I’ve been chasing a half-remembered quote of Wittgenstein’s for a while now. As ever, when I found the text it was not saying exactly what I thought it was saying, but something even better. Here it is:
Wittgenstein wrote to Moore, “One can’t drink wine while it ferments, but that it’s fermenting shows that it isn’t dishwater . . .You see I still make beautiful similes” (Monk, Duty of Genius 363).
I think that there’s so much going on in those few words. Here’s a few thoughts they evoke in me:
- You can’t force philosophical writing. A thesis needs time to ferment until it is mature.
- However, there are ways of checking whether philosophical thought is going on. As long as there is the occasional bubble of thought, there’s hope.
- Sometimes thoughts can be left for too long. There needs to be some stimulation to help ensure that fermentation does not become stagnation.
- How do we ensure that a particular thought is in fact fermenting, and not stagnating?
- The above quote is not, imo, a simile, though it could be formulated as one.