On the difference between philosophy and dishwater

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.
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