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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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Chapter 6: Concluding Remarks

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Chapter 6 Concluding Remarks We have seen earlier in the Preface to this book the description given by Professor von Wright of Wittgenstein’s form of teaching, and even though there are obvious similarities between this and the account provided by Norman Malcolm, it is also worth reading what Malcolm has to say: It is hardly correct to speak of these meetings as ‘lectures’ though this is what Wittgenstein called them. For one thing he was carrying on original research in these meetings.1 He was thinking about certain problems in a way that he could have done had he been alone. Wittgenstein commonly directed questions at various people present and reacted to their replies. Often the meetings consisted mainly of dialogue. Sometimes, however, when he was trying to draw a thought out of himself, he would prohibit, with a peremptory wave of the hand, any questions or remarks. There were frequent and prolonged periods of silence, with only an occasional mutter from Wittgenstein and the stillest attention from the others. During these silences, Wittgenstein was extremely tense and active … One knew that one was in the pres- ence of extreme seriousness, absorption and force of intellect.2 Like von Wright, Malcolm captures the essence of these ‘lectures’ where comment was invited at times by Wittgenstein on what he is thinking. Wittgenstein’s dialogical approach, which seems to have been central to his form of pedagogy, aimed at stimulating responses and interaction from his 1 It is worth noting at this point that Paulo...

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