52. If I am inclined to suppose that a mouse has come into being by spontaneous generation out of grey rags and dust, I shall do well to examine those rags very closely to see how a mouse may have hidden in them, how it may have got there and so on. But if I am convinced that a mouse cannot come into being from these things, then this investigation will perhaps be superfluous.
But first we must learn to understand what it is that opposes such an examination of details in philosophy.


  1. "Spontaneous generation" is more or less sarcastic, or tongue-in-cheek. But it produces the unfortunate impression that the 'I' is supposing that something is happening which everyone knows does not happen. W. would have done better to use some less exuberant phrase, such as "to suppose that a mouse is somehow subtly hidden in the grey rags and dust". But we can see how dull this is. W. understandably cannot resist expressing his sense of the ridiculousness of what the 'I' is supposing, but in so doing he somewhat obscures his overall point. People don't believe in spontaneous generation, but traditional philosophers have believed that the metaphysical mouse somehow is hidden in - emerges from - lies behind - the everyday rags and dust.
  2. Taking the hint that it is a poetic riff on 51, this section can be translated from the nice analogy back into literalness:

 If, on the one hand, a traditional philosopher was inclined to suppose that the actual metaphysical relationship between, say 'R' and the red squares was hidden somewhere in the various disorganised, heterogeneous, ways that the symbol, the squares, our actions, and teaching, appear in our form of life, or somehow could be magicked out of them, then they would do well to examine these disorganised behaviours very closely to see how the metaphysical relationship may be hidden in them, how it may have got there, and so on.

Of course, on the other hand, if the reader is not a traditional philosopher, and already satisfied that there is no such relationship - that it could not have come into being from these things - then he is either happily untainted by the philosophical illness, or has already recovered from it; he does not really need my philosophical therapy; my investigations will perhaps be superfluous. Still, he might be educated by the journey.

That would be very nice, but the former, traditional philosophers, are our target: They, including my younger self, have been seduced by the higher attractions of generalising, abstracting, making, and insisting on, sharp dichotomies, and have regarded the messy business of examining details as beneath them. What is the attraction of this? We must learn to understand what it is in traditional philosophy that opposes examination of details.