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Of Beetles and Roubles: Wittgenstein and Dostoevsky on Intention

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From the journal Wittgenstein-Studien


Wittgenstein and Dostoevsky both ridicule a hypostasizing and fetishizing picture of interiority: viewing sensations and intentions like discrete material objects. The symbols for this misleading view in their respective works are a beetle and a sachet containing thousand five hundred roubles. The beetle in the box passage in the Philosophical Investigations discredits a Cartesian picture of pain as akin to a thing-like entity. The sachet in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov represents Dmitry’s intention to be honourable. Dostoevsky achieves a perspicuous view of entangled webs of intentions, as opposed to labelling them like object-like entities.

I show that Wittgenstein’ account of first-personal thought, including intentions, is not based on the Cartesian dualism of the inner and the outer, the mind and the body. To underscore my argumentation, I refer to The Brothers Karamazov, one of Wittgenstein’s favourite novels. I especially focus on Dmitry’s sachet, which inspired Wittgenstein’s beetle in the box example. I show parallels both in content and in form of Wittgenstein’s and Dostoevsky’s approach to intention as a species of first-personal thought.


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Published Online: 2022-03-14
Published in Print: 2022-03-14

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