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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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← xiv | xv → Preface


Much has been written about Ludwig Wittgenstein over the years, particularly on his approach to philosophy and language. There have also been studies on his ideas about education and teaching. This book aims to show how certain significant aspects of his thought are crucial for understanding his views on thinking, learning and teaching and, in doing so, to allow a picture of the philosopher to emerge in his own words and through the views of some of his close friends. Wittgenstein’s efforts to probe the meaning of life and its problems shaped the direction of his thinking about learning from 1916 onwards beginning with his Notebooks 1914–16 and from his recorded conversations with friends and colleagues. We are fortunate to have such evidence from his writings and his friends about what he said and did.1 The initial focus of his attention was directed towards problem-solving which initially was channelled through his study of engineering that led to research in the field of aeronautics and mathematics. This, in turn, stimulated his interest in logic and the philosophy of logic and then in philosophy itself whose task he saw as clarifying language which would thereby clarify our thinking. He was interested in many subjects throughout his life, including religion and ethics, as well as music, architecture and design, culture, psychology and psychoanalysis. A persistent concern of his was how we think and learn and then teach what we know which forms the subject matter of this book. It will be argued...

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