Ludwig Wittgenstein turns philosophy from searching for knowledge of reality to exposing and challenging the shared presuppositions of the disputing parties, particularly the problems of language. To him, philosophical problems arise through the difficulties and misleading features of language. And the purpose of philosophy is to find those conceptual confusions in language and clarify them. The philosophical problem will then dissolve.
For Descartes, the I in “I think therefore I am” refers to the mind. But Wittgenstein attacks this Cartesian idea of mind-body duality. For him, neither the mind nor the body experiences pain, but the entire person. Our thoughts and feelings are logically connected to our behaviors and therefore behaviors provide the logical criteria for saying a person is thinking or feeling such and such.
By rejecting the mind-body duality, he also questions the private ownership of experiences. For example, he considers the phrase “I have a pain” problematic. Being in pain is a condition of the suffering person and she does not own it as she would a pen.
"The limits of my language means the limits of my world." Ludwig Wittgenstein
He exposes the language-game, where “I have a pain” becomes a description like “I have a pen.” And he points out that the statement is an expression (the person proclaiming his condition) rather than a description (the person describing his characteristic).
This book glimpses at some of Wittgenstein’s basic ideas. But to understand his method (the slightly Zen-flavored thought experiments), we have to delve into his works.
Posted by Leonard Seet
Labels: description, expression, language, linguistics, mind and body, philosophy, philosophy of language, Wittgenstein
Leonard Seet is the author of the novels Magnolias in Paradise and Meditation On Space-Time. His short fiction have appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Banana Writers and Pilcrow & Dagger. Through his writings, he probes the dynamics of existence, including human consciousness, good and evil, and rationality and spirituality. He received the B.S. in Physics and B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an MBA from Georgetown University.