“Finding a Replacement for the Soul”
“Mind and Meaning in Literature and Philosophy”
Brett Bourbon, Harvard University Press, 2004

The dark expression, “Finding a Replacement for the Soul,” titles Brett Bourbon’s book, which looks into our connection with language from a distant Wittgensteiean view. And that view expressed in Wittgenstein’s terms manifests the ideas of ‘experiencing the meaning of a word” and the “dawning of an aspect.” In fact, by Bourbon’s design Wittgenstein’s work rings in muffled tintinnabulations throughout his work. Yet, for ease of comprehension, however, one would have preferred that Bourbon had written his work in an unmuffled carillon of Wittgensteinian language. Thus, to open up access and passage to Bourbon’s purpose, one found it useful to substitute, for instance, the word ‘grammar’-in Wittgenstein’s sense- for Bourbon’s use of ‘logic.’ Additionally, one liberally replaced Bourbon’s “logic of fiction” and “quotation theory” ideas with Wittgenstein’s notion of “language games.” That substitution overwrote all of Chapter 2 of “Finding a Replacement for the Soul” and rendered its distracting theoretical explications neutral. One legitimized these substitutions for two reasons. First, that, “Here the term “language-game” is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life.” (Philosophical Investigations #23) That is to say that: language users readily distinguish by practice and so without the necessity of logic or a goading theory the difference between the words of fiction and the words of physics. This is a given. “What has to be accepted, the given, is –so one could say- a form of life.” (“Philosophical Investigations,” p226) Second, that if as Bourbon asserts in Chapter 3 that, “We do not need any theories of interpretation,” then why would we need a “quotation theory” or “logic of fiction” either? Theories such as those that meant to explain or to penetrate phenomena such as ‘consciousness,’ ‘knowing,’ ‘thinking, ‘seeing,’ and ‘understanding how to go on,’ etc. and their dependence on the whip of logic to compel their acceptance are the bottles from which Wittgenstein wanted to free the flies or to free them from the picture that held them captive. (“Philosophical Investigations” # 309 & # 115)

So, what sort of picture does Bourbon present in “Finding a Replacement for the Soul?” First, he holds that we are immersed in language; he, for example, explores questions such as, “How are words and persons alike?” Second, he holds that literature and poetry are invaluable for the countless self-descriptions, for the ways of being, for the ways of self-knowing that these descriptions offer. And it is Bourbon’s purpose to obviate the threat to literature and poetry’s descriptive value that drives his book. He pictures the threat- how we make and lose sense of ourselves- in a Jastrow’s Duck/Rabbit fashion. That is that how we enter and exit “sense” depends on the “stipulations and justifications” of how we make that sense - otherwise known as a language –game. Although Bourbon acknowledges that any description depends on a “stipulation and justification,” including that the duck/rabbit figure that can also be described as an illusion; he nevertheless limits the threat to two opposing aspects; that is between the first and third person descriptions of who and how we are in the world. ‘First person’ descriptions are “non-propositional” and “intentional”- the language of literature, poetry, ethics and aesthetics; ‘third person’ descriptions are “propositional” and “non-intentional”- the language of science and the pseudo- sciences of materialistic ideologies. The conflict here seems all too familiar- fiction v truth/falsity. This dichotomy inevitably turns on what is real and what is not, that is to a word’s ontological reference. Put in a Wittgensteinean picture: in the language –game of materialism ontology is all; in the language-game of the “Philosophical Investigations” ontology is irrelevant. In short and although Bourbon used other language, the situation is this: God is dead. Without God, the word ‘soul’ has no meaning and holds, therefore, neither the properties nor the values for humans to experience. Emptied of its ancient anchoring substance; the word ‘soul’ now wafts about as a pronoun. Therefore, the important aspects of being human picked out by our use of the world soul are bankrupt. All of this is so because ‘third person’ descriptions with there veneer of ontological truth have discredited and replaced first person descriptions that, according to the third person ethos, identify nothing or nothing but symptoms, the behavior of some squiggling stuff. Bourbon presents a dark picture, indeed.

The insidious diminishment of our self-descriptive powers and the consequent loss of our sense of our selves and our humanity described by Bourbon remind one of Ray Bradbury’s “451 Fahrenheit.” Recall that Bradbury’s book pictures a future America whose citizens, peeved and unhappy by the perverse replies to the ‘riddle of life’ offered by, for example, literature, poetry, and philosophy, freely give up what they take to be the source of their annoyance: books, particularly those books written for reasons with other than a ‘third person’ utilitarian aim. Moreover, the government in Bradbury’s picture breaks down the ideas of happiness and equality by extending both notions out to (a Marxist-like) absurdity: all of its citizens are (to be made) equally happy. In the world of “451 Fahrenheit” third person descriptions preempt first person ones. That is that by god-like fiat the government solidifies the idea of “happiness” into a certain kind of thing and that thing is attainable by other kinds of things. In this charming dystopia not only is there is a “chicken for every pot,” but linguistically a “beetle for every box” (this parody of Wittgenstein’s ‘beetle in a box’ (“Philosophical Investigations” # 293) means that the government decrees and enforces what the ontological reference is for every word -if it didn’t burn it first). For both Bourbon and Bradbury, however, this is the way talk of the soul and hence a way of our making sense of our selves to our selves ends, not with the ever expanding language of intentional non-propositional descriptions, but lost in the non-intentional propositional words and sentences of materialistic explanations. Alas, talk of the soul now declared by a third person authority as beetle-less ends with a senseless whisper. That is to say that we are forbidden to experience the meaning of the word soul. What, then, does finding a replacement for the soul picture us doing? Is it replacing the soul’s lost beetle with a different one? Is it keeping the box but acquiring a different beetle and concept? Other?

The answer is “other.” In Part II, Chapter X, of the “Philosophical Investigations,” Wittgenstein shows that we say and think with, in, and through pictures. How we apply these pictures, however, is often unclear. If so, then how should we apply Wittgenstein’s observation that, “The best picture of the human soul is the human body?” Bourbon answers, “The soul need not exist as anything particular in order to be pictured as the body. Its existing is the picturing too. The soul is what is manifest, but it is also taken as the means of manifesting the humanness of the body, animating it, and allowing us to think, sense and understand.” In other words, the ontology of the soul, the box, and its beetle are irrelevant. Wittgenstein’s picture does not therefore collapse soul into body and so in that way replace our first person descriptions with third person ones. Seeing ourselves as objects, machines, or an odd mixture of chemical, electrical, and physical stuff is seeing a particular aspect of ourselves not as how we ‘really’ are. Bourbon continues, “Picturing is the same as how one is manifest; the body is the best picture not because it is a picture but because it is the minimal and necessary means of manifesting ourselves to ourselves and each other.” Do we then need to be finding a replacement for the soul? Not as long as our form of life experiences the meaning of the word soul and does so oblivious to the machinations of materialist ideologies.