Response to Judd Hemann's Wittgenstein Lecture
20 November 1999

First off, I would like to commend Judd with writing and talking for roughly four to five pages, and ending right where he started, which as  Heidegger says, is the ultimate "truth" or "goal" of philosophy (though I'm sure Heidegger would hate those words I just used).   In beginning our discussion with a rather oblique quote from  W . and ending with another rather oblique quote from himself, Judd has just confirmed what German sociologist Niklas Luhmann calls the "self-referentiality" of systems.  That is, a system "is forced to treat itself as one of its objects in order to compare itself with others among those objects" (12).  The beginning point and the end point of an inquiry into matters at hand, tend to leave one with the suspicious feeling as if they had "been there" before, or that they were having a case of de ja vu.  Maybe so.  Thus we can now ask the question whether a discussion of philosophical positions is even seems, as both W. and Judd say, that these conclusions arise and persist from the exact starting point of an inquiry--namely, themselves.  Our need or want to fit philosophical positions into a system comes mainly out of a feeling that if we relate a position to a known system or systems, then at least we can have the validity to be speaking of the matters at hand.  Thus self-referentiality is both a part of the system and of the difference the systems wishes to make between itself, other systems, of which it may belong or oppose, and the general environment that the systems resides in which, could be called another system.  But let us, for simplicity sake, call this environment the backdrop of the real, or maybe as the "horizon" that is so commonly used in philosophical discourse.

Now, a philosophical position, which lays claim to certain arguments, proofs, theories, epistemological doubts, etc., cannot exist without the environment of "philosophy" as its generic horizon.  This can be loosely called the "context" if we must, but I would much rather think of it as the point where our relationship to the environment and our self-referentiality cross and become one, unified within the complex of something like "understanding," or "knowledge."  So a system must necessarily orient itself to the environment in which it "functions" or is "used" as W. might like to say.  This orientation is not occasional or evolutionary, but cannot exist without the environment.  As Luhmann says, systems "maintain themselves by creating and maintaining a difference from their environment, and they use their boundaries to regulate this difference" (17).  Thus the difference and the border between the philosophical position one takes up and the environment of philosophy itself, are both necessary for each of them to exist separately.  I am assuming much here so I would like to take a minute to provide a definition that I think might be helpful here, as Judd did not define many of his key words in his piece (this will be my own definition...ha,ha,ha).

1.  Position :  What is a "position" specifically?  Does it have a working definition?  Let us take Judd's use of the word to maybe find at least what he means by it.  Judd alludes to the football example.  Here we see "position" as designating a place on a playing field that has boundaries, rules, history, and value.  Thus the friend that is a 'left tackle,' tends to inscribe within us, automatically, whether we know the rules of football or not, a place and a "job" or function within the system.  It is not only a relative place within the game, but it is also a mentality that prescribes certain duties, roles, and rules that are followed for that "position" of left tackle.  Now, it is interesting that Judd did not specifically mention this idea of place until he came to the example of sex, whereby he goes to mention the "shower," which to me would imply a place exclusively, rather than a "position," in all of its possible definitive terms.  I think Judd is correct in saying that sex is less restrictive than football (thankfully so!!), but I would, if asked this question, respond by saying something like, "I enjoy it best doggie-style."  This then implies some sort of bodily contortion that resembles dogs copulating.  But is this not place as well?  Is this not a mentality too (I won't get into the sex example too much more here...I could be incriminating myself)?  If so, then is "position" both a self-referential term (psychic) and a relative, relational term that associates it with place, placement, "I'm coming from this direction," etc.?   This would confirm Juddís theory that positions are paradoxical.  But I do not think we still have a responsible, working definition of 'position.'  What other ideas of meaning does 'position' hold for us, philosophically speaking?  Maybe we should look at what the outcomes, or results of actively "positioning" oneself,  leaving the static meaning of "position" and entering into the more subtle, fluid observation of "position" in the backdrop of its environment.

Things may have a "position," as may people, both physically and mentally, and as well as stars, planets, and everything else that makes up the environment, or the horizon in which we perceive, understand, cognize, reflect, produce, etc....everything that constitutes what is.  We must then see the results of positions, positionings, as being necessarily involved with action(s).  Philosophically speaking, actions produce results, or at least begin, continue, or respond to previous actions. The act of taking a position might occur without one noticing.  Do we notice the new positions of our loved oneís values over time? Do we understand the positioning of the earth in a generally constant orbit around the sun, to which we can predict and make-up the concept of time?  Maybe.  But in doing so, we are also taking positions as well, thus returning to the original point of departure.  A position within a system then is integrally connected to, yet different than the environment in which the system resides.  The system examples of football and sex would then have no real relevance within the environment of philosophy, which is what "we" are doing or acting out.  We must use systems examples that would be relevant for philosophy if we would really want to get to a specific and working definition of "position." Judd mentions "if there is such a place as outside of philosophy," and I think there is.  We have the place of ice cream making, we have the place of bicycle riding, we have the place of geosynchronous satellite orbits, etc.  The new problem that arises then is that we must differentiate between what is philosophy and what is not, what is other than philosophy (Judd also loosely refers to this idea at the end of the 1st paragraph on page 3).  This then gets into the current predicament that philosophy seems to find itself (the whole, "is Jacques Derrida a philosopher or a charlatan" argument that Cambridge found itself in a few years back when it decided to give him an honorary degree).  That is a whole other game that needs a different time and place to play in.

Judd also mentions the "either/or" that arises ("crossroads") when two people are playing a chess game.  One can either do one move, and thus win or lose the game, and dictate where the game will go (positioning), or once can position oneself differently and get a different type of reaction/response/result, etc.  This "either/or" tends to give the idea of "position" as a return to the main paradox that Judd has been speaking about for the entire length of his discourse, namely that positions imply place, mentality, demeanor, decision-making processes, the "stakes" involved, the valuations of positions, and the manner in which positions make themselves apparent to the one who is perceiving these "positionings." But I would like to disagree with the judgment Judd makes that philosophical positions are of this "either/or" type found in chess.  This sense of closure and destruction is too absolute.  We must remember that chess is a game of general, global strategy.  It is just a game.  The stakes may be "high" but this would be the choice of the players to make it so.  Is death involved in chess (the ultimate stake)?  Maybe, but again yet another choice one would make (and who would be stupid enough to stake oneís life on a game, unless forced to do so, i.e. The Deer Hunter).

In the end, Judd comes, as I have mentioned, full circle and reminds us that philosophical positions are "far more likely that they are a combination of all the examples."  But what would be the point then?  It would remind us of the contingency involved in any system, and the elements (positions) that make up these systems.  All of this is put against the backdrop or horizon of the environment in which the system resides in.  Thus we could also return to Judd's notion of "just more ways of going on," which as cyberneticist Norbert Wiener pointed out, means that "under certain circumstances a system runs through all the distributions of position and momentum which are compatible with its energy, if it keeps running long enough."  And if I didn't know Judd any better, I might think that he has a soft spot in his heart from some sort of metaphysical foundation that he is not letting us know about...

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