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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 4: The Role of Ethics in Learning and Teaching

← 74 | 75 → CHAPTER 4


We have seen in the last chapter how belief for Wittgenstein provides a basic foundation for learning and teaching, Ethics is also of fundamental importance for him if in a somewhat different, though related, way. His view of ethics is primarily theological and personal in that he acknowledged that ethics constituted the necessary backdrop to his own life, thoughts and actions. Ethics is all-pervasive, he tells us, and is a ‘condition of the world like logic’ (N, 77e). It is transcendent, supernatural, intimately connected with what is good and divine and guides us along the right path in our search for happiness by showing us the right way to live. In the Tractatus, ethics gets a brief mention although it turns out to be the point of the whole book, according to what Wittgenstein said in his communication with Fricker:

The book’s point is an ethical one. I once meant to include in the preface a sentence which is not in fact there now but which I will write out for you here, because it will perhaps be a key to the work for you. What I meant to write, then, was this: My work consists of two parts: the one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part that is the important one. My book draws limits to the sphere of the ethical from the inside as it were, and I am convinced that this is the ONLY rigorous...

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