From Wittgenstein to Applied Philosophy

William C. Gay




How does it come about that this arrow ¨ points?...The arrow points only in the application that a living being makes of it.

Wittgenstein, PI

A. Wittgenstein as a Facilitator of Applied Philosophy

1.  Ranjit Chatterjee's "Rossi-Landi's Wittgenstein"

a.  Subtitled "A philosopher's meaning is his use in the culture"

b.  Rossi-Landi's work and in third phase interpretation

1) In second phase, Janik and Toulmin corrected the "two Wittgensteins" theory

2) Third phase "stresses the radicality of Witt." and connections with Continental thought

2.  Hypothesis

a.  Not abandonment of philosophy but encourage applied philosophy

b.  Read Chaterjee's sources and others

1) Slant of how they contribute to understanding Witt. as a facilitator of applied philosophy

2) None states explicitly my thesis, but I use to support view of that Witt. facilitating a turn to applied philosophy

3.  Sections of paper

a. Ways these authors stress a practical and even ethical intent in Witt.'s philosophy

b.     Reinterpret Witt.'s critique of linguistic philosophy

1) Designed to end, rather than redirect, this style of philosophizing

2) Proceed to more important task of assisting people in dealing with practical and ethical dimensions of their public lives

4.  An omission in and a consequence of my analysis

a.  Few quotes from Wittgenstein

1) Most will recall or can easily find ample passages

2) Not construct theory of the type Witt. wants avoided

b.  Rorty's merely liberal interpretation

1) "Help their readers, or society as a whole break free from outworn vocabularies and attitudes"

2) Rorty makes little, if any, use of means for edifying "society as a whole"

a) Rorty's order as the reverse of what they wanted

b) Rorty's work as continuing traditional and impractical, as well as elitist, philosophical conversation

3) Philosophy needs to be applied in society and not just, or even primarily, occur as edifying discourse among philosophers.


I.  Wittgenstein as Healer

Ethics does not treat of the world.  Ethics must be a condition of the world, like logic.

Wittgenstein, Notebooks

A. Ethical Dimension

1.  James Edwards' Ethics Without Phil.:  Witt. & the Moral Life

a.  Witt. as conveying the healthy human life and a moral vision

b.  "An ethical deed...designed as an aid to thinking and living"

1) "The moral life is essentially public"

2) "Ethics is inseparable from...politics."

c.  Abandon "global for the local" and "abstract for the concrete."

d.  Applied Philosophy

1) Works at the concrete level

2) Professional and applied ethics engage the public sphere

2.  Rossi-Landi stresses Witt.'s practical intent and continental context

a.  Marx, Freud, and Witt. as healers

b.  New practices from metaphors

1) The fly to get out of the bottle

2) Language to cease being idle

3) Mental cramps to be resolved

c.  Witt. & concept of linguistic alienation

1)  Occurs "when we do respect the rules which have been taught"

2)  Rejects linguistic therapy as "respect" for language games

a) "Normal communication" masks biases of discourse

b) Need to reduce linguistic alienation

3.  Chatterjee on fascination of language

a.  Witt. wants us to overcome, rather than succumb

b.   "Everything Wittgenstein writes about language works on itself--i.e., it cancels itself out as it goes, as it does its work, so that it does not become a fascinating object itself, an idol:  language is always in danger of being both idle and an idol"


4.  Wittgenstein's life

a.  Leave traditional philosophy and academy

1) Suggest students enter professions beneficial to humanity

2) "Academic environment itself...breeds the hubris that despises or patronizes the common lot of most men and women" (Edwards)

b.  Witt. himself followed his own advise during several periods

1) Gave away his inheritance

2) Taught for six years in peasant schools in Austria

3) Worked as a gardener's assistant

5.  Wittgenstein and Values Applied Philosophy and Religion

a.  The value of common people and the everyday life

1) Contentment in working with the uneducated

2) Doing physical labor

b. Chris Gudmunsen compares Witt. and Zen master

1) Use perplexity to facilitate liberation

2) Assigning common labors to very talented people

3) Offer treatment, not confrontation or theories

6.  Relevance of Applied Philosophy

a.  Not just reflect concrete knowledge of a field

b.   Also labor in the field

1) More hands-on than theoretical

2) Community outreach, not out-of-the-reach of the community

3) Talk with professionals and other laborers at their workplaces

7.  Political Dimension of Applied Philosophy

a. David Rubinstein's Marx and Wittgenstein.

1) Knowledge of the social framework within which language games and practical activities occur

2)  Issue of practical consideration behind linguistic conventions

3) Sensitivity to narrow and vested political interests

b.  Nicholas Gier contends, "So, despite Wittgenstein's dictum 'look and see' (PI, #66), we must also say 'look, see, and think'"

1) "To look and see" is to learn language game of an applied field

2) "To think" is to do applied philosophy in that field

a) Modify the discourse in a field

b)  Words, language games, and forms of life are conventional

(1)  Can be made to serve better and broader interests.

(2)  Henry Staten writes, "The difficulty is in seeing how deconstructive doubt is not a doubt about things but about the unrevisability of established linguistic formulas"

c) Not merely describe, but also to revise, the language games

c. Practical aim

1) Make ethics more fully "a condition of the world"

2) Enable practitioners to carry on their labors with less vexation and with heightened ethical sensitivity


II.  Wittgenstein's Critique of Linguistic Philosophy

Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does.  This tendency is the real source of metaphysics and leads the philosopher into complete darkness.

Wittgenstein, Blue Book

A. Stephen Himly's The Later Wittgenstein

1.  WittgensteinÕs philosophy as a struggle

a.  Against not just twentieth-century scientific paradigms

b. Also against twentieth-century philosophical methods, which attempt "to emulate a 'scientific way of thinking'"

2.  Scientific method

a.  "Form" of metaphysics

b.  "Source" of types of metaphysics unwittingly done in philosophy

1) "Philosopher playing scientist"

2) Treats a conceptual matter as if it were a factual one

B.  Proper and Improper Metaphysics

1.  Problematic when viewed as pertaining to facts rather than concepts

a.  Hume showed that metaphysical language is not about facts

b.  Kant argued that its concepts should be understood as constructs

2.  Metaphysics and ethics fall outside empirical sciences

a. Not rendered useless--let alone meaningless

b. Such a misunderstanding in much of 20th cen. philosophy

3.  Constructivist perspective

a.  Issue is with whom philosophers (metaphysicians/ethicists) seek to forge consensus

b. When only in philosophical community, spin out distinctions without theoretical end or practical purpose

c.  Need to reach conceptual clarity, cogency, and consensus within the public sphere

1) Good metaphysics is found in applied philosophy

2) Applied Philosophy makes ethics more fully "a condition of life"--of practical, public activity

C.  Rubinstein on missing Witt.'s practical intent

1.  Focus

a.  "On linguistic usages narrowly defined"

b.  "Surrounding forms of life have been largely ignored"

c.  "Philosophers are not professionally trained or disposed to undertake the kind of analysis of social life implied by Wittgenstein's thought"

2.  Observation of actual forms of life

a.  Prerequisite for doing quality work in applied philosophy

b.  Turn could not occur until the third phase

3.  Chaterjee on Witt.'s opposition theories and schools

a.  "The founding of a school that would expound doctrines in the medium of words would simply represent the failure of the critique of language"

b.  "Methodological minimalism in philosophy has as its consequence maximalism in the medium of deeds"

1) Witt. felt philosophers spend too much time and energy analyzing issues, which, from a practical perspective, do not require clarification

2) Theoretical austerity of his works

a) Not an advocacy of aphorisms for their own sake

b) Minimize attention to abstract method to maximize concern for concrete problems

D. James Peterman's Philosophy As Therapy

1.  Alien theories

a. Wittgenstein wants practitioners of linguistic therapy to avoid a discourse that is alien to the language games that they are treating

b. Should be suspicious of "'alien' philosophical theories designed either to defend or reject aspects of the human form of life"

2.  When philosophers forsake methodological minimalism

a.  Analyses of concrete issues are alien to these issues

b.  Analyses are alienating to those speaking the language game and living the form of life that is being addressed

c.  Successful applied philosophy eschews analyses that cannot be understood by and have no practical value for the people in need of linguistic therapy


3.  Rossi-Landi on "special sublanguages"

a.  Organized systems of non-public discourse

1) Most philosophical literature and other specialized technical language fall in this category

2) Needs to be used in some public practice for its value to be realized

a) Without translation into the vernacular, the discourse is alienating

b) Recommendations come across as the type of imposed dictates of "external moral authorities" which John Dewey sought to eliminate

b. Rossi-Landi, like Dewey, wants a public discourse that empowers the people to whom it is addressed

1) For linguistic therapy to help the patient, linguistic therapists likely need to make "house calls"

2) Philosophy texts rarely read by health care professionals, business executives, public school teachers, or other laborers in the public sphere

3) Practitioners of applied philosophy can become involved in the type of outreach programs that make their communities morally healthier places to live



Anyone who understands me eventually recognizes [my propositions] as nonsensical, when he has used the--as steps--to climb up beyond them.

Wittgenstein, Tractatus

A. Rorty on Edification

1.  Understanding of Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey

a.  "These peripheral, pragmatic philosophers are skeptical primarily about systematic philosophy"

b.   Distinguishes these "edifying philosophers" from the "great systematic philosophers" who tried to build what theory is unable to construct

2.  Rorty's reductionism

a.  Has Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey do less than their practice is able to achieve

1) "Great systematic philosophers are constructive and offer arguments.  Great edifying philosophers are reactive and offer satires, parodies, aphorisms...Great systematic philosophers for eternity.  Great edifying philosophers destroy for the sake of their own generation."

2) While his edifying philosophers are reactive, they do not merely offer satires, parodies and aphorisms; while they destroy for the sake of their own generation, they also help in rebuilding a better present practice.

b.  The critique of theory is not complete unless it ends in practice

1) Move from epistemology is to social engagement, not to ivory tower edification

2) Rorty too narrowly states, "Explaining rationality and epistemic authority by reference to what society lets us say, rather than the latter by the former, is the essence of what I shall call 'epistemological behaviorism,' an attitude common to Dewey and Wittgenstein.  This sort of behaviorism can best be seen as a species of holism--but one which requires no idealist metaphysical underpinnings.  It claims that if we understand the rules of a language-game, we understand all that there is to understand about why moves in that language game are made"

c. Rorty fails to see that for Dewey and Wittgenstein the aim is not only understanding but also change

1) They have an ethical and a political orientation

2) With Marx, they are saying, that philosophy is not just to understand the world but also to change it and for the better

B.  Dewey and Others as Facilitators of Applied Philosophy

1.  Dewey and Russell

a.  Dewey's intent of his Reconstruction in Philosophy.

b.  Bertrand Russell and others in their "publicist"

c.  Not even regarded as philosophical so long as the style of philosophy being criticized by Wittgenstein prevails

2.  Daniel S. Robinson's The Principles of Conduct

a.    Develops a concept of applied ethics that includes political ethics, professional ethics, and personal ethics

b.  Today applied ethics is often restricted to professional ethics

1) Should also include political ethics.

2) Philosophical public policy analysis pertains to political ethics

a) Analogue to professional ethics

b) Some done in manner that does not occur in appropriate communities or in vernacular of these communities

c.  Philosophical peace studies as applied phil. in political ethics

C.  Language of Wittgenstein to summarize

1.  The various professions and other spheres of public activity

a.  Forms of life or, at the least, portions of them

b.   Wittgenstein wanted language games to be understood in the context of forms of life that give them their meaning

2.  Applied philosophy can assist people

a.  Enhance the language games within which they seek to carry out these activities

b.  If a philosophy's meaning is the use a social group makes of it, then applied philosophy can make the practice of applied ethics the meaning of Wittgenstein's philosophy