Adorno on Wittgenstein’s Indescribable Vulgarity

Theodor W. Adorno, Philosophische Terminologie I (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1973). pp. 55-56:

Wenn Wittgenstein erklaert, man solle nur das sagen, was sich klar sagen laesst, dann klingt das zwar sehr heroisch und hat womoeglich noch einen mystisch-existentiellen Oberton, der sehr erfolgreich an die Menschen in der gegenwaertigen Stimmung appelliert. Ich glaube aber, dass dieser beruehmte Satz Wittgensteins geistig von einer unbeschreiblichen Vulgaritaet ist, weil darin vorbeigesehen wird an dem, worauf es allein in der Philosophie ankommt: das ist genau das Paradox dieses Unterfangens, mit den Mitteln des Begriffs das zu sagen, was mit den Mittlen des Begriffs eigentlich nicht sich sagen laesst, das Unsagbare eigentlich doch zu sagen.

It no doubt sounds very heroic when Wittgenstein declares that one should say only that which can be said clearly. It also conveys a mystical-existential aura that many today find appealing. But I believe that this famous Wittgensteinian proposition is of an indescribable spiritual vulgarity inasmuch as it ignores the whole point of philosophy. It is precisely the paradox of this enterprise that it aims to say the unsayable, to express by means of concepts that which cannot be expressed by means of concepts. (tr. BV)

Note: The above translation is by William F. Vallicella, originally from the defunct incarnation of his blog Maverick Philosopher, April 17, 2006. His commentary was followed by a comment by 'w_ockham' comparing Wittgenstein and Bradley on the infinite. Vallicella's original commentary was reposted with the above translation on the current site of his blog:

Adorno on Wittgenstein’s Indescribable Vulgarity @ The Maverick Philosopher


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