Wittgenstein: Philosophy, Postmodernism, Pedagogy

By Michael Peters; James Marshall | Go to book overview
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dialogues one has the feeling: what a frightful waste of time! What's the point of these arguments that prove nothing and clarify nothing?" ( 1980a, p. 14e). Socrates gets into difficulty in trying to give the definition of a concept because "again and again a use of the word emerges that seems not to be compatible with the concept that other uses have led us to form" (p. 30e). On this basis Wittgenstein questions Socrates's right to keep on reducing the sophist to silence (p. 56e).

Wittgenstein's later writing is dialogical, but not in the Socratic sense: the aim is not the search for an adequate definition of a concept. Indeed, if we keep in mind the multiplicity of language games we will not be inclined to ask questions like "What is the meaning of . . . ?" ( 1953, #24). Moreover, the kind of questions Wittgenstein asks, and the way he asks them, is different from those of Socrates. Fann ( 1967, p. 109) notes that Wittgenstein asks himself (and his readers) on the order of 800 questions in the Investigations, but he only answers 100 of them and of these the majority (some 70) wrongly. If a dialogical work the Investigations is unconventional because Wittgenstein, by asking questions and answering them wrongly (deliberately) wants to stop us from asking certain kinds of questions: the sort of philosophical questions that require that we provide a theoretical answer abstracted from the context of use and social practice. Philosophy does not make progress because "our language has remained the same and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions" ( 1980a, p. 15e). Moreover, the questions Wittgenstein poses are frequently posed by an imaginary interlocutor to himself -- linking his approach again with a confessional mode in which the primary dynamic is of an inner dialogue ( Finch, 1995, p. 76).

This mode of dialogue is not one of demonstration (as it often was for Plato) but of investigation. Wittgenstein's use of imagined interchanges, thought experiments, and frequently cryptic aphorisms was meant to engage the reader in a process that was, in Wittgenstein's actual teaching as well as in his writing, the externalization of his own doubts, questions, and thought processes. Hence, his philosophical purpose was manifested in how he pursued a question; his style was his method, and his writings sought to exemplify how it worked. His concern with matters of composition and form were not only about the presentation of an argument but also about the juxtaposition that would best draw the reader into the very itate of puzzlement he himself felt. Therefore, an appreciation of Wittgenstein's style leads us directly to an understanding of the fundamentally pedagogical dimension of his philosophy.

Barry Smith (editor, The Monist) instigated the letter. The signatories were: Hans Albert, David Armstrong, Ruth Barcan Marcus, Keith Campbell,


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Wittgenstein: Philosophy, Postmodernism, Pedagogy


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