With a Foreword by Richard J. Bernstein and an Afterword by John Durham Peters
Edited By Jason Hannan
19 Ludwig Wittgenstein: From Language to Forms of Life WILLIAM KEITH 463
19 Ludwig Wittgenstein From Language to Forms of Life WILLIAM KEITH _____________________________________ Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) has sometimes been called the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, and he was certainly its greatest philosopher of language.1 Wittgenstein’s trenchant explorations of language and communication comprise not only a deep theoretical inquiry, but to some extent a moral practice. Wittgenstein’s interests lay chiefly in understanding the causes of conceptual and philosophical error; he wanted to know what prevented people (mainly academics) from thinking clearly about important problems, especially social and ethical problems. Wittgenstein worried, in a profoundly (but indirectly) Protestant way, that there were conceptual temptations that could seduce thinkers, temptations that could bewitch them and blind them.2 An American graduate student, Norman Malcolm, relates that Wittgenstein liked to illustrate this problem of blindness (which later becomes the problem of paradigms in Thomas Kuhn’s work) with the “string around the world” puzzle.3 Imagine a sphere, any size, and a string tightly around it. Suppose you added a length to the string, but it remained rigid; it would obviously then be a certain distance above the sphere. But in your mind’s eye, you imagine that the size of the sphere naturally makes a difference: Adding a meter to the string around a basketball is going to raise it far away from the ball, but if the string were wrapped around the earth (about 40,000 km) it would be raised a tiny amount. Yet this intuition is wrong. Because the circumference of any sphere...
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