Wittgenstein and William James

Wittgenstein and William James

Wittgenstein and William James

Wittgenstein and William James

Synopsis

This book explores Wittgenstein's long engagement with the work of the pragmatist William James. In contrast to previous discussions, Russell Goodman argues that James exerted a distinctive and pervasive positive influence on Wittgenstein's thought. He shows that both share commitments to anti-foundationalism, to the description of the concrete details of human experience, and to the priority of practice over intellect. Considering in detail what Wittgenstein learnt from his reading of William James, Goodman provides considerable evidence for Wittgenstein's claim that he is saying "something that sounds like pragmatism."

Excerpt

I first began to think about James and Wittgenstein while working through the Wittgenstein Workbook published in 1970 by Christopher Coope, Peter Geach, Timothy Potts, and Roger White. Near the end of this slim but useful volume is a one-page list of parallel passages from James's The Principles of Psychology and Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Over the years, as I discussed the readings from this list in seminars, I learned to free myself from the view of the relationship between Wittgenstein and James that was enunciated by the authors of the Workbook — and many others. For according to this “received view, ” James was important for Wittgenstein primarily because he committed, in a clear, exemplary manner, fundamental errors in the philosophy of mind. I found that although Wittgenstein did find such errors in The Principles of Psychology, he loved William James, both as a personality in his own writings and as a philosopher. I learned that The Principles and The Varieties of Religious Experience exerted a vast positive influence on Wittgenstein's philosophy, early and late.

In 1990, on a trip to Cambridge sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, I discussed Wittgenstein and James with Geach and Elizabeth Anscombe, both of whom attended Wittgenstein's classes in the late 1940s. Wittgenstein considered using James's Principles as a text for these classes, and the published notes by his students, including Geach, show that it was a main object of study. When I asked Professor Anscombe if Wittgenstein had ever referred to other texts of James in his lectures or conversations, particularly . . .

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