We’re discussing Wittgenstein here. All questions, thought, spirited criticism, etc. eagerly solicited.

Here is the course description for the class which ran concurrent with this blog when I first started it:

Ludwig Wittgenstein was a major twentieth century philosopher who made important contributions to the philosophy of logic and language and to metaphilosophy. He wrote in a wide variety of other areas as well, perhaps most successfully in the philosophies of mathematics and psychology and in epistemology. His contributions in those areas are harder to assess, however, because their relevance to ordinary philosophical discussions of those subjects depends on the adequacy of his views in philosophy of logic and metaphilosophy.

If the metaphilosophical position of Wittgenstein’s later work is correct, our powers of understanding and reasoning function in a far more ‘local’ and context-bound way than is sometimes supposed. To the degree that this is so, Wittgenstein can be plausibly interpreted as one of the great skeptical philosophers as well.

It is sometimes hard to understand Wittgenstein because his work is quite radical. The Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations doesn’t have a position in the philosophy of mind as most of us understand that field, for instance. He’s neither a behaviorist nor an identity theorist nor a dualist: rather, he thinks that in general once you’re asking questions like “is there such a thing as ‘the mind’, and if so is it the same thing as or something different from the brain or body?” you’ve already gone wrong by pushing these concepts (mind, brain, body) in directions where they have no obvious application, and which blur out the many and non-uniform connections between the phenomena which we categorize in a rough-and-ready way as bodily and cognitive. (Daydreaming; scratching an itch; getting drunk; solving a math problem; praying. “I’m of a mind to eat dinner” ; “Mind the store”; “Body up on him”; “Her body lay there lifeless.” The ideas of ghosts and telepathy. What in all these is ‘physical’, what ‘mental’? Within a given experience, are we clear where the bodily shades off and the mental begins? Must there be some general pattern or framework?)

We will get clearer on how Wittgenstein approaches this kind of issue as we read through his books.

Wittgenstein was also an extreme personality with a keen sense of aesthetics and culture, and an excellent writer, so he has become something of a cult figure in philosophy and beyond.

I studied Wittgenstein for many years with Peter Winch, one of his literary executors, at whose U.S. funeral I was a pallbearer. This study was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and while a good deal of that was due to Peter’s friendship and guidance, a good deal of it was also due to the tremendous intellectual force of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. His views are really quite different from almost anything else that you will encounter in philosophy, and for that reason alone, even if they turn out to be wrong, they are definitely worth contemplating.

In this course we will read through Wittgenstein’s two major works, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Philosophical Investigations, and see if we can figure out what they have to say and whether it is true.


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