistic expression. Such a view of things is typically wedded to a number of substantive philosophical commitments amounting to a metaphysics of the self, of how meaning relates thought to language and the world, and potentially involving a fundamental division of mind and body, of internal and external phenomena. These commitments, powerful as they may seem, are not easily sustained when subjected to the kinds of criticisms Wittgenstein raises in his later posthumous writings, particularly in the Philosophical Investigations and Lectures on Philosophical Psychology. Wittgenstein is frequently seen as challenging the internalist proposition that the self is in a privileged epistemic position to understand its sensations, beliefs, attitudes, judgments, emotions, responses to others and whatever else occurs within a psychological subject's supposedly impenetrable subjectivity that makes the self uniquely qualified to understand and report on its own immediately lived-through experiences. Garry L. Hagberg, in this interesting new philosophical study of the literature of autobiography, explores these topics in relation to the mind's efforts to understand itself reflexively and to share the information with others. The book develops three major themes: (1) the nature of autobiographical thinking, self-investigation, memory, recollection, and writing about one's self from the standpoint of an attitude that Hagberg calls autobiographical consciousness; (2) the concept of the self implied or presupposed by autobiographical practices as contrasted with Hagberg's references to the dualistic 'Cartesian legacy'; (3) Wittgenstein's philosophical remarks especially in the later period as they relate both positively and negatively to the concept of self and the philosophical understanding of autobiography as self-discovery, self-exploration, and, as Hagberg's title indicates, self-description. In the course of considering these topics, Hagberg discusses, in fine, such autobiographical classics as Augustine's Confessions and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, as well as literary and artistic self-portraits by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt van Rijn, Vladimir Nabakov, along with related reflections on the self and the art of autobiography by Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, Iris Murdoch, Stanley Cavell, Donald Davidson, and, of course, with special focus throughout, Wittgenstein. . . . Read the whole review here: http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=17525.