March 19, 2010
I take it to be a central task of Wittgenstein's philosophy to undermine certain mythological conceptions of language that tend to hold us captive in philosophy. I believe too that one of his primary motivations for attempting this task is his sense of the corrosive effect such conceptions have on a society uncritically beholden to them. This paper explores a related question: How did Wittgenstein understand our relation to the philosophical problems that arise from these mythological conceptions once we have a clearer picture of the connections between the mythology and the problems? More specifically, I discuss the suggestion, made independently by Stanley Cavell and John McDowell, that Wittgenstein believed the problems of philosophy to be so fundamentally rooted in us, that any freedom from metaphysical quandaries one may enjoy can at best be temporary. Quite apart from the overall validity this view may have as an interpretation of the relation between human beings and metaphysics, there is the question of whether it is what Wittgenstein actually held. My aim here is not to engage in a debate about whether or not the “will to philosophy” is part of the human condition. Rather, I wish simply to argue that there are good reasons for believing that Wittgenstein believed it possible to abandon metaphysics.