Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

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

Sixteen
CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE CHIEF

419. In what circumstances shall I say that a tribe has a chief? And the chief must surely have consciousness. Surely we can't have a chief without consciousness!

THERE ARE some very curious things in the Philosophical Investigations, but on the face of it at least, this is not so much curious as just daft. What could Wittgenstein be driving at?One perhaps assumes he does not offer this as in itself a good philosophical point, but rather as something someone might say; but there are limits to the foolishness it is useful to set up for philosophical contemplation, and at least on obvious interpretations, this is well beyond those limits. What is the supposition? -- That someone might say it is at least sometimes clear that a tribe has a chief, and since a chief must be conscious, there can be no doubt that consciousness exists? That seems too idiotic to linger over; and yet if not that, what? In the hope of extracting some sense from this strange thing, let me begin by considering various sorts of way in which the question, in what circumstances we might say a tribe has a chief might be answered.
1. We might describe the sort of evidence that would convince us: the fact perhaps that one man was treated more deferentially than others in the tribe, that he sat in the centre at tribal meetings, that remarks at such meetings were mostly directed to him, and he had the last word, that when he gave what appeared to be an order, anyone in the tribe would obey without question, and so on.
2. The 'circumstances' here might be occasions for mentioning that a certain tribe has a chief, for example when he is away on a hunting expedition, and it appears as if there is no chief; or when, owing to the death of the old chief, there has

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