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