Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations
There’s more than a little irony in the fact that Ludwig Wittgenstein—widely considered to be among the most original and influential philosophers of the 20th century—held that his discipline’s “real discovery” was “the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy”. In his posthumously published masterpiece, Philosophical Investigations, he likened proper philosophical method rather to a form of therapy, one which “gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented with questions that bring itself into question.” Much of the history of western philosophy in his view (including his own earlier work)—with its perennial questions and endless debates about the nature of objectivity and the relationship between the mind and the world—is, in a word, pathological, embroiled in and ultimately held captive by a fundamentally mistaken understanding of the nature and uses of language. If all of philosophy heretofore is a misunderstanding, what, then, is the legitimate task of philosophy? By what method can we untangle obstinate questions of language, logic, meaning, and mind?
This class will involve a close reading of the Philosophical Investigations. We’ll seek to understand the significance of its (re-)conceptualization of the nature of language as an irreducibly social practice, and explore its key ideas—“language games”, the paradox of rule-following, the impossibility of a “private language”, and “forms of life”. What determines the meaning of a word? What does it mean to understand a rule and be able to follow it? What is the nature of my relationship to my own “mental life” and the mental lives of others? Finally, we’ll be concerned with the “metaphilosophical” implications of Wittgenstein’s answers to these questions: what remains of philosophy itself after it has supposedly been cured of its illusions and delusions?