Sunday, April 24, 2005

pace Wittgenstein

I've been away for awhile, mostly doing some grading. Recently, I've
been thinking a lot about Wittgensteinian philosophical methodology.
I'm certainly no Wittgenstein scholar, but, like many philosophers, I
often think about whether our business is more about solving puzzles
that in certain lights should never have arised--shewing the fly out of
the fly-bottle--or rather than tracking substantive new areas of
knowledge. My thought is that philosophy is neither one nor the other.
Rather certain areas--say for instance certain parts of philosophy of
language (say the discussion of truth) are Wittgensteinian areas
whereas others like, say, the discussion of free-will or knowledge,
involve substantive discoveries sometimes. This doesn't make
philosophy much different from other disciplines, where some issues are
just conceptual disputes and some involve substantive new discoveries.
So I don't think we should be concerned that there is anything
particularly fly-bottlish about philosophy.


Anonymous Alex said...

Nat, we've argued about this before, so I might just be repeating myself. But, I just don't see how you can meaningfully draw the distinction between "conceptual disputes" and "substantive discoveries". If disputes over truth are merely conceptual, doesn't a resolution of the dispute involve some discovery about the nature of the concepts involved in the dispute, and isn't this discovery substantial in the same way that a discovery about the nature of knowledge is thought to be substantial? I grant you that certain philosophical puzzles arise solely because of confusions, whereas other puzzles arise from, say, an incomplete rather than a confused understanding of the concepts involved. But I don't see why the resolution of one sort of puzzle is substantial while the other isn't.

It's interesting here to note the methodological distinction that Sir Peter Strawson draws in his introductory book *Analysis and Metaphysics*. There, he contrasts the Wittgensteinian analogy of the philosopher-as-therapist--curing the illness of confusion--with the more Strawsonian analogy of philosophy-as-conceptual-mapping. The project of conceptual mapping--"the discovering of what elements a concept or idea is composed and how they are related"--is supposed to be the positive substantive program. What I don't see is how the "conceptual disputes" you speak of differ from the Strawsonian projects of conceptual mapping.

2:09 AM  
Blogger Naxos "Nat" Simeon said...

Alex, you've got a lot of good points there. Indeed, when I was a undegraduate I think I would have said something very similar. But this Strawsonian project of conceptual mapping makes all philosophy seem like the philosophy of concepts. However, the way I understand what the exciting new metaphysicians (like say Jonathan Schaffer) to be doing is not just discovering conceptual structure but rather tracking the truth about what's out there. Now if you intend to be doing that, then it seems like tracking conceptual structure, while an interested project in itself is a bit less of a substantive discovery.

10:11 AM  

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