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Wittgenstein’s Thought-Experiments

Nenad Miščević
From the journal Conceptus

Abstract

Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations feature three big thought-experiments: the Builders, the Rule-following argument, and the Private language argument. The experiments in question are macro-thought-experiments, which are rare in theoretical philosophy. The paper distinguishes eight such stages in/of these experiments, characterizes them briefly, and offers an explicit understanding of the stages, their mutual relations and commonalities with other thought-experiments in philosophy. This is proposed as a step towards systematically placing Wittgenstein’s work in the wider context of actual philosophical methodology and of present-day sharp debates about armchair thinking in the field.

One immediate result of comparing Wittgenstein’s thought-experiments with their counterparts in the analytic mainstream reveals an interesting trait: they are merely suggestive, in the sense that the theses they point to are rarely put forward explicitly, and even more rarely argued for in the manner that is nowadays fashionable in the mainstream. The paper briefly points to the difference by using the examples of Saul Kripke’s (1982) presentation of Rule-following and the unorthodox reading of the Builders by Charles Travis (1989), to illustrate the potential of the merely suggestive material for re-interpretation by a creative thinker.

Acknowledgment

Thanks go to Gabriele Mras for inviting me to the conference “Wittgenstein on Concept-Formation and the Limits of the Empirical” (Vienna 2011) and to her and Danièle Moyal-Sharrock for helpful discussion.

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Published Online: 2017-1-3
Published in Print: 2017-1-1

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