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Wittgenstein on Thinking, Learning and Teaching

Patrick Quinn

Wittgenstein is not generally thought of as a philosopher of education, yet his views on how we think, learn and teach have the potential to contribute significantly to our contemporary understanding of pedagogy. Wittgenstein himself was a lifelong learner whose method consisted of thinking intensely about a wide range of topics, including not only the philosophy of language, logic and mathematics but also architecture, music, ethics, religion, culture and psychoanalysis. He then shared his observations and conclusions with his students as a way of teaching them how to think and learn for themselves, and his personification of the learner-teacher deeply impressed those who witnessed his pedagogical performances during his ‘lectures’. This study presents a detailed exploration of Wittgenstein’s legacy as an educationalist, now accessible to us through the extensive published collections of his thoughts on the subject.


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I wish to first thank my wife, Marion, without whose patient support and unstinting encouragement I doubt whether I could have finished this book, such as it is. My thanks to Christabel Scaife from Peter Lang publishers, who commissioned the study and gave me considerable support throughout all stages of writing while being very patient when I went over time. My thanks to Jasmin Allousch, also from Peter Lang, for her kind assistance and to Peter Lang for publishing the book. Very special thanks to Professor Oliver Leaman (University of Lexington, Kentucky) and Professor William Desmond (Leuven) who were very encouraging about the project from the start and enthusiastic about its potential. I wish to thank the many students whom I have taught over the years including in the secondary schools where I taught who helped me develop an understanding of teach- ing and learning, which is always a work in progress. Thank you to those to whom I taught various courses at All Hallows College, Dublin, the many students who attended my Adult Education courses in philosophy and education over the years at University College Dublin and in particular those who attended my six-week course there from April to May in 2013 on Language, Education and Religion: Readings in the Philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. The adult students who continue to participate in the Adult Education philosophy courses that I teach have taught me that philosophy is best understood by those with life long experience and through a dialogical approach....

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