Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

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

Twenty-Six
GETTING RID OF THE IDEA OF THE PRIVATE OBJECT

Always get rid of the idea of the private object in this way: assume that it constantly changes, but that you do not notice the change because your memory constantly deceives you. (PI, p.207; see also p.222)

THIS READS as if Wittgenstein conceived the procedure described to be a self-sufficient device for doing this job -- as if it provided all we needed to know or do, to achieve this supposedly desirable purpose. The word 'always' reinforces that impression, making it sound as if the idea of the private object were a well-known psychological nuisance that kept coming back, but could be banished as often as it reappeared, in this simple and effective manner.

Suppose that some people gratefully reported that the technique worked every time, while others said it often works, and some that it never does. Are we misunderstanding the procedure if we are inclined to do a survey on its effectiveness?

The device is not a kind of mumbo-jumbo for disposing of annoying mental states, like getting rid of an evil desire by reciting a psalm. The idea of the private object is not that kind of nuisance. People do not complain of it as they do of headaches or hallucinations. What is needed is not a way of contending with an obvious but persistent ailment, but a way of showing that our thinking has gone wrong if it involves the idea of a private object. The trouble is that it is by no means obvious how the procedure is supposed to achieve that purpose.

Part of the reason this is not obvious is that it is unclear just what we are getting rid of, and whether it is desirable to rid ourselves of it. In the case of pain for example, are we getting

-223-

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