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Over My Shoulder #42: Kelly Dean Jolley on Augustine and the longing for a philosophical answer. From The Concept ‘Horse’ Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is a passage from the penultimate chapter of The Concept Horse Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations, by my teacher, Kelly Dean Jolley. Jolley has just finished a long examination of post-Kerry responses to Gottlob Frege’s Concept Horse Paradox (CHP). He finds that they fail to do what they set out to do — indeed, fail to do much of anything at all — and that they tend to fail in a very peculiar way, by trying to run up against a frustration in language with a host of new terminology and notational enhancements for English prose, which are supposed to accomplish something, to express something, that heretofore English prose was unable to express. Jolley considers what it is about the philosophical voice, and the philosophical mood, that prompts this kind of graphical anzurennen. Thus:

Consider, in closing, Augustine’s famous question, What is time?, and his famous recoiling upon his own question.

There was, therefore, not time before you [God] made anything, since time itself is something you made. No time could be eternal along with you, since you are always there; and if time were always, it would not be time. Then what is time? Who can give that a brief or easy answer? Who can even form a conception of it to be put into words? Yet what do we mention more often or familiarly in our conversation than time? We must therefore know what we are talking about when we refer to it, or when we hear someone else doing so. But what, exactly, is that? I know what it is if no one asks, but if anyone does, then I cannot explain it.

Augustine asks a question. And asked, he cannot answer. Part of the reason he cannot answer is that he longs for a certain kind of answer: a brief and easy one. But he has no brief and easy answer. Worse still, he doesn’t even have a conceptual draft on such an answer; he cannot even form a conception of time that he can (begin to) articulate. Augustine takes his confession of inarticulateness to be genuine confession: he’s searched himself before God and found no conception of time that he can (begin to) articulate. But Augustine cannot quite rest easy in his confession—after all, he must confess further that he is guilty of all sorts of temporal words and deeds. He has talked and been talked to of events that took little time, a long time or no time at all. He has judged things temporary and permanent. He has observed the hours; he has worshipped or mourned or fasted on days; he has battled the demon of the noontide. In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday he prayed, and that instantly. He has wished time away and hoped for time back. He has arrived early, promptly and late. He is a practical horologist. Even more, he has confessed and is confessing by biographizing, by looking into his own history: … [You] made me (but not my memory) begin in time …. In time I began to smile …, etc. So the first confession’s genuineness sits uncomfortably beside what must further be confessed. The tension is captured in his words: I know what it is if no one asks; but if anyone does, then I cannot explain it.

Augustine’s difficulty is that the anyone who might ask includes himself. When he asks of himself, he can give no answer. When he isn’t asking, he talks and does in ways that seem to him to require that he has an answer within him; we might say that when he isn’t asking, he seems to live an answer to the question.

And so, I think, he does. But he longs for a certain kind of answer, one that, though he cannot provide it, determines the space, as it were, into which an answer should fit. It determines the space that his knowledge should occupy That space is wrongly shaped for a life, for a lived answer to the question. What he does is the answer to his question, but he cannot see how to see it as the answer. And isn’t something of the same the problem for the respondents to the CHP?

Kelly Dean Jolley (2007). The Concept Horse Paradox and Wittgensteinian Conceptual Investigations. Ashgate: ISBN #0754660451. 77–78.

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