Kristian Guttesen - Poetry Catching Emotions and the Scope of Character Education: Enabling discernment beyond the visible spectrum
In the first part of Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein, 1974), Wittgenstein displays his method and tries to decipher the use of language. Throughout his career, he develops a philosophical approach and a way of thinking that can be interpreted as an educational method.
This presentation will consist of 3 sections:
A.Wittgenstein's Method and Use of Language
B.The relation of Language and the Arts
C.The relation of Language and Poetry – and implications for the education of personal character.
As a starting point, the presentation asks:
1) What is a poet?
Three subsequent questions the presentation asks, are:
2) What does poetry do?,
3) How does it do it?; and,
4) To what end does it do it?
The last question, in particular, will convey the scope of character education within the relation of language and poetry.
According to Søren Kierkegaard, a poet is '[a]n unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music' (Kierkegaard, 2000, p. 38). The last part of this quotation is an example of an act, which as so many cultural phenomena, according to Wittgenstein, can only be shown but not described.
In this presentation, I will explore the poetic element contained in this sentiment. Furthermore, I will compare this observation with Wittgenstein's belief that the study of philosophy, in and of itself, can only 'enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., [but] does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, […] it does not make you more conscientious than any […] journalist in the use of the DANGEROUS phrases […] people use for their own ends.' (Malcolm, 2001, p. 93).
Here, Wittgenstein’s remark is made in reference to a discussion with Norman Malcolm on whether something such as the British ‘national character’ would permit an evil act that could be justified for a greater good. This, I hold, suggests that while philosophy would in such a case perhaps offer a deeper understanding of ‘national character’, there is a deeper layer to the individual character (consisting in virtues and vices and personal states of character), and that this something can be identified as ‘shown’ (in Wittgensteinian terms) through the display of emotions.
In other words, Wittgenstein insinuates that philosophy, in and of itself, does not make one a better person. Something more is needed, and I argue that poetry may, at least, push us in the right direction by catching emotions within its net. If that is true, various implications follow about the practice of effective character education, and some of those will be elicited in my presentation.