furthering Wittgenstein

March 22, 2015

Let me place a few of my (many many) cards on the table. I am a fan of Wittgenstein, in some of the ways I am a fan of say the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Or did they move?) When I was a student of philosophy in the late 60s, Wittgenstein was the man. Today, not so much. I see academic philosophers almost apologize for being interested in Wittgenstein. "Of course I do not follow the mistakes of ordinary language philosophy, but I still feel Wittgenstein has much to say..." This would not be am problem if the academic philosophers had replace the study of Wittgenstein with something deeper and more important, but in my superficial and mildly partisan opinion, they have not.

A few years ago I asked an academic philosopher, the head of the philosophy department at a very major university, why the philosophy departments seem to have lost interest in Wittgenstein. He responded, glibly of course, that if we had followed Wittgenstein we would have to give up doing philosophy. I am sure this was not intended as a serious comment, and I was not quick enough to argue the point, but his answer, a not uncommon one, is both an incorrect overinterpretation of Wittgenstein, and an explanation that goes against some of the fundamental values of philosophy in general: that arguments are not to be judged by their conclusions.

I digress. The somewhat idealized Wittgenstein in my mind, would love to see his thoughts developed, and would not care about the study of his personal life or his paticula erratic path. He himself was not proud of his own hesitating advancements. Had he lived longer he too would have furthered his thinkings.

So what should be "furthered" in the later philosophy of Wittgenstein?

  • Family-resemblance should be modified to include active family-resemblance. (This idea not suggested well by the original metaphor) We change our meaning of words in order to understand them.
  • Start using new base metaphors. As the metaphor has come to replace what that for which it is a metaphor.
  • Further development of the "use" of a word. It is not well represented by the simple "block-pillar-slab" example at the beginning of the Philosophical Investigations. One could be forgiven for thinking that this is a task, perhaps tedious, that could be accomplished.
  • Development of use of "contexts" (Wittgenstein does not extend this word into a deeper philosophical term.)


It is easier to argue against the philosophers, or against Wittgenstein, than it would be to stay on the greater task.

Wittgenstein for Dummies isn't Wittgenstein.
There is no Wittgenstein for Dummies.

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