|This paper was originally submitted by fax to the Austrian
Ludwig Wittgenstein Society in advance of a symposium I was unable to
attend. I've archived the fax cover sheet as well.
to a Pragmatic Philosophy
April 3, 1997
Ludwig Wittgenstein's critique of the doctrine of name/object correspondence
in the opening pages of his Philosophical Investigations, and
swift gear shifting into a countering view of language as comprised
of functioning 'mechanisms', or 'games', sets the stage for a new form
of pragmatic philosophy.
Whereas LW's avowed purpose was to apply his philosophical methods
to dispel 'grammatical illusions' bewitching some of the best philosophical
minds at Cambridge, the question naturally arises 'what next?', i.e.
'what is the mission of this philosophy after the stage has been cleared
of unnecessary befuddlement?'. An answer may be arrived at by reviewing
two principal positive accomplishments of LW's philosophy.
Firstly, in freeing us from the misconception that 'meaning' essentially
boils down to a set of name/object relationships, Wittgenstein restores
importance and value to language. He shows our 'form of life' does not
consist of reality on the one hand, plus a somewhat redundant labeling
or symbolizing of this reality on the other. On the contrary, the actions
of language interweave within the fabric of reality in ways far more
intimate and seamless than suggested by any name/object dualism. The
actions we take using the word 'red' and the sensory experiences we
have involving 'the image of red' comprise a single process, with neither
usage nor image rising to subjugate the other as 'merely meaning' what
is 'actually meant'. Rather, meaning rests in actions, traces to judgments,
and these are not further underpinned by any deeper ontology. And so
our actions in language create and define our world, do not simply describe
it nor redundantly pattern themselves after it.
Secondly, Wittgenstein reminds us of 'seeing according to an interpretation'
as integral with 'meaning'. Our actions define our perceptions and,
likewise, 'how we choose to look at something' is in itself an action
with ethical proportions. Freeing ourselves from 'grammatical illusions'
involves more than simply recalibrating our cognitive machinery - it
means reschooling our perceptions, collecting experiences according
to new gestalts. In this way, philosophy is both pragmatic and
transformative. We begin to see how its methods might be used to improve
our world, not just by countering the logical confusions we find ourselves
trapped within (like flies in a fly bottle) but by opening up new possibilities,
concealed from us by habits of thought, superstitions of every coloration.
In short, through the application of this philosophy to the real world,
we gain new freedoms.
In conclusion, by restoring our language to a position of ontological
primacy, Wittgenstein has reawakened our sense of responsibility as
ethical agents in the world. And by drawing attention to the importance
of perceptions, using musical analogies and sketches to gear his philosophy
to the language games of artists, he is linking ethics to aesthetics,
the same connection he worked to establish in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
Thanks to Wittgenstein, philosophy has been freed from a quagmire of
specialized language games played only behind the walls of the Ivory
Tower. The new pragmatism we have gained challenges us to tackle obsolete,
broken language games across the board, sometimes countering these 'dying
worlds' with 'new ways of looking' which bring 'new meaning' into the
picture, along with a new sense of possibility and engagement.
Philosophy is once again a great vehicle for teachings, without needing
to proclaim itself a religion or body of scientific theory. Language
itself becomes our proving ground, and its increasing usefulness as
a basis upon which to take responsible, competent, considerate action
(as a 'source of certainty' in other words), becomes our measure of