Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

By J. F. M. Hunter | Go to book overview

Twenty-one
ON THE QUESTION WHY ONE THINKS
I HAVE suggested more than once that Wittgenstein can in part be regarded as a designer of conundrums, carefully constructed in such a way that, by fighting one's way out of the bafflement they generate, one can make for oneself the philosophical discovery that he might otherwise have imparted. One of his less artful inventions of this kind, but still one that can set us off on some interesting journeys, is the following group of remarks from the Philosophical Investigations:
446. What does man think for? What use is it? -- Why does he make boilers according to calculations and not leave the thickness of their walls to chance? After all it is only a fact of experience that boilers do not explode so often if made according to these calculations. But just as having once been burnt he would do anything rather than put his hand into a fire, so he would do anything rather than not calculate for a boiler. -- But as we are not interested in causes, -- we shall say: human beings do in fact think: this, for instance, is how they proceed when they make a boiler. -- Now, can't a boiler produced in this way explode? Oh, yes.
447. Does man think, then, because he has found that thinking pays? -- Because he thinks it advantageous to think?

(Does he bring his children up because he has found it pays?)

448. What would shew why he thinks?
449. And yet one can say that thinking has been found to pay. That there are fewer boiler explosions than formerly, now that we no longer go by feeling in deciding the thickness of the walls, but make such-and-such calculations instead. Or since each calculation done by one engineer got checked by a second one.
450. So we do sometimes thinkbecause it has been found to pay.
451. It often happens that we only become aware of the important facts, if we suppress the question 'why?'; and then in the course our investigations these facts lead us to an answer.

-173-

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