Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

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

Twenty-Seven
ON BEING HIDDEN

NOTORIOUSLY Wittgenstein had various and persistent misgivings about saying that pains, thoughts, dreams, internal speech, intentions, beliefs, motives and so on are hidden; but he was not at his clearest when he was explaining these misgivings; and it seems so right to say, at least of some of these things, that they are hidden, that he may appear to be setting himself an impossible task in questioning it. He could surely not maintain that pains, for example, are open to view.

He presumably does not mean to deny that people sometimes conceal their thoughts, intentions or sufferings. It is not the possibility of such ordinary judgments as 'He concealed his intentions from me' that he is questioning, but the philosophical contention that intentions, thoughts and so on, as distinct from the expression we give them, are always hidden. He was making a distinction similar to this when he said:

'I know what I want, wish, believe, feel. . .'(and so on through all the psychological verbs) is either philosophers' nonsense, or at any rate not a judgment a priori. ( PI, p.221)

What he can be taken to mean here is that although we can, with sudden insight, say 'I know what I want!', it is not in contemplation of such cases that we say in philosophy 'only he can know what he wants'. It is propositions like the latter that Wittgenstein calls 'judgments a priori', and it is these and not the ordinary judgments (or exclamations) that are in question.

We can disqualify some, but not all, of the psychological candidates for hiddenness by applying the principle that only a discriminable object can lie hidden. There must be an answer to the question 'What is it that is hidden?' when we ask that question about pains, there seems, at first blush at

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