• Email
  • Print

Wittgenstein’s Strategy

In response to:

A Special Supplement: The Development of Wittgenstein's Philosophy from the January 16, 1969 issue

To the Editors:

Mr. Pears’s excellent discussion of Wittgenstein’s philosophy (January 16) leads up to a rather grave difficulty which he does not raise but which he makes it possible to formulate clearly.

Mr. Pears opens his account by identifying the philosophical movement with which Wittgenstein’s lifelong efforts were associated and over which he exerted and still exerts a powerful influence. Characteristic of this movement is its determination not to “encroach on other disciplines,” so that, for example, if philosophy in the preceding period “has grown into some other discipline, such as psychology, and has become intertwined with it, those branches will be cut back, and a definite limit will be set to its competence.” It is therefore with some surprise that one learns that Wittgenstein’s later philosophy is a “rival to behaviorism.” The surprise is not caused by the fact that behaviorism has a rival. It is caused by the fact that it has for a rival not another school of psychology but a philosophy opposed, in principle, to encroaching on “some other discipline, such as psychology.”

This difficulty reappears as one penetrates more deeply into the later philosophy of Wittgenstein. As Mr. Pears points out, Wittgenstein does not accept the attempt of some behaviorists to reduce mental phenomena to observable behavior. But Wittgenstein does appear to regard observable verbal behavior as a foundation, and mental phenomena (such as intending) as a superstructure erected upon that foundation, a super-structure that would not exist if the foundation did not exist. Wittgenstein seems to take the view that the acquisition of language precedes cognition and makes cognition possible. In this he agrees with a number of psychologists, but also disagrees with a number according to whom cognitive activity of considerable complexity precedes the acquisition of language and makes its acquisition possible. Since this still seems to be an open question in psychology it is hard to see with what right an adherent of contraction and criticism in philosophy can presume to settle it.

One cannot rule out the possibility that some adherent of the contractionist school will claim for critical philosophy the right to determine what constitutes a genuine discipline, encroachment on which is to be forbidden, and what does not. An outsider might be excused if he should fail to see much difference between this view and the presumably rival view which accords to philosophy the right to invade any discipline it judges proper.

Hilail Gildin

Department of Philosophy

Queens College

  • Email
  • Print