Wittgenstein and Political Theory: The View from Somewhere

Wittgenstein and Political Theory: The View from Somewhere

Wittgenstein and Political Theory: The View from Somewhere

Wittgenstein and Political Theory: The View from Somewhere

Synopsis

Ludwig Wittgenstein was arguably the most important philosopher of the twentieth century. Although his writings have influenced a range of philosophical and cultural movements, his impact was not felt strongly in political theory. Indeed, the most comprehensive study of Wittgenstein in this area was published over thirty five years ago. Wittgenstein and Political Theory reconnects Wittgenstein with the problems and trends of contemporary political theory.

Christopher C. Robinson's central argument is that Wittgenstein offers scholars an array of useful conceptual and critical tools, particularly his remarks on perception, which are brought to bear on theory's historical and etymological efforts at clear seeing. This work enables the theorist to freely explore the city of language and approach political concepts such as liberty, dignity, dissent, and ideology with a fresh eye. Designed to be read by graduate students and advanced undergraduates who are interested in both Wittgenstein's philosophy and strategies for achieving political vision in an age of bureaucracy.

Excerpt

Political theorists have been at a loss on what to do with Wittgenstein. the form his work most often takes is that of the remark. It is a style that defies coherence, both because Wittgenstein sought to write what and as he saw, and this was fragmented; and because he did not “want to spare other people the trouble of thinking.” His work therefore suggested many directions, but pursued only a few. For some, the way to work with Wittgenstein is indirectly through surrogate “Wittgensteinians” like Peter Winch or Thomas Kuhn, who focus on aspects of the work, create a coherent account of that aspect, and then apply it to an area of interest – the study of primitive culture or how a body of knowledge changes over time from within. Those who wish a more direct route display a tendency, following Hanna Pitkin, to consider the “significance” of Wittgenstein’s philosophy for the enterprise of theorizing. Making the connection between Wittgenstein and political thought is a difficult one precisely because Wittgenstein did not talk about politics in any specific way, and his remarks regarding theory were anything but positive. One area where Wittgenstein and political theory could be said to overlap, noted Pitkin and others who followed her, is in the activity of reading. Political theorists read difficult texts, ponder the historical changes reflected in concepts such as politics, democracy, justice, and so on, while Wittgenstein describes words and contexts in languagegames as tools that derive meaning from their place and use in sentences and social practices. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Wittgenstein was conceived mainly as offering a non-Derridean method for close readings of the canon that bridged the continental–analytic divide.

More recently, social and political theorists have been investigating Wittgenstein’s writings for conceptual strategies to deploy against the . . .

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