Sunday, 17 January 2016


22. Wittgenstein once suggested the possibility of writing 'a serious philosophical work consisting solely of jokes'. If this was a serious suggestion then why not one consisting solely of koans? Might not such koan collections as the Mumonkan and the Hekiganroku be approached as serious philosophical works? An immediate objection would be that books of koans seldom, if ever, go in for argument or explanation. But neither would a philosophical book that consisted solely of jokes. Yet the appropriate response to both joke and koan serves as a demonstration of insight. The spontaneity of the appropriate response (laughter) to a joke is sufficient evidence that the required insight has occurred. A demand for explanation or argument demonstrates the opposite. In the language-game of the koan, as in the language-game of the joke, any demand for either explanation or argument shows not only that the point has been missed but that the rules of the game have not been learnt. Wittgenstein's suggestion that a serious philosophical work might consist solely of jokes indicates a view of philosophy that would admit the demonstration of insight by means other than argument or explanation. Might koan Zen be such a philosophy?

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