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The Legacy of Wittgenstein: Pragmatism or Deconstruction

Edited By Ludwig Nagl and Chantal Mouffe

What is striking in the current reception of Wittgenstein is just how wide-ranging his influence has become among those who are trying to elaborate an alternative to the rationalistic framework dominant today. Pragmatists and deconstructionists are at the forefront of such a movement, of course, and it comes as no surprise that several of them have turned to Wittgenstein and have opened up new perspectives on his work. This joint interest has created a very welcome bridge between post-analytic and continental philosophy which have all but ignored each other for far too long. A promising dialogue is now developing, one to which the contributions to this volume can testify. They were originally presented at a conference organized in November 1999 at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster in London, sponsored by the Austrian Cultural Institute.


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Henry Staten: Wittgenstein's deconstructive legacy 43


Henry Staten Wittgenstein's deconstructive legacy The topic of our debate at this conference, if it is to be managed at all, invites desperately oversimplified definitions of each of its three terms. Which Wittgen- stein is to be evoked? Which pragmatism? Which deconstruction? Moreover, in the question, "Is Wittgenstein a pragmatist or deconstruction- ist?", where is philosophy located? My original, unreflecting take on this ques- tion presumed that the issue, "pragmatism or deconstruction?" was a form of the issue, "philosophy or deconstruction?"; pragmatism being one of the accredited (if perhaps, not greatly accredited) ways in which philosophy can be taught and written about in philosophy departments, at least in American universities. But in Richard Rorty's influential hard line on pragmatism, philosophy- in its hoariest sense at least, as metaphysics or pure speculation, the concern with essences and universals and transcendentals - philosophy in this sense turns out to be on the side of deconstruction. Whereas most philosophers dismiss deconstruction as not philosophy, Rorty dismisses it as just more philosophy. But it is easy enough to reconfigure our terms so that philosophy turns out after all to be on the side of pragmatism. Rorty's brand of pragmatism runs counter to the main stream of Anglo-American philosophy as what can roughly be called pragmatist or pragmatic reason, as represented for example by Hilary Putnam. If they criticize philosophy in its traditional or pre-pragmatist form, neo- pragmatists like Putnam do so in a way that promises to be a better way of obey- ing...

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