Adorno on Wittgenstein & the Dialectical Essence of Philosophy

. . . I would maintain that Wittgenstein's statement that ‘What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence’ is the anti-philosophical statement par excellence. We should insist instead that philosophy consists in the effort to say what cannot be said, in particular whatever cannot be said directly, in a single sentence or a few sentences, but only in a context. In this sense it has to be said that the concept of philosophy is itself the contradictory effort to say, through mediation and contextualization, what cannot be said hic et nunc; to that extent philosophy contains an inner contradiction, that is, it is inwardly dialectical in itself. And this perhaps is the profoundest vindication of the dialectical method, namely, that philosophy in itself—as the attempt to say the unsayable—before it arrives at any particular content or any particular thesis—is dialectically determined. [. . .] we would achieve the utopia of cognition if it might prove possible to grasp the non-conceptual not by means of some allegedly superior non-conceptual methods, but by unlocking the non-conceptual by means of the concept, and the self-criticism of concepts—without reducing what has been comprehended, the non-conceptual, to concepts by main force.


SOURCE: Adorno, Theodor W. Lectures on Negative Dialectics, ed. by Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2008), Lecture 7: 'Attempted Breakouts' (30 November 1965), p. 74.


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Adorno on Wittgenstein’s Indescribable Vulgarity
by William F. Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher blog, April 17, 2006)
[Passage from Adorno's Philosophische Terminologie I with English translation & commentary]


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