Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations

Instructor: Matt Moss
The Workmen’s Circle
247 West 37th St, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10018

It’s been said that where talent hits a target others can’t reach, genius hits a target others can’t see. The ambiguities of this remark can have no better illustration than the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Born into fabulous wealth under the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1889, in 1951 Wittgenstein dies a retired professor in England — and one of the most influential and divisive thinkers of his time. His work has been seen by some as a reinvention of philosophical method; by others, as a repudiation of philosophy itself.

Wittgenstein’s provocative idea is that philosophical problems are not our discoveries, but creatures born of our own misplaced explanatory demands. If this is right, traditional questions about language, logic, and the human mind must be rethought: How do words or gestures have meaning? What makes a concept applicable or not? What makes an experience one’s own? The way Wittgenstein pursued these questions created not just a revolution within philosophy, but established him as a cultural icon whose presence is felt in literature and literary theory, film, theology, art, music, anthropology, and even architecture and design.

We will be reading the text Wittgenstein had been preparing for publication in his final years, released posthumously as thePhilosophical Investigations. There he develops a mode of reflection distinctively his own. Informal, abrupt, and of great imaginative power, Wittgenstein’s style is an incitement to see our most basic capacities — acting, understanding, sensing — from an entirely fresh angle. What this perspective shift is meant to achieve, and whether it is achieved, is the fundamental puzzle confronting the reader of the Investigations. To try to solve it, we must trace Wittgenstein’s lines of thought back to their lurking premises, and out to their boldest implications.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 6:30-9:30pm
November 17 — December 15, 2016
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet on November 24th.

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