We transmit so much knowledge through the written word

Recently, I have found myself seeking to justify literacy. You would be right to think it is silly that one would need to justify such a thing. Nevertheless, there is a part of me that hears a voice that repeatedly asks, "what's all this fuss about literacy?" And I found that many of my responses were inadequate. I would respond with, "it is a vital skill in today's workforce" or "with literacy one can explore the world of the imagination" or "literacy is central to learning." And the voice would respond with quite reasonable objections. One can learn skills without literacy. One can convey information through the spoken word and through visual representations. One can be apprenticed by a thorough and patient master who shows us the ropes of what needs to be done.

"I can get by without learning to read ... I'm a car mechanic, and I have a cousin whose always up to date. He tells me and shows me what I need to know. Sure, he can read ... He stays up-to-date with all the new technology. That's how he works. But me, I'm hands on. I need to be hands on to learn. Give me an instruction manual, and it's all gibberish to me."

In practice, so much of our knowledge is transmitted through the written word. This is not to say that the written word is all that is required to understand a topic, such as medicine or auto mechanics. One still requires experts to demonstrate skills. One still requires teachers to ask the right questions and to prompt our thoughts. One still requires certain experiences to have the background knowledge that will be necessary to make sense of what one reads (to apply what one reads). Despite all this, if one is not able to read, then one is restricted in the ability to extend that knowledge. To build an extensive understanding one needs quality teachers, enabling experiences, and the ability to further one's understanding. One needs the ability to source information, read it, understand it, critique it and put it into practice.

Reading is not the key to learning. Good teaching, quality experiences and passion & purpose are the necessary keys. Reading and writing are the vital multipliers. They can help quicken the pace at which one learns. Why? Because we transmit so much our knowledge through the written word.

A Struggle With Skepticism: First Draft

"I say this struggle with skepticism, with its threat or temptation, is endless ...[ Wittgenstien's Philosophical] Investigations ... confronts this temptation and finds its victory exactly in never claiming a final philosophical victory over ... skepticism, which would mean a victory over the human." (Cavell, 1989)

Doubt, suspicion, hesitancy - these are key qualities of a type of intellectual skepticism. The knowledge that there may be another possible action or form of life or explanation makes any idea or practice or commitment appear arbitrary. To abide by any set of propositions is to marginalise another set of practices, until the skeptical mind intervenes to shut down any commitment to ideals at all. Placed in a political space in which there is cultural diversity, a skeptic would be loathe to claim any privileged position of one set of ideas over another.  This is the personal struggle with skepticism that people are engaged in. It begins with the question, "how would I be able to commit?"

A struggle with skepticism is an overall struggle with doubt. As Cavell points out, "a final philosophical victory over ... skepticism ... would mean a victory over the human," which means that it is human to doubt and to hesitate and to demand. In my opinion, that which should remain firm is "the form of life" and the values, practices and systems of knowledge that give this life shape. This is in itself problematic, but it is something that I must be willing to accept. “The conditions that make a practice, any practice, possible, are not arbitrary … They must be replicable from generation to generation of practitioners.” (Burbles and Smeyers, 2010, pg 176 - 177). If anything, the skeptic in us all must be willing to challenge/question these inherited practices so they can grow, find new forms of expression and be more equitable whilst retaining the core values which permitted their rise in the first place. That is what philosophy is for, but - in the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein - "the real discovery is the one which enables me to stop doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question." (Philosophical Investigations, #133) 

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Is the world really the case?

From "What do Lindsay Lohan and Wittgenstein have in common?" by Sarah Nardi



"And that, patient reader, brings us to Wittgenstein, who began the Tractatus with the proposition "The world is everything that is the case." It sounds simple enough on its face but think about it long enough and it's a devastating mindfuck. How can we ever know with certainty what is or is not the case? Language? Language is a social construct. If you and I agree that the sky is blue, is it necessarily the case that the sky is blue? What is blue, really? It's a sound we've all agreed to make in reference to a visual phenomenon. But because what we've all agreed to call blue can only be perceived on an individual sensory level, how can we know with certainty that we're all perceiving the same thing in the same way? Follow this thinking long enough and you may end up where Wittgenstein once did, believing that we can never know with certainty anything beyond ourselves. We can't know anything of the external world because we can't confirm anything as objectively being the case.

I often think of Wittgenstein when considering photography because much in the way we assume words correspond to reality, we think of photographs as representations of objective truth. Photography is the medium of documentary, after all. And though we all know it can be staged and manipulated according to the photographer's point of view, we assume that photography, to a significant degree, captures elements of reality as they objectively exist. But does it? Is there any such thing as an objective reality or does everything in our world rely on the context that we ourselves create?"