I biked to the library in the rain this morning just to get Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. I had avoided Wittgenstein because I knew enough about him to know that he dismissed most of the questions that are asked by philosophers as nonsensical, and I didn’t want this to be the case because, nonsensical or not, they are questions I cannot avoid. He wrote:
“People say again and again that philosophy doesn’t really progress, that we are still occupied with the same philosophical questions as were the Greeks. But the people who say that don’t understand why this has to be so. It is because our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions.”
Okay, great. I can even imagine him to be right, but—and this is another reason I avoided Wittgenstein—the man was suicidal. When he finally learned that he had terminal cancer—at about the same age I am now—he didn’t even care, because as he put it: “I have no desire to live.”
But the skeptic in me might well ask: “But how do you know that his despair was the necessary outcome of his philosophy?” Well, I don’t. David Hume was the most renowned skeptic of all time. He could abolish claims to knowledge as adroitly as a man with a machine gun could abolish chickens, yet he was a happy man, and as he approached death, he remained that way. He even wrote that he had no idea why one with such a dismal philosophy could be so happy, and concluded that it must simply be congenital. Go figure. Surely, nothing is good or bad unless what our thinking makes it so, but what makes our thinking make it so? Optimists say that we are free to choose, but I think they give themselves too much credit. They say “Be like us” in the easy certainty that they too could be jaded, cynical, and pessimistic if they so pleased.