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What Does It Look Like?

Wittgenstein’s Philosophy in the Light of His Conception of Language Description: Part I

Sebastiaan A. Verschuren

This book is the first part of a comprehensive study of Wittgenstein’s conception of language description. Describing language was no pastime occupation for the philosopher. It was hard work and it meant struggle. It made for a philosophy that required Wittgenstein’s full attention and half his life. His approach had always been working on himself, on how he saw things. The central claim of this book is that nothing will come of our exegetical efforts to see what Wittgenstein's later philosophy amounts to if his work on describing language is not given the place and concern it deserves. The book shows what his philosophy might begin to look like in the light of critical questions around his interest to see the end of the day with descriptions, and these things only.


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‘All explanation must disappear, and description alone must take its place.’1 These words from Wittgenstein’s second masterpiece are as legendary as the man him- self. Eleven signs, two great symbols, an entire philosophy, much folderol to one school, naught but truth and essence to another. What the one hopes for, the other challenges, a diversion that keeps legends alive and scholars kicking. I, too, have written a book about Wittgenstein’s philosophy, which I take to be saying that doing away with all explanation is not enough, but that something must take its place, namely description. What Wittgenstein’s remark epitomizes is a true Gedankenbewegung, a philosophical movement of thought that does not begin with descriptions, but comes to an end in them. This movement was surely not the only one that he was anxious to engage in and to think through. Yet, compared to all the others that preoccupied him during his many years of philosophical labour, the one at issue was exceptional as it was at work in all he did to tackle philosophi- cal problems. It dominated the whole of his philosophical thinking, each part and every share, with all bits and pieces perennially contriving a plot that I call the dialectical character of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy: ‘All explanation must disap- pear, and description alone must take its place.’ This book is about this character with its special focus being the part and role that description plays in his philoso- phy. It is about the problems and difficulties that...

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