Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 262

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY

COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM


AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY

Edited by

Rosa M. Calcaterra (General Editor)


Roberto Frega (Co-executive Editor)
Giovanni Maddalena (Co-executive Editor)

Issue 2, vol. IV, 2012

Roma 2012

_____________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy


General Editor
Rosa M. Calcaterra (Universit Roma Tre)
Executive Editors
Roberto Frega (Universit di Bologna)
Giovanni Maddalena (Universit del Molise)
Assistant Editor
Sarin Marchetti (University College Dublin)
Bookreview Editors
Maria Luisi (Universit Roma Tre)
Chris Skowronski (University of Opole)
Scientific Board
Mats Bergman (Finnish Academy)
Rosa M. Calcaterra (Universit Roma Tre)
Vincent Colapietro (Penn State University)
Rossella Fabbrichesi (Universit di Milano)
Susan Haack (University of Miami)
Larry Hickman (SIU University The Center for Dewey Studies)
Christopher Hookway (Sheffield University)
Ivo Ibri (Pontifcia Universidade Catlica de So Paulo)
Hans Joas (Universitt Erfurt)
Sandra Laugier (Universit de Picardie Jules Verne)
Joseph Margolis (Temple University)
Michele Marsonet (Universit di Genova)
Annamaria Nieddu (Universit di Cagliari)
Jaime Nubiola (Universidad de Navarra)
Carlo Sini (Universit di Milano)
Andr de Tienne (Indiana and Purdue University at Indianapolis)
Fernando Zalamea (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogot)
Editorial Board
Felipe Carreira da Silva (University of Lisbon)
Gianni Formica (Universit di Bari)
Roberto Frega (Universit degli Studi Bologna)
Guillaume Garreta (Collge International de Philosophie)
Mathias Girel (Universit Paris 1 Pantheon)
Roberto Gronda (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa)
David Hildebrand (University of Colorado, Denver)
Maria Luisi (Universit Roma Tre)
Giovanni Maddalena (Universit del Molise)
Sarin Marchetti (University College Dublin)
Susanna Marietti (Universit Roma Tre)
Henrik Rydenfelt (University of Helsinki)
Giovanni Tuzet (Universit Bocconi)

_____________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Symposia. Wittgenstein and Pragmatism


Guest editors: Christiane Chauvir (Universit Paris | Panthon-Sorbonne), Sabine Plaud
(PhiCO/EXeCO - PSL Research University)

Christiane Chauvir, Sabine Plaud, Introduction to the Symposium: Wittgenstein and


Pragmatism: A Reassessment .. 6
Sami Pihlstrm, A New Look at Wittgenstein and Pragmatism ... 9
Judi M. Hensley, Whos Calling Wittgenstein a Pragmatist? .... 27
Anna Boncompagni, Streams and River-Beds. James Stream of Thought in Wittgensteins
Manuscripts 165 and 129 36
Mathieu Marion, Wittgenstein, Ramsey and British Pragmatism ...54
Christiane Chauvir, Experience and Nature: Wittgenstein Reader of Dewey? .81
Michael Luntley, Training, Training, Training: The Making of Second Nature and the
Roots of Wittgensteins Pragmatism .. 88
Jrg Volbers, Wittgenstein, Dewey, and the Practical Foundation of Knowledge .. 105
Rick Davis, Group Morality and Forms of Life: Dewey, Wittgenstein and
Inter-Subjectivity .. 118
Joseph Margolis, A Philosophical Bestiary .. 128
Guy Bennett-Hunter, A Pragmatist Conception of Certainty: Wittgenstein and
Santayana . 146
Francesco Callegaro, Having Social Practices in Mind. Wittgensteins anthropological
pragmatism in perspective 158

A Symposium on J. Margolis, Pragmatism Ascendent: a Yard of Narrative, ATouch of


Prophecy, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2012
Rosa M. Calcaterra, Joseph Margolis Pragmatism between Narrative and Prophecy 175
Mathias Girel, Darwinized Hegelianism or Hegelianized Darwinism? ... 180

_____________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
iii

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Roberto Gronda, Nature and Thought. Some Reflections on Margolis Claim of the
Indissolubility of Realism and Idealism ... 184
Sami Pihlstrm, Margolis on Realism and Idealism 193
Joseph Margolis, Replies .. 201

Essays
G. Maddalena, F. Zalamea, A new analytic/synthetic/horotic paradigm. From
mathematical gesture to synthetic/horotic reasoning ... 208
Santiago Rey, McDowells Unexpected Philosophical Ally . 225

Bookreviews
J. Dewey, Unmodern Philosophy and Modern Philosophy, ed. By Philip Deen. Carbondale,
Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012 (reviewed by Kevin S. Decker) ...236
R. Frega, Practice, Judgement, and the Challenge of Moral and Political Disagreement,
Lexington Books, Plymouth 2012 (reviewed by Roberto Gronda) .. 242
Fernando Savater, Acerca de Santayana, ed. by Jos Beltrn & Daniel Moreno, Valencia,
PUV, 2012 (reviewed by ngel M. Faerna) . 251
M. Bushmeier, E. Hammer, Pragmatismus und Hermeneutik: Beitrge zu Richard Rortys
Kulturpolitik, Hamburg: Meiner, 2011 (reviewed by Till Kinzel) ... 254
William James, A Pluralistic Universe, edited and introduced by H. G. Callaway, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008 (reviewed by Michela Bella) .. 258

_____________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
iv

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Symposia. Wittgenstein and Pragmatism

_____________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Christiane Chauvir and Sabine Plaud*

Introduction to the Symposium: Wittgenstein and Pragmatism: A Reassessment.

The connections between Wittgensteins philosophy and the pragmatist tradition are often alluded to, but seldom thoroughly explored. It is commonly assumed that Wittgenstein
was scarcely acquainted with such authors as Charles Sanders Peirce or John Dewey (a
false idea, as we shall see), even though he had a rather extended knowledge of the philosophy of William James. Nevertheless, the converging features between Wittgenstein and
pragmatism are quite striking: we shall hardly need to mention Wittgensteins claim that
meaning is use, his insistence on the pictorial dimension of mathematical proof, or again his
emphasis on action in his characterization of will and intention. On the other hand, modern
and contemporary pragmatist philosophers (R. B. Brandom, H. Putnam...) have often developed a complex and intricate relationship to Wittgensteins philosophy, since they sometimes use it as a support to their own arguments, but sometimes also point at its insufficiencies, and try to amend them. Hence the following questions: in what sense may Wittgensteins philosophy be described as pragmatist? Symmetrically, in what sense may contemporary pragmatist philosophy be described as Wittgensteinian? What are the incompatibilities, if any, between these two traditions? Lastly, what part has been played by such
middlemen as C. K. Ogden or F. P. Ramsey in the interactions between Wittgenstein and
pragmatism? Answering these questions should provide an opportunity to explore the dialogues and/or misunderstandings between a European or continental tradition in philosophy, and a more specifically American analysis of the notions of meaning, reasoning, action, etc.
On one side, to compare Wittgenstein with pragmatism has become a classical topic
since the pragmatist turn in American philosophy in the eighties-nineties, and since the
pragmatisms revival due to such philosophers as Putnam, Rorty or Brandom, to speak only
of the greatest. On the other hand, many British philosophers, more or less connected to
Wittgenstein, are self-avowed pragmatists: there is a Cambridge pragmatism illustrated by
Ramsey, Anscombe, von Wright, Mellor, Blackburn, all of them having something to do
with pragmatist topics. And Wittgenstein himself, when he returned to Cambridge in 1929,
developed a philosophy that was very different from the Tractatus, and distinctly pragmatist in its nature.
In this special issue, we would like to submit to our readers the hypothesis that Wittgensteins return to Cambridge in 1929 was also a pragmatist turn. This event is often imputed
to the acquaintance with Ramsey and Sraffa. But it seems to us that we could also impute it
to his having read Dewey, especially Experience and Nature (1925). The whole theme of
the return of philosophy to the ordinary which permeates the Philosophical Investigations is
probably borrowed from Deweys Experience and Nature. The idea of equating meaning
with use, the emphasis on instrumentalism, the quest of the ordinary, the account that is
now taken of the context of language and of the practical consequences of what is said, the
conception of language as a set of deeds makes up an overwhelming evidence for the simi* Paris 1 Panthon-Sorbonne [christiane.chauvire@noos.fr], Paris Science et Lettres [sabine.plaud@univ-psl.fr]

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, VI, 2
6

C. CHAUVIRE AND S. PLAUD

INTRODUCTION: WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

larity between Wittgenstein and Dewey, as well as for the affinities between Wittgenstein
and pragmatism in general.
The papers collected in this issue browse the various aspects of these connections between Wittgenstein and pragmatism, by focusing on the necessity to reevaluate such connections. In A new look at Wittgenstein and Pragmatism, Sami Pihlstrm reconsiders
Wittgensteins relation to this tradition by discussing three key issues of Wittgenstein studies: the distinction between the propositional and the non-propositional; the tension between anti-Cartesian faillibilism and what has been called the truth in skepticism in Wittgenstein; and the relation between metaphysics and the criticism of metaphysics in Wittgensteins philosophy. In her paper: Whos Calling Wittgenstein a Pragmatist?, Judith
Hensley addresses the debate that surrounds pragmatic interpretations of Ludwig Wittgenstein. She draws in particular on Hilary Putnams lecture Was Wittgenstein a Pragmatist? and on Stanley Cavells response Whats the Use of Calling Emerson a Pragmatist?. Anna Boncompagnis paper: Streams and river-beds. James stream of thought in
Wittgensteins manuscripts 165 and 129 focuses on a picture common to Wittgenstein and
William James, namely the image of the flux, stream, or river, by referring to some notes
belonging to Wittgensteins Nachlass. This analysis leads to the theme of the relations
among science, philosophy and metaphysics, and to the conclusion that Wittgenstein did
appreciate James for his intuitions and for the power of his imagination, but could not agree
on the explicit formulation of his ideas. The specific connections between Wittgenstein and
British pragmatism are addressed by Mathieu Marion in Wittgenstein, Ramsey and British
Pragmatism, where he examines the transmission of some ideas of the pragmatist tradition
to Wittgenstein, in his middle period, through the intermediary of F. P. Ramsey, with
whom he had numerous fruitful discussions at Cambridge in 1929. Marion argues more
specifically that one must first come to terms with Ramseys own views in 1929, and explain how they differ from views expressed in earlier papers from 1925-27. One is then in a
better position to understand the impact of Ramseys astute critique of Wittgensteins Tractatus Logico-philosophicus in conjunction with his pragmatism, and explain how it may
have set into motion the later Wittgenstein.
The issue then proposes a series of paper devoted to the relationships between Wittgenstein and Dewey. Christiane Chauvirs Experience and Nature. Wittgenstein reader of
Dewey focuses on Deweys influence which is seldom mentioned in the literature when
the relationships between Wittgenstein and pragmatism are addressed. Yet, it should be
known that Deweys philosophy is clearly echoed in Wittgensteins later philosophy, as it is
expressed in his Philosophical Investigations. In particular, Deweys Experience and Nature develops many creeds also taken up by Wittgenstein: for instance, the critical attitude
towards artificial notions that break with primary experience (e. g., the Self), the will to
bring philosophy back to the ordinary, or the emphasis laid on the necessity to pay attention
to what lies open to the view. James Luntleys Training, training, training: The making of
second nature and the roots of Wittgensteins pragmatism is then interested in the influence of pragmatism on Wittgensteins conception of practice, and argues that Wittgensteins appeal to practice is much closer to Deweys than to Peirces.In Wittgenstein,
Dewey, and the practical foundation of knowledge, Jorg Vlbers compares the philosophies of Wittgenstein and Dewey in their connection to a theory of practice: Wittgenstein
and Dewey both express a defense of the primary of practice; yet, their philosophies are
extremely different in style, and considering those differences may allow us to examine
what kind of knowledge we should expect from philosophy, a question to which Wittgenstein and Dewey provide very different answers. In Group morality and forms of life:

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
7

C. CHAUVIRE AND S. PLAUD

INTRODUCTION: WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

Dewey, Wittgenstein and inter-subjectivity, Rick Davis tries to establish connections between the pragmatist philosophical tradition and the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and argues that among these connections is the affinity between John Deweys account of the development of group morality and Wittgensteins concept of form of life.
Lastly, this issue addresses more contemporary issues regarding the connections between Wittgenstein and pragmatism. In A philosophical bestiary, Joseph Margolis notices
that different readings have been provided as for the connections between Wittgenstein and
pragmatism, such as for example H. Putnams picture as opposed to R. Rortys description
that packages Wittgenstein and Dewey together as postmodern pragmatists. Joseph Margolis tries to broaden the discussion by including an examination of Wilfrid Sellars, Gottlob
Frege, Robert Brandom, and Huw Price. His aim it to review the newer challenges of naturalism and deflationism, which, by their own instruction, should bring us to the decisive
contest between the pragmatism of the Investigations and that of Brandoms Between Saying and Doing. The larger purpose of this exercise is to assess pragmatisms best prospects
currently, in meeting the gathering challenges of the day. Guy Bennett-Hunters paper: A
Pragmatist conception of certainty: Wittgenstein and Santayana draws on Duncan
Pritchards recent reading of Wittgensteins On Certainty, and identifies two important and
related points of affinity between this Wittgensteinian line of thought on certainty and the
line of thought on the same topic articulated in Santayanas Scepticism and Animal Faith.
First, both lines of thought reflect a pragmatist concept of certainty. Secondly, one may examine the way in which the pragmatist concept of certainty functions, for the two thinkers,
as a response to scepticism, since both point towards the possibility of a distinctively pragmatist response to scepticism which involves an anti-epistemological model of the intimate
relation of the human self to the world. Francesco Callegaros Having social practices in
mind. Wittgensteins anthropological pragmatism in perspective seeks to explain why and
how Wittgensteins idea of social practices should be considered as expressing a fundamental pragmatist commitment. In this purpose, Callegaro focuses on R. Brandoms attempt to
understand Wittgensteins second philosophy as belonging to an intellectual tradition from
which his own rationalist pragmatism derives. A confrontation follows between Brandom
and Wittgenstein, whose aim is to highlight the specific tactics of Wittgensteins pragmatism as a refusal of Brandoms idealist rationalism.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
8

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Sami Pihlstrm*

A New Look at Wittgenstein and Pragmatism

Abstract. This essay reconsiders Wittgensteins relation to the pragmatist tradition. I first
discuss, from a pragmatist perspective, three key issues of Wittgenstein studies: the distinction invoked in recent discussions of On Certainty, in particular between the propositional and the non-propositional (section 2); the tension between anti-Cartesian fallibilism and what has been called the truth in skepticism in Wittgenstein (section 3); as
well as the relation between metaphysics and the criticism of metaphysics in Wittgensteins philosophy, and Wittgensteinian philosophy more generally (section 4). I then proceed to a more metaphilosophical consideration of yet another problematic dichotomy, the
one between deconstructive (therapeutic) and (re)constructive or systematic, argumentative philosophy which, I argue, the pragmatist, together with Wittgenstein, ought to
overcome rather than rely on (section 5). After having gone through these open issues in
Wittgenstein scholarship at a general level, I briefly apply my considerations to the philosophy of religion, which is an important field of inquiry for both Wittgensteinian and
pragmatist thinkers (section 6).

1. Introduction
Historically, there is presumably relatively little to be added to the already existing
scholarship on the relation between Ludwig Wittgensteins philosophy and the pragmatist
tradition. Russell Goodmans excellent monograph, Wittgenstein and William James
(2002), tells us most that is worth telling about this issue, at least insofar as we are concerned with Wittgensteins relation to the classical pragmatist William James (or even to
Charles S. Peirce and John Dewey). Any examination of Wittgensteins relation to pragmatism must begin with Goodmans careful historical work, to which it is very difficult to add
1
significantly new scholarly results.
Such examinations of Wittgenstein and pragmatism should also appreciate the fact that
Wittgensteins own brief remarks on pragmatism such as the one in On Certainty where
he admits that his views may sound like pragmatism even though they are not really pragmatist (see Wittgenstein 1969, 422; cf. also Wittgenstein 1980a, 266; Goodman 2002,
pp. 11, 158) must be understood against the background of other Cambridge philosophers, especially Bertrand Russells and G.E. Moores, conceptions of pragmatism: WittHelsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies & University of Jyvskyl [sami.pihlstrom@helsinki.fi]
1 I will occasionally refer to Goodmans interpretation throughout this essay, but I try to look at the relation
between Wittgenstein and pragmatism from a slightly different angle (and not to restrict myself to the comparison
of Wittgenstein and James). For some pioneering historical work on the relations between Wittgenstein and Peirce,
see Bambrough (1981), Gullvg (1981), Haack (1982), Nubiola (1996), and Crocker (1998). Wittgensteins relation to James was discussed by commentators already earlier (cf. Fairbanks 1966, Wertz 1972, Baum 1980), but
Goodmans interpretation is much more comprehensive and detailed. (See, however, also Ben-Menahem 1998.)
On the other hand, some of the more recent interpreters who find connections between Wittgenstein and pragmatism fail to consider Wittgenstein in relation to the historical pragmatist tradition. This is as true about those who
read Wittgenstein in relation to deconstruction and postmodernist (Rortyan) pragmatism (see the essays in Nagl
and Mouffe (eds.) 2001) as it is about those for whom pragmatism seems to be basically a certain anti-skeptical
position within analytic epistemology (Bilgrami 2004), or a view of norms alternative to epistemological realism
(Williams 2004, especially pp. 95-96).
*

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
9

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

genstein was clearly not a pragmatist in the sense of Jamess pragmatist theory of truth,
but then again James himself was hardly a pragmatist in the rather naive sense of pragmatism (and its notorious theory of truth) attributed to him by his Cambridge critics. On the
other hand, it is also clear that Wittgenstein was already at an early stage familiar with
Jamess famous work, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), which contains a brief
account of the pragmatic method or Peirces principle, according to which our conception
of the potential or conceivable practical effects of the object of our thought is our concep2
tion of that object in its entirety.
Wittgenstein has also been intensively discussed by neopragmatists like Richard Rorty
and Hilary Putnam, as well as their many followers; it is, however, probably too early to
evaluate his contribution to the development of neopragmatist thought, as neopragmatism
3
itself is still developing as a philosophical orientation. One of the leading contemporary
neopragmatists, Huw Price, also insightfully employs Wittgenstein in his defense of antirepresentationalism, global expressivism, and functional pluralism and even explicitly
refers to the similarity between Wittgensteinian plurality of forms of discourse, or language-games and the strong element of discourse pluralism in the American pragmatist
tradition, of which [Nelson] Goodman and Rorty are the most prominent recent representa4
tives (Price 2011, p. 36). Thus, it might seem that the relation between Wittgenstein and
pragmatism has more or less been exhausted: while Russell Goodman has taken care of its
historical dimensions, original philosophers of language like Price have made the most innovative pragmatist use of Wittgensteins ideas in contemporary systematic philosophy.
However, philosophically and systematically rather than historically, there is, I believe,
still a lot to say about the relation between Wittgenstein and pragmatism. By making this
distinction, I am not assuming that philosophy and its history are separable; indeed, I do not
believe in such a dichotomy at all. Rather, systematic philosophy and the history of philosophy should be seen as a holistic network of beliefs and ideas to be critically examined in
5
toto. I only want to emphasize that my discussion of Wittgensteins relation to, or place in,
pragmatism is not primarily intended as a detailed contribution to historical scholarship on
what Wittgenstein (or the pragmatists) really said. No new readings of Wittgenstein, or
2 See Goodmans (2002, especially chapter 2) discussion of Wittgensteins reception of Jamess Varieties. On
the pragmatic method or pragmatist principle, see, e.g., the various reflections in Pihlstrm (ed.) (2011).
3 I do think that Putnams readings of Wittgenstein in relation to Kant and the pragmatist tradition (e.g., in
Putnam 1995) are largely on the right track indeed, Putnam is one of the few thinkers who admit that both Wittgenstein and the pragmatists share a Kantian heritage and therefore part of what I am going to say is to some
extent indebted to Putnam, both philosophically and historically, but I am not going to explicitly rely on his interpretations of Wittgenstein or the pragmatists here. In this essay, space does not allow me to elaborate on the interpretation of Wittgenstein as a (neo-)Kantian thinker engaged in transcendental argumentation. While I share such a
picture of Wittgenstein (cf. Pihlstrm 2003, 2004, 2006), believing it can be pragmatically enriched, its defense is
not necessary for the present examination of Wittgensteins relation to pragmatism. See also Pihlstrm (ed.)
(2006), and see section 5 below.
4 For Prices defense of global expressivism as the framework within which Wittgensteins linguistic (functional) pluralism makes sense, see especially Price (2011), chapter 10 (cf. also chapter 14). For a Kantian (and
Wittgensteinian) pragmatist, an interesting further question inspired by Prices work would be whether global expressivism could be understood as a pragmatist version of transcendental idealism within which (only) a pragmatic
or empirical realism becomes possible. This paper is not the proper place to examine such an issue further, though.
I should note, however, that where I clearly would not follow Prices pragmatism is his strongly anti-metaphysical
approach. In my view, the pragmatist should not escape metaphysical and ontological questions, should not
simply replace them with questions about thought and language, and should not embrace anthropology instead
of a (renewed) metaphysics in a pragmatist key (cf. ibid., p. 315). For an alternative pragmatist conception of
metaphysics, see Pihlstrm (2009); cf. also Pihlstrm (ed.) (2011).
5 This idea could be spelled out, e.g., in terms of Morton Whites holistic pragmatism (e.g., 2002); cf. also
Peperzak (1986).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
10

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

striking novel historical results, will be offered. My main aims are philosophical in the
sense that I want to contribute to the re-evaluation of the pragmatist way of philosophizing
today and, mutatis mutandis, of the Wittgensteinian way(s) from the perspective of this
6
critical comparison.
The conception of pragmatism presupposed in my discussion is, as will emerge as the
argument unfolds, a more or less classical one at least in the sense that I am not at all convinced by Rortyan (or even Pricean) neopragmatist and antirepresentationalist ideas. I am
not strongly committed to any specific account of classical pragmatism (although I will
emphasize the view of beliefs as habits of action, originally defended by Peirce); nor do I
see classical pragmatism and neopragmatism as fundamentally opposed to each other (as
some scholars do). For instance, I want to avoid establishing a new essentialistic dichotomy
between classical pragmatism focusing on experience and post-linguistic-turn neopragmatism focusing on language. A picture of pragmatism inspired by Peirce, James, and Dewey
but self-critically willing to learn from the new developments of pragmatism itself and its
intellectual neighbors (including, say, analytic philosophy and phenomenology) will remain
open and developing, continuously in the making (cf. Pihlstrm (ed.) 2011). This dynamic
openness is what makes pragmatism a truly living philosophical tradition, and my proposed
new look at Wittgenstein from a pragmatist perspective is one attempt to maintain such
openness.
This paper is organized as follows. First, I will discuss, from a pragmatist perspective,
three key issues of Wittgenstein studies that provide useful insights into the ways in which
Wittgenstein, or the contemporary Wittgensteinian philosopher, may be said to be a
pragmatist: the distinction invoked in recent discussions of Wittgensteins On Certainty,
in particular between the propositional and the non-propositional (section 2); the related
tension between anti-Cartesian fallibilism and what has been called the truth in skepticism in Wittgenstein (section 3); as well as the relation between metaphysics and the criticism of metaphysics in Wittgensteins philosophy, and Wittgensteinian philosophy more
generally (section 4). I will also argue that dichotomous readings of Wittgenstein in terms
of these three philosophical (or metaphilosophical) oppositions lead to unpragmatist and
even un-Wittgensteinian positions. I will then proceed to a more explicitly metaphilosophical consideration of a fourth, equally harmful dichotomy, the one between deconstructive
(therapeutic) and (re)constructive or systematic, argumentative philosophy which is, I will
argue, again something that the pragmatist, together with Wittgenstein, ought to overcome
rather than rely on (section 5). These issues are, and largely remain, open questions in
Wittgenstein scholarship. I can here only summarize how a pragmatist reader of Wittgenstein might, or perhaps should, deal with them; thus, what I will offer is merely a pragmatist
proposal to overcome certain dichotomies or dualisms that in my view threaten to lead current Wittgenstein scholarship astray. After having gone through these topics at a general
level, I will briefly apply my considerations to the philosophy of religion, which is an important field of inquiry for both Wittgensteinian and pragmatist thinkers (section 6). A short
conclusion (section 7) will finally pull the threads together.

6 This is something I have to some extent tried to do in earlier publications (cf. Pihlstrm 2003, 2004, 2006,
(ed.) 2006). I am not going to repeat those reflections here; fortunately, I hope I do have novel points to add.
Moreover, while my more recent investigations of pragmatism (Pihlstrm 2009, (ed.) 2011, 2013) do not explicitly
deal with Wittgenstein, their approach is compatible with a Wittgensteinianized pragmatism as well.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
11

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

2. Hinges: Propositional and Non-Propositional


Wittgensteins pragmatism has been perceived, especially in On Certainty (1969), to
focus on non-propositional hinges that is, fundamental certainties-in-action that our
thoughts and any meanings those thoughts or our uses of language are able to express de7
pend on. Thus, hinge propositions is actually a misleading expression, just as grammatical sentences is: hinges, in the full pragmatist sense, are not propositional but profoundly
action-based. Clearly, it is easy to suggest at a general level that Wittgenstein provides us
with a pragmatist picture of human language-use and meaning: any meaning possible for
us is grounded in public human ways of acting, that is, language-games. Wittgensteins later philosophy generally can be read as an attempt to show that it is only against the background of our human form(s) of life, of our habits of doing various things together in common environments, that meaning and also the learning of meanings are possible. In this
sense, Wittgenstein establishes a pragmatic philosophical position arguably as a response
to a transcendental question concerning the necessary conditions for the possibility of
8
meaning.
The pragmatist reading of On Certainty defended by Danile Moyal-Sharrock makes
these ideas more precise by arguing that, for Wittgenstein, our basic certainties are certainties in action instead of propositionally expressible claims known with certainty to be true.
Wittgenstein, after all, says in On Certainty that an ungrounded way of acting is prior to
any ungrounded presupposition (Wittgenstein 1969, 110) and that our acting, instead of
seeing, lies at the bottom of the language-game (ibid., 204; original emphases). He
also famously quotes, approvingly, Goethes Faust: In the beginning was the deed. (Ibid.,
402.) While this reference to action as such provides a more or less standard picture of
Wittgenstein also endorsed by Goodman (2002, pp. 5, 19-20), who notes that the priority
of practice over intellect and the deep interrelation of action and thought are among the
commitments shared by Wittgenstein and William James few scholars have joined Moyal-Sharrock in explicitly labelling Wittgensteins position pragmatist (or logically pragmatist, pragmatist in a broad sense). Moyal-Sharrock strongly emphasizes that the pragmatic certainty at issue here is non-propositional, non-empirical, and non-epistemic. A central pragmatic condition of meaning, according to Wittgenstein, is trust, understood as an
instinctive, primitive, unreasoned, immediate reaction. Without this unflinching trust,
there is no making sense, Moyal-Sharrock (2003, p. 133) aptly notes, referring to Wittgensteins (1969, 509) famous statement that a language-game is only possible if one trusts
something (I did not say can trust something). For instance, the assumption that the earth
has existed for many years forms the basis of action, and therefore, naturally, of thought
(ibid., 411), and this is something we trust on rather than know or even believe to be true
9
in the sense in which we know and believe many other things.
7 The key reference here is Daniele Moyal-Sharrocks interpretation, as defended in her monograph on On
Certainty and her papers on the third Wittgenstein: see Moyal-Sharrock (2004) and (ed.) (2004), as well as Moyal-Sharrock and Brenner (eds.) (2007).
8 On Wittgensteins (late) philosophy as a pragmatist response to a transcendental problem, see also Pihlstrm
(2003), chapter 2. Goodman (2002, p. 28) also notes that the Wittgensteinian we is the necessary or transcendental we of the human. For a more comprehensive treatment of Wittgenstein and the transcendental we, see
Lear (1998). Cf. section 5 below.
9 Another scholar explicitly referring to the primacy of practice as Wittgensteins view is Anthony Rudd
(see his 2007, p. 153). He even suggests that we might call Wittgensteins stance transcendental pragmatism
(ibid., p. 158) also suggested by myself in Pihlstrm (2003), chapter 2. Rudds (2007, p. 146) illuminating discussion of Wittgensteins Zettel (Wittgenstein 1970, 413-414) the famous example of the realist and the idealist teaching their children the word chair, with no genuine difference in these teachings that would make any

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
12

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

In On Certainty, then, the hinges of our language-game(s) are the practical certainties
we instinctively and immediately rely on that is, what we trust without too much reasoning
about the matter. Such hinges, including, say, our continuing trust in the reality of such
things as stones and chairs or other people (not to be conflated with theoretical claims to
know, on the basis of philosophical arguments, for instance, that physical objects or other
minds really exist), enable sense instead of themselves having sense (Moyal-Sharrock
2003, p. 134). Operating as such hinges, grammatical rules, in Wittgensteins special sense
of grammar, make language-games possible instead of being moves within a game (ibid.,
pp. 134-135). A hinge, according to this reading of On Certainty, is an enabler, not an hypothesis to be tested (ibid., p. 135). Wittgensteins anti-skeptical argumentation concludes
that we cannot doubt certain things if we are to (continue to) make sense with our expressions (ibid., p. 138). These transcendental-sounding formulations invoke the practice-laden
background of our language-use as the condition for the possibility of meaning. Moreover,
this pragmatist point is highlighted by the fact that, while Wittgensteins philosophy is of
course centrally focused on language, the notion of language must be construed more
broadly than as a mere propositional system as, instead, a genuine human practice within
the natural world.
However, despite my deep appreciation of Moyal-Sharrocks pragmatist reading, I
would modify her view by arguing that pragmatism blurs the boundary between the propositional and the non-propositional. The basic idea here is something that already Peirce and
James insisted on: beliefs (and, analogously, any propositional states we attribute to human
beings) are not just propositional attitudes in the head, that is, in the Cartesian-like mind
10
(or brain) of the believer, but habits of action in the world. The notion of a habit is crucial here. While I must simply use it in a vague and general sense in this context, referring
to the traditional pragmatist idea that to believe something is to be prepared to act in certain
ways, this notion of a habit could in a more detailed investigation be fruitfully compared to
11
Wittgensteinian notions such as custom, technique, and perhaps also game. After all,
Wittgenstein does say in the Investigations (1953, I, 150) that learning a language is mastering a technique. Accordingly, engaging in any propositional activity can be said to be
based on human activities or habits, ways of doing things in a normatively governed,
though always possibly changing, manner. There is no fixed or permanent normative structure of language; as Jaakko Hintikka has often remarked in his studies on Wittgenstein, lan12
guage-games themselves are, for Wittgenstein, prior to their rules.

practical difference could also benefit from an explicit comparison to Jamess (1907, chapter 2) pragmatic method, which argues for the same conclusion: if a philosophical difference does not show itself in any way in practice, there is no real point at issue at all (Rudd 2007, p. 146).
10 Relevant writings by Peirce and James on beliefs as habits of action can be found in Peirce (1992-98, especially vol. 1 and the classical 1877 essay, The Fixation of Belief, contained therein) and James (1907), particularly chapter 2. In this paper, I cannot discuss these or other pragmatist classics in any detail.
11 Note, then, that I am not here using the term habit in any technical Peircean logical and/or semiotic sense
but more loosely as referring to human habitual practices. This concept is a close relative of the concept of a form
of life in Wittgenstein. However, my usage of habit does, I think, retain a link to the views of the founder of
pragmatism, given that it is in terms of habits that we have to understand our ability to make any sense at all with
our linguistic or other semiotic expressions. Habits are a key to signification but also to inquiry and belieffixation, as both Peirce and later Dewey argued.
12 See the essays collected in Hintikka (1996). This is not to say that Hintikka would accept this view (language-game holism, as it has sometimes been labeled) as a philosophical conception of language, even though he
does believe it was Wittgensteins position. Cf. also Prices (very different) proposal to give a pragmatic account
of the origins of the semantic (Price 2011, p. 205). Goodman (2002, pp. 14-15) speaks about pragmatic holism
as a Jamesian view that Wittgenstein felt coming uncomfortably close to his own position.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
13

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

There is, then, for a pragmatist reader of Wittgenstein inspired by the classical pragmatists emphasis on habits and habituality, no dichotomy between the propositional and the
non-propositional in the sense of pragmatist interpretations of Wittgenstein such as Moyal-Sharrocks. Relying on such a dichotomy, which, in Moyal-Sharrocks reading, is intended to yield a new form of foundationalism an action-based and therefore nonpropositional rather than propositional response to skepticism is both unpragmatist and unWittgensteinian. While Moyal-Sharrock is certainly correct to point that the hinges Wittgenstein invokes are not propositional in the standard sense (any more than they are epistemic or hypothetical), neither aspect the propositional or the non-propositional of the
certainties Wittgenstein examines should be denied, or even can be denied, as they are inextricably intertwined.
This, however, is a pragmatist reinterpretation of (the third) Wittgenstein, not an attempt
to interpret Wittgensteins actual views with any detailed historical accuracy. Even so, the
denial of the dichotomy between the propositional and the non-propositional or, similarly,
between the linguistic and the non-linguistic does in my view capture the spirit of On
Certainty better than a dichotomous interpretation, even a logically pragmatist one.
3. Knowledge and Certainty: Fallibilism and the Truth In Skepticism
As a result of its remarkable conception of certainties-in-action, Wittgensteins On Certainty is, furthermore, anti-skeptical and anti-Cartesian in a way strongly resembling
Peirces famous anti-Cartesian writings from the 1860s (see again Peirce 1992-98, vol. 1).
Both philosophers maintain, in contrast to Descartess notorious methodological skepticism, that we cannot begin our inquiries from complete doubt. Rather, we must, inevitably,
always begin from within our beliefs or, what amounts to the same, our habits of action
that already presuppose a great number of various certainties, or hinges. Otherwise there
can be no knowledge or inquiry at all, or even any meaning, according to Wittgenstein (see
section 2 above).
In Peirces philosophy of science, this anti-Cartesian starting point is developed into the
well-known thesis of fallibilism: we could always be wrong, even though we cannot simultaneously doubt everything we believe. Any of our beliefs could be wrong, and we might,
as inquiry progresses, have reasons to revise or give up even our most strongly maintained
views or theories. We just cannot give all of them up at the same time. We have to have a
firm basis for revising those parts of our belief system that need revision, even though that
basis itself may also be called into question at a different time or from a different point of
view. There is no final, universal, or apodictic certainty to be had anywhere in human affairs; our inquiries are fallible and revisable through and through.
This fallibility or revisability is fully natural for us as the kind of beings we are. As our
factual circumstances change, as our forms of life are continuously recontextualized, the
basic certainties constitutive of our language-games and of the meanings expressible within
them may have to be revised or given up, though not on the basis of reason or evidence because (as hinges) they are not based on reason or evidence (cf. Hertzberg 1994, especially
pp. 48-50). In this sense our language-games are tied to the actual world we live in (ibid.,
p. 59).
It would presumably be misleading to call Wittgenstein a fallibilist. This would indicate that he has a theory to advance in epistemology and the philosophy of science, something comparable to Peirces (and Deweys) pragmatist and naturalist theory of inquiry emphasizing the gradual revision of our beliefs and habits of action in the course of experi-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
14

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

ence, where inquiry is launched as a response to the problematic situations arising from
surprising and unexpected results of our actions that make us doubt the original beliefs
(habits) we had been relying on. Yet, while it is clear that he does not defend such a theory,
or presumably any epistemic theory at all, his conception of the pragmatic hinges briefly
explored in the previous section should be understood in a fallibilistic spirit. These practice-embedded certainties are never final but must be revised and corrected, as our practices
and/or forms of life change and develop. Even the strongest of our hinges may have to be
given up in new circumstances, although we may be unable to even coherently consider the
possibility of having to give up our belief in, say, physical objects. In this general attitude to
our relation to the world we live in (and inquire into), Wittgenstein is, I submit, a pragmatic
fallibilist. Moreover, insofar as Wittgenstein is understood not only as a thinker with pragmatist inclinations but also as a post-Kantian transcendental philosopher employing transcendental arguments and reflections (see also section 5 below), this choice of terminology
might also play the important role of reaffirming the transcendental philosophers entitlement to fallibilism and antifoundationalism: even if we inquire, transcendentally, into the
necessary conditions for the possibility of things we take for granted, the results of such in13
quiries need not be regarded as apodictically certain.
This idea has also been expressed by saying that, while Wittgensteins late work is
clearly anti-skeptical, there is an appreciation of the truth in skepticism to be found in his
philosophy as well. Precisely the fact that our language-games, forms of life, and/or habits
14
of action do not have any metaphysical grounding or foundation can be understood as
such a recognition of the fundamental truth of skepticism, even though, again, skepticism as
15
a philosophical theory cannot be maintained. As a philosophical position, skepticism results from a theoretical urge that both pragmatism and Wittgenstein reject. Skepticism
should be overcome not by offering a theoretical argument that finally silences the skeptic
(this cannot be done) but by investigating the ways in which the skeptics game is dispensable that is, there is no need for us to philosophize in terms of that game, following its
rules while containing a fundamental seed of truth in the sense of making us better aware
of our groundlessness and precariousness.
Similarly, the officially strongly anti-skeptical pragmatists reject all foundationalist
theoretical attempts to ground knowledge, science, meaning or anything in antiskeptical philosophical arguments. Space does not allow me to elaborate on this theme further here, but it seems to me that pragmatists and pragmatic fallibilists and naturalists (following Dewey) have often dramatically neglected their clear similarities to Wittgensteinian
antifoundationalism and fallibilism. Both sides would benefit from deepening comparisons that would also strengthen the status of a general antifoundationalism in contemporary
thought still too often troubled by foundationalist concerns both in epistemology and in ethics and political philosophy.
13 On the possibility of fallibilist transcendental argumentation, see Westphal (2003). Goodman (2002) in my
view makes justice to both aspects of Wittgenstein by both emphasizing that Wittgenstein and James shared a
commitment to antifoundationalism (ibid., p. 5) and duly noting that Wittgenstein, unlike James, maintained a
clear distinction between philosophy and science, or philosophical and empirical justification (ibid., pp. 30-31).
Another important difference between Wittgenstein and pragmatism is political and cultural: Wittgenstein never
shared any of the progressivism of the pragmatists (see ibid., pp. 167 ff.).
14 I am not saying that these concepts are identical. My point is general enough to be made with regard to any
or all of them, depending on ones philosophical (and terminological) preferences.
15 This, of course, is something that has famously been elaborated on by Stanley Cavell (see his 1979). However, Cavell, presumably, would find little added value in comparisons between Wittgenstein and pragmatism. For
more comprehensive discussions of Wittgensteins relation to skepticism, see McManus (2004).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
15

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

In any case, our conclusion at this point is that there need be no conflict or dichotomy
between our commitment to fallibilism and our commitment to the truth in skepticism.
Both are pragmatically needed (and both are available in Wittgenstein), just like the propositional and the non-propositional cannot be dichotomously separated but must both be in16
corporated in our pragmatist picture of practice-embedded human being-in-the-world.
4. Reality: Metaphysics and Anti-Metaphysics
Both Wittgenstein and the pragmatists have often been regarded as radically antimetaphysical thinkers, even though Peirce, in particular, is also famous for his evolutionary
metaphysics (see, e.g., Anderson and Hausman 2012) and even Dewey has been argued to
incorporate metaphysical themes in his naturalism (cf. Sleeper 1986). For instance, Rorty
(typically downgrading Peirces importance in the development of pragmatism) repeatedly
pictures both Jamesian-Deweyan pragmatism and Wittgensteins later philosophy in an anti-metaphysical and anti-epistemological fashion, and more recent neopragmatists like Price
(2011) share this negative attitude to metaphysics. However, as I have argued in several
works (e.g., Pihlstrm 2009) but wont be able to argue in detail here this is a fundamental misrepresentation of pragmatism. The pragmatists and, perhaps analogously, Wittgenstein can be seen as offering us a new kind of metaphysics, one based not on the futile attempt to climb above our forms of life into a Gods-Eye View but on human practices and
especially our practice-embedded ethical and more generally evaluative standpoints and
considerations. Engaging in metaphysics is a way of interpreting our human being-in-theworld, which cannot be separated from ethical values (or other values, including aesthetic
ones, for that matter). This general idea is also closely related to the pragmatist rejection of
17
the fact-value dichotomy.
This is not at all to say that either pragmatists or Wittgenstein would not engage in the
criticism of metaphysics. Obviously, they do. They both heavily criticize not only specific
metaphysical ideas (e.g., Cartesian assumptions in the philosophy of mind or the picture of
meanings as mental or abstract entities untouched by the practices of language-use) but also, and more importantly, the very conception of metaphysics based on traditional preKantian metaphysical realism (transcendental realism), just as Kant himself did throughout
his critique of reason. However, they need not leave the matter at that point but are able to
offer a reconstructed or, as we might say, post-Kantian pragmatic, naturalized yet in a
sense transcendental way of doing metaphysics in terms of, and on the basis of, human experiential practices (forms of life, language-games). Pace Price, this is continuing metaphysics in a pragmatist key instead of abandoning metaphysics altogether. Pragmatism
and Wittgensteinian explorations of fundamental, yet revisable and fallible, features of our
forms of life here converge into what we may describe as a pragmatic philosophical anthropology, which, transcendentally interpreted yet pragmatically naturalized, is itself a form of
metaphysics.
Moreover, the kind of pragmatism, or pragmatic philosophical anthropology, that Wittgenstein and philosophers like James share is deeply pluralistic (cf. again Price 2011, chapters 2 and 10). Both James and Wittgenstein insist on the contextuality and pragmatic circumstantiality of human meanings, thought, and experience; we never encounter the world
16 My use of a Heideggerian phrase here is of course deliberate. In Heideggers case as much as in Wittgensteins, the question of possible links to pragmatism has been discussed (e.g., Okrent 1988) and needs further discussion.
17 Cf., e.g., Putnams work on this topic, especially Putnam (2002); see also Pihlstrm (2005).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
16

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

as it is in itself but always within one or another context that is, a practice or a form of life.
Furthermore, as there is no super-context or -practice over and above all others, there is no
single correct way of using language or interpreting experience, no privileged representations in the sense of the ideal language isomorphic to the structure of the world that Wittgenstein imagined in the Tractatus (1921); instead, there is a plurality of equally acceptable
ways of conceptualizing reality through different pragmatic engagements, each with their
own valuational purposes built into them. These may be related to each other through networks of family resemblances a famous Wittgensteinian notion that may in fact be drawn
from Jamess Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). Language-games are not mirrors of
an independent reality, and there is no way of representing the world from a Gods-Eye
View; instead, there are only human, contextual, pragmatically embedded perspectives
from within our forms of life.
At this point I would like to draw support from Putnams account of Wittgensteins relation to Kant and pragmatism: Wittgenstein inherits and extends [...] Kants pluralism;
that is the idea that no one language game deserves the exclusive right to be called true, or
rational, or our first-class conceptual system, or the system that limns the ultimate nature of reality, or anything like that. (Putnam 1992, p. 38.) Putnam continues to observe
very interestingly from the perspective of our project of integrating Wittgenstein into the
pragmatist tradition that for this reason Wittgenstein can be said to refute key ideas propounded by two leading twentieth-century pragmatists, i.e., both W.V. Quines reductive
naturalism and Rortys relativistic and postmodernist neopragmatism: he agrees with Rorty, against Quine, that one cannot say that scientific language games are the only language
games in which we say or write truths, or in which we describe reality; but, on the other
hand, he agrees with Quine as against Rorty that language games can be criticized (or
18
combatted); that there are better and worse language games. (Ibid.)
Arguably, a Wittgensteinian pragmatist may hold that our practice-embedded perspectives may, and often do, yield (or presuppose) metaphysical insights into the way the world
is, or must be thought to be (by us), from within the various practical contexts we operate
in. These, again, are not insights into the world as it is absolutely independently of our conceptualizing practices and value-laden practical points of view, but they are metaphysical
or philosophical-anthropological insights nonetheless. For example, the well-known Witt19
gensteinian thesis (if we may say that Wittgenstein ever maintained philosophical theses)
that there can be no private language in the sense of a language that only its speaker could
ever understand or learn to use, just like the pragmatically pluralistic thesis derivable from
the Putnamian interpretation just cited, can be interpreted as a metaphysical thesis about the
way the world, including language and our life with language, is, for us language-users in
the kind of natural circumstances and contexts (forms of life) we operate in. In this sense,
both pragmatism and Wittgenstein can be understood as critically rethinking the nature of
20
metaphysics and anti-metaphysics rather than moving beyond metaphysics.
18 It is far from clear that Quine can be called a pragmatist at all, despite his influence on both Putnams
and Rortys versions of neopragmatism. See Koskinen and Pihlstrm (2006).
19 I am fully aware that some New Wittgensteinians resist such formulations. See the next section for a brief
pragmatic critique of such views.
20 Another possible example of a metaphysical topic receiving a pragmatic-cum-Wittgensteinian treatment is
the actionist (interventionist, manipulative) theory of causation defended by one of Wittgensteins distinguished followers, G.H. von Wright (1971, 1974). However, it is unclear whether we can say that von Wrights
views on, say, causation are metaphysical at all; he is generally an anti-metaphysical thinker, like so many Wittgensteinians, and he can be said to investigate the concept of causation instead of the metaphysical structure of
causation itself. But then, again, this dichotomy between metaphysical structures of reality and our conceptualiza-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
17

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

5. Philosophy: Deconstruction and Reconstruction


In recent Wittgenstein studies, several noted scholars have suggested that Wittgensteins
philosophy is completely different from any traditional attempts to philosophize in terms of
theses and arguments. Those are to be rejected as remnants of dogmatic ways of doing
philosophy. Instead of engaging with theses and arguments, philosophy should be therapeutical and deconstructive, helping us get rid of assumptions that lead us to philosophical
problems in the first place. The New Wittgensteinians, taking very seriously Wittgensteins encouragement to drop the ladder toward the end of the Tractatus (Wittgenstein
1921, 6.54) and his later proposal to lead philosophical thought to peace (Wittgenstein
21
1953, I, 133), support this therapeutic-deconstructive program.
Again, we can perceive a misleadingly dichotomous choice between implausible extremes at work here. To defend a modestly traditional conception of philosophy as a systematic, argumentative practice employing theses and arguments supporting those theses is
not to be a dogmatic believer in any particular philosophical system. As a brief illustration
of this, I suggest that, despite his criticism of traditional ways of doing philosophy, Wittgenstein can be seen as employing Kantian-styled transcendental arguments (e.g., the private language argument) in favour of certain philosophical conceptions (e.g., the view that
22
our language is necessarily public). The private language argument can be regarded as
transcendental precisely because the fact that language is public is claimed to be a necessary condition for the very possibility of linguistic meaning. A private language would not
be a language at all; as Wittgenstein notes, rules cannot be followed privately. Similarly, it
could be argued that, necessarily, there must be agreement about certain apparently empirical matters (hinges, e.g., our basic conviction about the earth having existed for a long
time and not just for, say, five minutes) in order for there to be meaningful use of language
23
at all. I am not making any claims about the success of Wittgensteins arguments, but it
seems to me clear that he can be plausibly read as employing the transcendental method of
examining the necessary conditions for the possibility of something (e.g., meaningful lan24
guage) whose actuality we take as given.
Analogously, the pragmatists can also be reinterpreted as philosophers presenting and
evaluating transcendental arguments (or at least, more broadly, transcendental considerations and inquiries), even though radical neopragmatists like Rorty have tried to depict not
only Wittgenstein but also the classical pragmatists, especially James and Dewey, in a deconstructive manner, as some kind of precursors of both post-Wittgensteinian therapy and
Derridean deconstruction (and postmodernism more generally). For a pragmatist, there is
no reason at all to resort to any unpragmatic dichotomy between, say, transcendental philtions of those structures from within our practices must be called into question by the pragmatist (and, a fortiori,
by the Wittgensteinian pragmatist).
21 See Crary and Read (2000), Wallgren (2006), as well as several essays in Pihlstrm (ed.) (2006).
22 The Kantian tradition in interpretations of Wittgenstein goes back at least to Erik Steniuss seminal study
(Stenius 1960).
23 See the discussion of hinges and the logically pragmatist interpretation of On Certainty in section 2
above. The notion of transcendental pragmatism was already referred to in that context (cf. Pihlstrm 2003;
Rudd 2007).
24 Note also that the transcendental interpretation is certainly not the only way of making Wittgenstein a philosopher of theses and arguments. Wittgenstein has, of course, been employed in the service of analytic philosophy of language in a distinctively pragmatist manner by Huw Price (2011): his expressivist, minimalist, and functionally pluralist engagement with Wittgenstein, or engagement with semantics from a Wittgensteinian perspective, is certainly not deconstructive in the sense of Rortys or the New Wittgensteinians projects but genuinely
reconstructive (which does not mean I would agree with his use of Wittgenstein: Price is too anti-metaphysical a
pragmatist for my taste, as was noted above).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
18

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

osophical theory and philosophizing as an activity (Pleasants 1999, p. 181). Rather,


philosophical theorizing itself is a practice-embedded human activity, and any activity that
can be properly called philosophical surely has theoretical aspects.
A healthy pragmatism should, instead of relying on an essentialistic dichotomy between
post-philosophical therapy and systematic argumentation, insist on the compatibility and
deep complementarity of deconstruction and reconstruction. Deconstruction should always
be followed by reconstruction. This is in effect what Dewey argued in Reconstruction in
Philosophy (1920); as Putnam (1992) later put it, deconstruction without reconstruction is
irresponsibility. Thus, whenever a philosophical concept, problem, or position is deconstructed or therapeutically shown to be optional, a reconstructed pragmatic account of
whatever it is that originally drew philosophers attention to that concept, problem, or position should follow. For example, while Dewey devastatingly deconstructs a whole set of
traditional philosophical dualisms e.g., those between the mind and the body, experience
and nature, as well as knowledge and action, to name but a few he also offers a reconstructed picture of how a non-reductively naturalized philosophy in the service of democracy as a way of life can deal with the issues that were previously thought to require these
25
problematic dualisms. The move from deconstruction to reconstruction is a stage in the
process of inquiry needed to settle the problematic situation the philosophers seeks to transform.
Therefore, the crude dichotomy between therapeutic and systematic philosophy is,
again, completely unpragmatic and in my view also anti-Wittgensteinian, as it assumes an
essentialistic conception of the proper way of doing philosophy, without letting the richness
of different philosophical aims, methods, and conceptions flourish. It thinks before looking,
to use a Wittgensteinian phrase; or, to adopt a Peircean expression, it blocks the road of inquiry. Our philosophical inquiries often need both deconstruction and reconstruction; therefore, to narrow-mindedly restrict proper philosophizing to one of these impedes philosophical understanding.
Just as pragmatism and pragmatically interpreted Wittgensteinianism seek to mediate
between the propositional and the non-propositional and between metaphysics and the criticism of metaphysics, they also seek to mediate between therapeutic-deconstructive and systematic-reconstructive conceptions of philosophy. Here pragmatism, also Wittgensteinianized pragmatism, can reaffirm its role emphasized by, e.g., James in Pragmatism (1907,
chapter 1) as a critical mediator, a middle-ground-seeker, continuously hoping to reinterpret, re-evaluate, and transform traditional philosophical controversies.
6. Philosophy of Religion: Applying the Criticism of the Four Dichotomies
If we are able to avoid the dichotomies and assumptions discussed in the four previous
sections in a pragmatist and (I claim) Wittgensteinian way, we should also be able to look
and see what happens to a particular field of philosophical inquiry, such as the philosophy
of religion, when they are avoided. Even though this paper cannot even begin to examine
the Wittgensteinian tradition in the philosophy of religion, or even Wittgensteins own
25 Similarly, we might say that James (1907, chapters 3-4) first deconstructs, by employing (his version of)
the pragmatic method, several traditional philosophical issues and ideas (e.g., substance, the free will, God, and
the dispute between monism and pluralism), and then reconstructs these issues and the corresponding debates in
terms of his pragmatist grounding of metaphysics in ethics. Thus, he does not suggest (deconstructively) that we
should simply abandon those issues or the related philosophical concepts; he (reconstructively) suggests that we
can find their pragmatic core by using the pragmatic method (cf. Pihlstrm 2009).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
19

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

26

views on religion, at any length, let us very briefly consider philosophical investigations
of religion on the basis of the following four ideas derived from the treatment of Wittgensteins relation to pragmatism above. Moreover, following Goodman (2002) again, we
should recognize that the commitment to the philosophical importance of religion is shared
by Wittgenstein and James, as well as by most other pragmatists, even though few pragmatists have straightforwardly defended any traditional religious worldview.
First, it may be suggested that religious believers specifically religious certainties
the basic convictions underlying their religious language-games or forms of life are both
propositional and non-propositional, that is, manifesting or incorporating (if not simply
expressible in the form of) theological theses (e.g., regarding Gods reality) but not reducible to mere linguistic statements considered in abstraction from human habits of action.
Such certainties are, rather, themselves habits of action, combining propositional and nonpropositional elements (cf. section 2 above).
Secondly, religious beliefs, including action-based certainties, can be criticized and rationally rejected in the spirit of fallibilism and general philosophical antifoundationalism;
yet, just as there is no rational grounding for them based on religiously neutral criteria of
reason, they cannot be rejected simply because of the lack of such grounding. This is comparable to the truth in skepticism (see section 3 above). Religious beliefs, understood as
practice-embedded certainties or fundamental convictions shaping the believers lives, are
not scientific-like hypotheses to be tested in the way we test scientific or commonsensical
beliefs about the world. Even so, they can be given up and/or revised in the course of our
on-going experience and its transformations. They are not immune to criticism, because our
lives and their contexts can and do change, requiring us to modify the concepts and language-games (including religious ones) we (may) employ to make sense of those lives. Or
better, if ones faith is immune to criticism, then it is not genuinely religious at all (cf.
Pihlstrm 2013, chapter 7).
Thirdly, pragmatist philosophers of religion should both criticize traditional dogmatically metaphysical ways of pursuing theology and the philosophy of religion (e.g., the proofs
of Gods existence or the artificial logical puzzles related to the concept of omniscience, for
instance) and be willing to consider metaphysical expressions for their ideas concerning
God, the soul, etc., even though pragmatic metaphysical inquiries into religion and theology
primarily have to start from, or be subordinated to, ethical reflections on what it means to
be a human being (cf. Pihlstrm 2013, especially chapters 2 and 5; as well as section 4
above). In addition, for instance, process-theological reconstruals of the divinity might be
worth exploring from both pragmatist and Wittgensteinian perspectives.
Fourthly, philosophy of religion, like Wittgensteinian-cum-pragmatist philosophy generally, should be both deconstructive and reconstructive (cf. section 5 above): we should,
therapeutically, avoid dogmatic religious and/or theological beliefs but also, systematically
and argumentatively, contribute to the critical analysis and evaluation of such belief systems. These are two sides of the same coin and equally important as parts of a philosophico-theological search for an ever deeper understanding of religion.
Both pragmatist and Wittgensteinian philosophers of religion should, in my view, subscribe to something like these formulations concerning the nature and tasks of the philoso26 D.Z. Phillipss work is, of course, the most widely read and most controversial within Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion. For a collection of up-to-date essays, see Phillips and von der Ruhr (eds.) (2005). These
discussions rarely connect Wittgenstein, or Wittgensteinian philosophy of religion, with pragmatism; for some
reflections in this regard, see Pihlstrm (2013), especially chapter 3; for an earlier attempt to connect Wittgensteins philosophy of religion with the pragmatists, see Pihlstrm (1996), chapter 5.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
20

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

phy of religion today admittedly only very briefly and preliminarily articulated here. We
may, more specifically, join Goodman (2002, p. 154) in understanding Jamess pragmatic
conception of religion as Wittgensteinian: the significance of religious terms is established by their use; our understanding of such terms, symbols, or pictures is constituted by
the service we put them to in our lives and practices, which is very different from claiming, along with the nave pragmatic theory of truth, that the truth of religious beliefs would
be established by their utility or usefulness. Accordingly, it is not on the basis of their usefulness their utility value to the individual or even to the group that we determine the
truth of religious views or beliefs; yet, when trying to articulate the very meaning of those
views and beliefs in the context of human life and culture, we do have to refer to the ways
they are used their service for us within our practices. They have to make a difference somehow, and in many cases the specific difference religious ideas make in our
lives is ethical in the sense that they enable us to see the world and our lives within it in certain value-laden ways.
In order to articulate this pragmatist conception of religion in more detail, we need more
than is available in Wittgensteins own cryptic and aphoristic remarks on religious matters
in Culture and Value (Wittgenstein 1980b) and in some of his students notes; we need a
more systematic pragmatic-cum-Wittgensteinian investigation of the ways in which religious expressions, symbols, beliefs, and worldviews are embedded and employed in cultural practices. Wittgensteins philosophy of religion could therefore in a more comprehensive discussion be interestingly compared not only to Jamess pioneering work on religious experience and his pragmatic defense of the legitimacy of religious beliefs in terms of
their morally motivating force (see James 1907, chapter 8) but also to Deweys (1934) religious naturalism, which seeks to accommodate religious experience and values, including
even the concept God, within a naturalistic position avoiding any dogmatic commitments
to supernaturalist metaphysics and pre-modern non-democratic social structures and institutions. The religious, according to Dewey and I suppose we might say, according to
Wittgenstein as well must be emancipated from historical religions and their dogmatic
creeds that often hinder, instead of enabling, the flourishing of the truly religious qualities
of experience (cf. Pihlstrm 2013, chapter 3). This paper, however, cannot develop these
themes any further.
Conclusion
My reflections on Wittgensteins relation to pragmatism have been partly programmatic
and certainly need to be made more precise, both historically and systematically. I do not
think I have offered any fundamentally new interpretation of Wittgenstein (or the pragmatists); this paper has only offered a proposal to consider these philosophical frameworks
together in a certain way. Yet, I hope that by putting these two philosophical perspectives
together in this specific way, questioning the dichotomies I find pernicious, may help us in
reinterpreting both as orientations that ought to be taken very seriously in todays philosophical discussions concerning metaphysics, religion, or the nature of philosophy itself.
In particular, while philosophical thought must obviously make distinctions and use them
for specific purposes, it is crucially important to move beyond the dichotomies briefly dis-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
21

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

cussed in sections 2-5 above, as such oppositions tend to hinder philosophical progress in27
stead of enhancing philosophical understanding.
While there would be no point in insisting that Wittgenstein was a pragmatist, given
that pragmatism may itself be regarded as a family-resemblance term and concept (cf.
Goodman 2002, p. 178), we may see Wittgenstein as offering a pragmatist (or at least
pragmatic) answer to a transcendental question concerning the very possibility of meaning.
He argues in his own peculiar non-linear way throughout his late works that the possibility of language and meaning is (non-foundationally, fallibly) grounded in public human
practices, or forms of life, within which language is used, that is, practices, or perhaps better, habits of action whose radical contingency and continuous historical development are
among their key features. Moreover, Wittgensteins pragmatist acknowledgment of there
being no higher standpoint for us to adopt than the humanly accessible perspectives internal
to our language-games and practices (that is, that we cannot reach a Gods-Eye View, or
that aspiring to do that would be a misunderstanding of the human condition, rather than an
attempt to do something that would be meaningful yet contingently beyond capacities) may
be regarded as his pragmatic reason for pursuing the transcendental problem concerning
the possibility of meaning in the first place. The fact that Wittgensteins transcendental
problems must be taken seriously even within a pragmatist interpretation highlights the fact
that the Kantian background of both pragmatism and Wittgensteinian philosophy ought to
be acknowledged. As I have suggested, Wittgenstein poses transcendental questions (e.g.,
how is meaning possible?) and offers pragmatic answers to them (e.g., in terms of certainties-in-action, or hinges). Moreover, it goes very well together with this Kantiancum-pragmatist approach to resist any strict, essentialistic dichotomy between the ontological structure of the world itself and the conceptual structure we impose on the world
through our language-games, and to endorse the moderately constructivist view that the
world we live in is to a considerable extent constituted by our categorizing it in terms of our
28
language-use.
This Kantian background of pragmatism brings me to my final conclusion. To be a
pragmatist, or to be a Wittgensteinian thinker today, is to be continuously reflexively
transcendentally, as we may say concerned with ones own philosophical perspectives and
approaches, not only with their intellectual but more broadly with their ethical integrity. It
is to turn ones self-critical gaze toward ones own practices of philosophizing, ones own
being-in-the-world, ones own habits of action, intellectual as well as more concretely practical. In Jamess terms, it is to take full responsibility of ones individual philosophical
temperament (see James 1907, chapter 1) and to self-critically develop it further, through
ones contextualizing inquiries, hopefully learning to listen to the richness of the human

27 There is a sense in which James might even be seen as a more thoroughgoing critic of harmful dichotomies
than Wittgenstein. Yemina Ben-Menahem touches something important in the following: Jamess pragmatism is
no less a critique of traditional fixations than is Wittgensteins. But the philosophical dichotomies Wittgenstein
holds fast to, fact and value, internal and external, causes and reasons, are the very dichotomies James is trying to
bridge. Thus, while for Wittgenstein the description of language is the description of its grammatical internal relations, for James the internal and the external, the causal and the linguistic, are ultimately inseparable. (BenMenahem 1998, p. 134.) Accordingly, while I have argued that Wittgenstein shares with the pragmatists a critical
attitude to certain dichotomies taken to be foundational to philosophy or, perhaps better, that a pragmatist interpreter of Wittgenstein should view Wittgensteins philosophy in such a manner that those dichotomies are left
aside this is not to say that Wittgenstein and the pragmatists would have rejected all and only the same dichotomies. There are dichotomies that Wittgenstein, unlike the pragmatists (or at least James) holds fast to.
28 Taking this view ontologically seriously might also throw new light on Wittgensteins (1953, I, 371,
373) well-known claims about essence lying in grammar.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
22

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

voices speaking to us from within the indefinite plurality of language-games that our fel29
low human beings play with each other and with us.
References
Anderson, D. A. and Hausman, C. (2012), Conversations on Peirce, New York, Fordham
University Press.
Bambrough, R. (1981), Peirce, Wittgenstein, and Systematic Philosophy, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 6, 263-273.
Baum, W. (1980), Wittgenstein und William James, in Language, Logic, and Philosophy,
Rudolf Haller and W. Grassl (eds.), Vienna, Hlder-Pichler-Tempsky.
Ben-Menahem, Y. (1998), Psychologism and Meaning, in The Story of Analytic Philosophy: Plots and Heroes, Anat Biletzki and Anat Matar (eds.), London and New York:
Routledge.
Bilgrami, A. (2004), Scepticism and Pragmatism, in McManus (2004).
Calcaterra, R. M. (1999), W. James Defence of Free Will: A Step toward a Paradigm
Shift, in Egidi (1999).
Cavell, S. (1979), The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy,
New York, Oxford University Press.
Crary, A. and Read, R., eds. (2000), The New Wittgenstein, London and New York,
Routledge.
Crocker, T. P. (1998), Wittgensteins Practices and Peirces Habits: Agreement in Human
Activity, History of Philosophy Quarterly 15.
Dewey, J. (1920), Reconstruction in Philosophy, 2nd ed., Boston: Beacon Press, 1948.
Dewey, J. (1934), A Common Faith, New Haven, CT and London, Yale University Press,
1991.
Fairbanks, M (1966), Wittgenstein and James, The New Scholasticism 40.
Goodman, R. B. (2002), Wittgenstein and William James, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Gullvg, I. (1981), Wittgenstein and Peirce, in Wittgenstein Aesthetics and Transcendental Philosophy, K.S. Johannesen and Tore Nordenstam (eds.), Vienna: HlderPichler-Tempsky.
Haack, R. (1982), Wittgensteins Pragmatism, American Philosophical Quarterly 19.
Hertzberg, L. (1994), The Limits of Experience, Acta Philosophica Fennica 54, Helsinki,
The Philosophical Society of Finland.

29 Parts of this paper were presented in the conference, Cambridge Pragmatism, at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, UK (May-June 2012). I am grateful to Hanne Appelqvist, Bob Brandom, Hasok Chang, Heikki
Kannisto, Huw Price, Henrik Rydenfelt, and Mike Williams, as well as an anonymous referee who read an earlier
draft of the essay, for highly valuable critical comments.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
23

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

Hintikka, J. (1996), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half-Truths, Dordrecht, Kluwer.


James, W. (1902), The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, eds.
Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K. Skrupskelis, Cambridge, MA
and London, Harvard University Press, 1985.
James, W. (1907), Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, eds. Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K. Skrupskelis, Cambridge, MA and
London, Harvard University Press, 1975.
Koskinen, H. J. and Pihlstrm, S. (2006), Quine and Pragmatism, Transactions of the
Charles S. Peirce Society, 42.
Lear, J. (1998), Open Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul, Cambridge, MA and
London, Harvard University Press.
McManus, D., ed. (2004), Wittgenstein and Scepticism, London and New York, Routledge.
Moyal-Sharrock, D. (2003), Logic in Action: Wittgensteins Logical Pragmatism and the
Impotence of Scepticism, Philosophical Investigations 26.
Moyal-Sharrock, D. (2004), Understanding Wittgensteins On Certainty, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
Moyal-Sharrock, D. (ed.) (2004), The Third Wittgenstein: The Post-Investigations Works,
Aldesrshot, Ashgate.
Moyal-Sharrock, D. and Brenner, W. H., eds., (2007), Readings of Wittgensteins On Certainty, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.
Nagl, L. and Mouffe, C., eds. (2001), The Legacy of Wittgenstein: Pragmatism or Deconstruction, Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang.
Nubiola, J. (1996), Scholarship on the Relations between Ludwig Wittgenstein and
Charles S. Peirce, in Studies in the History of Logic: Proceedings of the III International Symposium on the History of Logic, I. Angelelli and M. Cerezo (eds.), Berlin,
Walter de Gruyter.
Okrent, M. (1988), Heideggers Pragmatism, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press.
Peirce, C. S. (1992-98), The Essential Peirce, 2 vols, The Peirce Edition Project, Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.
Peperzak, A. (1986), System and History in Philosophy, Albany, SUNY Press.
Phillips, D.Z. and von der Ruhr, M., eds. (2005), Religion and Wittgensteins Legacy, Aldershot, Ashgate.
Pihlstrm, S. (1996), Structuring the World: The Issue of Realism and the Nature of Ontological Problems in Classical and Contemporary Pragmatism, Acta Philosophica Fennica 59, Helsinki, The Philosophical Society of Finland.
Pihlstrm, S. (2003), Naturalizing the Transcendental: A Pragmatic View, Amherst, NY,
Prometheus/Humanity Books.
Pihlstrm, S. (2004), Recent Reinterpretations of the Transcendental, Inquiry 48.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
24

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

Pihlstrm, S. (2005), Pragmatic Moral Realism: A Transcendental Defense, Amsterdam,


Rodopi.
Pihlstrm, S. (2006), Shared Language, Transcendental Listeners, and the Problem of
Limits, in Pihlstrm (ed.) (2006).
Pihlstrm, S. (ed.) (2006), Wittgenstein and the Method of Philosophy, Acta Philosophica
Fennica 80, Helsinki, The Philosophical Society of Finland.
Pihlstrm, S. (2009), Pragmatist Metaphysics: An Essay on the Ethical Grounds of Ontology, London and New York, Continuum.
Pihlstrm, S (2011), The Problem of Realism, from a Pragmatist Point of View, in Pragmatist Epistemologies, Roberto Frega (ed.) Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Pihlstrm, S., ed. (2011), The Continuum Companion to Pragmatism, London and New
York, Continuum.
Pihlstrm, S. (2013), Pragmatic Pluralism and the Problem of God, New York, Fordham
University Press, forthcoming.
Pleasants, N. (1999), Wittgenstein and the Idea of a Critical Social Theory: A Critique of
Giddens, Habermas and Bhaskar, London and New York, Routledge.
Price, H. (2011), Naturalism without Mirrors, Oxford and New York, Oxford University
Press.
Putnam, H. (1992), Renewing Philosophy, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press.
Putnam, H. (1995), Pragmatism: An Open Question, Oxford and Cambridge, MA, Blackwell.
Putnam, H. (2002), The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays, Cambridge, MA and London, Harvard University Press.
Rudd, A. (2007), Wittgenstein, Global Scepticism the Primacy of Practice, in MoyalSharrock and Brenner, eds. (2007).
Sleeper, R. W. (1986), The Necessity of Pragmatism: John Deweys Conception of Philosophy, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press.
Stenius, E. (1960), Wittgensteins Tractatus: A Critical Exposition of Its Main Lines of
Thought, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.
Wallgren, T. (2006), Transformative Philosophy: Socrates, Wittgenstein, and the Democratic Spirit of Philosophy, Lanham, MD, Lexington Books.
Wertz, S.K. (1972), On Wittgenstein and James, The New Scholasticism 46.
Westphal, K R. (2003), Can Pragmatic Realists Argue Transcendentally?, in Pragmatic
Naturalism and Realism, John R. Shook (ed.), Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
White, M. (2002), A Philosophy of Culture: The Scope of Holistic Pragmatism, Princeton,
NJ, Princeton University Press.
Williams, M. (2004), Wittgensteins Refutation of Idealism, in McManus (ed.) (2004).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
25

SAMI PIHLSTROM

A NEW LOOK AT WITTGENSTEIN AND PRAGMATISM

Wittgenstein, L. (1921), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, London: Routledge and Kegan


Paul, 1974.
Wittgenstein, L. (1953), Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe, Oxford,
Basil Blackwell, 1958.
Wittgenstein, L. (1969), On Certainty, eds. G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, trans.
G.E.M. Anscombe and Denis Paul, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.
Wittgenstein, L. (1970), Zettel, eds. G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, trans. G.E.M.
Anscombe, Oxford, Basil Blackwell.
Wittgenstein, L. (1980a), Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, vol. 1, trans. G.E.M.
Anscombe, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (1980b), Culture and Value, ed. G.H. von Wright, trans. Peter Winch, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
von Wright, G. H. (1971), Explanation and Understanding, Ithaca, NY and London, Cornell University Press.
von Wright, G. H. (1974), Causality and Determinism, New York and London, Columbia
University Press.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
26

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Judy M. Hensley*

Whos Calling Wittgenstein a Pragmatist?

Abstract. In this paper, I focus on the debate that surrounds pragmatic interpretations of
Ludwig Wittgenstein.By this, I mean the debate between those who read Wittgenstein as a
pragmatist or as having pragmatic affinities and those who object to this reading.In particular, drawing on Hilary Putnams lecture Was Wittgenstein a Pragmatist? and Stanley Cavells response Whats the Use of Calling Emerson a Pragmatist?, I will spell out
the similarities seen between Wittgenstein and pragmatism as well as the divergences emphasized between the two.I will argue that the teasing out of the similarities and the teasing out of the differences is important to a) having a clearer understanding of both Wittgenstein and pragmatism; b) showing elements that make twentieth century philosophy
unique; and c) shedding light on where philosophy is now, what issues and questions are
being raised, and what possible solutions and answers are being offered.

Introduction
There is some irony to the fact that the content of this paper will deal with a controversy
surrounding the application of labels to a philosopher who displayed the root of many philosophical disputes to be disputes over labels and ways of speaking. The truth of this philosophers insight is especially apparent in twentieth century philosophy, as this century has
largely been a breaking away from the philosophical positions and labels that have marked
philosophy since Descartes and a forging of new positions and, hence, new labels. The result of forging these new philosophical territories has been a philosophical tendency to dispute the interpretation of past philosophies in negotiating boundaries.
In this paper, I will be focusing on the debate that surrounds pragmatic interpretations of Ludwig Wittgenstein. By this, I mean the debate between those who read Wittgenstein as a pragmatist or as having pragmatic affinities and those who object to this reading.
In particular, drawing on Hilary Putnams lecture Was Wittgenstein a Pragmatist? 1 and
Stanley Cavells response Whats the Use of Calling Emerson a Pragmatist?, 2 I will spell
out the similarities seen between Wittgenstein and pragmatism as well as the divergences
emphasized between the two.I will argue that the teasing out of the similarities and the teasing out of the differences is important to a) having a clearer understanding of both Wittgenstein and pragmatism; b) showing elements that make twentieth century philosophy unique;
and c) shedding light on where philosophy is now, what issues and questions are being
raised, and what possible solutions and answers are being offered.

* University of Chicago [JHensley@rhtax.com]


1 Putnam (1995).
2 Cavell (1998).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
27

WHOS CALLING WITTGENSTEIN A PRAGMATIST?

JUDY HENSLEY

Was Wittgenstein a Pragmatist?


Hilary Putnam begins his lecture, and I will begin my discussion of his lecture, by
stressing that this question and his title, Was Wittgenstein a Pragmatist?, is in a way
misleading.3 He clarifies the fact (and repeats it in his concluding remarks) that his purpose
is only to show the shared background and insights of Wittgenstein, Kant, and the pragmatists. Putnams approach to this question aims to place what he takes as pragmatisms central insights in philosophical and historical context, showing continuity, convergence and
development of these insights over time. I stress this aim, because it is crucial to understanding Putnams argument (and Stanley Cavells response).Putnams intention is not to
reduce Wittgenstein to an -ism of any kind, including pragmatism. One almost must skip
to the end of Putnams lecture to most clearly understand its beginning and purpose. There,
he clearly and explicitly states that, although Wittgenstein was not a pragmatist, he did
share a common Kantian heritage and at least one common insight with them. 4
Putnam claims there are two philosophical seeds found in Kant that sprout when
placed in the soils of pragmatist and Wittgensteinian philosophy. The first is the observation that we bring conceptual biases and interests to our descriptions of the world. 5 The
second is Kants incipient pluralism, which recognizes that we have and use various interactive and interdependent images of the world.6
Both of these themes will look significantly different in their ripened form.In the first
case, although Wittgenstein carries over Kants observation that our descriptions carry with
them conceptual baggage, he adamantly rejects the notion of description without such
baggage.7 The idea of a description of the world without conceptual biases would require
the invention of a language independent of our purposes for language, something that is
neither intelligible nor fathomable. As long as language is invented and used for particular
human purposes (i.e. as long as humans use language), our concepts will be influenced by
those purposes and so will our descriptions.
In the second theme carried over from Kant, Wittgenstein and the pragmatists take up
and affirm that we use various vocabularies in our interaction with the world, but they reject Kants priority given to scientific images and vocabularies as having privileged access
to true descriptions and knowledge claims. 8 Science, its images, and its vocabulary hold no
special access to the world over less sophisticated, primitive, and pre-scientific images
such as religion, art and morality. While the pragmatists might overtly state this point,
Wittgenstein, in his typically deflationary tone, refuses to turn his observations into theses and only states the obviousthat our ethical words also have uses in language. 9
Putnams point in raising these issues is multiple. For one, he is rejecting the commonly
held interpretation of Wittgenstein as the end of philosophy: the picture that philosophy is
a disease, and Wittgenstein the cure.10Second, he wants to show that Wittgenstein is instead
trying to convert us from a bad way of looking at things to a better way of seeing things,11

3 Putnam (1995:27).
4 Ibid., 52.
5 Ibid., 28-29.
6 Ibid., 30.
7 Ibid., 29.
8 Ibid., 31.
9 Ibid., 41.
10 Ibid., 27, 31.
11 Ibid., 27.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
28

WHOS CALLING WITTGENSTEIN A PRAGMATIST?

JUDY HENSLEY

something Wittgenstein explicitly confesses, as reported in his Lectures on Aesthetics. 12


Third, Putnam wants to shed light on what and how Wittgenstein wants us to see differently. And, lastly, he wants to make explicit a common Kantian heritage shared by both the
pragmatists and Wittgenstein and shared reactions to that heritage (at least in some respects).
Moving to the more controversial part of the lecture, Putnam moves to an insight he
sees brought over from Kant and shared by both the pragmatists and Wittgenstein: the
primacy of practical reason. In Kant, this takes the form of recognizing that we cannot justify our knowledge (be it scientific or moral) by beginning with a priori reasoning but only
by beginning with our practical reason.13 As Putnam says elsewhere, the primacy of practical reason is recognizing that what is indispensable to our practices is more primary than
what our theories can justify. 14 This is not to say, however, that whatever is indispensable
to our practices becomes necessarily good, true or right; it only means that those practices
should be taken into account.If something is indispensable to our practices and all the arguments against it fail, these combined make a better argument for that something than an
argument against it that claims, since we do not have a justification for it, it cannot be. In
short, philosophy must begin with taking our practices seriously and not with trying to construct a theory of everything.15
Putnams extension of this to Wittgenstein consists in reading Wittgenstein to be saying
that the possibility of understanding a form of life, without participating in its practices, is
limited.16 As long as the value and purpose of a form of life can only be stated in the language of that form of life, philosophy cannot provide some rule or theory to judge it, without participating in its practices or, at least, some of its practices. For Wittgenstein, the root
of moral criticism must be shared practices (including shared practices of criticism itself)
and not some theory of the Good.17 For Dewey, this same basic idea appears in his view
that one purpose for philosophy should be to criticize the beliefs, customs, policies, institutions of a culture but only through the other shared beliefs, customs, policies and institutions of such culture.

12 Wittgenstein (1966:27-8). He is reported as saying: What Im doing is also persuasion....I am saying I


dont want you to look at it like that. The footnote to that, the alternative report, is:I am saying I want you to
look at the thing in a different way. Also, I am in a sense making propaganda for one style of thinking as opposed to another. I am honestly disgusted with the other. This seems to me further support that there is no end
to philosophy where philosophy is understood as a discipline. I interpret Wittgenstein (1958:133) to mean that
philosophical questions must have stopping points (i.e. conceivable answers), something the metaphysical and
epistemological projects of traditional philosophy lacked, and it is this type of project to which he is an end.He
generalizes a few passages later in his lecture: How much we are doing is changing the style of thinking and how
much Im doing is changing the style of thinking....(Much of what we are doing is a question of changing the style
of thinking.) I can only assume by we he means philosophers and by what we are doing he means philosophy. This suggests to me that Wittgenstein did hold a constructive view for philosophy; however, as in the case
with all his other views, he does not state it as or in the form of a thesis but rather lets his observations stand for
themselves. I want to make clear however that, considering his later philosophy as a whole, I do not think that
these remarks on persuasion can be interpreted without mentioning that persuasion: a) must occur within a shared
form of life or at least with some shared forms, b) that it does not mean there is no better or worse way of viewing
things, nor c) that it means there are no external sources from which we can negotiate varying perspectives.
13 Wittgenstein (1966:42-3).
14 See Putnam (1994).
15 Putnam (1995:44).
16 Ibid., 42.
17 See Wittgenstein (1969:608-612).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
29

WHOS CALLING WITTGENSTEIN A PRAGMATIST?

JUDY HENSLEY

Whats the Use of Calling Wittgenstein a Pragmatist?


Cavell, in his article Whats the Use of Calling Emerson a Pragmatist?, wants to
ask what is at stake in drawing the similarities between Wittgenstein and the pragmatists (in
particular Dewey) and what is at stake in stressing the limitations of the comparison.Cavell
begins by quoting what he takes to be a typical and representative passage of Dewey:scientific method is the only authentic means at our command for getting at the significance of our everyday experiences of the world in which we live. 18 Cavell, by taking this
as representative of Deweys philosophy, thereby considers Deweys philosophy lacking in
what I shall call the moral perfectionist and existential aspects which Cavell finds in the
philosophy of Emerson and Wittgenstein.Cavell claims that the privileged status that Dewey grants to the method of science is incompatible with an Emersonian emphasis on concepts such as mourning, objectivity and the human subject.19 Cavell finds Deweys primacy
of science and its method inadequate to the work, which Emerson (and Wittgenstein)
considered necessary for philosophy to access the significance of our experiences, especially experiences such as mourning or skepticism (understood as Cavells sense of skepticism).
For Wittgenstein more specifically, Cavell objects to Putnams confidence that
Wittgenstein, alongside the pragmatists, grants a primacy of practice. 20 Cavell takes several passages one from Philosophical Investigations (217) 21 and a set from On Certainty
(422, 89)22 that he claims are used to justify Wittgensteins affinities with pragmatism.23 Cavell interprets these passages as neither invoking practice nor granting a centrality
to practical effects; rather, according to him, they mean that, oftentimes, we are left with
patience, waiting, and inaction as our only options. 24 At times, according to Cavells Wittgenstein, our practices run short, and we are impotent to take action.
Cavell considers the significance of these passages to be Wittgensteins struggle
with the threat of skepticism, a threat, he notices, Dewey and James refuse to take seriously (though James less than Dewey).25 Wittgenstein, according to Cavell, treats skepticism as a necessary consequence of speech and coincident with being human, 26 while the
pragmatists, at best, treat it as a temperament found in certain personality types or, at worst,
do not take it seriously at all.27
Cavell finds in Wittgenstein an important distinction between a time for practice and
a time for patience, between action and passion, between massive unintelligence and
general despair, between the call for political change and the necessity of suffering, 28 and
ultimately between the role of philosophy found in Emerson and Wittgenstein and that
found in Deweyan pragmatism. Cavells fear is that by collapsing Wittgenstein and Emersons philosophy into Deweys, a philosophy, on Cavells reading, oriented toward the scientific method and focused on political and democratic progress, we will lose what he con18 Qtd. in Cavell (1998:73).
19 Ibid., 74.
20 Ibid., 76.
21 Wittgenstein (1958:217).
22 Wittgenstein (1969:422, 89).
23 Although Putnam, his straw man, does not use any of those passages and Cavell never mentions nor cites
who does.
24 Cavell (1998:76-7).
25 Ibid., 77-8.
26 Ibid., 78.
27 Ibid., 77-8.
28 Ibid., 77-80.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
30

WHOS CALLING WITTGENSTEIN A PRAGMATIST?

JUDY HENSLEY

siders to be of utmost importance in philosophy. What we will lose is the necessity of individual self-examination and individual growth, of struggling with ones self and allowing
ones self to be changed and transformed by and through philosophy. Cavell fears that what
he finds unique in the role of philosophy cannot be captured by Deweys call to apply the
scientific method to our political, social, and economic lives, because it leaves out wrestling
with existential questions, which requires suffering and patience and ultimately the striving
toward moral perfection.29
Negotiating Between the Two Questions
My explication of the two sides should at least hint at a problem here: mainly, that
there is no obvious conflict. It would seem that we again have a case of philosophers talking past each other, or, to be fair, (since Putnam does not have a written response) our case
is one of Cavell talking past Putnam. This becomes apparent by the fact that Cavell raises
Putnams application of the primacy of practice yet does not directly address Putnams argument. The reason for this, it seems to me, is that they are not even talking about the same
thing here (even if they share common terminology). In Putnams use of the primacy of
practice, he is opposing practice to abstract theorizing and a priori justifications; Cavell,
in his use, is opposing practice to inaction, patience, and reflection. But Putnams use is
far broader than Cavell understands it to be. By practice, Putnam can only mean our human
practices, which entails just as much our silence, patience and reflections as it does forging
ahead and taking action. Putnams claim is far less controversial than Cavells construal of
it; Putnams claim that both Wittgenstein and the pragmatists share the view that our reflections and theorizing should take our practicesbe they political, social, cultural, economic,
scientific, or moralseriously is not one to which I think Cavell would object.
However, that there are not genuine disagreements in this case of the primacy of
practice is not to say that there are not some serious difficulties elsewhere. The difficulty
that I want to mention here is Cavell disregarding aspects of Deweys philosophy in order
to make his point (but, as I will explain further, this is not fatal to what I take to be Cavells
key point).While Dewey does think that science is the best model we actually have for experimental application of intelligent inquiry to problematic situations, he does not think that
it is the exclusive method, something Cavell outrightly allows the reader to believe by his
choice (and de-contextualization) of Deweys quote about the only authentic means of
understanding the significance of our experiences. Dewey does not think science has the
supreme and ultimate method; rather, he believes the scientific method provides a useful
model of success, a paradigm, from which we can draw insights (i.e. experimentalism, application of intelligence to problems) and apply them to other areas of our lives. Cavells
portrayal of Dewey misses that Dewey was not afraid of criticizing science or of pointing
out its shortcomings, nor does he think it appropriate to apply science to all experience.
Regardless, Cavells key point that there is a sense that, on the matter of science,
Wittgenstein, on the one hand, and Dewey and the pragmatists, on the other, do part company is unaffected by this misrepresentation. I interpret Wittgenstein, from many of the
remarks made in his journals and collected as Culture and Value,30 to have considered any
faith in progress, not just Enlightenment faith in inevitable progress, a hidden remnant of
scientism in Western culture. While Cavell might be wrong about Deweys idealization of
29 Ibid., 79-80.
30 Wittgenstein (1980).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
31

WHOS CALLING WITTGENSTEIN A PRAGMATIST?

JUDY HENSLEY

the scientific method, I think that Wittgenstein would have objected to Dewey and the
pragmatists idealization of progress in general. Wittgenstein was a deeply pessimistic
thinker, even if this does not show in his published philosophical writings. Nevertheless, he
deeply despaired of his age, and, in part, because everywhere there was progress, he saw
decline.31
This pessimism, I find, incompatible with, and contrary to, the ameliorism of the pragmatists. While Dewey did not think progress inevitable, he suggested and probably believed
that there is good reason for optimism, as long as we persist with the application of critical
intelligence. However, Dewey was not willing to examine the limitations of applying his
methods to problematic situations, a failure to explore what Cornel West has called the
tragic. Cavell has identified a difference here, but it is not so much based on that Dewey
idealizes the scientific method as much as that he idealizes the notion of progress taken
from science.
In order to make his point, I claim, Cavell also downplays the moral aspect of Deweys philosophy for the political aspect. For Cavells opposition to work, Dewey must be
painted as concerned exclusively with political and social action, and not with the moral
development of the individual. In short, Cavell must ignore Deweys Ethics and, in particular, the part in which he argues that any progress (social, political, economic, etc.) is not
possible without human flourishing, without fulfillment of individuals powers and capacities.32For Dewey, a philosophy concerned with political and social reform does not make
sense without equal concern for individual human flourishing, a position compatible with
Wittgenstein and Emersons moral perfectionism. For Dewey, these things are deeply interconnected and in a dialectical relationship; political and social progress occurs through individual flourishing and, in turn, individuals are the agents of social and political progress.
Cavells Central Challenge
Despite difficulties with his description of Dewey, Cavell nonetheless correctly
identifies a key difference between Wittgenstein and Emerson, on the one hand, and Dewey, on the other: that there is a deep tension between philosophy as an individual examination of oneself and as a politically engaged method for progress. While Wittgenstein and
Dewey might have shared a scorn for philosophy as metaphysics and they might have
shared the primacy of practice, Dewey does emphasize political practice, and Wittgenstein
does emphasize (personal) moral practice. And while Putnam for his purposes stresses the
commonality, Cavell sees a tension in this difference that he does not want glossed over.
The difference is between the stressing of philosophy as political/cultural criticism and
as an existential/moral exercise, a working on oneself. The tension implicates the perennial
pull between the individual and community. Wittgensteins (and Emersons) focus is on the
moral and existential suffering that necessarily accompanies human existence; and philoso31 See Wittgenstein (1980:4):if anyone should think he has solved the problem of life and feel like telling
himself that everything is quite easy now, he can see that he is wrong just by recalling that there was a time when
this solution had not been discovered; but it must have been possible to live then too and the solution which has
now been discovered seems fortuitous in relation to how things were then. Our civilization is characterized by
the word progress. Progress is its form rather than making progress being one of its features (Ibid., 7). It isnt
absurd, e.g., to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the
idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap.It is by no
means obvious that this is not how things are (Ibid., 56).
32 See Dewey (1908: 277-80).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
32

WHOS CALLING WITTGENSTEIN A PRAGMATIST?

JUDY HENSLEY

phy, for them, is centrally a method to help individuals cope with this. This suffering, oftentimes, requires inaction, if action is understood as changing ones circumstances; instead,
this kind of suffering demands a working on oneself, a changing of ones attitude. 33 Deweys focus, however, is on an entirely different kind of suffering: suffering that inhibits personal change and growth; suffering caused by oppression, torture and inequality; suffering
that does not have its roots necessarily in the iron human predicament but in human and,
therefore, malleable socio-economic institutions; suffering which must be removed before
there is any hope or possibility of working on oneself or changing ones attitude.
While Wittgenstein largely used philosophy as an internalized working on the self,
Dewey used it to change his external surroundings. Cavells objection is that if philosophy
is merely a tool for the eradication of social, political, and economic injustices, philosophy could just as easily be replaced by political science departments, the legal profession,
or the Peace Corps for that matter.34 What I think Cavell fails to recognize, however, is that
philosophy does not have to have a singular aim and that there is nothing, philosophically,
incompatible with Deweys and Wittgensteins emphasis on different aims. The incompatibility lies not in pitting Deweys philosophy against Wittgensteins, as nothing philosophically requires choosing between them; rather, philosophically, as probably all those inspired
by the pragmatist spirit (from at least William James to Cornel West) have pointed out, to
some degree, the two aims go hand in hand. However, the tension arises in individuals
lives: the tug-of-war between political injustice and the individual struggle toward human
flourishing, between social progress and a persons own moral progress, between working
on communal improvement and working on self-improvement, between things we can control and change and things to which we must submit and accept. Where Cavell could have
strengthened the key insight of his paper is not by pitting the two philosophies against each
other but by pitting the two lives against each other. In theory, there does not seem to be a
problem between our political commitments and our existential commitments. But, if you
look at the lives of these philosophers of Wittgenstein and Emerson, of James and Dewey
we see in all of them this tension and conflict arise.
Emerson often felt riddled by the conflict between, on the one side, his desire for action
and desire to be an agent in social change and, on the other, his contemplative and solitary
temperament.35 William James as well felt the tension, and he tended toward the individual
aspect. But the radical contrast can be found in comparing the life of Dewey to the life of
Wittgenstein, and I believe this makes Cavells point stronger than his comparison between
Wittgenstein and Emersons philosophies and a simplified Deweyan philosophy.
Dewey certainly felt the conflict between his individual morality and his responsibility
to social and political reform. Yet, he consistently chose his commitments to the community, even, one could argue, at the cost of his personal morality in some cases. His decision to
temper his views or to steer away from radical issues, 36 viewed from the standpoint of
Wittgensteins moral perfectionism, required an unacceptable compromise. On the other
hand, Wittgensteins personal integrity, including an almost inhuman refusal to compro33 See Wittgenstein (1980:16, 53):Working in philosophylike work in architecture in many respectsis
really more a working on oneself. On ones own interpretation. On ones way of seeing things and If life is hard
to bear we think of a change in our circumstances. But the most important and effective change, a change in our
own attitude, hardly even occurs to us, and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult for us.
34 Cavell (1998:80).
35 See West (1989:21-5).
36 I am thinking here of his decision to not go ahead with his journalist project, Thought News, and his avoiding Marxism because it was controversial in mainstream academic and intellectual circles. See West (1989:81,
108).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
33

WHOS CALLING WITTGENSTEIN A PRAGMATIST?

JUDY HENSLEY

mise, is central to understanding his moral search for purity as well as his philosophical
search for clarity.
Wittgensteins political engagements in his life show more than anything else his difference from Dewey. I would argue that Wittgenstein refused to use philosophy in any political way, beyond the role it played in guiding his own political activities and decisions. It is
those activities and decisions to which I now want to turn in order to reveal just how deep
the contrast between him and Dewey runs. Three biographical incidences illustrate this
point. The first is Wittgensteins role in World War I. Wittgenstein demanded to fight at the
front and at the most dangerous post despite encouragement from military officials that he
would better serve the army behind the lines. This incident shows a view of political commitment that, above all, requires solidarity of position and circumstance, not just solidarity
of views and causes. The second is Wittgensteins decision, at the end of the war, to renounce his inheritance, not giving it to the poor or a charitable cause (other than contributing minimal amounts of it to several artists), but to his already abundantly wealthy relatives. This decision, at a minimum, affirms my interpretation that socially and politically he
believed in activism through solidarity. In a more extreme interpretation of the decision,
this act suggests that Wittgenstein viewed material possessions as corrupt and felt that he
would not be aiding the poor by distributing his wealth to them. This hints at a view of
(economic) suffering as either inevitable, not his responsibility, or unnecessary to alleviate.
The final incident is Wittgensteins attempt, later in his life, to immigrate to Stalinist Russia, which fell through precisely as a result of Wittgensteins demand (and Russias refusal)
that he work on a collective once there (again, in solidarity with and along side the downtrodden).
I believe that comparison of the two lives better highlights the central problem that Cavell sees with grouping Wittgenstein (and Emerson) as a pragmatist, but I also believe that
this comparison raises one of the central issues with which pragmatism and neopragmatism wrestled with and is wrestling with still today. I think Wittgenstein and Deweys personal philosophical views that guided their individual decisions are antithetical.
Wittgenstein would probably consider Dewey lacking in courage, hypocritical, and compromised (if not worse). 37 Dewey would probably consider Wittgenstein politically naive,
unrealistic, not living up to his full responsibilities, and, therefore, partially lacking the integrity so prized and valorized by him.
Thankfully, such extreme personalities only occur rarely and some balance can usually
be struck in the life of the individual; however, the tension has been a ubiquitous one in
philosophy, accompanying the similar question of philosophy as poetry and philosophy as
science. That the situation will be remedied or the tension resolved ultimately is unlikely.
As long as communities are made up of individuals, there will be conflicts between personal responsibility and communal responsibility, and the balance can only be worked out in
the life of each individual within the context of his or her particular community.
But to bring us back to the debate between Putnam and Cavell, that there is no debate
should be now obvious (at least, not with Putnams use of Wittgenstein, and Cavell does
not mention anyone elses). Putnam himself says Wittgenstein is no pragmatist, no neopragmatist. He certainly never claimed that Wittgenstein and Dewey shared agreement
about everything, and he understands that each was a unique thinker and a unique character.
37 Wittgensteins (unreasonable) disgust with intellectuals who were politically engaged in this manner is apparent when he wrote in his journal: the people making speeches against producing the bomb are undoubtedly the
scum of the intellectuals, but even that does not prove beyond question that what they abominate is to be welcomed. Wittgenstein (1980: 49).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
34

WHOS CALLING WITTGENSTEIN A PRAGMATIST?

JUDY HENSLEY

If Putnams point can be said to be about a shared insight, Cavells point could be said to be
about a shared game of tug-of-war but also about the difference in sides taken. But neither
of these are incompatible with the other and, in fact, both properly understood help not only
to clarify Wittgensteins philosophy and the philosophy of pragmatism, but also together
they show some unique insights and solutions offered to problems found in twentieth century philosophy.
References
Cavell, S. (1998), Whats the Use of Calling Emerson a Pragmatist?, in The Revival of
Pragmatism, M. Dickstein (ed.), Durham, Duke University Press.
Dewey, J. and Tufts J. (1908), Ethics, New York, Henry Holt and Company.
Putnam, H. (1994), Pragmatism and Moral Objectivity, in Words and Life, J. Conant
(ed.) Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
Putnam, H. (1995), Was Wittgenstein a Pragmatist?, in Pragmatism: An Open Question,
Malden, Blackwell Publishers, Inc.
West, Cornel, (1989), The American Evasion of Philosophy, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (1958), Philosophical Investigations, New York, Macmillan Publishing.
Wittgenstein, L. (1966), Lectures on Aesthetics, in Lectures and Conversations, C. Barrett (ed.), Berkeley, University of California Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (1969), On Certainty, New York,Harper Torchbooks.
Wittgenstein, L. (1980), Culture and Value, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
35

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Anna Boncompagni*

Streams and River-Beds. James Stream of Thought in Wittgensteins Manuscripts 165 and
129

Abstract. The influence of William James on Ludwig Wittgenstein has been widely studied, as well as the criticism that the latter addresses to the former, but one aspect that has
only rarely been focused on is the two philosophers use of the image of the flux, stream,
or river. The analysis of some notes belonging to Wittgensteins Nachlass support the
possibility of a comparison between James stream of thought, as outlined in the Principles of Psychology, and Wittgensteins river-bed of thoughts, presented in On Certainty.
After an introduction which offers a general frame for the following work, the first section
of the paper examines all the Nachlass entries that directly mention James stream.Section
2 focuses on two remarks in which Wittgenstein explicitly criticizes James concept and
implicitly anticipates his own way of dealing with this matter. These remarks, belonging
to Manuscripts 165 and 129, both dating 1944, have not been published in any of Wittgensteins edited books, nor is it possible to find the same argument elsewhere. Wittgensteins critique concerns James lack of distinction between what is grammatical, or a priori, and what is empirical, or a posteriori, a distinction which the image of the stream
should have suggested: a stream flows in a stream-bed and within banks. This is exactly
the meaning that Wittgensteins own metaphor of the river-bed of thoughts is intended to
convey. Section 3 analyses James concept of the stream and its corollaries, in order to
clarify whether Wittgensteins critique is justified or not. James in effect draws a separation between a priori and a posteriori, but this separation is conceived from within the
framework of empirical science. This analysis leads to the theme of the relations among
science, philosophy and metaphysics, which is the subject of section 4. The conclusion is
that Wittgenstein did appreciate James for his intuitions and for the power of his imagination: in a sense he even developed them; but he could not agree on the explicit formulation of his ideas.

Introduction
Ludwig Wittgensteins interest in the writings of William James characterizes the whole
of his philosophical work. We know from a letter to Bertrand Russell that as early as 1912
he was reading The Varieties of Religious Experience, a book that gave rise to his attraction
for mysticism,1 and that he later warmly recommended to his friend Maurice Drury. 2 After
his return to philosophy, in his notebooks and typescripts he refers to James and particularly
to The Principles of Psychology (PP)3 from the beginning of the Thirties to the end of his
life.4 Furthermore, we know that he even thought of using it as a textbook for his lessons in
Cambridge, though according to some critics more as a set of examples of the mistakes of

Universit di Roma Tre [anna.boncompagni@uniroma3.it]


Wittgenstein (1974: 10, 82).
Wittgenstein (1981: 121).
Hereafter, I will mention James and Wittgensteins major works by initials; see the bibliography
for details.
4 Goodman (2002: 17).
*
1
2
3

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
36

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

psychologists than as a handbook in the usual sense. 5 Wittgensteins interest in James psychology, far from diminishing, even increased in the last years of his life, and was at its
greatest after the Second World War: the notes from his 1946-47 lectures collected by his
students Peter Geach, Kanti Shah and A. C. Jackson 6 are full of explicit and implicit references to James, as well as the RPP (1946-48) and generally the manuscripts of those years;
besides, one should not forget the influence of James thought on some relevant, though
often neglected, concepts of the later Wittgenstein, such as those of patterns of life, the indeterminacy of psychological concepts, the connection between emotions and the expression of emotions.7
In spite of some early positive comments, notably not belonging to the Wittgensteinian
tradition,8 Wittgensteins attitude towards James and towards the PP has often been described by Wittgensteins scholars as merely critical and negative. Peter Hacker, for example, mentions James may times in his extensive commentary on the PI, but usually as a
negative counterpart of Wittgensteins ideas, sometimes identifying him with one of the invisible interlocutors against which the philosopher battles in his remarks. 9 Regarding the
stream of thought, Hacker depicts it as philosophical confusion and even bluntly affirms
that it is largely a meaningless babble.10 But, as more recently stated by some other
commentators,11 Wittgensteins attitude should be better described as twofold: although he
criticized James in many respects, he also appreciated James masterpiece, particularly for
its richness of examples, its freshness, depth and also for the humanity of its author.12
The PP chapter on the stream of thought is one of the main objects of concern for Wittgenstein. It is here that we find some examples that he often cited and criticized, such as
that of the and-feeling, the if-feeling and the like (PP: I, 245; cf. PI: part II, 155, RPP:
I, 331, 334), the recalling of a forgotten name or meaning (PP: I, 251; RPP, I, 174,
180), the feeling connected to the intention of saying something (PP: I, 253; RPP: II,
242-3, PI: part I, 591, 633, part II, 155, 182), and the case of Mr. Ballard as showing the
possibility of there being thought without language (PP: I, 266, PI, part I: 342).
Strangely enough, James image of the stream has only rarely13 been associated with
Wittgensteins use of the metaphor of the flux or of the river. The latter uses this image in
various periods and with various meanings. During the phenomenological years of the PR,
he speaks about the flux of experiences and of the vagueness of immediate experience: here
the theme is connected to the question whether it is possible or not to have a language of
immediate experience. In these years Wittgenstein sometimes holds that it is only in the
flux of experience that any sentence can be verified, though it is constitutively impossible
for language to directly denote the elements of the flux. 14 The reading of James PP may
hold some responsibility for the emergence of this set of problems. When Wittgensteins
interest turns from the phenomenological language to the ordinary language, the image of
the flux turns from the flux of experiences to the flux of life and discourse.Again, it is prob5
6
7
8
9

Monk (1991: 477).


Wittgenstein (1988).
Ter Hark (2004: 131, 137),Goodman (2002: 113), Schulte (1995).
Passmore (19662: 434), Fairbanks (1966), Wertz (1972).
Particularly in Hacker (1990: ch. 2), Hacker (1996: ch. 4, 5, 6); cf. also Hilmy (1987: ch. 4, 6) and
Gale (1999:165).
10 (Hacker 1990: 305).
11 Nubiola (2000), Goodman (2002: 63 ff.), Jackman (2004).
12 Wittgenstein (1981: 121).
13 Steiner (2012) is an interesting exception.
14 PR: 52-55, 88, 213.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
37

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

ably James that Wittgenstein has in mind when he points out that the meaning of any expression is not to be found in the flux of experiences but in the context of the discourse and,
more generally, in the context of life, with its linguistic games and its background of knowhow and culture.15 So, as Steiner (2012) elegantly surmises, what enables our understanding
of psychological concepts and phenomena is not a mental immanence, but an anthropological-normative immanence: a logical-grammatical context together with an anthropological
background.16
What is still missing in the secondary literature, as far as I know, is a comparison between James stream of thought and Wittgensteins river-bed of thoughts, which he describes in OC with the aim of distinguishing between logical and empirical propositions. In
discussing the river-bed of thoughts Wittgenstein does not explicitly address James. But the
choice of the image and the words used to describe it can and do suggest such a connection.
Is it possible to find in the Nachlass details or evidence pointing in this direction? Can
Wittgensteins river-bed be read among other things as a direct comment on James
stream? As we shall see, the comparison and this conclusion are legitimated by two remarks
contained in Manuscripts 165 and 129.17
1. The Nachlass
The name James appears 90 times in Wittgensteins Nachlass, from 193218 to 1950In particular, considering both the English expression stream of thought and its
equivalent in German Gedankenstrom, we can find four contexts in which Wittgenstein
makes use of James metaphor, some of which recur more than once. 20
The first entry is in Item 120 (1937-38), a manuscript which is well-known because it
contains three drafts of the future preface of the PI. On February, 27th 1938 Wittgenstein
wrote a dozen pages in the manuscript, and it is here that we find the word Gedankenstrom in the context of a discussion concerning if and when a man can be said to be wrong
when speaking about a pain that he is feeling. In the case of something suspending or
changing the direction of the mans attention, Wittgenstein says, the stream of thought is
interrupted, and we can only guess how it could have proceeded.21 Here, it seems, the
meaning of Gedankenstrom is not in question: Wittgenstein is using it as a unproblematic
concept, within the discussion of a peculiar language game. I shall call this use of James
expression the unproblematic stream.
The second occurrence is in Item 124, a manuscript volume containing remarks mostly
from 1944. After considering the problem of the relation between expectation and fulfillment, and stressing the importance of the circumstances in which an expectation takes
place, Wittgensteinwrites: Here one could speak of the stream of thought, of which James
51.19

15 RPP: II, 415, 504; PI: part II, 184.


16Cf. also Boncompagni (2012a: 47, 154).
17 Im citing 165 before 129 because 165 precedes
18 BEE, Items 114, 212, 302.
19 BEE, Item 176.
20 Hacker (1996: 476) affirms that Wittgenstein

129 chronologically.

comments on James conception of the stream of


thought only in Manuscripts 124 and 129, and that in both cases he accuses him of conflating a priori
and a posteriori; as we shall see, there are a few more occasions in which James stream is cited and a
more complete analysis can show that it was not only with a critical eye that he looked at this image.
21 Ist der Gedankenstrom unterbrochen, so knnen wir nur vermuten, wie er weitergelaufen wre
(BEE: Item 120, 97r). I transcribe the original German version only for those parts of the manuscripts
which strictly relate to the stream of thought. Translations from the Nachlass are mine, unless differently specified.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
38

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

talks, and point out that, when a well-known name is mentioned to me, my thoughts pour
forth into a series of canals, and they continue to run in them, and that the meaning of the
name is revealed in these streams. 22 In the following lines there is a critique to James: He
should tell us what happens, while he only tells us what must happen - Wittgenstein writes . He wants to communicate an empirical fact, but he slips and makes a metaphysical remark. I shall call this occurrence the slippery stream.
The third entry can be found in Item 165, a pocket notebook with remarks dating back,
again, mostly to 1944 and often mentioned in relation to the debate on following a rule and
on the private language argument. Many of these remarks are crossed through by vertical or
diagonal lines, and this is also the case of the passage we are going to cite. Since this remark will appear again, with some variations, in a slightly later and more accurate manuscript with no deletions, it is also worth working on this version, which is very explicit
about James mistake. In discussing the relation between expectation and fulfillment, intention and meaning, Wittgenstein proposes an example:
Im waiting for two people A and B. I say: When will he come! Someone asks me: Who
do you mean? I say, I thought about A. And these very words have built a bridge. Or he
asks Who do you mean? I say, I thought about, a poem in which there is this sentence.
I make these connections among what I say in the course of my thoughts and actions. (This
remark is in relation with what W. James calls the stream of thought. The mistake in his
picture is that a priori and a posteriori grammatical and experiential are not distinguished. So
he speaks about the continuity of the stream of thought and he compares it with that of spaces,
not with that of a sort of jet of water).23

The theme of expectation and fulfillment is often present in Wittgensteins writings; the
example with the expression When will he come! without the explicit reference to
James stream of thought recurs also in typescripts 211, 212, 213 of the beginning of the
Thirties, in various manuscripts of the Fourties and in Part I of the PI ( 544).
The later manuscript which I mentioned is Item 129, a volume of the second half of
1944. Correcting some previous misprints, Wittgenstein writes:

22 Hier knnte vom Gedankenstrom, von dem James redet, gesprochen werden und man knnte
darauf hinweisen da, so wie einmir wohlbekannter Name genannt wird, meine Gedanken sich gleich
in eine Reihe von Kanle ergieen und in ihnen weiterlaufen und da die Bedeutung des Namens sich
in diesen Strmen offenbart. (BEE: Item 124, 235)
23 Ich erwarte zwei Leute A und B. Ich sage: Wenn er doch nur kme! Jemand fragt mich. Wen
meist Du? Ich sage, Ich habe an den A gedacht. Und diese Worte selber haben eine Brcke hergestellt.
Oder er fragt Wen meinst Du und ich antworte: Ich habe an gedacht, ein Gedicht in dem dieser
Satz vorkommt. Die Verbindungen dessen was ich sage mache ich im Laufe meiner Gedanken und
Handlungen. (Diese Betrachtung hngt mit dem zusammen was W. James the stream of thought
nennt. Den Fehler in seiner Darstellung ist da a priori und a posteriori grammatisches und
erfahrungsgemes durcheinander nicht unterschieden werden So redet er von der Kontinuitt des
Gedankestroms und vergleicht sie mit der des Raums, nicht mit der eines Wasserstrahles etwa.). (BEE,
Item 165: 24-25)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
39

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

(I believe, that this remark is in relation with what W. James calls the stream of thought.
Even though he certainly does not distinguish a priori and a posteriori, empirical and grammatical propositions).24

Again and with more clarity, Wittgenstein points out although now without speaking
of a mistake that James does not distinguish between a priori and a posteriori; and in this
case he speaks of grammatical and empirical propositions. I shall call this occurrence, in
the two formulations of MS 165 and 129, the stream with no banks.
In the same MS 129, only a few pages after what we have just read, we find the next entry. One could say writes Wittgenstein : I would not have an impression of the room as
a whole, if I could not let my glance wonder here and there and myself move around freely.
(Stream of thought.) James. 25 And he continues: But how does it show that I have an impression of it as a whole? In the naturalness with which I find my way in it; in the absence
of querying, doubting and surprise; in the fact that within its walls innumerable activities
are encompassed; and in the fact that I sum up all this as my room in the speech. Here
the stream of thought seems to correspond to a mentalist way of conceiving what it is to
know a certain meaning, a conception that Wittgenstein contrasts by underlying the importance of actions and know-how. This last remark on the stream of thought is repeated in
Typescript 228 (1945-46), with no variations, and again, with minor variations, in Typescript 233a, which was published as Zettel (in the published edition we find it as 203). I
shall call this stream the impressionist stream.
Let us sum up. The first occurrence of the term seems, as we have seen, unproblematic:
Wittgenstein simply uses it in the context of the discussion of the meaning of internal states
such as pain and of the criterion of attributing truth or falsity to a mans assertions about his
state. If meaning is to be found in the stream of thought, and the justification for a true assertion too, then the interruption of the stream of thought may cause problems in the identification of meaning and truth conditions. But is meaning to be found in the stream of
thought? This question, which is probably already implicitly present in the unproblematic
stream, is more explicitly addressed in what I have called the slippery and the impressionist streams. In the first case, meaning is seen as the streams and currents in which
thought pours when a well-known name is mentioned. But this characterization fails in its
attempt to catch the empirical, experiential facts about meaning, and becomes metaphysical. In the case of the impressionist stream, Wittgenstein underlines the importance of
some physical and active elements in the determination of meaning (here, the meaning of a
room, identified with the impression of the room as a whole). Instead of accepting a private
approach which stresses the role of sensory impressions, Wittgenstein directs the attention
towards the practical, behavioural and linguistic elements in which the possession of the
meaning shows itself.

24 (Ich glaube, diese Betrachtung hngt mit dem zusammen, was W. James the stream of thought
nennt. Wenn er freilich auch a priori und a posteriori, Erfahrungsstze und grammatische, nicht unterschiedet).(BEE: Item 129, 107).
25 Man knnte sagen: Ich htte keinen Eindruck von dem Zimmer als ganzes, knnte ich nicht
meinen Blick schnell in ihm dahin und dorthin schweifen lassen und mich nicht frei in ihm herumbewegen. (Stream of thought) James. (BEE, Item 129: 114).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
40

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

The slippery and the impressionist conceptions of the stream as the inner place of
meaning (and, maybe, also the seemingly unproblematic first version) are both criticized by
Wittgenstein for their commitment to a psychologistic, internalist idea of the mind and of
meaning itself. The critique is addressed not only to James,26 but also to Wittgensteins own
phenomenological phase: the argument against a private language can be read as an implicit
critique of the attempt to find truth conditions in the flux of experiences or of thought, as
this flux is intrinsically private and can rely on no public criteria of assertibility or justification.27 A private language is impossible because, if it is language, then it is not private:28
this is part of the grammar of the word language. Thus, when James tries to explain
meaning by referring to the stream thought, in Wittgensteins view he misses the point. It is
true that language and meaning belong to a flux, but this is not the flux of thought: it is the
flux of discourse and of life. 29 So, its depth and richness notwithstanding, James psychology in Wittgensteins view remains anchored to an introspective method which leads us
astray (PI: 411-414) and contributes to the construction of the image of an internal
realm, which is not so distant from the classic Cartesian image. Two aspects must be, anyway, underlined: that James himself tried to abandon the Cartesian concept of consciousness (Myers 1986: 61), and that his appeal to experimental techniques and physiological
theories aimed at a methodological pluralism which mitigated the importance of introspection. Wittgenstein evidently thought that it was not enough, and that James perspective was
an example of a discipline torn between experimental methods and conceptual confusion,
as he famously stated in the final paragraph of the PI.30
The remaining two occurrences of the stream with no banks are the remarks to which
I would like to dedicate the next section of this paper, for two reasons: because they allow
us to inquire further into one of Wittgensteins critiques towards James, which has not yet
been analyzed in depth; and because it can be fruitfully connected to Wittgensteins own
image of the river-bed of thoughts.
2. MS 165 and 129 as an anticipation of the metaphor of On Certainty
Let us take a closer look at these two remarks. MS 165 attributes a mistake to James:
that of not distinguishing between a priori, or grammatical, and a posteriori, or empirical.
Mixing together these two aspects, Wittgenstein explains, James is not actually speaking of
a stream or of a jet of water; it would be more appropriate to say that he is speaking of
spaces and of the continuity of spaces. It is not easy to understand why it should be so. Perhaps, we can argue, in the case of spaces it is correct not to distinguish between something
fixed and something variable: spaces have no banks, while streams do have banks and
stream-beds, they are defined by something that does not change or at least that does not
26
27
28
29

Goodman (2002: ch. 5).


Goodman (2002: 106), Gale (1999: 165).
Boncompagni (2012a: 106).
RPP: II, 504; Steiner (2012). James will also speak of the flux of life in subsequent writings (see
for example RE: 93). The context is evidently different, but there are also some similarities. On the continuity of James thought between the two works, see Crosby & Viney (1992); on the discontinuity, Myers (1986: 78-80).
30 This paragraph, if read together with James characterization of psychology in the Epilogue of the
BC, really sounds like a comment on James words. Wittgenstein indeed says that the confusion and
barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a young science; its state is not comparable with that of physics, for instance in its beginnings (PI: part II, 197); and James had written that at
present psychology is in the condition of physics before Galileo and the laws of motion, of chemistry
before Lavoisier and the notion that mass is preserved in all reactions. (BC: 401)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
41

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

change as rapidly as its content. In passing from MS 165 to MS 129, which has the character of a more definite work, this reference to the continuity of spaces is eliminated and the
accusation is mitigated (there are no mistakes anymore), but, again, Wittgenstein underlines the fact that James calls thought a stream, in spite of his not distinguishing a priori
and a posteriori. In other words, given his characterization of thought, James should not
have used the picture of a stream; conversely, if this can be said to be a good image of
thought, then James description of thought is fallacious.
The topic of the distinction between what is empirical (experiential, phenomenal) and
what is grammatical (conceptual, logical) is extensively treated Wittgensteins lectures of
the post-war years and in RPP, besides constituting one of the main themes of OC. In Jacksons notes of the lectures we can read, for example:
Now consider the suggestion: Youve already thought the meaning before you speak (James).
Is this a psychological statement? If so, how many men does it apply to? Or does it apply each
time? If its a psychological statement its an hypothesis: but James wishes to say something
essential about thinking.31

Where is, then, the problem with James stream: in the description of thought, or in the
image? Evidently, for Wittgenstein, in the description. Indeed, it is exactly the image of the
stream that Wittgenstein himself will adopt, a few years later, in his own characterization of
thought. If read in this light, propositions 95 to 99 of OC not only give a metaphorical description of thought and of the relation between the Weltbild (picture of the world) and
thought; but also constitute an implicit critique of James use of that metaphor. Or, better
said, they contribute to an implicit praise of James image, and an implicit critique of
James interpretation of his image:
95. The propositions describing this world-picture might be part of a kind of mythology. And
their role is like that of rules of a game; and the game can be learned purely practically, without learning any explicit rules.
96. It might be imagined that some propositions, of the form of empirical propositions, were
hardened and functioned as channels for such empirical propositions as were not hardened but
fluid; and that this relation altered with time, in that fluid propositions hardened, and hard
ones became fluid.
97. The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift.
But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed
itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other.
98. But if someone were to say "So logic too is an empirical science" he would be wrong. Yet
this is right: the same proposition may get treated at one time as something to test by experience, at another as a rule of testing.
99. And the bank of that river consists partly of hard rock, subject to no alteration or only to
an imperceptible one, partly of sand, which now in one place now in another gets washed
away, or deposited.
31

Wittgenstein (1988:245); see also pp. 92 and 205, and RPP: I, 46, 173, 549; II 214, 264, 321.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
42

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

Wittgenstein is here describing the difference and the relation between the propositions
of the world-picture and empirical propositions. The former are those which allow the latter
to work. Any empirical proposition is grounded in the common sense certainties which
shape our Weltbild, the way we see the world, the way we are minded, the picture or the
mythology which, so to speak, keeps everything together. Even when they look like empirical propositions32 Here is one hand is the classical example 33 Weltbild propositions
are different in kind; it is meaningless to ask whether they are true or false, as they form the
background against which truth and falsity themselves are defined. They are the hinges that
must stay put, in order for the door to move.
The literature on Wittgensteins hinge propositions is vast and constantly increasing.
For its clarity and conciseness, it is useful to cite Danile Moyal-Sharrocks comment
(2007: 72), according to which hinge propositions are:
- indubitable: doubt and mistake are logically meaningless;
- foundational: they do not result from justification;
- nonempirical: they are not derived from the senses;
- grammatical: they are rules of grammar;
- ineffable: they cannot be said;
- in action: they can only show themselves in what we say and do.

Hinges, says Moyal-Sharrock, even when they have an apparent propositional nature,
constitute non-propositional certainties, and are akinto instincts, ways of acting, attitudes.
Logic itself, since it is hinged on these certainties, belongs to the reign of instinct and not to
that of reason, and Wittgenstein could be considered the supporter of a logical pragmatism
which asserts the enacted nature of hinge certainties. 34
Logical propositions are not about facts in the world (notice how near this sounds to the
Tractatus).They work on the level of rules and normativity; it is the level of certainty,
which is categorically distinct from that of knowledge.35 Common sense propositions like
the Moorean Here is one hand or The earth existed for a long time before my birth, except when they are said in peculiar contexts and circumstances, do not express a genuine
knowledge. In Moores (and James)36 opinion, we know these propositions for certain,
even if we cannot prove them or give a ground for them. Wittgenstein denies that we have
an epistemic relation with what these propositions assert. The reason why we cannot give a
ground for these sorts of belief, is that the certainty which characterizes them is itself a
32 I am inclined to believe that not everything that has the form of an empirical proposition is one:
OC 308 (emphasis in the original). Cf. also 136, 319, 321, 401-402, 494, 569.
33 In Moore (1959b), originally published in 1939. Cf. OC: 1. Wittgensteins remarks also refer to
Moore (1959a), originally published in 1925.
34 Moyal-Sharrock (2003).
35 In this distinction Stroll (1994: ch. 9) grounds what he calls Wittgensteins heterogonous foundationalism: certainty can constitute a foundation for knowledge because it is not part of knowledge.
36 James account of common sense (P: Lecture V), though presenting some affinities with Wittgensteins approach, is much more similar to Moores, particularly in considering common sense as a set of
pieces of knowledge. Cf. Boncompagni (2012b).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
43

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

ground, and it shows itself in the ordinary going without saying of these certainties. In
everyday contexts, hinges work tacitly, they do not require to be formulated; according to
Moyal-Sharrock (2007: 94 ff.), they even require not to be formulated, not to be said, because once said they would not go without saying. As Coliva (2010: 151, 177) partially corrects, the only possibility for a hinge proposition to be meaningfully uttered, is when it is
used not in a descriptive but in a communicative and/or normative manner.
In Wittgensteins metaphor, there is not a sharp division between the movements of the
waters in the river-bed and the movement of the river-bed itself; moreover, the banks of the
river are stratified, consisting partly of rock, partly of sand. This is not to be interpreted as
meaning that, at bottom, no distinction can be made. 37 The distinction is at the same time
categorical and not sharp, because one and the same proposition can work now as empirical
and now as logical, but never as both. The shift from one to the other uses may sometimes
be due to slow changes in the Weltbild, as it is clear for example in the case of Wittgensteins own certainty that man has never gone and never will be able to go to the moon.38
But the change of the Weltbild (river-bed) does not occur at the same empirical level as the
change of what the Weltbild frames (waters).
Although Wittgensteins interlocutor in OC is primarily Moore, this is evidently the
same kind of objection that in the Manuscript notes he addressed to James. Besides, Wittgensteins discussion of the Weltbild is particularly significant in the context of psychological concepts and propositions, the objectivity of which, as Egidi (1995: 176) puts it, is
not achieved by reference to objects, of both internal and external nature, but depends on
whether those sentences obey the system of rules of which they are part, which, in turn,
imply a complex of pragmatic criteria of significance. Wittgensteins discussion of psychology in his later years, then, in its connection to the theme of the Weltbild and to the distinction between grammatical and empirical, can be read also as an implicit critique of his
phenomenological years and of the jamesian strand which can be identified in his attempts
to catch the flux of experiences. This is another reason which contributes to the plausibility
of reading the image of the river-bed as a sort of correction of James image of the stream.
3. Is Wittgensteins critique justified?
In order to ascertain whether Wittgensteins critique of James is justified, we now need
to turn to the PP. In the chapter on the stream of thought, James, as is well-known, characterizes it through five features (PP: I, 225):
- Every thought tends to be a part of a personal consciousness;
- Within each personal consciousness thought is always changing;
- Within each personal consciousness thought is sensibly continuous;
- It always appears to deal with objects independent of itself;
- It is interested in some parts of these objects to the exclusion of others, and welcomes or rejects all the while.
37
38

Cf. Perissinotto (1991: 173 ff.).


There are many remarks on this in OC, the most striking of which is 286.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
44

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

It is in particular in the second and third characters, change and continuity, that James
stream differs from Wittgensteins. Change is what may suggest, if ever, the comparison
between his stream and Heraclitus river, and indeed James is reminiscent of Heraclitus
when he writes that no state once gone can recur and be identical with what it was before
(PP: I, 230), that there is no proof that the same bodily sensation is ever got by us twice
(231), and of course when he affirms that of the river of elementary feeling, it would certainly be true to say, like Heraclitus, that we never descend twice in the same river (233).
Wittgenstein, on the other hand, remarked that The man who said that one cannot step
twice into the same river, uttered a falsehood.One can step twice into the same river, while
explaining that what we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their normal
use in language39 (both Wittgenstein and James are referring to a fragment of Heraclitus
which is probably spurious, though since Plato on it is widely accepted as the most famous
expression of Heraclitus philosophy) 40. It is then by an appeal to the rough ground (PI:
107) of ordinary language that the metaphysics implicit in the Heraclitean river is neutralized.
With regard to the feature of continuity, James, often compared to Henri Bergson 41, defines the continuous as that which is without breach, crack or division (PP: I, 237), and it
is in these pages that he proposes to define consciousness as a stream (239). Opposing the
traditional psychologists and their empiricist background, James explains thatthe image of
the stream must convey not only the idea of pails or pots of water, but also the fact that
even were the pail and the pots all actually standing in the stream, still between them the
free water would continue to flow, because every image in the mind is steeped and dyed
in the free water that flows round it (255). By acknowledging this, the vagueness that intrinsically characterizes our mental life can be re-instated in its proper place (254). To describe this intrinsic vagueness which, as Fairbanks (1966: 335 ff.) noted, is a very relevant aspect in Wittgenstein too - James (258) introduces the concept of the fringe, synonyms of which are psychic overtone and suffusion;42 images or ideas in the mind do not
possess definite contours, but fringed contours, they slowly pass into each other with continuity, and this is due, physiologically, to the faint brain-process that makes us aware of
relations and objects only dimly perceived. The examples and explanations that James uses
in these pages are, as Wittgenstein underlines in MS 165, to be connected more easily with
spaces than with a stream. Indeed, he speaks for instance about the relation between a thunderclap and the silence which precedes and follows it (240); he compares the life of thought
to the flight of a bird with its resting places and places of flight (243); he mentions Zenos
image of the arrow (244); he writes of an immense horizon in which the present image
shoots its perspective before us (256) and of a halo that surrounds words and sentences
(276). This spatial depiction provides an immediate grasp of the key concept of the continuum, that James will later (in RE) characterize as pure experience. We shall soon return on
39 BEE: Item 110, 34; see also pp. 39 and 155, and Items 116: 226; 120: 50v; 142: 116. The proposition
about metaphysics appears also in PI: I, 116.
40 Interestingly, the previous formulation of James remark, contained in James (1884), is more attuned with what critics consider the true Heraclitus, who spoke about a river which remains the same
with water which flows and changes; James (1884: 11) indeed stated that of the mental river the saying
of Herakleitos is probably literally true: we never bath twice in the same water there. On the interpretations of Heraclitus and the connected images of the river in Wittgenstein, see Shiner (1974) and Stern
(1991).Unfortunately none of the two acknowledges the importance that James image may have had on
Wittgensteins account.
41 Passmore (19662: 105 ff.). On the relation between the two thinkers see Perry (1935: II, ch.
LXXXVI).
42 Cf. Bailey (1999: 145).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
45

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

this aspect, which, as Calcaterra (2010: 207) points out, is strictly connected to James (and
more generally to the pragmatists) anti-dichotomic claims.
It must be noticed that James does not use the image of the stream without the awareness of its implications: besides continuity and change, there are also other characteristics
which he is interested in highlighting and which this metaphor illustrates with clarity. For
example, when discussing attention and effort (I: 451-52) he again turns to his image:
The stream of our thought is like a river. On the whole easy simple flowing predominates in
it, the drift of things is with the pull of gravity, and effortless attention is the rule. But at intervals an obstruction, a set-back, a log-jam occurs, stops the current, creates an eddy, and makes
things temporarily move the other way. If a real river could feel, it would feel these eddies
and set-backs as places of effort.

We may wonder why he did not consider banks and stream-beds as equally relevant features, besides currents and eddies. Is it that he simply did not see the role of the banks, that
is, the role of logic? This would be a hasty conclusion. In fact, in other parts of the PP we
can find the description of some elements that, in a sense, force the stream to flow in a certain direction or according to certain rules.
The first connection that it is possible to make is with the chapter on habit, in which the
metaphor of a flow of water is used more than once to give account of what happens in the
brain, where, due to the plasticity of the nervous tissue, some currents shape, through
time, paths or channels43. Here, if there is a distinction between brain-matter and what
flows through it, James also remarks that what seems fixed is not unchangeable. Paths in
the brain can be reshaped, and indeed a relevant part of the chapter is dedicated to the importance of education and training in choosing, strengthen and, in some cases, change the
paths. Hence, if there is a distinction between river-beds and waters, change is not the crucial element that discriminates between the two.
To find out something more about this distinction we can turn to the last chapter of the
PP, Necessary truths and the effects of experience. Here we are not dealing with behavioural habits or instincts, but with thought and its laws; nevertheless, again, James account
has to do with the conformation of the brain. The question from which his argument starts,
is whether necessary truths, due (as universally admitted)44 to the organic structure of the
mind, are explicable by experience or not. In the diatribe between empiricists, who affirm
that they are, and apriorists, who affirm that they are not, James defends the apriorists side,
but tries at the same time to give a naturalistic explanation of the cause of these necessary
truths. While a single judgment such as that fire burns and water makes wet, or knowledge
of time and space relations, may be caused by objects with which we become acquainted,
the categories for knowing and judging need to be explained differently (PP: II, 632). It is
the Darwinian mechanism of spontaneous variations in the brain that James is thinking of,
attributing to it the responsibility of all the kinds of ideal and inward relations among the
objects of our thoughts which cannot be interpreted as reproductions of the order of outer
experience. Scientific conceptions, aesthetic and ethical systems are due to this category, as
well as pure sciences of classification, logic and mathematics, all of which are the result of
the fundamental operation of comparison. Comparison is one of the house-born portions of
our mental structure; therefore the pure sciences form a body of propositions with whose
43
44

PP: I, 106, 107, 113.


PP: II, 617.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
46

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

genesis experience has nothing to do (626-627). James connects this theme with that of
meaning (a connection which may resemble Wittgensteins insistence on the difference between the conceptual and the phenomenical), where he, for example, insists that we know
the difference between black and white without needing to consult experience: What I
mean by black differs from what I mean by white, and again what we mean by one plus
one is two because we are masters of our meanings. 45 Propositions expressing time and
space relations summarizes James (644) are empirical propositions, those expressing the
results of comparison are rational propositions. Yet, why is it that rational propositions turn
out to be in agreement with the empirical world? Why is it that the straight line is effectively, every time we need to go from A to B in the real world, the shortest way to connect the
two points? Luckily enough (658), James answers, we find that the space of our experience is in harmony with our rational suppositions. But we must always remember that necessary truths are ideal relations and that they do not reveal how things really are in the empirical world: they always have to be verified. As he explains in relation to Lockes conception, with which he seems to agree in this respect, such ideas stand waiting in the mind,
forming a beautiful ideal network; and the most we can say is that we hope to discover outer realities over which the network may be flung so that ideal and real may coincide (665).
We might conclude that in James text there is a precise and clear distinction between
empirical and logical levels. Are we to deduce that Wittgensteins critique is not justified?
Things are not as simple as they appear to be. As Myers (1986: 282) points out, in distinguishing necessary truths from empirical facts, James did not mean to abandon a naturalistic conception of science and of psychology as a science. Besides, these ideas are necessarily true merely in a formal sense: it is only when they are confirmed by experience that
they can be said to be true in the proper sense; they should be regarded, then, as empirical
hypotheses.46 The primacy of the scientific point of view is not dismissed, and the distinction between necessary truths and the effects of experience is made within the scientific,
naturalistic framework.47
This is not a framework that Wittgenstein could share. In an even more pregnant sense,
Wittgensteins critique of the confusion between the grammatical and the empirical can be
read as a critique of the confusion between philosophy and science.
4. Philosophy and science
It is probably also (if not only) 48 against James scientific attitude that Wittgensteins
numerous remarks about the importance, in philosophy, to refuse explanation and embrace
description, are directed. Indeed, in Manuscripts 130 and 131 (1946, partly published in
RPP), which contain a large amount of notes about James psychology and related themes,
Wittgenstein repeatedly argues against causal explanations and hypotheses and in favour of
description of linguistic games.49
Yet some clarification is needed, in order to gain a more accurate account of James position. That James, at least at the beginning of his career, meant psychology as scientific,
there can be no doubt. As early as 1867, in a letter to his father, he wrote that what he was
45 Respectively pp. 644 and 655 (emphasis in the original). On James different conceptions of meaning in the PP and in other writings, cf. Myers (1986: 285).
46 Crosby & Viney (1992: 111).
47 For a non naturalistic account, see Flanagan (1997).
48 Hilmy (1987: 207).
49 BEE: Item 130, 35, 71-72 (RPP: I, 46), 218; Item 131, 56 (RPP: I, 257).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
47

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

thinking about, as his object of study, was the border ground of physiology and psychology, overlapping both.50 In the opening of the PP (I: 5) he clearly affirms that the psychologist is forced to be something of a nerve-physiologist and that he has kept close to
the point of view of natural science throughout the book (Preface: v). But this confidence
in science and in the possibility of a scientific psychology later vacillates, and in the Epilogue of the BC, written only two years after the publication of the PP, he confesses that
the natural-science assumptions with which we started are provisional and revisable
things (401), that metaphysics is inevitable because the only possible path to understand
[the relations of the known and the knower] lies through metaphysical subtlety (399); and,
eventually, that this is no science, it is only the hope of a science.These very words testify, in a sense, that the perspective has not changed: the idea of making psychology a science is still there, though only as a hope. In the same year (1982), in fact, replying to
George T. Ladds critical review of the PP, he remarked that psychology, in order to be scientific, had to be kept separate from metaphysics 51 and defended the explanatory point of
view. As Perry (1935: II, 119) puts it, this controversy establishes beyond any doubt the
fact that James was looking for a psychology that explained, and particularly that explained scientifically the connections between mind and body.
On the other hand, the impossibility of keeping philosophy and science independent
from one another is clear to James, and this is an aspect of the breadth and depth that distinguishes his approach:
The popular notion that 'Science' is forced on the mind ab extra, and that our interests have
nothing to do with its constructions, is utterly absurd. The craving to believe that the things of
the world belong to kinds which are related by inward rationality together, is the parent of
Science as well as of sentimental philosophy; and the original investigator always preserves a
healthy sense of how plastic the materials are in his hands.52

James did not put science on a pedestal, on the contrary, he often relativized its power
and its claims in respects to other modes of knowledge. This attitude parallels his way of
conceiving rationality: reason is not separate from feeling, 53 it springs from feeling, and
again the continuum that characterizes human nature supports an anti-dichotomic stance.
James aim, then, can be better described as that of keeping science and philosophy distinct,
but not separate. It is this commitment that allows him to hold a naturalistic viewpoint, and
at the same time to give space to philosophy and metaphysics, in a fallibilistic and antidogmatic spirit54 that Wittgenstein probably failed to see.
Goodman (2002: 71) affirms that the later Wittgenstein, too, was moving in James empiricist direction, in recognizing the contingency of language and in stressing the importance of human natural history,55 but that at the same time he preserved the distinction
between concepts and experiences, which James did not. Actually, Wittgensteins alleged
empiricism is not so self-evident, particularly in his later writings. Sometimes he had his
doubts about natural history itself, and sometimes he even explicitly stated that he did not
mean to do natural history. 56 What is clear, is that he retained James defense of the conti50
51
52
53
54
55
56

Perry (1935:I, 254).


Giorgi (1990: 69 ff.).
PP: II, 667.
Cf. The Sentiment of Rationality, in James (1897: ch. 3).
Calcaterra (2008: 94 ff.)
PI: part I, 415.
RPP: I, 46; PI: part II, XII; RC: part III, 9.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
48

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

guity between science and philosophy as heralding conceptual confusion, and James as unconsciously struggling with metaphysics:
Philosophical investigations: conceptual investigations. The essential thing about metaphysics: that the difference between factual and conceptual investigations is not clear to it. A metaphysical question is always in appearance a factual one, although the problem is a conceptual
one.57
How needed is the work of philosophy is shown by James psychology. Psychology, he says,
is a science, but he discusses almost no scientific questions. His movements, are merely (so
many) attempts to extricate himself from the cobwebs of metaphysics in which he is caught.
He cannot yet walk, or fly at all, he only wiggles [this sentence is in English in the original
text]. Not that that isnt interesting. Only, it is not a scientific activity. 58

Yet James was not so unaware of the metaphysical side of his work, and was not so far
from a wittgensteinian perspective when he affirmed that rightly understood, [metaphysics] means only the search for clearness where common people do not even suspect that
there is any lack of it59. Moreover, he generally considered metaphysics as a vision of the
world or a set of beliefs, which could and should be deliberately chosen, primarily because
of their practical and ethical consequences. 60 A complete account of the two philosophers
conceptions of metaphysics is, of course, beyond the scope of this paper. It is nonetheless
apparent that the different meaning and value that they assign to metaphysics is one of the
reasons why it is difficult to compare their attitudes towards the relation between the empirical and the conceptual, science and philosophy.
One last remark on this topic is suggested by the phenomenological readings of the
PP61, which often underline James progressive awareness of the weakness of science and
his deepening the metaphysical side of the inquiry. Wilshire (1968: 16) particularly focuses
on how James early project is wrecked because the scientific side of his researches is partly overwhelmed by a sort of protophenomenology; but James desire to remain faithful to
his naturalistic project prevents him from fully developing his phenomenological investigations (202). Now, we may ask, would phenomenology or radical empiricism meet Wittgensteins demands? This is doubtful. It is indeed in the overcoming of phenomenology,
that Wittgensteins conception of grammar takes shape in the Thirties, 62 and this step is
never disowned in later years.
The point, which can only be roughly sketched here, is that the task of philosophy, according to Wittgenstein, is somehow indirect. By describing linguistic games, it guides our
attention towards the background that sustains them. The method of perspicuous presentation allows us to perceive the surroundings which define our linguistic practices and the
form of life within which they take place. It is here that we reach the bedrock where the
spade is turned,63 the subtle but always existing border between rules and moves of the
57
58

RPP: I, 949 (originally in MS 134: 153).


This remarks comes from the same Manuscript 165 (pp. 150-151) in which is our first stream
with no banks occurrence. I am using, here, Hilmlys (1987: 196-97) translation.
59 In a letter dated 1888 to the positivist psychologist Ribot, cited in Edie (1987: ix) and in Perry
(1958: 58).
60 Fro example in James (1897: ch. 1).
61 Schuezt (1941), Wilshire (1968), Edie (1987).
62 Cf. Egidi (1995: 174) and Chauvir (2003: 20).
63 PI: 217.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
49

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

game, or, to get back to our metaphor, the banks and the river-bed of our thoughts. To show
these limits, in Wittgensteins perspective, is no task for any sort of science, nor for any
philosophical system as traditionally conceived.
Conclusion
Our aim was to show the possibility of comparing James stream of thought and Wittgensteins river-bed of thoughts and to read the latter as an implicit comment on the former.
The analysis of some notes belonging to Wittgensteins Nachlass has proven that there can
be an effective connection between the two images. Wittgensteins river in an implicit critique of James stream, and at the same time an insightful interpretation of the virtues of
that image, which James himself did not see. This is an example of Wittgensteins general
attitude towards James: he considered some of his intuitions as brilliant, but in the main
could not agree with him on the explicit formulation of his ideas. Our inquiry has led us to
deepen the analysis of James characterization of the stream of thought and this, in turn, has
widened our investigation to the topic of the relation between science and philosophy.
Wittgenstein held that James, in his attempts to be scientific, often lost sight of the richness
of his philosophical remarks, and confused the two levels. The metaphor of the river-bed of
thoughts, then, in its insistence on the distinction between what is empirical and what is
logical, also constitutes a warning against the confusion between science and philosophy.
James own treatment of this matter is, we have argued, more complex than what it appeared to Wittgensteins eyes. The latter fails to acknowledge the density and the ethical
implications of James approach. Yet, Wittgenstein hits the mark in his underlying that
James characterization of the stream of thought lacks a conceptual vision of the relation
between thought and its rules, and of the embeddedness of these rules in the wider context
of our form of life with its linguistic practices. A fully pragmatist stance, one could say;
save for Wittgensteins negative attitude towards science, which marks the distance with
respects not only to James,64 but, probably, to pragmatism in general. In any case, this is a
topic for a much wider analysis, for which this paper can constitute only a hint.
References
Bailey A. (1999), Beyond the Fringe. James on the Transitional Parts of the Stream of
Consciousness, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6 (2-3), pp. 141-153.
Boncompagni A. (2012a), Wittgenstein. Lo sguardo e il limite, Milano, Mimesis.
___ (2012b), The Mother-Tongue of Thought: James and Wittgenstein on Common
Sense, Cognitio Revista de Filosofia, 13 (2).
Calcaterra R.M. (2008), Truth in Progress: The Value of the Facts-and-Feelings Connection in William James, in Flamm M.C., Lachs J., Skowroski K.P., ed., American and
European Values: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives, Newcastle-upon-Tyne,
Cambridge Scholars Press.

64 Goodman (2002: 30) too considers the attitude towards science as one of the big differences between the two thinkers.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
50

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

___ (2010), Mente e natura tra metafisica ed epistemologia, in Bufalo R., Cantarano G.,
Colonnello P., ed., Natura storia societ. Saggi in onore di Mario Alcaro, MilanoUdine, Mimesis.
Chauvir C. (2003), Voire le visible: la seconde philosophie de Wittgenstein, Paris, Presses
Universitaires de France.
Coliva A. (2010), Moore and Wittgenstein. Skepticism, Certainty and Common Sense, Basingstoke, Macmillan.
Crosby D.A., Viney, W. (1995), Toward a Psychology that is Radically Empirical: Recapturing the Vision of William James, in Donnelly M.E., ed., 1992, Reinterpreting the
Legacy of William James, Washington DC, American Psychological Association.
Edie J. (1987), William James and Phenomenology, Bloomington, Indiana University
Press.
Egidi R. (1995), Wittgenstein between Philosophical Grammar and Psychology, in Egidi
R., ed., 1995, Wittgenstein: Mind and Language, Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Fairbanks M. (1966), Wittgenstein and James, The New Scholasticism, XL (3).
Flanagan O. (1997), Consciousness as a Pragmatist Views It in Putnam R.A., ed., 1997,
The Cambridge Companion to William James, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Gale R.M. (1999), The Divided Self of William James, Cambridge, Cambridge University
Press.
Giorgi A. (1990), The Implications of James Plea for Psychology as a Natural Science,
in Johnson M.G., Henley T.B., ed., 1990, Reflections on the Principles of Psychology,
Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Goodman R. (2002), Wittgenstein and William James, Cambridge, Cambridge University
Press.
Hacker P.M.S. (1990), Wittgenstein. Meaning and Mind (An Analytical Commentary on the
PI, vol. 3), Oxford, Blackwell.
___ (1996), Wittgenstein. Mind and Will (An Analytical Commentary on the PI, vol. 4), Oxford, Blackwell.
Hilmy S.S. (1987), The Later Wittgenstein, Oxford, Blackwell.
Jackman H. (2004), Wittgenstein & James Stream of thought, Saap 2004 Annual Meeting, www.ytorku.ca/hjackman/papers/WittJames.pdf.
James W. (1884), On Some Omissions of Introspective Psychology, Mind, 9 (33).
___ (1890), The Principles of Psychology (PP), New York, Holt.
___ (1892/1984), Psychology: Briefer Course (BC), Cambridge MA, Harvard University
Press.
___ (1897), The Will to Believe and other Essays in Popular Philosophy, New York,
Longmans, Green and Co.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
51

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

___ (1907) Pragmatism (P), New York, Longmans, Green and Co.
___ (1912), Essays in Radical Empiricism (RE), New York, Longmans, Green and Co.
Myers G. E. (1986), William James. His life and Character, New Haven, Yale University
Press.
Monk R. (1991), Wittgenstein. The Duty of Genius, London, Vintage.
Moore G.E. (1925/1959a), A Defense of Common Sense, in Philosophical Papers, 1959,
New York, Macmillan.
___ (1939/1959b), Proof of an External World, in Philosophical Papers, 1959, New
York, Macmillan.
Moyal-Sharrock D. (2003), Logic in Action: Wittgensteins Logical Pragmatism and the
Impotence of Skepticism, Philosophical Investigations, XXVI.
___ (2007), Understanding Wittgensteins On Certainty, Basingstoke, Macmillan.
Nubiola J. (2000), Ludwig Wittgenstein and William James, Streams of William James, 2
(3).
Passmore J. (19662), A Hundred Years of Philosophy, London, Duckworth.
Perissinotto L. (1991), Logica e immagine del mondo. Studio su ber Gewissheit, Milano,
Guerini.
Perry R.B. (1935), The Thought and Character of William James, Boston, Little, Brown
and Co. (2vv.).
___ (1958), In the Spirit of William James, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
Schuetz A. (1941), William James Concept of the Stream of Thought Phenomenologically Interpreted, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research , 1 (4).
Schulte J. (1995), Emotions: Remarks on Wittgenstein and William James, in Egidi, R.,
ed., 1995, Wittgenstein: Mind and Language, Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Shiner R.A. (1974) Wittgenstein and Heraclitus: Two River-Images, Philosophy, 49.
Steiner P. (2012), Une question du point de vu. James, Husserl, Wittgenstein et le sophisme du psychologue, Revue Internationale de Philosophie, 1 (259).
Stern D.G. (1991), Heraclitus and Wittgensteins River Images: Stepping twice into the
Same River, The Monist, 74 (4).
Stroll A. (1994), Moore and Wittgenstein on Certainty, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Ter Hark M. (2004), Patterns of Life: a Third Wittgenstein Concept, in Moyal Sharrock
D., 2004, The Third Wittgenstein: the post-Investigations Works, Adershot, Ashgate.
Wertz S.K. (1972), On Wittgenstein and James, The New Scholasticism, XLVI (4).
Wilshire B. (1968), William James and Phenomenology: a Study of The Principles of Psychology, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
Wittgenstein L. (1967), Zettel, Oxford, Blackwell.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
52

ANNA BONCOMPAGNI

STREAMS AND RIVER-BEDS

___ (1969), On Certainty (OC), Oxford, Blackwell.


___ (1974), Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore, edited by G.H. von Wright, Oxford,
Blackwell.
___ (1975) Philosophical Remarks (PR), Oxford, Blackwell.
___ (1977), Remarks on Colour (RC), Oxford, Blackwell.
___ (1980), Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology (RPP), Oxford, Blackwell.
___ (1981), Personal Recollections, edited by R. Rhees, Oxford, Blackwell.
___ (1988), Wittgensteins Lectures on Philosophical Psychology, edited by P.T. Geach,
Brighton, Harvester.
___ (2000), Wittgensteins Nachlass. The Bergen Electronic Edition (BEE), Oxford, Oxford University Press.
___ (20013), Philosophical Investigations (PI), Oxford, Blackwell.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
53

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Mathieu Marion*

Wittgenstein, Ramsey and British Pragmatism

Abstract: In this paper, I examine the transmission of some ideas of the pragmatist tradition to Wittgenstein, in his middle period, through the intermediary of F. P. Ramsey,
with whom he had numerous fruitful discussions at Cambridge in 1929. I argue more specifically that one must first come to terms with Ramseys own views in 1929, and explain
how they differ from views expressed in earlier papers from 1925-27, so a large part of
this paper is devoted to this task. One is then in a better position to understand the impact
of Ramseys astute critique of Wittgensteins Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in conjunction with his pragmatism, and explain how it may have set into motion the later Wittgenstein. I then argue that Ramsey introduced his notion of variable hypothetical as a
rule, not a proposition, on pragmatist grounds and that Wittgenstein picked this up in
1929, along with a more dynamic view of meaning than the static view of the Tractatus, and that this explains in part Wittgensteins turn to his later philosophy.

1. Assessing Ramseys Impact on Wittgenstein


One may establish links between Wittgenstein and pragmatism in an abstract albeit superficial way la Rorty,1 or one may try and establish them contextually, i.e., in terms of
what historical evidence about Wittgenstein allows us to infer. I propose to do here the latter. Historical links would run either from Wittgenstein to the pragmatist tradition or from
the pragmatist tradition to Wittgenstein. I choose to investigate links of the latter type, hoping that the connections uncovered actually help us to deepen our understanding of Wittgensteins philosophy, albeit on some limited points. There is to my knowledge no discussion of C. S. Peirce in Wittgensteins writings, only a reference en passant in a conversation by Rhus Rhees,2 which remains unpublished (it is at all events of peripheral interest),
and, although there is quite a lot of discussion of William James, it is perhaps focused on
topics, e.g., psychology and religious experience, that are not so specific to pragmatism. If
at first blush the idea of direct links seems not so promising I do not wish, however, to
say that it is not perhaps the role of intermediaries is worth investigating, and this is what
I shall do, focusing on British pragmatism, and F. P. Ramsey in particular. The expression
British pragmatism was indeed coined by Nils-Eric Sahlin to characterize Ramseys philosophy,3 and I shall extend it here to an heterogeneous group that includes, alongside him,
C. K. Ogden and Bertrand Russell a fuller picture should also include the more marginal
figures of F. C. Schiller and Victoria Welby.4 The presence of Russell might strike one as
Universit du Qubec Montral [marion.mathieu@uquam.ca]
1 For the first occurrence of this sort of move, see Rorty (1961).
2 I was able to consult a typed copy of Rhees notes at the von Wright & Wittgenstein Archives housed in the
Department of Philosophy of the University of Helsinki.
3 Sahlin (1997: 65).
4 Schiller was indeed the first in Britain to describe his own philosophy as pragmatist in Axioms as Postulates (1902), a paper that G. E. Moore described as utterly worthless (1904: 259), while Peirce considered it
most remarkable (1931-35: 5.414). He figures significantly in the sources to Lady Welbys significs, and they
are both discussed C. K. Ogden & I. A. Richards The Meaning of Meaning, e.g., at (1923: 272f.). They also get a
*

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
54

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

odd even in such a miscellaneous list, but one should recall the equally odd remark at the
end of Ramseys Facts and Propositions, to which I shall come back:
My pragmatism is derived from Mr Russell.5

At all events, the focus of this paper will be Ramsey, and what manner of pragmatist
thinking he might have imparted in Wittgenstein. I shall therefore spend most of the paper
explaining in what sense Ramsey may reasonably be said to be a pragmatist, and will in the
last section explain how his critique in the late 1920s might have imparted a key pragmatist
idea in Wittgenstein.6
In order to forestall any misunderstanding, I should state plainly that I do not believe
Ramsey to be the chief inspirer of Wittgensteins later philosophy, my aim is much more
modest; it is simply to try and shed light on one pragmatist idea that might have been imparted by Ramsey how important it may be in our overall account of the development of
Wittgensteins thought, I leave to others. There are certainly other topics on which the impact of Ramsey is more readily identifiable. For example, G. H. von Wright and Nils-Eric
Sahlins have shown how much Wittgensteins remarks on probability after 1929 owe to
Ramsey.7 (To begin with, he corrected during his visit in 1923 a mistake in the first edition
of the Tractatus.)8 Perhaps more to the point, Wittgensteins later remarks on truth should
also be investigated, not in terms of a redundancy theory but in terms of Ramseys pragmatism.
Still, to argue for anything remotely like an influence on Wittgenstein is bound to be
controversial because of the habit of using Wittgenstein to pounce on philosophers he was
acquainted with Ramsey being here one of the prime targets alongside Frege, Russell, and
Carnap as opposed to aiming at a less brutal but potentially more fruitful appraisal of their
intellectual relation,9 but also because, as we shall see presently, the textual evidence can
easily be mishandled.
One should first recall some facts.10 Ramsey first heard about Wittgenstein when an
undergraduate at Cambridge (1920-23), when at the age of 18, he translated Wittgensteins
Logisch-philosophische Abhandlungen into English this is commonly known as the Ogden translation.11 Ramsey went twice to Austria, in September 1923, for the purpose of
discussions with Wittgenstein, whom he saw for a fortnight in Puchberg (where he was a
school teacher), and in March 1924, when he underwent a psychoanalysis with Theodor
Reik in Vienna, lasting six months. During his stay, Ramsey only spend two week-ends
with Wittgenstein, again at Puchberg. The contrast between the two occasions is striking:
after his first meeting Wittgenstein, Ramsey wrote I use to think Moore a great man but
mention in Russells My Philosophical Development (1959: 14). A proper assessment of their legacy falls outside
the scope of this paper.
5 Ramsey (1990: 51).
6 Thayer (1981: 313) already expressed the hope that one would clarify the links between Ramsey, Wittgenstein and American pragmatism, but there are only an handful of studies such as Glock (2005), McGuinness
(2006), and Sahlin (1995, 1997), as well as lengthy discussions in Kienzler (1997) and Marion (1998).
7 See von Wright (1982) and Sahlin (1995, 1997).
8 See Sahlin (1997: 74-75 & 82-83, n. 48).
9 One is eager to quote here Paul Grice (1986: 62), on J. L. Austins treatment of sense-data theories such as
H. H. Prices in Sense and Sensibilia: So far as I know, no one has ever been the better for receiving a good
thumping, and I do not see that philosophy is enhanced by such episodes. There are other ways of clearing the air
besides nailing to the wall everything in sight.
10 For an overview of Ramseys life, see Taylor (2006).
11 See Wittgenstein (1973: 8).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
55

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

besides W!,12 while on his second visit in 1924, he wrote back: He is no good for my
work.13 As it turns out, however, on that second occasion Ramsey was himself absorbed
in his psychoanalysis and hardly capable of philosophical work. This is again in contrast
with the first visit, when Ramsey discussed the content of the Tractatus with Wittgenstein
and tried to pick his brain for ideas on how to fix Principia Mathematica. This last was a
failure, as Wittgenstein thought Principia Mathematica so wrong that a new edition would
be futile,14 but their discussion of the Tractatus led to a remarkably astute review of the
book by Ramsey in the October issue of Mind.15
Today, a promising young undergraduate such as Ramsey would be warned to stay
away from Wittgenstein, but this was not the mentality back then, and Ramsey wanted to
learn from Wittgenstein ideas that he would use for his own independent work. 16 He
pushed Wittgensteins ideas in three directions: first, he used Wittgensteins idea that
names of properties and relations may occur in elementary propositions to develop a critique of the distinction between universals and particulars in Universals, secondly, he
used Wittgensteins conception of logic in his analysis of belief and truth, in Facts and
Propositions and Truth and Probability, and thirdly, he tried to renovate Russells logicism with help of ideas from the Tractatus. Only the second of these directions will be the
focus of this paper.
Ramsey was to meet again Wittgenstein briefly in 1925 at Keynes in Sussex (on the
occasion of the latters marriage to Lydia); they apparently bitterly quarreled but this was
about psychoanalysis, not philosophy. They also exchanged a pair of letters on identity
through the intermediary of Schlick in 1927, with Wittgenstein raising objections to Ramseys definition of identity in his 1925 paper The Foundations of Mathematics; again we
see here how divergent their views on the foundations of mathematics were. 17 Nevertheless, part of Wittgensteins intention when coming to Cambridge in January 1929 was to
discuss philosophy with Ramsey, and they apparently met on a regular basis until the latters untimely death a year later, in January 1930, at the age of 27. Wittgenstein, who was
deeply moved by his death,18 had an ambivalent attitude towards their discussions: in 1929,
he described them as energic sport and conducted in good spirit, with something erotic and chivalrous about them,19 but a year later he reminisced that although he had a certain awe of Ramsey, the conversations in the course of time [] did not go well; he
thought Ramsey had an ugly mind, and that repulsed him. 20
There are many traces of these discussions in Ramseys posthumous papers, including a
recently published set of remarks presumably dictated to Ramsey by Wittgenstein from his
own manuscript, MS 106, that may have served as a basis for his paper at the Joint session
in Nottingham in 1929.21 There are also a few remarks in Wittgensteins Nachla referring
to these conversations, among the many comments on Ramsey, more often than not negative, that are mostly referring to his printed papers.
12 Wittgenstein (1973: 78).
13 Quoted in Sahlin (1997: 64) and Taylor (2006: 5).
14 Wittgenstein (1973: 78).
15 Ramsey (1923).
16 Today, on the other hand, any non-pledged philosopher mentioning Wittgenstein has to face a group of
commentators reminiscent of the Bandar-log in Kiplings Jungle Book, starting furious battles over nothing
among themselves.
17 See Marion (1993).
18 See the testimony of Frances Partridge, The Death of a Philosopher, in Partridge (1981: 169f.).
19 Quoted in McGuinness (2006: 23).
20 Wittgenstein (2003 : 15-17).
21 See Wittgenstein (2010), edited by Nuno Venturinha.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
56

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

In order to assess the possible impact of these conversations and of Ramseys ideas on
Wittgenstein, one should, for obvious exegetical reasons, stick as much as possible to texts
from 1929. As I said, however, it is very easy to bungle ones interpretation; one obvious
but common mistake is to appeal to Wittgensteins later views in order to contrast them
with Ramseys.22 That is presupposing that Wittgenstein had them in mind in 1929 ready to
use to rebut Ramsey, which is plainly false, and, supposing more rightly that they occurred
to him later, that this happened independently of any impact from Ramsey: if ones task is
to assess the latter, then the procedure is perfectly circular. Thus, it is better to assume that
in 1929 Wittgenstein hardly did any thinking on his own for years and that he was therefore
barely able to articulate in clear terms a critique of his Tractatus, while Ramsey had already
articulated an astute one in his 1923 review and moved further along since.
One should also beware of the fact that Ramseys views evolved in the last two years of
his life, i.e., in 1928-29: it would thus be mistaken to assess the result of these conversations by helping oneself without proper care to views expressed by Ramsey in papers published in previous years. Indeed, Ramseys major philosophy papers were all published in
1925-26: Universal and The Foundations of Mathematics in 1925, Mathematical Logic in 1926, to which one may add the posthumously published Truth and Probability
written in the same year, and Facts and Propositions in 1927. His tragic death in January
1930 meant that Ramsey could not complete any new philosophy papers reflecting his
views for 1928-1929, but some important manuscripts were published in 1931, as his last
papers.23 There are important contrasts between the views expressed in these two sets of
papers, and this paper revolves around one of them. Alas, there is no clear evidence that
Wittgenstein read the last papers, but it is clear that their content was known to him
through his discussions with Ramsey, because after 1929 he has abandoned some views
held in the Tractatus for reasons rather akin to Ramseys own change of mind.
My point is thus that it is a sine qua non condition that one understands Ramseys
thought in terms inclusive of these last papers in order the assess the impact of his discussions with Wittgenstein. In particular, one should first notice that almost all of Wittgensteins remarks openly critical of Ramseys views concern topics in the philosophy of
mathematics, where they obviously did not see eye to eye. One obvious topic is infinity:
Wittgenstein always stuck to the potential infinite while Ramsey adhered to an extensionalist conception that admits of infinite totalities. But Ulrich Majer has shown that by 1929
Ramsey had already begun holding finitist views that are critical of his earlier stance in
The Foundations of Mathematics and Mathematical Logic, 24 and I have attempted in the
past to show the relevance of these new views for our understanding of the development of
Wittgensteins philosophy of mathematics. 25 Brian McGuinness disagreed with what he
perceived as the gist of this work:
Ulrich Majer and Mathieu Marion for example think Ramsey taught Wittgenstein to view
mathematics in an intuitionist and even finitist way. [] it seems to me that influence is not
22 If my comments at the very end of htis section on the normative conception of logic are on the right tracks,
then an example of this sort of mistake is found in Hanjo Glocks appeal to Wittgensteins normative view of logic
in Glock (2005: 59), in order to contrast it with a purely causal and behaviorist conception he attributes to Ramsey. (On this last point, I hope to have shown in section 2 that Ramseys views are not to be conflated with those
of Russell and Ogden & Richards.)
23 These papers were grouped under that heading in R. B. Braithwaites original edition of Ramseys collected papers in 1931.
24 Majer (1989, 1991).
25 See Marion (1995) and (1998: chapters 4-5).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
57

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

the right word: we might better remember Gilbert Ryles reply when asked whether he had
been influenced by Wittgenstein: I learnt a lot from him. Now Wittgenstein clearly learnt a
lot from Ramsey and came back to philosophy with a knowledge of the thought of Weyl,
Brouwer and Hilbert that he would not have had otherwise. But he certainly did not adopt a
position near intuitionism under Ramseys influence Ramseys conversion (if such it was)
occurred after their meeting in 1925 and Wittgensteins enthusiasm for Brouwer did not result
from but was the reason for going to the 1928 lecture. It was not a Cambridge product.26

McGuinness is certainly right about the fact that Wittgenstein was not influenced by
Ramsey. There are clear indications that, in 1929, they shared a common ground on a number of issues in the philosophy of mathematics, grounds that might justify labelling them as
intuitionists or finitists. Although it is undeniable that Ramsey changed his mind, manuscripts show that he began to do so in 1928, before Wittgensteins return to Cambridge. 27
This being said, McGuinness is quite right in saying that, if Wittgensteins views were indeed close to those of Brouwer, it was not as a result of Ramseys influence: I have argued
elsewhere that, in order to understand his stance towards Brouwers intuitionism, one ought
to look at what he wrote on mathematics in the Tractatus, where his view are already remarkably close to Brouwers;28 this also serves to understand his rejection of Ramseys
earlier views on foundations. For that reason, it seems also right for McGuinness to deny
any influence. I should be sorry if, for my part, I spoke in such terms; it is not possible
and to some extend pointless to decide who influenced whom. But it seems wrong merely
to reduce for that reason the role of Ramsey to that of having pointed out to Wittgenstein
the existence of a number of papers by Hermann Weyl and others expressing alternative
views on the foundations of mathematics.
More importantly, Wittgenstein kept coming back in his manuscripts to Ramseys
earlier extensionalist views on identity and infinity in order to criticize them, thereby giving the impression that he actually took nothing from Ramsey this is the view taken, for
example, by Wolfgang Kienzler in his careful study of Wittgensteins Wende.29 (Wittgensteins oracular style that make some of his statement appearing as if conjured from nowhere else than his mind is also likely to mislead in this respect I shall give an example of
this below.) In making a proper assessment of Ramseys impact, these passages should not
only be dismissed precisely because they cannot refer back to Ramseys views in 1929, and
therefore fail to explain anything about their exchanges during that year, but also, in the
context of this paper, because they deal with issues in the foundations of mathematics,
where no pragmatist import could ever be detected. So we better drop the issue, once these
words of caution are expressed.
That his discussions with Ramsey had an effect on Wittgensteins thought is at the
very least acknowledged in no uncertain terms in the preface to Philosophical Investigations:
For since I began to occupy myself with philosophy again, sixteen years ago, I could not but
recognize grave mistakes in what I set out in that first book [the Tractatus LogicoPhilosophicus, M.M.]. I was helped to realize these mistakes to a degree which I myself am
26 McGuinness (2006: 24-25).
27 See Ramsey (1991b : 33-34), where the notion discussed below in section 4 under the name of variable
hypothetical is already occurring in 1928.
28 Marion (2003, 2008).
29 See, for example, Kienzler (1997: 75-76).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
58

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

hardly able to estimate by the criticism which my ideas encountered from Frank Ramsey,
with whom I discussed them in innumerable conversations during the last two years of his
life.30 Even more than to this always powerful and assured criticism I am indebted to that
which a teacher of this university, Mr. P. Sraffa, for many years unceasingly applied to my
thoughts. It is to this stimulus that I owe the most fruitful ideas of this book.31

Even if we are to follow Wittgenstein and attribute to Sraffa a more significant role, the
bottom line remains that Wittgenstein acknowledged a debt to Ramsey and this simply needs
to be elucidated there is no going around it.
It is true that Wittgenstein seems to imply in his preface that Ramseys input was merely negative, and achieved only through criticism of his older ideas, but a narrow reading
that would deny any positive contribution cannot be wholly right, if only because the idea
of a purely negative critique, short of a Socratic elenchus, is hard to make sense of. The following pair of quotations support this point. Ramsey is mentioned only once more in Philosophical Investigations:
F. P. Ramsey once emphasized in conversation with me that logic was a normative science.
I do not know exactly what idea he had in mind, but it was doubtless closely related to one
that dawned on me only later: namely, that in philosophy we often compare the use of words
with games, calculi with fixed rules, but cannot say that someone who is using language must
be playing such a game. But if someone says that our languages only approximate to such a
calculi, he is standing on the very brink of a misunderstanding. For then it may look as if what
we were talking about in logic were an ideal language. As if our logic were, so to speak, a
logic for a vacuum. Whereas logic does not treat of language or of thought in the sense in
which a natural science treats a natural phenomenon, and the most that can be said is that we
construct ideal languages.32

One may usefully compare this with remarks jotted down by Ramsey in September
1929:
Logic, i.e., the laws of thought, is according to L((udwig)) W((ittgenstein)) a consequence of
analytic psychology. Es liegt im Begriff des Denkens dass man p . p nicht denken kann.
Aber dieser Begriff des Denkens ist keiner naturwissenschaftlicher.
Die Psychologie von auswrts kann diesen Begriff gar nicht Bentzen.
It is just like chess; in a game of chess you cant have 10 white queens on the board, the emphasis is on chess. You can put them on the board if you like but that isnt chess.
So also in thought you cannot have p . p; you can write that if you like but it will not be
thought.
But I think we can define chess.
30 This is strictly speaking incorrect as these discussions only took place between January 1929, when Wittgenstein came back to Cambridge, and January 1930, when Ramsey died.
31 Wittgenstein (2009: 4).
32 Wittgenstein (2009: 81).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
59

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

Can we define thought, and is there any such thing? What are its rules and who plays it? It
isnt common, it is something to which we approximate by getting our language clear.
All our everyday prop((osition))s are in order is absolutely false, and shows the absurdity
of interpreting logic as part of natural science.33

It is worth noting that none of the German sentences in this passage are to be found in
Wittgensteins Nachla, it is thus reasonable that they may have come from a conversation
with Wittgenstein. But Ramsey is also referring here to views harking back to the Tractatus: the last sentence contains a quotation from 5.5563, while the idea that one cannot think
a contradiction is related to the impossibility of judging a nonsense in 5.5422. And, as
Wittgenstein himself recognized above, Ramseys standpoint is the right one: when he
writes that logic is not a natural science, Wittgenstein is expressing an idea he clearly got
from Ramsey, not merely from having been effectively criticized. The following will have a
lot to do with this positive contribution.
2. Ramsey and British Pragmatism
Ramseys gave a concise expression of his own pragmatism in the last sentences of
Facts and Propositions:
In conclusion, I must emphasize my indebtedness to Mr Wittgenstein, from whom my view of
logic is derived. Everything that I have said is due to him, except the parts which have a
pragmatist tendency, which seem to me to be needed in order to fill up a gap in his system.
[] My pragmatism is derived from Mr Russell; and is, of course, very vague and undeveloped. The essence of pragmatism I take to be this, that the meaning of a sentence is to be defined by reference to the actions to which asserting it would lead, or, more vaguely still, by its
possible causes and effects. (Ramsey 1990, 51)

This passage already gives us two clues. First, that Ramsey had identified what he believed to be a gap in the system of Wittgensteins Tractatus and that he believed his pragmatism would fill it. Secondly, as already mentioned, Ramsey points to Russells pragmatism as the source of his own pragmatism.
As for the first clue, what would that gap be? My suggestion is that we look at Ramseys review of the Tractatus and his critique of Wittgensteins analysis at 5.542 of A believes p as p says p. Ramseys qualms had to do with the fact that he rejected Wittgensteins grounding of the notion of truth-possibility on the notion of possibility of existence or non-existence of states of affairs, in 4.3:
4.3 Truth possibilities of elementary propositions mean possibilities of existence or nonexistence of states of affairs.34

33 Ramsey (1991a: 277).


34 Quotations from the Tractatus in this paper refer to the Pears & McGuinness translation in Wittgenstein
(1961).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
60

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

Recall here that truth-possibilities allow one to form the usual truth-tables (4.31), given that truth possibilities of elementary propositions are the conditions of the truth and falsity of propositions (4.41), and that
4.4 A proposition is an expression of agreement and disagreement with truth-possibilities
possibilities of elementary propositions.

Using Wittgensteins own notation, this means, for example, that not simultaneously p
and q or
(FTTT) (p, q)

is the proposition that expresses disagreement with the first truth-possibility and agreement for the next three. What this means is that a proposition is identified with a mapping
from truth-possibilities of its elementary propositions to truth-values. In the case at hand,
the first truth-possibility, p and q being true, is mapped onto falsehood, the next three onto
truth. But Wittgenstein notoriously grounds, as we just saw, truth-possibility on the notion
of possibility of existence or non-existence of states of affairs, and these depend on what
objects there are in the world and their form. This ontological grounding is the reason for
my calling Wittgensteins theory static, and my point here is that Ramsey is going to replace it by a more dynamic pragmatic theory. He voiced first his criticisms in his review:
[Wittgensteins theory] enables us to substitute for p says p. p expresses agreement
with these truth-possibilities and disagreement with these others, but the latter formulation
cannot be regarded as an ultimate analysis of the former, and it is not at all clear how its further analysis proceeds.35

He then went on criticizing Wittgensteins suggestion at 5.542 that p says p is a coordination of facts by means of coordination of their objects:
But this account is incomplete because the sense is not completely determined by the objects
which occur in it; nor is the propositional sign completely constituted by the names which occur in it, for in it there may also be logical constants which are not co-ordinated with objects
and complete the determination of the sense in a way which is left obscure.36

In Facts and Propositions, he also rejected this theory with a powerful argument,
namely that the meaning-explanations in the Tractatus are relative to a language:
We supposed above that the meaning of the names in our thinkers language might be really
complex, so that what was to him an atomic sentence might after translation into a more refined language appear as nothing of the sort.37

And he pointed out that the presupposition that truth-possibilities are all possible
clashed with Wittgensteins assumption that This is both blue and red is contradictory
35 Ramsey (1923 : 471).
36 Ramsey (1923 : 471).
37 Ramsey (1990 : 48).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
61

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

this being the notorious color-incompatibility problem, one of the first flaws that Wittgenstein tried to repair in 1929, with well-known consequences. Ramsey nails the point with
the analogy of chess:
This assumption might perhaps be compared to the assumption that the chessmen are not so
strongly magnetized as to render some positions on the board mechanically impossible, so
that we need only consider the restrictions imposed by the rules of the game, and can disregard any others which might conceivably arise from the physical constitution of men. 38

To see what Ramseys solution was, we need to deal first with the second of the
above clues. Richard Braithwaite, who was probably Ramseys closest friend, described
Cambridge through the early post-war years in these terms:
In 1919 and for the next few years philosophic thought in Cambridge was dominated by the
work of Russell [] the books and articles in which he developed his ever-changing philosophy were devoured and formed the subject of detailed commentary and criticism in the lectures of G. E. Moore and W. E. Johnson (ob. 1931).39

During those years, Russell published On Propositions: What they Are and How they
Mean (1919), participated with H. H. Joachim and F. S. C. Schiller in a symposium, in
Mind on The Meaning of Meaning (1920), which generated a debate in subsequent issues, and, finally, Analysis of Mind (1921). In these, Russell went on developing (and abandoning) what may be called a causal theory of meaning which was indeed central to discussions in Cambridge, as C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richard would go on proposing a very
similar theory in The Meaning of Meaning (1923), and, as we shall see, both theories were
to form part the background to Ramseys Facts and Propositions. As a matter of fact,
when Ramsey spoke above of Russells pragmatism, he was referring to this theory. 40
Wittgenstein, it is well known, was also to read carefully and criticize Russells Analysis of
Mind in chapter III of Philosophical Remarks.41
In On Propositions: What they Are and What they Mean, Russell expressed for the
first time the causal theory in those terms:
According to this theory for which I cannot make any author responsible there is no single
occurrence which can be described as believing a proposition, but belief simply consists in
causal efficacy. Some ideas move us to action, other do not; those that do so move us are said
to be believed.42

It is interesting to note that Russell does not attribute this theory to anyone, he simply
claims that it is implicitly assumed by James, the only pragmatist whose writings he really
knew at that stage. As it turns out, Russell rejected it but in Analysis of Mind, he presents
his causal theory in quasi-pragmatic terms:

38 Ramsey (1990 : 48).


39 Braithwaite (1933a: 1).
40 For a detailed analysis of Ramseys debt to Russells theory, see the excellent paper by Juan Jos Acero
(2005). The discussion of Ramsey in this section is heavily indebted to this paper.
41 Wittgenstein (1975: 20-38).
42 Russell (1919: 31).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
62

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

We may say that a person understand a word when (a) suitable circumstances makes him use
it, (b) the hearing of it causes suitable behavior in him.43
The relation of a word to its meaning is of the nature of a causal law governing our use of the
word and our actions when we hear it used. 44

C. K. Ogden & I. A. Richards were to propound sensibly the same theory in The Meaning of Meaning that Ramsey reviewed in Mind.45 Incidentally, one should note Russells
claim in those pages that understanding is, to use Gilbert Ryles words, a knowing how,
and not a knowing that:
It is not necessary, in order that a man should understand a word, that he should know
what it means, in the sense of being able to say this word means so-and-so. [] Understanding language is more like understanding cricket: it is a matter of habits, acquired in oneself and rightly presumed in others. To say that a word has a meaning is not to say that those
who the word correctly have ever thoguht out what the meaning is: the use of the word comes
first, and the meaning is to be distilled out of it by observation and analysis. 46

This is, I believe, the reason why Ramsey spoke of Russells pragmatism in the opening
quotation of this section.
It would be wrong, however, to conflate Ramseys theory in Facts and Propositions with these views of Russell and Ogden & Richards, because Ramseys theory is more
truly pragmatic and because, on the key point which is his solution the problem note above
in the Tractatus, there is no antecedent in Russell and Ogden & Richards. As a matter of
fact, Wittgenstein criticized these last as follows:
The essential difference between the picture conception and the conception of Russell, Ogden
and Richards, is that it regards recognition as seeing an internal relation, whereas in their view
this is an external relation.
That is to say, for me, there are only two things involved in the fact that a thought is true, i.e.
the thought and the fact; whereas for Russell there are three, i.e. thought, fact and a third event
which, if it occurs, is just recognition. []
The causal connection between speech and action is an external relation, whereas we need an
internal one.47

This critique does not apply to Ramseys Facts and Propositions, as we shall see,
since he does not introduce any third element in modifying the picture conception.
Ramsey relies indeed here directly on Peirce, whose writings he probably discovered
43 Russell (1921: 197).
44 Russell (1921: 198).
45 Ramsey (1924). For what differences they perceived between their theory and Russells, see Ogden &
Richards (1923 : 141-142 n.).
46 Russell (1921: 197). It is noteworthy that Russell attributes the view in a footnote to the behaviourist J. B.
Watson.
47 Wittgenstein (1975: 21). Wittgensteins critique is discussed, for example, in Kenny (1973: 123-130) as
initiating one of the moves away from the picture theory of the Tractatus.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
63

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

through C. K. Ogden & I. A. Richards The Meaning of Meaning,48 published in 1923,


which is also the year of the publication of Chance, Love and Logic, quoted by Ramsey in
his writings. When he wrote in the above-quoted passage that
the meaning of a sentence is to be defined by reference to the actions to which asserting it
would lead,

Ramsey merely expressed an idea one that one can already find in Peirce, who wrote in
The Fixation of Belief (1877):
our beliefs should be such as may truly guide our actions so as to satisfy our desires. 49

Furthermore, in How to Make our Ideas Clear (1878), Peirce claimed that the whole
function of thought is to produce habits of action and that to make explicit the meaning of
a belief
we have [] simply to determine what habits it produces, for what a thing means is simply
what habits its involves.50

These passages show that Peirce conceived of beliefs as habits and a guides to action.51 These ideas are to be found almost verbatim in Ramseys last papers:
All belief involves habit.52
The ultimate purpose of thought is to guide our action.53
It belongs to the essence of any belief that we deduce from it, and act on it in a certain way. 54

What these snippets show is a direct influence of Peirces pragmatism on Ramsey. This
influence can be felt in two crucial stages, first in Ramseys use of these ideas to rectify in
Facts and Propositions the above blemish he found in Wittgensteins Tractatus, and secondly in the last papers.
48 In his review of Ogden & Richards (1923), Ramsey (1924, 109) praised the appendix on Peirce. See Ogden
& Richards (1923: 432-444). It is quite possible that it is through them that Ramsey first learned about Peirce.
49 Peirce (1992: 114). This paper and How to Make our Ideas Clear were reprinted in a collection of
Peirces essays, Chance, Love and Logic (1923) that Ramsey read. This key idea is repeated elsewhere, e.g., in the
Lectures on Pragmatism (1903), where Peirce wrote that belief consists mainly in being deliberately prepared to
adopt the formula believed in as the guide to action (1931-35: 5.27).
50 Peirce (1992: 131). Again, the idea is repeated elsewhere, e.g., in Elements of Logic, where Peirce wrote
that the inferential process involves the formation of a habit. For it produces a belief, or opinion; and a genuine
belief, or opinion, is something on which a man is prepared to act (1931-35: 2.148).
51 Incidentally, these ideas were not exactly new to Peirce and can be found already in Alexander Bain, who
thought that belief has no meaning, except in reference to our actions. See Bain (1859: 372). The point was first
made by Braithwaite, who also showed that Bain recanted later on (Braithwaite 1933b: 33). One may even trace
the origin of this sort of thinking to David Hume, according to whom, in Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Sec. V, part I, 36: custom or habit is the great guide of human life.
52 Ramsey (1991a: 278).
53 Ramsey (1990: 153).
54 Ramsey (1990: 159).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
64

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

Ramseys solution to the problems he raised in his review of the Tractatus, discussed
above, consisted simply in identifying a belief in a proposition with the set of truthpossibilities under which it is true:
Thus, to believe p or q is to express agreement with the possibilities p true and q true, p false
and q true, p true and q false, and disagreement with the remaining possibility p false and q
false. To say that feeling belief towards a sentence expresses such an attitude is to say that it
has certain causal properties which vary with the attitude, i.e. with which possibilities are
knocked out and which, so to speak, are still left in. Very roughly the thinker will act in disregard of the possibilities rejected, but how to explain this accurately I do not know. 55

In other words, according to Ramsey, who adopts here the pragmatist point of view, for
someone to believe in p q means to act in disregard of the possibilities rejected.56
This identification of belief with act is what I called the dynamic element, with which
Ramsey corrects the static conception of the Tractatus. (One also should note here, in relation to Wittgensteins critique of Russell and Ogden & Richards quoted above that Ramsey did not introduce a new element.)
Thus both Russells and Peirces conceptions need to be taken into account in understanding Ramseys pragmatism and the manner in which he sought to rectify the Tractatus.
For the second stage of this influence, one has to bear in mind that Ramseys thought had
evolved by 1929 after all these last three quotations are from the last papers and one
cannot simply refer back to the views in Facts and Propositions and contrast them with
Wittgenstein in order to emphasize the disagreements between the two philosophers. One
needs instead to show how the pragmatist insights gained early evolved into the last philosophy of Ramsey (hardly two years later), in order to make the right sort of comparison
with Wittgenstein. This requires, however, that one provides a non standard interpretation
of Ramseys philosophy.57 By this I mean the following. If we follow, for example, Christopher Hookway, both Peirce and Ramsey defend an account of belief which is representationalist this is not Hookways term because it combines two elements: representations,
as they display a logical structure which suits them for use in inference, and:
[] representations that function as beliefs have a special role in the determination of action
which makes it appropriate to regard them as embodying habits of action.58

This might right as a portrayal of Peirce, who held general beliefs to be representations,
but I think that this is not exactly true about the Ramsey of the last papers for reasons that
I shall present in the next section.
3. Ramseys Human Logic
My starting point will be what Colin Howson called Ramseys big idea, i.e., the idea
that the laws of probability are rules of consistency for the distribution of partial beliefs. 59

55 Ramsey (1990: 46).


56 I owe the point to Acero (2005 : 36).
57 The interpretation proposed in the next section is not entirely new, it is largely based on Nils-Eric Sahlins
The Philosophy of F. P. Ramsey (1990).
58 Hookway (2005: 186).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
65

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

Following the British tradition and Keynes in particular, Ramsey adhered to the view of
logic as the science of rational thought, i.e., the science that tells men how they should
think.60 (Another influence here might simply be Peirces view of logic as selfcontrol).61 This is the view of logic as normative that Wittgenstein mentioned in Philosophical Investigations, 81, quoted above. Ramsey also used Peirces distinction between
explicative and ampliative arguments, 62 to suggest that this science of rational
thought,
[] must then fall very definitely into two parts: [] we have the lesser logic, which is the
logic of consistency; and the larger logic, which is the logic of discovery, or inductive logic. 63

The larger logic, Ramsey also called logic of truth, so we can divide the subject into
a logic of consistency and a logic of truth. The former contains what Ramsey called
formal logic; this is basically what we consider today as logic. 64 His big idea was thus
to have seen that the theory of subjective probability actually belongs to the logic of consistency, as a generalization of formal logic. In order to do this, he re-described formal logic as the logic of consistency for full or certain beliefs of degree 0 or 1 and proposed to
see his theory of subjective probability as generalization of this to partial beliefs, i.e., beliefs of degree from 0 to 1. Therefore, the distinction between logic of consistency and
logic of truth does not overlap the distinction between certain and partial beliefs:
What we have now to observe is that [the distinction between the logic of consistency and
logic of truth] in no way coincides with the distinction between certain and partial beliefs; we
have seen that there is a theory of consistency in partial beliefs just as much as of consistency
in certain beliefs, although for various reasons the former is not so important as the latter. The
theory of probability is in fact a generalization of formal logic [].65

Reasons for this classification have to do with one of the many extraordinary features of
Ramseys paper, the Dutch Book Theorem. Following Patrick Suppes, 66 one may distinguish within Ramseys subjective probability theory between structure and rationality
axioms. One of the rationality axioms is the well-known transitivity principle, which
states that, for all outcomes a, b and c, if a is preferred to b and b is preferred to c, then a
should be preferred to c. Ramsey commented on possible violations of this principle in the
following terms:
Any definite set of degrees of belief which broke [the laws of probability] would be inconsistent in the sense that it violated the laws of preference between options, such as that prefer59 Howson (2005: 157). This philosophical idea sets him apart from other early contributors to the topic such
as Bruno de Finetti. See de Finetti (1937).
60 Ramsey (1990: 87).
61 Ramsey (1990: 99-101).
62 Peirce (1992: 161). Ramseys use of Peirces distinction between explicative and ampliative arguments
was motivated by the fact that he used the expression inductive logic as a synonym for logic of truth, while he
believed that distinction between the latter and the logic of consistency does not overlap the traditional distinction between deductive and inductive logic. The reason is clear from his definition of the validity of an inference, see Ramsey (1990: 82).
63 Ramsey (1990: 82).
64 Ramseys reasons are pretty much standard today, see Ramsey (1990: 81-82).
65 Ramsey (1990: 82).
66 Suppes (1956).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
66

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

ability is a transitive asymmetrical relation, and that if is preferable to , for certain cannot be preferable to if p, if not-p. If anyones mental condition violated these laws, his
choice would depend on the precise form in which the options were offered him, which would
be absurd. He could have a book made against him by a cunning better and would then stand
to lose in any event. (Ramsey 1990, 78)

With this remark, Ramsey stated without proof what is now known as the Dutch Book
Theorem a choice of betting quotients resulting in a certain loss being called by bookmakers a Dutch Book. The first explicit proof was given by Bruno de Finetti,67 in complete ignorance of Ramseys work. The Dutch Book Theorem is often used as a justification for the
axioms of subjective probability theory. A typical claim derived from it, made here by
Donald Davidson, is that it shows that it is rational to act according to that theory:
Because the constraints are sharply stated, various things can be proven about the theory. The
intuition that the constraints define an aspect of rationality, for example, can be backed by a
proof that only someone whose acts are in accord with the theory is doing the best he can by
his own lights: a Dutch book cannot be made against him. 68

It is important at this juncture, especially since much has been made of Davidsons debt
to Ramsey, to see the latter viewed the matter differently:
We find, therefore, that a precise account of the nature of partial belief reveals that the laws of
probability are laws of consistency, an extension to partial beliefs of formal logic, the logic of
consistency. They do not depend for their meaning on any degree of belief in a proposition
being uniquely determined as the rational one; they merely distinguish those sets of beliefs
which obey them as consistent ones.69

The thought is repeated a later on:


We found that the most generally accepted parts of logic, namely formal logic, mathematics
and the calculus of probability are all concerned simply to ensure that our beliefs are not selfcontradictory. We put before ourselves the standard of consistency and construct these elaborate rules to ensure its observance. 70

It is crucial that one reads these passages very carefully. One should indeed notice that
in these passages Ramsey merely claims that the laws of probability are laws of consistency. There is no implication whatsoever in this passage that to be consistent is to be rational
or that to violate the principle of transitivity is to be irrational. The words rational or reasonable are not used at all in that section, except, as a matter of fact, only when the contrary is claimed, i.e., when Ramsey says that the laws of probability do not depend for their
meaning on any degree of belief in a proposition being uniquely determined as the rational
one (my emphasis). This was a direct criticism of Keynes views on probability, 71 leading

67 See de Finetti (1937).


68 Davidson (2004: 154).
69 Ramsey (1990: 78).
70 Ramsey (1990: 87).
71 For example, at Keynes (1973: 15-16).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
67

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

to the dismissal of his Principle of Indifference. 72 Here too Ramsey avoided claims concerning rationality, while emphasizing consistency:
The Principle of Indifference can now be altogether dispensed with; we do not regard it as belonging to formal logic to say what should be a mans expectation of drawing a white or a
black ball from an urn; his original expectations may within the limits of consistency be any
he likes; all we have to point out is that if he has certain expectations he is bound in consistency to have certain others. This is simply bringing probability into line with ordinary
formal logic, which does not criticize the premises but merely declares that certain conclusions are the only ones consistent with them. 73

This textual evidence should show clearly that a shift a has


occurred, from Ramsey to Suppes and Davidson. That this shift is for the better or not is not
what is at stake here, we merely need to ascertain what Ramseys views were, and his point
clearly was not that inconsistency must be considered irrational. The common view that
Ramseys theory is about an actual human reasoner, like you and me, and not [about]
some ideal reasoner74 is also misleading in this respect. The basis for this view must be
the opening paragraph of section 4 of Truth and Probability, entitled The Logic of Consistency:
We may agree that in some sense it is the business of logic to tell us what we ought to think;
but the interpretation of this statement raises considerable difficulties. It may be said that we
ought to think what is true, but in that sense we are told what to think by the whole of science
and not merely by logic. Nor, in this sense, can any justification be found for partial belief;
the ideally best thing is that we should have beliefs of degree 1 in all true propositions and beliefs of degree 0 in all false propositions. But this is too high a standard to expect of mortal
men, and we must agree that some degree of doubt or even error may be humanly justified. 75

The reference to mortal men implies a contrast with God, so the idea here is that the
ideal reasoner is God, who can reason, given his infinite powers, in terms of full and certain beliefs that are also true. The point made later on in exactly those terms:
As has previously been remarked, the highest ideal would be always to have a true opinion
and be certain of it; but this ideal is more suited to God than to man. 76

It is not to be denied that subjective probability theory, as the logic of consistency for
partial beliefs is, by contrast, about humans. It is trivially so. Nevertheless, I find the point
misleading because the cognitive capacities of that actual human reasoner, like you and
me are left unspecified by such formulations and may very well be idealized to begin with
and I think Ramsey did not conceive his logic of truth in terms of such idealizations at all.
In a nutshell, there is no discussion the passages above of the theory of subjective probability as providing an explanation of human actions but only as setting a standard of consistency that we should observe and there is no indication either that Ramsey believed that
72 Stated at Keynes (1973: 121).
73 Ramsey (1990: 85).
74 Howson (2005: 145).
75 Ramsey (1990: 80).
76 Ramsey (1990: 89-90).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
68

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

the actual human reasoner, like you and me has the cognitive capacities needed always to
observe that standard. But I should first say a few more things about the other part of the
science of rational thought, the logic of truth.
As opposed to most supporters of subjective probability, Ramsey also believed in
objective or statistical probability, which he called frequencies.77 The logic of truth
is in fact concerned with these: given the standard of consistency, how do we adapt to
frequencies? As Ramsey would put it: we want our beliefs to be consistent not merely
with one another but also with facts. 78 As Ramsey reminds us, the human mind works
essentially according to general rules or habits, 79 and one wishes to evaluate such habits,
i.e., to find out whether the degree of belief an habit produces fits the frequencies or not,
i.e., leads to truth or not.80 (This is why Ramsey spoke of a logic of discovery and, in potentially misleading ways, of inductive logic.) 81 Ramsey was thus hoping to provide
through that procedure a justification for induction as a useful habit so that one can agree
that to adopt it is reasonable.82 In short, a belief is deemed reasonable if it is obtained
by a reliable process.83
At this stage, however, Ramseys logic of truth threatens to evaporate into a reliabilist program, which would fall prey to Goodmans Paradox.84 But this issue is, again,
tangential to my attempt at clarifying Ramseys views, and I should emphasize instead another aspect of Ramseys logic of truth, which is better captured by another expression
which he uses synonymously: human logic. 85 Again, this expression is likely to mislead:
for example, one might think that Ramsey had in mind an empirical description of how
humans actually make choices. But Ramsey excluded such psychological considerations
and wished to retain the normative character of logic, which tells men how they should
think,86 or what it would be reasonable to believe. 87 So Ramseys overall classification
should be as follows:
Logic as Science of Rational Thought

Logic of Consistency

Logic of Truth

77 See Ramsey (1990: 84): in a sense we may say that the two interpretations [frequentist and Bayesian] are
the objective and subjective aspects of the same inner meaning, just as formal logic can be interpreted objectively
as a body of tautology and subjectively as the laws of consistent thought.
78 Ramsey (1990: 87).
79 Ramsey (1990: 90).
80 Ramsey (1990: 92).
81 Ramseys use of inductive logic is idiosyncratic, but carries potentially confusing connotations of Carnaps project of an inductive logic, e.g., in Carnap (1952) and (Carnap & Stegmller 1959). See footnote 62 above.
82 Ramsey (1990: 94). This idea had been put forward by Ramsey already in 1922, in a paper to the Apostles,
see Ramsey (1991a: 301).
83 Ramsey even began to doubt in 1929 that this use of reasonable is appropriate. See Ramsey (1990: 101).
This procedure would itself be inductive, but this induction on inductions is not viciously circular for obvious
reasons and it would proceed by simple enumeration and thus be finite.
84 As stated, e.g., in Chapter 3, of Goodman (1979).
85 For example, at Ramsey (1990: 87).
86 Ramsey (1990: 87).
87 Ramsey (1990: 89).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
69

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

(Human Logic)

Formal Logic

Subjective Probability

And the situation is nicely summed up in this passage from Keynes:


[Ramsey] was led to consider human logic as distinguished from formal logic. Formal
logic is concerned with nothing but the rules of consistent thought. But in addition to this we
have certain useful mental habits for handling the material with which we are supplied by
our perceptions and by our memory and perhaps in other ways, and so arriving at or towards
truth; and the analysis of such habits is also a sort of logic. [] in attempting to distinguish a
human logic from formal logic on the one hand and descriptive psychology on the other,
Ramsey may have been pointing the way to the next field of study when formal logic has
been put into good order and its highly limited scope properly defined. 88

As I said earlier, Ramsey did not present his theory of subjective probability as providing an explanation of human actions but only as setting a standard of consistency that we
should observe, and he did not give any indication that he assumed that we possess the cognitive capacities needed always to observe it. If anything, in his discussion of subjective
probability theory, he pointed out an obvious obstacle to its applicability:
nothing has been said about degrees of belief when the number of alternatives is infinite. []
I doubt if the mind is capable of contemplating more than a finite number of alternatives.89

Thus Ramseys view was that we do not have the cognitive capacities necessary always
to observe the standards of consistency set out in both branches of the logic of consistency
and that it is precisely for that reason that he believed it necessary to add a further branch to
the science of rational thought, whose concerns are precisely with what it is reasonable
or rational to believe, given that we do not have these capacities. In other words, there is
nothing in what Ramsey says about human logic that implies that he believed that it
should be some sort of applied subjective probability theory, as it has more or less been implicitly taken to be since in the work of Jeffrey, Suppes, and Davidson. The shift to the
modern view thus consists of the conflation of subjective probability theory and the logic
of truth or human logic. Once we have understood what Ramseys human logic is truly
about, we can then factor in the pragmatism he took on board via Russell, and we can thus
begin to look at what he had to say about variable hypotheticals in 1929, and what possible connexions there are with Wittgenstein had to say about hypotheses.

88 Keynes (1933: 300-301).


89 Ramsey (1990: 79). Decision theory usually involves an infinite set of alternatives and an infinity of probability combinations, see, e.g., Davidson, Suppes & Siegel (1957: 7-8).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
70

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

4. Ramseys Variable Hypotheticals and Wittgensteins Hypotheses


My case will rest on the reading of two passages and on links with remarks found principally in one of the last papers, General Propositions and Causality. In the first passage, which deserves to be read carefully, Ramsey made plain that the standard of consistency set by the logic of consistency is not enough:
this is obviously not enough; we want our beliefs to be consistent not merely with one another
but also with the facts: nor is it even clear that consistency is always advantageous; it may
well be better to be sometimes right than never right. Nor when we wish to be consistent are
we always able to be: there are mathematical propositions whose truth or falsity cannot as yet
be decided. Yet it may humanly speaking be right to entertain a certain degree of belief in
them on inductive or other grounds: a logic which proposes to justify such a degree of belief
must be prepared actually to go against formal logic; for to a formal truth formal logic can only assign a belief of degree 1. [] This point seems to me to show particularly clearly that
human logic or the logic of truth, which tells men how they should think, is not merely independent of but sometimes actually incompatible with formal logic. 90

This passage is quite astonishing. Among all things, Ramsey comes close to stating the
problem of omniscience which is linked with the principle of epistemic closure: 91 it is of
course not true that, although one knows the axioms of, say, Peano Arithmetic, therefore
one knows all arithmetical truths which follow from them. Some, such as Goldbachs conjecture, are simply not yet decided,92 and Ramsey argues that there could situations where
one ought to be ready to assign to arithmetical truths a partial belief less than one and thus
to go against formal logic. (Although Ramsey does not draw explicitly this inference, his
remarks also imply that one has to be ready to go against subjective probability theory.)
The conclusion here seems to be this: what is irrational for a perfect, ideal agent may very
well be rational for an agent with limited cognitive capacities.
In the second passage, Ramsey considers possible answers to the question What is
meant by saying that it is reasonable for a man to have such and such a degree of belief in a
proposition?:
But fourthly it need mean none of these things; for men have not always believed in scientific
method, and just as we ask But am I necessarily reasonable?, we can also ask But is the scientist necessarily reasonable?. In this ultimate meaning it seems to me that we can identify
reasonable opinion with the opinion of an ideal person in similar circumstances. What, however, would this ideal persons opinion be? as has previously been remarked, the highest ideal
would be always to have a true opinion and be certain of it; but this ideal is more suited to
God than man.93

This is one of the passages quoted above as textual evidence that Ramsey thought of his
probability theory in terms of an actual human reasoner, like you and me, as opposed to
God, except this time he is talking about his human logic. What follows, however, is not
90 Ramsey (1990: 87).
91 This is the principle that says that if I know that p, and I know that p implies q, then I know that q. This is,
of course a mere epistemic variant of the principle of deductive closure.
92 Recall that Ramsey published a result which is a partial solution to the Entscheidungsproblem. In this passage, he clearly speaks of decidability in these terms.
93 Ramsey (1990: 89-90).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
71

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

another spiel about subjective probability and utility as one would expect. Ramsey launches
instead into a discussion that he admits to be almost entirely based on the writings of C. S.
Peirce,94 beginning thus:
We have therefore to consider the human mind and what is the most we can ask of it. The
human mind works essentially according to general rules or habits; a process of thought not
proceeding according to some rule would simply be a random sequence of ideas; whenever
we infer A from B we do so in virtue of some relation between them. 95

This point is repeated further on:


Let us put it in another way: whenever I make an inference, I do so according to some rule or
habit. An inference is not completely given when we are given the premises and conclusion;
we require also to be given the relation between them in virtue of which the inference is
made. The mind works by general laws; therefore if it infers q from p, this will generally be
because q is an instance of a function x and p the corresponding instance of a function x
such that the mind would always infer x from x.96

The notion of habit seems, therefore to play a key role in human logic. As I pointed
out earlier, Ramseys idea was that it would allow us to evaluate, praise or blame, these
habits:
Thus given a single opinion, we can only praise or blame it on the ground of truth or falsity:
given a habit of a certain form, we can praise or blame it accordingly as the degree of belief it
produces is near or far from the actual proportion in which the habit leads to truth. We can
then praise or blame opinions derivatively from our praise or blame of the habits that produce
them.97

This, Ramsey believed to be a form of pragmatism, in the following sense:


This is a kind of pragmatism: we judge mental habits by whether they work, i.e., whether the
opinions they lead to are for the most part true, or more often true than those which alternative
habits would lead to.98

In General Propositions and Causality Ramsey introduced a new notion, that of


variable hypothetical, which actually stands at the heart of his human logic. To see why
he needed this new notion, it suffices that we look at general propositions in their simplest
form:
x (x) (x)

In Facts and Propositions,99 Ramsey had adopted a convention that he found in Witt94 Ramsey (1990: 90, n. 2).
95 Ramsey (1990: 90).
96 Ramsey (1990: 91).
97 Ramsey (1990: 92).
98 Ramsey (1990: 93-94).
99 Ramsey (1990: 48-49).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
72

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

gensteins Tractatus, according to which one reads the universal quantifier, x (x), as a
conjunction :
(a) (b) (c)

and the existential quantifier, x (x), as a disjunction:


(a) (b) (c)

Thus, a proposition such as All men are mortal:


x (x) (x)

has to be interpreted likewise as a logical product, and Wittgenstein assumed at


4.2211and 5.535 that these sums and products can also be infinite. 100
However, to speak of an infinitely long product or sum does not have much sense
within human logic. If the human mind cannot contemplate an infinite object, how could
one use it as a guide to action?
A belief [] is a map of neighbouring space by which we steer. It remains such a map however much we complicate it or fill in details. But if we professedly extend it to infinity, it is no
longer a map; we cannot take it in or steer by it. Our journey is over before we need its remoter parts.101

Thus, Ramsey came to introduce the notion of variable hypotheticals: 102


Variable hypotheticals or causal laws form the system with which the speaker meet the future.
[] Variable hypotheticals are not judgments but rules for judging If I meet a , I shall regard it as a . This cannot be negated but it can be disagreed with by one who does not
adopt it.
These attitudes seem therefore to involve no puzzling idea except that of habit; clearly any
proposition about a habit is general.103

To see the evolution of Ramseys thought, one need merely to recall here the point
made at the end of section 2, above: according to Ramsey, in Facts and Propositions, for S
to believe in p & q or p q means for S to act in disregard of the possibilities rejected.
In that paper, Ramsey explicitly adopted Wittgensteins reading of the quantifiers, 104 but he
now realizes that this cannot be possible if the set of truth-possibilities is infinite.
100 Ramsey used very this point in proposing a new definition of predicative function in 1925 in The
Foundations of Mathematics; see Ramsey (1990: 170f.). Wittgenstein opposed that move, and came back to it in
his notebooks, thus creating the impression that there was no common grounds between him and Ramsey. But, as
one can see here, Ramsey also abandoned these views in 1929 and it is plainly exegetically wrong not to take this
into account.
101 Ramsey (1990: 146).
102 The expression appears to originate in John Neville Keyness Studies and Exercises in Formal Logic
(1889).
103 Ramsey (1990: 149).
104 Ramsey (1990: 48-49).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
73

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

The interpretation as rules for judging, above, or fount of judgements 105 is an adaptation of the reading of universal quantifiers as rules for the formation of judgments or
Urteilsanweisungen by Hermann Weyl.106 Together with a reading of the existential quantifier as judgement abstract or Urteilsabstrakte, it allows a constructive reading of the two
axioms of quantification theory:
x (x) (a),
(a) x (x),

with which Ramsey agreed in a note dating 1929, Principles of Finitist Mathematics.107 The notions are indeed the same, since the point of Weyls reading of the quantifiers is that they are not reducible to conjunctions and disjunctions, and thus cannot be negated, and this is precisely what Ramsey insisted upon:
[] when we assert a causal law we are asserting not a fact, not an infinite conjunction, nor a
connection of universals, but a variable hypothetical which is not strictly a proposition at all,
but a formula from which we derive propositions.108

Thus, variable hypotheticals are rules or schemata, not propositions, they are therefore
not assessable in terms of truth and falsity, so Ramseys conception is, contrary to
Hookways claim quoted above, thoroughly non representational.
There are many points worth discussing at this stage, for example, Peter Geachs Frege
point,109 against which this conception seems to be running afoul. For the purposes of this
paper, that Wittgenstein abandoned his earlier view of the quantifiers in terms of conjunctions and disjunctions in favour of the very similar conception of hypotheses is something
one can agree upon,110 and my claim is simply that this may indeed be the result of conversations with Ramsey in 1929. One can illustrate the point with help of a number of passages, such as this one:
A hypothesis goes beyond immediate experience.
A proposition does not.
Propositions are true or false.
Hypotheses work or dont work.
105 Ramsey (1991a: 235).
106 Weyls reading of the quantifiers was first presented in ber die neue Grundlagenkrise der Mathematik
in Weyl 1921; see Weyl (1998: 97-98). For an analysis of the distinction between Brouwer and Weyl on quantification, see Majer (1988).
107 Ramsey (1991a: 197-202).
108 Ramsey (1990: 159).
109 Geach (1965: 459).
110 See, for example, the testimony of von Wright (1982: 151 n. 28) or Wittgensteins avowal in his classes at
Wittgenstein (1980: 119) or Moore (1959: 298). I have argued, however, in Marion (2008) that Wittgenstein got
the term hypothesis from Brouwers 1928 lecture in Vienna. This does not imply that he realized his mistake
hearing Brouwer, simply that he used instead of Ramsey variable hypotheticals or Weyls Urteilsanweisungen, a term borrowed from Brouwer. It is also important to note here that Brouwer uses the term while discussing
the visual field, not foundations.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
74

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

A hypothesis is a law for constructing propositions, and the propositions are instances of this
law. If they are true (verified), the hypothesis works; if they are not true, the hypothesis does
not work. Or we may say that a hypothesis constructs expectations which are expressed in
propositions and can be verified or falsified111.

As far as foundations of mathematics are concerned, the introduction of variable hypotheticals forms part of Ramseys late move towards intuitionism or finitism,112 but the
point of my paper is not to examine the repercussions on his philosophy of mathematics of
the introduction of a similar notion by Wittgenstein, even though, as I have already mentioned, he stood probably closer to Brouwers intuitionism in the Tractatus113 and that
abandoning his earlier view of the quantifiers may just be a matter of detail; it did not cause
any major shift away from the positions of the Tractatus on mathematics.114 Nevertheless, I
think that it is certainly worth noticing that the introduction of variable hypotheticals in
the context of human logic has nothing to do with issues about foundations of mathematics;
it is an argument of a pragmatic nature, whose premises are already contained in the discussion of human logic in Truth and Probability as well as in the pragmatic rectification
of the Tractatus in Facts and Propositions.115 The issue is thus not limited to the infinite
case at all.116 This much comes up in a passage from General Propositions and Causality
where Ramsey tackles the issue of praise that he already placed at the centre of human logic one sees here the deep connexion with Truth and Probability:
[Variable hypotheticals] form an essential part of our mind. That we think explicitly in general terms is at the root of all praise and blame and much discussion. We cannot blame a man
except by considering what would have happened if he had acted otherwise, and this kind of
unfulfilled conditional cannot be interpreted as a material implication, but depends essentially
on variable hypotheticals.117

Ramseys reasoning here appears to be that when deliberating or, to speak in the proper jargon: when making a choice under uncertainty we ask ourselves what will happen if
we do this or that and we can answer in two ways: either we have a definite answer of the
form If I do p, then q will result or we assign a degree of probability: If I do p, then q will
probably result. In the first case, If I do p, then q will result, we have a material implication which can be treated as the disjunction Not-p or q, which only differs from ordinary
disjunctions because we are not trying to find out if it is a true proposition: in acting we will

111 Wittgenstein (1980 : 110).


112 The view that Ramsey switched to intuitionism under the influence of Weyl on quantification (among
other things) was first propounded by Ulrich Majer (1989, 1991). It is also acknowledged in Sahlin (1990: chaps. 5
& 6) and further developed in Marion (1995) and Marion (1998, chap. 4), in relation to Wittgenstein.
113 Again, see Marion (2003, 2008).
114 I have discussed the relevant passages in Marion (1995) and in Marion (1998 : chaps.4-6).
115 Conflating the pragmatic argument with issues in the foundations of mathematics is, I think, the mistake
made by McGuinness in the passage quoted above in section 1, that prevents him from properly assessing Ramseys impact on Wittgenstein: since Wittgensteins position on foundations does not change, McGuinness cannot
see that he learned anything from Ramsey.
116 As far as the infinite case is concerned, there is a clear link with finitism in the foundations of mathematics, which is clearly expressed in General Propositions and Causality, as well, of course, as in other notes from
1929, such as Ramsey (1990: 160): So too there may be an infinite totality, but what seems to be propositions
about it are again variable hypotheticals and infinite collections is really nonsense.
117 Ramsey (1990: 153-154).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
75

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

make one of the disjuncts true. In the second case, If I do p, then q will probably result,
we are not thinking in terms of Not-p or q anymore. As Ramsey put it:
Here the degree of probability is clearly not a degree of belief in Not-p or q, but a degree of
belief in q given p, which is evidently possible to have without a definite degree of belief in p,
p not being an intellectual problem. And our conduct is largely determined by these degrees
of hypothetical belief. 118

The pragmatic nature of Ramseys train of thought should by now be obvious, so one
may ask if there is any trace of this in Wittgensteins moves away from the doctrines of the
Tractatus in 1929, over and above the above change of mind on quantifiers. The idea is,
simply, that if Ramseys introduction of variable hypotheticals primarily motivated not by
considerations concerning the foundations of mathematics but by the above pragmatic train
of thoughts, then there should be a trace of it in Wittgenstein. It is already visible in the
passage on hypotheses quoted above, where the context is obviously not the foundations
of mathematics, I shall endeavour to show this further with help of passages from the early
Middle Period.
Recall that an essential part of the static conception of the Tractatus was the requirement that proposition and state of affairs must have the same logical multiplicity for one to
represent the other:
4.04 In a proposition there must be exactly as many distinguishable parts as in the situation
that it represents.
The two must possess the same logical (mathematical) multiplicity.

In manuscripts from 1929 and in the Philosophical Remarks, this conception becomes
dynamic:
Language must have the same multiplicity as a control panel that sets off the actions corresponding to its propositions [...] Just as handles in a control room are used to do a wide variety of things, so are the words of language that corresponds to the handles.119

This point is made in the context of a discussion of the role of intention in language, and
that may explain why it has been hitherto unnoticed that the dynamic conception expressed here is new, it has no source in the picture theory of the Tractatus. The point is also
contained in remarks such as this:
Understanding is thus not a particular process; it is operating with a proposition. The point of
a proposition is that we should operate with it. (What I do, too, is an operation.) 120

It would be an exegetical blemish simply to assume that this new dynamic view was
divined by Wittgenstein independently of any influence, while one can simply see here
118 Ramsey (1990: 153-154). One could pursue the line of thought here using Ramseys own example of a
man deliberating if he is to eat a cake or not (1990: 154-155), and this brings us back to his famous example of the
chicken that believes a certain caterpillar to be poisonous (1990: 40).
119 Wittgenstein (1975: 13).
120 Wittgenstein (1979: 167).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
76

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

the impact of Ramseys pragmatist critique of the Tractatus, and his concomitant view,
quoted above, that
the meaning of a sentence is to be defined by reference to the actions to which asserting it
would lead.

Furthermore, a variable hypothetical or an hypothesis may just be seen as an handle


in a control room, precisely because the handles dont represent anything: they set off
actions. It is often said that the move to the later Wittgenstein involved an interest in moods
other that indicative, but as we can see here, it is deeper than that, it reflects a change in his
conception of the meaning of declarative sentences to begin with.
In order for this point to become obvious, I needed to take a very long detour into the
interpretation of Ramseys philosophy, a prerequisite to any evaluation of the impact of his
discussions with Wittgenstein on his evolution from the Tractatus to his later positions. I
hope that this detour will have helped to shed light on this point, in a manner that does justice to both philosophers.121
References
Acero, J. J. (2005), Mind, Intentionality, and Language. The Impact of Russells Pragmatism on Ramsey, in Frpolli (2005).
Bain, A. (1859), The Emotions and the Will, London, Parker.
Braithwaite, R. B. (1933a), Philosophy, in University Studies. Cambridge 1933, H.
Wright (ed.), London, Ivor Nicholson & Parker.
Braithwaite, R. B. (1933b), The Nature of Believing, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 33.
Carnap, R. (1952), The Continuum of Inductive Methods, Chicago, University of Chicago
Press.
Carnap, R. and W. Stegmller (1959), Induktive Logik und Warscheinlichkeit, Vienna,
Springer.
Davidson, D. and P. Suppes (1956), A Finitistic Axiomatisation of Subjective Probability
Theory and Utility, Econometrica, 24.
Davidson, D., P. Suppes and S. Siegel (1957), Decision Theory, Stanford, Stanford University Press.
Davidson, D. (2004), Problems of Rationality, Oxford, Clarendon Press.
de Finetti, B. (1937), La prvision: ses lois logiques, ses sources subjectives, Annales de
lInstitut Poincar, 7.
Frpolli, M. J., ed. (2005), F. P. Ramsey. Critical Reassessments, London, Continuum.
121 In writing this paper, I made use of the draft of an earlier paper, Ramsey as an Inferentialist, delivered
at the Third Meeting on Pragmatism: Agency, Inference and the Origins of Analytic Philosophy in Granada, Spain
in the spring 2006, organized by Mara J. Frpolli. I wish to thank the participants for their comments and
acknowledge my debt to discussions with Nils-Eric Sahlin and Franois Latraverse for discussions over the years
on the topic of this paper.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
77

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

Galavotti, M. C., ed. (2006), Cambridge and Vienna. Frank P. Ramsey and the Vienna Circle, Dordrecht, Springer.
Geach, P. T. (1965), Assertion, Philosophical Review, 74.
Glock, H.-J. (2005), Ramsey and Wittgenstein: Mutual Influences, in Frpolli (2005).
Goodman, N. (1979), Fact, Fiction and Forecast, Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
Grice, P. (1986), Reply to Richards, in Philosophical Grounds of Rationality, R. E.
Grandy and R. Warner (eds.), Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Hookway, C. (2005), Ramsey and Pragmatism, in Frpolli (2005).
Howson, C. (2005), Ramseys Big Idea, in Frpolli (2005).
Kenny, A. (1973), Wittgenstein, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
Keynes, J. M. (1933), Essays in Biography, London, MacMillan.
Keynes, J. M. (1973), A Treatise on Probability, London, MacMillan.
Keynes, J. N. (1989), Studies and Exercises in Formal Logic, London, MacMillan.
Kienzler, W. (1997), Wittgensteins Wende zu seiner Sptphilosophie 1930-1932, Frankfurt,
Suhrkamp.
Majer, U. (1988), Zu einer bemerkenswerten Differenz zwischen Brouwer und Weyl, in
Exact Sciences and their Philosophical Foundations, W. Deppert, et al. (eds.), Frankfurt, Peter Lang.
Majer, U. (1989), Ramseys Conception of Theories: An Intuitionistic Approach, History
of Philosophy Quarterly, 6.
Majer, U. (1991), Ramseys Theory of Truth and the Truth of Theories: A Synthesis of
Pragmatism and Intuitionism in Ramseys Last philosophy, Theoria, 57.
Marion, M. (1995), Wittgenstein and Finitism, Synthese, 105.
Marion, M. (1996), Wittgenstein and Ramsey on Identity, in From Dedekind to Gdel, J.
Hintikka (ed.), Dordrecht, Kluwer.
Marion, M. (1998), Wittgenstein, Finitism, and the Foundations of Mathematics, Oxford,
Clarendon Press.
Marion, M. (2003), Wittgenstein and Brouwer, Synthese, 137.
Marion, M. (2008), Brouwer on Hypotheses and the Middle Wittgenstein, in One Hundred Years of Intuitionism 1907-2007, M. van Atten, P. Boldini, M. Bourdeau & G.
Heinzmann (eds.), Basel, Birkhuser, pp. 96-114.
McGuinness, B. F. (2006), Wittgenstein and Ramsey, in Galavotti (2006).
Moore, G. E. (1904), Philosophy of the United Kingdom, Archiv fr Systematische Philosophie, 10.
Moore, G. E. (1959), Philosophical Papers, London, Allen & Unwin.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
78

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

Ogden, C. K. and I. A. Richards (1923), The Meaning of Meaning, London, Kegan Paul,
Trench, Trubner & Co.
Partridge, F. (1981), Memories, London, Victor Gollancz.
Peirce, C. S. (1923), Chance, Love and Logic, M. R. Cohen (ed.), New York, Harcourt,
Brace & Co.
Peirce, C. S. (1931-35), Collected Papers, 5 vols., Cambridge MA, The Belknap Press.
Peirce, C. S. (1992), The Essential Peirce. Selected Philosophical Writings. Volume 1
(1867-1893), Bloomington & Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.
Ramsey, F. P. (1923), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Mind,
32.
Ramsey, F. P., (1924), The Meaning of Meaning. By C. K. Ogden & I. A. Richards, Mind,
33, pp. 108-109.
Ramsey, F. P. (1990), Philosophical Papers, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Ramsey, F. P. (1991a), Notes on Philosophy, Probability and Mathematics, Naples, Bibliopolis.
Ramsey, F. P. (1991b), On Truth, Dordrecht, Kluwer.
Ramsey, F. P. (2010), The Ramsey Notes on Time and Mathematics, in Wittgenstein after
his Nachlass, N. Venturinha (ed.), Basingstoke, Palgrave-MacMillan.
Rorty, R. (1961), Pragmatism, Categories and Language, Philosophical Review, 70.
Russell, B. (1919), On Propositions: What they Are and What they Mean, Aristotelian
Society, Supplementary Volume, 2.
Russell, B. (1921), Analysis of Mind, London, Allen & Unwin.
Russell, B. (1959), My Philosophical Development, London, Allen & Unwin.
Sahlin, N.-E. (1990), The Philosophy of F. P. Ramsey, Cambridge, Cambridge University
Pres
Sahlin, N.-E., (1995), On the Philosophical Relations between Ramsey and Wittgenstein,
in The British Tradition in 20th Century Philosophy. Proceedings of the 17th International Wittgenstein-Symposium, J. Hintikka & K. Puhl (eds.), Vienna, Hlder-PichlerTempsky.
Sahlin, N.-E. (1990), He is no good for my work. On the Philosophical Relations Between Ramsey and Wittgenstein, Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and
the Humanities, 51.
Schiller, F. C. S. (1902), Axions as Postulates, in Personal Idealism: Philosophical Essays by Eight Members of the University of Oxford, H. Sturt (ed.), London, Macmillan.
Suppes, P. (1956), The Role of Subjective Probability and Utility in Decision-Making, in
Proceedings of the 3rd Berkeley Symposium on Mathematics, Statistics and Probability,
I. Neyman (ed.), Los Angeles, University of California Press.
Taylor, G. (2006), Frank Ramsey A biographical Sketch, in Galavotti (2006).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
79

MATHIEU MARION

WITTGENSTEIN, RAMSEY AND CAMBRIDGE PRAGMATISM

Thayer, H. S. (1981), Meaning and Action. A Critical History of Pragmatism, 2nd ed., Indianapolis, Hackett.
von Wright, G.-H. (1982), Wittgenstein, Oxford, Blackwell.
Weyl, H. (1998), On the New Foundational Crisis in Mathematics, in From Brouwer to
Hilbert. The Debate on the Foundations of Mathematics in the 1920s, P. Mancosu (ed.),
Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (1961), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, London, Routledge & Kegan
Paul.
Wittgenstein, L. (1973), Letters to C. K. Ogden, Oxford/London, Blackwell/Routledge &
Kegan Paul.
Wittgenstein, L. (1975), Philosophical Remarks, Oxford, Blackwell.
Wittgenstein, L. (1980), Wittgensteins Lectures. Cambridge 1930-1932, Totowa NJ,
Rowman & Littlefield.
Wittgenstein, L. (2003), Ludwig Wittgenstein. Public and Private Occasions, Totowa NJ,
Rowman & Littlefield.
Wittgenstein, L. (2009), Philosophical Investigations, 4th edition, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
80

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Christiane Chauvir*

Experience and Nature: Wittgenstein Reader of Dewey?1

Abstract: Deweys influence is seldom mentioned in the literature when the relationships
between Wittgenstein and pragmatism are addressed. Yet, it should be known that Deweys philosophy is clearly echoed in Wittgensteins later philosophy, as it is expressed in
his Philosophical Investigations. In particular, Deweys Experience and Nature develops
many creeds also taken up by Wittgenstein: for instance, the critic attitude towards artificial notions that break with primary experience (e. g., the Self), the will to bring philosophy back to the ordinary, or the emphasis laid on the necessity to pay attention to what
lies open to the view. Consequently, the influence of pragmatism on Wittgenstein is far
from being limited to the influence of C. S. Peirce or of W. James.

Wittgensteins so called later philosophy is usually read from the point of view of its
Austro-German sources, which he pointed in 1931 when he drew his intellectual portrait in
Culture and Value : Goethe, Schopenhauer, Spengler, even Weininger, Kraus, Loos have
succeeded to Frege and Russell, Hertz and Boltzmann, who inspired the Tractatus. But, and
its a surprise, we read in Deweys Experience and Nature (1925) a number of themes that
are well known as Wittgensteinian ones, and which we can find for example in The Blue
Book and in the Philosophical Investigations, a fact neglected or ignored by Wittgensteinian studies. Experience and Nature devotes a large amount of attention to the criticisms of
the private and exclusive character of mental phenomena a central point in the Philosophical Investigations. Like Heidegger, before Foucault, but after Nietzsche, Dewey traces
(in order to deconstruct it), a genealogy of Western philosophy and of its subjectivist, idealistic and moralizing stereotypes: the inner life, the Cartesian I, the isolation of the ego,
the fantomatic entities hypostazised from substantive nouns of our language, the quest of
essences, the production of theories and of theoretic dualisms which artificially clive the
experience; the adoption of an empiricist and naturalistic method should allow us to dismiss them. Like the later Wittgenstein, Dewey admits the devastating character of his
method, which when it is consistently followed, destroys many things once cherished; but
[] destroys them by revealing their inconsistency with the nature of things. As for Wittgenstein and his philosophical method, he speaks of only crushing castles in the air (Investigations, 118).
Everything goes as if Wittgenstein had taken advantage of Experience and Nature, even
though this reference to pragmatism was underrated in 1920-1930 in Cambridge, where
Russell injustly described it as the philosophy of American businessmen, and where
James theory of truth had a bad reputation. True, Wittgenstein confesses the pragmatist
influence exerted on him by Ramsey and Sraffa in the Preface of his Investigations. But
immediately after having mentioned these two proper names, he adds: For more than one
reason, what I publish here will have points of contact with what other writers are writing
to-day. If my remarks do not bear a stamp which marks them as mine, - I do not wish to lay
any further claim to them as my property. No doubt, from Wittgensteins point of view,
* Universit Paris I Panthon-Sorbonne [christiane.chauvire@noos.fr]
1 All references are to John Dewey, Experience and Nature, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1958.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
81

CHRISTIANE CHAUVIR

EXPERIENCE AND NATURE: WITTGENSTEIN READER OF DEWEY

pragmatism was not a distinguished philosophy in the sense of Bourdieu (no more than logical empiricism, which he had snobed at the beginnings of 1930s), and neither was American beviahorism, two tendances of the after-War that provided material to his later philosophy. Of course, in this same remark of 1931 where he admits that he has been influenced by
pragmatist ideas, Wittgenstein compares himself to Freud as an example of Jewish reproductive thinking 2: I think I have never invented a line of thinking but that it was always
provided formeby someone else and I have done no more than passionately take it up for
my work of clarification (Culture and Value). In many passages of the Blue Book and of
the Investigations, the texture lets the Deweyian under-text appear.
However, Experience and Nature is in itself a remarkable philosophical enterprise, unfortunately forgotten or underrated; influenced by such different authors as Peirce, Hegel,
and Nietzsche, Dewey proceeds to a genealogical deconstruction of Western philosophy
two years before Heideggers Sein und Zeit by means of a method that is simpler than the
(logical) method of dawning logical empiricism: it consists in a naturalistic empiricism, or
even in a humanist empiricism, i. e. in a return to primary experience, which is only
what it is (Dewey is here following the Peircian conception of pure quality as primary entity, which is only what it is). Such a return to experience with a recall of the natural history
of man and of his philosophical conceptions are meant to dismiss the claims and false values of a philosophy born in leisure class (Dewey has read Thornstein Veblen, an author
inspired by Peirce and James, and who influenced in turn Merton, Bourdieu, Elster), which
explains perhaps its idealism and subjectivism; Dewey points to an underrating of appearances or of matter (a Nietzschean theme), which, according to him, implies a moral judgment. His project is simple: bringing philosophy back to ordinary life and practice, restoring the continuity between mind and nature in the sense of a well-understood naturalism,
and in this purpose, always returning to primary experience without falsifying it; the
oblivion and falsification of this experience have given birth to a number of philosophical
harms. Dewey regards as mythological the natural history of mind reflected in the Western conception of the mental. On these matters, he is inspired by Darwin and by his notion
of adaptation which plays an important part in his remarkable theory of perception (To
perceive is to acknowledge unattained possibilities, p. 182) as a forerunner of Gibsons
affordances theory which dismisses the famous spectator theory of knowledge. Our
primary experience is not a cognitive one, or only in a derived way: first, there comes experience, which is as such ineffable (but not in a mystical sense) and existential; then comes
the cognitive stance.
Before Wittgenstein, Dewey was asking philosophy to go back to the ordinary: to apply to in the more general realm of philosophy the thought which is effective in dealing
with any and every genuine question, from the elaborate problems of science to pratical deliberations of daily life, trivial or momentous (Preface, p. viii). Transferred to language,
this idea is echoed in the Investigations, 116 where Wittgenstein claims: What we do is
to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. Dewey wants to submit
unsolvable philosophical enigmas to the pragmatist test elaborated by Peirce: a verification
through results (intended as conceivable practical consequences of a conception); he then
wants to show that the refuse to consider primary experience has generated those enigmas, along with a lot of abstractions. But Deweys empirical method as opposed to other
kinds of empiricism is the only one, according to him, that does justice to primary experience, as opposed to products of reflection which, being detached of it, break its original
2 This is a perfect example of what historians call the self-hatred of Viennese Jews who used to underrate
themselves.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
82

CHRISTIANE CHAUVIR

EXPERIENCE AND NATURE: WITTGENSTEIN READER OF DEWEY

unity: James did point on this phenomenon in his Essays on Radical Empiricism (1904),
when he introduced his distinction between thing and thought, a break that only radical
empiricism allows to dismiss, by returning to a fluent and continuous experience which is
prior to the distinction between subjective and objective.
Western philosophy wrongly considers the products of reflection as a primary given. In
its quest for simple entities, it stripes off from the continuous and fluent stuff of experience
a set of entities which are in no way original: mathematical objects, Platonician Ideas, Russellian sense-data, objects of logical atomism; all of these are products of a selective
choice ending up in the fact that objects are posited and considered as real. But this
choice goes unnoticed; it is not admitted as such by philosophy which considers the results
of this selective valuation as real. The problem of philosophy, according to Dewey, is to
know what we should regard as primary or as original stuff. Wittgenstein will retain this
question, to which he answers in his Investigations: Look on the language-game as the
primary thing[das Primre] ( 656); and the given, the Urphnomen which we should
accept, amounts to our forms of life (II, xi, p. 316), a naturalistic concept referring to an
anthropological or even ethological given. Reading Dewey if my hypothesis is correct
could only encourage Wittgenstein to break with the Tractatus atomism (which, in Experience and Nature, is perhaps one of Deweys targets along with Russellian acquaintance),
and lead him to find the way of an anthropological naturalism taking into account the natural history of man (a concept which echoes Dewey) and recalling some very general natural phenomena constituting the background [Hintergrund] presupposed [vorausgestzt] by
the system of our concepts, according to the philosophical grammar to which Wittgenstein
is now devoted. The second chapter of Experience and Nature (Existence as Precarious
and as Stable), evokes these original phenomena in which the inquiry originates, borrowing to some British anthropologists a description of the origins of humanity, while in a
similar way and on the same subject, Wittgenstein mentions Renan and Frazer in his Remarks on the Golden Bough and in Culture and value, while he speaks of the awakening of
human mind as linked to striking, even terrifying natural phenomena, describing the same
category of facts : a precarious and dangerous world with impressive phenomena giving
birth to rituals and superstitions. It is by questioning these origins that we may succeed, according to Dewey, to restore the primary continuity between nature and mind which Western thought has artificially broken. Similarly, in 1930, Wittgenstein describes after Renan a
primitive humanity afraid of natural impressive phenomena as thunder, birth, death, and
this recalls the Deweys second chapter: Existence as Precarious and as Stable. Even better, Dewey, before Wittgenstein, makes use of counterfactual sentences about regular facts
of nature: Unless nature had regular habits, persistent ways, so compacted that they time,
measure and and give rhythm and recurrence to transitive flow, meanings, recognizable
characters, could not be (p. 351). This idea is echoed in the Investigations, where Wittgenstein points to a correlation between natural regularities and the importance of some concepts; he invites us to imagine some general facts of nature as being different from what
they are, and to draw some consequences of it on the use of some of our concepts which
presuppose these facts: What we have to mention in order to explain the significance, I
mean the importance, of a concept, are often extremely general facts of nature: such facts as
are hardly ever mentioned because of their great generality ( 143). If these facts were different, our normal language-games would lose [their] point [Witz] ( 142). The presupposed fact consists in what is contemplated in the antecedent of contrefactual sentence. For
Dewey as for Wittgenstein, the presupposed facts are often (physical or anthopological)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
83

CHRISTIANE CHAUVIR

EXPERIENCE AND NATURE: WITTGENSTEIN READER OF DEWEY

natural regularities, which impose conditions on our language-games and on our conceptual
scheme. The idea of regularity is central for these two authors.
The return to purely qualitative primary experience (which cannot, nevertheless, afford
to restore the primary naivety, but only a second one) is the simple medicine against the
gaps introduced by philosophy into the continuity of things related in experience, this fluent
stuff which is prior to the distinction between objective and subjective: philosophy breaks
its original unity, while it believes to capture it by means of such artificial theorical dualisms as the dualism between matter and mind. Philosophy must then introduce a tertium
quid in order to relate that which has been unduely separated (p. 97). These criticisms are
again taken up by Wittgenstein in his lectures in the beginning of 1930s about such propositional attitudes as expectation and desire: every desire is the desire-of-a specificsomething, and there is no gap to be filled by a tertium quid introduced, as a philosophical
artefact, between desire and the event or object that satisfies it. In particular, the separation
between the material and the mental leads the philosopher to posit as Quine would have
said a fantomatic entity, exclusive and private: the mind, to which he assigns vague and
mysterious properties (we can find a neat echoe of this account in the Blue Book). On the
contrary, we should bring the mind back into nature without reducing it to nature , and
restore the previous continuity of primary experience. Then comes the idea to retrace a
natural history of mind (p. 428), a project which caught Wittgensteins attention: he too
wants to reinscribe speaking and thinking in the natural history of man (PI, 25 and
415), in the same way as walking and eating. What he recalls are not curiosities, but very
general facts of nature which no one has doubted, pleads Wittgenstein, facts that have
escaped our attention only because they are always before our eyes (PI, 415).
Meanings are treated in the same way as mind, and on this point, Deweys influence is
not limited to Wittgenstein but also extends to Quine, who was his student (some analogies
that are often pointed between Wittgenstein and Quine, especially regarding the mythology
of meaning, stem in fact from their common pragmatist source). Meaning is primarily a
property of behavior (p. 179), and as such, meanings can be objective and universal without necessarily having a psychic existence (p. 181). It is at this point that Dewey, who is not
an adept of behaviorism, comes closer to it.
Man has a tendancy to posit objects (p. 43). For Dewey as later for Quine, entification
begins at home; abstract divisions are actually a set of mental operations wrongly reified
and hypostazised (a point that Wittgenstein also makes in his Investigations, when he criticizes introspection). In Deweys view, mind is so far from being an ethereal and private entity that it is described as a function of social interactions; the use of a noun like mind is
misleading, and we would better use an adverb like mentally or an adjective (a quasigrammatical remark, once more taken up by Wittgenstein). To speak of the mind is a way
to speak of especially complex social transactions or interactions. The Self is one of these
ultimate functions which emerge from organic and social interactions whose organization
is highly complex. This emerging mind is not cut off from nature, but it is a fulfilment, a
termination of nature. Dewey, like Peirce whose account Dewey is adopting here is radically critic towards egotism, towards Cartesian subjectivity and towards the myths of interiority; he is one of these authors who echo, like James and Wittgenstein, Lichtenbergs
famous motto: We should say it thinks, just as we say it lightens. Already for Peirce, the
sudden awareness of ones ego is only the result of failure and error, an illusion of human
vanity, just like ideas of personality and separate mind (actually, the separate selves can
be fused, as in the case of lesprit de corps): Dewey subscribes to this conception. As a
fierce defender (just like Peirce) of the social character of thought (which is not a private

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
84

CHRISTIANE CHAUVIR

EXPERIENCE AND NATURE: WITTGENSTEIN READER OF DEWEY

entity and does not necessarily possess a psychical existence), he firmly articulates his
thesis: When the introspectionist thinks he has withdrawn into a wholly private realm of
events disparate in kind of other events, made out of mental stuff, he is only turning his attention to his own soliloquy. And soliloquy is the product and reflex of converse with others; social communication not an effect of soliloquy (p. 170). This is similar to the argument we find in 412-413 of the Investigations, where Wittgenstein criticizes introspection and its philosophical use. Dewey reproaches psychology with reinforcing this predjudice concerning the private and exclusive ego. In Wittgensteins view, introspection only
produces artefacts of the stance taken up by philosophers. According to him, too, the philosophical stance creates its own chimeras.
According to an enduring legend, thought is a primary given which words only express, without indicating any transition from one to another: such is the lesson which Wittgenstein retains in his Blue Book. Actually, thought is revealed to be one of the modalities
of social interactions. By inscribing the social in the mental, Dewey allows Wittgenstein to
develop one of the main themes of his later philosophy, and provides him with a basis for
his argument against a private language and/or the private character of rule-following. But
Wittgenstein imprints to Deweys ideas a linguistic or grammatical turn which the American philosopher did not think of, producing a more sophisticated argument at the service of
his philosophical grammar.
As for Deweys conception of primary experience, it may shed light on some of Wittgensteins obscure sentences which could be explained by reference to Experience and Nature: The things of primary experience are so arresting and engrossing that we tend to accept them just as they are the flat earth, the march of the sun from east to west ans its
sinking under the earth (p. 14). As it provides beliefs which seem to go without saying because of the strength of the habit, primary experience, according to Dewey, seems to consist
inexorably in basic beliefs about environment, obliterated from the very fact of their obviousness and ubiquity: these characteristics are also pointed out by Wittgenstein. PI, 129
echoes that idea: we tend to forget primary experience and the striking things which seem
to go without saying. Important as they are, those things, Wittgenstein insists, dont strike
us any more because we are used to them (ibid.): this is why the real foundations of his
inquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. And this
means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful. The
result is that we forget an important part of reality, due to habit and to our ignorance of that
which truly interests us. A similar obscure entry of Wittgensteins Remarks on Frazers
Golden Bough could be explained, according to us, as an echo of the beginning of Deweys
Chapter II: rituals and beliefs connected with them are the background out of which philosophy and secular morals slowly developed (p. 47); for Wittgenstein, too, this background makes up the substratum of philosophy, the real ground of our researchers, that
which truly interests us, being linked with primary experience; but unfortunately, this foundation is forgotten and escapes us. This explains that the aspects of things that are most
important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity and that the philosophers must learn again to see visible things around them. Similarly, Dewey writes: the
visible is set in the invisible; and in the end what is unseen decides what happens in the
seen; the tangible rests precariously upon the untouched and ungrasped (pp. 43-44). Both
philosophers agree in deploring this kind of blindness to what goes without saying, and is
not remarked. (According to Wittgenstein, such blindness is also due to the fact that language puts everything as the same level, and does not recognize differences between words
a Nietzschean idea: against such a prejudice, we must fight in order to make grammatical

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
85

CHRISTIANE CHAUVIR

EXPERIENCE AND NATURE: WITTGENSTEIN READER OF DEWEY

differences visible and avoid grammatical confusions. A couple of Wittgensteinian texts


from the Philosophical Remarks denounce the fact that things which go without saying and
are immediatly obvious are not considered as the real and important ones: man believes that
the real is elsewhere in an other-worldliness, as Nietzsche would say: And one should
want that this obviousness the life be something accidental, while that about which I do
not ordinarily bother would be the very reality. Otherwise said, that which we cannot and
doesnt want to go out in order to see from outside would not be the world (Philosophical
Remarks, 47). Wittgenstein thus dismisses both realists and idealists, who actually live in
the only one world. It sounds again like Deweys Experience and Nature, which keeps denouncing the implicit metaphysics shared by realism and idealism.
We can also find in the Investigations some echoes of Deweys account (after Nietzsche), of the philosophers tendency to underrate in a moral sense one member of a
pair, for example phenomena as contrasted with reality, the flow as contrasted with the stable, unity as contrasted with multiplicity. Wittgenstein also notices that some words are
blamed for being vague, while other are congratulated as precise. And words are
deeds In Deweys work, this moralization is not primary, but only emerges at the stage of
cognition. Cognitive terms are morally connoted, and also denote artificial entities derived
from primary experience. Contrarily to what is taught by Western philosophy, cognition
does not emerge at the level of primary experience, which is purely existential, but afterwards, when objects of knowledge have been detached from experience and wrongly posited as real. Such is Deweys anti-intellectualism: the cognitive stance is not primary; it
wrongly intellectualizes a purely qualitative and existential experience. More deeply and
his target seems at this time to be Russell, his sense-data and logical constructions,
Dewey sees in the fact of giving names of physical objects encountered in experience a
complete metaphysical commitment, an idea which will have its posterity in the work of
Quine. But empirical ordinary objects have nothing to do with physical objects: they are
mental things, and since there is nothing but the mental, the word mental is deprived of
any oppositional and differential value: if everything is mental, nothing is mental. We can
detect again this refuse to use a word without an antithesis in Wittgensteins work: using a
word this way would be to employ it in a typically metaphysical manner. In the Blue
Book, the Cambridge philosopher criticizes the misleading application of a physicalist
grammar to the mental vocabulary: by transferring the grammar of physical objects in the
mental field, we introduce ethereal states and proceedings that duplicate our linguistic performances. But such recourse to mental objects does not throw any light on the mental,
which only a grammar of psychical terms can elucidate. After Peirce, Dewey criticizes the
attitude of speaking of a place where thought proceeds, and Wittgenstein makes of this criticism one of his most significative problems. The addition of a linguistic and grammatical
dimension is the only thing that distinguishes Wittgenstein from Dewey in several passages.
Dewey is, with James, one of the missing links between Peirce and Wittgenstein,
whose resemblances we often pointed in earlier works. Wittgenstein could not avoid mentioning and criticizing James, very popular at this time; Dewey is not as famous as James in
Europe, Wittgenstein does not even nominate him. His reproductive thinking has led him
to passionately take up Deweys line of thought. Actually, was he ever done with pragmatism? Did not he avow, at the end of his life, in On Certainty: So I am trying to say
something that sounds like pragmatism. Here I am being thwarted by a kind of Weltanschauung ( 422). Of course, Dewey deserves better than this secret posterity in Wittgensteins work: under modest appearances, Experience and Nature is one of the most remarkable philosophical enterprises of the twenties, which we may be ranked side by side with

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
86

CHRISTIANE CHAUVIR

EXPERIENCE AND NATURE: WITTGENSTEIN READER OF DEWEY

those of Carnap, Husserl, Heidegger, apart from its impact on the author of the Investigations. Anyway, it will be now known that Deweys naturalistic voice, imprinted with social
wisdom and perspicacity, can often be be heard in Wittgensteins polyphonic Investigations.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
87

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Michael Luntley*

Training, Training, Training: The Making of Second Nature and the Roots of Wittgensteins
Pragmatism

Abstract. Both Wittgenstein and Dewey have a role for the concept of skills and techniques in their understanding of practices and thereby the possession of concepts. Skills
are typically acquired through training. It can seem, however, that their respective appeals
to practice are dissimilar: Deweys appeal is, like Peirces, programmatic. It is meant to
do philosophical work. In contrast, for Wittgenstein, the appeal to practice can seem a
primitive, something that is meant to put an end to philosophical work. I argue that Wittgensteins appeal to practice is much closer to Deweys. The argument arises out of difficulties with Wittgensteins concept of training. Wittgensteins concept of training is inadequate for bridging the trajectory from initial training to the acquisition of skills that are
second nature. The latter seems required for his appeal to practice and the way that grasp
of concepts is embedded our practices of going on. The inadequacy of Wittgensteins
concept of training renders the idea of such a trajectory incoherent, for it manifests a real
dilemma about how to understand the transition from rote repetitive training to mastery of
skillful activity. I show how we can make sense of the role that training plays in developing skillful activity and how by repetitive training we acquire new skills. The solution to
the dilemma comes from acknowledging a point that Wittgenstein shares with Dewey
concerning the role of selective attention. By acknowledging the role that attention plays
in extending the operation of skills, we can make sense of the acquisition of new skills
and provide a granularity to the concept of practice that makes Wittgensteins appeal to
practice more akin to Deweys: a programmatic concept rather than a primitive. Practice
is, for Wittgenstein, something to be studied and described in a detail that does explanatory work. Furthermore, the account has a number of points of contact with Dewey.

1 Introduction
As a first approximation, I take the phrase the appeal to practice as follows,
The appeal to practice: for a great many cases, perhaps all, understanding a concept F requires
grasp of how use of F bears on practice.

The appeal to practice is common to Wittgensteins pragmatism and that of the classical
pragmatists. Grasp of concepts is embedded in activity. Quite what this means is a matter
for debate, but the methodological force of the appeal to practice is, prima facie, different
between the pragmatists and Wittgenstein.
Peirce has a maxim:1
Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of those effects is the whole of our conception of the object.
* Department of Philosophy, University of Warwick [michael.luntley@warwick.ac.uk]
1 Peirce, C.S. (1992-1999: 132). The passage is from Peirces essay, How To Make Our Ideas Clear.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
88

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

Wittgenstein has, at best, a homely reminder: For a large class of cases though not
for all the meaning of a word is its use in the language.2 The difference seems to be that
for the pragmatists the appeal to practice is part of a systematic reconstruction of philosophy. The maxim is a guide for doing philosophy right. In contrast, Wittgensteins appeal to
practice is often taken as a deconstruction of the pretensions of thinking that there is anything left to do in philosophy once we have described the use of words aright. The pragmatists reconstruct philosophy, for there is philosophical explanation to be had in showing
how grasp of concepts is embedded in practice. In contrast, Wittgensteins appeal to practice is often taken to signal the end of explanatory projects in philosophy descriptions
alone must take their place.3 When Wittgenstein appeals to practice to stop the regress of
the scepticism about rules, it is not part of a reconstructive program in philosophical explanation.4 It is part of an admonition to give up philosophical theory; it is a therapy against
philosophical theorizing.
This view is given credence by the apparent refusal on Wittgensteins part to provide
detail to the concept of practice. The use of the concept at that critical juncture in the Investigations has the appearance of a primitive. If that were not so, then there would be more to
be said about how the rule-following regress is stopped; there would be detail to be provided about what it means for practice to provide the glue to the normative patterns of word
use.
In this paper I want to challenge the idea that practice is a primitive for Wittgenstein.
I do this by focusing on one specific element of the appeal to practice the nature of the
activities involved in skill acquisition, in particular the role of training. Both Dewey and
Wittgenstein privilege the idea of skills and crafts. Techniques for skillful activity are central to their appeals to practice. There is, however, a dilemma about skill acquisition. It arises in an especially acute form given Wittgensteins restrictive concept of training. In showing how to respond to the dilemma, I shall suggest that Wittgensteins appeal to practice is
more programmatic than therapeutic. Methodologically, his position is closer to the classical pragmatists than normally acknowledged. The point of this re-appraisal of Wittgensteins appeal to practice is not primarily exegetical or historical; it is substantive. It is to
begin to make the case for an examination of the detail that needs to be added to the appeal
to practice in order to be able to do real philosophical work with the concept. I shall suggest
that Wittgenstein laid the foundations for a programmatic appeal to practice that has real
explanatory teeth. The key move in making sense of Wittgensteins account of practice focuses on a concept he shares with Dewey selective attention. Wittgenstein deploys it infrequently, but critically. For Dewey it is key to his account of experience although he gives
little sense of the sort of detailed work that I note for it. I want to isolate the role this concept plays in making sense of the role of training in skill acquisition.
The argument proceeds as follows: in section 2 I outline two key concepts that seem
implicated in Wittgensteins appeal to practice the concept of training and the concept of
second nature; in section 3 I detail the dilemma that Wittgensteins use of training produces in trying to understand the relationship between training and second nature; in section
4 I show that the dilemma from section 3 is real and provide a formulation that applies
across a wide range of skills training; in section 5 I provide the general form of the solution
to the dilemma Wittgensteins way out and illustrate the solution with a range of exam2 Wittgenstein (1953: 43)
3 See Fogelins (2009) presentation of the point of Wittgensteins well-known exhortation to replace explanation with description in Philosophical Investigations 109.
4 Wittgenstein (1953: 201-2)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
89

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

ples to show how training gives rise to second nature. The resulting model provides detail
on the concept of practice that, although only hinted at infrequently in Wittgensteins own
texts, makes better sense of his repeated use of the concept of training as a basis for developing second nature. It also suggests a promise of further points of contact between Wittgenstein and Dewey on education.
2 Training and Second Nature
Two concepts seem central to Wittgensteins appeal to practice training and second
nature. Wittgensteins appeal to practice involves ways of thinking, acting and being in the
world that are second nature. The concept of second nature picks out capacities that although needing to be learnt (hence not first nature) are nevertheless aspects of our natural
way of being in the world. 5 It is their naturalness that absolves us from providing a theoretical account of their acquisition, constitution and development. It is this that suggests that
practice is a primitive. That it is second nature for us to go on in one way rather than another with the use of a word is a fact about who and what we are. It is not a matter for further
scrutiny, for that would only invite further regress. The capacities that contribute to second
nature and the way we come into our second nature are to be described, not explained. 6
If the practical capacities of concept use are second nature, then although they are excused theoretical scrutiny, they still need to be learnt. Wittgenstein emphasizes the role of
training in this regard. The practice of second nature has its roots in training. It is here that
Wittgensteins position is at risk of becoming incoherent. The English word for training covers a broad range of activities, from simple S-R conditioning to a form of acculturation
into practices for which the German word bildung seems appropriate. Many commentators
assume that Wittgensteins talk of training can be assimilated into the bildung end of that
spectrum. 7 If so, then talk of training is no more than an element of the descriptive enterprise of recording the trajectory of learners as they gain entry into concepts that in time become second nature. If training is understood as akin to bildung, Wittgensteins appeal to
practice can only be part of a descriptive methodology. Such a reading is not, however, sustainable.
Wittgensteins word for training in German is abrichtung. He always uses this word. In
German, this is a concept of training applicable only to animals, never humans. It is a concept for quite brutal training regimes; it is applicable for whipping horses, but is out of
place in describing regimes for human learning. The restrictive nature of the concept in
Wittgensteins original is lost in the breadth of the concept expressed with the English word
training. The restrictiveness of Wittgensteins original is better captured with the concept
of conditioning.8 For Wittgenstein, training is at the simple S-R conditioning end of the
range of English senses of the word.

5 See McDowell (1994) especially lectures III and IV for the idea of second nature. See the papers in Smith
(2002), especially the essay by Bubner for critical discussion of McDowells appropriation of the concept of Bildung in explaining the development of second nature.
6 The idea that an explanatory account of our ways of going on would invite further regress is a common assumption, but one that warrants challenging. See Ginsborg (2011) for a recent account of normativity that offers
explanatory potential while striking a middle way between the familiar horns of either a dispositionalist reductionism or the nonreductionism of the descriptivist. For more on this and the general issue of the status of explanation
in Wittgenstein see Luntley (in preparation: Chapter 4)
7 See Stickney (2008) and my reply Luntley (2008).
8 I am indebted to Huemer (2006) on this point.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
90

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

Does this matter? Here are two options. Either Wittgensteins use of training is, despite
the German original, really talking of forms of instruction akin to bildung or it is S-R conditioning. If the former, Wittgensteins trajectory from training to second nature is wholly descriptive, both phases are conceived in fundamentally the same way as forms of activity
richly saturated with concepts and understanding. That is coherent, but amounts to endorsing a view that is prima facie quite implausible: there is no such thing as an account of
learning. The trajectory from training to second nature is not a trajectory that plots a path of
concept acquisition, for training only applies to subjects already within the space of concepts. In addition, the appeal to practice is in danger of being rendered vacuous for there is
no granularity to be added to the claim that concept use is embedded in practice. The account of practice turns out to be an account of activities saturated with concepts, so it is
hard to see precisely what role activity and practice adds to the account of concepts. It is
this that makes Wittgensteins appeal to practice seem wholly negative, a riposte to the urge
for a theoretical regimentation of meaning and the attempt to posit meanings as entities beyond what is given in the everyday patterns of word use. In place of philosophical theory
we get description. That might involve an extensive ethnology of practice and learning as
we describe the activities, many of which are interestingly social in character, that comprise
meaningful word use. But this only accentuates the move away from philosophical theory
to a more sociological turn of description. And if the appeal to practice is negative, it then
seems distinct from that found in the classical pragmatists.9
Alternatively, Wittgensteins consistent use of abrichtung and its cognates is taken at
face value: training is S-R conditioning. But that is now hardly compatible with a descriptivist methodology, for the description leaves a host of challenging and interesting questions
ignored, if not begged. The description would be that some creatures, e.g. humans, when
subject to S-R conditioning regimes with word use gain a second nature grasp of concepts.
But that is a striking fact. With other creatures there is no such route, but nothing is available in the description to say why this might be so, nor how it might be so. 10 Starting with
such an impoverished notion of training makes the trajectory from training to second nature
seem an impressive achievement, but it tells us nothing about the nature of this. Furthermore, most people take Quines formulation of naturalism as a reductio of the idea that that
there is a route from S-R conditioning to grasp of concepts. 11
Prima facie, Wittgensteins concept of training fails to make sense of a trajectory from
training to second nature. I think there is a real dilemma here. 12 In the next section I set out
the dilemma in some detail before turning to a way of reading Wittgenstein that moves
away from the descriptivism normally attributed to him.
3 The Learning Dilemma
The dilemma with the trajectory from training to second nature is closely related to
Fodors paradox of learning. I start with a sketch of Fodors paradox. Consider the question, How do we learn a new concept? The obvious answer is to appeal to experience. So,
let F be the concept we want to learn from experience. In order to learn the concept, we
9 The sociological descriptive turn is in evidence in Dewey. See for example Sennetts appeal to Dewey in his
detailed sociology of craft skills in Sennet (2008).
10 Williams thinks the difference is the community, cf Williams (1984, 1999b).
11 Proponents of teleological semantics still carry the flag for Quine, but a natural way of taking the indeterminacy of translation argument is as a reductio of reductionist naturalism about meaning.
12 Fodor & LePore (2007: 684) claim that Wittgensteins account of learning by training is vacuous. I agree
that there is a problem, but disagree on what can be got out of Wittgenstein to make training a useful concept.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
91

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

need to have experiences in which things that are F are experienced as being in common. It
is not enough simply to experience things that are F, we need to experience them as a kind.
An experience of such things as of a kind can only be such if the experience represents
them as being alike. To have an experience that represents these things as of a kind is to exploit a capacity to represent them as being the same in the relevant way. But a representation of these things as being the same in the relevant way is the concept of things being F. It
might not carry that label, but it is that concept. In other words, you could not have the appropriate experience if you did not already have the concept. There is then, no such thing as
learning a new concept. There is only learning of labels for concepts that are innate.
A bold response to Fodors argument would be to avoid the rich account of experience
that Fodor posits by working with an impoverished Quinean account of experience in terms
of patterns of retinal stimulation. But that just sets the dilemma for an account of learning.
The options are now either attempt what many think impossible and give an account of how
grasp of concepts can be derived from an impoverished base set of capacities (capacities to
differentially respond to stimuli), or endorse a rich account of the learner with innate concepts. I think the dilemma that Fodors argument presents is real and is worth responding
to. I want to locate the issue about the trajectory from training to second nature in the same
framework.
You might think that what is wrong with Fodors argument for nativism is that it is too
intellectualist in its view of concepts and representation. It ignores the role that activity
plays alongside experience in acquiring concepts. That is to say, a pragmatist appeal to
practice fares better than experience in accounting for concept acquisition. So consider the
alternative hypothesis that deploys encounters with things that are F in activities rather than
in experience. The thought would be that in order to acquire the concept F rather than experience things that are F as being relevantly similar, we encounter things that are F in our
activities. Training in activities with respect to things that are F takes the place of experiences of things that are F. This is not, however, an improvement.
Encounters with things that are F in activities need to be encounters not just with things
that happen to be F but, as we might put it, F-ish encounters. Our active encounters need to
be F-shaped. Another way of putting the point would like this. Suppose the aim is to get us
to act purposely with respect to things that are F, for it is such practices that manifest grasp
of the concept F. But to get us to act purposely to things that are F requires that our activity
has, as it were, an F focus to them. But having an F focus is surely the target outcome of
the training regime, not its input?
What this amounts to might be encapsulated somewhat provocatively as follows. The
appeal to practice that sees concept acquisition grounded in activities and training might be
thought to circumvent Fodors challenge, but it does not. The target is to acquire a capacity
for doing Y, where doing Y is the activity that manifests the target concept. To learn this
new skill, we are trained. If we cannot yet do Y, for real learning is on the agenda, then we
must start by doing something else. So, when we cannot yet do Y, what is it that we do in
order to learn to do Y? Very simply, how can doing something else (something that is not a
doing Y) help us learn how to do Y? And if nothing can, are we condemned to accept, with
Fodor, a nativism about capacities for activities alongside conceptual capacities? If not,
what can it mean to say that in order to learn the capacity for doing Y we practice first the
capacity for doing X?

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
92

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

4 Learning To Do One Thing By Doing Something Else


The problem here is an instance of a more general one: How do we acquire a capacity
for something that we cannot yet do? Or, what do we do in learning how to do something
we cannot do?13 It is enough to take the problem in the simple form: what do we do in training that enables us to acquire a capacity that we did not have before? In particular, why
does repetition play such a large role in the acquisition of new capacities? One of the points
of Wittgensteins appeal to training is that many skills require repetitive training in order to
be acquired. But if we cannot yet do the thing in question, how does repeatedly doing
something else help us acquire the capacity to do the target thing? How does doing a lot of
one thing, help us do something else?14
To keep matters simple, I concentrate on the following key claim about training:
(1) Repeatedly doing X brings it about that we can do Y.

Unless we concede a nativism about all skills, on which repetition is simply the practice
in deployment of skills already present, then (1) must be true for some skills. Intuitively, we
tend to think it true of most skills. Our dilemma concerns how we make sense of (1). If we
can make sense of (1) then two things seem to follow: (a) we have the beginnings of an account that resists Fodors dilemma; (b) we have within our account of practice resources for
an explanation of the trajectory from training to second nature and not just a description.
And if we have an explanation of the trajectory from training to second nature, we have explanatory granularity to the appeal to practice; the appeal is programmatic, not therapeutic.
I want to suggest that Wittgenstein has the resources for a programmatic appeal to practice;
furthermore, it is an appeal to practice that lays the foundation for a more extensive investigation of practice than provided by the classical pragmatists. There are points of contact
between the model I draw out of Wittgenstein and aspects of Deweys philosophy. I shall
note these as I proceed, but not in any great detail. For the main part, Dewey, like Wittgenstein, left more unsaid than said in the appeal to practice.
Consider training in skills regardless of whether or not concept acquisition is involved.
I think it is often the case that, strictly speaking, we come to learn how to do one thing by
repeatedly doing something else. This is not as odd as it might sound, but even in cases of
acquiring motor skills the details at play suggest something important about how learning
works. It illuminates both the concepts of training and of second nature and how they are
related and thereby provides granularity to the appeal to practice.
So consider training in a motor skill such as learning how to produce a forehand topspin drive in tennis. You might know in general what is required. You know you need to
produce a sort of upward stroking motion as the racquet strikes the ball, but it is difficult to
get this right and to produce it consistently while also delivering appropriate power into the
drive. Disregard for the moment the role that your conceptual understanding of what you
are doing plays and consider the following common instruction given by trainers.
13 See Forman (2008) for a trenchant critique of McDowells use of the idea of second nature that has many
points of contact with the concerns of this paper. Forman finds in Aristotle something very close to the general
question just articulated and even suggests that McDowells failed attempt to deploy Aristotles concept of second
nature ends up revealing that Aristotles use of it leads us to seeing that this question is a genuine paradox about
learning.
14 The force of this question is akin to that asked of communitarian accounts of rule-following why do lots
of people with a disposition to give a particular answer to the add 2 instruction give content to the idea of correctness when one person with the same disposition does not?

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
93

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

The tennis coach introduces an activity for you to practice that is not the same as the
activity of producing a top-spin forehand drive. He instructs you in the manner of placing
your leading foot to ensure you stand side-on to the ball when striking it. You consciously
repeat the orientation move and the deliberate and accentuated placing of the lead foot that
anchors your positioning as you lean into the shot. It is this bodily orientation that you repetitively train. By concentrating on doing this you acquire the ability to perform consistent
top-spin forehand drives. The bodily orientation skill is not simple. It involves a number of
factors, but the one you mostly concentrate on is the placing of the lead foot and the slight
lean into the direction of that foot as you make the stroke. Call this the platform activity.
My suggestion is that repetition of the platform activity, typically so that it becomes second
nature, is what brings it about that you are able to acquire the target activity consistent
performance of the selected stroke. This example is similar in form to another familiar
learning situation.
Novice bike riders find it very difficult to ride with balance. There is a lot to master to
keep a bike upright for a significant period. Rather like the tennis case, it is no good insisting that the learner persevere with riding properly. The sensible advice is once again to
stage what the learner has to repeat and focus on in their training. Asking them to concentrate on balancing is asking too much, for they cannot yet balance. Just as asking the tennis
novice to concentrate on producing top-spin drive is asking too much. You ask the novice
cyclist to concentrate on something else: you ask them to concentrate on riding in a fixed
direction, eyes firmly fixed on a point ahead. This is something they can do and by repeatedly practising that ability they acquire the more complex ability to ride steadily and balanced. Riding focused on the point ahead is the platform activity, repetition of which brings
the target activity, a complex of muscular control over the whole body, into focus.
The general idea is that repetition of a platform activity makes acquisition of the target
activity possible. Before I outline what this claim commits us to, let me clarify a number of
points about it. In some cases the platform activity is a component of the target activity.
When that is the case, it might be thought that this is not really an instance of learning to do
one thing by doing another, for we learn to do Y by compiling the activity out of its component activities of which doing X is just one. If the relation between doing Y and doing X
is that the former is compiled out of executions of the latter, plus some others, then this is
not really a case of learning to do one thing by doing something else, for the target activity
is identified with the sum of the platform activities. Doing the platform activities just is doing the target activity.
Some cases might be like that, but most are not. Consider the tennis example. On first
acquiring the target ability its execution will most likely regularly include the platform activity of the accentuated placing of the lead foot. There is, however, no reason why that has
to be the case and even when it is, it is possible as the target activity becomes practiced that
you are able to detach it from the platform activity. You learn how to preserve and enact the
appropriate actions independently of the routines repeated in the platform activity. The
scope for this detachment is quite common, even in cases where the platform activities are
clearly assemblies of actions that are components to be compiled into the learning attempts
at the target activity.15
15 An example that seems more like compiling activity Y out of a set of X activities, rather than a case of (1),
might be this: When learning how to shoot at archery, there are many things you concentrate on and practice repetitively in learning how to aim. You place your feet deliberately at the right spacing (no more than shoulders
width) facing side on to the target, you breath slow and deep to relax your stance, you turn to face the target in a
relaxed and deliberate manner so as to not disturb the muscle set, you concentrate on keeping your shoulders

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
94

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

If doing X is just a component to be compiled with others to generate doing Y, then the
trajectory from training to second nature could be conceived as merely the rendering of the
component activities second nature so that their integration into the target activity no longer
requires conscious monitoring. There is some plausibility to that view. It applies to some
examples. It seems to provide a simple way of understanding the trajectory from training to
second nature. But care is needed even with such simple examples to pinpoint precisely
what is involved in rendering a skill second nature. The temptation is to see the trajectory
from training to second nature as a trajectory to silence conscious monitoring. Abilities the
execution of which required close conscious monitoring are practiced until they achieve silent running. But there are different cases at play.
The simple case is where a single ability is practiced so that the initial conscious monitoring required for its execution can be, as it were, turned off. In the tennis example, this
applies to the transition from consciously placing the lead foot in an accentuated way to an
ability that becomes natural and executed repeatedly and with ease without conscious monitoring. Call this a case of simple silent running. But that is quite different to the trajectory at
play when practicing the elements of posture in order to acquire the ability to produce a
top-spin forehand drive. The various elements might be practiced to second nature. Whether or not the elements are conceived as elements that are compiled into the target activity or
the target activity is detachable from the compiled elements, nevertheless the transition to
execution of the target activity is not a simple silent running transition.
Consider first the case in which the platform activities are elements that compile to the
target activity, so the latter is identified with the compiling of the former. Even so, it would
be a mistake to assume that all that is going on in such a case is the move to silent running.
Much depends on what we think goes into compiling. If the compiling is simply a sequencing, then rendering each component of the target into silent running could amount to rendering the target activity second nature too. On this scenario, there is no more to the target
activity other than running the platform activities in the right sequence. There is, therefore,
arguably little else for conscious awareness to attend to once it has ordered the platform activities and rendered them into silent running. The archery example above (see footnote)
might be thought such a case, but even that is probably not right.
Even if the target activity is compiled by sequencing the platform activities, it is not
true that there is nothing for consciousness to attend to, for consciousness needs to bring it
about that the platform activities are sequenced. You select the platform activities, you concentrate on performing them in the right order and appropriately spaced. Even in the simplest case, you work at putting this all together. And the work is plausibly the work of consciously attending to what you are doing, doing the platform activities in the right order. It
is that conscious sequencing that you eventually silence with repetition. What we can say
with some confidence is that cases in which the target activity is identifiable with a sequencing of platform activities will be cases in which rendering the latter into silent running
dropped so that when you draw the rear shoulder does not rise out of alignment with the lead shoulder, this also
ensures that when you draw you do so with the back muscles and not the arm muscles. In this case, it seems more
plausible to say that these things are not so much the platform for aiming well, they constitute aiming well. But
even here, this is not necessarily so. Nothing rules out your being able to detach the ability to shoot with a consistent accuracy independently of performing all the routines first practiced as a novice. Take just one part of this.
Ensuring that the shoulders stay aligned is a device for bringing it about that you draw with the back muscles, not
the arm. But drawing with the back muscles is something that the concentration on posture enables you to feel.
You gain an awareness of what it is to draw with the back muscles, an awareness that can detach from the platform
activity of concentrating on posture. The fact that concentration on posture can enable an awareness of the target
activity of drawing with the back muscles is important. I return to this below.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
95

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

will be to execute the trajectory from repetitive training of doing X to doing Y second nature. But even in the simple case, the trajectory from doing X to doing Y is one effected by
your consciously attending to the doing X components in the right sequence so that a doing
Y is achieved. It is you, by your conscious attention, who brings it about that you do Y. I
suspect that there are very few cases that are this simple.
Consider again the archery case. The target activity consistent ability to aim accurately is detachable from the platform activities out of which it is compiled. Initial executions
of consistent aimings might be simple sequencing of the platform activities, but in most
cases there is a further stage. There is more content to the idea of compiling than the simple case of consciously performing the activities in the right sequence. The more complicated case is, roughly, like this. By repeatedly practicing the platform activities to the extent
that they are executed on silent running you find that new things become potential foci for
conscious awareness. The practicing of keeping the shoulders low is not just a device to
bring it about that you draw the bow with your back muscles rather than the arm, it brings it
about that you can become conscious of what it is like to draw with your back muscle. Indeed, as the posture with regard to shoulders becomes second nature, so the ability to be
aware of what your back muscles are doing becomes more pronounced to the extent that
rather than being conscious of what your back muscles are doing, you become able by concentrating on those muscles to enact their performance regardless of the precise alignment
of the shoulders. Your conscious awareness shifts, from the shoulders to the back muscles.
And it is this that, in part, explains why the ability to aim accurately acquired by the practice is detachable from the ability to perform the platform skills. So although the platform
activities are practiced repeatedly so that their execution becomes second nature, that in itself is not to render the target activity second nature, indeed it is not identifiable with execution of the target activity. The target activity is detachable from the performance of the
platform activities. That is why we say in such cases that by repeated practice of the platform activities you acquire a feel for what it is to aim accurately. It is because of this
feel that you know before the arrow gets to the target if youve done it wrong. Similarly,
you recognise a good shot before it reaches the target. The ability to produce a top-spin
forehand drive in tennis is similarly detachable from the platform routines.
These are moderately simple examples. It is not difficult to explain what is happening
in them. Given the sort of musculature that humans have, generations of archery and tennis
tutors have come to realize that training one set of muscles to perform in a certain way
brings it about that a further muscle configuration becomes salient to the performer. In
some cases, the scaffolding of awareness for the target muscle set turns on more than the
contingencies of the relations between different muscles in the human frame; the scaffolding can include cultural facts. The scaffolding of the novice bike riders awareness of what
goes into balancing draws on the contingencies of the way that balance control is effected
by head position, but it also draws on a cultural scaffolding the riders parent typically
runs along behind with a surreptitious hand on the rear of the saddle providing an extra contribution to the overall scaffolding of the target activity. Although simple, the significance
of these examples is, I think, considerable.
In general terms, the transition from a training routine that concentrates on repetition of
the platform activity to the acquisition of the target activity is a case of learning to do Y by
doing X. But that is no longer as mysterious as it first sounds. We have some detail on this
transition that not only describes it but explains how it is possible. The form of the explanation is that skill acquisition is staged. Repeated practice of platform activities provides the
staging for the target activity. There is a transition from the former to the latter; there is real

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
96

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

learning in skills. This means that what we achieve at the end is, with respect to the earlier
stage, new. It is that fact that makes the idea of learning to do Y by doing X appear mysterious. But the novelty effected by this transition is explained by what we might call the
bridging activity the activity of conscious attention.
In simple cases, the target activity is compiled by sequencing the platform activities. In
such cases, the role for conscious attention is to sequence the platform activities. In a great
many cases, the target activity is compiled by virtue of the way that repetition of the platform activities to second nature provides a basis for conscious attention to find salient the
performance of the target activity where that is detachable from the platform activities. In
such cases, genuinely new actions become salient to our awareness. In both the simple and
more complex case, the role for conscious attention is to extend our activities: what is
available to awareness is not restricted to what falls within the practical scope of the activities already at our disposal. It is conscious attention in the above description that is effecting the transition from repeatedly doing X to doing Y.
5 Wittgensteins Way Out
I noted earlier that Wittgensteins account of learning is potentially incoherent. His emphasis on a particularly crude S-R model of training makes it a mystery how new skills
could be acquired, let alone how S-R training might provide a basis for concept acquisition.
The description above offers a general response to this challenge to Wittgensteins account
of learning. The description provides a model of learning that is essentially staged and such
that the transition between stages is effected by conscious attention. The appeal to attention
here is an extension of the role that has been suggested for consciousness in recent work on
reference.16 It is a concept that appears infrequently but critically in Wittgenstein. It is key
to understanding the role of ostension that Wittgenstein does not critique in the early sections of Philosophical Investigations.17 It is also closely related to a key concept in Deweys account of experience. Dewey has a key role for the concept of context, the most pervasive fallacy of philosophic thinking turns on neglect of context. 18 But his notion of
context has at least two ingredients when we consider how it bears on his account of experience. The key ingredients are background and selective interest. The former is that which
is taken for granted with respect to the particular question that is occupying the field of
thinking. The latter is the attitude that frames or shapes the particular case: This attitude
is no immediate part of what is consciously reflected upon, but it determines the selection
of this rather than that subject matter. 19 Like Wittgenstein, Dewey has selective interest
operating not as part of what is reflected upon (what is already second nature, if not conceptual) but as a prior selection that frames reflection.
The model I have outlined comprises a trio of hypotheses:
(a) skill acquisition is typically staged; acquiring a target skill is undertaken by first acquiring
an earlier stage skill.
16 See Campbell (2002) for this move.
17 See my (2010a) for detail on this. The critical occurrence is in Philosophical Investigations 6 where Wittgenstein allows the teacher to direct the childs attention when engaged in ostensive teaching. Wittgenstein differentiates ostensive teaching from ostensive definition precisely in terms that absolve it from critique for presupposing grasp of grammar. So attention works for Wittgenstein independently of a conceptual or grammatical shaping to experience.
18 From Context and Thought, Dewey (1981-2008, Vol 6: 5)
19 Dewey (Op. cit.: 14)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
97

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

(b) acquiring the target skill is typically made possible by the earlier stage skill being rendered
second nature
(c) there is a general bridging capacity that provides the incremental enhancement from a platform of second nature performance of the earlier stage skill to the beginnings of rote practice
for the target skill.

I suggest that the general bridging capacity is the capacity for conscious attention,
where this is understood as a basic capacity of consciousness to focus on things made salient in the environment and where it is a form of awareness that is prior to a conceptually
mediated awareness. The salience to which consciousness attends can be generated by repeated activities of the platform skill. The intuitive idea here is simple. The acquisition of
the earlier stage skill as second nature brings into salience items (objects and properties)
that attention latches onto as the focus for the first executions of the target skill. The process iterates, with successive renderings of skills into second nature providing the platform
from which conscious attention reaches beyond what has been rendered skillful to find new
items to act upon. The role of conscious attention is, if you like, to see into the gaps between the execution of skills already mastered and to find the territory for further activity.
Conscious attention is itself a form of activity. It is the master activity that drives learning,
but it works incrementally. It is scaffolded by the repetition of those activities that are rendered second nature. With respect to any particular ability, attention can always outreach
what that ability operates upon. Attention is the general capacity for taking awareness further. To say that it has this role is just to note a feature of the concept of attention as I am
using it that has been claimed for it recent debates in the philosophy of mind.
My appeal to attention is of a piece with the idea that attention picks out a capacity for
making things and properties salient to oneself in experience in a manner that does not require a conceptual shape to that salience.20 That makes it a general capacity that can play a
generative role in the development of conceptual modes of making things available to
awareness in experience. Just so in the case of capacities for craft skills. Such skills are
ways of organizing our manipulative engagements with things; attention is the general and
generative capacity that first puts things within reach so that capacities for craft skills can
pick them up. But there is a further point about attention that the craft cases make explicit.
The idea of attention as the master capacity is not the idea of a general capacity whose
reach is fully formed. It would be too easy to claim for the capacity for attention that there
was, at the outset, no limit to its power of discrimination. That would fail to capture what
surely seems true: that what falls within the reach of your capacity for attention is not openended, it is a function of what you have previously attended to and made secure in its availability either by conceptualizing it or, in the case of manipulative skills, rendering it second
nature. The fineness of grain of the deliverances of attention is not independent of the developmental trajectory of skills already in place for the subject. This is the key point to
Deweys deployment of selective attention against a background. Attention is not a magic
wand that brings anything we like within awareness. Its operation is constrained. What it
can bring to awareness, although it outruns what has thus far been conceptualized and/or
rendered second nature, is only ever a modest extension in range, not an inexhaustible one.

20 See Campbell (2002) for the formative articulation of this idea in contemporary philosophy of mind. For a
deployment of the idea in a manner related to the current case, see my (2010b) and also (2009)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
98

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

Attention is, if you like, a seeing beyond what has thus far been rendered second nature
(whether in concepts or in manipulative skills).
The above model captures an aspect of the phenomenology of learning that is otherwise
difficult to make sense of. Sometimes, practicing an activity in order to acquire a new activity can feel almost like a blind practice. You repeatedly practice the placing of the feet in
the tennis example with, at first, little or no sense of what precisely it is you want to acquire. Or, to take a different example, when learning a new and technically tricky piece on a
musical instrument, you practice the mechanics of striking the right notes with little sense at
first of how youll ever manage to acquire the right phrasing and dynamics to produce the
performance that properly emulates the recording you flavor. In these and other cases, it
can seem as if you are almost blindly doing one thing with little more than a vacant hope
that the eventual skill will fall within your reach. That sort of phenomena strikes me as
quite common and true to what it can be like in trying to master a range of manipulative
skills. The model I have outlined makes sense of this, for it is only by repeated practice of
the platform skill so that it becomes second nature that attention can begin to pick out the
nuances of the target skill the right dynamics of phrasing, the right orientation of back
muscles in making the drive, etc. What this underlines is that although attention outruns or
outreaches what is available in our manipulative engagements with things found in developed techniques that have become second nature, the character of attention is best expressed in its almost inquisitive force of reaching beyond the point youve currently
achieved. If it wasnt like this, it would be a puzzle why, at any given stage of development
of craft skills, one wasnt swamped with data in experience about all the new things that
one might attend to next. But one is never swamped like that and the reason is because attention is fundamentally incremental in its operation.
As it stands, the claim that attention is fundamentally incremental is an hypothesis.
The role of attention is delimited by a pair of opposing requirements. If what was available to awareness did not exceed what was already available within the compass of those
capacities already mastered, then there would be no input to the learning process. We
would be stuck with the puzzle of how, by doing something you can already do, you thereby learn to do something new. Alternatively, if attention were profligate and able to pick up
just any and everything out with the scope of mastered capacities, then it would be a puzzle
why learning took much time at all and why it seemed to follow well-worn trajectories of
development rather than almost spontaneous bursts of innovation in capacities followed by
a lifetime of relaxation in the thrall of ones accomplishments. The reality is somewhere
between these two and can only be so if attention plays an incremental role. That, in a nutshell, explains the graft of craft: learning takes time and hard work.
6 Pattern-Making
It is important to note that attention is not just a psychological mechanism, a mechanism
for selecting perceptual data for processing. In that sense, lots of animals have an ability for
attention, where that amounts to a selection mechanism answerable to the need to align the
creatures dispositions with those of the environment. A creature with a powerful disposition to feed needs to select those parts of the environment that will satisfy this disposition;
for example, keeping track of its prey. In that sense, attention is the mechanism by which
creatures latch onto regularities in nature and by so doing bring it about that their behavior
acquires regularities that match those in the world around them. So construed, attention is
no more than the mechanism by which the regularities of a creatures behavior are brought

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
99

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

into line with the regularities of the environment. It is the mechanism by which the creatures own teleologically conceived capacities align with the teleology of the world. Construed in that mechanistic manner, attention is important, but it provides no further input to
the alignment. It is the mechanism of alignment, not a producer of alignment, for the production of the alignment of such capacities might be wholly explainable by the appeal to
natural selection. Those creatures that fail in the alignment exercise do not live long enough
to reproduce.
In contrast, the appeal to attention that I am making falls within a different sort of explanatory project the philosophical explanation of how certain things are possible. We
achieve that explanation when we provide a description that reveals how different elements
of our cognitive equipment relate together and by so doing produce distinctive aspects of
our lives in the case at hand, learning. What makes the description explanatory is the way
it highlights key features of our cognitive wherewithal whose role dominates the phenomenon and is revelatory of important truths about ourselves. The key element of the description is the ongoing activity of conscious attention that drives the trajectory from training to
second nature by latching onto more things than are found within the alignment of skills
with the teleology of the environment. Conscious attention is not a mechanism for alignment, it is fundamentally an inquisitiveness, a purposeful latching onto things outwith the
patterns of stable alignment between activity and environment. It is the driver for developing new activities and for searching for and constructing patterns of activity that contribute
to our overarching sense-making. With human subjects, attention is the driver for a sort of
restlessness, an inquisitiveness that gives us the ability to improve and continually enhance
our activities. Whether attention is the resource for this distinctive feature of human cognition or constitutive of this restlessnes, the way it operates is what makes human learning so
distinctive. It is the reason why practice cannot be a primitive, for practice is rarely simply
shared. Once learnt, our practices rarely simply align, if those initiated into practice are
alert to the opportunities to allow practice to deliver more things for attention to latch onto
and thereby find the motor for the development of practice.
In a real sense, the motor for learning and the ongoing development of practices lies in
the equipment that individual learners bring to bear on their training. And once we
acknowledge this facet of the concept of attention we can begin to see why Wittgenstein
could place such emphasis on training as abrichtung and still get something like bildung
out of such meager resources. Wittgenstein only gets away with such a trajectory from bare
S-R conditioning to bildung because he implicitly accepts such a rich constitution of the
learning subject. The subject is equipped with the capacity for attention, the master activity
that binds the others into purposeful wholes. 21 This makes a significant difference to the
way we conceive of practice.

21 In a passage not often remarked on, Wittgenstein explicitly cites attention as the motor for learning, cf.
(1953: 6): An important part of the training will consist in the teachers pointing to the objects, directing the
childs attention to them. Note also, that this is not ostensive definition. It is a more primitive teaching, but it is
one that requires of the pupil that they have the capacity to attend. Attention is not produced by the teachers
pointing, attention is directed by the pointing. The teacher provides a scaffold for the childs attention. They do not
bring it about that they focus, but help them to sharpen their capacity to focus. The role of pointing here is more
akin to that of the parents hand on the rear of the saddle as a device for scaffolding the riders sense of balance,
not producing the sense of balance. For more on the role of attention in the opening of the Investigations cf.
Luntley (2010a). For a contrasting view see Fogelin (2009: 30ff, esp 35). Fogelin accepts that the results of training will be a function of the repertoire of responses available to the trainee, but explicitly limits these, in the human case, to natural and instinctive responses. Fogelins defactoist reading of Wittgenstein then amounts to the
claim that human natural responses are a function of the society they inhabit. But that just begs the question of

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
100

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

I have concentrated on examples of craft skills and sidelined the role that conceptual
understanding plays in such learning. The cases I have used only make sense for subjects
with considerable intentional sophistication and whose conceptual grasp of what they are
doing bears on the learning in all manner of ways. But the bare stripped down model of the
staging of skill acquisition in which attention drives the transition from platform skills to
target skill is a model of sophisticated learning subjects independently of where concepts fit
into the picture. It is a model that has the capacity for creative development written into the
acquisition of manual skills. Learning, even in the simplest cases is more than mimicry. It is
more than aligning behavior with others or aligning behavior with the demands of the environment. Due to the real sense of trajectory from platform to target skill, the learning found
in training regimes is never just S-R conditioning. The learner is bringing their interrogative
and inquisitional capacity for attention to bear on the process. This makes the process more
than the mere repetition of platform skills into second nature. It includes the exploration of
the saliences that such second nature makes available and that bring the target skill into
view. And the process iterates. It is no mere homily then to say that the learner is essentially
a subject who joins-in the games we play in our activities. Wittgensteins emphasis on the
idea of games and the idea that instruction is always an invitation to join in, sits alongside
the harsh regimes of abrichtung. The training is a scaffolding to the invitation to join-in, it
is not the carrot and stick for aligning behavior, for producing conformity with the group. It
is the structure that helps shape the agency of those who join-in and, having joined in, play
their own role in shaping the ongoing forms of practice.
Initiation into practice is not then, for Wittgenstein, a molding into the ways of the
common. It is an open-ended invitation to join-in and take part in the ongoing sustenance
and development of inherited ways of acting. Put very simply, on this way of reading Wittgensteins appeal to practice, what is distinctive about human subjects as opposed to most
other creatures subject to training, is that humans are learners. It is our equipment for learning that marks us out not our shared patterns of activity. In other words, we have culture
because of who and what we are; it is not that we are who we are because we have culture.22
The craft skills on which I have concentrated are often classified as forms of knowhow. It is contentious to what degree such know-how is independent of the conceptually
structured knowing of know-that. I have ignored that issue. 23 But that does not matter, for
whatever you think about know-how, the model of learning that I have outlined enables us
to distinguish between the sort of know-how that could be trained by S-R conditioning
alone and that which demands a contribution from the learning subject howsoever that contribution is infused with concepts. The following type of know-how could be trained by S-R
conditioning. Suppose a subject is trained to do Y by repetition of various cases of doing X
where these platform actions are compiled into a doing Y and where compiling is a sequencing achieved by S-R conditioning. The right compiling is achieved by a reward and
punishment regime that selects out incorrect sequences. Some human learning might be like
that. Most animal training is, I suspect, like that. But most human learning is qualitatively
different. It might involve know-how rather than know-that, but the transition to compile
doing X into doing Y is rarely a function only of external sanctions. That is the Pavlovian
what it is to be responsive to the developed practices of a culture prior to initiation into culture. This would seem
to be a position, like McDowells, in which it is bildung all the way down.
22 Contra Williams, see the essays in Williams (1999a).
23 But see my (2009) for an argument that most examples of human craft know-how can be captured with
conceptually formed know-that.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
101

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

model of training, it is pure abrichtung. Much, if not most, human learning is a function of
those sanctions plus a creative trajectory, for the learning subject is looking for and seeking
out patterns onto which it anchors and about which it forms new activities. The learner is a
pattern-maker, and not just a pattern-follower. These are, of course, the patterns that matter
in making sense of ourselves. They are the patterns for conceptual grasp of what we do, but
the model of skill acquisition I have sketched is distinctively human regardless of the place
that concepts have in its operation. What makes it distinctive is the repertoire with which
the learner approaches training: they make their directions as well as following directions.
The point is there in Wittgenstein. In Investigations 208 he discusses learning of new
concepts. He speaks of getting the learner to follow and to continue patterns. He says,
I do it, he does it after me; and I influence him by expressions of agreement, rejection, expectation, encouragement. I let him go his way, or hold him back; and so on. (208c)

The first sentence might be taken as mere abrichtung, but the idea of letting the pupil go
his own way reveals that the pupil is not merely being conditioned, they start with their own
way of going on. They have a direction and an ability for directing themselves prior to the
sanctions that steer them one way or another. This is why, at the end of this section, Wittgenstein can say, Teaching which is not meant to apply to anything but the examples given
is different from that which points beyond them (208f). The former is the conditioning
of abrichtung; the latter is the teaching applicable to human subjects, those who can see
how examples point beyond. The idea that examples point beyond is one of the hardest
to accept in Wittgensteins discussion of the practice of following rules, but it is perhaps
easier to accept if we also accept the role that attention plays in seeing beyond the second
nature routines of platform activities as we find the purchase for new target skills.
6 back to Dewey
I have sketched a way of developing granularity to the appeal to practice that goes beyond anything Wittgenstein says. The model makes the concept of practice programmatic
rather than primitive. It makes the appeal to practice in Wittgenstein not unlike its role for
the classical pragmatists. But the model goes further than the pragmatists in filling out detail to the concept of practice at the cognitive rather than social level. A significant point of
contact between Dewey and Wittgenstein has already been noted as source materials for the
appeal to attention in the detail of initiation into practice. There are other more general
points of contact too.
Deweys emphasis on context, shaped by selective attention, is what gives his account
of inquiry its distinctively problem-solving characteristic. Inquiry has some of the hallmarks of the craftsmans concrete resolution of problems rather than the search for timeless
abstract propositions. This, of course, has echoes in Wittgensteins own methodology in
which he chisels away at the search for the right formulation that puts words and our understanding in place without the need for abstract structures. But there is, it seems to me, scope
for a much deeper point of contact.
The assimilation of inquiry to the craftsmanship of problem solving has, for Dewey, a
deeply ethical and political character that informs his whole approach to education. Wittgenstein rarely speaks of such matters, but the cognitive detail of the trajectory from training to second nature suggests the possibility of a deep basis for some of Deweys own preoccupations. I have argued that in order to avoid the incoherence of appealing to a brute S-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
102

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

R conditioning model of training, Wittgensteins way out works only because it implicitly
ascribes to the learning subject a basic inquisitiveness and interrogation of context by conscious attention. It is because of this that the learner really is someone who joins-in their
instruction. They are never passive. They are active participants both in executing their trajectory from repetition of platform skills to acquisition of the target skill and in sustaining
the practices of these skills by their going on, their seeing the point of the action that points
beyond the example. It would be hasty to rush to ethical conclusions on this basis, but it is
tempting to think that it would be difficult to make proper sense of the deep-seated activity
of the learner without giving due consideration both to the democratizing tendencies of education and training and the democratizing agenda that enables a proper trajectory from
training to second nature. The conditions for joining-in require not only the appropriate
equipment from the learner, but an appropriate recognition of the learner by others if they
are to realize their opportunities for pattern-making. At this point, the matter is no more
than suggestive, but the deep point of contact between Wittgenstein and Dewey on attention
or selective interest, when construed as part of a programmatic appeal to practice, might
well lead us to find further points of contact in the superstructure of ideas that, for Dewey,
bound issues of education to democratic ideals.
References
Campbell, J., (2002), Reference and Consciousness, Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Dewey, J. (1981-2008), The Later Works 1925-1953 (17 volumes), Carbondale, Southern
Illinois University Press.
Fodor, J. and Lepore, E. (2007), Brandom Beleaguered Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LXXIV.
Fogelin, R. J. (2009), Taking Wittgenstein at his Word, Princeton, Princeton
University Press.
Forman, D. (2008), Autonomy as Second Nature: On McDowells Aristotelian
Naturalism Inquiry, 51 (6).
Ginsborg, H. (2011), Primitive Normativity and Scepticism about Rules, Journal of
Philosophy, CVIII (5).
Huemer, W. (2006), The transition from causes to norms: Wittgenstein on training,
Grazer Philosophiche Studien, 71.
Luntley, M. (2008), Training and Learning, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 40
(5).
Luntley, M. (2009), Understanding Expertise, Journal of Applied Philosophy, 26 (4).
Luntley, M. (2010a), Whats doing? Activity, Naming and Wittgensteins Response to
Augustine, in Wittgensteins Philosophical Investigations: A Critical Guide, A. Ahmed
(ed.), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Luntley, M. (2010b), Expectations Without Content, Mind and Language, 25 (2).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
103

MICHAEL LUNTLEY

TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

Luntley, M., (in preparation), Investigating With Wittgenstein.


McDowell, J. (1994), Mind and World, Cambridge, Harvard University
Press.
Peirce, C.S., (1992-1999), The Essential Peirce, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.
Sennett, R. (2008), The Craftsman, London, Allen Lane.
Smith, N.H., ed. (2002), Reading McDowell on Mind and World, London & New
York, Routledge.
Stickney, J. (2008), Training and Mastery of Techniques in Wittgensteins later
Philosophy, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 40 (5).
Williams, M. (1984), Language learning and the representational theory of mind, Synthese 58 (2), reprinted in Williams (1999a).
Williams, M. (1999a), Wittgenstein, Mind and Meaning: towards a social conception of
mind, London & New York, Routledge,
Williams, M. (1999b), On the significance of learning in the later Wittgenstein in Williams (1999a).
Wittgenstein, L. (1953), Philosophical Investigations, Revised 4th, Hacker, P.M.S., &
& Schulte J., eds., 2009, Oxford, Blackwell.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
104

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Jrg Volbers *

Wittgenstein, Dewey, and the Practical Foundation of Knowledge

Abstract. Even though both Dewey and Wittgenstein have been rightly classified as both
being pragmatist thinkers in a broad sense, they stand in stark contrast with respect to
their writing style and their general attitude towards the future of western civilization.
This article reflects these differences and traces them back to their diverging conceptions
of knowledge. Dewey criticizes the philosophical tradition for erecting an artificial barrier
between theory and practice, but he retains the traditional high esteem for knowledge by
re-describing it as practical inquiry. Consequently, all practically acquired beliefs and certainties are either justified or a potential subject-matter for further inquiries. Wittgenstein,
on the other hand, shows the limitation of the very idea of knowledge by pointing to the
knowing subjects fragile relation to its own lived practices. He claims that there are practically acquired beliefs and certainties which are out of reach for the inquiring subject.
Thus, the seemingly superficial divergence in style and method shows to be grounded in
far-reaching philosophical differences.

In our time, when classical philosophy of language has long lost its sovereign position
in the philosophical field, it is no longer surprising nor unusual to classify Wittgenstein (his
later works) and Dewey as both belonging to the same family of pragmatists, understood in
a broad sense.1 They both express a common position which can be roughly defined as
claiming the primacy of practice. They argue that certain subjects of philosophical discussion, such as meaning, logical necessity, intentionality and understanding, have to be understood as primarily rooted, or anchored, in our practical sayings and doings. If we want to
improve our understanding of what we actually do and believe, we have to look at practice.
Given this background, it is nonetheless surprising how different in form and outlook
their philosophies are. The differences in style immediately catch one's eye. Wittgenstein's
writings have often been credited with a highly poetical quality. His thinking is divided into
short, sometimes aphoristic paragraphs; he uses questions, elliptical remarks, and dialogue;
he employs images and similes; he does not quote nor discuss opposing theories explicitly.
Dewey, for his part, is much more professional in this respect. He wrote books, treatises
and short essays in which he continuously developed his central themes and presented them
in a (more or less) systematic manner. He suggested answers to classical philosophical
problems and argued against dissenting theories. The poetic ring of mysticism and aphorism is rather alien to his literary style. Russell Goodman gives us an accurate picture of the
experience of reading Dewey: Dewey, I always feel, talks at, rather than to, or with, his
readers (Goodman 2002: 165). It is exactly the impression of being spoken to that distinguishes Wittgenstein's writing when it is at its best. He draws the reader into his thought,
which, by the way, can also be rather disorienting.

* FU Berlin [jvolbers@zedat.fu-berlin.de]
1 Brandom's family picture includes Kant, Peirce, James, Dewey, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Quine, Sellars,
Davidson and Rorty and of course, himself. (Brandom 2003: 40)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
105

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

These differences in style correspond to a rather fundamental divergence in their principal outlook. Dewey was, like the pragmatist movement in general, keenly optimistic about
the possibility of making the world a better place. He advocated the power of reflection and
praised the progress of experimental science as a paradigm for reflective thinking, inquiry,
in general. Wittgenstein was a cultural pessimist. He also saw our civilization as characterized by progress, but he expressed deep mistrust about the idea. The Philosophical Investigations begins with a quotation from Nestroy: Progress always appears much greater
than it actually is. Even though one might argue about whether Wittgenstein's thinking is
inherently conservative,2 it is surely, as von Wright put it, anything but 'prophetic'. It has
no vision of the future; rather it has a touch of nostalgia about the past (Von Wright 1982:
115).
How should we judge these differences in style and outlook? It would be superficial to
simply dismiss them, especially if one adopts a pragmatic way of thinking. If the primacy
of practice has any value, then it is to remind us that the way we do things is not secondary
to the things done. But then, of course, it would be equally superficial just to take these first
impressions at face value. My thesis is that they point to a more substantial difference, one
which concerns the very core of their philosophies. Even though both are concerned with
the primacy of practice, they have quite a different understanding of what this appeal to
practice, in the end, amounts to. So the difference I am aiming at actually concerns the very
idea of philosophy itself, as both pragmatists in the broad sense understand it. What does
it mean to look at the language-games, as Wittgenstein urges us? Why should we put our
trust in experience and action, as Dewey invites us?
These methodological questions can be reformulated in a way that allows us to treat
them more directly. The problem is: What is it that we expect from philosophy, what do we
want to learn from engaging in it? What knowledge, or what kind of knowledge, does philosophy provide? In particular: What kind of knowledge does the appeal to practice provide? The topic of knowledge is omnipresent in both philosophers' writings. Their being
classified as belonging to one broad family of pragmatists owes a great deal to the fact that
they develop quite parallel views of what knowledge is, and what it cannot be. Here is the
short story: Both Wittgenstein and Dewey criticize the traditional philosophical idea that
knowledge is a distinctively mental phenomenon, something residing in a subject which is
categorically divided from the world it is acting upon, the object. The world is not something which is viewed from the outside, as it were. Instead of indulging in the futile spectator theory of knowledge, they instead put the emphasis on the necessary connection between knowledge, on the one side, and skills, habits, or capacities on the other. Wittgenstein writes: Knowledge is an ability; 3 Dewey follows the pragmatist tradition in arguing
that knowledge is primarily embodied in flexible habits. It is practice which comes first, be
it in the form of habits, skills, language-games or (as Dewey likes to call it) conjoint behaviour. What we experience is a product of this practical involvement, not the other way
around. No surprise then that pragmatism (in the broad sense) has been claimed to be right
in the line of Kantian transcendental philosophy, albeit with a realist leaning (Pihlstrm
2004).
Seen from this perspective, Wittgenstein's pessimism as well as Dewey's optimism
regarding progress can be seen as expressing a different attitude toward this practically embedded knowledge. Stanley Cavell had a good eye for that. What is missing in pragmatism,
2 Cora Diamond, for example, exclaims that calling Wittgenstein's philosophy inherently conservative is just
nutty (Diamond 1991: 34).
3 Wissen ist ein Knnen (MS 164 from the Bergen Edition (2000), dated 1941).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
106

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

he wrote, is a sensitivity for the depth of the human restiveness (Cavell 2004: 3). Varying
upon a theme that he has more systematically exposed in the first part of his Claim of Reason, Cavell uses the subject of knowledge in order to demonstrate what he means by this.
What singles out Wittgenstein as an opponent of pragmatism, Cavell claims, is the former's
attitude toward knowledge. Cavell describes it as a disappointment, one which is akin to
to skepticism, but yet substantially different:
Wittgenstein's disappointment with knowledge is not that it fails to be better than it is (for example immune to skeptical doubt), but rather that it fails to make us better than we are, provide us with peace. (Cavell 2004: 3)

Two conclusions can be drawn from this statement. Its first is that pragmatism upholds
the belief in knowledge; it hopes that knowledge can make us better than we are. Conversely, Cavell holds that Wittgenstein sees a limit to the capacity of knowledge, limits
which affect his philosophy as a whole. These two conclusions do not only align with the
differences in philosophical outlook with which this paper began Dewey putting his trust
in science and progress, Wittgenstein mistrusting it deeply. It will also explain, I believe,
their differences in style and finally in method. Thus, the pragmatic conception of
knowledge which is shared by both authors that knowledge is somehow constituted
through practice, or embedded in it turns out to be the pivotal point from which to assess
their respective differences.
I will begin, then, by elaborating Dewey's understanding of knowledge and practice, always keeping an eye on the question concerning the implications it has for the role of philosophy (Cavell's making us better than we are). I will then turn to Wittgenstein and try to
show how his latest remarks, collected in On Certainty (1968), support Cavell's judgment.
In these remarks Wittgenstein introduces a distinction which is foreign to Dewey, namely,
that we might well have practically upheld certainties which do not correspond to
knowledge, that is, that neither express it nor stand in an instrumental relation to it. These
certainties point to other ways we are related to the world and to others. I will call this
Wittgenstein's discovery of the essentially social dimension of practice. For him, our practical standing in the world is not primary upheld by practically acquired certainties, but by
the dynamic net of responses, expectations and disappointments in which we are embedded.
Knowledge and inquiry, from this point of view, lose their sovereign position as the most
serious game in the town.
Dewey's inquiry into inquiry
Does it make any sense to say that for Dewey knowledge makes us better than we are,
as Cavell's statement implies? Dewey's characterizations of knowledge and knowing are
ambiguous in that respect. There is, for one, his straight rejection of a philosophical tradition which conceives of knowledge in terms that are all too high and too theoretical. Following the well-trodden path of religion, philosophy had detached theoretical activities
from practice, placing itself firmly on the side of theory. It took thinking to be a contemplative art, theoria in the Greek sense, dealing with a realm of higher Being (Dewey 1988:
11). Knowledge, then, is thought of as being something immutable, something which ideally does not change and thus provides us with insights into reality as it is. Knowing, in the
traditional sense, as Dewey reconstructs and criticizes it, can thus serve a fundamental
need: It provides a means to fulfil the human, all-too-human, Quest for Certainty by giv-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
107

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

ing the knower access to something which holds fast. It establishes a certainty which is beyond all doubt. The doctrine of pure knowing thus forms an essential part of the tradition
Dewey criticizes: Quest for complete certainty can be fulfilled in pure knowing alone.
Such is the verdict of our most enduring philosophic tradition (Dewey 1988: 7).
Dewey's criticism of this traditional conception of knowledge is a fine example of dialectical reasoning. He does not argue directly against the Quest for Certainty, but rather
tries to show that it fails on its own terms. The knowledge it seeks, Dewey claims, cannot
be had because we cannot rid ourselves of uncertainty. Uncertainty is the distinctive characteristic of practical activityOf it we are compelled to say: Act, but act at your own peril. Judgment and belief regarding actions to be performed can never attain more then precarious probability (Dewey 1988: 5). This is not a direct refutation of the traditional claim,
since it leaves intact the possibility that we shift the grounds. A defender of the tradition
might argue that we have to concentrate on theoretical knowledge precisely because Dewey's characterization of practical activity is correct. Dewey's task, then, is to point out that
this conclusion rests on an untenable dualistic separation of these two realms of theory
and practice. One important argument to that purpose is Dewey's historical claim that this
separation reflects a mere cultural prejudice. The high esteem of theory conforms to the
values of a social elite which devalues and depreciates the activities of those lower classes on which it depends (Dewey 1988: 21-39). If we drop that prejudice, we will see that
the separation between knowledge and action has no real grounds theory is also an activity.
Having reached this point, one might conclude that Dewey invites his readers to completely dismiss the traditional estimation of knowledge. Being on a par, both theory and
practice have to rely on a disloyal practical activity. Does this not imply that the inherent
uncertainty of practice also extends to theoretical activities? Here the ambiguity of Dewey's
position becomes visible. He rejects the traditional praise of pure knowing, but he still
holds knowledge in high esteem. What has changed is the ground upon which we assert the
value of knowledge. For Dewey, the destruction of the traditional barrier between
knowledge and action frees our minds for a better (or more justified) appraisal of
knowledge's real value. It helps us to see that we do, as a matter of fact, possess quite numerous certainties. There is knowledge; but it cannot be found where philosophy has
looked for it. It is embodied in those impure and ordinary works of artisanry which have
been ignored by the tradition. 4 As opposed to philosophers, these practitioners do not waste
their time with framing a general theory of reality, knowledge and value once for all, but
are rather occupied with finding how authentic beliefs about existence as they currently
exists can operate fruitfully and efficaciously (Dewey 1988: 36). These men and women
just act, and in acting, they devise tools, understanding and values. 5
It is a misunderstanding to believe that Dewey's philosophy glorifies science. Science,
for Dewey, is important because it best exemplifies the general pattern exhibited by these
practical activities. The tremendous success of science is not based on its superior mode of
reflection or ratiocination in the way traditional philosophy understands it, but rather on its
picking up the impure methods and practical inclinations of artisanry. 6 Experimental sci4 Cf. in addition to the following also Ch. 4 of Dewey's Experience and Nature (Dewey 1981: 100-131).
5 Garrison (1995) accordingly sees the experience of working as the key to understand Dewey and profitably compares this idea with the early works of Hegel.
6 This thesis has also been defended by Hans Blumenberg (1983), who argues that scientific progress is exactly due to the abandonment of speculative reflection. A more contemporary elobaration of the philosophical implactions of this idea can be found in Allen (2004).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
108

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

ence embodies the actual procedures of knowledge (Dewey 1988: 38) and thus form the
model of what Dewey considers to be the one and only way to gain knowledge in the face
of the uncertainties of practice. This pattern, as it is well known, is called inquiry.
I have taken the trouble to establish such a well-known key-concept of Dewey's philosophy in order to show how utterly realistic his understanding of knowledge is. This is not
intended to mean that he has found the right thing, but rather that his trust in the power of
inquiry is firmly based on facts (or so he claims). Dewey's method aims at confronting
philosophical presumptions with what he considers to be a more realistic picture of what we
do. If the topic in question is knowledge, we have to go and look at the actual procedures in
which knowledge is gained. Instead of defining knowledge beforehand and then looking for
its manifestations, we will rather gain a better understanding of what we are actually looking for by first looking at the practices in which knowledge is operative. The fundamental
advantage of framing our account of the organs and processes of knowing on the pattern of
what occurs in experimental inquiry is that nothing is introduced save what is objective and
is accessible to examination and report (Dewey 1988: 183).
This whole procedure bears a close resemblance to Wittgenstein. Dewey would have
agreed upon statements like the following, which can be found in the Philosophical Investigations: For our forms of expression prevent us in all sorts of ways from seeing that nothing out of the ordinary is involved, by sending us in pursuit of chimeras (Wittgenstein
1969: sec. 94). Knowledge, we could say, is nothing out of the ordinary, it is there, and the
traditional mistake is to assume that knowledge must have a specifally pure form. Rather,
it is the ordinary use embodied in actual practice which shows us how the phenomenon
in question is really to be taken. I take this to be the gist of what Dewey calls his denotative or empirical method. In adopting for a realistic attitude, we are not to begin with the
results of reflection (Dewey 1981: 19), but rather look at how reflection is done.
But there is a certain twist to Dewey's approach which, as we will see, sets him apart
from Wittgenstein. Knowledge, for Dewey, is not just some conception among others to
which we can turn. To a pragmatist's ear, Cavell's contention that knowledge makes us better than we are must sound like a tautology. For Dewey, such a claim comes close to a definition of what knowledge can sensibly be. Inquiry is always an attempt to improve our situation and eventually our place in the world: Anything that may be called knowledge, or a
known object, marks a question answered, a difficulty disposed of, a confusion cleared up,
an inconsistency reduced to coherence, a perplexity mastered (Dewey 1988: 181).
Two aspects are important here. For one, Dewey's understanding of inquiry has the effect of insulating the uncertainties immanent to practice. Doubt is, as it were, only possible
locally; it arises in the form of problems within the confines of the objective situation (as
Dewey calls it). Following Peirce, Dewey's general pattern of inquiry assumes that we act
with full certainty, and it is the goal of inquiry to regain this capacity. The second point is
that inquiry, as Dewey understands it, is always a response to an objectively problematic
situation. Inquiry is not an idle, isolated activity. It is an essential part in our struggle to
cope with all the uncertainties that permeate our practical activities. We are obliged to inquire.
The ubiquity of inquiry is obvious for those pre-intellectual, more or less subconscious
forms of reflective inquiry that are at work in our continuous bodily interaction with the environment. But Dewey expands this pattern to include those elaborated practices by which
we consciously try to solve problems. To be sure, there is a decisive difference between
these two poles of inquiry: intellectual inquiry is dependent on the use of language, broadly
understood as the capacity to use signs which embody meaning. It allows the inquiring sub-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
109

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

ject to relate the currently experienced traits of the situation to past and future ones; it introduces rational discourse and the capacity to form distinctive ideas about what to expect
and what to do. But that modification, though it introduces a significant qualitative change,
is according to Dewey but an extension of the original organic disposition towards reflective interaction with the environment. 7
This short synopsis shows that knowledge, for Dewey, is something we cannot not
have. Inquiry is hardwired into our biological and cultural pattern of life; it is the principal
instrument of survival. It is the origin of all the certainties we have at our disposal. If there
is some stability and knowledge in a world that condemns us to act at our own peril, it is the
result of the inquiries which permeate our organic life and which define our current place in
history.
As we have seen, the methodological justification for this view is the idea that in inquiring into inquiry, we are de facto just looking at what we really do. What is curious,
though, is that the result of this operation echoes the very idea from which it critically parted: The quest for certainty, Dewey writes, is a quest for a peace which is assured, an object which is unqualified by risk and the shadow of fear which action casts (LW4: 7). In
the context of this passage, it becomes clear that Dewey rejects this quest, belonging to the
faulty doctrine of pure knowing. But what does Dewey's philosophy offer us, if not a new
reason to find peace again? For the tradition, the quest for peace has been directed towards
the objects of knowledge. For Dewey, reassurance can be found in the truth of inquiry.
Pure knowledge proves to be a quasi-religious dogma, but knowledge in the pragmatic
sense is everywhere. In submitting all knowledge to situational inquiry, Dewey creates a
stable frame wherein the content of inquiry might change, but in its very form it remains
stable.
We have seen that Dewey's attitude towards knowledge and peace has two sides. His
whole philosophical outlook is based on the idea that every practical activity is threatened
by uncertainty; we live in an instable world in which we cannot attain the kind of
knowledge the tradition has looked for. But at the same time, this very contingency also
forms our capacity to reflect. (But where danger is / Deliverance also grows, Hlderlin
would remark.) Inquiry itself is not a contingent practice, but the very pattern by which life
upholds itself. Inquiry and contingency are two sides of the same coin. In the end, our
knowledge is as certain as anything can be in this precarious world. If we accept the world's
contingencies (by turning our back to the false demands of an elitist tradition), we can again
gain the peace philosophy has always been looking for.
Wittgenstein's remarks on certainty
For Dewey, knowledge indeed does make us better and also provides us with some
(non-traditional) form of peace. Now it is time to investigate Wittgenstein's attitude towards
knowledge and certainty. We set out with Cavell's claim that Wittgenstein, as opposed to
pragmatists such as Dewey, was disappointed with the delivering potential of knowledge.
This subject has been extensively treated by Cavell under the heading of skepticism. For
Cavell, Wittgenstein is not a skeptic in the classical epistemological sense. He rather articulates the truth of skepticism, which is, according to Cavell, that our relation to the world
as a whole, or to others in general, is not one of knowing, where knowing construes itself as
being certain (Cavell 1979: 45).
7 Cf. Dewey 2008: 48-65.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
110

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

The way Cavell reads Wittgenstein, an interesting contrast with Dewey's position
emerges. Both Wittgenstein and Dewey seem to be occupied with the problem of certainty
and its relation to knowledge, and both can be seen as acknowledging a certain truth to
skepticism.8 Of course, neither Dewey nor Wittgenstein are straightforward skeptics. 9 But
Dewey's whole philosophy is based on the assumption that uncertainty is irrefutable, and
the presence of an encompassing state of doubt is Dewey's definition of the beginning of
inquiry (Dewey calls it the indeterminate situation, cf. Dewey 2008: 109-111). So we
might say that Dewey transforms skepticism, tames it, as it were.
In order to see how Wittgenstein treats the topic of certainty, and how it contrasts with
Dewey, let us now turn to the collection of remarks which bears it in the title. On Certainty
is not a book which Cavell has discussed extensively, but I believe it can well illustrate the
very point Cavell or Wittgenstein is up to. There has been quite some discussion about
the right way to read On Certainty, and it has been argued that this last book represents a
new phase in his thinking, called the third Wittgenstein.10 I will concentrate here on one
point that particularly attracts attention: Wittgenstein's style of argumentation is reminiscent
of transcendental philosophy, since he is investigating the necessary conditions of the possibility of meaning and experience. For Sami Pihlstm, these last writings show that Wittgenstein, too, can be rightly called a pragmatist. Their common position is that it is only
against the background of our human form(s) of life, of our habit of doing various things
together in a common environment, that meaning and that learning is possible. (Pihlstrm
2004: 298)
Of course, this kind of transcendental inquiry differs greatly from the classical Kantian
approach. Wittgenstein is not inquiring into reason, but rather looks at our practical involvement as the framework, or the transcendental ground, which constitutes our thinking. Pihlstrm introduces the nice expression certainty-in-action in order to illustrate this
genuine practical dimension. Wittgenstein argues that language-games are grounded in our
practical actions, in certainties which we do not doubt in deed (Wittgenstein 1969: sec.
342). He likens these primitive reactions to the act of taking hold of a towel (Wittgenstein
1969: sec. 510). In the beginning, we just do act in a certain way, and this is the condition
for any subsequent linguistic refinement and normative assessment.
One particular subject where this transcendental argument comes to the fore is the practice of learning, which plays a central role in Wittgenstein's reflections. 11 In order to learn at
all how to normatively assess an utterance, to give it sense, we first have to learn to participate in the corresponding practice. This entry into the language game, though, is not itself
rationally structured. It begins with imitation and obedience. The student (the novice, the
learner) first has to take for granted what the teacher tells her. The schoolboy believes his
teachers and schoolbooks (Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 263). This is a logical condition. Without such an ur-trust (as Moyal-Sharrock calls it), there is no way to acquire the competencies which define a language-game.12 These competencies go beyond simple conditioning. They include forming an understanding of the point of the game, a shaping of interest,

8 Terry Pinkard (1999) argues that in fact all philosophy of the 20th century, analytic, post-analytic as well as
continental, has been driven by modern experience of skepticism.
9 John McDowell (1984) shows that Kripke's reading of Wittgenstein as a skeptic must fail.
10 For an overview of the different views on On Certainty, cf. Moyal-Sharrock and Brenner 2007. For a discussion of the third Wittgenstein, cf. Moyal-Sharrock 2004b.
11 As Meredith Williams (1999) has argued, the topic of learning is essential both to understanding the Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty.
12 Cf. Moyal-Sharrock 2004a, 97.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
111

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

and minimally a perception of the salient properties which mark the actions and items of the
language-game.
In the case of learning, we have a forceful illustration of how our 'relation to the world
and to others, as Cavell formulates it, is not one of knowing. Training in the sense discussed here may include explanation, but firmly rests on non-epistemic factors such as bodily exercises, authority, trust, love, power, and of course the black box of the individual
(its talent, its wit, its capacity to understand what the teacher is trying to convey). We also
have a good illustration of Wittgenstein's peculiar version of transcendentalism: If sense
and meaning depend upon (among other things) training, the acquired certainty-in-action
(Pihlstrm 2004: 299) indeed constitutes a background which is both necessary for understanding, and yet non-epistemic.
For this reason, Pihlstrm feels justified, as it has been remarked above, to include
Wittgenstein on the list of those pragmatized versions of transcendentalism which examine the conditions for the possibility of some given actuality 'from within' the sphere (of
experience, of meaning) constrained and limited by those conditions (Pihlstrm 2004:
293). And the similarities to Dewey's empirical method, which is looking at the ways we
do in fact gain knowledge, cannot be denied. But there is an important difference which
Pihlstrm ignores. In his argumentation, he continuously employs the first person in plural
form. It is we who investigate the (practical) limits of sense, and the conditions revealed
are ours, as are the practices. The inclusive we is a common stylistic element in all attempts to offer a full-fledged transcendental reading of Wittgenstein, and it characterizes
Dewey's style as well. But this position, in which the author assumes to be fully representative of the practice, misses Wittgenstein's insistent struggle to place the self, or the I, within this we. I take that to be Cavell's major discovery, which can be also identified in On
Certainty. There we find numerous references to the problem how we, as individuals, become a part of the practice, and to what bars us from such a participation, respectively. As
such, the topic of an irreducible tension between the practice and the subject who participates in the practice is introduced.
The prominent role of learning in Wittgenstein's remarks already illustrates this point.
We have to learn in order to participate. That this process of learning is not an automatism
upon which we can always rely like a machine is something which occupies Wittgenstein's reflections in the Philosophical Investigations (1967: sec. 208). A transcendentalist
reading, like McDowell's (1984), would now point to the fact that we do in fact learn and
convey meanings, and that accordingly any philosophical skepticism is just out of place.
But this observation only captures one dimension of the normativity of practices: its objectivity. The subjective dimension shows up when Wittgenstein discusses, for example, those
fundamental and often irreconcilable clashes of understanding where each party calls the
other a fool or heretic (cf. Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 239, 611). On Certainty is not just interested in our certainties, but also explores their limitations. It confronts the reader with
strange tribes, improbable evidence (like discovering sawdust in a head, sec. 211), men
from Mars (sec. 430), mental disturbances (sec. 71), illusions (sec. 19), drugs (sec. 676) and
straight out madness (sec. 355, 281, 674).
Here we touch on an important point. If it is true that any substantial doubt already presupposes a functioning language-game in which it can be judged, what then is the opposite
of certainty? It is true that we agree, often, in language; this practical agreement is, as Wittgenstein had already remarked in the Investigations, fundamental for our capacity to understand each other. (Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 241) In these limit-cases of sense just quoted,
this precondition of sense collapses. Considering that agreement forms a logical condition

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
112

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

for the possibility of meaning, its lack cannot be stated in logically valid terms. It is not a
simple contradiction.13
Doubt, as the contradictory of certainty, is something we can resolve by transforming it
into a problem. This is Dewey's suggestion, the initial step of inquiry. But Dewey also emphasizes that in itself, doubt is too indeterminate to guide action. It is necessary to give it a
definite form by qualifying it. (cf. Dewey 2008: 111f.) The cases Wittgenstein discusses in
On Certainty refuse such a determination. The lack of agreement cannot be qualified in an
objective way since it implies a revision, as Wittgenstein writes, which would amount to
an annihilation of all criteria14 (Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 492).
In that sense, the opposite of certainty is not plain doubt, but that irritating sense of being wrong which is more rightly associated with the onset of madness. On several occasions, Wittgenstein discusses the case that something which constitutes the ineliminable
background of our understanding might be contradicted by everybody. (cf. Wittgenstein
1969: sec. 614) Madness is looming there, since we cannot imagine how a world looks like
in which these certainties are wrong. Wittgenstein emphasizes that this madness cannot be
rejected by just pointing to the practice, since the certainty in question is essentially subjective:
I, L.W., believe, am sure, that my friend hasn't sawdust in his body or in his head, even
though I have no direct evidence of my senses to the contrary. I am sure, by reason of what
has been said to me, of what I have read, and of my experience. To have doubts about it
would seem to me madness - of course, this is also in agreement with other people; but I agree
with them. (Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 281)

Note that the cases of uncertainty Wittgenstein discusses are mostly not the philosopher's doubts. His favourite examples are children, madmen, historically shifting understandings or just strange confrontations with people whose convictions threaten our certainties. These examples suggest that our life does not only consist of certainties, but also of
that irritating evidence which challenges our self-understanding. Things like this happen,
and they lead quite naturally in deed, as Wittgenstein would say to these seemingly nonsensical questions of how we, as individual subjects, can hold fast to the certainties that
permeate our life.
Contrary to what the transcendental reading suggests, Wittgenstein is not assuring us
that, in face of these doubts, we do know what is right, and what is not. He rather probes
our attitude towards certainty, traces it back to its origins (in learning), its conditions (social
and natural), expressions and variations. A teacher might cut off a young student's doubt
with the harsh remark to stop interrupting, since his doubts do not yet make any sense.
(Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 310) The grown-up philosopher, though, is not in the position of a
novice. James Conant's reading (1998) that any skeptic or realist who tries either to prove
the external world or to refute it, is uttering plain nonsense, devoid of any meaning, is not
Wittgenstein's position. Wittgenstein is not assuming the teacher's position towards his fellow philosophers. Even though he clearly sees that Moore's attempt to prove the external
world by raising his hands is nonsense, he does not content himself with that observation.
13 Cf. Wittgenstein 1983: sec. VI-49.
14 Anscombe translates the German original Mastbe with yardsticks; I amended the translation since
Wittgenstein is talking here of criteria in general. This being said, the yardstick is Wittgenstein's favorite metaphor
for these kind of judgments which are immune to doubt because they constitute the way we assess normative contrasts. (Williams 1999).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
113

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

He admits that these are attempts to express something which cannot be expressed like
that and thus require an investigation in order to identify where the claim went wrong
(Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 37; cf. sec. 76). The philosopher's nonsense has some sense, expresses something, even though it cannot be easily captured.
What emerges is a picture of a subject I, L.W. which struggles with the certainty to
which it finds itself bound from a logical point of view. 15 This is what I mean by subjective dimension of certainty. Wittgenstein is neither a skeptic nor is he assuming a plain
transcendental position. The practically constituted certainties belong to the scaffolding of
our thoughts (Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 211), but it is a certainty in which we do trust, not
something in which we can trust. (cf. Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 509) The certainty which
forms a condition of all thought is not a solid ground; it can be questioned, and this questioning if it is more than an academic exercise requires an investigation which assumes
the form of an exploration. This observation helps to understand Wittgenstein's particular
style of writing. Since our certainties are implied in our very subjectivity, putting forth arguments cannot do all the work. We have to try to show the other how we think they should
think. And we should not believe that our own position is immune to doubts and misunderstandings, since the way we have learned the rules is itself dependent on an indeterminate
(Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 28) practice: Not only rules, but also examples are needed for establishing a practice. Our rules leave loop-holes open, and the practice has to speak for itself (Wittgenstein 1969: sec. 139).
In this section, we have seen in what sense the skeptic is disappointed by knowledge.
Wittgenstein is rejecting the common identification of knowledge with certainty, giving the
latter priority. We might be certain that things are so and so, but this is not a knowledge to
which we can appeal in the face of the irritating counter-evidence which Wittgenstein discusses. So there remains a gap between mind and world, a gap which does not call for more
knowledge, but to a critical investigation of the place such knowledge plays in our life.
These kind of inquiries assume a completely different form than in the work of Dewey.
Since the foundation of our practices is non-epistemic, we have to resort to non-epistemic
means in order to clarify what it is we wanted to say, what troubles us, or how to counter
the irritating evidence which threatens our very subjectivity. There is no definite form to
these kinds of investigations; they should be rather thought of as constituting our intellectual life devices such as conversation, analysis, comparison, exposure to new, strange or
irritating experiences. The important point is that they cannot be thought of as simply enriching or correcting our present knowledge, but rather as ways to change the way we look
at things, at ourselves and at others. They are, as I would like to put it, practices of the
transformation of the self. Philosophy is one of these practices it is, as Wittgenstein claims
in Culture and Value, a work on oneself. 16
Varieties of practice
Our comparison of Dewey and Wittgenstein's respective understandings of practice has
revealed deep differences. For Dewey, practice, though inherently uncertain, also constitutes the certain ground to which we should turn if we seek in the light of the irrefutable
15 One might say: I know expresses comfortable certainty, not the certainty that is still struggling (Wittgenstein 1969: 357).
16 Wittgenstein 1980: sec. 16e. I develop this position more fully in my Selbsterkenntnis und Lebensform
(2009) which argues that Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy is assuming the traditional form of a spiritual
exercise, as Pierre Hadot calls it, and I extend this conception with Foucault's notion of a practice of the self.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
114

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

contingency some orientation. This idea condenses in Dewey's conception of inquiry. The
general pattern of inquiry is not just a practice, but also represents the very form of our coping with the world; its form remains identical, whether inquiry is performed collectively or
individually. In this way, Dewey can argue that we should put all our trust into inquiry and
its power to transform our experiences. The argument is transcendental: we cannot not inquire, so to inquiry we should turn in order to re-adjust our self-understanding.17
Wittgenstein, on the other hand, is offering two arguments against this rationalization of
practice. He shows that our practical capacity to judge the basis of inquiry is itself
grounded in non-rational relations (an ungrounded way of acting, Wittgenstein 1969 sec.
110). Practices such as teaching assume non-epistemic means by which the subject, as Meredith Williams (2000) calls it, is calibrated in order to acquire the normative contrast
without which no sense is made. This includes behavioural conditioning, but extends to
such non-epistemic influences such as trust, acknowledgment, and the whole range of
means by which human beings govern each other.
In a sense, this argument picks up a similar point as Dewey. Dewey's naturalistic pragmatism points to the integrated unity of organism and environment, inferring that any reflection upon reflection has to take into account that this unity is the factual starting point,
the transcendental basis, from which any further act of differentiation has to proceed. For
Wittgenstein, this integrated unity is better represented in the practice of learning. In
learning, the individual assumes the norms, rules and views of the practice into which it
is initiated. It is integrated in the environment of practice. But contrary to Dewey, Wittgenstein does not believe that this logical unity holds fast over time. He allows for disturbances and overlapping claims, for irritating evidence and unforeseen individual confrontations. So Wittgenstein's second argument is that our initially acquired practical certainty,
though in sense a transcendental condition of thought, can turn out to be wrong in the
sense of going mad described above. Note the strict logical form this argument assumes:
Our knowledge which is embedded in our practically acquired certainties cannot be used to
prove or refute our relation to the world (and to others) precisely because our certainty does
not reflect a prior state of the world, but rather constitutes the transcendental ground of
sense and meaning.
This difference between Wittgenstein and Dewey boils down, I believe, to a diverging
assessment of the sociality of practice. For Wittgenstein, practice is an essentially social
form. This is why learning, as being something which requires someone else representing
the constitutive norms of the practice, plays such a pivotal role. Belonging to a practice
does not just mean to be involved in an activity, but also to be exposed to the judgments
and expectations of the others. This dependency also implies a certain vulnerability, to
which Wittgenstein was quite sensitive. After learning is done, this dependency does not
disappear. It creates new problems which Wittgenstein discusses, for example, in On Certainty when everybody else openly contradicts you. Thus, the tension between the subjective position and the objective demands of the practice emerges, a tension which cannot be
dissolved, but has to be explored.

17 Dewey's thinking here is Hegelian in form and spirit. The following quote, for example, echoes the Hegelian idea that we are not just contingent byproducts of nature, but rather embody a necessary dialectical step in the
continous process in which the absolute (or nature) tries to overcome its self-alienation through the means of selfknowledge: In modern science, learning is finding out what nobody has previously known. It is a transaction in
which nature is teacher, and in which the teacher comes to knowledge and truth only through the learning of the
inquiring student (Dewey 1981: 122).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
115

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

For Dewey, the paradigm of practical activity is the individual (or organic) habit. Sociality is introduced as a new environment, thus retaining the general ecological logic of interaction between organism and environment. 18 Language, or communication, is defined as
the collective use of signs in order to attain shared experiences. Dewey describes meaning
as a community of partaking (Dewey 1981: 146), caused by the joint use of symbols.
Disagreement, accordingly, is just a failure of coordination and does not form a substantial
threat to meaning and understanding. It is at this point that the contrast to Wittgenstein
stands out most clearly. Both agree that language presupposes agreement in order to function. But for Wittgenstein, this is a logical insight, which consequently allows for the possibility of a mismatch between our inculcated subjective logical certainties and their objective practical realisation. For Dewey, this agreement is an objective presupposition, the failure of which causes confusion and weakens our intellectual powers, but does not weaken
the general conviction that our practice is, as it is, a secure foundation of all thinking.
References
Allen, B. (2004), Knowledge and civilization, Boulder, Westview Press.
Blumenberg, H. (1983), The legitimacy of the modern age, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.
Brandom, R. (2003), Pragmatics and Pragmatisms, in Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and
Realism, J. Conant and U. Szeglen (eds.), London, Routledge.
Cavell, S. (1979), The Claim of Reason, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Cavell, S. (2004), Cities of Words. Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life,
Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.
Dewey, J. (1981), Experience and Nature, LW1, Carbondale, Southern Illinois Univeersity
Press.
Dewey, J. (1983), Human Nature and Conduct, MW 14, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press.
Dewey, J. (1988), The Quest for Certainty, LW 4, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University
Press.
Dewey, J. (2008), Logic, LW 12, Carbondale, Southern Illinois Universtity Press.
Diamond, C. (1991), The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind, Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press.
Garrison, J. (1995), Deweys Philosophy and the Experience of Working: Labor, Tools
and Language, Synthese, 105, (1).
Goodman, R. (2002), Wittgenstein and William James, Cambridge, Cambridge University
Press.
McDowell, J. (1984), Wittgenstein on Following a Rule, Synthese, 58 (3).
18 We may say that natural operations like breathing and digesting, acquired ones like speech and honesty, are functions of the surroundings as truly as of a person. They are things done by the environment by means of
organic structures or acquired dispositions. The same air that under certain conditions ruffles the pool or wrecks
buildings, under other conditions purifies the blood and conveys thought. (Dewey 1983: 15)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
116

JRG VOLBERS

WITTGENSTEIN, DEWEY AND KNOWLEDGE

Moyal-Sharrock, D. (2004a), Understanding Wittgensteins On Certainty, Basingstoke,


Palgrave.
Moyal-Sharrock, D., ed., (2004b). The Third Wittgenstein: The Post-Investigations Works,
Aldershot, Ashgate.
Moyal-Sharrock and D., Brenner, eds., (2007), Readings on Wittgensteins On certainty,
Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Pihlstrm, S. (2004), Recent reinterpretations of the transcendental, Inquiry, 47 (3).
Pinkard, T. (1999), Analytics, Continentals, and Modern Skepticism, Monist, 82 (2).
Volbers, J. (2009), Selbsterkenntnis und Lebensform: Kritische Subjektivitt nach Wittgenstein und Foucault, Bielefeld, transcript.
Williams, M. (1999), The philosophical significance of learning in the later Wittgenstein,
in Wittgenstein, Mind and Meaning, M. Williams (ed.), London, Routledge.
Williams, M., (2000), Wittgenstein and Davidson on the Sociality of Language, Journal
for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 30 (3).
Wittgenstein, L. (1967), Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, Blackwell.
Wittgenstein, L. (1969), On certainty, Oxford, Blackwell.
Wittgenstein, L. (1980), Culture and value, Oxford, Blackwell.
Wittgenstein, L. (1983), Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, Boston, MIT Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (2000), Wittgensteins Nachlass. Bergen Electronic Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Von Wright, G. H., (1982), Wittgenstein in Relation to his Times, in Wittgenstein and his
times, B. McGuinness (ed.), Blackwell, Oxford.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
117

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Rick Davis*

Group Morality and Forms of Life: Dewey, Wittgenstein and Inter-Subjectivity

Abstract. In this paper, I attempt to establish connections between the pragmatist philosophical tradition and the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. I argue that among
these connections is the affinity between John Deweys account of the development of
group morality as articulated in his early work and Wittgensteins admittedly vague concept, form of life. I argue that this affinity is evident in that both are dependent on intersubjective experience. Moreover, both Deweys account of the development of group morality and Wittgensteins concept of form of life suggests an intimate relationship between
the individual and the community. I argue further that both Deweys account of group
morality and Wittgensteins form of life concept hold that there is a significant influence
of inherited norms, conventions, traditions, etc., on the development of the individual and
her conduct in a variety of social interactions. I go on to raise and address potential and
anticipated criticisms. In this section I take what I consider to be the most penetrating of
the potential criticisms of the arguments presented in this paper: that Dewey and Wittgenstein direct their analyses at different issues (the former directs his analysis toward group
moral development and social issues, while the latter directs his toward linguistic activity
and its grounding social context), that Dewey focuses much of his attention on moral
agency, whereas Wittgenstein is more concerned with what might be called epistemological issues, and finally that my treatment of the form of life concept is incomplete in that I
spend a roughly proportionate amount of time discussing related concepts: language
games, meaning as use, and, to a lesser extent, rule- following. I respond to these criticisms in turn by arguing that a careful reading of these aspects of each philosophers work
circumvents such criticisms. The goal of this paper is to contribute to the growing literature on connections between Wittgensteins philosophy and the Pragmatist tradition. The
subject matter might also be a contribution to the history of philosophy and possibly have
implications for epistemology. There is also the hope that in establishing commonalities
between the philosophies of Wittgenstein and Dewey one can provide an interpretation of
some of the more vague concepts in Wittgensteins philosophy, prompting further discussion on these concepts. Finally, this research might pave the way for further research into
connections among different aspects of Deweys and Wittgensteins philosophies. This
paper is a first step toward a study of a much larger scope and should not be taken as conclusive.

This paper argues that among the connections between Wittgensteins philosophy and
the pragmatist tradition is the commonality between Deweys account of the development
of group morality and Wittgensteins concept, forms of life. To my knowledge there is
nothing in the literature that has focused on the affinity between these aspects of each philosophers work. The aim of this paper is to contribute to the growing literature on Wittgensteins philosophy and the pragmatist tradition in a way that prompts further discussion
about concepts that are not so often addressed by scholars making similar connections.
This paper proceeds in the following way: first, I provide a brief review of literature that
has alluded to connections between the philosophies of Dewey and Wittgenstein; second, I
briefly review and show important connections between the aspects of each philosophers
*

Washington State University [richard.davis@email.wsu.edu]

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
118

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

work with which this research is concerned: Deweys group morality and Wittgensteins
form of life; third, I raise and address potential and anticipated criticisms; finally, I conclude by reiterating my main points and stating why this research is important. My overarching argument here is that both the form of life concept and Deweys account of group
morality are dependent on inter-subjective experience.
Prior Work on Dewey and Wittgenstein
Despite the growing literature on Wittgenstein and Pragmatism, there is surprisingly little, if any, systematic study dedicated exclusively to the philosophies of Dewey and Wittgenstein in relation to one another. Robin Haacks excellent essay (1984) is perhaps the
most satisfying treatment of the connections between Wittgenstein and Dewey, but this
analysis is strongly supplemented by equally thorough treatments of Peirce, James, Rorty,
and pragmatism more generally. This takes away from the force of the connections she establishes. Nonetheless, Haacks insights are invaluable to any study looking to establish
connections. For instance, she argues that there are naturalistic elements in both Dewey
and Wittgenstein and that these elements have similar relationships to the two philosophers
accounts of meaning, behavior, and justification (1984: 163). Moreover, Haack observes
that Wittgenstein and Dewey both associate meaning with behavior. In Philosophical Investigations (1952), Wittgenstein writes that in most cases the meaning of any linguistic item
is its use. Since Wittgenstein understood language as an activity, this is close to Deweys
claim that Meaning is primarily a property of behavior (in Haack 1984: 164). This, Haack
concludes, means both Wittgenstein and Dewey hold that languageits structure and
meaningcannot be understood if divorced from its context.
Richard Rortys (1982) well-known account makes strong claims about consistencies in
Deweys and Wittgensteins work within the history of philosophy, but he spends more
time comparing the so-called Early and Later Wittgenstein to the philosophy and significance of Kant and Dewey, respectively. The later Wittgenstein belongs with Dewey, he
writes, as the earlier Wittgenstein belongs with Kant (1982: 28). This comparison obscures more than it elucidates, however; connections between Dewey and Wittgenstein are
a part of a broader claim about the import of Wittgensteins philosophy in relation to
changes in philosophy as practiced during his early and later work. As a result, Deweys
philosophy is compared to Wittgensteins within the history of professional philosophy.
Important claims are made, but not toward the sole end of establishing affinities between
the two. Rather, Rorty more situates Wittgensteins philosophy in the Western philosophical tradition.
The significance of Rortys essay, however, should not be underestimated. It has
been in opposition to Rortys interpretation that some of the best work regarding Dewey
and Wittgenstein has been advanced. For instance, Richard Prawat (1995) rejects Rortys
claim that Dewey was a postmodernist before his time, but he goes on to entertain the notion that in being critical of traditional philosophical problems, Dewey does move away
from philosophy as practiced at the time. Through his project of reconstruction (Dewey
1920), Prawat suggests, Dewey was able to develop and move into a new language game
within professional philosophy. What this means is that Dewey was able to establish a vocabulary regarding topics of his interest that his peers were willing to accept as a part of
legitimate philosophical discourse. This falls short, though, of the being on equal footing
with ideas developed and advanced in the so-called linguistic turn, since the language of
pragmatism was seen as a subset of a broader and accepted philosophical discourse.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
119

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

Prawat goes on to discuss how Deweys alternative to the mind-body problem in traditional philosophy was a triangular relationship between the individual, community, and
the world mediated by socially constructed ideas (1995: 14). This is similar to Wittgensteins remarks on the from of life concept, although it does not seem that Wittgenstein
was directing these remarks at the mind-world problem as much as toward philosophy itself. For Wittgenstein, as we will see, there is an inherent relationship among the individual, community, and the social conventions rooted therein. For both philosophers, then,
communally developed and agreed upon beliefs, practices, etc., contribute to meaning and
conduct. Language use and what is and is not considered legitimate behaviors, like any
communal activities, are the result of cooperation.
Other approaches are less entangled in differences in interpretation: James Farr (2004),
for example, aptly argues that there are elements in Dewey and Wittgenstein that can contribute to the Social Capital literature in the social sciences. This is an accurate observation. Both Dewey and Wittgenstein are concerned with the manner in which agreement in a
community grounds activity, behavior, and communication. Both also hold that this
strengthens group solidarity. This can be a powerful supplement to Social Capital Theory:
Social Capital Theory holds that strong social ties among members of a community contribute to the betterment of a community in a variety of ways. These ties, it is maintained,
have dissipated overtime, culminating in a dire social arrangement perpetuated by a variety
of factors (depending on which theorists one consults) that encourages and/or enables a reclusive life over public and civic engagement (Putnam 2000). Given the emphasis on communally agreed upon standards of conduct, among other aspects of social life in both Dewey and Wittgenstein, it is appropriate to incorporate them into debates concerning the concept of Social Capital and its role in group life.
These and other studies give those who wish to show strong connections between Wittgenstein and Dewey a good place to start. It is also evident in the limited literature that
many of these connections are to be found in aspects of each thinkers philosophy with
which this research is concerned: how group dynamics, norms, and practices influence and
indeed organize and guide the activities of the individuals of which a given community is
comprised. This, I believe, justifies pursuing this research. Both Dewey and Wittgenstein
see the demarcation between community and individual as one that is blurred to a significant extent. For both, there is no other way to understand such a relationship. An individual
detached from her social context is nothing more than a social fiction.
Dewey, Wittgenstein, and Inter-Subjective Experience
In Deweys middle period, he places a great deal of emphasis on the dynamics of group
life, especially as they pertain to communal practices and ethical norms. For Dewey, there
is an intimate and reciprocal relationship between the individual and the community of
which she is a part. This, according to Dewey, has been the hallmark of group life since antiquity: Individual judgment, he suggests, is caught up, repeated, and plays its part in
group opinion (1972: 56). The inverse is also true. Broader communal or group morality
influences the manner in which a person develops her moral system. Dewey writes, customs and mores have in them an element of social approval, which makes them vehicles for
[individual] moral judgments in that ones moral judgments are reinforced by the fact that
they are derived from a communally approved moral system.Although these judgments can
at times sink to the level of mere habit there are safeguards derived from group life that
bring them back to the level of conscious agencies. Dewey lists a few:

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
120

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

The education of the younger, immature members of the group and their preparation for full
membership. (2) The constraint and restraint of refractory members and the adjustment of
conflicting interest. (3) Occasions which involve some notable danger or crisis and therefore
call for greater attention toavert disaster. (1972: 59).

For my purposes here, it is only important to note that institutionalized group practices
not only provide members of a community with their initial code of behavior, but also provide the means by which this behavior is regulated, suggesting that certain actions are
grounded in the dynamics of group life. In this way, these conscious agencies are encouraged by the community to remain an engaged part of public life as opposed to devolving
into passive beliefs or mere habit (59).
The standards of group morality, Dewey continues, are social, but only unconsciously
so. Dewey puts it better when he explains that standards of group morality are not those that
each member deliberately makes his own. [Rather,] he takes it as a matter of course. He is
in the clan, with the gang; he thinks and acts accordingly (1972: 72). This means that the
contours of group morality are internalized early in ones life and become increasingly entrenched the more one participates in communal practices governed by, and rooted in, those
standards. Indeed, The young are carefully trained to observe them (1972: 55). Dewey
continues:
Whenever we find groups of men living togetherwe find that there are certain ways of acting which are common to the groupThere are approved ways of acting, common to the
group, and handed down from generation to generation. Such approved ways of doing and
acting are customs (1972: 56).

These customs in turn influence and guide individual conduct: they imply the judgment of the group that they are to be followed. The welfare of the group is regarded as
somehow imbedded in them (1972: 54-5). This means that a persons actions are either
validated or invalidated depending on the extent to which those actions accord to group
standards. This is different from other ethical traditions such as utilitarian or deontological
approaches in that an ethical system is derived from, and grounded in, a particular communal context as opposed to adhering to abstract principles or social calculus.
Daniel Savage (2005) has examined group life and morality as articulated by Dewey
and has coined the phrase intersubjective verification. Savages concept is helpful in coming to a clearer understanding of Deweys account of the development of group morality
and is therefore worth briefly reviewing here. The phrase is quite intuitive: it is meant to
refer to the aspects of Deweys philosophy that hold individual moral values and standards
to be derived from, and logically justified by, group or communal customs and mores. Savage also notes the inter-subjective experience goes both ways: ideas often begin with individuals and are inter-subjectively verified by the broader group or community. He provides
the excellent example of the technological innovation leading to the development of the
heavy plow:
Motivation for the invention came from dissatisfaction with, or criticism of, current methods
of cultivation. Although the idea for the new design must have originated in a single individuals imagination, this individual did not have to start from scratch. His or her idea contributed
to a progressive development of cultivationIt was [subsequently] verified as the best exist-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
121

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

ing plow through the intersubjective experience of individual farmers. The spread of its use
across Europe was the result of the communication of its effectiveness (2005: 11).

Moreover, inter-subjective verification applies not only to technological innovation but


also to normative ethical and political ideas. In almost the same breath, Savage argues:
The concept of individual rights has a similar history. It was motivated by criticism of, and
therefore dissatisfaction with, existing political institutionsIt was the best idea regarding the
organization of a political community devoted to the good of its members that had been developed up until that time. This was verified intersubjectively through the experience and
communication of the populations of Western Europe and North America ( 2005: 11).

The emerging point is that ideas be they in regard to technological innovations or the
development of normative ethical and political ideas operate within the intimate relationship of the individual and community. The individual is at once the product of, and a contributor to, social norms and practices. This is the crux of Deweys account of group morality and is consistent with his pragmatist philosophy more generally. This connection between morality and practical problem-solving is something that is echoed in Wittgensteins
philosophy. For Wittgenstein, there is also an inherent connection among group standards
of conduct and a variety of actions.
Deweys account is similar to Wittgensteins remarks on what he calls a form of life.
However, given its importance to his later philosophy, the form of life concept is rarely
mentioned by Wittgenstein. Upon further examination, however, the thoughtful reader understands that other concepts important to Wittgensteins philosophy are dependent thereon.
For instance, to paraphrase one commentator, the term form of life helps one to understand that the manner in which we develop our proficiency in language games is dependent
on context and a socially embedded complex of language, rules, behavior and action (Ayer
1985). In Wittgensteins words: to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life (1952:
19). What this suggests is that our form of life is an interweaving of culture, world
view, and language (Glock 1996: 124). This being the case, a proficient understanding of
the context-dependent nature of what Wittgenstein calls language games helps one better
understand the role of the form of life concept in Wittgensteins philosophy.
The connection between language games and a form of life becomes clearer as Wittgenstein proceeds: in response to his interlocutors inquiry in the Investigations about what
constitutes truth or falsehood in a language game, Wittgenstein explains that the truth and
falsehood of an utterance is determined by what human beings say; and it is in their language that human beings agree. This is agreement not in opinion, but rather in a form of
life (1952: 241). This means that linguistic practices are derived from ones environment, a community or culture that is of course shared with others. Social convention binds
human beings together in a form of life based on a general agreement about a diverse set of
social interactions. As Wittgenstein suggests as early as the Blue and Brown Books (1958),
to imagine a language is to imagine a culture (1958: 134). Accordingly, a form of life can
be understood as a culture or social formation, the totality of communal activities in which
language-games are embedded (Glock 1996: 124-25).
Related to the concept of language games is Wittgenstein understanding of meaning as
use. For Wittgenstein, meanings of terms are not their referent or an abstract idea; rather,
meaning is derived from the manner in which terms are used in regular social interaction, in
everyday conversation. As he explains,

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
122

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

For a large class of cases of the use of the word meaningeven if not for all casesthe
word can be explained thus: The meaning of the word is its use in language (1952: 189).

In fact, the later Wittgenstein is hostile to referential theories of meaning that characterized his early work. In the opening of the Investigations, Wittgenstein refutes Augustines
account of language. He explains the account holds,
a certain picture of the essence of human language: that the words of language name objectsthat propositions are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find
the root of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the
word. It is the object for which the word stands. (1952: 1)

The referential theory of meaning is problematic for several reasons. As one example,
given this account, after the object ceases to exist the meaning remains. How, then, can a
referential theory of meaning allow for such a term to be meaningful. What Wittgenstein
sees as the shortcomings of such theories of meaning leads him to believe that one cannot
understand a language until she sees how it functions in a form of life, as a pattern in the
weave of life recurring in different variations (1952: 43).
Not only are the concepts of forms of life, language games, and meaning as use intimately connected, but there is also a connection between these concepts and Wittgensteins
discussion of rules and rule following. As Mark Addis notes, a rule, as with meaning, is
rooted in a form of life (2006: 104). Similarly, in the Investigations, Wittgenstein writes,
the word language-game is used here to emphasize the fact that the speaking of a language
is part of a [rule-governed] activity, or of a form of life (1952: 23, emphasis in original).
Furthermore, he states obeying a rule is a practice (1952: 99). Language games and related conduct, simply put, adhere to rules. These rules, of course, emerge from social context.
Like the above-mentioned concepts, following a rule is embedded in a form of life. For
Wittgenstein, a rule, like meaning, is not abstract, nor does it govern activity in the same
way with every application. To the contrary, he thought that much of the misunderstanding
of rules and rule-following can be attributed to the fact that most people understand rules as
being applied in the same way in all situations. Wittgenstein understood rules as normalized
behavior in a particular form of life. He writes: to obey a rule, to make a report, to play a
game of chess, are customs (uses, institutions). As such, rules do not transcend their applications, but rather their applications are rooted in different social contexts, different forms
of life (1952: 202).
For Wittgenstein, activity in linguistic communities is governed by customs and social
convention based on agreement in a form of life. This is not limited to linguistic activity,
but extends to all activity (1952: 241). These activities are in turn rule-governed, the rules
having been established by agreement in a form of life. This is similar to the claim made by
Dewey that different kinds of activity are based on agreement in a community. Furthermore, for both Dewey and Wittgenstein social practices are provided with a significant degree of legitimacy by virtue of their being accepted and seemingly validated by the broader
community, as well as by past generations. These customs are seen as having been intersubjectively verified by the group. Concomitantly, these same practices serve as a starting
point for individual innovation in regard to group practices that, if deemed useful, will also
be inter-subjectively verified. For both Dewey and Wittgenstein, then, inherited customs

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
123

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

influence social conduct, interactions, and practices of all kinds. Ideas concerning social
practices spread through social approval, through inter-subjective experience.
Both Dewey and Wittgenstein understood that group activity is governed by a complex
of rules, traditions, norms, etc. They saw group life as an elaborate social matrix established
and perpetuated by agreement among the members of the group. Both also realized that this
agreement and the resulting complex of social conventions can be blindly accepted by successive generations, and this might have negative implications. But the affinity between
Deweys account of the development of group morality and Wittgensteins forms of life
that concerns this research lays in their shared emphasis on the important role of intersubjectivity. Both the concepts of Deweys group morality and Wittgensteins forms of life
depend on the transfer and approval of ideas. The inter-subjective experience binds groups
and forms of life together in social arrangements, the basis of which is a kind of social consensus in regard to what constitutes legitimate social behavior of different kinds.
Potential Objections
At this point some objections might be raised. One of the most obvious might be that
Dewey and Wittgenstein are not directing their analyses to comparable topics. It is true that
Wittgenstein was primarily a philosopher of language, and Dewey was, for lack of a better
term, a social theorist. Therefore, it could be argued that they are concerned with different
things (language and morality, respectively). But insofar as each account is concerned with
interaction between the individual and social customs in regard to social action, there is a
strong connection. Each acknowledges that social customs have a significant influence on
the development of ones basis for action. Similarly, there is a voluminous literature on the
relation between ethics and moral action. So even though on a superficial level there might
seem to be some conceptual incongruity, upon further examination it is clear there is consistency in these concepts in regard to social action that is guided by social conventions.
Another objection that might be raised, similar to the first, is that Dewey places a lot of
focus on the extent to which an individuals actions and ideas can influence adopted modes
of social behavior by being integrated into group moralitywhat some might call moral
agency. Wittgenstein is comparatively silent on this point. Wittgenstein is more concerned
with how what one learns from a form of life influences their knowledge of, and action in,
the world. This does not mean, though, that for Wittgenstein an individual is somehow
trapped in the worldview established by her form of life. For instance, in his discussion on
rule-following Wittgenstein explains that although one is taught to observe rules, the nature
of those rules allows for some deviation, some latitude for the individual. Such behavior
might of course be deemed inappropriate since it would be inconsistent with a form of life,
but the point is that individuals are not held captive. They are merely limited by the social
norms that comprise them. The same can be said of any established worldview, which in his
subsequent work Wittgenstein addresses (Wittgenstein 1969).
Finally, it might be argued that my treatment of the form of life concept is incorrect or
incomplete. The argument can be made that my account is incomplete in that it spends a
roughly equivalent amount of time discussing related concepts. However, as mentioned, the
term form of life is mentioned only a few times in Wittgensteins published work, and
therefore supplemental concepts, such as those mentioned above, are needed to elucidate
this idea. This is an appropriate course of action because a proficient reading of Wittgenstein shows the extent to which language games, meaning as use, and rule-following are
dependent on a form of life. Given the scarce remarks on the concept, in concert with how

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
124

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

these remarks explicate the connection among other important concepts, a discussion of
forms of life necessitate a discussion of these other, related concepts.
Conclusion
I have argued in this brief paper that the similarities between Deweys account of the
development of group morality and Wittgensteins concept of forms of life are among connections between Wittgensteins philosophy and the pragmatist tradition. I have done this
by focusing on how both concepts can be understood as dependent on inter-subjectively established group customs. I have also argued that Dewey and Wittgenstein see communal
life as one in which an individual is of ones community as opposed to being detached in
some way. The implications of this, I have argued, are that ones action be they moral or
linguistic are governed by rules that are accepted as legitimate. In short: both Dewey and
Wittgenstein see group life as an interwoven, context-dependent system of language, behavior, action, and more. In this way, I have attempted to show the extent to which Wittgensteins philosophy and the pragmatist tradition (represented here by Dewey) are in accord with one another.
I also raised and addressed some potential and anticipated criticisms: that Dewey and
Wittgensteins approaches are directed at different issues, that Dewey places much emphasis on the extent to which an individual can influence a groups system of customs, whereas
Wittgenstein is more concerned with what can be called epistemological issues, and finally
that my handling of the Wittgensteins concept of form of life is incomplete. In the prior
section, I address these potential criticisms in turn and argue that they can be resolved by a
careful reading of both Dewey and Wittgenstein. Although neither, to my knowledge, employ the term inter-subjectivity, the concept itself teases out connections between the two
concepts with which this study is concerned.
This research picks up where previous, relevant research leaves off: focusing solely on
connections between Dewey and Wittgenstein. Such a study can only contribute to the
growing literature concerning Wittgenstein and pragmatism, even if only through stimulating more discussion about the potential relationship. That is, even if others do not agree that
these connections exist or are important, this study will have achieved the objective toward
which is directed: a contribution to the ongoing and important debates relating to Wittgenstein and pragmatism. This is important because it fills a gap in the existing literature.
Furthermore, by establishing affinities between what are sometimes considered vague or
ambiguous Wittgensteinian concepts with concepts that are part of a seemingly more coherent philosophical system such Deweys might help to stimulate discussion on these concepts by providing a viable interpretation. The only way philosophical problems (or puzzles) are worked out is through discussion. Providing even a possibly correct interpretation of difficult concepts will no doubt contribute to debates that seek to elucidate these
concepts. Concomitantly, through comparison each philosophers account of group life is
made clearer. To put this differently, there is a mutual clarification when comparing two or
more philosophers in that by teasing out similarities, each concept or philosophy necessitates a careful reading of each philosopher.
Also, Dewey and Wittgenstein were contemporaries, although it is not clear that they
read one another (although Wittgenstein was quite fond of James and was therefore exposed to pragmatism). Regardless, the contemporaneous relationship suggests research such
as this that establishes strong similarities between two or more philosophers holds promise
for studies in the history of philosophy. Through establishing these (and other) kinds of

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
125

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

similarities one can better understand the interplay of philosophy and other social factors in
a given period. Too often, philosophies are treated as addressing perennial, transgenerational issues, which is not counter-productive in itself, but it is unrealistic to think
that inquiries into these ideas proceeds in manner independent of historical context. The political historian and theorists Quentin Skinner (1988), who by his own account is heavily
influenced by Wittgenstein, argues that although philosophy is often concerned with such
timeless questions, such an approach is of lesser value if it ignores historical and linguistic
context.
Finally, in showing affinities between Dewey and Wittgenstein, other comparisons
might be prompted and established, not only between Dewey and Wittgenstein but also
among Wittgenstein and other pragmatists: as an example, Peirces interest in the manner in
which we come to develop our doubts and beliefs bears a resemblance to many of Wittgensteins remarks in On Certainty (1969). Also, James holism is something that can at once
be compared to Dewey and Wittgenstein (Haack 1984). Given the diversity of views within
the pragmatist tradition, this holds great promise. If parallels can be drawn among Wittgenstein and more than one pragmatist (and this has been done, but more research in this area
is needed), the connections between the two traditions will seem more evident. If ideas between, say, James or Holmes and Wittgenstein are shown in a convincing way, this is indicative of an inherent connection between Wittgensteins philosophy. Many of pragmatists
have ideas that correspond with many of Wittgensteins concepts. This research can be a
step in thedirection of demonstrating these parallels.
References
Addis, M. (2006), Wittgenstein: A Guide for the Perplexed, London, Continuum International Publishing Group.
Ayer, A.J. (1985), Wittgenstein, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Dewey, J. (1920), Reconstruction in Philosophy, Boston, Beacon Press.
_______, (1908), The Beginning and Growth of Morality, in Boydston, A., Ed. (1972)
John Dewey: The Middle Works, 1899-1924, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University
Press.
_______ (1908), Theory of Moral Life, in Boydston, A. Ed, 1978, John Dewey: The Middle Works, 1899-1924, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press.
Dilman, I. (1971) Review: On Wittgensteins Last Notes (1950-1951), Philosophy, 46
(176).
Glock, H. J. (1996), A Wittgenstein Dictionary, Malden, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Prawat, R. (1995), Misreading Dewey: Reform, Projects, and the Language Game, Educational Researcher, 24 (7).
Putnam, R. (2000), Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community, New
York, Simon and Schuster.
Rorty, R. (1982), Consequences of Pragmatism, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota
Press.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
126

RICK DAVIS

GROUP MORALITY AND FORMS OF LIFE

Savage, D. (2002), John Deweys Liberalism: Individual, Community, and Self Development, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press.
Shulte, J. (1992), Wittgenstein: An Introduction, New York, State University of New York.
Wittgenstein, L. (1994) Following a Rule in Anthony Kenny Ed., The Wittgenstein Reader, Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford.
________ (1969), On Certainty, in Ludwig Wittgenstein, Major Works, New York, Harper
Collins, 2009.
________(1953), Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
127

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Joseph Margolis*

A Philosophical Bestiary

Abstract. The paper notices that different readings have been provided as for the connections between Wittgenstein and pragmatism, such as for example H. Putnams picture as
opposed to R. Rortys description that packages Wittgenstein and Dewey together as
postmodern pragmatists. Joseph Margolis tries to broaden the discussion by including an
examination of Wilfrid Sellars, Gottlob Frege, Robert Brandom, and Huw Price. His aim
it to review the newer challenges of naturalism and deflationism, which, by their own instruction, should bring us to the decisive contest between the pragmatism of the Investigations and that of Brandoms Between Saying and Doing. The larger purpose of this exercise is to assess pragmatisms best prospects currently, in meeting the gathering challenges of the day.

I
When Hilary Putnam asked, "Was Wittgenstein a pragmatist?" he admitted straight
out that the title of his lecture was "misleading, for I will [he explained] be talking as much
or more about the relation of Wittgenstein's philosophy to Kant's as about its relation to,
say, William James's". He meant, he says, that he could have titled it just as aptly, Was
Wittgenstein a Neo-Kantian?"1 Of course. Although the added clue was meant to be as inexplicit as the question, a warning of sorts about an unmarked danger, a piece of induction.
The fact is, Putnam viewed Wittgenstein's "later philosophy" as "paralleling certain themes
in Pragmatism" and signaled that he regarded the resemblance as being important to the direction (very probably, the redirection) of current philosophy. 2 He ventured a hint he knew
would be widely construed as favoring a traditional or conservative treatment of the future
of pragmatism and analytic philosophy (and philosophy at large) by remarking at once,
within his triangulation, his intention "to combat the prevalent idea that Wittgenstein is
simply an 'end of philosophy' philosopher".3 He draws a similar lesson from his remarks on
Kant. He means to restore a proper sense of his own relationship to Wittgenstein and the
classic pragmatists to John Dewey, preeminently in order to provide (against a skeptics
misreading of philosophy in the large) a corrected sense of how the kinship between Wittgenstein and the pragmatists helps to secure our own bearings under a widening threat.
There can be no doubt that, here, Putnam is combating what he regards as Richard
Rorty's picture of Wittgenstein hence, then, Rorty's pragmatism as well. But to concede
the complexity of that admission is, as we shall see, to enter into the rollercoaster inquiry of
where pragmatism may now be headed. In my reading, twenty years later, that's to conjure
not only with Rorty, Putnam, and Wittgenstein -and Kant (and James and Dewey and
Peirce, on Putnam's view) but also with Wilfrid Sellars, Gottlob Frege, Robert Brandom,
Temple University [josephmargolis455@hotmail.com]
1 See Hilary Putnam, "Was Wittgenstein a Pragmatist?" in Pragmatism: An Open Question, Oxford,
Blackwell, 1995, p. 27.
2 Putnam, Pragmatism, p. xi.
3 Putnam, Pragmatism, p. 27.
*

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
128

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

and (I would add) Huw Price, who have not, until recently, been counted as the nearly indispensible (not entirely reliable) pragmatist players they have become in current disputes
about pragmatism's fortunes. I take the inclusion of figures Putnam does not mention to
help define an expanding agon that cannot be confined to Putnams original confrontation
with Rorty. Brandom, for instance, is not a Rortyan skeptic, though his own recovery of
pragmatism is itself a response to Rortys provocation. The sense of Putnams question has
become more diffuse, but also more compelling.
I'm unwilling to say that any of the last group mentioned affords an acceptable instruction as to pragmatisms prospects: I don't think any of them actually does. But the best
advice, bearing in mind the sense of Putnam's question, arises from engaging their challenges, just as, close to forty years ago, the best sense of pragmatism's resources arose quite
naturally from the minor distraction of that dead end of a dispute between Rorty and Putnam that brought the last decades of the last century to a surprising close without Rorty or
Putnam being responsible for any forceful revision of pragmatism's future.
Putnam's question is an important one, though Putnam himself is drawn to an unpromising distraction. Certainly, neither Rorty nor Kant nor James can be expected to adjust our philosophical compass now in any fresh way; and though Wittgenstein remains remarkably rewarding, Putnam's own clue regarding Wittgenstein's innovation is more than
coy. Brandom's challenge is finally more important than Rorty's, but it too threatens to be a
very large distraction in favor of an entirely subsidiary adjustment within the boundaries
of formal semantics (however notionally applied to natural-language discourse). Nevertheless, I'm convinced that we shall find ourselves on firmer ground, as pragmatists, focused
on the movement's best prospects (from here on out), if we can get clear about why it is that
the philosophical turn Brandom pursues among his closest discussants is, finally, a deflection from the main topics that should confront us.
The question about Wittgenstein draws us to an important clue that cannot (I surmise) be adequately examined solely in accord with Wittgenstein's own strategies. Ironically, Brandom's misreading of Wittgenstein returns us (quite unintentionally) to a more promising venture: namely, to the reconciliation of pragmatism and naturalism on the strength of
new priorities, the defeat of newer versions of deflationism that have replaced the failed energies of Rorty's "postmodern" pragmatism and those of the impossible extremes of twentieth-century scientism, as well as the dawning sense of the primacy of the resources of the
human self, which begin to set decisive constraints on the redefinition of a defensible naturalism committed to the actuality of the self's powers. Count all that the barest sketch of a
brief in favor of a new beginning hardly captured by the contest to be examined here. You
cannot fail to see that the work of a figure like Brandom is bound to play a not insignificant
role in the articulation of a suitable explanation of pragmatism in our time, to match the role
Rorty and Putnam played in the final decades of the last century. But I intend no invidious
comparisons: the pertinent contests of the two periods are very different indeed.
Rorty, of course, packaged Wittgenstein and Dewey together (and Heidegger, let us
not forget) as postmodern pragmatists of his own persuasion. All that's gone by now; nevertheless, part of the dismissive intent of Rorty's pragmatism has morphed into the revival
of the deflationary and minimalist proposals of more recent, more eccentric, self-styled
pragmatists in pursuit of their own often extreme economies along the lines of certain forms
of naturalism (as in the work of the Australian philosopher, Huw Price, actively engaged in
debate with Brandom) and, of course, of inferentialism (in Brandom's own vigorous proposals).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
129

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

It's my conviction that, partly because of its remarkable revival, pragmatism is being
drawn, separately, into close dialogue with certain temptingly spare forms of analytic philosophy and other temptingly florid forms of settled continental philosophy. On the analytic
side, it should be clear that it will be useful to revisit with care the question what might now
be the best way to integrate the often divisive concerns of pragmatism and naturalism and,
as a direct consequence, the unexpected revival of the distinctly remote projects of formal
semantics, now somehow reconciled with pragmatism itself. I'm persuaded that these confrontations should serve in shaping a better answer to Putnam's question about Wittgenstein: partly because Wittgenstein (early and late) is so engaging to Fregeans and Deweyans
alike, as he is to discussants like myself who are drawn to the need to neutralize the selfimpoverishing disenchantment so much in vogue in late scientistic philosophies.
Price and Brandom share these themesas, indeed, did Rorty and Putnam in rather
different ways. Brandom strikes me as the natural stalking horse for our present purpose: he
is certainly more than Rorty's principal student, undoubtedly the most unorthodox selfstyled pragmatist of the movement's recent history, without a doubt the single most visible,
skillful proponent of a radically reoriented (still incompletely articulated) pragmatism for
our day, engaged with all the themes I've mentioned (and more); and, I should add, author
of an unavoidable challenge as to how philosophy might now best proceed. (I press this advice without prejudice as to what may prove to be the ultimate verdict on Brandom's bold
gamble: that is, I urge it opportunistically.)
I happen to think that Price and Brandom have gone astray in certain decisive ways
that need to be addressed and corrected in the interest of ensuring a continually tenable,
hopefully up-to-date and adequately informed pragmatism. I take the charge to usher in a
decidedly useful way of meeting Putnam's question. It should come to rest in due course in
the implicit confrontation between Brandom and Wittgenstein. In any event, that is to be
the highlight of my own reading of Putnam's question: because I mean to review the newer
challenges of naturalism and deflationism, which, by their own instruction, should bring us
to the decisive contest between the pragmatism of the Investigations and that of Between
Saying and Doing. I trust it will be clear that the larger purpose of the exercise is to assess
pragmatism's best prospects currently, in meeting the gathering challenges of the day.
It will take a bit of patience to mark the argument's trail convincingly. (I must give
notice here that I will not reach all of my intended targets in this single paper). The inquiry
itself falls very naturally into two parts: the preparatory challenges of naturalism and deflationism, which, apart from inferentialism, are Brandom's principal sources for generating
alternative options of genuine interest. In that spirit, the first part of the argument at least
the part being sketched here makes its contribution without fulfilling the essential promise
of the second part or the third. Theyll take their turn in due course. But in widening the
scope of Putnams question the issue demands a freer canvass of the entire sweep of contemporary philosophy.
Rorty, I note, is unfailingly explicit in the Introduction to Philosophy and the Mirror of
Nature. He takes the "three most important philosophers [and pragmatists] of our century
Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey [to have] broke[n] free of the Kantian conception of
philosophy as foundational":

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
130

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

The aim of [this] book [Rorty says] is to undermine the reader's confidence in "the mind" as
something about which there ought to be a "theory" and which has "foundations," and in "philosophy" as it has been conceived since Kant.4

Putnam condemns the pragmatism Rorty constructs in his "picture of language speakers
as automata," as "deeply un-Wittgensteinian".5 On that reading, Putnam is entirely justified.
But I doubt it's an accurate reading of what Rorty says. I must admit, somewhat against
Putnam, that I'm persuaded that when Rorty compares discursive criteria with programs
and speaks of language games as governed by what he calls 'algorithms' or 'programs'",
he may be signaling, very distantly (and misleadingly), no more than his endorsement of
some early version of Brandom's inferentialism (well before the publication of Between
Saying and Doing), rather than an endorsement of the apparent automatism Putnam claims
to find in Rorty's pertinent texts. Though I thoroughly agree that Rorty offers no compelling
case for the postmodern pragmatism of The Mirror of Nature that I've barely sampled; it's
also reasonably clear that, in rejecting the Cartesian theory of mind, Rorty does indeed endorse the larger doctrine, to the effect that "the wholehearted behaviorism, naturalism, and
physicalism I [Rorty] have been commending...help us avoid the self-deception of thinking
that we possess a deep, hidden, metaphysically significant nature which makes us 'irreducibly' different from inkwells or atoms".6 Imagine!
I say this cannot count as a fresh strain of pragmatism, if it ever did. Which, of
course, would require a proper grounding if we were tempted to impose new constraints on
pragmatism, naturalism, realism, deflationism, the relationship between semantic analyses
and metaphysics, and the like. At the very least, then, against Rorty; it may be entirely reasonable to support both a folk account of the self's career and whatever in the way of the
leanest possible materialism the physical sciences may be deemed able to produce. In that
event, such pictures may be said to model rather than to map reality. I see in this a perfectly plausible warning against the excessive claims of a deflationary naturalism (Rorty's
and Price's, both). Theres a blind spot in Rortys verdict that will surface in a new guise
(much later), in Brandoms formalist rendering of inferentialism.
Rorty has a penchant for introducing preposterous specimens of what otherwise appear to be entirely valid forms of philosophical hypothesis, and then dismissing at a stroke
the entire encompassing enterprise as impossible to redeem. Where's the argument? None
of Rorty's most important philosophers follows him in going over the philosophical cliff.
But you must see that, increasingly, we are being threatened by a glut of indefensible or unrewarding pragmatisms.
I venture to say, in the way of a preliminary caution, that pragmatism acknowledges
(i) the robust functionality, the realist status, of what, unproblematically, we call the human
self or person (subject or agent), without insisting that the self must be construed as a determinate substance of this or that kind or as possessing an essential nature, or anything of
4

Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1979, pp. 5,

7.
5 Putnam, Pragmatism, pp. 34-36.
6 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 373. Rorty claims to be an opponent of analytic scientism,
but his proclivities remain eliminativist, as they've been for a very long time. Compare Hilary Putnam, "Richard
Rorty on Reality and Justification", in Rorty and His Critics, R. Brandom (ed.), Oxford, Blackwell, 2000; and Rorty's "Response to Hilary Putnam", in the same volume. Putnam may have made too much of some lines in Richard
Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 6-7 (within the
whole of the essay, "The Contingency of Language"). The simple fact is that Rorty is often indifferent to seeming
paradox and inconsistency--and, very possibly, at times, to stubborn inconsistency (for example, his own).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
131

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

the sort. (I take this to be close to Dewey's view, in Experience and Nature). There may indeed be strongly deflationary views of the functioning of the self--somewhat akin to the
sense in which there are promising deflationary accounts of truth that cannot be ignored.
But as matters now stand (and for the forseeable future), it makes no sense to speak of the
achievements of the sciences without admitting some strong sense of truth on which an
admittedly subordinate deflationary proposal may afford a useful economy. In much the
same sense, I argue that there can be no achievement of the kind we name "science" unless
there are also actual agents of inquiry who can be credited with the feats that need to be explained. I should say at once that I mean to return to the improbably strategic importance of
the analysis of truth to the future prospects of pragmatism and the whole of the Eurocentric tradition. The point of the linkage, I dare say, is not yet clear. Let me suggest, for the
moment, that the entire inquiry centers on the conceptual relationship between pragmatism
and naturalism and what that contested topic brings into view.
To return to the tally I've just begun, the upshot of item (i) at once yields, as item
(ii), the additional thought that realism (in the pragmatist sense) is bound to be constructivist but not subjectivist (say, in the classic empiricist or Kantian idealist manner), pluralist (as it is now often said to be, to avoid pretensions of privilege of any sort); hence,
indissolubly linked to one or another acceptably conjectured (post-Kantian) Idealist picture of the real world (Idealist with a capital I: meaning that it is not at all a merely psychological doctrine), which (in the manner of Peirce or Cassirer or, with charity, Hegel) is
what I mean by an objective constructivism that avoids all claims of actually constructing
the natural world that we say our science knows. 7
If so, then (I dare continue), (iii) pragmatism is bound to treat all distinctions between the subject-ive and the object-ive, pertinent to the resolution of standard epistemological and metaphysical questions (of the sort Rorty rejects unconditionally), as matters
entirely internal to one or another realist (or realist/Idealist) space of inquiry, indissolubly
posited in the sense just broached in item (ii) of the tally that's now unfolding. (I expect you
realize that my tally is entirely programmatic). All that I can say, for the moment, in its favor is, as I've hinted, that the salient weaknesses of the so-called "pragmatist" ventures of
figures like Brandom, Price, and Sellars inadvertently instruct us in the need to fashion a
more robust alternative to collect pragmatism's best prospects.
I now add item (iv) to our tally, namely, that in keeping with pragmatism's avoidance of all presumptions of privilege and contrived or arbitrary disjunctions that might otherwise yield unearned (and unwanted) advantages in resolving cognitive questions, all valid
attributions of a cognitively qualified sort are, paradigmatically (or, if preferred, derivatively), ascribed to the nature and agency of functionally apt selves; that is, that, on the thesis
that the analysis of language (or meaning) and the analysis of the world we claim to know
are indissolubly intertwined the known world being enlanguaged and natural language,
enworlded the analysis of language, world, and knowledge is insuperably conjectural,
penetrated by human interests, holistically indissoluble and determinably realist in its outlook, in accord once again with item (ii). Coordinately, I think we must also postulate, as
item (v), the idea that, qua agent, the self is wherever speaking, thinking, acting, reflecting, and the like are affirmed the nominal site of all such acknowledged powers, holistically engaged, uniquely emergent under conditions of biological and cultural evolution and
enlanguaged Bildung, capable (in maturity) of being reflexively experienced (though not
7 I provide the details of such a form of realism (among the pragmatists) in my Pragmatism Ascendent: A
Yard of Narrative, An Ounce of Prophecy, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2012.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
132

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

sensorily), entitled to realist standing in whatever respect and degree is accorded the
"things" of the world we deem accessible to the sciences and practical inquiry.
I dare venture two further premises easily accepted by any viable, reasonably standard form of pragmatism: (vi) that the career of a living self is itself history or a history, or
historied; that is, selves are reflexively aware that their conceptual, perceptual, affective,
agentive, and related powers are informed and affected by historical changes as a result of
having mastered (internalized) the language and culture of the society in which they first
emerge and subsequently live; and (vii) that the description and explanation of all the powers of the self and the processes and attributes of the world the self inhabits, comes to know,
manipulates, understands, or affects, may, it is supposed, be cast entirely in naturalistic
terms, though any viable naturalism must, accordingly, accommodate whatever among the
self's first-personal powers prove to be resistant to any dismissive form of deflation or reduction or elimination. I'm touching here on some of the dawning contests on which the
fortunes of pragmatism and the whole of Western philosophy depend: in particular, those
that mark the importance of the distinctive (but not especially orderly) confrontation with
figures like Brandom, Price, Sellars, Rorty, and Wittgenstein.
Once you have a schema of this scope and plausibility in hand, you see at once how
easy it is to detect deflections from, deformations and abandonments of, presumptions beyond, the modest demands of classic pragmatism. So, for example, the daring of Rorty's
postmodern pragmatism cannot possibly be an admissible form of pragmatism if we yield
in the direction of the tally I've just contrived. Similarly but for very different reasons, everything remotely in accord with Kant's transcendentalism (but not the transcendental
question itself) cannot possibly pass muster. But then, Putnam's internal realism which
Putnam himself acknowledges founders on its adopting an empiricist form of representationalism (very possibly misled by James) cannot be defended (as a viable form of pragmatism) any more than the thesis that worried Kant in his famous letter to Marcus Herz. 8
Nevertheless, representationalism in any benignly Hegelianized (presuppositionless)
form of phenomenological presentationalism (as in Peirce's variant) may actually be
needed to offset, convincingly, every illicit form of perceptual or cognate privilege.
It may not seem so, but I am indeed responding to Putnam's question. I take Putnam
to be asking: "If Rorty calls himself a pragmatist, then can we reasonably call Wittgenstein
a pragmatist?" The question has to do with pragmatism's future. So that now that Brandom
has actually formulated his picture of the pragmatist promise of his own inferentialism
what he calls analytic pragmatism we begin to recognize an entirely fresh attempt to
subsume or adjust pragmatism's classic intuitions under auspices that threaten to drown out
or effectively marginalize what are pragmatism's best insights vis--vis the most important
and likeliest contests of our day.
In this sense, the answer to Putnam's question is, quite simply, No! Wittgenstein is
not a pragmatist in any instructive sense; Rorty is, finally, a pragmatist only in the comic
8 John McDowell's "Toward Rehabilitating Objectivity," in Rorty and His Critics; notes that Rorty, in Rorty's own Objectivity, Relativism and Truth: Philosophical Papers I (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,
1991), approves of Putnam's having argued that "notions like 'reference' semantical notions which relate language
to nonlanguage are internal to our overall view of the world"; that "From the standpoint of the representionalist,
the fact that notions like representation, reference, and truth are deployed in ways that are internal to a language or
a theory is no reason to deny them" (p. 6; cited at p. 114 by McDowell). I'd forgotten this nice piece of civility. But
I think I may say that, here, both Rorty and Putnam are clearly pragmatists, but neither was able to hold the line:
not Rorty in what I've already cited from The Mirror of Nature, and not Putnam, in his Dewey Lectures, "Sense,
Nonsense, and the Senses: An Inquiry into the Powers of the Human Mind," Journal of Philosophy, 91, 1994, pp.
495-517.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
133

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

sense in which any large doctrine may be completely disorganized by turning its own
commitments against its truer self; and Brandom may be counted a pragmatist chiefly, I
would say, on the basis of equivocating between the pragmatic commitments of any
standard version of philosophical pragmatism and the so-called "pragmatic" features of the
semantic analysis of discourse directed at making explicit the inferential implications of
what we do by way of verbal and nonverbal behavior, that may be expressed (functionally
or logically) in terms of what we say (or may say) expresses the implicit inferential
import of what we actually do; and partly on the strength of Brandom's affection for the
pragmatism of figures as diverse as Rorty, Dewey, Sellars, Frege, Wittgenstein, Davidson,
Heidegger and others labeled by Rorty (at one time or another) as pragmatists. The moniker
hardly matters, but the confusion that results is hardly helpful. Pragmatism faces a remarkably open opportunity to strengthen its various undertakings in our own time. I would hate
to see it squandered in the newly refurbished quarrels now intriguingly resurrected from the
past.
Here, if I understand Brandom correctly I'm not sure I do understand him, I'm not
sure Brandom's introductory remarks about the inferentialist program he introduces, in Between Saying and Doing, are entirely transparent I would be willing to say that we could,
without the least disadvantage, construe our pragmatist reading of the functional use of any
so-called target vocabulary (in terms of any so-called base vocabulary favored for the
inferentialist game) as either representational or expressive. We would, of course, have
to admit some sort of benign privilege at least two foci in either sort of account: in the
sense, first, that something meaningful would have had to be given (presuppositionlessly)
in the target vocabulary, which we would wish to preserve in our explication; and, second,
that the explication itself would, thus far at least, adequately preserve the meaning thus
given. Alternatively put, any deflationary or reductionist or similar search for would-be
semantic economies would have to be independently defended. 9 There is no a priori reason why a representational theory of language or an epistemologically qualified theory of
truth must be unacceptable within the terms of the leanest form of naturalism adequate to
pragmatism's needs. But I don't deny that that's a quarrelsome claim.
Brandom introduces his own undertaking as follows:
What I want to call the "classical project of analysis" [formal semantics, or, more narrowly,
what Brandom names "semantic logicism"]...aims to exhibit the meanings expressed by various target vocabularies as intelligible by means of the logical elaboration of the meanings expressed by base vocabularies thought to be privileged in some important respects
epistemological, ontological, or semantic relative to these others.

9
I take this to be the conserving, the deliberately conservative, import of Brandom's entire program
opposed, if I may say so, to the radical economies of Rorty's postmodern pragmatism and, as we shall see, to the
very differently motivated semantic minimalism of the kind of naturalism favored by Huw Price, who is otherwise an ally of Brandom's. Brandom makes it clear at the very start of his account that his formulation (what he
calls semantic logicism) is meant to be hospitable to all kinds of ways of treating semantic relations between
vocabularies (serving inferentialism's program): "analysis, definition, paraphrase, translation, reduction of different sorts, truth-making, and various kinds of supervenience" where "it is characteristic of classical analytic philosophy that logical vocabulary is accorded a privileged role in specifying these semantic relations" (Between Saying and Doing, p. 2). I make the worry explicit because Rorty seems to be a bit shocked by Brandom's effort
(which is odd) and Price seems baffled by Brandom's way of proceeding (which might well be puzzling to an extreme deflationist).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
134

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

This Brandom calls the core program; the famous extension he wishes to add (to
round matters out) that is, the rules of inferentialism comes from the pragmatist challenge (he says) he associates chiefly (always by way of Wilfrid Sellars's very different labors) with Wittgenstein's distinction between meaning and use, which Brandom regards
as the nerve of Wittgensteinian pragmatism. 10 So he means to answer Putnam's question
as well!
You see, of course, if you allow the liberty, that it no longer matters whether we prefer to speak in the idiom of representation or that of expression (which both Price and
Brandom worry in terms of deflationist preferences of different degrees of daring): we can
invoke either notion at any point in the same exercise (or both together); each (we suppose)
addresses the substantive aspect of discourse that we would not want any strictly deflationary or deflationary naturalist maneuver to displace. Beyond all that, which must be examined more carefully, I see no reason to disallow Brandom's attempt to provide a complete
account of semantics: the only questions that arise ask (benignly), Is the program viable? Is
it robust enough to be worth pursuing? Are there restricting or disabling complications that
have not yet been acknowledged? Does it qualify as an enlargement of pragmatism's own
program? Has Brandom read Wittgenstein correctly? Sellars? Dewey? Frege? Or, indeed,
Peirce?11 (We have only to resist the fatal conviction that deflationism is an autonomous
semantic discipline that overrides any "old-fashioned" metaphysics). Deflationism, I say, is
always an encumbered and dependent philosophical strategy: it cannot completely disjoin
semantic analysis and"metaphysics".12
Curiously, Brandom reports Rorty's actual response to drafts of his Locke lectures
(now collected as Between Saying and Doing), which reads as follows: "Why in the world
would you want to extend the death throes of analytic philosophy by another decade or
two?"13 Rorty saw at once, you realize, the retrograde possibilities of Brandom's innovation. Imagine! Given Brandom's response, it's perfectly clear that the answer is in good part
a matter of philosophical taste. Nevertheless, Brandom's answer does begin to explain the
sense in which his venture is much more traditional and conservative than one might have
supposed possibly even regressive when compared with Wittgenstein, Dewey, Rorty, Putnam, and Sellars despite his affirming his openness to epistemological, ontological, and
10 Brandom, Between Saying and Doing, p. 1.
11 Two short pieces come to mind that have helped me in reviewing these matters. The first is Brandom's
"Response to John McDowell," addressed to John McDowell, "Comment on Lecture One" (of Between Saying and
Doing), one of a series of instructive papers by different hands (and responses to each by Brandom), collected in
Philosophical Topics, 36, No. 2, 2008. Here, Brandom confirms his intent to bring analytic philosophy and pragmatism together in order to launch his analytic pragmatism (p. 135). But he also explains the sense in which he's
not wedded to any particular paradigmatic core program (empiricism, naturalism, artificial intelligence, functionalism, or the like) (p. 135). He's prepared to shift from one to another, quite freely, wherever any such option
proves to be particularly helpful.
The other piece is a trim Critical Notice of Brandom's book: Daniel Whiting, "Between Old and New:
Brandom's Analytic Pragmatism", International Journal of Philosophical Studies, (4) 17, 2009. Whiting expresses
doubts about the novelty of Brandom's general approach: "Both its proximity to pragmatism and, especially, its
distance from traditional analytic philosophy (as he characterizes both) seem overstated. VV-sufficiency and necessity claims [that is, claims involving matched target and base vocabularies] are the traditional fodder of analytic philosophy (as Brandom describes it) and can be arrived at without the apparatus of MURs [that is, 'meaninguse relations']" (p. 606). Compare the text of Ch. 1, Between Saying and Doing. Whiting's doubts also suggest considering anticipations in (say) Dewey's Logic and Peirce's pragmatic maxim (in "How to Make Our Ideas
Clear"). I must thank my assistant, Phillip Honenberger for drawing my attention to, and making available, these
(and related) materials.
12 Compare Michael Dummett, The Logical Basis of Mataphysics, Cambridge, Harvard University Press
1981, Introduction.
13 Brandom, Between Saying and Doing, p. 202.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
135

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

semantic issues and his willingness to address the resources of folk vocabularies. Rorty's
reaction is rather more puzzling, because Rorty surely knew what Brandom was up to. (I
can only think that Rorty's remark was meant to be reported as a comic putdown).
Huw Price, a rising Australian philosopher and an ally (and opponent) of Brandom's,
actually suggests that Brandom may be a counter-revolutionary analyst or pragmatist or
analytic pragmatist.14 The point at stake is that Brandom cannot be easily pinned down as
to where, precisely, he stands with respect to the conceptual issues his own inferentialism
poses regarding topics like empiricism, naturalism (especially naturalism), deflationism,
traditional metaphysics, realism, minimalisms of various kinds, defensible ways of speaking of subjects and objects, the relationship between epistemology, ontology, and semantics
and the like. It's not clear at all that Brandom addresses theses issues adequately (or as a
committed pragmatist) as when he lays out the largely formal schema of the inferentialist
program sketched in Between Saying and Doing. That is, from the side of naturalism and
realism, for instance, or from the side of semantic analysis informed by same. There's the
question we must pursue if we are to answer Putnam's opening question perspicuously: to
catch a glimpse of what new philosophical options may be in the offing. Brandom is surprisingly guarded about committing himself metaphysically, though I would not say that
he equivocates there. He hasn't fully resolved the question in his own mind!
In fact, the topics just mentioned, which are among the principal topics of the day,
seem overly familiar as of course they are. But the novelty persists: What, finally, should
we regard as the most tenable account of the relationship between pragmatism and naturalism? Through the whole of the analytic tradition of the last century, the favored answer has
been this: that pragmatism must yield to the scientistic (or reductive) economies of naturalism. I venture to say that, now, it makes more sense to hold that naturalism must concede
the prior force and standing of the essential requirements of pragmatism (if, that is, something close to the pragmatist themes I've tallied a short while ago can be reasonably defended). Naturalism is a variable doctrine subaltern to our adherence to some more fundamental
claim: pragmatist or reductionist, for example. I regard the change as a tribute to the rising
importance of the theory of the self. (Price, I may say, takes an uncertain view of the primacy of the human subject: he clearly rejects the popular naturalistic thesis that holds
that, in relevant contexts, "philosophy" must yield to science. 15 But I cannot see how he
finally eludes its grasp; he does not explain the proper scope of deflationism, which cannot
fail to be a subaltern strategy. In a way, I welcome Prices insistence (his Priority Thesis)
to the effect that subject naturalism is theoretically prior to object naturalism (which
stalemates reductionism, if I read it aright); but that does not quite settle the relationship
between naturalism and pragmatism. There must be suitable (pragmatist) constraints on deflationism, if the Thesis is to be read, finally, along pragmatist lines.
In effect, the required shift now means our being prepared to rebut any and all impoverishing deflationary economies with regard to metaphysics and epistemology. That is,
if we correctly perceive that naturalism has no privileged standing. Indeed, neither has
pragmatism. Nevertheless, in different ways, the admission is compromised by both Price
and Brandom. Brandom and Price have, then, begun to occupy the eccentric successor roles
of the opposition Putnam and Rorty originally shared at the end of the twentieth century.
Both of the new contenders are clearly caught up with a nostalgia for the scientistic: Price
(influenced by Simon Blackburn's quasi-realism) perhaps more daringly than Brandom.
My own guess has it that the freshest and most engaging moments of the developing con14
15

See Huw Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, New York, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 308-309.
See Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, p. 186.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
136

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

test, which ranges far beyond any merely local skirmish, will come to rest among the pros
and cons (once again) of deflationary and counter-deflationary treatments of truth and disputes regarding representationalism and realism and the strategies of metaphilosophy.
Now, what am I actually offering in the way of a guess at pragmatism's changing
prospects? I'm persuaded that we're approaching a new agon obliquely. The center of gravity will be the consolidation of a simplified, greatly strengthened. An enlarged pragmatism
and the leanest possible form of naturalism we can defend. The current forays that command attention are all at least partially retrograde. The best of these favors semantic deflationisms of a variably reductionist or eliminativist or merely extensionalist cast: most wildly in Rorty; traditionally and rather one-sidedly (thus far), in Brandom; and possibly in the
riskiest way, in the deflationary sense, in Price. I don't believe it's the power of conceptual
invention that's decisive; it's the provocation of largely neglected or incompletely examined
puzzles suddenly remembered because they have been revived in a more confrontational
and more insistent form than is usual.
What I surmise has happened is that a new tension is beginning to make itself felt
regarding the analysis of the human self or subject: that's to say, regarding the most essential topic of the entire movement we know as pragmatism. On the one hand, the conjunction
of deflationism (as with the semantics of truth and meaning) and the continuing attraction
of the supposed primacy and autonomy of semantic analysis (with respect to marginalizing
traditional metaphysics and epistemology) threaten to recover reductive and eliminativist
intentions by semantically and informationally contrived strategies; and, on the other hand,
conceptual economies regarding the functionality of the self (in science and morality, or in
accord with the natural artifactuality of language and enlanguaged and encultured human
life) are beginning to require a fresh assessment of the sense in which the self remains a
thoroughly natural kind of being. You realize, therefore, that the more promising, newer
constraints cut against the older scientistic wave of naturalism a fortiori, against the scientistic strains of deflationism.
I admit I favor the anti-scientistic turn, particularly the enrichment of the theory of
the self, where it favors joining Hegelian and Darwinian themes. But these have not yet
been picked up with conviction by more recent inquiries which, to my thinking, confirms
the continuing attraction of regressive impulses among analysts, pragmatists, and naturalists
alike. For similar reasons, there's little that's arresting in the way of novel treatments of social, cultural, historical, biological, paleontological, evolutionary, normative, communicative, informational phenomena among naturalists and pragmatists. My intuition is that the
recovery of a robust conception of the self will proceed along artifactualist and constructivist lines; otherwise, insistence on a merely functionalist treatment of the self is likely to retreat to the effective autonomy of semantic economies, the minor exercise of testing the tolerable limits of a dependent deflationism, and the inchoate reduction (or elimination) of the
cultural and linguistic world in biochemical and neurophysiological terms. I offer in evidence the amusing but otherwise impoverished conclusion steadfastly championed by Daniel Dennett.16
II
The importance of Huw Price's contribution to the growing dispute regarding pragmatism's future lies with his rather daring sense of naturalism's liens on pragmatism's op16

See Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained, Boston, Little-Brown, 1991.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
137

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

tions. For one thing, he's suspicious of philosophy's old-fashioned metaphysics and epistemology; he favors the authority and competence of science (in what degree, is not entirely clear) to determine all pertinent facts regarding what may be found in the world. As
he says, "there is no framework-independent [extra-linguistic] stance for metaphysics".17 I
agree. (But, surely, one must concede the inverse with regard to semantic analyses as well.)
Price also supports the following quite ingenious thesis, which he calls functional pluralism, the conception of which (if it entails no prejudice to the standing of any substantive
claim) I find entirely congenial:
A functional pluralist accepts that moral, modal, and meaning utterances are descriptive, factstating, truth-apt, cognitive, belief-expressing, or whateverand full-bloodedly so, not merely in some ersatz or "quasi" sense. Nevertheless, the pluralist insists that these descriptive utterances are functionally distinct from scientific descriptions of the natural world; they do a
different job in language. They are descriptive, but their job is not to describe what science
describes.18

Pluralist strategies may be reconciled with naturalism, therefore, if we possess arguments sufficient to make the case. For instance, I willingly concede that there are no moral
norms to be found in the world as actual or real or existent in any respect in which
human persons are found in the world. But, for one thing, I reserve the right of any philosopher to attempt to make the contrary case. For a second, I would not deny that humans have
indeed constructed plausible forms of moral discourse that answer to their interests and are
capable of sustaining rational dispute and rational commitment firm enough to vindicate
their (that is, our) practice of speaking of moral truths and moral facts. For a third, I would
not support a similar claim against the actuality of words and sentences or persons or families or artworks or money or political states or the like. And, for a fourth, I see no plausible
way of precluding the question of the naturalist standing of selves across science and morality (or similar categorical demarcations).
Given such constraints, I would argue that there is no disjunctive line to be drawn
between science and philosophy (or metaphysics), or indeed between science and nonscience; and that, as a consequence, there are no compelling arguments to be had in favor of
the primacy of science over (say) philosophy or art criticism or history or, any privileged
disjunction between semantic analysis and metaphysics. Hence, I take the following characterization (by Price) of the "functional pluralist's" position to be seriously misguided or at
least indefensible:
functional pluralists...speak from within the scientific framework, but about other frameworks. This gives the scientific framework a kind of perspectival primacy. Our viewpoint is
internal to science, but external to morality, for example. It is a viewpoint which allows us to
refer directly to the objects and properties countenanced by science, but not---to the objects
countenanced by the moral stance.

This spells out (very briefly) what Price means by his subscribing to what he names the
Carnap Thesis (regarding internal and external questions). 19 But I cannot see that the
functional pluralists demarcation policy has any plausible payoff regarding the relation17
18
19

Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, p. 137.


Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, p. 136.
Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, p. 147. On the Carnap Thesi, see pp. 136-137

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
138

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

ship between pragmatism, naturalism, and deflationism, unless its to debar us from posing
essential questions. The philosophical standing of the self or person is simply too important
to be settled by verbal devices: the self belongs, if it belongs anywhere, to science and morality alike. (If so, then the Priority Thesis is not well formed).
It's on such grounds that Price comes to favor potentially privileged, often quite extreme deflationary (or minimalist) strategies: for example, what he calls the Priority Thesis, according to which (broadly conceived), "if the claims and ambitions of philosophy
conflict with what science tells us about ourselves [and, it would seem, about the world that
science knows] then philosophy needs to give way". Nevertheless, Price also notes that science "cannot turn its spotlight on the language of science itself".20 So there are unresolved
aporiai at the very heart of Price's naturalism; hence, grounds for serious objections affecting not merely his own proposals but all efforts to ensure the objective standing of deflationary and minimalist economies ranging over all metaphysical, epistemological, and
semantic disputes. As Price concedes: "the contribution on our side [regarding whatever
counts as an objective picture of the real world] never goes to zero". 21
I cannot see how these views can be coherently reconciled. But then, you glimpse,
here, the sense in which arguments (by Brandom and Price) said to be hospitable to pragmatism's future prospects instruct us (unwittingly) about what is closer to pragmatism's true
fortunes among the contests that are just now surfacing along potentially productive lines. 22
I would say Brandom's intuition was more promising than Price's (but noticeably
less explicit), just where Price takes Brandom to be equivocating or to be actually inconsistent in the spirit of Price's provocatively deflationist option (barely bruited here). Nevertheless, Brandom's own attraction to deflationism (or what he offers as its prosentential
analogue)23 all but wipes out the gain he nearly secures. Both Price and Brandom seek
roundabout formulations of what, without prejudice (or metaphysical intent), we may as
well call seeking truth though in such a way that both Price and Brandom manage to preclude the actual use of true as an ascribable predicate that serves (in Brandom's deprecating characterization) as explanatory guarantor of the success of our practical endeavors24
what I've dubbed seeking truth solely to keep our disputed goal in view. The only reliable objection to Brandom's deflationary charge (but the objection does indeed count) is that
true fills predicative roles that are not committed in any way to cognitive privilege (or, for
that matter, to ordinary explanatory tasks). I am prepared to argue that every strong deflationary paraphrase of true omits what we cannot afford to leave out, or circularly implicates what we claim to have dismissed, or is tautologically uninstructive with regard to the
elusive consideration in question. I mean, of course, the realist import of the truth predicate.
Recall that, on my view, philosophical semantics is metaphysics in another guise. If I'm
right about this, then even the most effective and compelling deflationary treatment of
truth surely, the treatment Paul Horwich accords it signals its own ineluctable defect.
20 Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, pp. 30-32, 185-187.
21 Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, p. 31. That Price entertains the idea at all is already completely incompatible with any viable form of pragmatism--hence, on my argument, any defensible form of naturalism.
22 See Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, pp. xi, 319-321. Compare Robert B. Brandom, Perspectives on
Pragmatism: Classical, Recent and Contemporary, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2011, pp. 140-141. See,
also, Simon Blackburn, Essays in Quasi-Realism, New York, Oxford University Press, 1993, Ch. 1,which colors
the exchange between Price and Brandom.
23 See Robert B. Brandom, Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas, Cambridge, Harvard University Press,
2009, pp. 163-165. Brandom cites as the original source of the idea, D. Grover, J. Camp, and N. Belnap, "A
Prosentential Theory of Truth", Philosophical Studies 27, 1975, which I have not read.
24 See Robert B. Brandom, "Why Truth is Not Important in Philosophy," in Reason in Philosophy, p. 159.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
139

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

We've arrived, then, at an essential contrast, a place at which to begin to decide the
respective fate and fortune of the deflationary/anti-deflationary treatments of truth, represenationality, reference, evidence, knowledge, reality, and the like, essential (as I
see matters) to deciding the right or best (or, perhaps better, second-best) way to reconcile
pragmatism and naturalism in our time. I take truth to be the exemplary case, and Price
and Brandom to have failed us in the pragmatist's quest. Effectively, there is a function of
the predicate true that is inseparable from the epistemic function of fact or confirmed
fact (or the like), which deflationists cannot convincingly account for or explain away semantically.
I can spare very little space here to specify the force of what I take to be the pragmatist complaint, perhaps most clearly anticipated in Peirce's paper, "The Fixation of Belief"
but surely implicit in the classic pragmatists' treatment of truth (no matter how tortured). I
find the nerve of the quarrel adumbrated, unintentionally, in Brandom's chapter, titled
"Why Truth is Not Important in Philosophy." Consider, for instance, the following lines:
I've said that my claim that truth is not important in philosophy should not be understood as
denying the importance of truthfulness, epistemic conscientiousness, or assessments of
knowledge. But I've also said that in each of these cases, though we may if we like talk about
the phenomena in question in terms of truth, we need not do so, and lose nothing essential if
we do not.25

This sounds reasonable but it is not: it falls far short of what a full-blooded pragmatism
would (rightly) require. What is the point of separating truth and epistemic conscientiousness if truth is treated in the strongest deflationary way?
There remains a still-unanswered objection: namely, that a would-be essential use or
function of true (which Brandom and Price intend to displace or deflate in somewhat different ways) cannot be secured by any merely psychological or semantic element (unless
suitably linked to what is epistemologically still missing); hence, that the function needed
cannot be derived from any would-be prior inferential linkage between what we say and
what we do (according to Brandom's strategy). I'm convinced that this single challenge
stalemates every merely deflationary account of truth hence, also, every inferentialist
program (of Brandom's sort) that claims to be full-service (including Brandom's own variant).
I'm certain we can do better in reconciling pragmatism and naturalism, because there
are a good many methodologically temperate factual discoveries about the advent of language, the functionalities of the emergent self, the nature of enlanguaged cultures (drawn in
part from post-Darwinian paleoanthropology) that are in noticeable accord with the pragmatist's essential commitments (tallied earlier) where pragmatism is clearly not in accord
with scientism commitments Price tends to discount or deflate if he can, preferring scientism's seemingly more robust facts, all the while he presents himself as a pragmatist (as
in his seemingly robust Priority Thesis).
Price's executive commitment insists that the analysis of representationalism and
(say) truth should be conducted from a vantage that "remain[s] resolutely on the 'word'
side of the word/world divide".26 (A policy meant to hold for pragmatists and naturalists
alike--but is plainly nowhere secured). Price is either arbitrary here or in tow to his own un25
26

Brandom, Reason in Philosophy, p. 158; but compare the rest of the chapter.
Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, p. 318; compare Brandom, Between Saying and Doing, pp. 177-178.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
140

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

guarded metaphysics. I find the worry confirmed, however innocently, in Price's so-called
Priority Thesis, which I've mentioned in passing and which is best read as a deflationist's
version of pragmatism:
Subject naturalism [Price says] is theoretically prior to object naturalism, because the latter
depends on validation from a subject naturalist perspective. 27

Certainly, this much of Price's view may seem to accord with pragmatism's priorities.
But the formulation is hardly perspicuous. We are not told how to distinguish between the
claims of science and the claims of philosophy, and we are not told how the argumentative
resources of the two sorts of naturalism are to be shared or divided or indeed what priority now means. We are hardly told what subjects and objects are.
By object naturalism Price intends the doctrine, ontological or/and epistemological, that holds that all there is the world studied by science or/and that all genuine
knowledge is scientific knowledge. By subject naturalism, however, he means, eccentrically, that "science tells us that we humans are natural creatures, and if the claims of and
ambitions of philosophy conflict with this view, then philosophy needs to give way". But
surely that means (may at least be construed as meaning) that subject naturalism is itself
subsumed under the umbrella of object naturalism (or is entitled to claim evidentiery resources that are not yet spelled out), which sets the stage for an extensive deflationism a
fortiori, for a deflationary version of pragmatism itself. Its also possible that Price is committed to inconsistent readings of his subject naturalism: on the one hand, subject naturalism is addressed to a sub-topic of object naturalism and is subject, therefore, to the latters
priorities: on the other hand, the whole of object naturalism presupposes the validative priority of subject naturalism, so subject naturalism is characterized in some privileged way. 28
Beyond all that, Price explicitly says that he is committed to naturalism without representationalism29 which is, of course, the first salvo of a very strong deflationism that cannot
fail to undermine the normal priorities of a pragmatist's reading of the Priority Thesis.
(Representationalism, like truth, is a profoundly equivocal notion, as Kant discovered.)
The clue I spy is naive enough. For one thing, I agree with what Price calls the insubstantialist account of truth: namely, that truth itself plays no significant causalexplanatory role of its own. 30 For a second, I have no doubt that what we mean by truth
(as well as what we mean by knowledge and reality), within the context of any body of
science, cannot be simply discovered, must be a reasoned construction of some kind relative to human interests; hence, that to hold that semantic analysis is inseparable from metaphysics (and epistemology) produces no paradox at all. Nevertheless, there is a third consideration to conjure with: namely, that truth concerns a distinctive kind of relationship between (what is often called) the assertoric use of language and whatever belongs among
the things of the world that assertion and action engage (as by saying and doing) a relationship that, invoking our understanding of the nature of human selves and their interests,
supports an all but indefeasible, generic, realist conviction, without indefeasible criteria or
conceptions of any sort regarding meaning, knowledge, reality, or the like.
In this sense, I would not say, with Price, that truth is merely insubstantialist: it
does answer to our substantialist sense of the actuality of our world; the uniqueness of our
27

Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, p. 186.


Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, pp. 186.
29 Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, pp. 185-187.
30 Price, Naturalism without Mirrors, pp. 116-117; see, also, p. 115.
28

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
141

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

discursive and reflexive powers ubiquitously involved in all our engagements with the
world; and, most important, our practical or effective inability (in what may be rightly qualified as pragmatic in Peirce's and Dewey's convergent picture of the continuum of the
animal and the human) to doubt or deny the realist import of our involvement with the
world. In short, for all our philosophical cleverness, we cannot (in the pragmatist sense)
shake free of our spontaneous, more or less ubiquitous commitment to the realist cast of
assertoric success, which, of course, is hardly hostage to any particular truth-claim. Furthermore, although there are, admittedly, important parallels between the functions of cognitive and moral norms and even between realist beliefs regarding truth and (may I say)
beliefs of moral correctness, the insuperable persuasion of the first cannot be matched
by that of the second.
In this sense, truth answers primordially to a presumptive realist relationship between assertion and world, whereas moral assertion at its most fundamental cannot claim
to rest on a similarly irresistible presumption. I take that to be a very strong abductive intuition, impossible to confirm decisively.
Price may have been too quick, then, in denying Brandom a better option against his
own sort of minimalism. He cites Brandom's words against Brandom's unguarded tendency
toward metaphysical inflation, hence, toward an old-fashioned, outmoded way of doing
metaphysics; that is, he signals that Brandom is equivocally attracted to representationalism
all the while he (Brandom) assures us that he means to address such matters semantically.
But I see no inconsistency there, only a small philosophical confusion.
In a perfectly straightforward sense, metaphysics and epistemology cannot be
philosophically separated from semantic analysis, or it from them. Semantics is metaphysics by another name (pace Carnap, Quine, Michael Dummett, and an army of others): we
need a test of sorts (however provisional or ad hoc) by which to settle the pragmatist status
of figures like Brandom, Sellars, Frege, Quine, Carnap, Rorty, Putnam, and (now) Price,
and perhaps Wittgenstein; and the test we need cannot apply disjunctively to human subjects and physical objects (or to what Price speaks of as subject naturalism and object
naturalism) or to sorting the purely verbal function of semantic distinctions from those
that are (somehow) metaphysically freighted. There's the nerve of the emerging agon involving pragmatism and naturalism. The unlikelihood of vindicating any such disjunction is
classic pragmatism's ace whatever quarrels may appear to arise regarding truth, validation,
knowledge, meaning, or reality! Abduction (in Peirce's best sense) takes a distinctly holist
and realist cast that corresponds very neatly to what Wittgenstein calls a form of life.
I'll add a small bit more regarding Paul Horwich's exemplary attempt to secure the
sparest possible (most unyielding) form of deflationism that can be found (what Horwich
calls minimalism), to assure you that the objection I've advanced applies to Horwich's thesis as readily as to Price's and Brandom's alternatives. The following is the leanest version
of deflationary minimalism that I'm familiar with:
Deflationism begins by emphasizing the fact that no matter what theory of truth we might espouse professionally, we are all prepared to infer
The belief that snow is white is true
from
Snow is white

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
142

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

and vice versa. And, more generally, we all accept instances of the truth schemata
The belief (conjecture, assertion supposition....) that p is true iff p.
But instead of taking the traditional view that an analysis of truth still needs to be given a reductive account deeper than the truth schemata, which will explain why we accept their instances the deflationist maintains that, since our commitment to these schemata accounts for
everything we do with the truth predicate, we can suppose that they implicitly define it. 31

I take this to be irreconcilable with pragmatism, simply because the use of true is inseparable from whatever counts as the outcome of successful inquiries regarding worldly
things viewed in terms of human interests. Speaking rather unguardedly, the essential issue
is either not the analysis or definition of the truth predicate (along the lines of the truth
schemata given) or it concerns the relationship between the use of the truth predicate (in
something like the first sense) and the usual accounts of metaphysical and epistemological
questions having to do with what we regard as an actual body of knowledge (suitably validated) that, for that reason, counts as a proper part of the analysis (of the use) of the predicate true. In this sense, though I regret having to say so, Horwich is finally evasive.
III
This concludes the first part of my answer to Putnam's question. I realize it may appear to leave us all at loose ends. Well, not completely. Let me mollify you some. What I've
done thus far is provide a set of considerations in terms of which Putnam's question should
be met (and would be met effectively) by staging a confrontation between Brandom and
Wittgenstein rather than by featuring a reminder of Rorty's extravagant (and improbable)
readingof Wittgenstein, or a tepid picture of Wittgenstein's convergence in the direction of
certain of Kant's concessions. (This is, in fact, the nerve of what is to be the second part of
the larger inquiry of which the first part is now before you: the fundamental disagreement
between Brandom and Wittgenstein regarding a matter that supposedly affects the pragmatist standing of each). The decisive reason, I've suggested, is simply that it is indeed Brandom who has effectively challenged every conventional form of pragmatism and analytic
philosophy to change its orientation along the lines of what Brandom calls analytic pragmatism. Brandom has made an arresting case for a new constellation of convergences involving strenuous options drawn especially from the different, sometimes overlapping interests of naturalism, deflationism, and inferentialism. 32
That is, I suggest we try to answer Putnam's question by looking to the most salient
topics of our imminent future. I have no doubt that the central agon will at least include,
certainly for a not insignificant season, the pragmatist and analytic critique of Brandom's
inferentialism. (The second part of this essay centers on what I take to be Brandom's profound misreading [or misunderstanding] of Wittgenstein's meaning/use distinction, on
the strength of which Brandom claims to base the pragmatism of his own undertaking).
Nevertheless, I think it may well be that the general suggestion I've been exploring here is,
31 Paul Horwich, "The Minimalist Conception of Truth," slightly revised, abstracted from his Truth, 2nd.
ed., Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, in Truth, S. Blackburn and K. Simmons (eds.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 240.
32 Regarding the first two themes, see, further, Brandom, Perspectives on Pragmatism, Introduction and
Ch. 7.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
143

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

finally, more important than the specific confrontation I recommend. If that proved true, it
would yield a striking, however distant, analogue of the original stalemate between Rorty
and Putnam (which went nowhere philosophically and yet revitalized the academy's interest
in pragmatism in the most remarkable way). In any event, the original question only seems
to elude us as its implications become more evident.
According to Putnam, Wittgenstein and the pragmatists converge. I grant the point
and move on to a greener comparison. I suggest we consider instead the respect in which,
misreading Wittgenstein, Brandom utterly fails to bring his project into accord with the
most minimal considerations essential to pragmatism. The trouble is, the argument leading
to Brandom's conclusion should accord with the findings I've now laid out regarding the
resources of naturalism and deflationism; here, standard arguments examined in terms of
specimens drawn from Price and Horwich prove to be very difficult to make convincing.
Furthermore, the actual argument involving the comparison between Brandom and Wittgenstein has proved to be about as long as the preliminary argument now before you. In
fact, it requires its own stage-setting, which I couldn't possibly have included here. So Im
obliged to stop and signal (all too briefly) just how the rest of the argument should play out
and what it should entail. I can only hope, therefore, that you find this part of it intriguing
enough to wait to see how its sequel plays out.
Reasonable cautions against the excesses of deflationism and those of scientisticallyminded naturalisms do not need to wait for the second part of the argument. They are reasonably free-standing and convincingly concluded here; and, of course, they count straightforwardly in favor of any moderate pragmatism say, conceptions more or less in accord
with the tally earlier provided. So that if Brandom cannot rely on his reading of Wittgenstein to buttress the genuinely pragmatist character of his inferentialism, which in fact relies
almost entirely on extending the (already) settled work of algorithmically regularized inference-forms drawn from the special vocabularies of formal semantics (introduced in Between Saying and Doing), then it should become quite clear that Brandom's misreading of
Wittgenstein (if confirmed) might well signify that he's made no use of any sustained analysis (Wittgensteinian or not) of the actual and possible ways in which inferential linkages in
language-games or fragments of ordinary natural-language discourse are processed and
discerned or reasonably imputed.
But if so, then I, for one, cannot see the force of claiming that Brandom's own model
of a semantic logicism is a full-bodied form of pragmatism. 33 It's entirely possible that
Brandom means little more, by "pragmatic," than that, in pertinent contexts, we are entitled
to replace the inferentially implicit "content" of what speakers do (verbally and nonverbally) with the appropriately matched content of what, on Brandom's own argument,
we say speakers could then say, preserving implicit inferential intentions (or intended
content) ranging over expressive and behavioral episodes. But strategies of these sorts have
surely not yet earned the right to claim a privileged approach to the analysis of the logical
life of natural-language discourse! Yet that is precisely what Wittgenstein's exercises (in
Investigations) put at mortal risk. That is the key to the tempting suggestion that Wittgenstein may have been a pragmatist after all. (In effect: distancing himself as far as possible
from what, as it turns out, Brandom actually calls Frege's pragmatism). Furthermore, to
have stalemated the extreme uses of deflationism and naturalism (more strenuously championed by Price than by Brandom) is to deprive Brandom of the other principal dialectical
resources he himself invokes in his attempt to lay a proper ground for inferentialism. But
33

See Brandom, Between Saying and Doing, pp. 48-54.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
144

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

A PHILOSOPHICAL BESTIARY

then, as it turns out, Brandom's mistake in pressing a deflationist reading of true unexpectedly anticipates the import of his misreading of Wittgenstein.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
145

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Guy Bennett-Hunter*

A Pragmatist Conception of Certainty: Wittgenstein and Santayana 1

Abstract. The ways in which Wittgenstein was directly influenced by William James (by
his early psychological work as well his later philosophy) have been thoroughly explored
and charted by Russell B. Goodman. In particular, Goodman has drawn attention to the
pragmatist resonances of the Wittgensteinian notion of hinge propositions as developed
and articulated in the posthumously edited and published work, On Certainty. This paper
attempts to extend Goodmans observation, moving beyond his focus on James (specifically, Jamess Pragmatism) as his pragmatist reference point. It aims to articulate the affinity between Wittgensteins thought on the topic of certainty and that of the neglected
pragmatist thinker, George Santayana.

The paper draws on Duncan Pritchards recent reading of Wittgensteins On Certainty in order to articulate the concept of certainty involved in the notion of hinge propositions. It identifies two important and related points of affinity between this Wittgensteinian
line of thought on certainty and the line of thought on the same topic articulated in Santayanas Scepticism and Animal Faith. The paper argues, firstly, that, both lines of thought
reflect a pragmatist concept of certainty, according to which our most fundamental certainties are not conceived as purely theoretical objects of belief or knowledge but rather as the
arational presuppositions of beliefs and practical action. Secondly, it examines the way in
which the pragmatist concept of certainty functions, for the two thinkers as a response to
scepticism. It argues that although the two thinkers responses are very different, they are
mutually compatible and, together, point towards the possibility of a distinctively pragmatist response to scepticism which involves an anti-epistemological model of the intimate
relation of the human self to the world.
I
Goodman (2002) has perceptively drawn attention to some ways in which Wittgensteins thought can be regarded as pragmatist. Using Jamess Pragmatism as his main
point of reference, he identifies a number of pragmatist themes in Wittgensteins (1969) On
Certainty, among which we also find Wittgensteins (1969: 422) direct statement, I am
trying to say something that sounds like pragmatism. Notably, Goodman (2002: 21-3)
identifies the Wittgensteinian notion of hinge propositions as being among these pragmatist
themes.2 In the first part of this paper, I want to set out briefly the conception of hinge
propositions as articulated in On Certainty and then draw on Pritchards (2011, 2012) re-

* University of Edinburgh [guy.bennett-hunter@ed.ac.uk]


1 I would like to thank the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh for
awarding me the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship that made possible the research for, and writing of, this paper
between January and August 2012.
2 I call it a Wittgensteinian concept, mindful of the limitations, recognised by Pritchard (2011), of the extent
to which arguments extracted from On Certainty can confidently be attributed to Wittgenstein. As Pritchard reminds us, the material in this book was not prepared or sanctioned for publication by Wittgenstein himself.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
146

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

cent reading of their nature and significance to articulate the Wittgensteinian concept of
certainty implied by that reading.
Wittgenstein develops the notion of hinge propositions from the observation that,
whenever we doubt something, there must always be something which is not doubted, taken
for granted, as the background against which the doubt arises. If we have a doubt about
whether something is the case, we may engage in the practice of checking or testing the object of the doubt. As Wittgenstein (1969: 163) illustrates the way in which this checking
process works:
We check the story of Napoleon, but not whether all the reports about him are based on
sense-deception, forgery and the like. For whenever we test anything, we are already presupposing something that is not tested.

Later on, he makes the same point by pointing out that when I conduct an experiment to
test the truth of some proposition of which I am doubtful, I do not doubt the existence of the
apparatus before my eyes (Wittgenstein, 1969: 163, 337). The practice of testing certain
propositions, the truth of which is not beyond doubt, presupposes that the truth of certain
propositions is beyond doubt: that the documents about Napoleon are not forged, that the
apparatus really exists and so on. Wittgenstein (1969: 88) contrasts such propositions with
the route travelled by inquiry; the route of inquiry is so structured as to exempt certain
propositions from doubt. If they are ever even explicitly formulated, such propositions lie
apart from the route of inquiry; they are the places inquiry does not go (Wittgenstein,
1969: 88; Goodman, 2002: 21). Such propositions are, for Wittgenstein (1969: 342,
613) in deed not doubted, since a doubt about such propositions, off the route of inquiry,
would have the unwelcome consequence of drag[ging] everything with it and plung[ing] it
into chaos. Finally, Wittgenstein (1969: 475,359) describes our commitment to such
propositions as primitive and something animal. Unlike our commitment to propositions on the route of inquiry, the truth of which is believed on the basis of our commitment
to these indubitable propositions, our commitment to a proposition of this latter kind does
not reflect a belief but rather a way of acting (Wittgenstein 1969: 110).
Propositions of this kind are known as hinge propositions after a metaphor Wittgenstein uses to illustrate their nature. Wittgenstein (1969: 341) writes,
the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.

As he goes on to explain a little later, [w]e just cant investigate everything and for that
reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges
must stay put (Wittgenstein, 1969, 343).
It seems intuitively clear that hinge propositions are subject to an attitude of certainty and, indeed, there is plenty of evidence in Wittgensteins text to support this view. But
Pritchards work makes clear that the certainty with which we are typically committed to
hinge propositions is quite different from the certainty at which traditional epistemology
aims, the special kind of knowledge sought by Descartes and his successors.
Pritchard (2012) provides an argument to support the idea that it is just the certainty
with which we are committed to hinge propositions that is the obstacle to viewing those
commitments as matters of belief or knowledge. As he points out, for something to be a
ground for doubt, it has to be more certain than the target proposition which one is calling

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
147

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

into doubt. If it were not more certain than the target proposition, Pritchard suggests, one
would have a better basis for rejecting the ground for doubt than for rejecting the belief
which is the target of the doubt itself. As he observes, this connects with Wittgensteins
(1969: 125) question, What is to be tested by what? Let us take the proposition, in normal circumstances, that one has two hands as an example of a proposition of which we are
as certain as we are of any proposition. A doubt about the proposition that I have two hands
would drag everything with it and plunge it into chaos for, in that case, it would not make
sense to check my belief that I have two hands by looking for them, [f]or why shouldnt I
test my eyes by looking to find out whether I see my two hands? (Wittgenstein, 1969:
125). It follows that I must be more certain of some other proposition (one functioning as a
hinge proposition) than one that I call into doubt. Wittgenstein seems to want to treat the
proposition that I have two hands, in normal circumstances, as just such a hinge proposition. Pritchard draws the conclusion that hinge propositions are logically immune to a rationally irresistible doubt since by definition any ground for doubt in these propositions
would be itself more dubitable than the target proposition itself (Pritchard 2012: 256).
There can therefore be no rational requirement to doubt a hinge proposition. Pritchard observes that this point about doubt applies, in equal measure, to its counterpart, belief. He
writes,
just as grounds for doubt need to be more certain than the target belief that is doubted, so
grounds for belief need to be more certain than the target proposition which is believed otherwise they cant be coherently thought
to be playing the required supporting role. A direct
consequence of this point is that just as there can be no rational requirement to doubt that
which one is most certain of, so one cannot rationally believe it either. (Pritchard 2012: 257)

Contra G. E. Moore, then, the certainty with which one is committed to the proposition,
for example, that one has two hands is not an indication that one believes or has knowledge
of that proposition. As Pritchard argues elsewhere, this certainty is, for Wittgenstein, just
what prevents the Moorean claim that one knows (or, a leviori, believes) these propositions:
Wittgensteins claim is that whatever would count as a reason in favour of a claim to know
must be more certain than the proposition claimed as known, since otherwise it would not be
able to play this supporting role. But if the proposition claimed as known is something which
one is most certain of, then it follows that there can be no more certain proposition which
could be offered in its favour and stand as the required supporting reason. (2011: 525, cf.
Wittgenstein, 1969: 243)

Pritchard examines, and finds wanting, various recent readings of Wittgenstein


which attempt to defend the possibility of belief in, or knowledge of, hinge propositions. He
puts forward the alternative suggestion that hinge commitments do not put us in the market
for knowledge, are not beliefs (which could be acquired by the process of competent deduction, for example) and, while they may be treated as propositional attitudes, they cannot be
treated as the specific propositional attitude of belief. While he admits that agents can recognise the logical relationships between non-hinge propositions and hinge propositions,
Pritchard disputes that recognition of those relationships can be part of a process through
which one acquires belief, and thus rational belief, in these hinge propositions (Pritchard
2012: 270). It follows that it is in the very nature of rational support that it is essentially local, a fact which Pritchard thinks is disguised by our ordinary epistemic practices in which

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
148

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

doubts about hinge propositions do not, as a matter of fact, typically arise. The conclusion
of Pritchards argument is that the propositions of which we are most certain are not, even
potentially, rationally supported but are rather the hinges relative to which we rationally
evaluate and thus test other propositions (Pritchard 2012: 257). The essentially local
nature of rational support and the consequent rational groundlessness of our hinge commitments3 implied by this non-epistemic reading is what Pritchard takes Wittgenstein
(1969: 166) to be referring to when he writes of the groundlessness of our believing.
Pritchard draws from Wittgensteins hinge metaphor for these certainties the
thought that the rational groundlessness which they imply is not an optional or accidental
feature of our epistemic practices but is, rather, essential to any belief-system.4 But, in
my view, the hinge metaphor also indicates an altogether more pragmatist import of this
Wittgensteinian line of thought, captured by Wittgensteins (1969: 343) phrase If I want
the door to turn, the hinges must stay put.5 In my view, this phrase, If I want the door to
turn..., implies the relativity of our exemption from doubt of certain propositions to our
practical interests, the dependence of that exemption on the fact that, at any given time, we
are trying to get things done. And another of Wittgensteins (1969: 94-8) metaphors, contrasting the river bed with the flux of the river itself, takes this line of thought further. Wittgenstein (1969: 94, 105) thinks of our picture of the world (to which the set of our hinge
commitments is clearly integral) as the background to all our doubts, beliefs and inquiries:
not itself a true or false proposition but the background against which true and false are distinguished; not itself an argument but the element in which arguments have their life.
This certain, indubitable background is compared to the bedrock of a river, the river itself
being the flux of our dubitable beliefs, constantly open to question in the light of our hinge
commitments. But, in metaphorical terms, parts of the bedrock may break off and become
part of the flux of the river, while parts of the river itself may harden and become bedrock.
The same shifting relationship obtains between our ordinary beliefs and the hinge commitments which form the background against which those beliefs make sense; although there
must be a distinction, at any given time, between what is open to doubt and what is beyond
doubt, that distinction is not, and cannot be a sharp or permanent one. The course of our
experience, and our ways of acting in relation to it, may cause us to re-evaluate things and
to doubt what was once part of the indubitable background or it may lead us to take for
granted something that was previously open to question. To my mind, the river metaphor
carries the important implication that what counts as a hinge proposition at one time, in one
context, may not count as a hinge proposition in a different context. The river metaphor
seems to indicate not only that, for Wittgenstein, the fact that we exempt certain propositions from doubt is dependent on the fact that we have practical interests but also that the
set of specific propositions that are exempted from doubt at any given time is relative to the
specific practical interests we have at that time. To take an illustration from Wittgenstein
(1969: 421) mentioned by Goodman (2002: 24), the proposition that I am in England
could be on the route of inquiry at one time, for example, if I am lost near the border between England and Scotland. At another time, however, it might express a hinge commitment which I take for granted when, for instance, I doubt whether next Monday is a national holiday. The shifting nature of what counts as a hinge commitment constitutes evidence
for the relativity of hinge commitments, and therefore of the certainty with which we are
necessarily committed to them, to our practical concerns. This relativity is connected, I
3 A hinge commitment is just a commitment to a hinge proposition.
4 Wittgenstein (1969: 317).
5 Italics mine.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
149

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

think, with the Wittgensteinian rejection of the idea that hinge propositions, and the certainty with which we are committed to them, have to do with belief and knowledge.
It is in this sense, I suggest, that the Wittgensteinian conception of certainty may
reasonably be described as a pragmatist one. It embodies what Cornel West (1989: 89 et
passim) has referred to as the specifically pragmatist hallmark of anti-epistemology or the
evasion of philosophy centred around epistemology, as traditionally understood. In the
next part of this paper, I want further to defend this view by considering the affinity between the Wittgensteinian conception of certainty just set out and the one in play in the
work of the neglected thinker, broadly included among the pragmatists, George Santayana.
II
Santayana develops his concept of animal faith, which I want to read as a pragmatist concept of certainty, as a direct response to the Cartesian problem of scepticism. He
criticises the Cartesian quest for knowledge based upon foundations of absolute certainty, 6
arguing that there can be no such foundations and therefore, on this conception, no
knowledge. Santayana offers his concept of animal faith as a more satisfactory idea on
which to base an account of knowledge.
Santayanas (1923: 14ff, cf. Sprigge 1995: 34-5) argument is that solipsism is a no
less coherent response to Cartesian-style scepticism than the more popular insistence on the
existence of the external world. And he argues that, to be consistent, the sceptic is compelled to subscribe to an even more radical solipsism, what he calls solipsism of the present moment. That experience exists is indubitable for the sceptic, as Descartes recognised,
but a sense of identity and of a temporal order of experiences is only possible if it is assumed that the experiences are those of a being not simply composed of experiences. But
this is one of the very points in question and the sceptic has no grounds for the assumption.
As Santayana (1923: 28-9) explains, the solipsist might experience qualities which those
committed to the existence of the external world would call pastness or futurity but
without having any commitment to the existence of a real succession of events. Whether or
not it is actually possible to live in this kind of state, it is the only theoretical position which
involves no element of faith or belief that is not either itself certain or founded upon a certainty construed as a form of knowledge. Timothy Sprigge (1995: 38ff.) takes up Santayanas argument for the view that, if we confine ourselves to the goal of certainty in the
knowledge sense, we will have no reason to believe in change since the experience of apparent change is perfectly compatible with fundamental doubt about the existence of real
change. Someone might object that the solipsist accepts the existence of an experiential flux
and that this flux just consists in experiences really giving way to one another, therefore
even the solipsist should conclude that change really occurs: the flux of experience just
consists in things which are in real, and not just specious, temporal relations to one another.
But, in defence of Santayana, Sprigge (1995: 37) counters this objection by asking us to
think of the experience of a swinging pendulum - which is the single experience of the pendulum in action. For real change to be experienced, this experience would have to give way
to another experience. But this kind of change cannot be experienced in the same sense as
the experience of the pendulum, which could be specious. Whereas it is possible to have an
experience of the swinging pendulum without believing in the existence of anything other
than that experience, it is not similarly possible to experience real change without being
6 I shall refer to this ultimate aim of the Cartesian project as certainty in the knowledge sense.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
150

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

committed to some larger context, other than experience, within which the change occurs
from one experience to another. In the experience of real change, a second experience
would take over the story told by the first. And if this really happens they cannot just be
aspects of a larger experiential content, existing only in the present, as the solipsist of the
present moment would be forced to suggest. In other words, the solipsist of the present
moment could not possibly believe in real change and is not compelled to believe in anything external to experience itself as it appears to her in the present moment.
So on the conception of knowledge aimed at by the Cartesian practitioners of the
quest for certainty in the knowledge sense, there can be none. But, as Sprigge (1995: 47)
summarises, On the whole Santayanas explorations of scepticism are designed to show
the hopelessness of a certain ideal of knowledge, that for which knowledge must be based
on indubitable foundations, not to show the impossibility of knowledge on a more sensible
interpretation of the term. That more sensible interpretation is referred to by Santayana as
animal faith: human beings are compared to animals who have to cope with a difficult environment, their survival depending on a kind of implicit responsiveness to that environment of which belief in that environments existence is not much more than a selfconscious expression (Sprigge, 1995: 48). There may be no rational grounds for this belief
but it is psychologically irresistible and practically indispensable. The phenomenon of
shock is Santayanas (1923: 139ff.) specific example which he refers to as the great argument for existence of material things which establishes realism (Santayana, 1923: 145,
142). He responds to the solipsist, understood as the connoisseur of the character of experience, in the following way: But when a clap of thunder deafens me, or a flash of lightning
at once dazzles and blinds me, the fact that something has happened is far more obvious to
me than what it is that has just occurred. (Santayana, 1923: 140).
The commitment to the existence of the external world, as Santayana describes it
here, as a prime example of animal faith, is functioning in precisely the same way as a
Wittgensteinian hinge commitment. It is an indubitable, animal commitment, not itself
subject to inquiry, which is taken for granted when anything is believed or doubted: the belief that the noise was a clap of thunder, for instance. In harmony with Pritchards reading
of Wittgenstein, it is taken to be rationally groundless. This commitment is what, for Santayana, forms the background to our ordinary everyday beliefs and doubts; in Wittgensteins
terminology, it is embodied in the groundless way of acting which rationally grounds
those beliefs. That this is so can be seen by one of Santayanas descriptions of animal faith
as it is operative in everyday life, the way it functions in relation to the bread I am eating:
The bread, for animal faith, is this thing I am eating, and causing it to disappear to my
substantial advantage [...]; [...] bread is this substance I can eat and turn into my own substance; in seizing and biting it I determine its identity and its place in nature, and in transforming it I prove its existence. (Santayana 1923: 83)

As Sprigge (1995: 63) summarises Santayanas general epistemology, it consists in


the recommendation to develop our view of the world on the basis, not of some supposed
elementary data of consciousness, but of everyday beliefs which it is dishonest to pretend
we do not hold. And it is this kind of epistemology, which Cornel West refers to as an anti-epistemology or an evasion of epistemology traditionally construed, that was further developed by the classical pragmatists like James and Dewey and their neo-pragmatist successors. West says of Dewey that he wilfully commits intellectual regicide: he wanted,
West writes, to behead modern philosophy by dethroning epistemology (West 1989: 89).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
151

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

Pragmatism can be understood as being motivated by a desire to evade epistemology as it


has evolved under Descartess shadow, inseparable from the quest for certainty in the
knowledge sense. For Santayana, the scepticism which Descartes strategically embraced in order eventually to replace it with certainty in the knowledge sense - is irrefutable and
leads us into a hopeless solipsism of the present moment in which it is very likely impossible to live. And if we take certainty as our ideal of knowledge, we will soon find that there
can be none: a consistent theoretical position, perhaps, but practically pointless and inconsistent with our everyday assumptions. So the pragmatist focus on, and understanding of,
lived experience involves a very different concept of certainty and builds in the interaction
between self and world which is questioned by the radical sceptic (Goodman 2002: 23).
Experience does not yield the kind of certain knowledge which Descartes sought but rather
commitments that, while rationally groundless, are practically indubitable and indispensable to us. And our commitment to propositions of this kind, which Santayana saw as the
self-conscious expressions of animal faith is ineluctably dubitable and uncertain if certainty is taken to be a kind of rationally supported belief or knowledge. To carry on the metaphor of faith: these commitments are like the tenets of a religion as it is lived and practiced,
with all the attendant doubts, rather than as formalised in dry definitions and dogmas designed to exclude ambiguity and uncertainty.
I suggest, with Wittgenstein and Santayana, that the sense in which we take such
non-optional, yet rationally groundless commitments as certainties can have nothing to do
with certainty in the knowledge sense. I have been arguing, on the contrary, that reflection
on the nature of these commitments points to what I call a pragmatist concept of certainty,
found to be operative in the work of both Wittgenstein and Santayana. For both thinkers,
propositions which express certainty do not express beliefs or knowledge but rather express
the arational, animal commitments which, as Pritchard (2012) shows, nonetheless ground
all (essentially local) rational justification, functioning as the hinges relative to which we
test and evaluate other propositions and which are presupposed by these epistemic practices
of testing and evaluation.
III
In this section I discuss a point of apparent contrast between the lines of thought on
certainty identified in the works of Wittgenstein and Santayana: namely, the way in which
their views on this topic respond to the sceptical problem.
Santayanas account of animal faith which, I have argued, involves a pragmatist
conception of certainty is presented as a direct response to the problem of scepticism. In the
preface to Scepticism and Animal Faith, Santayana (1923: vi) states, I stand in philosophy
exactly where I stand in daily life...and admit the same encircling ignorance. As regards
the first principles, the discovery of which motivated Descartes, he says, [t]hey can never
be discovered, if discovered at all, until they have been taken for granted, and employed in
the very investigation which reveals them (Santayana, 1923: 2). His account of animal
faith, with its pragmatist conception of certainty, is offered, then, as the more congenial alternative to an irrefutable scepticism whose consequences are practically intolerable. Wittgenstein (1969: 359, 475), in an apparently similar move, criticises the thought that reasons come to an end with special, foundational reasons and suggests instead that when we
reach bedrock we discover only a rationally groundless animal commitment..., a kind of
primitive trust (Pritchard 2012: 259). Are Wittgenstein and Santayana offering the same
kind of response to the problem of scepticism?

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
152

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

In my view, there are reasons to think that they are not. Santayanas response to
scepticism is not a reductio ad absurdum. He does not attempt to show, or succeed in showing, that scepticism is incoherent or entails something incoherent. He admits that it entails a
position (solipsism of the present moment) that is so far from being self-contradictory that
it might, under other circumstances, be the normal and invincible attitude of the spirit
(Santayana 1923: 17). The difficulty he finds in maintaining such a position is the fact that
it is signally unsuited to the social and laborious character of human life as a opposed, for
example, to the life of a creature whose whole existence was passed under a hard shell
which might find nothing paradoxical or acrobatic in solipsism and might have a clearer
mind; such a creature would not be troubled by doubts, because he would believe nothing (Santayana 1923: 17). Santayanas response to scepticism, then, is an appeal to the impracticality of the position it entails. His response to scepticism is to accept the possibility
of its truth while refusing to accept its truth on account of the unwelcome and impractical
implications. The implications would perhaps not be so unwelcome for a creature under a
shell who would doubt nothing because he believed nothing. But we human beings would
be compelled to doubt everything that we believed and, on account of the social and laborious character of our lives, could not live in such a state. It is partly for this reason that he
professes to stand in philosophy exactly where I stand in daily life: he views the local
project of doubting everyday beliefs as analogous to the global sceptical project of doubting
everything. For Santayana the sceptical project of applying doubt universally, although impractical, is perfectly coherent.
Wittgenstein, by contrast, wants to distinguish the sceptical practice of universal
doubt from ordinary epistemic practices, including doubting. In Pritchards (2011a: 524)
view, Wittgensteins implicit claim is that the philosophical picture that the sceptic uses is
completely divorced from the non-philosophical picture that we ordinarily employ. In ordinary life, our claims to know are connected with the practice of resolving doubts. For a
doubt to be resolved, as mentioned earlier, the reason in support of the relevant belief has to
be more certain than the belief itself in order to play the required supporting role. This
Wittgensteinian picture of the structure of reasons operative in everyday life also applies to
doubt:
a reason needs to be offered to motivate the doubt and, crucially, such a reason must be
more certain that what is doubted since otherwise one would have more reason to doubt the
reason for doubt that to doubt what is doubted (Pritchard 2011: 527).

As Pritchard points out, this is the point of Wittgensteins (1969: 553) claim that if, in
the absence of a reason to doubt it, I need to check by looking whether I have two hands, I
might as well doubt my eyesight as well. In other words, doubt, operative in our everyday
epistemic practices, requires grounds that are more certain than the doubt itself, namely,
hinge commitments which are in deed not doubted. The sceptical project, on the other
hand, denies such certainties: it demands that we doubt even what is most certain. But, if as
Wittgestein thinks there are hinges on which any epistemic evaluation must turn, this is
an incoherent idea (Pritchard 2011: 530).7 A doubt applied universally, not constrained in
the way that our ordinary epistemic practices are constrained, could have no supporting
grounds, would be of no practical significance and, in Wittgensteins (1969: 450) words,
would not be a doubt.
7 Italics mine.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
153

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

So unlike Santayana, Wittgenstein does not accept the coherence or legitimacy of


the sceptical problem on account of the illegitimacy of its isolation and abstraction of the
practice of doubting from its ordinary epistemic context, a context in which certainty, conceived in a pragmatist way, is operative in the form of hinge commitments. He accepts
something of the spirit of scepticism in that hinge propositions, and the kind of certainty
with which we are committed to them, point to the groundlessness of our believing. But it
is the very existence and necessity of hinge commitments that prevents Wittgenstein from
accepting the sceptical idea that doubt can legitimately be applied universally and without
restriction, even to what we take to be most certain. It is perhaps significant that, in the very
paragraph where Wittgenstein (1969: 359) echoes Santayanas epithet and describes certainty as something animal, he goes on to explain it, in contrast to him, as something that
lies beyond being justified or unjustified. Whereas Santayana shares Wittgensteins pragmatist conception of certainty, this is because, like the sceptic, he regards our certainties to
be unjustifiable rather than moving beyond the distinction between being justified or unjustified as Wittgenstein attempts to do.
So although Wittgenstein and Santayana share a pragmatist conception of certainty,
this concept constitutes a very different kind of response, for each thinker, to the problem of
scepticism. For Santayana, it is a way of avoiding a very real and threatening problem; for
Wittgenstein it is a means of exposing it as a pseudo-problem. Santayanas response to
scepticism is a pragmatic one whereas Wittgensteins is a logical one. I explore, in the concluding section, the broader implications of this difference between Wittgensteins and Santayanas use of the pragmatist conception of certainty as a response to scepticism.
IV
It might be thought, firstly, that Wittgensteins logical response pre-empts Santayanas pragmatic one and that Wittgensteins use of the pragmatist conception of certainty to
expose the problem of scepticism as a pseudo-problem closes off the route to pragmatism,
as further developed by philosophers like James and Dewey. This thought is expressed in
Bertrand Russells statement that the scepticism embodied in Pragmatism is that which
says since all beliefs are absurd, we may as well believe what is most convenient (Russell 1910: 98). Wittgensteins logical response to scepticism denies the premise that all beliefs are absurd; his argument, as we have seen, is that it is in the nature of rationally
grounded beliefs that they turn on hinges for which it makes no sense to demand further
rational justification.
Apart from the fact that Russells second phrase (we may as well believe what is
most convenient) is a crude caricature of the pragmatist position, 8 the main import of
pragmatism (its focus on lived experience, on the practical context in which apprehension
occurs and on the consequences of beliefs for specific problematic situations) is perfectly
compatible with the Wittgensteinian picture (Dewey, 1952: 571-2). If scepticism is indeed a
pseudo-problem, it seems perfectly reasonable to focus, as the pragmatists do, on the consequences of beliefs rather than on their foundations or hinges. As Wittgenstein pointed out,
moreover, these hinges are rarely explicitly formulated or questioned in real life - they are
in deed not doubted. Pragmatists like Dewey are concerned with human practices of inquiry (logic included) insofar as they ramify in this practical demesne of lived experience;
as Dewey puts it, pragmatists are
8 Russell (1910), cf. Dewey (1952).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
154

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

concerned with truth and falsity as having existential application, and as something determined by means of inquiry into material existence. For in the latter case the question of truth
or falsity is the very thing to be determined. (Dewey 1952: 573)

If Deweys pragmatic emphasis is preferred, the Wittgensteinian response to scepticism


will count as a welcome further warrant for the pragmatist focus on lived experience, albeit
one provided by a thinker who did not claim to be a pragmatist but to be merely trying to
say something that sounds like pragmatism. If, on the other hand, Wittgensteins logical
emphasis is preferred, the only route to pragmatism that is closed off will be the one
mapped out by Santayana: one whose point of departure is acceptance of the irrefutability,
and potential truth, of scepticism, an admission which presupposes the coherence of the
sceptical problem. Indeed, Wittgensteins argument might give someone with a logical turn
of mind a much better reason than Santayana provides to avoid scepticism and instead to
make the move into pragmatism. If we are not content, in Jamesian style, to allow temperament to decide the philosophical issue, we shall have to look for other grounds on which to
base our decision whether, given our reflections on certainty, to view pragmatism as a live
philosophical option. My own view, to repeat, is that both the logical and the pragmatic
perspectives potentially leave the route to pragmatism open. Since Wittgensteins argument
can be used to justify in logical terms the taking of a pragmatist route (given an appropriate
attitude to scepticism as a pseudo-problem, an illusory threat illegitimately abstracted from
ordinary epistemic practices), and since the pragmatist perspective cannot endorse a purely
logical point of view with no necessary existential application, my own view is that such a
pragmatist route is the one that should be taken in preference to the narrow kind of logical
route taken by Russell. It is, I suspect, one that most of us, in our less explicitly philosophical moments, will find that we have already taken.
So the first implication of the difference between Wittgenstein and Santayana on the
issue of scepticism is that the move into pragmatism can be supported by the recognition of
the compatibility of an appropriate version of pragmatism with the Wittgensteinian picture.
To take this point further, secondly, this move has humanist implications, apparently recognised by both philosophers. Despite their difference on the issue of scepticism, both Wittgenstein and Santayana preserve what Cavell (1979: 241) has called the moral of scepticism.9 Both agree, though for different reasons, that our beliefs are ultimately groundless,
that they are not based upon foundations of what we would ordinarily call knowledge, still
less certainty in the knowledge sense. This recognition of the ultimate groundlessness of
our beliefs is developed by the classical pragmatists in the form of humanism. William
James (1907: 242) endorses F. C. S. Schillers understanding of humanism as the doctrine that to an unascertainable extent our truths are man-made products, the humanistic
principle being succinctly expressed as follows: you cant weed out the human contribution (James 1907: 254). It is our concrete human concerns that determine the kind of attention we pay to things. And the kind of attention we pay to things determines what we find it determines what stands out as salient to us, what seems worth mentioning, and what fades
into the background - and this will not necessarily be the same in every context because, in
each context, our practical concerns may be different. In Wittgensteins language, our practical interests determine what is the bedrock and what is the river. James (1907: 251) illustrates with a relatively simple example: You can take a chess-board as black squares on a
9 I owe this reference to Cavell to a remark made by Duncan Pritchard at a meeting of the Edinburgh Epistemology Research Group in April 2012.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
155

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

white ground, or as white squares on a black ground, and neither conception is a false one.
It is clear that, for James (1907: 253), all perception is interpretation, all seeing is seeingas; which, if any, of our perceptions may be treated as the more true, he thinks, depends
all together on the human use of it. To be a humanist, for James (1907: 247), is to recognise that We receive...the block of marble, but we carve the statue ourselves. Since, in his
phrase, [m]an engenders truths upon [reality] (James 1907: 257, 260), it follows that although the finite experiences which make up our human world are dependent upon each
other, lean on each other, as it were, the whole of human experience, if it makes sense to
speak of such a whole, itself leans on nothing; when it comes to human experience as a
whole, James (1907: 260) writes: Nothing outside of the flux secures the issue of it.
In conclusion, then, it is clear that this pragmatist form of humanism (which correlates with existential forms championed by certain European philosophers of the twentieth
century) is bolstered by Wittgensteins argument for the groundlessness of our believing.
Thus humanism, according to which it makes no sense to speak of the world apart from the
various modes of human engagement with it, is a major consequence of the pragmatist conception of certainty which, I have argued, is shared by Wittgenstein and Santayana. That
conception preserves, in an illuminating way, Cavells moral of scepticism: the realisation
that our beliefs are ultimately groundless. And that moral finds most direct expression in
the humanism involved in the Jamesean version of pragmatism just mentioned. What that
pragmatist form of humanism reflects, I think, is what West calls anti-epistemology or the
evasion of philosophy, epistemologically construed. The implication is not that we are
unable to provide legitimate rational justification for our beliefs but that a philosophical
search for rational justification of those beliefs as a whole, a whole which leans on nothing, will inevitably be frustrated. Wittgensteins arguments, and Pritchards readings, articulate very clearly just why this is so. They provide good arguments for adopting the humanistic evasion of epistemology which is a hallmark of existential phenomenology as well
as pragmatism. And this evasive kind of philosophy begins with Cavells (1980: 145) observation, made in relation to Emersons thought, that our relationship to the worlds existence is closer than the ideas of believing and knowing are made to convey. If Wittgenstein is right about the a-rationality of certainty, the great value of the philosophies of existential phenomenology and pragmatism lies in their joint recognition that the main task of
philosophy is to articulate the nature, and the various modes, of that intimate relationship.
References
Cavell, S. (1979), The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy,
New York: Oxford University Press.
Cavell, S. (1980), An Emerson Mood, in The Senses of Walden, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992.
Dewey, J. (1952), Experience, Knowledge and Value: A Rejoinder, in Schilpp, P. A.
(ed.), The Philosophy of John Dewey, New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 2nd ed.
Goodman, R. B. (2002), Wittgenstein and William James, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
James, W. (1922), Pragmatism: A New Name for some Old Ways of Thinking, [1907], New
York: Longmans, Green and Co.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
156

G. BENNETT-HUNTER

A PRAGMATIST CONCEPTION OF CERTAINTY

Pritchard, D. H., (2011), Wittgenstein on Scepticism, in Kuusela, O. & McGinn, M. (ed.),


2011, The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pritchard, D. H. (2012), Wittgenstein and the Groundlessness of Our Believing, Synthese,
no. 189.
Russell, B. (2009), Pragmatism, [1910], in Philosophical Essays, Abingdon: Routledge
Classics.
Russell, B. (1952), Deweys New Logic, in Schilpp, P. A. (ed.), The Philosophy of John
Dewey, New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 2 nd ed.
Santayana, G. (1923), Scepticism and Animal Faith, New York: Charles Scribners Sons.
Sprigge, T. L. S. (1995), Santayana: An Examination of his Philosophy, London:
Routledge.
West, C. (1989), The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmantism,
Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (1969), On Certainty, Oxford: Blackwell.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
157

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Francesco Callegaro*

Having Social Practices in Mind. Wittgensteins Anthropological Pragmatism in Perspective

Abstract. This paper clarifies why and how Wittgensteins animating idea of social practices should be considered as expressing a fundamental pragmatist commitment.To this
end, I do not take the retrospective perspective, which traces pragmatism back to the
criteria of use fixed by the inventor of the word, C. S. Peirce, but rather replace Wittgenstein in the context of contemporary debates. I focus in particular on R. Brandoms attempt to understand Wittgensteins second philosophy as belonging to an intellectual tradition from which his own rationalist pragmatism derives. A confrontation follows between Brandom and Wittgenstein, whose aim is to highlight the specific tactics of Wittgensteins pragmatism as a refusal of Brandoms idealist rationalism. First, I present and
defend R. Brandoms reading of Wittgensteins argument on rule-following as a decisive
clarification of the general idea of social practices. Second, I criticize Brandoms narrow
Kantian framework, explaining why it prevents us from understanding Wittgensteins
conception of rules and concepts, and, therefore, of the very normativity of concepts. In
light of the distinction between two kinds of conceptual norms, empirical and grammatical, I finally show, through a reading of On certainty, that the function assigned by Wittgenstein to social practices is to account for the conditions of possibility of conceptual
contentfullness as expressed in rational activity.

Introduction
As Wittgenstein says in a well-known paragraph of the Investigations, commenting St.
Augustines question on time, it belongs to the essence of a philosophical inquiry that
we do not seek to learn anything new by it, only to understand something that is already
in plain view: philosophy deals with what is already known, but somehow forgotten,
something, therefore, that we need to remind ourselves of (PI, 89). Thus, if there is
something new in philosophy, it is not, as in science, a discovery going beyond evident and
common experience, but the rediscovery of the phenomena of everyday, as St. Augustine
says in a passage quoted by Wittgenstein later: Manifestatissima et usitatissima sunt, et
eadem rursus nimis latent, et nova est inventio eorum (PI, 436). Like an orator, the philosopher must find out the metaphorical language capable of shedding a new light on common places, thus making the forgotten evidence of ordinary phenomena shining again. If
this is the task Wittgenstein assigned to philosophy, I think he has fulfilled it, first and
foremost, by developing a language that opens us to a new understanding of what we are.
Indeed, presupposed by and developed through all his grammatical remarks, removing our
philosophical prejudices on a given topic, lies a fundamental image calling back to mind
what it means and is needed for us to have a mind at all. Since we all spontaneously are, in
our reflective attitudes toward ourselves, awfully Cartesians, even when we think we are
empiricists, Wittgensteins new image can be summed up by two major shifts. The first is a
move from internal, mental cognition to external, expressive action, whether linguistic or
* cole des Hautes tudes en Sciences Sociales [fra.callegaro@gmail.com]

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
158

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

not. The second is a move from an isolated, self-sufficient individual to a related, essentially dependent member of a community. Putting these two moves together, we could say that
Wittgenstein tried to remind us that we owe what we are to the existence of social practices. It is this anthropological perspective, lying at the heart of his second philosophy, which
becomes fully explicit in On certainty: there Wittgenstein finally acknowledges, somewhat
bewildered, that, by stressing the primacy of socially instituted action as the entry and basis
of language games, he is putting forward a perspective that sounds like pragmatism (OC,
422). The aim of this paper is to clarify what, if anything, sounds like pragmatism in
Wittgensteins conception of mind and meaning as being grounded in social practices.
To this end, I will not look backward at the criteria of use fixed by the inventor of the
1
word, C. S. Peirce, or by his immediate followers, James and Dewey, but rather replace
Wittgensteins animating idea in the context of contemporary debates, which are reshaping
the very meaning of pragmatism. I will focus, in particular, on R. Brandoms attempt to
understand Wittgensteins philosophy as belonging to an intellectual tradition from which
his own rationalist pragmatism should be seen as deriving. Indeed, by so distinguishing a
broad pragmatist framework from the narrower instrumentalist perspective of the American
founders, Brandom frees the way for an analysis in which Wittgensteins own pragmatism
2
can be properly understood. Instead of looking for local comparisons with the specific tactics of classical pragmatism, which requires endorsing Darwinian naturalism, seeing beliefs
as effective means to successful action, while thinking of meaning as being fixed in the experimental context of a fallibilist inquiry, Brandom outlines a more general theoretical
strategy, which consists in taking discursive intentionality as springing from a more basic
form of practical intentionality: the later Wittgenstein and the early Heidegger would belong, together with Dewey, to this fundamental pragmatism, which found in Kant one of
3
its first expressions. In this general theoretical framework differences can further be explained as ways of accounting for the primordial practical intentionality, according to
whether it refers to purposive instrumental action or to expressive, socially instituted interaction, language itself being either a useful tool for survival or the paradigmatic form of a
socially instituted expressive interaction.
Brandoms re-appropriation of Wittgensteins fundamental pragmatism focuses, in the
opening pages of Making It Explicit, on a close reading of the rule-following argument.
This is where a critical confrontation should take place, which can help us pointing out the
specific tactics of Wittgensteins pragmatism. Indeed, if Brandoms reading clarifies Wittgensteins central idea of social practices, by making the structure of the argument explicit
and by developing its consequences through a systematic discussion of its possible developments, it must be admitted, at the same time, that the rationalist pragmatism he elaborates
on this basis deeply departs from Wittgensteins own pragmatist perspective. This is because Brandoms reading is ultimately rooted in his commitment toward the rationalist tradition of German idealism, which he now sees as the true origin of American pragmatism to
which we should return: thus, just as Sellars used Wittgenstein to answer to some of peculi4
ar problems of the rationalist tradition , Brandom takes up Wittgensteins conception of social practices to socialize Kantian philosophy of mind, embracing, as a result, a renewed
1 For this strategy see, for instance, J. Bouveresse, "Le 'pragmatisme' de Wittgenstein" in Bouveresse (1987),
and H. Putnam, Was Wittgenstein a Pragmatist?, in Putnam (1995).
2 Brandom has first formulated this distinction in Pragmatics and Pragmatism, Conant, Zeglen (2002). Putnam strongly criticized in his answer to Brandom his simplified view of the American pragmatism. Brandom has
now developed a more complex account in Brandom (2011), to which I refer in what follows.
3 See R. Brandom, From German Idealism to American Pragmatism - and Back, in Brandom (2011).
4 See W. Sellars, Some reflections on language games, now in Sellars (2007).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
159

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

Hegelian philosophy. This is the perspective of Brandoms reading: his discussion of the
rule-following argument is a dialogue between Kant and Wittgenstein whose result must be
Hegel, at least his own reading of Hegelian idealism. Bearing in mind Brandoms formula
Kant+Wittgenstein=Hegel his whole strategy can be reduced to one single argument,
which will give us the right point of entry for a critical confrontation with Wittgenstein.
The argument is the following:
1: Concepts express rules. (This is Wittgenstein after Kant)
2: Rules express normative social practices. (This is Kant after Wittgenstein)
C:Concepts express normative social practices. (This is Hegel, in Brandoms reading)
The conclusion of the argument is the starting point of Brandoms rationalist pragmatism, according to which the game of giving and asking for reasons is the normative social
practice that articulates concepts. If we want to resist this rationalist conclusion and rediscover Wittgensteins pragmatism understanding of what we are, we must critically examine
the two premises. McDowell has recently argued, from a supposedly Wittgensteinian perspective, against Brandoms reconstruction of the rule-following argument, whose conclusion is stated in the second premise: thus, I will first present, discuss and defend Brandoms
reading, trying to explain why his discussion offers us an interesting philosophical contribution which enables us to understand the meaning and justification of Wittgensteins animating idea of social practices. Following some key suggestions of V. Descombes, I will then
argue that it is rather the very Kantian framework, grounding Brandoms as well as
McDowells understanding of the first premise, which should be rejected, since it is indifferent to the difference of normative vocabularies that Wittgenstein constantly underlined in
order to articulate the irreducibility of grammatical rules. Having questioned the continuity
between Kant and Wittgenstein, I will be able to conclude by uncovering the structural features of Wittgensteins anthropological pragmatism.
Rules express normative social practices: Brandoms reading of Wittgensteins argument
The structure of the argument
In order to see how Brandom reconstructs the whole discussion on rule-following, it is
useful to start at the end, by a sketchy description of the very phenomenon which is supposed to be there, under our eyes, in the manifest light of everyday life, if it was not obscured by bad philosophical theorizing that must be refuted to understand it fully. Let us
take Wittgensteins example: while driving in the street, we have no doubts about the way
indicated by a sign-post (See PI, 85). The somewhat puzzling aspect of what would otherwise seem to be a perfectly obvious phenomenon is that we spontaneously follow what
has nonetheless to be taken as a rule: the very possibility of describing our intentional action presupposes both a distinction between what the rule says and what we actually do, on
one side, and our effective capacity to follow it, on the other. The starting phenomenon has,
5
therefore, these two constitutive dimensions:
Prescriptive-epistemic dimension: the rule dictates the following step and it is by reference to the rule that we justify our step as the right one.
Practical-psychological dimension: the rule governs our behavior effectively, through
our understanding of it.
5 See also Williams (1999), ch. 6, for a similar analysis.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
160

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

According to Brandom, the melody of Wittgensteins argument follows this theme:


philosophical theories, trying to explain the original phenomenon of rule-following, give an
account of only one side of it, while we have to explain both. This is why Brandom focuses
on two opposed perspectives. The first is too much struck by the prescriptive nature of
rules: regulism is the general philosophical perspective according to which explicit rules,
intellectually grasped, govern our intentional behavior. Wittgenstein helps us refuting it
through a regress argument, showing that, unless one already knows how to apply a rule
correctly, a regress opens up, concerning the right application of the rule telling us which is
the right step to make. This argument shows the immediately practical side of rulefollowing. The second philosophical account is then too much struck by the practical nature of rules: regularism is the general philosophical perspective according to which rules
are nothing but generalized regularities read off from our actual behavior. Wittgenstein
helps us refuting it through the gerrymandering argument, showing that a normative rule
cannot be derived from a set of observed regularities since any sequence of steps can be
read retrospectively as following a given rule. This argument shows the necessary prescriptive side of practical rule-following, which cannot be accounted for without seeing its social
nature. Hence, the idea of social practices as the result of Wittgensteins critical refutation
of traditional accounts. To discuss the details of Brandoms reconstruction, and to see if and
how he understands Wittgenstein, it is useful to start by answering to McDowells objections.
Against regulism
According to McDowell, Brandom would have missed the whole point of Wittgensteins argument: throughout the discussion on rule-following, there would be not two but
only one master argument, showing the bad consequences of the temptation to open a
conceptual gap between the expression of a rule and performances that are up for assessment according to whether or not they conform to the rule (2009: 108-100). The problem
would not be the rules explicit nature but the fact that they are signs which, unless one already understands them, would need an extra meaning-giving interpretation opening a disastrous regress of interpretations. Beyond the regress of interpretations, Wittgenstein would
therefore rediscover the immediate understanding of signs. According to McDowell, the
argument ends here. Regulism is simply irrelevant (2009: 99) to Wittgensteins reflections on rule-following, since nothing is done, in his philosophy, to conceive a level of
normativity below that at which correctness can be conceived as conformity to rules
(2009: 110). Now, despite the existence of a more fundamental regress of signs, which oc6
curs elsewhere in Wittgenstein, for instance in the Blue Book , it is enough to go back to
one the first movement in the rule-following sonata to see why these two claims are simply
wrong.
In 81 we find a seminal discussion on the normative nature of language. Commenting
Ramseys assertion on logic as a normative science, Wittgenstein explains it through the
game comparison. In philosophy we often compare the use of words with games and calculi which have fixed rules: the problem is how to keep the idea of a normative dimension
in language, linked to logic, without saying that our languages only approximate an ideal language; the only way out is to try to understand understanding: For it will then also
become clear what can lead us (and did lead me) to think that if anyone utters a sentence
and means or understands it he is operating a calculus according to definite rules (PI,
6 See the passage quoted in McDowell (2009:106).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
161

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

81). Wittgenstein wants, therefore, to free us from the idea of understanding as following
fixed, definite rules. This is why he asks: What do I call the rule by which he proceeds?
(PI, 82). He distinguishes, then, three kinds of rules. The first kind is the rule conceived
as a hypothesis explaining regular observed behavior, while the second is the one an individual looks up when he uses signs or the one which he gives us in reply if we ask
what his rule is: if the first is the rule as regularity, the second is the explicit rule; but
Wittgenstein is interested in the possibility of not finding an answer, either through observation or by question: the problem is then to know what meaning the expression the
rule by which he proceeds (PI 82) could still have. Now, the very point of the analogy
between games and language is to throw light (83) on this problem of a more than regular, norm-governed behavior, yet not entirely covered by explicit rules. Thinking of language through the language-game metaphor helps us seeing that the application of word is
not everywhere bounded by rules (PI, 84). Here rules must mean explicit, that is, fixed
and definite, rules. This is why we find here a first formulation of the regress argument,
taken up by Brandom: But what does a game look like that is everywhere bounded by
rules?...Cant we imagine a rule determining the application of a rule, and a doubt which it
7
removes and so on? (PI, 84). This is the point from which Wittgenstein comes to the
concrete metaphor of the sign-post, saying: A rule stands there like a sign-post (PI, 85).
Wittgenstein wants here to make clear that normative behavior should be conceived first
with this example in mind. We know how to deal with a sign-post, despite the fact that a lot
of questions could be asked, questions concerning even its meaning, this is why he asks:
But where is it said which way I am to follow it (PI, 85)? A simple, spontaneous answer could be: in the rules of the road, in the same way as the meaning of the king in chess
is fixed in the list of the rules of the game (PI, 197). There is no philosophical account
in this answer, because there is no philosophical problem to answer to. The philosophical
debate starts when, forgetting our know-how, we start thinking to rule-following exclusively in terms of following an explicit rule. This is regulism. As Brandom says, it is against
this intellectualist, Platonist conception of norms according to which to asses correctness is always to make at least implicit reference to a rule or principle that determines what
is correct by explicitly saying so that Wittgensteins regress of application argument is directed: it shows that explicit rules do not form an autonomous stratum of normative statuses, but rest on properties governed by practice (1994: 20). The point is not one of reduction, but of conceptual priority: Norms that are explicit in the form of rules presuppose
norms that are implicit in practices (Ibid.).
Understanding practical understanding
The conclusion of the first part of the argument can be stated as follows: to have the
prescriptive side of a rule, one must first acknowledge its internal link with practice. Thus,
even if there are explicit rules codifying signs, as with chess rules, the connection between
rules and actions, as Wittgenstein says, cannot be made unless one adds the day-to-day
8
practice of playing (PI, 197). Knowing a rule is the practical understanding which consists in knowing how to follow it. This is what Wittgenstein means when he says that the
grammar of the word knows is evidently closely related to that of can, is able to. But
also closely related to that of understands. (Mastery of a technique) (PI, 150). Here
lies a first pragmatist commitment in Wittgensteins picture. We cannot stop here, however,
7 For this regress argument in Brandom, see Brandom (1994: 21)
8 We also need the teaching (197), as we will see.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
162

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

since a problem remains: how should we conceive, indeed, the relation between the actual
behavior and the rule, if the latter has to preserve its prescriptive nature?
According to McDowell, Wittgenstein has an answer to this question. Yet, since, according to his reading, there is only one master argument, he can state it only as a supposed
evidence: Of course the practice with sign-post is essentially norm-involving (2009: 105).
Actual understanding is not, therefore, a mere uncomprehending disposition to react to
what are in fact sign-posts in appropriate ways (2009: 101). Furthermore, when we ask
how practice can be normative in this way, McDowell answers once again with a supposed
evidence: Of course not everyone who encounters a sign-post gets told which way to go.
Sign-posts do not speak to those who are not party to the relevant conventions(2009: 101).
McDowell makes, therefore, two related, although unwarranted, steps after the first conclusion of the rule-following argument: practice is normative and it is normative because it is
social. Now, if this has to be Wittgensteins image, it might be interesting to know why.
After all, one has only to think to those who argued, like Kripke, that practice is social, but
for this very reason not normative, and those who answered him by saying that practice is
normative, but for this very reason not social. Brandoms discussion of regularism can be
helpful here, since it shows, against these two readings, the necessity of the two steps that
McDowell invites us to make without giving us good reasons to do it.
Against regularism
Regularism resolves the problem of the relation between actual behavior and rules by
thinking of rules as hypothesis read off from actual behavior, according to the first of the
three conceptions of rules that Wittgenstein discusses in 82 we have seen above. Brandom
develops it through a reading of Sellars, who elaborated a scenario we already find in Wittgenstein: we say that [a game] is played according to such-and-such rules because an observer can read these rules off from the practice of the game like a natural law governing
9
the game ( 54) . In this framework we have, on one side, an agent displaying regularities
in behavior with the aid of the relevant dispositions, and, on the other, an observer, trying to
extract the rules to which the agents is implicitly conforming to. Now, what Brandom labels
10
the gerrymandering argument, taken from Kripkes reading of Wittgenstein, is the inevitable consequence of the confusion between norms and laws implicitly pointed out by Wittgenstein. Indeed, once we presuppose that rules are explanatory hypothesis, not only nothing can prevent us but we are even obliged to modify previously made generalizations in
light of new behavior, in such a way that there is no more any way of distinguishing between correct and incorrect actual behavior. Rules as explanatory hypothesis describe natural dispositions, while we were looking for rules governing normative dispositions.
The fundamental lesson is, according to Brandom, a Kantian one: Kant takes it that
everything in nature happens according to rules. Being subject to rules is not special to
usWhat is distinctive about us is the way in which we are subject to norms (for Kant in
the form of rules). As natural beings we act according to rules. As rational beings, we act
according to our conceptions of rules (1994: 30). This is a general point about the normative nature of intentional behavior that Wittgenstein has inherited from Kant, through Fre11
ge, while helping us overcoming Kants fixation on explicit rules. The problem is there9 For Brandoms discussion of Sellars, see Brandom (1994: 26)
10 See Kripke (1982).
11 As we will see below, the question is to know whether Wittgenstein shared Kants conception of conceptual normativity or whether Brandom merges a general claim with a narrower concept of rules and concepts derived
from Kant.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
163

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

fore to see how our own representations can single out regularities as the normatively relevant ones, so as to make a distinction, at the level of practice, between what happens and
what ought to happen. To put the point in Wittgensteins own words, we need to understand
how a practice can be a way of grasping a rule (PI, 201-202). In order to find an answer, we must follow the question Wittgenstein asks himself after having imagined the possibility of an observer extracting the rule from actual behavior: how does the observer distinguishbetween players mistakes and correct play? (PI, 54). This is the question we
have to answer if we want to give a prescriptive force to the rules emerging from actual behavior.
From individual behavior to social practice
A first strategy would be to take Wittgensteins own suggestion seriously: there are
characteristic signs of the normative distinction between behavior and norm in the players behaviour. Think of the behaviour characteristic of correcting a slip of tongue (PI,
12
54). Although Brandom consecrates only a footnote to such a perspective, it deserves to
be discussed in detail, since this is what Hacker and Baker think Wittgenstein was after.
According to their reading, if we add self-correcting behavior to actual behavior we have,
13
as they say, regularities of action complex enough to produce norms. Self-correcting
behavior would be, therefore, the only missing element to bridge the gap between rule and
behavior: through it, an agent would prove his sensitivity to norms, rules being the objective
dimension hidden in his complex actual behavior. Wittgenstein would not endorse, therefore, social readings of practices: what we have here is public evaluable behavior, but an
isolated individual, like Robinson Crusoe, could do this all by himself. The problem of this
answer is that it smuggles a fundamental normative distinction into an account that it is
supposed to be free of it. Indeed, for observed regular behavior to produce norms one needs
to conceive the self-correcting behavior as more than mere self-observation, otherwise the
gerrymandering problem occurs again at the level of self-correction, which itself open to an
evaluation. Self-correction must be, therefore, the manifestation of judging oneself in light
of a previously given norm: the right couple, so to speak, is not that of an agent and an observer, but that of an agent and a judge. Now, unless we go back to regulism, thinking that
the agent has access, when judging, to a pre-established rule containing all its applications,
we have to think of self-correcting behavior as the manifestation of a practical sanctioning
disposition interiorized from an external, previously existing, social relation.
This is why Brandom moves directly toward theories that reconstruct Kants distinction
between rules as natural laws and rules as conceived norms in the frame of a social theory, by appealing to the distinction of perspective between assessing a performance and
producing a performance (1994: 37). A first step in this direction is J. Haugelands
14
heideggerian analysis of Wittgenstein. For Haugeland, norms are constituted and manifested in the difference between the dispositions to act of an agent and the dispositions to
sanction of a judge: Haugelands censorious herd animals shape each others behavior by
their capacity not only to perform but to censure performance. Each animal in the community that is thereby constituted maybe able to do both, but as he conceives it, each act of
censure involves two organisms, the censuring and the censured (1994: 37). The naturalistic vocabulary is there to show that the distributed complex behavior is supposed to en12 See Brandom (1994: 658), footnote 45.
13 See Baker, Hacker (1984: 42).
14 See Haugeland (1982) and Haugeland (1998).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
164

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

gender norms without already presupposing explicit rules: the distinction between what is
done and what ought to be done is, therefore, entirely dependent upon the dispositions to
sanction, which are supposed to manifest sensitivity to norms as such. This perspective
does not go, however, deep enough. Indeed, as Brandom points out, since assessing, sanctioning, is itself something that can be done correctly or incorrectly, one has to make room
for the difference between actually being punished and deserving to be punished
(1994: 36). This means that the assessor puts forward, by sanctioning, a claim to authority:
sanction, far from establishing authority, presupposes it.
We have to move, therefore, to what Brandom acknowledges as a more robust theory
of social practices: the authority of the assessor, far from producing common norms, rests
upon the authority of a communal assessment (1994: 37). As a matter of fact, this is
where Wittgenstein, pace Hacker and Baker, wanted to lead us. Norms cannot be conceived
unless they are common (See PI, 198, 199): from a grammatical point of view, we can
indifferently use, as Wittgenstein does very often, understanding a sign, using it as we
always use it and having being taught to use it in such a way (PI, 190). Here we have a
conceptual network which throws light on the original phenomenon of normative intentional behavior, conceived as expressive action following a social practice after a training period. Wittgenstein thought that this rediscovery of the ordinary was all that philosophy, as a
dialectical refutation of bad theorizing, should do. Having another conception of philosophy, Brandom thinks the phenomenon is not yet fully understandable.
The internal structure of social practices
Indeed, the move to a community view, despite its necessity, is ever more demanding,
since we are now explaining norms through normative notions. On the side of the assessed,
we have the problem of community membership, which is a normative status: here the
circularity is evident, since we explain why someone has to do something in some circumstances by saying that, being a member of the community, he ought to conform to the
norms implicit in the practice of the community (1994: 39). On the side of the assessors,
we have the problem of who is entitled to the authority claim: leaving aside the meaningless
solution of the Community as a possible assessor, we face the problem of experts, those
who have the authority to speak for the community (1994: 39). Once again this is a normative status, so we are obliged to make a distinction between actually assessing and being entitled to assess (1994: 39-40). This twofold problem shows that the reference to the
community only shifts the problem: the structure of social practices, based on the distinction of normative statuses between the experts, the ones who have authority and those
who are subject to that authority (1994: 39-40), needs to be accounted for.
Thus, if Brandom criticizes the orienting mistake of treating I-We relations rather
than I-Thou relations as the fundamental social structure, it is not because it would be a
mistake to develop a community view, but because we need substantive theorizing to understand what it means for a community to be there in the first place: now, privileging I-We
relation only make us think that there is something other than individuals The Community
making assessments, whereas assessing, endorsing, and so on are all things we individuals do and attribute to each other, thereby constituting a community, a we (1994: 39).
This is where Brandom starts developing a Hegelian perspective. Indeed, at the bottom of
the mutual attributions that constitute norms lies the very normative structure making these
attributions possible:for common norms to be there in social practices, we need first to
think of the attitude of attributing authority, while taking the responsibility to act, and the
attitude of attributing responsibility, while taking the authority to judge. As Brandom ex-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
165

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

plained in a later essay, this is, in his view, the reciprocal structure of authority and re15
sponsibility that Hegel put forward under the heading of mutual recognition. It is
through this Hegelian conceptual framework that Brandom tries to clarify the social institution of conceptual norms, that is, the possibility for concepts, as socially instituted norms,
to incorporate nonetheless, in and by their historical development, an objective commitment. Despite the relevance of this possible socio-historical Hegelian development of Wittgenstein, however, Brandoms philosophical edifice rests on some questionable presuppositions, due to the narrow Kantian way in which he understands conceptual norms themselves.
Concepts express rules: some Wittgensteinian objections to Brandoms rationalism
Brandoms narrow Kantian framework
The whole discussion on rule-following is framed by a general point that Brandom
makes in some introductory pages about the normative nature of concepts considered as
Kants main contribution to philosophy. After Kant, he says, the mental has not to be understood, as with Descartes, around the ontological distinction with the physical, but around
a deontological distinction with the causal. What thus characterizes us as knowers and
agents is our capacity to add conceptual rules to given regularities, whether to know natural
necessities or to act upon moral necessities. Understanding this point requires, accordingly,
understanding the peculiar Kantian idea of necessity (Notwendikgeit). As Brandom says,
the nature and significance of the sea change from Cartesian certainty to Kantian necessity
will be misunderstood unless it is kept in mind that by necessary Kant means in accord
with a rule: the Kantian, proto-pragmatist commitment to the primacy of the practical
for cognitive and practical activity can be understood only by seeing that the key concept
of both is obligation by a rule in the sense articulated by the deontic modality of commitment and entitlement, rather than the alethic modality of necessity and possibility
(1994: 10). Further philosophical thought would have only made this Kantian point more
clearly by developing the two constitutive dimensions of concepts, truth and inference.
Thus, while acknowledging that Wittgenstein developed an original reflection on the nature of norms, Brandom explains it by making and remaking the same Kantian point:
Many of his [Wittgensteins] most characteristic lines of thought are explorations of the
inaptness of thinking of the normative force which determines how it would be appropriate to act on the model of a special kind of causal force (1994: 14). From this point of
view, Brandom is naturally led to read Wittgensteins question How am I able to obey a
rule? (PI, 217) in the following way: it is a question about what actions accord with the
rule, are obliged or permitted by it, rather than with what my grasp of it actually makes me
do (1994: 15).
The problem of such a Kantian translation of Wittgensteins question is easy to miss,
since Brandom constantly makes a double move, while believing he is only making one.
For, on one side, he is putting forward the very general distinction we saw at work above in
the criticism of regularism: to think about a norm, of whatever kind, as opposed to mere
regularities, one has to make a distinction between what happens and what must happen according to the rule. Yet in thinking about what must happen, Brandom endorses, at the

15 See R. Brandom, Some pragmatist themes in Hegels Idealism, in Brandom (2002).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
166

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

16

same time, the moral-legal framework that Kant inherited from modern thought. Thus, he
explains the distinction between the force of causal musts and the force of logical or
rational musts invoked by Wittgenstein by reducing it to this more specific framework,
in which the government by norms essentially requires the possibility of mistakes, of
those subjects to norms going wrong, failing to do what they are obliged by those norms to
do: thus, whereas attributions of natural laws are incompatible with the idea of not conforming to them, attribution of norms requires, according to Brandom, leaving room for
mistakes and failures, this being one of the essential distinguishing features of the
oughts that express government by norms (1994: 30-31, I emphasize). It is clear enough
that despite its supposed generality, Brandoms distinction refers to norms capable of sorting out behavior as appropriate or inappropriate, both possibilities being intelligible: the
very normative vocabulary of commitments and entitlements refers, indeed, to the traditional deontic primitives of obligation and permission, freed of the stigmata they contain
betraying their origin in a picture of norms as resulting exclusively from the commands or
edicts of the superior, who lays an obligation on or offer a permission to a subordinate
(1994: 160). Thus, if Brandom follows Wittgenstein in criticizing regulism, he only changes the operative level, not the conception, of norms: if rules are norms implicit in practice,
they are still conceived as obligations, prohibitions and permissions. It is this narrow conception of normativity, and therefore of concepts, which must be criticized from a Wittgenstenian perspective. I will follow here V. Descombes, who has recently argued that this
17
Kantian reading of Wittgenstein misses the very point of his whole philosophy- This will
help us pointing out the fundamental tactics of Wittgensteins pragmatism.
Kinds of rules
According to Descombes, one cannot understand Wittgensteins discussions on rules
unless one sees that the main contrast orienting his philosophy, after the Tractatus, was not
the one between causal regularities and rational obligations but that between causal and logical impossibilities, or necessities. To understand this difference, let us take Wittgensteins
example: it is impossible for a human being to swim across the Atlantic (1958: 54). Here
the incompatible assertion a human being can swim across the Atlantic - is perfectly intelligible: as Descombes points out, the failure depends on our physical capacities, so that we
can understand what it would mean to succeed and even try ones luck (2007: 402)
against what the assertion says it is impossible to do. This is not the case with logical impossibilities. The logical obstacle is not, as Descombes says, a hyperphysical obstacle,
since here we do not even understand what it would mean to overcome it: what Wittgenstein wanted to underline with this contrast was, therefore, that logical impossibilities do
not concern human finitude, but the conditions of meaning (2007: 402-403).
The peculiar nature of the normative force attached to the logical must cannot be understood, however, unless we contrast it, furthermore, with the one attached to the moral
ought, at the center of Brandoms Kantian framework. Thus, the second move consists in
further distinguishing between two kinds of rules. Logical impossibilities and necessities
belong to the domain of constitutive rules. As Descombes says, if the logical impossibility
is characterized by the impossibility of trying to do what is asserted impossible, this is
because the action itself can be understood and described only by reference to the constitutive rules defining it (2007: 404). Consequently, the normative force of logic is different
16 See Brandoms discussion of Pufendorf and Enlightenment contract theories in Brandom (1994: 47-52)
17 See Descombes (2007).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
167

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

from that of practical rules. Indeed, as Descombes points out, a constitutive rule is not a
commandment (a law prescribing or forbidding an action) (2007:404): commandments belong to the domain of regulative rules, which are understandable only insofar as two intelligible alternatives are already there, independent of the rule, whereas constitutive rules leave
open only one intelligible possibility, sorting out the contrary as unintelligible.
This is why Descombes goes as far as to say that constitutive rules are not prescriptive.
What he means is that these rules do not say what one ought to do (what one is obliged) to
do but what there is and what there isnt (according to our institutions, our conventions)
(2007: 405). There is an interesting point here about the expressive power of normative vocabulary. Indeed, a constitutive rule seems to be characterized by the fact of authorizing the
elimination of normative vocabulary: as Wittgenstein says in Zettel, instead of saying one
cant castle in draughts, we should just say there is no castling in draughts (Z, 134). In
this way, what seems to be a prescription is turned into a description: a description of a
normative fact, however, implied by the constitutive rules, as opposed to the purely factual
description presupposed by obligations and prohibitions. It is clear, therefore, that the translation from the imperative to the indicative only works for someone already knowing the
game. As Descombes acknowledges, commenting some remarks of Wittgenstein in The
Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics, when explaining to someone the rules of our
game we go back to the normative vocabulary, since we say precisely such things as: Here
18
the rule says you must turn; here you may go whichever way you like (2007: 442).
Opposed to the realm of natural regularities, the logical must is nonetheless opposed to
obligations as constitutive rules are opposed to regulative rules. The latter points to an independently intelligible behavior as appropriate, sorting out the contrary as inappropriate:
this is the most general genus of a host of different practical rules - strategies, moral maxims, positive laws, etc. Constitutive rules are of a different nature, since here the rule enters
into the very conditions of a meaningful action. This is the genus where we find an important kind of practical rules, conventional necessities: now, as Descombes says, when
we interpret conventional necessities and impossibilities as obligations and prohibitions
we simply lose sight of the meaning of the institution, since we wrongly imagine an institution as a natural activity that men try to domesticate by imposing some restrictions
to its free exercise and we fail to understand the constitutive or creative nature of rules
when they function as rules of a game (2007: 407-408).
If Brandom is not interested in social practices based on constitutive conventional rules
creating a social world, it is because he thinks that this kind of socially instituted norms
cannot be our model for understanding what he calls conceptual norms: indeed, the latter
incorporate objective commitments, which contrasts with the error-free nature of conventional rules; to take Brandoms example, whatever the Kwakiutl treat as an appropriate
greeting gesture for their tribe, or a correctly constructed ceremonial hut, is one; it makes
no sense to suppose that they could collectively be wrong about this sort of thing (1994:
53). This means that in thinking of conceptual norms, Brandom has in mind descriptive
concepts concerning the natural world, such as mass (1994: 53), which essentially require
the distinction between what we take as a correct application and what is a correct application of them. As intuitive as the objectivity claim may be, it rests on a narrow conception of
concepts which parallel the narrow conception of normativity we have just seen.

18 Descombes quotes a passage from L. Wittgenstein, Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics, Cambridge 1939, from the notes of R.G. Bosanquet, Norman Malcolm, Rush Rhees, and Yorick Smythies, edited by
Cora Diamond, The University of Chicago Press, 1975, p. 241.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
168

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

Kinds of concepts
In thinking of conventional necessities, Wittgenstein did not just want to give a logical
reading of social conventions, but also a conventional reading of logic: he was not only explaining the meaning of social institution, but the social institution of meaning. As
Descombes points out, in thinking of the specific nature of the logical must through the
game analogy Wittgenstein wanted, first and foremost, to reform traditional philosophical
thinking about the nature of a priori concepts: his aim was to discard the implicit assimilation between a priori and a posteriori propositions, leading to a reading of logical propositions as stating a priori facts concerning the world (2007: 437). In place of this, Wittgenstein underlined the function of the logical must: the necessity of es mu, when added
to a proposition, transforms it into a norm of representation (2007: 436) ruling out in advance facts that might contradict it. Thus, the distinction between constitutive and regulative rules, derived from the language game analogy, sheds light on the very nature of cognitive concepts. If there certainly are many ways of understanding Wittgensteins conven19
tionalism, the first step is to understand the very distinction between two kinds of conceptual norms.
Thus, if Wittgenstein has done something in philosophy after Kant is not just to criticize
the regulist conception of rules, at the basis of Kants semantics, but to clarify the different
nature and content of concepts in light of the pluralist conception of rules we have just
seen: whereas Kant still thought of categories as regulative rules applied to a recalcitrant
nature, Wittgenstein constantly pointed out that the presuppositions of contentfulness,
which he extended far beyond the categories of the understanding, are best understood if we
see in them a system of constitutive rules. Far from contenting himself with the very general idea of concepts as rules, Wittgenstein articulated the difference between regulative
descriptive concepts and constitutive normative concepts. This is the distinction between
empirical and grammatical propositions that Wittgenstein very often clarified by reference
to the function and nature of the negation. In the Philosophical Investigation, for instance,
he explains how the sentence I cant imagine the opposite of this must be understood,
when used in connection with such claims as only I myself can know whether I am feeling
pain: Of course, here I cant imagine the opposite doesnt mean: my powers of imagination are unequal to the task [compare with: swimming across the Atlantic]. These words are
a defense against something whose form makes it look like an empirical proposition, but
which is really a grammatical one (PI, 251). At the end of the paragraph Wittgenstein
adds: ((Remark about the negation of an a priori proposition)). The general idea of a normative nature of concepts is first developed, in Wittgenstein, to understand the specific way
in which a priori propositions rule the world by ruling empirical thought.
This is Wittgensteins notion of grammar, as what cannot be contradicted without falling into meaningless speech. With grammatical propositions we have, to use Brandoms
vocabulary, commitments one cannot fail to endorse, unless one still wants to think something. The right question concerning this kind of commitments cannot concern their entitlement. They are constitutive conceptual commitments placed, as such, beyond justifica19 For instance, in developing Wittgensteins view, Descombes comes curiously closer to the instrumentalist
perspective of American pragmatists. Indeed, according to him, since logical norms fix the condition of cognitive
activity, they cannot belong to the cognitive realm. They are a matter of decision: just as conventions depend ultimately on what is desirable (2007: 408), a priori representations are not justified by their conformity to an (ideal) reality but by our different practical necessities, that is, by our different needs (2007: 443). This is a further and, in my view, wrong step, which is not necessarily implied by Wittgensteins distinction between two types
of conceptual norms.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
169

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

tion: being the condition of any kind of discursive practice, the question of their being justified or not is simply meaningless. Now, this central point of Wittgensteins philosophy implies the refusal of the rationalist framework Brandom inherited from Kant: indeed, if there
is a structural distinction between two types of conceptual norms, then meaning cannot be
equated with inference, since the rational understanding displayed in the game of giving
and asking for reasons through assertions presupposes another kind of understanding,
which concerns the arbitrary conditions of rational understanding. What is perhaps less obvious is to consider this central point as the heart of Wittgensteins pragmatism as an overcoming of classical rationalism. For this, it is necessary to see how Wittgenstein finally developed a new way of accounting for the distinction of conceptual norms based on his fundamental commitment to social practices.
Conclusion: Wittgensteins anthropological pragmatism
The distinction of two conceptual norms sheds a new light on the function assigned by
Wittgenstein to social practices. Indeed, Wittgenstein did not only distinguish norms implicit in practice from rules explicit in language, but looked for those social practices which
incorporate the constitutive logical norms governing the use of regulative empirical rules in
language: what social practices have to account for is, in the first place, the tacit conditions
of meaningful linguistic exchange. This is the perspective he developed in On certainty, in
a way that is particularly interesting for contemporary debates on pragmatism, since, in the
context of a confrontation with Moore on the skeptics challenge about knowledges claims,
Wittgenstein clarified, as never before, the way in which social practices are the condition
of rational activity. It is the pragmatist tactics elaborated in this text that I want to explain
as a conclusion.
In order to appease the skeptical anxiety, without falling, like Moore, in its trap, Wittgenstein analyzes, in On certainty, the ordinary functioning of assertions, especially the use
of I know that. As he says, this explicit propositional knowledge has to be seen as an answer to a practical doubt (OC, 19), based on definite reasons: in normal linguistic exchange (OC, 260) the expression I know expresses the readiness to give compelling
grounds in favor of the assertion (OC, 243). Now, the skeptical doubt transgresses this
normal functioning of assertions, by asking reasons for any kind of commitment. A regress
of justifications results, which forces Moore, and all other philosophers, in order to answer
the challenge, to look for a special kind of self-evident knowledge: propositional and yet
not justified by any reason. Against this bad foundationalist strategy, Wittgenstein answers
by questioning the conditions of a meaningful doubt: If you tried to doubt everything you
would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty (OC, 115). To be intelligible, a doubt presupposes the language in which it can be expressed: therefore, it presupposes the certainties presupposed by language. This is why a
distinction must be made between the propositional knowledge expressed through assertions and its tacit conditions of possibility.
The view Wittgenstein explicitly endorses in On certainty is that these conditions are
fixed in and through action: Giving grounds, however, justifying the evidence, comes to
and end; - but the end is not certain propositions striking us immediately as true, i.e., it is
not a kind of seeing on our part; it is our acting, which lies at the bottom of the language
game (OC, 204). The supposedly self-evident knowledge is, in fact, practical know-how,
which does not follow the norms of propositional knowledge, since it governs this
knowledge as a norm. Thus, at the fundamental level of practical certainties, one should not

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
170

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

say I know that, since this opens the unanswerable question of entitlement, but use some
grammatical indicators, disqualifying the entitlement question in advance: It is my unshakeable conviction that (OC, 103), Nothing in the world will convince me of the opposite (OC, 380), I cant be making a mistake about it (OC, 630), or simply Dispute
about other things; this is immovable (OC, 655). If action lies at the bottom of language,
expressing some constitutive conceptual commitments on which the discursive practice
rests, it is because practical know-how is the point of entry in language. The child does not
learn first to think and say, through assertions, that things are thus-and-so, but to react in
such-and-such a way; and in so reacting it doesnt so far know anything. Knowing only begins at a later level (OC, 538). The relation between mind and world is not, to begin
with, a cognitive one: what we first learn are ways of knowing how to do things with
things. This means that experience is originally organized by an intentional behavior carrying with it the logical structure of the world. When an individual finally come to the linguistic game which consists in an exchange of assertions, a whole system is already established, turning around the fundamental distinction, established in and through practice, between logical and empirical propositions: grammar is already there, as the implicit structure
of ordinary experience, the skeleton of the phenomena we talk and deal with.
In giving such a foundational role to practice Wittgenstein deeply changed his notion of
20
grammar. On certainty proposes a functional classification of concepts, which explains
the force of the logical must by looking to the peculiar logical role played by some concepts in the system of our empirical propositions (OC, 136). From this functionalist
perspective, even apparently empirical propositions, such as I have two hands, can play
the logical role of grammatical propositions. This is precisely what Wittgenstein understood
thanks to the skeptical challenge and the bad answer of Moore. He thus developed a new
conception of logical constitutive rules, structuring thought in the background: what counts
is no more the content of the proposition, in any possible way, but its place and role in a
hierarchical system structured by a complementary opposition, defined by a difference of
status between propositions. If no proposition is intrinsically privileged within the system, this does not mean that our beliefs form a homogeneous system facing the tribunal of
experience, as in Quines pragmatism: the relation between the propositions can be altered
with time, in that fluid propositions hardened, and hard ones became fluid (OC, 96), but
the system as such must make a structural distinction between propositions open to test by
experience and those functioning as a rule for testing (OC, 98). The internal organization of this intellectual system depends on practice, since the genetic primacy of the practical know-how fixes its basis. Yet this practice is, at the same time, social. The structural
organization of experience in practice is learned in an active relation with an adult, considered as an authoritative expert: the active trust that is necessary for a language game to be
possible at all (OC, 509) derives from a first relation of trust from the child to some authorities (OC, 493). Thus, by taking part in some bedrock practices, the individual swallows a whole shared world-picture (OC, 167). It is against this inherited background
that he can distinguish between true and false (OC, 94), since it is only on this basis
that a meaningful exchange of assertions can take place, starting with a particular practical
doubt: the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubtslike hinges on which those turn (OC, 341). This is why
the hierarchical system coincides with the whole of social practices.
20 The development of grammar in On certainty through a pragmatist reading of hinge propositions is explained in detail by D. Moyal-Sharrock (2004).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
171

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

Of course, just as we cannot separate the two halves of the system, we cannot separate
bedrock social practices, which deposit the first layer of beliefs as constitutive conceptual
commitments, from those linguistic social practices which enable us to play the rational
game of doubts, questions and answers, through assertions. Wittgenstein describes, in a
sketchy way, this progressive development of the system through a differentiated practical
learning: The child learns to believe a host of things. I.e., it learns to act according to these
beliefs. Bit by bit there forms a system of what is believed, and in that system some things
stand unshakeably fast and some are more or less liable to shift. What stands fast does so,
not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies
around (OC, 144). In order to understand this development, and the way in which the
structural distinction within the intellectual system reflects a difference in social practices,
we certainly need a detailed description of the discursive practice, such as Brandoms account of the game of giving and asking for reasons, considered as a further step after bedrock social practices. The place, meaning and functioning of such discursive practice must
be deeply reconsidered once we see it through the lens of Wittgensteins pragmatism. Indeed, if we take seriously the double distinction of norms and concepts as he finally elaborated it in On certainty, we have to admit that a more complex account is needed: in order
to fully understand discursive practice as the articulation of rational oughts we have to understand it against the background of socially instituted constitutive norms fixing the conditions of objectivity. A lot of substantive work is still needed to fully have social practices in
mind.
References
Bouveresse J. (1987), Le Mythe de l'intriorit : exprience, signification et langage priv
chez Wittgenstein, Paris, Minuit.
Brandom R., (1994), Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing and Discursive Commitment, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press.
____ (2002), Tales of the Mighty Dead: Historical Essays in the Metaphysics of Intentionality, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press.
____ (2011), Perspectives on pragmatism: classical, recent and contemporary, Cambridge
(Mass.), Harvard University Press.
Conant J., Zeglen U. (2002), Hilary Putnam: Pragmatism and Realism, London, Routledge.
Descombes V. (2007), Le raisonnement de lours, Paris, Seuil.
Baker G. P., Hacker P.M.S.(1984), Skepticism, Rules and Language, Oxford, Blackwell.
Haugeland J. (1982), Heidegger on Being a Person, Nous, 16.
____ (1998), Having Thought, Cambridge (Mass.), Harvard University Press.
Kripke S. (1982), Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition,
Cambridge, Harvard University Press.
McDowell J. (2009), The Engaged Intellect: philosophical essays, Cambridge, Harvard
University Press, 2009.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
172

FRANCESCO CALLEGARO

HAVING SOCIAL PRACTICES IN MIND

Moyel-Sharrock D. (2004), Understanding Wittgensteins On Certainty, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.


Putnam H. (1995), Pragmatism: An Open Question, Oxford, Blackwell.
Sellars W. (2007), In the Space of Reasons: Selected Essays of Wilfrid Sellars, Cambridge,
Harvard University Press.
Williams M. (1999), Wittgenstein, Mind and Meaning: Toward a Social Conception of
Mind, London, New York, Routledge, 1999.
Wittgenstein L. (1953), Philosophical Investigations, Oxford, Blackwell.
Wittgenstein L. (1958), The Blue and Brown Books, Oxford, Blackwell.
Wittgenstein L. (1967), Zettel, Oxford, Blackwell.
Wittgenstein L. (1969), On certainty, Oxford, Blackwell.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2
173

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

A Symposium on J. Margolis, Pragmatism Ascendent:


A Yard of Narrative, A Touch of Prophecy, Stanford
University Press, Stanford, 2012

_____________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Rosa M. Calcaterra*

Joseph Margolis Pragmatism between Narrative and Prophecy

It is common knowledge that pragmatism acquired a new and quite relevant space within European philosophical debate during the second half of Nineteen Century, and the leading actors of such a renewed interest for the classics of American thought have been Karl
Otto Apel and Jrgen Habermas. Especially in Italy, the so called revival of pragmatism
took place via their neo-kantianianism, and actually one could say that the pragmatist
thought has been, so to speak, cleared from previous discredit or, in the best cases, from a
wide-ranging disregard just because of the persistent influence of Kantian theories on contemporary European philosophy. At the same time, the Apel-Habermas neo-kantian reevaluation of Peirce, Dewey and Mead appears striking if one considers that the most unsympathetic European receptions of pragmatism typically were, at the beginning of last century,
from the neo-kantian milieu. For instance, it is worth mentioning the 1908 Third International Philosophical Conference that took place in Heidelberg, whose main subject of discussion was the pragmatist theory of knowledge or, more precisely, that one offered by
William James in his book Pragmatism. In fact, this book was considered by the majority
of European intellectuals as the manifesto of the entire pragmatist philosophy; neo-kantians
or neo-criticists, who were predominant within German academic contest of that time, reacted to its overall approach to traditional questions with a deep disappointment. Giovanni
Vailati, one of the very few Italian supporter of pragmatism at the moment, informs us that
these negative reactions marked the atmosphere of the Conference and finally some sup1
plementary sessions for discussing pragmatist epistemology were organized. One should
add that also a number of current commentators feel quite uncomfortable in reading classical pragmatists assertions about Kantian philosophy, including those by Peirce who, as
everybody knows, declared his debts to Kant in so many occasions of his multifaceted
work.
The importance of Kants philosophy with regard to pragmatist European adventures
both negative and positive is obviously much more complex than I have said in the very
brief and necessary incomplete note above sketched. Anyway, Kantian paradigm surely can
be considered as a pivotal, even thought non always explicit, reference point of the whole
debate, old and new, on classical pragmatism and of its many-sided developments. Joseph
Margolis book Pragmatist Ascendent. A Yard of narrative. A Touch of Profecy provides
quite remarkable indications in that regard, pinpointing both the American and the European philosophical scene. More precisely, Margolis presents, in his usual intriguing style, engaging reasons for an ample historical and theoretical understanding of Kants philosophy
relevance not only within the international discussions on pragmatism but also for the making up of its own mostly distinctive features. In fact, according to him, this movement of
thought mainly consists in a complex critical review of Kantian transcendentalism, a review
which took up the Hegelian emphasis on the historical nature of all human expressions and
achievements. The European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy is particu* Universit Roma Tre [calcater@uniroma3.it]
1 For an account of early German and Austrian reception of pragmatism, see M. Ferrari 2010a and 2010b.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, VI, 2
175

ROSA M. CALCATERRA

MARGOLIS PRAGMATISM BETWEEN NARRATIVE AND PROPHECY

larly pleased to host a symposium on this book, which indeed represents a fascinating drawing of the deep philosophical roots of pragmatist standpoints as well as of its contemporary
increasing relevance.
Joseph Margolis philosophical work is extremely vast and ranges from ancient to modern and contemporary thought, including epistemological, aesthetical, ethical and analytic
philosophy. He is without doubt a leading figure in the philosophical American scene and,
at the same time, one of the most lively representative of pragmatism, analytic and European philosophys complex interweaving. In my opinion, it is relevant considering his interest
in Protagora and Aristotele, which was in the early years of his research, in fact I think that
his subsequent philosophical production retains, in various outlines, some traces of ontological, epistemological and ethical problems they consigned to our cultural history. I limit
myself to mentioning Protagoras issue of the epistemological relativism that, in Margolis
philosophical discourse, seems to result in his basic assertion of the constitutive function
played by historical and cultural factors for the epistemic decoding of reality. Similarly, Aristotles biology and his works realistic constituents seem influential on his repeated efforts for concealing relativism and realism, which he has always been playing in a contrast
with scientistic implications of U.S. analytic philosophy.
The volume to which our symposium is dedicated contains a number of polemic references to the latter current of thought that, as everybody knows, dominated the American
academic scene since the 1930s, when was introduced by scholars linked to the Vienna Circle Reichenbach, Carnap, Hempel, Tarski, Neurath and others who were forced to leave
Europe for political reasons. Richard Bernstein described this period as the beginnings of a
sort of silent revolution, which over the space of a few years led to the exclusion of
pragmatism from the higher levels of philosophical debate. Margolis now underlines the
turnoraund, so to speak, that has occurred both at American and European level, namely the
international recovery of pragmatist perspectives and the transcription of some typical
pragmatist issues in the conceptual and methodological framework of analytics, which have
apparently exhausted he maintains - their previous importance. Margolis principally reproaches the analytic philosophers for having ignored Hegels critics to Kant, or the Hegelian opposition of historicity to Transcendentalism and, therefore, for being victims of the
rigorism deriving from the Kantian apriori categories doctrine. Just this basic deficiency
resulted, according to the American philosopher, the various forms of scientism that characterized analytic thought since its outset and continues also nowadays, despite some attempts
to mitigate such a trait have emerged within its own circle. The reputation of analytic philosophy - he writes - "still rests with its rigor, but rigor is doubtful wherever its best efforts
are too slow to admit the failure of its reductionisms, supervenientisms, eliminativisms, axiomatizations, systems of causal closure or the rest of the its utopian projects (p. 111).
The criticism of the analytics lack of understanding Hegels contribution to the
overcoming of Kantian transcendentalism mirrors perfectly Margolis conception of philosophy as well as his pragmatisms narrative and prophecy. To be sure, the Hegelian emphasis on the historical dimension is a liet motiv of his several books concerning pragmatist
philosophy and its specific position within contemporary philosophy, particularly: Pragmatism without Foundations: Reconciling Relativism and Realism, Reinventing Pragmatism.
American Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century, and Pragmatism Advantages:
American and European Philosophy at the End of Twentieth Century. As regards to the
conception of philosophy, there is a tight connection between Hegelian concept of Bildung
and Margolis constructivist perspective on scientific and philosophical inquiries, a connection whose theoretical nucleus appears in his assertion that the most essential Hegels lega-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
176

ROSA M. CALCATERRA

MARGOLIS PRAGMATISM BETWEEN NARRATIVE AND PROPHECY

cy is the demonstration that contingencies of the historical or geistlich variety prop up


philosophy as an interpretive discipline that never pretends to grasp (or need) the impossible rigors of Kantian transcendental necessity or a realist reading of absolute Idealism at
its absolute limit (p. 43). This is probably a questionable reading of Hegelian idea of philosophy but, as a matter of fact, such assertion summarizes Margolis open option in favor
of Hegels historicism, and this properly means defending an overall anti-dogmatic perspective, according to which there arent sharp boundaries neither between philosophical
and scientific enquiries and acquirements nor between the objective and the subjective sides
of knowing and reasoning. It is an option that evidently implies the rejection of any kind of
apriorism and, accordingly, the refusal of the Kantian quest for definitive necessity and
universality of our rational assertions. However, all that does not mean embracing skepticism. Otherwise, what is firmly maintained is the inevitable interference of the cultural and
the natural dimensions involved in both the knowing and the known, so that all rationallogical-scientific practices must be considered as constructive processes of truth and objectivity that are always corrigible and improvable.
It is not difficult noticing the correspondence of Margolis constructivist perspective
with one of the most documented features of pragmatist philosophy in general. In fact, he
himself assigns the distinctive mark of contemporary and future pragmatism to a more and
more aware and attentive constructivism, and this particularly means inviting to get free
from the anxiety of ahistorical principles and tools for knowing and acting. It is worth repeating once again that what here is at stake is the Kant-Hegel controversy, and the net
conviction of the American philosopher that Hegel corrected transcendentalism introducing
an irreversible way of thinking the conceptual novelty of a historied and encultured
world-, which has been confirmed by most of philosophical and epistemological trends
developed in late twentieth-century. Of course, Margolis does not undervalue Kants great
contribution to the growth of Eurocentric philosophy. In fact he considers Hegels philosophy as a continuation of the Kantian project, asserting that any further progress of philosophical researches cannot but draw the Kantian-Hegelian line, which marks all contemporary philosophy even thought in so many different ways. Thus, Ernest Cassirer to whom
Margolis dedicated his interesting 2010 essay Toward a Theory of Human History - is more
than once quoted as representative of a Hegelianized Kantianism that, in his opinion, also
characterizes Peirces philosophy, especially as far as the founder of pragmatism depicts
scientific research as an intersubjective activity that is inevitably effected by historical circumstances and constrains. One could expect a more detailed comparison between these
two thinkers, both so much engaged in theoretical reflection on the logic-symbolic level of
human performances, but anyway there is a very attractive suggestion for a possible combination of their own analysis, provided the differences as Margolis underlines in their
reception of Darwinism.
The philosophical importance of Darwinian biological evolutionism is one of the keysubjects of the book: it makes up Margolis constructionism, his reading of Peirces most
important questions and, eventually, his prophecy for the advancement of pragmatism. In
a nutshell, his basic thesis is that what present and future philosophy needs is to enhance
pragmatist essential achievements by conjoining the essential lessons of Hegel and what,
independently, has been made of Charles Darwins and post-Darwinian inquiries (p. 54).
In other words, the future of the whole of Eurocentric philosophy calls for Darwinizing
Hegel and Hegelianizing Darwin, as according to Margolis classical pragmatists more
or less explicitly actually did, although without a full understanding of the implications of
such a philosophical strategy (p. 119-120). This is a task still open but it is essential consid-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
177

ROSA M. CALCATERRA

MARGOLIS PRAGMATISM BETWEEN NARRATIVE AND PROPHECY

ering that classical pragmatism was a continuation of Hegels corrections of Kantian transcendentalism along a naturalistic line. The improvement of pragmatism implies just a development of such very special naturalistic line, taking advantage from the post-darwinian
paleoanthropology so that constructivism would result the only inevitable solution to the
problem of knowledge.
In a quite complex passage of the book, Margolis describes what he means by constructivism:
I use the terms constructed, constructive, constructivist in two quite different but hardly
unrelated senses: in one, constructive means artifactual (or hybrid) in the specific sense
in which the self and all things cultural are artifactual transforms of the biological or material;
in the other, constructivist means conceptually inseparable in the sense in which the contribution of the subjective and objective parts of cognitive states cannot be separately assessed. The first draws attention to the cultural dimensions of all forms of inquiry and human
intelligence; the second, the impossibility of outflanking the contingency of cognitive claims.
Together, the two senses account for the constructivist nature of the realism of science (and
metaphysics) consistent with preserving the distinction between metaphysical and epistemological questions. (p. 38-9)

I think this passage can be considered as a significant summary of the overall Margolis
theoretical contribution to contemporary philosophy, a contribution which, in my opinion,
is perfectly in line with the non reductionist form of naturalism that is claimed by classical
as well as by the majority of todays pragmatists.
Of course, the attribution of a naturalism of some kind to Peirce as Margolis invites is
quite open to discussion, in fact a lot of critical studies insist definitely on peircean antinaturalist assertions. As far as I am concerned, Margolis interpretative line is more than
justified, provided my conviction that any interpretation of great phiklosophical works cannot but favouring some particular aspect, and this is especially relevant in relation to
Peirces non systematic and typically many-sided work. Indeed, in agreement with Gadamer, I am convinced that the readings of works of the past could be all the more fruitful the
more they are nourished by the need to find possible answers to current question, and this
seems to me Margolis constant attitude towards the writings of the classical pragmatists as
well as of Kant, Hegel and other great figures of Western philosophical history. I consider
this aspect as a salient and very positive feature of his intense research activity, which this
book establishes as promising of new, meaningful suggestions, mainly with regard to a
more and more fertile relationship of philosophy with human and natural sciences that
should generate a theory of the self actually coherent with the non reductionist naturalism
he theorizes.
Let me conclude my remarks by pointing out Margolis effort to demonstrate the centrality of fallibilism within Peirces thought, and above all his indication of the essential
strength of peircian concept of infinite hope for reconciling realism and idealism. However, I do not find important to demonstrate that fallibilism is, so to speak, the very essence
of Peirces philosophy, as Margolis apparently claims along his debate with Nathan Hauser.
The search for a philosophers unique, definitive conceptual devise or purpose seems to me
in contrast not only with his interpretative style of philosophical works, as above mentioned, but also with the following paradigmatic peircian assertion

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
178

ROSA M. CALCATERRA

MARGOLIS PRAGMATISM BETWEEN NARRATIVE AND PROPHECY

Philosophy ought (.) trust rather to the multitude and variety of its arguments than to the
conclusiveness of any one. Its reasoning should not form a chain which is no stronger than its
weakest link, but a cable whose fibres may be ever so slender, provided they are sufficiently
2
numerous and intimately connected.

Thus, I wonder whether it would not be useful to turn to James, who is mostly neglected
in this book, reflecting in particular on Jamesian perspectivism and pluralist metaphysics in
order to corroborate the theoretical framework advocated by Margolis. Indeed, in my opinion, one can find on both sides motives quite compatible with the perspectives of the book
here at issue: above all, on the one hand, one could appeal to the realist instance that pervades James perspectivism and, more generally, to his own effort to combine realism and
idealism; on the other hand, one could find a specific reference point for a non reductionist
naturalism in the concept of 'possibility' supporting Jamesian metaphysics, which indeed
gets rid of the concept of essence so central in Western traditional metaphysics. Most
probably, especially Margolis crucial conception of the self as natural artifact could take
advantage from Jamesian philosophical translation of Darwins biological evolutionism,
considering also the deep ethical implications assigned to the category of possibility by the
author of The Principles of Psychology.
References
M. Ferrari 2010a, Heidelberg 1908. Giovanni Valilati, Wilhelm Jerusalem e il pragmatismo Americano, Giornale critico della filosofia italiana, no. 1.
M. Ferrari 2010b, William James a Vienna, in R. M. Calcaterra, G. Maddalena eds., Itinerari pragmatisti, Paradigmi, 2010, no. 3.
Ch. S. Peirce 1992, Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, in The Essential Peirce, N.
Houser and C. Kloesel esd., vol. 1, Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University
Press.

2 Peirce 1992: 29.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
179

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Mathias Girel*

Darwinized Hegelianism or Hegelianized Darwinism?

It has been said that Peirce was literally talking with the rifle rather than with the shot
gun or water hose (Perry (1935: vol. 2, 109). Readers of his review of Jamess Principles
can easily understand why. In some respects, the same might be true of the series of four
books Joseph Margolis has been devoting to pragmatism since 2000. One of the first targets
of Margoliss rereading was the very idea of a revival of pragmatism (a revival of something that never was, in some ways), and, with it, the idea that the long quarrel between
Rorty and Putnam was really a quarrel over pragmatism (that is was a pragmatist revival, in
some ways). The uncanny thing is that, the more one read the savory chapters of the four
books, the more one feels that the hunting season is open, but that the game is not of the
usual kind and looks more like zombies, so to speak. Not the kind of zombies that tramp the
corridors of philosophy of mind textbooks, but philosophical zombies, positions whose
lifespan has been over for long but that still resurface, or, if the reader is of more inclined
towards the Classics, some philosophical equivalents of the ghosts that Ulysses has to face
in Book XI of the Odyssey and that lead whatever kind of half-life they have by sucking the
blood of the living. Starting at least with Emerson in America and Nietzsche in Europe, the
idea that the best promises of philosophy could be doomed by the tradition, and in particular by giving too much weight to what was mislead in the tradition, that one could be deprived of ones own standing by too many tales about the mighty dead, has been a matter
of concern. Hence the twofold task of Margoliss books: what is at stake is not only the imperative of saying what would be philosophically the best option, here and now, it is also to
show that even philosophies that do not mention the tradition in an ostensible way can still
endorse options that have been dead for a long time unbeknownst to their proponents
and err indefinitely as a result. One-sided eliminative naturalism, analytic scientism were
such options. These last days, the focus has been on Brandoms pragmatism, as participants
to the 2012 Rome Conference could attest. But this critical task should in no way hide the
fact that the general purpose is of a constructive kind, which might seem close at times to
the perfectionist stance but under strong constraints 1, and this last book makes this point
tellingly.
Margolis has a tantalizing formula to make this constructive dimension explicit, which
comes from Peirce, who used it in one of his reviews for The Nation2. Since the formula
captures one of the central insights of Margolis's last book, it might be worth looking into it
more closely.

* Ecole Normale Suprieure, Department of Philosophy, USR3308 CIRPHLES. [mathias.girel@ens.fr]


1Philosophy has no point (for me) if it has no convictions about the right orientation of human life; but it has
no resources of its own by which to validate any such change directly except by subtraction. So it plays its part
under extraordinary constraints. Preface, p. x.. The subtractive part is integral part of the constructive part.
2 Review of David G. Ritchie, Darwin and Hegel, with Other Philosophical Studies, London, Swan Sonnenschein & Co.; New York: Macmillan & Co. 1893. The review is contemporary of Peirces Monist series, which
includes Evolutionary Love and The Law of Mind. Retrieved in Peirce, Ketner et al. (1975: vol. 1, 199-202).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, VI, 2
180

MATHIAS GIREL

DARWINIZED HEGELIANISM OR HEGELIANIZED DARWINISM?

Peirce's motto, as quoted by Margolis in his introduction is: Darwinizing Hegel and
Hegelianizing Darwin.3 This means, at the very least and to give only the most general description, that one should not have to choose between biological naturalism and the postkantian emphasis on history and culture, and that, in order to account for the modes of existence of human selves in particular, any one-sided approach is sure to fail. The and is
decisive in the motto and in the gloss that follows since it will preclude any comfortable
choice between extreme biological naturalization and a kind of cultural anthropology that
would be oblivious of biological evolution. This captures thus nicely what Margolis deems
to be the best and most perspicuous direction for a reconstruction of philosophy, where the
analysis of biology and culture must be seen to be very differently conceived but inseparably joined(p.5). Margolis sees in Peirce's motto a commitment that is at the core of the
prophecy that he is himself spelling out in the book and that might be pragmatism's best
promise: the commitment to "the radical thesis that the self is a hybrid artifact of biological
and cultural evolution that makes possible the entire run of the uniquely enlanguaged forms
of human intelligence, thought, understanding, reason, feeling, experience, activity, conduct, creation, and knowledge that marks our race for what it is". (p. 5-6) The revival of
Pragmatism will not be the repetition of something that already took place, it will borrow
its vitality to the interval spanning Kant and Hegel and to the kind of naturalism that developed after Darwin's Origin, a major inspiration for the whole first wave of pragmatism,
and it will take the best from these two strands, at the junction of Eurocentric philosophy
and American Pragmatism. These insights are beautifully and convincingly developed in
the book.
It is all the more interesting to look at Peirces original review, not to find faults in
Margoliss reading, but to compare his project and Peirces. If some significant differences
obtain in the process, they might give us some clues as to the actuality, and also the novelty, of Margoliss own stance.
Peirces review was about the now forgotten Scottish philosopher Ritchie who, in his
book, tried to provide a Hegelian account of the principles of evolution, or, in Peirce's
words, to determine how far the conceptions of Hegel can advantageously be applied in
Darwinian speculation.4 Peirce was not convinced by the result and he claimed clearly that
this dialectical reconstruction of Evolution, playing as it does with the empty notions of
Identity and Difference and their interaction, would not do:
One of the worst faults of the Hegelian philosophy is that its conceptions are wanting in this
definiteness, and that its consequences are not unmistakable. When Mr. Ritchie undertakes to
Hegelianize natural selection by the remark that Heredity and Variation are just particular
forms of the categories of Identity and Difference, whose union and interaction produce the
actually existing kinds of living beings, he makes us think that Hegelianism needs to be
Darwinized much more than Darwinism needs to be Hegelianized. (Peirce, CN1, 201)

As we can see clearly, in Peirce, or, to be a bit more cautious, in that particular review 5,
Darwinized Hegelianism and Hegelianized Darwinism are in no way on the same foot3 This was also prominent in a Lecture entitled A Pragmatist Trajectory, delivered at the Ecole normale suprieure (Paris), on March, 6th, 2012, and Margolis used the motto also in A Word of Thanks for Peter Hares Patience, Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 46, 1, 2010, pp. 3-8.
4 Peirce, Ketner et al. (1975: vol. 1, 199).
5 I have not found any clear equivalent of the motto in other texts by Peirce, even though one could embark
into a close reading of the Monist series, and see in which measure they agree with the motto, but this is a task for
a book more than for the present contribution.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
181

MATHIAS GIREL

DARWINIZED HEGELIANISM OR HEGELIANIZED DARWINISM?

ing. The and that seems central in Margolis's prophecy is not on Peirce's agenda in this
text, since Peirce clearly opts in favor of the first option: reading Hegel or is just Hegelian dialectics? through Darwinian lenses, more than the reverse. So far, so good: one
could say that what is already a form of Hegelianized Kantianism in Peirce (if one allows
most of the argument of Chapter II on Peirces fallibilism) is submitted to another new
transformation, and that, as a consequence, the two dimensions Hegelianism and Darwinism will be fused in the final result, so that the rest is mere quibble. Still, would Margolis
be content with only one part of the motto and say that Darwinized Hegelianism is
enough? That would be my first question.
But what does Peirce mean by Darwinizing here? I am not totally sure that this fits
perfectly in the picture Margolis gives and that it refers primarily to biological evolution
and to what we usually associate with naturalism. Peirce does not say that we should renounce Hegel's insights (and that might confirm in some way the reading of Peirce's fallibilism that Margolis gives in his Chapter II), but he does not say, neither, that one should
have a reading of Hegel based on biological evolution, or that one should endorse a kind of
naturalized hegelianism where naturalized would refer to the living. Of course, one could
read the text in such a way that it addresses the way chance plays a part of the stable forms
of human life. Peirce has some fine lines on Darwins tack on the notion of purpose: he
notes that Darwins challenge is to assess how teleological or purposed action can be a
secondary effect of non-teleological action, but he does not take sides here on this issue.
The faults Peirce finds in Hegel are not related to a choice in favor of History and Culture
against Biology. It is that Hegel's conceptions are not definite enough, that one cannot
draw experiential consequences from them. To Darwinize is not equivalent, here, to include into a biological narrative, it is used in an idiosyncratic way and all the question
is to assess whether it is only a local phenomenon or something that has more far-reaching
implications where this means rather, if one can stand a bit of anachronism: Popperianize.6 Since it is not likely that Margolis would accept Popperianize Hegel and Hegelianize Popper as a motto for his own book, let's see if that reading, if daring, is credible.
The main merit of Darwin, in Peirce's account, lies not so much in the idea of evolution
than in the scientific method he used to give an account of the origin of species. That's the
lesson of logic mentioned in the Illustrations. As we know, Evolution was in the air before Darwin's epoch-making book and Darwin does not use the word in a technical sense in
1859, even though he gives the first scientific account of evolution. From that standpoint,
Peirce often opposes Darwin and Spencer. They might seem to have the same theory, as
regards content, but the method is drastically different:
(The Spencerians) cannot understand that it is not the sublimity of Darwin's theories which
makes him admired by men of science, but that it is rather his minute, systematic, extensive,
strict, scientific researches which have given his theories a more favorable reception -- theories which in themselves would barely command scientific respect. (CP: 1.33)

If one just sticks to the idea of biological evolution, Spencerianize Hegel or Hegelianize Spencer would basically do the same job as the motto, but would of course be less appealing (or are they?). Peirce says more about what he has in mind a few lines later: Hegelianizing Darwin would be in fact prefixing an empirical inquiry with a particular meta6 Chauvire (1981), Haack (1977), and some others have stressed the resemblances and differences between
these philosophers. We could of course say simply Peircianize, but it would obscure the particular point, which
relates to the way theories are put to the test.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
182

MATHIAS GIREL

DARWINIZED HEGELIANISM OR HEGELIANIZED DARWINISM?

physics, and whatever could conceivably be settled by experiment, metaphysics should


abstain from settling in advance (Peirce, Ketner et al. (1975: vol.1, 202). Peirce has Comte
in mind but I think it is not totally inappropriate, today, to say that the faults he finds in Hegel involve the use of Unverifiable hypotheses and that he dismisses them in a way that has
already a Popperian twist: they are unverifiable in the sense of leading to no unmistakable
consequences capable of being put to the test of comparison with observation (Ibid.). The
problem with Hegelianizing is that it leaves finally no room to scientifically observed
facts and to he test of comparison with observation:
Hence the moment a philosopher, upon a-priori or epistemological grounds, enunciates any
proposition whatever as true, we are warned to be upon our guard against some jugglery.
Where we have no scientifically observed facts to go upon, the prudent thing is to confess our
downright ignorance. Even where we have such facts, we are subject to a probable error.
From this pregnant fact, if one only takes it to heart, can be developed a whole Darwinianized
Hegelism, having fruitful suggestions and indications for the prosecution of science and for
the conduct of life. (Peirce, CN1, 202)

This brings me to my second question. Would Margolis say that Peirce's actual motto is
a kind of slip of the pen and that what he really meant was something closer to his own
motto in the Preface? Or would he concede that this motto, as offered in his book, has a
radical novelty of its own, that it is Margolisian first and foremost, even though it might
be rooted deeply in the authors he mentions in Pragmatism Ascendent?
Or, does it reveal something that would make Peirce less enrollable in the prophecy
and thus in the reconstruction of what is still alive in Classical Pragmatism he is offering,
maybe because the stress, here, is more on the scientific method than on the kind of naturalism we commonly attribute to Darwin? Is the Darwin in question in Peirces review the one
that Margolis wants to use in his prophecy?
Or, again, if what has just been said about what Peirce meant by Darwinizing belongs
in the end to the fallibilist stance described in Chapter II of Pragmatism Ascendent, are we
getting anywhere out of Hegel?
References
Chauvir C. (1981), Peirce, Popper et l'abduction, Revue Philosophique de la France et
de l'Etranger, 171, 441-459.
Haack S. (1977), Two Fallibilists in Search of the Truth, Aristotelian Society, Supplementary volume 51.
Peirce, C. S., Ketner, K. and al. (1975), Contributions to "The Nation", Lubbock, Texas,
Texas Tech University.
Perry, R. B. (1935), The Thought and Character of William James : As Revealed in Unpublished Correspondence and Notes, Together with His Published Writings, Boston,
Little, Brown and Company, 2 vols.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
183

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Roberto Gronda*

Nature and Thought. Some Reflections on Margolis Claim of the Indissolubility of Realism
and Idealism

Among many other things, Margolis new book, Pragmatism Ascendent: A Yard of
Narrative, A Touch of Prophecy, is a successful attempt to articulate in a thoroughly
naturalistic way the fundamental tenet of Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy that is, the
idea that idealism and realism are not two alternative metaphysical options, but rather two
ways of dealing with the very same thing, the concrete experience that human beings have
of their world. One of the most characteristic errors of traditional philosophies has been that
of holding apart subject and object, thus assuming either realism or idealism to be true. In
the first case, the object is treated as an entity wholly independent from the cognitive
activities of the subject; in the second case, the autonomy of the object is firmly denied, and
the object is completely absorbed in the subject. The defect of this alternative is that it does
not contemplate the possibility of a third way between these two extremes. It was Kant who
had the merit of realizing that transcendental idealism and empirical realism not only can
but also should be simultaneously embraced. Indeed, idealism refers to the necessary
relation that knowledge entertains with the subject, while empiricism refers to the kind of
validity that human knowledge possesses. So, no contradiction stems from their
simultaneous assumption. Kant explains this fundamental trait of the critical philosophy by
remarking that to say that space and time are transcendentally ideal is only to say that they
are not properties of the things-in-themselves. The recognition of their dependence upon the
cognitive structures of the agent does not imply that judgments about space and time cannot
be empirically assessed (Kant 1781/1787: A369-70).
Margolis follows Kant in rejecting any contraposition between the subjective and the
objective. However, he considers the transcendental way that Kant has taken to be too
committed to rationalistic and dualistic presumptions. Accordingly, Margolis distinguishes
between Kants constructivist approach which represents his most valuable contribution
to the philosophical discourse of the modernity of modernity, and consists in the
recognition of the fact that objects are theory-laden and his illegitimate belief in the
possibility of singling out a set of categories that constitute experience. The commitment to
a list of fixed and unchanging concepts is what he names transcendentalism.
Consequently, Margolis depicts the history of the post-Kantian philosophy as a series of
efforts aiming at shaping a form of constructivism free from transcendentalist prejudices.
Referring to the heated debate on the nature of geometry that characterized nineteenth
century German philosophy, Margolis finds no difficulty in showing that what Kant
believed to be a necessary condition of possibility of experience namely, the Euclidean
space was in reality a hypothesis that was wholly legitimate at a certain moment of
history, but which was subsequently abandoned when the evolution of physical sciences
required the creation of new tools to handle new problems. On Margolis reading, a correct
interpretation of the history of science leads therefore to the conclusion that the categories
of Vernunft the faculty of reason in general are contingent, context-dependent, and
*

Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa [roberto.gronda@sns.it]

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, VI, 2
184

ROBERTO GRONDA
NATURE AND THOUGHT

constantly under process of revision. Far from being the immutable structures of
understanding, they are products of a transient flux whose validity as principles of
construction of experience is local and historical.
Plausible as this reconstruction may seem to contemporary philosophers, I think that
some reservations should be advanced against Margolis treatment of the indissoluble
union of realism and idealism (Margolis 2012: cap 2. 54). I would like to call attention to
two different, yet interrelated points that I find particularly problematic. Firstly, I cannot
accept Margolis decision to restrict the constructivist option to the analysis of what Sellars
has called the scientific image of the world. Margolis is rather explicit in maintaining that
what he is dealing with is not the general concept of objectivity, but the particular kind of
objectivity that is proper of the entities postulated in science. The constructivism that he has
in mind is therefore much less radical than one could expect: the view that he wants to
defend is the modest thesis that what is constructed is one or another picture of the world
(Margolis 2012: cap. 2. 12). I think that such a restriction is not only unwarranted, but also
illegitimate. In section I, I will try to show that it relies on a conception of the nature and
role of thought that seems to be not completely consistent with the tenets of a pragmatist
theory of knowledge.
Secondly, I am not convinced that Margoliss argument in favor of the rejection of the
notion of the transcendental is really conclusive. Margolis does not always distinguish
clearly between transcendental and a priori, thus implicitly assuming that the criticisms that
have been directed against the latter can be extended without modification to the former.
Now, no one can deny that in Kants original formulation the two notions are essentially
interwoven. Kant defines transcendental as the cognition that is occupied [] with our a
priori concepts of objects in general (Kant 1781/1787: A11-12/B25). Similarly, it is not by
chance that the transcendental deduction of categories is preceded by a metaphysical
deduction in which Kant attempts to derive the different ways of constructing experience
from the immutable structure of understanding. So, if they are directed against the way in
which Kant defines and uses the notion of the transcendental, Margolis criticisms are
undoubtedly effective. But this does not mean that a different conception cannot be
developed. In section II, I will attempt to sketch the broad outlines of a different view of
what transcendental philosophy may be within a thoroughly naturalistic framework. My
goal is to suggest that the constructivist naturalism endorsed by Margolis can make room
for a transcendental analysis of the conditions of possibility of scientific experience without
being compelled to accept the foundationalism that has been traditionally associated with it.
I
One of the most relevant contributions of the book is the reading of the pragmatist
tradition as a particular way of coming to term with Kants transcendental insight. In the
context of an attempt to defend his idiosyncratic interpretation of Peirces concept of
fallibilism, Margolis writes:
Let me remind you once again that, as I read the matter, idealism (lower-case i) is either
independent of or neutral with regard to realism or disjunctively opposed to realism;
whereas Idealism (capital I) is hospitable to incorporating some forms of constructive
realism (as among the German Idealists). Furthermore, idealism (in the Kantian sense)
holds that what is empirically real is actually constituted (in part at least) by what is
subjective in origin and nature; whereas Idealism (in Peirce's best sense) is (so to say)

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
185

ROBERTO GRONDA
NATURE AND THOUGHT

construed epistemologically (in the constructivist way) rather than metaphysically


(disjunctively), hence is restricted to our picture (our constructed picture) of reality rather
than addressed to the actual constitution of reality itself. (Margolis 2012: Chapter 2, 56)

The argument is undoubtedly well grounded. Margolis criticizes the realistic


interpretation of Peirces theory of truth for not paying due attention to the anti-subjectivist
constructivism that is implicit in the definition that the founder of pragmatism gives of truth
as the opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate (Peirce
1878/1986: 273). As is well known, in How to Make Our Ideas Clear Peirce puts forward a
thesis that may seem paradoxical. He writes: on the one hand, reality is independent, not
necessarily of thought in general, but only of what you or I or any finite number of men
may think about it; [] on the other hand, though the object of the final opinion depends
on what that opinion is, yet what that opinion is does not depend on what you or I or any
man thinks (Peirce 1878/1986: 274). The air of paradox disappears when it is reminded
that, after Kant, the structure of the object cannot be separated from the conceptual
apparatus through which a knower understands the world. Consequently, the passage
quoted above not only supports Margolis claim that Peirce cannot be read as a pre-Kantian
realist, but also allows him to conclude that a mature, self-conscious form of realism cannot
escape from a thoroughly constructivist account of objectivity.
The form of constructivism that Margolis wants to defend has two distinctive features.
Firstly, it is radically anti-subjectivist, where by subjectivism Margolis means two
different things: on the one hand, the unilateral and excessive emphasis on the creative
power of the self to the detriment of the legitimate rights of the object; on the other hand,
the idea that the categories of understanding are a priori fixed features of the human mind.
Secondly, it is intended to hold only for the refined pictures of reality generated by
sciences. For these reasons, his version of constructivism is less ambitious than Kants
original one. Indeed, it does not pretend to provide a general account of objectivity, but
only to clarify the main aspects of the process of epistemological constitution of scientific
entities. Similarly, it does not accept Kants idea that a satisfactory account of objectivity
depends upon the discovery of a list of immutable categories from which to derive the ways
in which a mind imposes transcendental constraints on everything that can count as an
object of experience. The conception of a liberalized a priori is the horizon within which
Margolis formulates his rejection of the notion of transcendental necessity (Margolis 2012:
Chapter 2, 31). Following the footsteps of Hegel, Margolis argues that the very idea of a
transcendental necessity should be replaced with a more empirical view according to which
the categories of understanding are continually relativized to the habituated practices of a
given ethos (Margolis 2012: Chapter 1, 40).
This is, I think, the sense of Margolis long statement quoted at the beginning of the
present section, in which the reasons of his dissatisfaction with Kants transcendental
project are clearly expressed. By contrasting Kants idealism with post-Kantian Idealism,
Margolis aims at calling attention to Kants unwarranted assumption that the subjectivist
identity of idealism and realism entails the ontic construction of the whole of reality
itself (Margolis 2012: Chapter 1, 47; see also Margolis 2010: 100-111). This move is
probably due to his fear of laying himself open to the charge of metaphysical
constructivism. But is it truly so? Is Margolis entitled to draw such a conclusion from the
remark that idealism (in the Kantian sense) holds that what is empirically real is
actually constituted (in part at least) by what is subjective in origin and nature? To state it
more clearly, is Margolis right in believing that the subjectivity of the categories of

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
186

ROBERTO GRONDA
NATURE AND THOUGHT

understanding is intimately connected to the possibility of accounting for reality the


empirically real as a construction, and that such an extension of the constructivist
paradigm implies an idealistic ontology? Isnt it possible to take a step back and to see
these two aspects transcendentalism and constructivism as responding to different
problems that Kant unfortunately attempts to merge together? I will try to argue for the
latter position in the following way. First of all, I will show that, contrary to what Margolis
seems to believe, the notion of constructivism is metaphysically unproblematic. Then, I will
focus attention on the general philosophical consequences that follows from the recognition
of this fact. Finally, I will spend a few words to explain why I believe that a thorough
naturalism cannot make the distinction between the empirically real and the scientific
pictures of the world.
Constructivism is usually defined as that epistemological position which emphasizes the
role of mind in the construction of known reality (Parrini 2006: 2374, see also Margolis
2012: Chapter 1, 46). The origins of this view can be traced back to Vico and Hobbes, but
its most influential version has been formulated by Kant. In a central passage of the secondedition Transcendental Deduction Kant writes: An object [] is that in the concept of
which the manifold of a given intuition is united (Kant 1781/1787: B137). On this view
which Margolis correctly conceives of as the most important theoretical achievement of
modern philosophy the identity of object and concept, subjective and objective, realism
and idealism, is explicitly stated. Reality and our understanding of it convertuntur since the
unity of the object is nothing but the unity of its correspondent concept. Unfortunately,
Kants dualism prevents him from developing a consistent idealism. In this sense, the
history of post-Kantian philosophy from Fichte to C. I. Lewis can be profitably depicted as
a series of attempts to overcome the dichotomy of sense and understanding, a posteriori and
a priori, synthetic and analytic. However, in the Transcendental Schematism Kant provides
the conceptual means to extend his constructivist insight to hold for every kind of object.
Indeed, here Kant maintains that the schema of sensible concepts and the schema of a pure
concept of understanding share the same fundamental structure: the schema of a concept
no matter whether pure or empirical signifies a rule of the synthesis of imagination in
accordance with that general concept (Kant 1781/1787: A141/B180). But this means that
constructivism can be separated without loss from the transcendentalist and subjectivist
hypothesis of the fixed nature of the categories of human understanding. The intelligibility
of an object is the result of its being constructed according to an universal rule: this is the
whole meaning of a mature constructivist position. Its core is the functional account of
objectivity. Object is everything that can be constructed in accordance with a concept.
Consequently, both the objects of common sense what Margolis calls the empirically
real and the postulated entities of science are constructs. Indeed, not only the entities
postulated in sciences, but also the objects encountered and used in our everyday
transactions with the environment possess a degree of intelligibility that makes it possible
for a knowing agent to understand their behavior in the context of a purposeful activity.
In the light of what has been said until now, it should be easier to see why a
constructivist approach to the issue of objectivity should be considered metaphysically
unproblematic. Indeed, what is constructed is not the existence of an object but its meaning.
Reality and concept are semantic notions, and the idealism that stems from the adoption of
the constructivist viewpoint pace Margolis is a critical idealism that inquires into the
conditions of possibility of the meaningfulness of the human world. It is very likely that
Margolis reservations are due at least in part to his almost exclusive interest in the problem
of truth, which obviously entails the problem of the relationship between thought and

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
187

ROBERTO GRONDA
NATURE AND THOUGHT

reality. However, no one better than a pragmatist should appreciate the importance of this
shift from existence and truth to meaning. In the end, Peirces pragmatic maxim is nothing
but a refined way of formulating the semantic identity of object and concept the
mediating element being the much discussed notion of conceivable practical bearings. So, it
is rather surprising that Margolis does not see that the semantic thesis that human beings
construct their objects in conformity to the rules involved in their concepts does not seem to
support the metaphysical conclusion that human beings constitute what is empirically real.
What is even more surprising is that, in order to reject the metaphysical interpretation of
constructivism, Margolis contrasts the real world with our pictures of it. In an extremely
obscure passage Margolis writes: Nothing [] requires that the real world must be
constructed by human agents: what is constructed is one or another picture of the world
(Margolis 2012: Chapter 2, 12). I must admit I find hard to locate the source of Margolis
difficulties. However, this excerpt seems to me to be surprising because the distinction that
Margolis introduces seems to presuppose the distinctions between subjective and objective
he wants to criticize. This point can be highlighted by reflecting upon a passage drawn by
Kants Jsche Logic. Writing about the difference between form and matter in cognition,
Kant remarks:
If a savage sees a house from a distance, for example, with whose use he is not acquainted, he
admittedly has before him in his representation the very same object as someone else who is
acquainted with it determinately as a dwelling established for men. But as to form, this
cognition of one and the same object is different in the two. With the one it is mere intuition,
with the other it is intuition and concept at the same time. (Kant 1992: 544-55)

In the context of an analysis of the empirical differences generated by the possession of


a concept, the statement is perfectly correct. But if it is taken to mean something more than
that and Margolis seems to be willing to draw relevant conclusions from it , it becomes
malicious. In Kants argument, the epistemic access to a meaningful world is presupposed
as an implicit premise. On the contrary, Margolis distinction between the real world and its
scientific images seems to question precisely the validity of this premise. If I understand
him aright, Margolis is saying here two different things: a) that all the pictures that have
been constructed in the history of science refer to an underlying reality of which they are all
pictures; and b) that the real world has a kind of intelligibility that is not the one proper of
the object of sciences.
But what is the real world? In my opinion, the only answer that does not commit
Margolis to an untenable and contradictory metaphysical dualism is the one that identifies
the real world with the world of common sense. Besides, the very contrast between real
world and scientific images makes sense if and only if the real world does not lie beyond
the scope of our experience. Copernican and Ptolemaic theories give radically different
representations of the astronomical reality, but their common ground is the man that looks
at the sky and sees the rhythm of day and night. As Dewey puts in the opening chapter of
Experience and Nature, the world of common sense, the world that the human beings
inhabit, is the pillar to which the vine of pendant theory is attached (Dewey 1929/1981:
11).
However, if the real world is taken to be the world of common sense rather than an
unknowable thing in itself, Margolis restriction of the constructivist explanation of
meaning to the account of the entities of science loses great part of its force. To say that the
objects of common sense are not constructed but given would entail the admission of a

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
188

ROBERTO GRONDA
NATURE AND THOUGHT

source of meaning and objectivity that cannot be explained in experimental and naturalistic
terms. Indeed, one of the great theoretical advantages of the adoption of a constructivist
point of view is that it allows us to provide a simple, yet comprehensive account of the
processes through which a human being succeeds in creating a meaningful and ordered
world. Meanings are traced back to the acts of an organism bringing together means and
ends, stimuli and responses, as a consequence of which the latter can be read into the
former (Dewey 1896/1972: 98). This, for instance, is the way in which Dewey explains the
constitution of the moral world out of morally meaningless impulses in the pages of Human
Nature and Conduct.
For a pragmatist, meaning is the act of anticipating the consequences of a certain event,
and the fact that objects have a meaning is the condition of possibility of there being a
world. The world of common sense is therefore the world structured by the habits of
behavior an agent has acquired in the course of his prior experience and education. The
objects of common sense are nothing but settled ways of responding to the standard stimuli
presented by the environment. This is the sense of Deweys otherwise puzzling remark that
objects are habits turned inside out (Dewey 1922/1983: 127). But this means that the real
world is constructed in the same way and in the very same sense in which the postulated
entities of science are constructed: that is, by singling out those elements that can be used as
reliable signs of future possible consequences.
II
From what has been said above it follows that classical pragmatists notably, Dewey,
but the same holds true for James believe constructivism to be the only theory of meaning
compatible with a thorough naturalism. In recent times, many scholars have tried to recover
the genuine constructivist spirit of pragmatism. However, in order to outline the main
features of a neo-pragmatist and post-analytic account of objectivity, they have
unfortunately relied on the language of transcendental philosophy. So, for instance,
Pihlstrm has maintained that pragmatism is the key to the naturalization of transcendental
conditions, where by transcendental conditions he means the social, cultural and
historical constraints that are imposed on us as people of a certain age (Pihlstrm 2001:
230). On this reading, human beings agree in a form of life: its general structures define the
(quasi-) transcendental conditions that determine how its members should think and act
(Pihlstrm 2001: 230).
Even though this lax use of transcendental is now widely accepted, I agree with
Margolis that the identification of constructivism with transcendentalism is misleading. As
has already been remarked above, constructivism is an extremely general theory revolving
around the idea of the essential interwovenness of the subjective and the objective, while
transcendental philosophy is only one of the possible forms in which the constructivist
insight can be articulated. This remark is particularly relevant for our purposes since, as
Margolis has pointed out, the history of pragmatism cannot be properly understood if this
distinction is not borne in mind. Pragmatism is an ambitious attempt to continue Hegels
(and Kants) project along naturalistic and post-Darwinian lines (Margolis 2012: Chapter
1, 36). For this reason, I think that Pihlstrm is wrong in interpreting the habits of action
that structure our common-sense knowledge of the world as (quasi-)transcendental rules of
construction of reality. Undoubtedly, the habits of action are the naturalistic counterparts of
the Kantian categories of understanding: they are a priori rules of constitution of objectivity
whose validity can be accounted for in terms of their effectiveness in construing an ordered

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
189

ROBERTO GRONDA
NATURE AND THOUGHT

and intelligible world. But they are not transcendental because the naturalization of the
Kantian a priori dramatically undermines the theoretical framework that makes it possible
to speak in a meaningful way of transcendental conditions for our having a world in view.
This point can be highlighted with an example. In a certain sense, it is possible to argue
that the fact of having a brain with a particular structure should be conceived of as one of
these (quasi-)transcendental conditions. Indeed, if our brain were different, our experience
would not be possible or, at least, it would be markedly different. This is a formally valid
transcendental argument since it states a necessary relationship between the protasis and the
apodosis, Now, a transcendental argument so constructed seems to be a reductio ad
absurdum of the whole theory rather than a step towards the naturalization of
transcendental philosophy. Obviously, a defender of transcendental arguments would
remind us that the kind of necessity holding between the protasis and the apodosis is not
empirical, but metaphysical. It is taken to express certain metaphysical constraints that can
be established by reflection, and that hold in every possible world (Stern 1999: 3).
However, such a move is not open to a pragmatist. Since he is both a thorough naturalist
and a radical constructivist, he cannot admit either the idea of a metaphysical constraint or
the distinction between reflection and empirical observation. Every habit of behavior is a
natural event, a particular way in which the biological nature of a human being realizes
itself. Accordingly, the necessity that characterizes the structuring conditions of our
experience is not metaphysically, but functionally and historically a priori: it is the
necessity of a rule that prescribes a certain course of action to an agent, and whose
provisional validity is a consequence of its having proved itself to be efficient as a norm of
conduct.
I think that Margolis is completely right on this point: the adoption of a relativized
conception of the a priori compels us to accept the radical view that reason is going to
become increasingly fragmentary, parochial, fluxive, historicized because of the
increasing complexity of the world with which human beings interact (Margolis 2012:
Chapter 1, 44). In my view, this is the essential core of a consistent constructivist
naturalism. However, this does not mean that the notion of transcendental should be cast
aside as a completely useless tool. Margolis rejection of it seems to me a little bit too rash.
If we pay attention to the way in which Kant defines this concept, we notice that
transcendental does not refer to our objects, but only to our knowledge of these objects
insofar as this is possible a priori (Kant 1781/87: A 11-12/B 25). This remark gives us a
clue about how to develop a plausible conception of transcendental philosophy which could
be incorporated within a thoroughly naturalistic framework.
Since it is not possible to discuss in detail all the various issues involved in this way of
conceiving transcendental philosophy, I will limit myself to sketch its general outlines. It
has been noted above that transcendental is not a property of a set of concepts, but a
possible attitude that an agent may take regarding the nature and validity of the a priori
conditions of experience. The structure of the sui generis logical space of transcendental
reflections is not different in principle to that of the most advanced sciences: indeed, the
methods and procedures used to confirm or reject an assertion are the same through and
through. This is, I think, the cash value of Margolis thesis of the inseparability of our
first- and second-order questions (Margolis 2012: Chapter 1, 11). The questions
concerning our knowledge of the world are methodologically continuous with the questions
concerning our knowledge of knowledge. But this does not imply that the aim of the
transcendental attitude is to provide a general theory of objectivity. This is the ultimate
reason why I believe that it is important to keep constructivism and transcendental

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
190

ROBERTO GRONDA
NATURE AND THOUGHT

philosophy separated. The aim of a transcendental approach is much more modest than that:
it is to provide a general account of what it means to be a scientific picture of reality.
Transcendental reflection takes the results of natural sciences as given, and inquires into the
conditions of possibility of these practices of knowledge. From Kants transcendental
standpoint, the problem is that of finding a metaphysical warrant for the objective validity
of the categories. From a naturalistic perspective, the search for such a warrant is
meaningless because scientific concepts are historical products. Again, Margolis is right in
saying that the contingency of our first-ordered answers ineluctably infects the conditions
of validity of all answers to our second-order questions (Margolis 2012: Chapter 1, 11).
But if this is true, what is the function performed by transcendental reflection? I think
that its function is to formulate testable hypotheses about the nature of rationality, which
can be used as basis for future scientific inquiries. Even though they both are ways of
constructing a meaningful world, common sense and science differ in their complexity. The
processes that constitute scientific entities are controlled and self-critical, while the
biological activities that constitute everyday objects are largely imprecise and incomplete.
They are incomplete because common-sense concepts are undetermined with regard to
many of the properties of their correspondent objects. This is a consequence of the fact that
our everyday transactions with the world do not require the kind of precision needed in
modern scientific experiments. The concept of water enables us to forecast the behavior of
that object in standard conditions, but it does not say anything about its possible behavior in
exceptional circumstances: water is what can be used to drink and wash clothes (Dewey
1929/1984: 126ff.). At the very same time, the relative simplicity of the transactions
constituting everyday objects guarantees the relative stability of the world of common
sense. On the contrary, scientific objects are defined intra-theoretically: so, the meaning of
water varies according to the different scientific frameworks used to interpret it. Now, it is
of the nature of scientific objects to be subjected to a continuous process of refinement,
with the aim to increase their explanatory power. This process of revision can be guided by
a regulative idea of what human beings, at a certain time in history, consider a satisfactory
conception of reason, meaning, and objectivity. Traditionally, this idea has taken the form
of a unified theory of rationality. My suggestion is that the goal of transcendental refection
is precisely to impose some constraints of this sort on the way in which a scientific theory
should be made. Obviously, all these constraints are only provisional and tentative.
Nonetheless, they are not arbitrary. They are justified, retrospectively, by their being
attuned to the most advanced scientific and technical knowledge of the time, and,
prospectively, by their being expression of the cognitive needs and desires of (some)
members of a scientific community. This constructivist conception of the transcendental is
genuinely naturalistic, so that a pragmatist should not feel uncomfortable with it even
though it sets itself to counterbalance the dissolution of the unity of reason determined by
the relativization of the Kantian a priori. On this reading, transcendental philosophy is one
of the tools that human beings have created in the long course of their history in order to
enhance the understanding of reality (Preti 1973: 149ff.). There is no legitimate reason not
to exploit it apart from the empirical assessment of its uselessness.
Bibliography
J. Dewey 1896/1972, The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology, in The Early Works of John
Dewey, Vol. 5, ed. by J. A. Boydston, Southern Illinois Press, Carbondale 1972, pp. 96110.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
191

ROBERTO GRONDA
NATURE AND THOUGHT

----- 1922/1983, Human Nature and Conduct, in The Middle Works of John Dewey, Vol.
14, ed. by J. A. Boydston, Southern Illinois Press, Carbondale 1983.
----- 1929/1981, Experience and Nature, in The Later Works of John Dewey, Vol. 1, ed.
by J. A. Boydston, Southern Illinois Press, Carbondale 1981.
----- 1929/1984, The Quest for Certainty, in The Later Works of John Dewey, Vol. 4, ed.
by J. A. Boydston, Southern Illinois Press, Carbondale 1984.
I. Kant, 1781/1787, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press.
----- 1992, The Jsche Logic, in Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic, trans. J. M. Young,
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
J. Margolis 2010, Pragmatisms Advantage. American and European Philosophy at the End
of the Twentieth Century, Stanford, Stanford University Press.
----- 2012, Pragmatism Ascendent: A Yard of Narrative, A Touch of Prophecy, Stanford
University Press, Stanford.
P. Parrini 2006, Costruttivismo, in Enciclopedia Filosofica, Bompiani, Milano 2006.
C. S. Peirce 1878/1986, How to Make Our Ideas Clear, in Writings of Charles S.
Peirce, Vol. 3, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1986, pp. 257-76.
S. Pihlstrm 2001, Naturalism, Transcendental Conditions, and the Self-Discipline of
Philosophical Reason, in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Vol. 15, No. 3.
G. Preti 1973, Un colloquio con M. Foucault, in Umanismo e strutturalismo. Scritti di
estetica e di letteratura con un saggio inedito, E. Migliorini ed., Liviana, Padova 1973.
R. Stern 1999, Introduction, in Transcendental Arguments, R. Stern Ed., Oxford,
Clarendon Press.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
192

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Sami Pihlstrm*

Margolis on Realism and Idealism

Joseph Margolis has written on the problem of realism voluminously over several decades in addition to the enormous number of other philosophical debates he has contribut1
ed to in original ways. His latest book, Pragmatism Ascendent, discusses a wide spectrum
of philosophical issues, including the transformations of transcendental philosophy today in
terms of (Hegelian) historicity and flux, as well as the question of what it is to be a human self (Margolis 2012: x), but once again the realism debate is one of the central themes
covered, to a large extent in relation to these other complex debates. In this brief paper, I
will examine Margoliss arguments for the special kind of integration of realism and ideal2
ism (or Idealism, as he prefers to write) in relation to his attempt to develop a viable version of pragmatism conscious of its Kantian and especially Hegelian roots, yet promising to
develop the pragmatist tradition further in philosophy today.
I
Margoliss overall argument is, as usual, complicated, and it would be impossible to
even try to summarize it here. One of his characterizations of what the book offers is this:
3
a descendent strategy argumentatively (or genealogically) derived from the transcendental
turn turned pragmatist by refusing to concede any strong disjunction between broadly empirical first-order inquiries and broadly rational second-order speculations about the legitimacy of both the first and the second (4). In this context of inquiry, the realism issue is
never the primary topic; it is commented on repeatedly as the genealogical and quasitranscendental examinations of Hegels response to Kant, of Peirces fallibilism, and of the
inadequacies of contemporary philosophy of mind and social ontology unfold. These philosophical and metaphilosophical contexts turn out to be relevant to the very special indeed
highly unusual integration of realism and Idealism that Margolis proposes.
The first substantial comment on the realism issue in the volume is this, from the opening of Chapter 1:
The viability of the transcendental question (apart from the fortunes of transcendentalism)
makes no sense, unless we also concede that the viability of empirical realism cannot be separated from idealism (the Idealism already implicated in the transcendental question itself):
that consideration already signals the importance of deciding whether the human version of
* Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. [sami.pihlstrom@helsinki.fi]
1 The unspecified page references in the text are to this book (Margolis 2012).
2 I will continue to write Idealism when referring to the kind of idealism Margolis subscribes to (and finds
compatible with realism). This must be distinguished from some more traditional idealisms that are contrasted
with realism. The difference between the two doctrines (or sets of doctrines) is that idealism is either independent of or neutral with regard to realism or disjunctively opposed to realism, while Idealism with a capital I
is hospitable to incorporating some forms of constructive realism (91).
3 The book title, however, suggests an ascendence of pragmatism (!). Presumably, we are being told that ascendence and descendence are not incompatible and may both be needed as philosophical strategies.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, VI, 2
193

SAMI PIHLSTROM

MARGOLIS ON REALISM AND IDEALISM

reason reflexively affects what we affirm to be possible regarding what there is in the
whole of reality independent of human cognition. [...] I take realism and Idealism to be
inseparable within any constructivist form of realism it being the case that there is no other viable form of realism. I take that to be both Hegels and Peirces view. (8)

So realism is maintained: there is something that can be called reality independent of


human cognition, and we can and do, quite legitimately, affirm things about what there is
in that reality. Yet this is something that we affirm, or fail to affirm, and the transcendental
question (that is, the second-order question concern legitimation itself), as Margolis notes,
reflexively addresses whether human reason its structure, or perhaps its history inevitably affects these affirmations. Thus, realism, when considered transcendentally, cannot be
all-inclusive or full-blown. It must be restricted to a human perspective available in a pragmatic analysis.
This is what it means to take the issue of realism not just metaphysically but also epistemologically seriously: we need to construe a form of realism that we are able to live
with within our always inevitably historically situated and finite inquiries, processes that
are themselves continuously in flux. There is no return to what Kant labeled transcendental
realism (which, notoriously, conflates appearances with things in themselves) or to what
Hilary Putnam two centuries later famously called metaphysical realism (which postulates
a Gods-Eye View on the world). These appeals to an imagined super-human perspective
on what there really is go considerably beyond the more minimal realism that Margolis favors, a realism that accepts the idea that there is such a reality independently of us but insists on there being only human views or perspectives no divine ones on that reality.
Margolis repeatedly reminds us (e.g., 30) that we construct our pictures of reality, but not
reality itself, even when the inseparability of realism and Idealism is recognized.
Constructivism, for Margolis, is fully compatible with realism and does not entail any
ontic construction of the whole of reality itself (39). Accordingly, while what we, within Idealism, may find determinately real presupposes the ability of a cognitive agent to
discern the fact, this by no means requires the real world to be constructed by such agents;
again, what is constructed is one or another picture of the world (59-60) presumably including, reflexively, this very picture of realism itself. Charles S. Peirces realism, in particular, is a constructivist posit supported in terms of what we rationally Hope holds true at
the end of infinite inquiry (60). This is and here Peirces special kind of fallibilism truly
comes into the picture because realism cannot be a free-standing epistemological option, if inquiries must be infinitely extended; rather, realism requires (possibly a naturalized version of) an Idealist supplement (73).
Given his Peircean elaborations, it is easy to see that Margoliss realism is not just the
minimal affirmation that there is something we never constructed. It is a significantly richer
position, accommodating an acknowledgment of realism itself being a distinctively human
conception of reality. Our realism itself is a human face that the world, as seen from our
4
human perspective, has. Realism, as Margolis has put it is several previous publications, is
a human posit rather than the worlds own picture of itself. It is not Natures own im5
age of itself but our image of the world, natural and historic-cultural.

4 Compare this to Hilary Putnams notion of realism with a human face as developed in Putnam 1990.
5 Margoliss other relevant discussions of realism include, e.g., Margolis 1986 and 1995.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
194

SAMI PIHLSTROM

MARGOLIS ON REALISM AND IDEALISM

II
How is this view on realism and Idealism related to pragmatism, and the historical developments that led to the emergence (and the current re-emergence) of pragmatism? Margolis links these processes of development with Peirces peculiar fallibilism, which along
with the inseparability of realism and Idealism is one of the defining features of the
sense in which pragmatism [...] cannot fail to be construed as an ingenious and especially
promising spare variant of Hegels own undertaking, now naturalized [...] (10). Hegel,
then, is Margoliss historical hero not Kant, even though Kant was the first to insist on the
compatibility of realism and idealism (or, more specifically, empirical realism and transcendental idealism). Indeed, Kants account of empirical realism is claimed to be completely subjectivist and incoherent by Hegelian lights (10); Kant cannot recover any robust form of empirical realism (20). The proper recovery of realism then eventually takes
place, after Hegel, in Peirce; indeed, Peirce and Hegel form the pair of philosophical heroes
that Margolis celebrates throughout the book.
It is understandable that Margolis emphasizes Hegels role as a background figure of
pragmatism in contrast to Kants. The latter has been emphasized by other pragmatism
scholars (including the present author), and Hegel has often been unduly neglected. Margoliss criticism of Kants arguments for transcendental idealism could be compared to Ken6
neth Westphals, who also suggests that Hegel was the first pragmatic realist. Westphal
could, I believe, easily join Margolis in acknowledging that objectivity becomes historicized and constructivist in a pragmatist reinterpretation (or, as Margolis says, fragmentation) of Hegels recovery of realism (21) and that Hegels critique of Kant leads to a robust realism about the objects of experience.
Given that this narrative plays a very important role in Margoliss overall argument, it
might have been appropriate for him to acknowledge Westphals work, both his careful historical examinations of both Kants and Hegels arguments and his more systematic efforts
to show both that Kantian transcendental idealism is not a viable option neither for Kant
himself, given his anti-Cartesian and fallibilist approaches, nor for us and that the realist
can nevertheless argue transcendentally (yet fallibly). The reader familiar with Westphals
ideas would find a comparison highly valuable.
III
While the key figure of Margoliss first chapter is Hegel, the central philosopher of the
second one is Peirce. Margolis there argues that Peirce develops further the Hegelian unity
of realism and Idealism to the extent that it would be wrong to say that Peirce was a realist and an Idealist (54). He is both but not in the disjunctive sense these doctrines are traditionally understood in relation to each other. On Margoliss reading, Peirce believed that it
was only within the terms of his Idealism that the realist thesis would prove compelling at
all and therefore saw no viable disjunction in pressing the realism of science and the need
for an Idealist metaphysics (54). Or, more precisely, Peirce was not a realist and also, independently, an Idealist (55); these two doctrines could not coherently be maintained in7
dependently according to him (or so Margolis urges). What Peirce uniquely developed, in
a post-Hegelian environment, is a constructivist (Idealist) version of scientific realism.
6 See, e.g., Westphal 2004.
7 He also points out that Peirces fallibilism is meant to explain just why we cannot, post-Kant and postHegel, fall back again to any separate realism or Idealism and that John Deweys version of fallibilism in a way

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
195

SAMI PIHLSTROM

MARGOLIS ON REALISM AND IDEALISM

By emphasizing the inseparability of realism and Idealism, or the inevitable embeddedness of realism in constructivism, in Peirce, Margolis insightfully criticizes some of the
leading more strongly realist interpreters of Peirce, all the way from Max Fisch to Cheryl
8
Misak and others. He also suggests as he has done on a number of earlier occasions that
Peirces scholastic realism about the reality of generals should be replaced by a construc9
tivist account of predicable generals (76). Such generals, in a way, are not independent
of human thought (78) though again I would rather emphasize their transcendental dependence and, correspondingly, empirical independence.
Margolis recognizes very important similarities in Peirces and Deweys fallibilisms
and their versions of the union of realism and Idealism, which, in Dewey, is more explicitly
naturalized and evolutionarily laid out. Where Margolis in my view goes wrong is in his
neglect of William James. He claims that James was little more than a secondary figure
in comparison to the two other great classical pragmatists (86) and speaks about the damage of Jamess well-known, attractive informality (90) and even about his disastrous
conception of truth (92). Even though he may be right to point out that the realization that
the Peircean notion of what is independent of the vagaries of you and me is itself constructed by pragmatist means does not validate Jamess account of truth as such (106), he
unfortunately seems to ignore Jamess independent role in the development of the pragmatic method and in the pragmatist articulation of the realism issue in terms of that method,
10
which in effect makes ontology dependent on, or entangled with, ethics.
IV
Occasionally to go backwards in the historical story Margolis is telling us it also
seems to this reader at least that Margolis fails to do full justice to Kants transcendental
considerations. For example, though I very much appreciate Margoliss Hegelian and
Peircean project of pragmatizing and historicizing Kant, I remain unconvinced by the criticism that Kant does not introduce a working distinction between appearances and the objects they are appearances of (19). A one world Kantian response to this charge is obviously that appearances are appearances of things in themselves; these are not two different
classes of objects (as more traditional two worlds interpretations maintain) but, rather, the
same objects considered from two different perspectives, or articulated through two dif11
ferent considerations. Moreover, Margolis does not pay due attention to the distinction
between the quite different empirical and transcendental ways in which, say, space and time
can be said to be in us (29). He partly relies on P.F. Strawsons relatively conventional
interpretation which has been heavily criticized by several one world Kantians. Margolis
thus claims repeatedly that Kants transcendental question is incoherent from the very start,
but he never (as far as I can see) explains in any great detail, or in full communication with
relevant recent scholarship, why this is so. This is a serious setback in his otherwise admirable treatment of the realism issue.
inherits this feature from Peirces (67), even though the realism/Idealism issue is only marginally present in Dewey in comparison to Peirce (69-70).
8 He remarks, also, that most of those who have followed Max Fischs reading of Peirce are also committed
to what Putnam opposes as the Gods-Eye view. (170, n26.) This relation between the two slightly different
realism disputes would deserve more historical scrutiny.
9 For my own earlier reflections on Peircean realism about generality, already inspired by Margoliss constructivist and historicist account of predicable generals, see Pihlstrm (2003: ch. 3) and (2009: ch. 6).
10 This is what I argue in Pihlstrm 2009.
11 Allison 2004.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
196

SAMI PIHLSTROM

MARGOLIS ON REALISM AND IDEALISM

The story of the development of pragmatism can, it seems to me, be told by starting
from Kant and partly skipping Hegel just as it can be told (and is generally compellingly told by Margolis) by beginning from Hegels historicization of Kant. Such a story, even
when it remains more Kantian than Hegelian, may also join Margolis in rejecting any
12
principled disjunction between the empirical and the transcendental (30). In brief, I remain somewhat unconvinced by Margolis about the idea that it is only Hegel, not Kant,
who offers a compelling version of the inseparability of realism and Idealism. Kant rejects
such an exclusive disjunction as firmly as Hegel.
Margolis is in fact relatively modest when insisting on the possibility of preserving the
distinction between metaphysical and epistemological questions even given the constructivist character of his realism. He could have gone further by saying that inasmuch as realism itself is inevitably constructivist (pragmatic), all metaphysical questions about the way
the world is are inevitably also epistemological, or invoke epistemological positioning. This
would yield a more radical pragmatism. In fact such an entanglement of the metaphysical
and the epistemological would have been a more Kantian position and would come closer
to a Kantian-cum-pragmatist (instead of Hegelian-cum-Peircean) naturalization of transcendental philosophy.
Next, take a look at this:
Kant defeats the realist metaphysics of the rationalists all right; but, then, he also obliges the
objectivity of science and metaphysics to depend on transcendental (subjective) sources
and, in doing that, he makes empirical realism no more than an artefact of those same subjective sources: accordingly, he cannot separate, as Hegel can, epistemological and metaphysical constructivism. (39)

But isnt Margolis in his own way doing more or less the same when making realism
constructivist? Epistemological and metaphysical versions of constructivism may themselves be claimed to be entangled, necessarily, in a (Kantian) transcendental sense, while of
course being disentangled at the empirical level. (We do not construct the world in any empirical, factual, or concrete sense here I of course agree with Margolis. But it does not follow that the concept of construction fails to do important transcendental work that is not
just epistemological but also, albeit in a qualified sense, metaphysical.) Similarly, the claim
that Kants objects are mere internal accusatives of subjective experience itself (40) is
misleading, because, again, we can endorse a one world reading ( la Allison and others)
and view empirical objects and things in themselves as (ontologically) identical and only
methodologically distinguishable.
Therefore, when Margolis writes that (once again) Peircean Idealism is construed
epistemologically (in the constructivist way) rather than metaphysically (disjunctively)
and is thus restricted to our constructed picture of reality rather than the actual constitution of reality itself (91), one might ask whether he isnt himself resorting to new versions
of dichotomies or disjunctions he wants to set aside. Instead of the realism vs. Idealism dichotomy, we now have (still) the one between metaphysics and epistemology, and also the
corresponding one between our picture of reality and reality in itself. Note that these dichotomies or, to be fair, more absolute versions of them are standardly used in the kind
of mainstream analytic philosophy that Margolis wisely wants to leave behind. In my view,
12 This is what I try to do in Pihlstrm 2003. Margolis briefly comments on my effort in his previous book
(Margolis 2010).

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
197

SAMI PIHLSTROM

MARGOLIS ON REALISM AND IDEALISM

all these dualisms should be critically examined in terms of the pragmatic method and
thereby aufgehoben as versions of the age-old subjective vs. objective disjunction to be
given up (at least in its conventional versions) in any viable post-Kantian (and postHegelian) pragmatism.
Yet, my proposed re-entanglement of the metaphysical and the epistemological at the
transcendental level the level at which constructivism provides a framework for any viable realism must somehow also accommodate the (re-)entanglement of the transcendental
and the empirical. Here I see the real challenge for the current pragmatist who wishes to
develop further the insights of naturalized transcendental philosophy and apply them to the
realism debate. However that challenge can be met, the pragmatist can certainly agree with
Margoliss prcis:
We must, as realists, replace representationalism with some form of constructivism; [] we
must, again as realists, avoid characterizing reality as itself constructed [] and hold instead
that what we construct are only conceptual pictures of what we take the real world to be
[]; and [] we must acknowledge that the realism thus achieved is itself cognitively dependent on, and embedded in, our constructivist interventions. (55)

This can, I think, be offered as a useful characterization of the program of pragmatic realism, insofar as we are able to give up Margoliss in my view too sharp distinction between (the construction of) reality itself and our pictures of it. When developed in Margoliss way, pragmatic (constructivist) realism is reflexively conscious of its own status as a
human pragmatic posit rather than an imagined Gods-Eye View picture of how things absolutely are. Ironically, Margolis notes, Peirces most strenuous insistence on realitys being independent of belief [] is, contrary to what he actually says, not independent of
what anybody may think them to be (85). For the reflexively sophisticated pragmatist, the
real is indeed independent of what anyone of us thinks, but this independence is always inevitably affirmed within and on the basis of human thought.
V
Even if I mildly disagree, in the manner explained above, with Margolis on Kants place
in the story of pragmatism that needs to be told, and in the ways in which the story could
continue into the future, I warmly agree with him on the deep integration, or even inseparability, of realism and Idealism and even Idealism and naturalism, because these need not
be any more incompatible than realism and Idealism in Margoliss Hegelian pragmatism. I
would again simply prefer to rephrase this in Kantian transcendental terms. I also agree that
this transcendental approach itself, though naturalized within pragmatism, precludes any
reductive naturalism or eliminativism, which in a sense presuppose the Gods-Eye View
that only stronger forms of realism (avoiding any link to any form of idealism) try to help
themselves to. Margoliss criticism of Wilfrid Sellars is relevant here: the scientific image,
he says, is itself a proposal advanced by the same intelligence that, on his [Sellarss] own
13
argument, congenially offers the manifest image (26). Similarly, I agree with Margolis
on the need to develop a truly non-reductive philosophical anthropology of the human self
(or person), which is something very different from what is done within in mainstream phi13 In relation to his criticism of reductive naturalism also a theme to which he seems to return again and
again Margolis emphasizes yet another inseparability, that of the natural and the human sciences (Ch. 3, p. 22).
Both are human attempts to inquire into the world whose character we constructively posit.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
198

SAMI PIHLSTROM

MARGOLIS ON REALISM AND IDEALISM

losophy of mind today a field of philosophy that has for a long time just ignored pragmatism. Moreover, perhaps one of Margoliss most genuinely innovative ideas is the link he
builds between the two post-Hegelian and post-Darwinian topics he elaborates throughout
the book, the historicity of the human world and the artifactuality of the self (51).
There would be much more to say about the artifactual self, its cultural emergence, in14
tentionality (or, again, Intentionality, as Margolis prefers; see, e.g., 143), the relations
between the natural and the human sciences, and many other topics, including the endlessly
disputable interpretations of philosophers such as the classical pragmatists, Ernst Cassirer,
and John Searle (all of whom Margolis discusses in some detail). Clearly, (re)connecting all
this with the realism issue, the main topic of this paper, would lead us too far. In any event,
Margoliss book, once again, offers plenty of food for philosophical thought on fundamental issues that are with us to stay, whether ones interests lie primarily in realism, philosophy of science, or philosophical anthropology.
Admittedly, what Margolis has provided us with by publishing this new book is yet another relatively general and wide-ranging survey of the field of philosophy and the prospects of pragmatism in the field quite generally, instead of any fully worked-out detailed
theory of any specific issue (even realism and Idealism). Even so, his discussion does include a number of highly illuminating new formulations of age-old problems, historical and
systematic, as well as new ways of understanding how those problems and some of the proposed answers to them have been, and are, made possible. The historically sensitive pragmatist and any pragmatist interested in philosophys future should be historically sensitive should take Margoliss reflections seriously, both regarding the realism debate and
more generally.
References
Allison, H. E. (2004), Kants Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense A
Revised and Enlarged Edition, Yale University Press, New Haven, NH, 2nd ed. (1st ed.,
1983).
Margolis, J. (1984), Culture and Cultural Entities, D. Reidel, Dordrecht.
Margolis, J. (1986), Pragmatism without Foundations, Blackwell, Oxford.
Margolis, J. (1995), Historied Thought, Constructed World, University of California Press,
Berkeley, CA.
Margolis, J. (2010), Pragmatisms Advantage, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
Margolis, J. (2012), Pragmatism Ascendent: A Yard of Narrative, A Touch of Prophecy,
Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
Pihlstrm, S. (2003), Naturalizing the Transcendental: A Pragmatic View, Prometheus/Humanity Books, Amherst, NY.
Pihlstrm, S. (2009), Pragmatist Metaphysics: An Essay on the Ethical Grounds of Metaphysics, Continuum, London.

14 According to Margoliss characterization here, whatever is culturally significant or significative is inherently Intentional (Ch. 3, p. 46). For Margoliss previous discussions of this topic, see, e.g., his 1984 and 1995.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
199

SAMI PIHLSTROM

MARGOLIS ON REALISM AND IDEALISM

Putnam, H. (1990), Realism with a Human Face, ed. J. Conant, Harvard University Press,
Cambridge, MA.
Westphal, K. R. (2004), Kants Transcendental Proof of Realism, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
200

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Joseph Margolis*

Replies

My general impression, reading my commentators reading Pragmatism Ascendent, is


that, however generous and patient they may be, they would like to have a clear statement
of my sense of my own standing as a pragmatist vis--vis Kant and Hegel. Rosa Calcaterra
has caught the books essential thrust the last of a series on pragmatism's second life, that
were never intended to run on as a single study that begin, opportunistically, with the rather inconclusive dispute between Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam, the most prominent
self-styled pragmatists of their day, debating aimlessly in a philosophical desert from about
the late 70s to the end of the century. The books remain alert, however, to the developing
"exclusion [as Calcaterra reports] of pragmatism from the higher levels of philosophical
debate", a subliminal policy of sorts already underway quite early in the 20th century; they
then acknowledge (as they must) the decline and near demise of pragmatism itself from the
late 40s through the 70s, a kind of self-imposed retreat beginning close to the end of John
Dewey's life; they go on to record a completely gratuitous reprieve and a suddenly robust
second life, deprived of the least sign of fresh undertakings forceful enough to explain that
improbability; and then, at last, something of a possible opening appears in the new millennium encouraging a new beginning, cast in terms of a rereading of pragmatism's Kantian/Hegelian inspiration (which others have also sensed) that might be prophetically directed
to a larger future, the true sense of which Ive glimpsed, eccentrically, in a chance motto
drafted by Peirce himself, which I trust Pragmatism Ascendent will help to explicate: that
is, Darwinizing Hegel and Hegelianizing Darwin. I dont believe the most promising
reading of the motto is likely to be easily guessed at the moment. That is, the sense of the
motto. Not the sense Peirce might have favored, though a sense entirely congruent (I would
say) with the promise of Peirces own contribution suitably reinterpreted. I should also add
to Calcaterras recollection the plain truth that any attempt to redeem pragmatism in terms
restricted to the achievements of its classic figures would only hasten the movements end.
The record spanning the late 40s to the 70s provides the evidence.
The theme that seems to have puzzled my commentators most concerns a heterodox
reading of the treatment of realism and idealism, read back as a solution of certain stalemates within the Kantian/Hegelian setting, drawn chiefly from Peirces distinctive speculations. It is indeed the key to the novelty of the reorientation I have in mind. Roberto Gronda
is distinctly wary about my notion of the indissoluble union of realism and idealism. So I
must make its meaning clear. Gronda favors, if I read him correctly, Kant's joint advocacy
of transcendental idealism and empirical realism that is, two separate accounts of the
same state of affairs which I fear, taken in Kants sense, proves incoherent. Gronda also
has doubts about my use of the terms transcendental and a priori and my heterodox reading of constructivism intended to service the (indissoluble) realism/Idealism thesis according to which, transcendental is not to be read as transcendentalist or apriorist, as in
Kant's usage. (A barbarous invention!) I won't pretend that I haven't taken liberties with
Kant's conceptions. Of course I have. But, Hegel had already found it impossible to support
* Temple

University. [josephmargolis455@hotmail.com]

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, VI, 2
201

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

REPLIES

Kant's transcendentalism in the very process of co-opting his transcendental questions under the transformative conditions of evolving history.
More to the point, I take Kant to have equivocated on the concept of an object
and to be unable to provide a criterial distinction between two very different concepts (both
of which he means), as well as a rule by the use of which to pass reliably from the one to
the other: that is, first, regarding objects conceived to be sensibly intuited as unifying
some manifold of intuited qualities (a use Gronda emphasizes, drawn from the first Critique); the other, regarding objects conceived in the first sense but now able to count as
well (somehow) as independent things, things not confined to our own minds (which play
an important role, for instance, in the proposed refutation of idealism). Think here of Macbeth's seeing a dagger before him.
Gronda is aware of the two uses, of course; but he apparently believes (in accord
with Kant's idealism), that the first use is sufficient to accommodate the second. (He admits
that Kant failed to formulate a consistent idealism). But I honestly don't find that he addresses the seeming difficulty that the first use speaks of objects confined subject-ively to
the mind and the second (still mysteriously) permits us to speak of objects no longer thus
confined, though still within the terms of an idealism presumably freed of Kants inconsistent formulation. (I don't believe it can be done.) Theres the fatal weakness of Kant's
dual idiom of transcendental idealism and empirical realism; the intended advantage of my
heterodox replacement (realism/Idealism); and the essential charge of Hegel's original critique of Kant. It's entirely possible, of course, that I've misread Gronda.
Sami Pihlstrm, I venture to say, requires a fuller statement of my treatment of realism and idealism. He clearly sees that I reject what Kant rejects, what Kant calls transcendental realism, as well as what Putnam calls metaphysical realism, all the while I favor a
constructivist form of realism that "accepts the idea that there isa reality independent of
us," viewed solely from human perspectives. Pihlstrm is cautiously open to my preferring
Hegel to Kant, though I believe he takes me to have misread Kant's resources in the first
Critique: he signals (so it seems) that I might have secured my own claims within the
bounds of Kant's vision. (On my view, Kant's transcendental idealism ultimately requires
what he names transcendental realism.) He also chides me mildly for having neglected
James's contribution to the development of the pragmatic method and its distinctive application to the realism issue.
I, however, am quite persuaded that Kant, committed to his transcendental idealism, found it impossible to pass from subjective (or mental) appearings to empirically real
things without investing (fatally, I would say) in some form of transcendental realism,
which was surely a doctrine he strenuously opposed. But the charge regarding James is entirely just: Jamess temperament is always attractive; but I confess he foils my every effort to read what he says, wherever I look for a pertinently sustained argument on the realism issue for instance, in Radical Empiricism and A Pluralistic Universe.
Kant, I daresay, never met his deepest worries successfully, the most decisive ones,
for instance, that he shared with Marcus Herz before the publication of the first Critique:
the reason lies, it seems to me, with his unnecessary insistence on the complete passivity of
what is given as the effects of unknown external factors, on which all empirical
knowledge (which should rightly read: all knowledge) depends. Kant thereby entrenches a
stubborn dualism that he cannot overcome this side of the subject-ive/object-ive divide.
He cannot, I think (as Hegel clearly signals, in his lectures on the history of philosophy),
extend the resources of his "transcendental idealism" to cover our knowledge of objective,
independent things, without yielding to the (unacceptably) privileged claims of transcen-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
202

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

REPLIES

dental realism, which he means to defeat utterly. Had he favored the thrust of Hegels critique, he would have had to construe his categories in terms of the joint play of object-ive
as well as subject-ive elements. Kant never completes the argument he envisages. He
couldn't have, without displacing the entire Critique. (Think of the refutation of idealism).
Hegel's contribution, which, as I say, I read genealogically, construes appearings as appearancesofthingspresentinexperience (Erscheinungen): what, therefore, is given in
(active) experience and perception, presuppositionlessly, however qualified by reasons (or
the minds) engagement in the middle of our reflections, without privilege of any kind
(without strict necessities or universalities), invites (in fact, requires) the continual redefinition as what to count as an ampler picture of the objects of our experience, as we review
as much of our evolving thought and experience as we grasp.
I regard Hegel's method as marking a profound revision (and recovery) of the essential point of Kant's transcendental question, shorn of Kant's transcendentalism, under the
condition of historied experience, well on its way (by strategies potentially superior to the
fiddling of both Peirce and Cassirer) toward a naturalistic rendering of the transcendental
(or its surrogates), addressed to the infinite openness of inquiries of every kind governed or
guided by considerations of truth and reality. (An anticipation, in effect, of fallibilism.)
Peirces phenomenology (or phaneroscopy) is itself a pragmatist variant of what Hegel intended by the phenomenologically given. The given, which is given presuppositionlessly, may be continually reinterpreted or reconstructed, in the search for an adequate account
of what is real a thoroughly meaningful world, we may say; but what we abstract as the
merely physical need not be said to be itself constructed in the process. With the reconstruction of our pictures of the world, we may consistently construct an account of that
worlds independent existence. I see no fatal dualism there and nothing lost. Realism is
meant to be a picture of reality, not reality itself. It's for this reason that I dwell on Peirces
fallibilism more than on Dewey's theorizing economies (possibly more useful, finally, then
Peirce's strenuous story); James has nothing to say about Hegel's critique of Kant. But once
were clear about the genealogy, there's no particular reason we can't allow this part of
Peirce's theory (and Cassirers neo-Kantian mate) to yield up its control of pragmatism's
center stage.
Western philosophy (particularly what I call Eurocentric" philosophy' modern
modern philosophy) begins with Kant's efforts to defeat continental rationalism and dogmatism and transcendental realism. The trouble is, Kant was always in danger of being
recaptured by the metaphysical realists, in meeting the dawning needs of his own transcendental idealism. I say he fails in this; and (of course) Hegel warns him much too late
to be of any help. What I believe I've come to appreciate in Peirces fallibilism is his invention of a viable form of realism/Idealism that bridges, seemingly for the first time, the excessive economies of the empiricists and the extravagances of the transcendentalist Kant.
This is the burden of Peirces grand intuitions regarding abductive Hope, which I read in
Hegelian terms, though it remains unclear what Peirces debt to Hegel finally is. Nevertheless, once we gain this lesson, we see that there cannot be any facultative division between
sensory perception and experience and thought or reason. The pragmatists have the additional advantage of their viewing the human animal along Darwinian (more precisely: postDarwinian) lines. Theres a very good reason, there, for refusing the fantastic extravagances
of transcendental idealism, particularly where it is tempted to borrow what it cannot legitimately reach from its own resourcesfrom those of transcendental realism.
Let me say straight out that Ive read the figures I principally discuss, as advocates
of particular doctrines that confront my own commitments in important ways; but I dont

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
203

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

REPLIES

report their views in order to make the best case for any standard reading of their views. I
read them, rather, as congenial or uncongenial to a defense of a viable pragmatism for our
time, consistently (as far as possible) with the main thrust of their actual texts. I regard my
readings of Kant, Hegel, and Peirce (chiefly) as a sort of genealogy skewed (not unfairly, I
hope) for the sake of a strengthened and redirected pragmatism for the present future.
Hence, I make the best case for challenging the realist reading of Peirce; and I try to show
how the inherent bafflements of Kants transcendentalism are unproductive, unnecessary,
and distinctly inhospitable to pragmatist concerns.
My Hegelian reading of Kant is meant to show how historicizing the transcendental
question, while abandoning transcendentalism altogether, would relieve Kant of an impossible task and enable him to anticipate Hegel, Peirce, and Cassirer (in different ways) and
even our present needs and undertakings. Im quite willing to concede that Cassirers variant of the endless run of inquiry in the sciences is far leaner and more apt in methodologically explicit ways than Peirces fallibilism (as Ive tried to demonstrate). Yet it remains
Peirce who is the best champion of a constructivist realism within an Idealist (not an idealist or subjectivist) account of inquiry concerned with truth-claims. In short, I take realism/Idealism as an improvement over Kants conjunction of empirical realism and transcendental Idealism: Kant cannot quite secure his realism, and the idealism is already (or is
on its way to being) a form of transcendentalism.
Nevertheless, I do oppose the separability thesis (in the sense of P.F. Strawsons
The Bounds of Sense and in the views of strong commentators like Paul Guyer, who yields
to Strawson): transcendental idealism, though a form of transcendentalism, cannot be excised from the first Critique without dismembering it completely. (Henry Allison is certainly right about that.) For similar reasons, we must accept the discursivity thesis (in Kants
account of cognition and in our own: that is, that the analysis of cognition requires, as Allison affirms, both concepts and (sensible) intuitions. (I believe Allison coined both terms.)
Similarly, if the a priori is construed (say) as the science of what is transcendentally necessary, then it is already apriorist or transcendentalist and, thus, incompatible with
pragmatism. Otherwise, the a priori may be treated in an a posteriori way, as a conjecture
about the conditions of possibility of this or that sort of inquiry: hence, as resting on what
may be contingently projected from perceptual and experiential sources that our enabling
concepts and categories themselves rely on (but cannot and need not be confined to). The
key problem concerns the source of concepts and categories. Allison may not be entirely
consistent here.
Kant never succeeds (never could) in converting appearances into independent
things; if he had, he would (on my reading) have had to adopt a form of transcendental realism, which would have violated (as well) his insistence that space and time are never
more than subject-ive forms of human perception and experience. (I dont see how that notion could possibly be a synthetic a priori truth.) Kant never provides an adequate distinction between noumena and things independent of the mind (though not noumena). Accordingly, he has no way to distinguish between representations and what representations
represent in the external world. (The subject-ive version is either redundant or confines
knowledge to a constructed reality of its own invention.) Still, in favoring Hegel over Kant,
it may be entirely fair to say that its only when Hegels own argument is rendered in naturalistic terms that its distinctive rigor and advantage may be rightly grasped.
Furthermore, if (as I believe) its best to adopt some form of the realist/Idealist option (though not for apriorist reasons), then its a simple matter to deny that the external
world we claim to know is itself constructed when we conjecture, by constructivist hy-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
204

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

REPLIES

potheses, whatever we take to be the true nature of the world (that part of the world). The
external world is not a noumenal world, though it is a world whose nature we surmise we
know through our hypotheses (or pictures), which (according to our lights) we count,
however provisionally, as true or false. Here, again, Peirces long run explains why there
is no redundancy or dualism or fatal form of representationalism to be excised.
However, it is true, and my commentators are entirely justified in noting, that I have
not sought to explain (here) the linkage between normative considerations (truth and rationality as well as moral and aesthetic value) or culturally enlanguaged meaning and significance and the realist/Idealist thesis I explore primarily with an eye to laying a proper
ground for objective claims about the external world. Ive tried my hand, in numerous settings, at resolving some of the largest puzzles of that enormous issue. I have no intention of
ignoring any of that. But if I may say so, I take the complaint to be a sort of compliment
a kindly impatience to get on with the rest of the story! So many discussants have fallen
short in these matters that I must take care to shape the argument correctly. May I say that,
in my own view, the answer rests with the analysis of the hybrid, natural artifactuality of
the human self. Theres the essential theme of the continuing inquiry that I hope, in time, to
share with you.
There are, also, deeper infelicities confronting Kants system that I hope to avoid.
The very distinctions between empirical and transcendental concepts (candidates for what,
on Kants view, would be regarded as transcendentally necessary) seems to be no more than
a promissory note that Kant can never completely redeem. Think, here, of the uncertainty of
ever discerning any demonstrably invariant concept of causality or nomologicality or even
of what may be supposed to be an independent object, or the completely adequate form of
a rule by which judgment serves the essential function of the understanding.
Answers to any of these transcendental questions I take to be provisional conjectures thoroughly rational in their way but impossible to confirm in the strong form Kant
claims for them. They remain defeasible, but not (perhaps) by dint of rigorous argument.
Indeed, I take them to be cousins of Peirces abductive Hope. Philosophy trails off here into
something deeper and more informal and, I believe, caught up with larger currents of
changing cultural conviction. I cannot do justice to the issue thats a-dawning here, and I
havent got this part of my speculation sufficiently worked out. But for what its worth,
reading Kant, Hegel, Peirce, Dewey, and Cassirer with an eye to pragmatisms recovery, I
find Wittgenstein (or my reading of Peirces fallibilism in Wittgensteinian terms) particularly convincing: our medium-sized philosophical arguments begin to be judged more and
more in terms of their accord with the deepest abductive instincts of our Lebensform. Its in
some such sense that I believe Peirces extravagant version of fallibilism may reasonably
yield to something closer to Cassirers less encumbered vision, and Hegels decisive critique of Kant may, once secured, encourage us to shed Hegels unmanageable language for
a leaner pragmatist idiom. Thats what I mean by reading philosophical sources genealogically: ineluctably, we recast the philosophical gains we claim to have clinched (for instance, the need to replace Kants realism and idealism, as argued) in accord with the
somewhat inchoate rational instinct of our form of life what I sometimes call our
metaphilosophical culture, from which, inventively, we draw evolving arguments. Genealogy is the name I give to this effort to bridge philosophys history, metaphilosophically. I foresee the need to eclipse the classic pragmatists in the same sense in
which we are in the process of eclipsing Kant and Hegel.
Here, Mathias Girel has anticipated me. He requires a more straightforward answer
to my intended use of what I call Peirces chance motto: Darwinizing Hegel and Hegelian-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
205

JOSEPH MARGOLIS

REPLIES

izing Darwin. I suppose I should say that I intend the motto to be read genealogically (in
my own labile way). In fact, Pragmatism Ascendent is no more than a first step in the attempt to recover (or reinvent) pragmatism, in and for our time, within the genealogical
space spanned by an inspiration drawn from Kant and Hegel and Darwin that, in retrospect,
a dozen years into the 21st century, must turn back to consider what it can now afford to
shed or transform. Theres the point of my realism/Idealism proposal: it cannot be more
than a genealogical argument: its a fresh construction, a proposal: post-Kant, post-Hegel,
post-Darwin, and, I imagine, post-Peirce (and post-Cassirer). Minimally, as Girel remarks,
the motto must signal my guess that pragmatisms best prospects (also, those of analytic
philosophy, if you allow the distinction) lie in the direction of intertwining biological naturalism and the post-Kantian emphasis on history and culture. I mean that much at least;
though, having completed the book before you, I dont at all wish to rely on the potential
infelicities of Peirces doubts about either Hegel or Darwin. Girel has in a way forced my
hand. Ive settled, at least in part, my account of Hegel, culminating in the realism/Idealism
proposal. I see no gain in a Hegelian account of (biological) evolution; though once the
problematic fit of human evolution within the Darwinian account becomes clear, the hybrid
form of human evolution cannot be gainsaid. Ive deliberately left all but untouched the
Darwinian issue itself, except to flag my radical thesis (which Girel cites), that the self is
a hybrid artifact of biological and cultural evolution that makes possible the entire run on
the uniquely enlanguaged forms of human intelligence and so on. But thats my prophecy.
The topic is still too huge to take on in the present context: its part of what I hope
will be the start of a new undertaking, centered on the human self. The novel intertwining
of the Hegelian and the Darwinian is anticipated there: in the analysis of culture and history
along post-Hegelian lines, explicated in terms of the advantages of the realist/Idealist proposal, which suggests (to my mind) a new way of construing the unity of the sciences; also, then, in the analysis of the formation and functioning of the self itself, explicated in
terms of the advantages of the artifactuality thesis, pursued along post-Darwinian line. Actually, Darwin has rather little to contribute to the argument directly; my genealogical
sources here have more in common with the work of the philosophical anthropologists
(who can be wild in their own way) and with the paleoanthrology and paleontology of Homo sapiens within the genus. So I may have misled Girel. At any rate, thats the reason I
dont attempt to recover Peirces meaning. The book ends in a promissory note, but this intent makes sense only if we do not return to the separate strands of Hegelian and Darwinian
thought textually anchored in Hegel and Darwin. I have yet to explain what that entails.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
206

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

Essays

_____________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, IV, 2

EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PRAGMATISM AND AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY


COPYRIGHT 2009 ASSOCIAZIONE PRAGMA

G. Maddalena and F. Zalamea*

A New Analytic/Synthetic/Horotic Paradigm. From Mathematical Gesture to Synthetic/Horotic Reasoning

Abstract. We study a contemporary need to complement analytic philosophy with pendular, synthetic approaches. We provide new definitions of the dyad analytics/synthetics and
complete it with a natural third, horotics. Some historical trends to support a synthetic/horotic paradigm are studied: (i) Peirces ideas around his logic of continuity non
Cantorian continuum and existential graphs emphasizing the importance of mathematical
gestures, (ii) Gdels understanding of intuitionism as a synthetic counterpart of classical
logic, along with a new horotic approach to his work, (iii) Contemporary mathematical
achievements (1950-2000), difficult to understand from analytical philosophy perspectives. Finally, we indicate some main features that a systematical synthetic/horotic reasoning should enforce, in order to fulfill its historic sequence.

1. From analytics to synthetics: Kants heritage and Peirces pragmatism


Peirces pragmatism introduces many new philosophical toolssuffice it to mention
semiotic, abductive logic, a heuristic based on continuity, scholastic realismall essential
components of a never fully realized broader philosophical project. Peirce usually identified
it as the truth of continuity or the truth of synechism (Peirce 1998, 335), or else the
method of justifying the nature of Sequence, namely the nature of pragmatism, the rule
that enables to know meanings through conceivable effects. But this project required a vast
panoptic view necessarily covering different fields, according to a particular order. An ordered list of topics could be the one proposed in Prolegomena to an Apology for Pragmaticism (Peirce 1931-1935, vol. 4 530-584): continuity, phaneroscopy, signs, existential
graphs, kinds of reasoning. In the drafts and the articles of the series written for The Monist
(1905-1906) he stressed also the role of normative sciences. In that entire series and in the
following years he tried in vain to fully explain this or a similar order he had in mind.
These efforts were in vain because Peirce tended to lose his track while tilling the
virgin soil (Peirce 1931-1935, vol. 1 128) of those many fields of research he himself
discovered. And here a complementary question arises: why did he get lost? Part of the reason is that all the above topics were products of his original insight, and Peirce was eager to
explain them precisely. The mathematical definition of continuity stemmed from his thirty
years of studying Cantors set theory, and Peirce had independently discovered Cantors
theorem and Cantors subsequent paradox. Peirce could not know that Cantor had discovered the same paradox and, in contrast with the German mathematician, he saw the immense philosophical impact of this discovery. But in his lectures and in his papers or drafts
he spent a lot of time explaining the mathematical basis of the theorem and, after 1900, of
the paradox, saving little time and space for their philosophical impact. As a result, his articles and manuscripts often treat either the mathematical explanation alone or the philosophical consequence alone, and it is difficult to put the two together.
* Universit del Molise [gmaddal3@hotmail.com], Universidad Nacional, Colombia [fernandozalamea@gmail.com]

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2012, VI, 2
208

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

Another part of the reason for the lack of a final systematization is that Peirce did not
get lost for lack of direction but for failing to get out of his analytic pattern. What does that
mean? According to Kant, an analytic judgment subsumes a predicate under a subject,
while a synthetic judgment has to look outside the subject-concept into experience, to capture how the predicate is connected to, but not subsumed within, the concept. As Quine, and
Kripke after him, stressed, in Kants work analysis, aprioricity, and necessity form a circular cluster where any element justifies, but also coincides with, the others. Analytic judgments are necessary because they are a priori, and being a priori they are necessary and
hence analytic. In this way logic (analysis), epistemic (a priori), and metaphysical (necessary) levels coincide, furnishing the pattern of true or warranted knowledge.
But Kants aim was not at all the defense of the uniqueness of analytic judgments. He
was aware that, as much as analytic judgments are important, they do not bring about acquisition of new knowledge, which is characteristic of synthesis. What is the kind of synthesis Kant was looking for? There is a synthesis which is only the reverse of analysis. This
is the operation of combining elements that come from the dissection of concepts produced by analysis. Once we have broken up the concept of the subject, we can work on the
elements we found.
The other synthesis is the one which gives unity. But when Kant talks about the original synthetic unity of apperception as the kind of combination that analysis presupposes,
he qualifies it as pure, not empirical, one and the same (Kant 1781/1787, 177, B 132).
The unity that this pure apperception creates is transcendental (ibid.), and precedes a priori all my determinate thought (Kant 1781/1787, 177, B 135). Synthesis precedes analysis
but the character of universality (here conjoined with sameness) and aprioricity would
shape it according to the analytic pattern, which remains the ideal sample of every
knowledge.
Summing up, the idea of knowledge is really founded upon an analytic pattern, and that
is why Kant seeks to solve the problem of knowledge by using critical, that is, analytic
tools only. Kant provides an analytic of synthetic judgments whereby he defines (analytically) the steps through which we arrive at a synthetic representation of reality. Only by
breaking down this path step by step is Kant assured of having caught the gist of what
knowledge is. The only real synthesis would come up with the critique of judgment, but
once again it will have a form that combines (adds to one another) elements of the two previous critiques. In this way Kant simply systematized the long heritage of Western philosophy, but he made it clear that theoretical or pure knowledge is either analytic or something
that is analyzable, namely broken down into necessary, a priori pieces.
Young Peirce shows no awareness of the complex, presupposed circularity among aprioricity, analyticity, and necessity. But he had enough philosophical insight to sense immediately that something was missing. As early as 1869, in Validity of the Laws of Logic, he
pointed out that far more fundamental than the question of the possibility of synthetic apriori reasoning was that of the possibility of synthetic judgments merely (Peirce 1981-2010,
vol. 2, 267-268). Peirce wanted to go farther than his German master in criticizing judgments, and to do so he got rid of the a priori principle. A different path of reasoning was
needed, and Peirce tried to provide it through both semiotics and the a posteriori method of
science. Accordingly, Peirce listed aprioricity as one of the weak ineffective methods for
fixing a belief (Peirce 1981-2010, vol. 3, 252-253). The method of science always remained for Peirce an a posteriori method; he spent his life trying to explain and justify the
nature of ampliative reasoning, another phrase for synthetic reasoning.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
209

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

However, when in the 1877-1878 Popular Science Monthly series Peirce gave the justification for inductionwhich at the time he thought included also hypotheseshe surprisingly relied metaphorically on an extension of the a priori principle (Peirce 1981-2010,
vol. 3, 304). It is of course a rhetorical expedient, since Peirces conception of experience
had already been forged in the semiotic a posteriori hearth, but it is still a significant episode.
Peirce would then explain that synthetic inference is founded upon the manner of obtaining facts, thus ensuring only the degree of trustworthiness of our proceeding (Peirce
1981-2010, vol. 3, 305). In this way Peirce transforms Kants a priori principle into a methodological guarantee resting on a certain interpretation of the general statement that whatever is universally true is involved in the conditions of experience. So then does the idea of
necessary, universal truth move from Kants a priori categories to Peirces methodological
conditions. In such a passage, universal analytic truth loses part of its necessity by becoming merely trustworthy. Still, the path Peirce follows remains through the idea of necessity
or universality. Like Kant with his schematism, Peirce is after synthetic reasoning but gets
to it through the analytic path. The outcome is that ampliative or synthetic arguments do not
tend to the necessity of content but to the necessity of method.
In 1903s Lowell Lectures Peirce distinguishes synthetic from analytic judgments, attributing the former to mathematics (hence to necessary reasoning) and the latter to logic,
which tries to find out how inferences necessary and probable are composed. Once again,
logic is confined to the analytic scheme of composition/decomposition. Therefore, reasoning can be necessary or ampliative, but the logicians work is in both cases to find its composition, confirming that analysis presides over our methodological research even when, as
in induction or hypotheses, it does not preside over the concepts at stake.
But in spite of Peirces analytic project, pragmatism chiefly concerns our concrete synthetic way of thinking. The synthetic process, however, is not the Kantian one that seeks to
attain, in both form and content, the kind of clearness that analysis has. All the tools Peirce
crafted, from the list of categories to perceptual judgments, from the pragmatic maxim to
abduction, from existential graphs to rational instinct, describe a changing synthetic process
of thinking rather than the fixed analytic/synthetic reasoning (and judgment) described by
Kant. Peirce does not seem to have realized that his tools were hinting towards a completely different path of thought. This tension between the analytic background of his thought
and the true synthetic [only synthetic from now on] purpose of those same analyses explains also Peirces progressive shifts from Kant to Hegel, and his more and more evident
epistemic turn in the philosophy of science. This tension shows a different kind of possibility. How can we define synthetic and analytic starting from the change in thought that
Peirce was tracking down without seeing the different picture he was formulating?
2. A new paradigm: analytics, synthetics, horotics
We proceed with some new definitions. A synthetic judgment is a judgment that recognizes identity through changes. An analytic judgment is a judgment that loses identity
through changes. A horotic judgment (from horos, border)1 is a judgment that is blind to
identity through changes. In these three definitions one can change judgment by reason-

1 Since 2001, through diverse books and articles, we had been wandering around the ideas of frontier, border,
thirdness and vagueness, in order to get a natural completion of the dyad analytics/ synthetics, when Roberto Perry
offered us (2009) the perfect, unspoiled, term: horotics. We gratefully acknowledge his support.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
210

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

ing, opening thus new doors to inquire an extended gnoseological spectrum (for further
development of the definitions see Maddalena 2009).
Why do we need a new definition? One of the reasons for this change is required by
Peirces failed attempt to make complete sense of many tools he himself provided. We already described the tension between Peirces analytic tools and his synthetic project. Beyond that, there are other compelling reasons. One is the clear impasse of analytic philosophy. That kind of philosophy, to which contemporary thought owes so much for its precision and productivity, seems now stuck in a scholasticism full of definitions detached from
experiential reality and not really committed to improving our understanding of the world
and its transformations. The fact is that analytic philosophy has now come to manifest the
incompleteness of the criterion of necessity/analyticity/aprioricity displayed by Kant. And
its critiques, most importantly Quine and Kripke, offered only internal criticisms that failed
to change the criterion itself.
The good results of analytic philosophy are due to an efficient understanding of a certain kind of logic (first-order classical logic) based on a certain kind of mathematics (Cantorian set theory). But the scholasticism currently in vogue underlines a limitation of this
logic: though analytic logic serves pretty well to split up definitions as called for Kants
heritage, it is intrinsically an endless process. From science to grammar, definitions rarely
provide an exact fit: they are always too large or too tight. They are a useful tool but are not
the only one, and for sure not the one apt to grasp changes in reality. New mathematics and
new kinds of logics have already arisen (see section 5): the time has come to try a new
philosophical paradigm.
And why do we need this new definition we are proposing? Synthetic reasoning is the
original kind that we use in everyday life, and it needs a new paradigm that we will try to
expose and justify in the rest of this article. This study does not want to deny, minimize or
deconstruct the success of analytic reasoning as it has been carried on so far. We want only
to show that analytic reasoning needs and has always used a complementary type of understanding in order to work properly. The possibility of both and the transition between them
are the pillars of this different view. We will see that the logical core of synthetic reasoning
is both analytically and synthetically describable. Arising from Peirces studies, this view
immediately understands the logical importance of horotics, as the indispensable complement to the two kinds proposed.
The first task in order to show the plausibility of our paradigm is to explain what is
change and how we can study it. We recall that Peirces phenomenology (phaneroscopy in
his terminology) postulates the existence of three basic categories in nature and knowledge:
firstness (immediacy, possibility, monadicity), secondness (action-reaction, actuality, binarism) and thirdness (mediation, necessity, continuity). We will understand change from a
systemic point of view, in the sense that a given in-formation (first) produces a new transformation (third) through precise preparation, correlation and creative techniques (seconds)
which help to master and modify the initial data. Then, given an informational change, an
analytic judgment emphasizes differences and thus loses identities of data, focusing on the
result of the transformation. On the other hand, a synthetic judgment proposes an integrating view which recognizes fragments of identity, focusing on similar structural processes of
the transformation. Finally, a horotic judgment defines a frontier, a border, a sort of pendular differential and integral calculus which focuses on the possibility of relations, that is on
the relative spectrum of the transformation, and is thus blind to detect actual identities.
Horotics can, in turn, be approached from three distinct points of view: (i) extrinsically,
(ii) intrinsically, (iii) synthetically. Extrinsically (i), horotics can be understood as a com-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
211

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

pletion of the classical dyad analysis/synthesis with respect to Peirces three categories.
Since Greek thought, analysis and synthesis have appeared as complementary polarities
(decomposition/composition, part/all, discontinuous/ continuous, element/structure, etc.),
but the intermediate transit between polarities has not been well investigated. In a similar
vein to the emergence of generalized quantifiers in Abstract Model Theory la Lindstrm,
which study intermediate situations between the particular () and the general () associated to intermediate classes of structures, horotics pretends to open the way to general forms
of reasoning beyond the polarity analysis/synthesis. Intrinsically (ii), horotics can be seen
as the exact study of the borders of knowledge, merging thus with a strong tradition of critical thinkers akin to the visualization of frontiers and their crossovers: Peirce (logic of continuity), Florenski (borders between science, art and theology), Warburg (seismography of
art history), Benjamin (residues in cultural studies), Bakhtin (literary frontiers), MerleauPonty (Humanity as a border between Culture and Nature), Blumenberg (evolution of metaphorical images), among many other indispensable XXth century thinkers. Synthetically
(iii), horotics achieves its full richness through self-reference and self-regulation processes
(frontiers of the frontier, limits of the limit, progressive refinement of borders, etc.) which
foster the growth of phenomenological, epistemical and metaphysical orders (topological
object, continuous logic, Peirces synechism, etc.)
In what follows, we will be detailing our general paradigm along three main case studies Peirces mathematical gestures (section 3), Gdels synthetic approaches to intuitionistic logic (section 4), forces in play in Contemporary Mathematics (section 5), and
we will finish prospecting its pertinence (section 6) for the coming years.
3. The paradigm along Peirces mathematical gestures
The triad analytics/synthetics/horotics glues naturally if we use Peirces fundamental insight: the concept of continuity, the keystone of pragmatism. The study of continuity from
a mathematical and a logical standpoint shows how to understand change and invariance.
From the very beginning of Peirces intellectual proposal, continuity is paired with representation, or cognition, becoming increasingly unified with it the more he was discovering
the real mathematical structure of continuity. There are many changes in Peirces mathematical approach to the topic, but substantially they all focus on the proof of Cantors theorem and paradox that Peirce independently discovered in the late 1890s. With this proof
Peirce understood that there is an infinite series of multitudes that Cantors set theory can
reach, but that those multitudes are always bounded to an imperfect or pseudo-continuity
that depends on the unavoidable singularity of the initial definition of set or collection
(Peirce 1976, vol. 3, 774-775). Peirces definition implies that a collection is an individual
whose existence depends on the regularities among other individuals. These regularities
can be identified by the characters its members possess (ineunts) or exclude (exeunts)
(Peirce 1976, vol. 3, 776). Therefore, if a collection implies by definition a scheme of otherness ineunts-exeunts, the collection of all the collections, not having by definition any exeunt, is unthinkable. Cantors paradox mathematically confirms this evidence that Peirce
first attains through the categorical and semiotic status of individual. Real continuity is beyond any calculation that set theory can reach.
So what is this real or perfect continuity, which is beyond the pseudo-continuity
that sets can reach? Peirce changed his mind many times on this issue, trying first to tie
continuity to necessity and then to possibility. Peirce first thought of making continuity the
complete evolution of reality, the perfect generality in his logical terms. In this version

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
212

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

(1900-1905), any singularity is a rupture of perfect continuity. But afterwards (1907-1914)


he connected continuity to a more complex pattern in which continuity is a possibility,
namely a model that may be realized. Singularities are now realizations of that original possibility tending to a general cohesiveness (Peirce 1931-1935, vol. 4, 642).
It is in this second sense that our conception of change must be seen. We can understand change as a perfect continuity of possibilities of which any actual occurrence is a realization. Continuity is a law (general) whose internal regularity is an immediate connection
that we can understand as the condition of every possible realization (possibility). We can
define a Peircean perfect continuum by four characters: modality (plasticity), transitivity,
generality, and reflexivity, each underlying one aspect of the relationship between the parts
and the whole of continuity, as seen in Zalamea 2001. Generality is the law of cohesiveness
among parts beyond any individual and any possibility of metrically measuring it; modality
means plasticity, namely the fact that a continuum is not tied to actualities but involves both
possibility and necessity; transitivity is the internal passage between modalities (possibility,
actuality, and general necessity); reflexivity means that any part shall have the same properties of the whole to which it belongs.
According to Peirces extreme realism, continuity coincides with reality and, thus, it
founds mathematics. Since we discover continuity at the end of inquiry on sets, it is an a
posteriori foundation that happens while we are doing mathematics through our scribing
graphs and diagrams whether on the sheet of the mind or on some physical sheet. Mathematical diagrams work because they act synthetically, namelyaccording to an old Kantian definitionin mathematics we are dealing with universals in particulars, while in philosophy we have to deal with universals abstracted from particulars. The great power of
generalization of mathematics is due to these contracted universals. We will call mathematical gesture this kind of synthetic approach to mathematics through doing.
There is a second interrelated approach to change in Peirces late writings. It is the approach through logical modalities as such. Possibility, actuality, necessity, became the way
in which Peirce explained transition within the continuum itself. If Cantors paradox
showed the existence of an original higher continuum of reality that exceeds our computations, modalities define the internal life of this continuity. But in what do these modalities
consist? Possibility is the mode of reality in which the principle of contradiction does not
hold. Actuality or existence is the mode of reality in which both the principle of contradiction and excluded third hold. Necessity is the mode of reality in which the principle of excluded third does not hold, that is, both alternatives can be false. Peirces short version of
the discovered ontological stands of modalities sums them up as may bes (possibility),
actualities, and would bes (necessity or generality). All three modalities are real
meaning that they are independent from what any number of minds can thinkor rather
they coincide with the evolving continuity of reality. Reality actualizes possibilities and
tries to develop them as generalities. According to Peirce, it is impossible to describe reality
without modalities.
The logic of modalities implies a different understanding of stechiology (doctrine of elements). A term can be vague, determinate, and general (Peirce 1998, 350-353) according
to the characters inhering in it. If any character is predicated universally and affirmatively
or recognized as inherent the term is determinate. If it requires further determination by the
utterer, it is vague; if it requires further determination by the interpretant it is general.
Vagueness, determination, and generality fall under the same description of the logical modalities. What we have here is a transition in determination which is based on the ontologi-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
213

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

cal reality of the logical modalities. A term or a concept can be vague and become determinate and even general (and vice versa).
Vagueness has such an importance because it is the possible state of things from which
ideas stem. Possibility as firstness can also be understood as a not yet actualized border
from where actions (secondness) and ideas (thirdness) eventually emerge. The horotics of
knowledge cannot thus dispense the complete triad vagueness/incarnation/abstraction.
Moreover, it is precisely in the horotic transposition between particulars (seconds) and generals (thirds) where many logical forces enter the panorama. Creativity spurs from initial
vagueness and many correlations between imagination (first) and reason (third) can be then
precisely stated along the synthetic/horotic paradigm.
Logical features respect the four characteristics of the continuum: reflexivity, generality,
possibility, transitivity. Every element has the same properties of general modalities (reflexivity); the passage among vagueness, determination, and generality (transitivity) is the law
of the development of meaning through categories (generality); this latter depends on the
possible inchoative status of vague meaning (possibility). Now, mathematical and logical
characteristics of continuity showed what change is, and we are ready to explain what we
mean by recognizing an identity through changes, our definition of synthetic reasoning.
For our explanation we will rely on Peirces Existential Graphs (hereafter EG), his iconic-based logics. EG were the way in which Peirce himself sought to represent continuity,
and it is possibly one of the few scientific strategies of getting to the structure of recognizing (see Roberts 1973). EG are the iconic formalization of logic of propositions (Alpha),
first order (Beta), and modalities (Gamma). In comparison to formalization by symbols that
happened in the same years, EG display a greater simplicity and uniformity (same rules for
the three fragments, propositional, first order, modal). EG were still analytic, but their overall project was a synthetic one (Zalamea 2010). Using the phrase introduced above, they are
a kind of mathematical gesture and from this point of view they are synthetically conveying universals into particulars.
The synthetic doing of the EG permits evidence and generality. Both properties are
fundamental in Peirces understanding of mathematics; and semiotics gave him the tools to
understand their actual working. Evidence is due to the iconic property of the graphs.
Icons give to diagrams the fundamental visual character that makes them graspable
through perception. Generality, is due to the so called hypostatic abstraction that enables
us to consider as object, and thus as diagram, any quality or aspect of reality. This kind of
abstraction is the logical tool through which we pass from good to goodness and the
like (Peirce 1998, 270n). The combination of the properties of evidence and generality
accounts for our capacity of reading a diagram in a general way and to understand its relations. Generalization happens in doing or scribing those diagrams. If the generalization
is the analytic result of the diagrams, diagrams are the synthetic happening of generals.
Recognizing is part of this synthetic happening and should have the same evidence and
generalization.
Recognizing always implies an object: recognizing something; and the easiest way to
look at it is to look at the case of identity. Here we will focus on an identity that is not a
plain correspondence A=A, which according to Peirce himself is only a degenerate form of
the real identity A=B. Identities are always passing through changes. A=A is the static correspondence drawn from the set-theoretical definition of multitudes and it is a simplification of a more primitive form of relation (Peirce 1976, vol. 4, 325-328).
Given our diagrams with their power of evidence and generalization, how can they help
us understand our recognizing an identity? In order to answer this question we have to

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
214

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

represent both the continuity of change and the identity we want to inquire within this
change. The first kind of continuity, the continuity of reality, is represented by the sheet of
assertion. The sheet represents the universe of discourse we are dealing with in Alpha and
Beta parts (logic of propositions and first order). But in the Gamma graphs (modal logic),
when we want to represent change through modalities, we need a different continuum that
must clearly have more dimensions (Peirce 1931-1935, vol. 4, 512). This plastic multidimensional continuum is more original, and the sheet of assertion of the Alpha and Beta
parts is only a picture of this original continuum. In this continuum we are really scribing
not the propositions as they actually are, but as they might be. We could think of them as
marks or qualities, which cannot be numerable anymorethey are not assertions anymoreand they will exceed any multitude, according to our definition of perfect continuity. This multidimensional continuum is apt to represent time or Becoming (Peirce 1976,
vol. 4, 330).
Now that we have the tool for representing the continuum of change, we can look for
identity. In the Beta Graphs we have a graphical tool for identity: the line of identity, that
can solve the problem of quantifiers. The line represents the existential quantifier when it is
evenly enclosed and the universal quantifier through an appropriate nested double cut. But
the definition becomes more complex when we do not have to deal with the two dimensional sheet of assertion, but with the multidimensional plastic continuum. When we scribe
a line of identity on the multidimensional plastic continuum we are representing the identity
into the continuum of possibilities. The line of identity continues to assert the identity of the
individuals denoted by its extremities, but here it means the continuity of possibilities of an
individual considered as a changing object in its becoming, i.e. the winner of Leipzig and
the loser of Waterloo. This switch from using a line of identity on a sheet of assertion to
using it on a multidimensional continuum implies the passage from an Assertoric view of
Truth to a broader conception of truth and identity based on possibility. Identity is not anymore A=A but a non-purely-symbolizable iconic identity passing from A to B.
This switch also implies that the line of identity when it is scribed on a multidimensional continuum must become a line of teridentity, namely a line in which one of the extremities is a loose end. Teridentity represents two relations of co-identity and means that there
are two different relations of identity that have in common one end and part of the line. The
loose end of the line of teridentity means that there is or was also a different possibility
even if it is or was not being actualized. It means that we know identity as a continuity but
we do not know at which point it would stop and the point might be or have been different
from the one we have. We have to allow the possibility that brute existence will be different
since we are not representing actuality but potentiality. Finally, the line of identity has a direction or an aim because we draw it starting from one point and ceasing at another.
This is the tool Peirce crafted to define a changing identity analytically, but in order to
grasp the synthetic view of identity, it is not EGs logical analytic use that is needed. The
interesting features of the line of identity and teridentity come from Peirces comment on
the nature and the meaning of it: the line of identity, and a fortiori the line of teridentity, is
another perfect continuum along with the multidimensional continuum of assertion and,
thus, it has the same properties we ascribed to continuity.
The line of identity is made of icons interpreted, and in so far is made of possibilities
whose realizations are connected by a general rule (possibility and generality). The loose
end guarantees the fullness of reflexivity: any part of the line, included the ends, are possibilities that might be realized according to a general law. Besides, every single dot actualized on the multidimensional continuum realizes a possibility according to the general law,

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
215

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

and might have a different branch the loose end as a different actualization of the same
possibility. So there is a transition from possibility to necessity through actuality. The translation of modalities in terms of vagueness, determination, and generalization is easy to see:
identity is a progressive determination of possible qualities tending toward a generalization
(tending to identify forever the winner of Leipzig and the loser of Waterloo) during the development (the becoming) expressed by the continuum within which they are inscribed.
How can this representation of identity be also the representation of recognizing an
identity? Peirce could unify identity and recognizing an identity by virtue of the practical scribing on the sheet of assertion or on the multidimensional continuum. Recognizing
an identity in EG means to draw a line of identity between two points, knowing that there
is always a different, loose possibility. The drawing itself is our recognizing; in EG there is
no recognition without the actual drawing of the line. It can be a mental or a virtual act, but
it has to be a kind of diagram within a general interpretation. It is what we call a mathematical gesture.
What is a gesture? Gesture is any performed act which carries a meaning (from gero =
to bear, to carry). We can say we really understood something when we are ready to act according to our ideas; so, it is the performance that synthetically involves our reasoning. But
if every gesture carries meaning, not every gesture serves to recognize an identity. So, any
gesture is meaningful, but not every gesture embodies a synthetic reasoning. In order to understand syntheticity we have to look for a perfect or complete gesture, a gesture that
respects all the characters we found following EG.
We should call a perfect or complete gesture a gesture which has all the semiotic elements blended together almost equally. Now, for a gesture to be perfect it has to be a general law (symbol) that generates replicas; it is actual when it indicates its particular object
(index); and it expresses different possibilities of aspects of the object which it refers to
(icon). The three semiotic characteristics describe what a perfect gesture is: creative because of possible aspects, singular in its individuality, recognizable for its conformity to an
established pattern. Moreover, gestures carry a possible and vague meaning that progressively gets determinate till a new habit is established. So we can easily find in this movement generality, modality, and transitivity.
Our new paradigm implies that a synthetic judgment (and reasoning) is a judgment (and
reasoning) that recognizeswith evidenceidentity through changes. How can we perform this reasoning? We do that through perfect gestures, where creativity, particularity and
generality overlap. Perfect gestureslike the line of identity in EGsave identity through
changes because of their continuous semiotic nature. We obtain analytic reasoning by differentiation and horotic reasoning through a pendular integral and differential calculus
(see section 5). Analytic reasoning loses the identity through changes because it is concerned with breaking up the identity, as its etymology suggests (from analyo, discomposing, breaking up). It is very profitable in many cases but perfectly hopeless in many of our
everyday businesses, and sometimes alsolike in the case of discoveries or assessments of
meaningin many of our scientific activities (see section 5, for the case of Contemporary
mathematics). A horotic reasoning does not recognize an identity, but it is probably the
richer state of our knowledge, the one in which our primeval beliefs lie.
4. The paradigm along Gdels work
Gdels work is an outstanding example of the production of a great logician/mathematician/philosopher, being able to explore in depth the full triad analyt-

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
216

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

ics/synthetics/horotics. If his analytic power has been celebrated many times, his synthetic
vision has been less so, in spite of his lifelong interest for intuitionistic logic (from Gdel
1932 up to Gdel 1972), his unusual physical imagination (Gdel 1949, 1952) and his
enormous output of philosophical reflections (most still unpublished, beyond the standard
compilation Collected Works III; for an original, non standard approach, see CassouNogus 2007). Gdels comprehensive and correlative interest in logic, mathematics and
philosophy rests in fact on a synthetic understanding of knowledge. Moreover, in fairly detailed moments of Gdels work one can disclose strong horotic forces, as we will indicate
in this section.
In one of his philosophical discussions, Gdel proposes a general schema of possible
philosophical world-views which proves fruitful for the analysis of philosophical doctrines admissible in special contexts, in that one either arranges them in this manner or, in
mixed cases, seeks out their materialistic and spiritualistic elements (Gdel 1961, 375, our
emphasis). Here, a synthetic perspective (schema, world-views) is presented first, and
then applied to the analysis of philosophical doctrines along pragmatic situations (special
contexts, mixed cases). A pendulous horotics between matter and spirit governs the
schema, and it is precisely in the border, mixed cases where the schema comes to be the
most fruitful. Further, if we see that skepticism, materialism and positivism stand on one
side, spiritualism, idealism and theology on the other, Gdel affirms that it is a familiar
fact, even a platitude, that the development of philosophy since the Renaissance has by and
large gone from right to left not in a straight line, but with reverses, yet still, on the whole
(Gdel 1961, 375, our emphasis; right/ spiritualism, left/materialism). The pendulum,
with its back-and-forth horotics, is unavoidable. For Gdel, the deep mathematical concepts
lie on right, against Hilberts formalism tending to the left. Then, beyond the Hilbertian
combination of materialism and aspects of classical mathematics (Gdel 1961, 381), a
workable combination (Gdel 1961, 383), which reflects the idea that truth lies in the
middle (Gdel 1961, 381), should be proposed. Surprisingly, Gdel finds that such a middle horotics should be founded on Husserls phenomenology, in order to capture an indepth perception of mathematical objects. Thus Gdel comes very close to Peirces ideas,
as we have presented them in the previous sections, even if Gdel probably never knew
Peirces phaneroscopy and philosophy of mathematics (in Gdels published work, there is
only one reference to Peirce, on his calculus of relations (Gdel 1944, 120)).
On the technical side, all Gdels papers on intuitionism include outstanding examples
of synthetic and horotic strategies. His very first paper on intuitionism (Gdel 1932) exhibits already a precise synthetic property (non existence of a finite model which would capture provability of the intuitionistic calculus Int), and a precise horotic one (existence of
infinite systems between intuitionistic and classical propositional calculi). (Gdel 1933a)
extends, to first order, part of Glivenkos translatability criterion between Int and the classical propositional calculus, presenting, first, an intuitionistic Herbrand system H with number variables (synthetic construction with enough signs for the semantics), and, second, a
translation of the classical properties of partial recursive functions into H (horotic transformation of calculability into intuitionistic provability). Gdel 1933b shows a new translation (horotic transformation) between Int and modal S4, and conjectures their equiconsistency (full synthetic comparison). Finally, Gdels famous Dialectica paper (Gdel
1958) presents a translation of provability in Heyting Arithmetic into computability of finite type functionals. Both the fairly detailed arithmetic systems (synthetics) and the translations (horotics) in play, acquire there in-depth stratified refinements.

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
217

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

One can understand Gdel as a thinker extremely sensible both to the recto and verso of
a given situation (not only mathematical: his biography is full of such borderline sensitivities). We contend here that it is precisely thanks to this horotic temperament that Gdels
genius may have emerged. The presence of important horotic lines in Gdels work can also in fact be signaled in what may be his most celebrated logical results. On one side, if, in
his doctoral thesis, Gdel proves completeness of classical first-order logic, just one year
later he discovers the incompleteness of Peano Arithmetic. The thin line where the tendency to insure completeness breaks (following Post, Presburger, Herbrand and Gdel himself)
is a frontier that could only be conceived by an unusual mathematician, open both to the
borders of proofs and to a via negativa approach to knowledge. Beyond Herbrands bounded quantification, Gdel discovers the exact border full induction where incompleteness
phenomena begin to occur. On the other side, if with the constructible universe Gdel
proves the relative consistency of the Continuum Hypothesis (CH), in his later years he
proceeds again through the looking glass and postulates natural axioms that force c=2,
negating thus (CH). All these examples in Gdels work philosophical and mathematical
at large, logically detailed in his intuitionistic contributions show perhaps the pertinence of
our newly defined analytics/synthetics polarity and his natural extension to horotics.
5. The paradigm along contemporary developments of mathematics
The XXth Century French School in Philosophy of Mathematics (with names such as
Poincar, Brunschvicg, Cavaills, Lautman, Desanti, Vuillemin, Chtelet, Petitot, Badiou)
has stressed the central role of mathematical gestures for a fair understanding of mathematical creativity. Mathematical practice, contrasted with logical architecture, has to deal permanently with blind spots, obstructions, inconsistencies, contradictions. In such a perilous
mathematical activity, often paths are explored through structural equilibrium or esthetic
awareness (Shelah considers beauty as the main reason for studying Set Theory), before
rearranging the envisioned ideas on a sound logical basis. In these endeavors, both synthetic
and horotic perspectives are fundamental.
Albert Lautman, possibly the most original philosopher of Modern mathematics (18301950), had stressed five main characteristics of mathematical higher creativity (Galois,
Riemann, Hilbert, E. Cartan, mainly studied by Lautman): (i) complex hierarchy of mathematical theories, irreducible with respect to intermediate deductive systems, (ii) semantic
richness, irreducible to syntactical considerations, (iii) unity of structural methods behind
the previous multiplicity, (iv) dynamics of mathematical practice/gesture, (v) theorematic
back-and-forth between unity and multiplicity (Lautman 2005). Lautman, a good friend of
Charles Ehresmann, had anticipated the growing emergence of Category Theory (see, in
particular, his brilliant analysis of the local/global polarity before the emergence of Sheaf
Theory (Lautman 2010)), and our synthetic/horotic paradigm can also be traced back to
Lautmans work. The global view fostered by (i) and (ii) require in fact synthetic approaches, while the bordering/dialectical view underlined in (iii)-(v) deals directly with an horotic
approximation to knowledge. The dynamic structuralism in Philosophy of Mathematics
proposed some decades ago (Awodey, Hellman, see Shapiro 2005), fully developed in the
1930s by Lautman, is thus much closer to a synthetic/horotic (mathematical) paradigm
than to the analytic (logical) paradigm which encompassed the main Philosophy of Mathematics (in fact, Philosophy of Logic) schools in the XXth century.
Extending Lautmans project to Contemporary mathematics (1950-today), we have underlined (Zalamea 2008) some features of contemporary mathematical creativity where the

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
218

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

synthetic/horotic viewpoint helps to organize better the panorama: (vi) arithmetical structural impurity (Langlands, Deligne, Wiles, etc.), (vii) systematical geometrization (sheaves,
co-homologies, geometric logic, etc.), (viii) freeness and schematization (groupoids, categories, topoi, motives, etc.), (ix) fluxion and deformation (non linearity, non commutativity,
non elementarity, quantization, etc.), (x) reflexivity (classification, monster model, fixed
points, etc.) In the amazingly productive period since 1950 (following Dieudonn, 99% of
our actual mathematical knowledge would have therein emerged), the mathematical practice permanently breaks all analytic borders, merging together very diverse subfields of
mathematics. Synthetic mixing is a source of inventiveness, and the horotic crossing of
problems and ideas from different fields is a source of freshness for the discipline.
Grothendiecks presence behind the developmental lines (vi)-(x) is central. Since many
appearances of synthetic and horotic forces vertebrate Grothendiecks workhis schemes,
topoi or motives, crucially influential for Contemporary mathematicsone can also measure the importance of the synthetic/horotic paradigm for a fair understanding of the Philosophy of Mathematics. Grothendieck 1960-1967 unifies and synthesizes, in the schemes,
Riemanns vision (understanding of a complex curve through the ring of meromorphic
functions over the curve) and Galois/Dedekinds vision (understanding of an algebraic variety through the spectrum of its maximal ideals). A horotic transposition helps to capture
together, in a general setting, the ideas of non ramification and local/global gluing (through
sheaves on the spectrum of prime ideals). Grothendieck 1960-1969 axiomatizes, through
topoi, the movements of relative mathematics, generalizes the notion of point, discovers
new geometric invariants and constructs the correct (co)homologies which would eventually lead to the solution of Weils conjectures. Combining a synthetic view (mathematics
from the top) and horotic gestures (multitude of new definitions, theorems and examples),
Grothendieck explores systematically the borders of mathematical regions. On the other
hand, inventing motives, Grothendieck looks for archetypes which lie at the heart or soul
of mathematical thought (Grothendieck 1985, 45). Beyond the multiplicity of
(co)homologies, motives look for an initial or generic unity behind the various algebraic
attempts to capture the fundamental mathematical contradiction discreteness/ continuity.
Some basic trends in Contemporary mathematics can be described through an iterated
horotics between forms of idealism and realism (for a detailed account, see (Zalamea 2008,
99-150)). Eidal mathematics (from eidos, idea, and idein, vision) encompasses many works
which open new territories through very general ideas and strong visual capabilities (Serre,
Langlands, Lawvere, Shelah can be seen as such visionaries, for example). Quiddital mathematics (from quidditas, what it is) combines the capacity to work with rare abstract machineries and concrete physical problems (as in the work of Atiyah, Lax, Connes or
Kontsevich). Archeal mathematics (from arkh, beginning, and arkhn, commanding) unravels archetypical invariants along the eidal/quiddital transit, such as Friedmans reverse
mathematics, Freyds allegories, Zilbers trichotomy (extended by Hrushovski) or
Gromovs h-principle. In each case, the dynamical forces of Contemporary mathematics,
always crossing frontiers, always contaminating its diverse techniques, reveal a horotic factum difficult to understand from the perspectives of Analytic Philosophy.
An example of such a crucial mathematical contamination is obtained around the double
analytic/synthetic content of the notion of sheaf (one of the main conceptual and historical
border lines between Modern and Contemporary mathematics). On an analytic approach,
the sheaf glues a coherent covering of neighborhoods, and, on a synthetic perspective, it
produces a section which adequately preserves local properties of projections and restrictions (see figure 1):

_________________________________________________________________________
ISSN: 2036-4091

2011, VI, 2
219

G. MADDALENA AND F. ZALAMEA

A NEW ANALYTIC/SYNTHETIC/HOROTIC PARADIGM

Figure 1. Sheaves from complementary perspectives


If we transpose the analytic notion of covering through the synthetic hierarchy section-preservation-projection-restriction, we obtain a horotic transformation that we may
call Grothendiecks Transform. In fact, the emergence of Grothendiecks topologies, at the
beginning of Topos Theory, c