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Wittgenstein’s Thought-Experiments

Nenad Miščević
Published Online: 2017-01-03 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cpt-2016-0002


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.

Keywords: Wittgenstein; Philosophical Investigations; Rule-following; language-acquisition; though-experiments


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-01-03

Published in Print: 2017-01-01

Citation Information: Conceptus, Volume 42, Issue 101-102, Pages 20–40, ISSN (Online) 2196-9523, ISSN (Print) 0010-5155, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cpt-2016-0002.

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