Random thoughts on random topics


Wittgenstein and naturalism

The way in which Wittgenstein describes the nature of philosophical analysis in Philosophical Investigations. Philosophy of Psychology: A Fragment, section xiii, is reminiscent of the procedure that is employed in the Tractatus, in this respect that in both cases the nature of phenomena is investigated from within. In a sense, this is Wittgensteins’s  form of transcendentalism: to investigate the conditions of possibility of a phenomenon by looking at it from the inside, i.e., from the perspective of the phenomenon itself, by charting and investigating its manifestations and possibilities. 

What distinguishes the perspective of the Philosophical Investigations from that of the Tractatus are the added dimensions of naturalism and pluralism. Looking, as he suggests we do in section xiii, at imaginary, i.e., counterfactual situations, we stumble upon naturalistic constraints on what we can in fact imagine, given the concepts that we actually have. This is not an a priori reflection on what the concept is, so, pace Hacker and many others, it is not a purely conceptual analysis. Rather, it investigates what we are able and willing to do with the concept such as it is. The naturalistic constraints that we then come across may be fairly hard (cf., Philosophical Investigations 85, on the disappearing chair), but they may also be soft, in the sense that in some cases the results of empirical research may lead us to adopt a different kind of application of a concept than we had before. Note that, as On Certainty suggests, such a change in the application of a concept is hardly ever really forced upon us: we may always decide to stick to the original application, and cover the suggested extension or change in a different way: via a conceptual subdivision, the invention of a new concept, the relegation of the newly discovered phenomena to a different realm than the original concept applies to, etc.

Slogan: “The later Wittgenstein? Kant, properly naturalised.”

Martin Stokhof
from: Aantekeningen/Notes
date: 10/04/2009

Random thought on random topics

Île de Sein

Science and humanities

A crucial element of Wittgensteins’s meta-philosophy is the specific form of naturalism that he employs. As he emphasises on many occasions, e.g., in the Lectures on Aesthetics with respect to aesthetic judgements, or in RPP withe respect to our psychological vocabulary, the meaning of these expressions/concepts cannot be identified with the underlying causal-nomological, physiological processes. Real as they are, and interesting as they are in their own right, these are not what explains the meanings that these concepts/expressions have for us. For that we need to look in another direction, viz., at the complex practices in which we use them. These practices are historically, socially, culturally determined, and they are contingent along these dimensions. Of course, these practices can also be investigated from an external perspective, one that aims to uncover whatever causal processes co-determine them. However, their role in establishing meaning is constitutive, not explanatory, and that requires an internal understanding, rather than an external explanation. 

This might be seen as pointing to a dichotomy between two types of phenomena, or, rather, between two ways of dealing with phenomena:  external causal explanation, and internal hermeneutic understanding, with no connections between the two. And that in its turn seems to suggest there is an ideological choice we need to make between reductionism, which takes only the first for real, and separationism, which claims independence of both.  However, our practices themselves provide lots of points at which the two interact. Our understanding of ourselves is not just a matter of the concepts we employ when we try to make sense of ourselves internally, it is also the outcome of what we find out when we investigate ourselves from an external perspective. Both co-determine our practices, in different ways, and along different temporal dimensions, but both are factors that shape and change our practices. In doing so, internal understanding and external explanation also influence each other, albeit often only indirectly and in complex ways that are often difficult to trace and understand. And note that the relationship goes both ways: how we understand ourselves hermeneutically determines  what we set out to explain, and the results of our explanatory understanding feed into the practices that determine our internal, hermeneutic understanding. 

It is in this way that a practice-based approach allows us to escape the false dichotomy between science and humanities. If we acknowledge that both are intrinsically tied to our practices, and that it is in both depending on and shaping those practices that the two meet, we can forego this forced and false choice.

Martin Stokhof
from: Aantekeningen/Notes
date: 20/12/2015