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Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism

Jim Garrison

Abstract My paper compares Wittgenstein to the three classical pragmatist,

Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. It is well known that
Frank Ramsey read and cited Peirce, although we can only conjecture what, if
anything, he may have communicated of Peirce to Wittgenstein or if Wittgenstein
ever read him for himself. Through Ramsey, we will explore some of the simi-
larities between Wittgenstein and Peirce, including the typically pragmatist
emphasis on intelligent action and its relation to doubt. One important difference is
Peirce and pragmatisms emphasis on embodied habits. We will also examine the
well-documented influence of James on Wittgenstein. Many of Wittgensteins
criticisms of psychology can most likely be traced to errors he initially found in
James. However, there are many likely sources of positive influence on
Wittgenstein as well including perhaps the notion of an inherited world picture, his
unique theory of universals along with his holism, historicism, and
anti-foundationalism. While Wittgenstein has many positive things to say about
James, he is entirely negative in his remarks about Dewey. Ironically, we will nd
that Dewey is the pragmatist with whom most commentators have identied the-
matic resonances to Wittgenstein.

Keywords Pragmatism  Peirce  James  Dewey  Wittgenstein

J. Garrison (&)
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA
e-mail: wesley@vt.edu

Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017 321

M.A. Peters and J. Stickney (eds.), A Companion to Wittgenstein on Education,
DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-3136-6_21
322 J. Garrison

1 Introduction

Ludwig Wittgensteins tangential remarks, like the following, invite comparisons to

pragmatism. So I am trying to say something that sounds like pragmatism. Here I
am being thwarted by a kind of Weltanschauung (OC 422).1 The
Weltanschauung was likely the contempt for pragmatism expressed by his teachers
and most of his friends at Cambridge, especially Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore,
whose understanding of pragmatism was limited, fragmentary, and confused.
Wittgensteins own (mis)understandings resemble those of his Cambridge
The contemporary worldview in philosophy and education still thwarts us.
However, since Rortys (1979) widely acclaimed Philosophy and the Mirror of
Nature, the afnities between Deweyan pragmatism and the later Wittgenstein have
become widely promulgated by neo-pragmatists such as Hilary Putnam and Robert
Brandom, among others. Deweys similarities to Wittgenstein extend to the other
two classical pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce and William James. Today, it is
worth trying to establish some points of contact between Wittgenstein and prag-
matism for creative conversations going forward. We do not have the space to be
exhaustive and must acknowledge that the degree of contact depends on how one
interprets Wittgenstein and the classical pragmatists.
We conne discussion to the later Wittgenstein, Peirce, James, and Dewey; all
were deceased by the time Philosophical Investigations appeared. We limit dis-
cussion of possible points of contact to the primacy of practice in comprehending
linguistic meaning (i.e., forms of life, language games, and meaning as use), the
rejection of representationalism and private language, behaviorism, the socially
distributed nature of mind and self (e.g., holism), epistemological contextualism,
the rejection of the quest for certainty, the refutation of essentialism, and

2 Wittgenstein and Peirce

It appears there is no mention of Peirce in Wittgensteins writings, which is not

surprising since Wittgenstein states, I give no sources, because it is indifferent to
me whether what I have thought has already been thought before me by another
(TLP: Preface). Charles Ogden sent a copy of his acclaimed book coauthored with
Ogden and Richards (1923), The Meaning of Meaning, to Wittgenstein who we

Following convention, titles for Wittgensteins works are abbreviated (TLP = Tractatus
Logico-Philosophicus, PI = Philosophical Investigations, Z = Zettel, OC = On Certainty, LR =
Letters to Russell, keynes, and moore, RFM = Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, CV =
Culture and Value, L = Lectures), with section () or page number (p.), with full citation and
initials (e.g., RFM) in the References.
Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism 323

know read it (Nubiola 1996: 284). The book includes an appendix introducing
Peirce along with a preface praising him. Ogden along with Frank Ramsey trans-
lated the Tractatus into English. Ramsey had considerable familiarity with and
appreciation of Peirce. In his critical review of the Tractatus, Ramsey (1923/2013)
mentions Peirces type versus token distinction would clarify the ambiguity in
Wittgensteins use of proposition (274). In the preface to Philosophical
Investigations, Wittgenstein acknowledges his innumerable conversations with
Ramsey. These conversations are the likely source for any Peircian ideas that might
have slipped into the later Wittgenstein. The points of contact we identify do not
assume Peirce even unconsciously influenced Wittgenstein.
We begin with the primacy of practice in determining linguistic meaning. Peirce
studied Kants Critique of Pure Reason extensively. In explaining the origin of the
word pragmatism to designate this philosophy, he recalls that his friends sug-
gested practicism or practicalism:
But for one who had learned philosophy out of Kant and who still thought in Kantian
terms most readily, praktisch and pragmatisch were as far apart as the two poles, the former
belonging in a region of thought where no mind of the experimentalist type can ever make
sure of solid ground under his feet, the latter expressing relation to some denite human
purpose. Now quite the most striking feature of the new theory was its recognition of an
inseparable connection between rational cognition and rational purpose; and that consid-
eration it was which determined the preference for the name pragmatism. (CP 5, 412)2

The Kantian origin of pragmatism should have eliminated the notion that it is
concerned with mere practicalism. The Cambridge philosophers and many others
fail to grasp the importance of human purposes regarding rationality.
While Peirce was an experimental empiricist, there are similarities to
Wittgenstein regarding their Kantian commitments to formal logic, grammar, rules,
universals, and such, as normative for language (and empirical science for Peirce).3
Peirce is an empirical realist who thought intelligent inquiries eventually converge
upon the antecedently real when pursued indenitely. While it is best not to classify
Wittgenstein as a realist (or anti-realist), he does proclaim: Not empiricism and yet
realism in philosophy, that is the hardest thing (Against Ramsey) (RFM: vi, 23).
The target here is Ramseys essay, General Propositions and Causality. In that
essay, Ramsey (1929/1990) invokes Peirces empirical realist notion of truth:
We do, however, believe that the system is uniquely determined and that long enough
investigation will lead us all to it. This is Peirces notion of truth as what everyone will
believe in the end; it does not apply to the truthful statement of fact, but to the true
scientic system. (161)

Since the classical pragmatists are empiricist, the difference between praktisch and
pragmatisch marks a divergence from Wittgenstein. However, Wittgensteins

Peirce is here rejecting Kantian transcendentalism.
It would be interesting to compare Peirces speculative grammar as the division of his logic
dealing with the general conditions to which thought or signs of any kind must conform in order
to assert anything (CP: 206) to what Wittgenstein means by grammar.
324 J. Garrison

notion that the limit of language is the limit of thought resembles Peirces notion
that man can think only by means of words (EP 54).
There are productive points of contact between Wittgensteins careful employ-
ment of descriptive proto-phenomenology and Peirces own pioneering phe-
nomenology, which lies behind his experimentalism. The greatest divergence
between them concerns Peirces emphasis on theory, empirical method, and
explanation, which he shares with James and Dewey.
Wittgenstein and Peirce converge on the importance of action and the primacy of
Giving grounds, however, justifying the evidence, comes to an endbut 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; see also

Elsewhere, Wittgenstein writes, words are deeds (CV 46). The word deed is
especially cordial for pragmatists sincepragma in ancient Greek means a deed, an
act, an affair.
In a work predating the essay that inaugurated pragmatism by a decade, Peirce
asserts that my language is the sum total of myself (EP 1: 54). He then con-
cludes that as what anything really is, is what it may nally come to be known to
be in the ideal state of complete information, so that reality depends on the ultimate
decision of the community (EP 1: 54). For Peirce, logical norms (grammar, rules,
concepts, and such) reside in communities of practice with the ideal norms known
only in the ideal state of complete information. Ramsey well understood the realist,
normative function found in communities of inquiry. Without the emphasis on
experimentation, Peirce is highly compatible with Wittgensteins stress on the use
of words in communities of practice.
Another point of contact between Peirce, pragmatism, and Wittgenstein involves
the status of doubt and belief. Both Wittgenstein and Peirce reject Cartesian uni-
versal doubt. Wittgenstein asserts:
But the end is not an ungrounded presupposition: it is an ungrounded way of acting. (OC
If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of
doubt itself presupposes certainty. (OC 115)
That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientic investigation that certain things are in
deed not doubted. (OC 342; see also 341)

Wittgenstein asks, Doesnt one need grounds for doubt? the answer is yes! (OC
122). Further, sounding like a pragmatist, he afrms, if anyone were to doubt it,
how would his doubt come out in practice? And couldnt we peacefully leave him
to doubt it, since it makes no difference at all? (OC 120).

Nowhere has emphasis been added to any citation.
This passage also connects to Peirce and Wittgensteins anti-foundationalism.
Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism 325

Peirce agrees genuine doubt must have an existential origin in concrete practice:
We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we
actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be
dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned.
Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt; and no one
who follows the Cartesian method will ever be satised until he has formally recovered all
those beliefs which in form he has given up. A person may nd reason to doubt what
he began by believing; but in that case he doubts because he has a positive reason for it, and
not on account of the Cartesian maxim. Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we
do not doubt in our hearts. (CP 5: 265)

Peirce insists doubt must have a context. Nonetheless, genuine existential doubt
may vary from person to person and language game to language game.
Wittgenstein and Peirce connect their understanding of doubt and belief to
epistemological anti-foundationalism, which Peirce relates to the permanent falli-
bility of any assertion. Indeed, when he describes the four ways thinkers block the
road of inquiry he asks us to acknowledge, we can be sure of nothing; everything
remains forever falsiable (EP 2, 49). We can read Wittgensteins On Certainty as
a protracted argument asserting we cannot complete the quest for Cartesian cer-
tainty. Second, to not block the road of inquiry, we must abandon radical skepticism
or the idea there is something that never can be known (EP 2, 49). Third,
foundationalist beliefs of something ultimate, independent of aught else, and
utterly inexplicable are also blocks (EP 2, 49). In the following two passages,
Wittgenstein expresses his own anti-foundationalism:
Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only
describe it. For it cannot give it any foundation either. (PI 124)
If the true is what is grounded, then the ground is not true, nor yet false. (OC 205)

Finally, for Peirce there is the false assumption that holding that this or that law or
truth has found its last and perfect formulation (EP 2, 49). If we cannot complete
the quest for certainty, then we can never know if we have arrived at the nal
formulation of anything. The later Wittgenstein embraces one, three, and four since
they acknowledge the truth of skepticism. However, given his serious concerns
about the proper response to skepticism, Wittgenstein would most likely nd
Peirces second obstacle insurmountable.6
There is one place where Peirce and pragmatism nicely supplement
Wittgenstein. It involves habits. For Peirce, the establishment in our nature of a
rule of action, or, say for short, a habit (CP 5, 397; CP 6, 32 and 201). Habits
are logical generalizations enabling inference (e.g., where there is smoke there is

While they concede, we cannot complete the quest for certainty, pragmatists are anti-skeptics that
consider skepticism an impregnable fortress from whence the enemy cannot attack. If they do, they
326 J. Garrison

Embodied habits of action supplement Wittgensteins thinking about social

practices and rule following. Frank Ramsey (1926/1990) ends his paper with a
discussion of inference that, as he indicates in a footnote, is based on Peirce whom
he paraphrases: I use habit in the most general possible sense to mean simply rule
or law of behavior (90). It is a good expression of Peirces position.
In following a rule, Wittgenstein wonders: How is it decided what is the correct
step to take at any particular stage (PI 186). Rules for Wittgenstein are always an
abridgement of concrete practice. Agreement regarding rule following depends on
agreement in customary form of life within a shared social practice:
Then can whatever I do be brought into accord with the rule? Let me ask this: what has
the expression of a rule-say a sign-post?got to do with my actions? What sort of con-
nexion is there here? Well, perhaps this one: I have been trained to react to this sign in a
particular way, and now I do so react to it I have further indicated that a person goes by a
sign-post only in so far as there exists a regular use of sign-posts, a custom. (PI 198)

To understand a sentence is to understand a language. To understand a language

means to be master of a technique (PI 199). Understanding language, following
rules, and grasping concepts involve an element of skilled know-how that only
arises from practice. Wittgensteins conclusion is that When I obey a rule, I do not
choose. I obey the rule blindly (PI 219). Compliance with the norms of cultural
custom allows us to master socially approved techniques of language usage within a
form of life.
For Peirce, we embody compliance to customs individually as habits of action
evincing feeling. This kind of pragmatist compliance is especially interesting to
pedagogues. Peirce declares, Our beliefs guide our desires and shape our action
and then afrms, The feeling of believing is a more or less sure indication of there
being established in our nature some habit which will determine our actions (EP 1,
114). Notice the role of feeling in believing. Further, a belief is a rule of action
(EP 1, 129). Peirce insists the sense of the process of learning, which is the
preeminent ingredient and quintessence of reason has its physiological basis quite
evidently in the most characteristic property of the nervous system, the power of
taking habits (CP 1, 390). Wittgenstein indicates, Any explanation has its
foundation in training (Educators ought to remember this.) (Z 419). When acting
mindlessly our trained unconscious habits force us to follow rules blindly.
For Peirce and the classical pragmatists, we are controlled by habits we do not
control. The work of intelligence and reflection is to render our habits consciously
under our control. Often to secure control requires, rst, comprehending the culture
that socialized (i.e., trained) us and, second, transforming the culture. Here the
pedagogical import of embodied pragmatism takes a political turn.
Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism 327

3 Wittgenstein and James

At one time Principles of Psychology was the only book on Wittgensteins book-
shelf.7 Goodman (2002) remarks: Wittgenstein refers to the book in his journals
and typescripts, from the early 1930s until the end of his life (17). Wittgenstein
read Jamess Varieties of Religious Experience in 1912 writing Russell saying:
This book does me a lot of good (LR, 10). Wittgenstein names James four times
in the Philosophical Investigations, the same as Gottlob Frege; he only names St.
Augustine more (ve times). While we may talk about points of contact regarding
Peirce and Dewey, with James we can make conjectures about actual influence.
One of the chief ways James perhaps influences Wittgenstein is the idea of an
inherited world picture (weltbild):
The individual has a stock of old opinions already, but he meets a new experience that puts
them to a strain. He saves as much of it as he can, for in this matter of belief we are all
extreme conservatives. The most violent revolutions in an individuals beliefs leave most
of his old order standing New truth is always a go-between. It marries old opinion to
new fact so as ever to show a minimum of jot, a maximum of continuity. To a certain
degree, therefore, everything here is plastic. (p. 3435)

This passage expresses Jamess holism, historicism, and anti-foundationalism,

which resonate with Wittgenstein.
For Wittgenstein, a world picture is the substratum of all my enquiring and
asserting (OC 162). Beliefs constituting ones world picture stand fast in
relation to other beliefs as a nonfoundational substratum for judgment. Propositions
forming the world picture have a special function in which their role is like that of
rules of a game; and the game can be learned purely practically, without leaning any
explicit rules (OC 95). For pragmatists, everything that stands fast is falsiable,
and for some, everything is contingent in an evolving universe. One wonders if
Wittgenstein would go so far. Can even hinge propositions become unhinged? (see
OC 341343).
Jamess The Varieties of Religious Experience seems to have had a profound
personal, religious, and philosophical effect on Wittgenstein. Goodman (2002)
argues James anticipates Wittgensteins notion of family resemblance (53). For
example, James afrms, we may very likely nd no one essence, but many
characters which may alternatively be equally important in religion (VRE: 30).
The same holds for Wittgensteins language games:
For someone might object against me: You talk about all sorts of language- games but have
nowhere said what the essence of a language-game, and hence of language, is: what is
common to all these activities, and what makes them into language or parts of language.
And this is true. -Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am

Goodman (2002: 3). Goodman provides many instances of Wittgenstein referring directly to
James in his correspondence or remembrances published by friends and students or, as here,
letters. This is the denitive work on the many likely influences of James on Wittgenstein.
328 J. Garrison

saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same
word for all, -but that they are related to one another in many different ways. (PI 65)

Again: Dont say: There must be something common, or they would not be called
games -but look and see whether there is anything common to all (PI 66). More
generally, Wittgenstein and James agree we cannot arrive at necessary and suf-
cient conditions for dening essences.
In Investigations, the method of looking and describing what one sees in a
plethora of examples replaces the method of theoretical explanation in the
Tractatus. Wittgensteins proto-phenomenological method is strikingly similar to
Jamess in Principles and Varieties. James asserts, the connection of things in our
knowledge is in no whit explained by making it the deed of an agent whose essence
is self-identity and who is out of time. The agency of phenomenal thought coming
and going in time is just as easy to understand (PP I 348). Here, James is criti-
cizing Kantian a priori transcendental explanations. James coined the phrase
radical empiricist to designate his version of empiricism in which nothing is in
thought that is not rst in experience (including concepts, norms, and necessity),
and relations are experienced as much as relata and, therefore, there was no need to
posit anything transcendental to connect events. He also rejects the notion of sense
data that invoked Humes skepticism, which woke Kant from his dogmatic slumber.
Jamess empiricism expresses a greater appreciation for what science can offer
philosophy than we nd in Wittgenstein (see CV, p. 79e). The following expresses
both similarity and difference from James:
It was true to say that our considerations could not be scientic ones. It was not of any
possible interest to us to nd out empirically that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is
possible to think such-and-suchwhatever that may mean. And we may not advance
any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must
do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. (PI 109)

Peirce, James, and Dewey would agree we must avoid scientism, but the classical
pragmatists eschew a sharp separation between philosophy as a cultural practice
and any other cultural practice such as science.
What rightly bothers Wittgenstein is Jamess reliance on the introspective method
and his subjectivism. In spite of his typically pragmatic anti-representationalism (and
rejection of the correspondence theory of truth), these assumptions sometimes lead
James to sound like he is saying we have a private experience of meaning. For
Wittgenstein, meanings and grammar arise from shared social practices. Rightly or
wrongly, Wittgenstein reads James as advocating a private language.
James states, The sense of our meaning is an entirely peculiar element of the
thought (PP I 446). Here, it seems that for James linguistic meaning is a private.
The later Wittgenstein rejects the notion that meaning is an experience: Tell me,
what was going on in you when you uttered the words.?The answer to this is
not: I was meaning.. ! (PI 675). Again, The meaning of a word is not the
experience one has in hearing or saying it, and the sense of a sentence is not a
Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism 329

complex of such experience (PI, p. 181). By contrast, James believes that even
before we have opened our mouths to speak, the entire thought is present to our
mind in the form of an intention to utter that sentence (PP, I 269). Meanwhile,
Wittgenstein claims: Meaning is as little in experience as intending (PI, p. 217).
We must not confuse personal experiences accompanying a meaning with the
meaning itself, which is not to deny the reality or even the signicance of such
For Wittgenstein: Meaning is not a process which accompanies a word. For no
process could have the consequences of meaning (PI, p. 218). However, he also
says, The limit of the empiricalis concept-formation (RFM, IV, 29). How are
they formed? Goodman (2002) observes that Wittgenstein struggles with the
problem of how to register both the historical and necessary in his account of logic
or grammar (29). Here, we have an instance of the tension. Whatever else he is
saying, he is right to say no psychological process alone could have the conse-
quences of meaning. The meaning of a word is its use in a shared social practice:
So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?
It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language
they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life (PI 241; see also
PI, p. 226). However, that does not imply that embodied processes (i.e., feelings
and habits) cannot contribute to meaning or that no process could have the con-
sequences of meaning.
However poorly, what James is combating is the notion that abstract concepts
are entirely separate from concrete percepts. The classical pragmatists agree we
derive concepts genetically from experience. What follows is part of Jamess
derivation beginning with flux of feeling and thinking:
The great difference between percepts and concepts is that the percepts are continuous and
concepts are discrete. Not discrete in their being, for conception as an act is part of the flux
of feeling, but discrete from each other in their several meanings. Each concept means just
what it singularly means, and nothing else; and if the conceiver does not know whether he
means this or means that, it shows that his concept is imperfectly formed. The perceptual
flux as such, on the contrary, means nothing, and is but what it immediately is. (PC 32)

The role of feelings here is one of connecting meanings, not meanings per se.
For James, concepts, meanings, discrete objects, and so on emerge from an
anoetic qualitative flux of percepts. They are purely perspectival determinations
derived from our human needs, desires, and purposes:
Out of this aboriginal sensible muchness, attention carves out objects, which conception
then names and identies foreverin the sky constellations, one the earth beach, sea,
cliff, bushes, and grass. Out of time we cut days and nights, summers, and
winters. We say what each part of the sensible continuum is, and all these abstracted
whats are concepts. The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substituting a
conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.
(PC 33)

When we experience, we experience existence; however poorly, we may compre-

hend it. Selective attention carves out data for inference (data are taken, not given)
330 J. Garrison

and the construction of natural kinds. What we must do is distinguish our quali-
tative experience of existence from the essences (meanings, concepts, norms, rules,
etc.) we construct from existence. An analogy would be distinguishing grapes on
the vine from the distilled essence of the grapes for a purpose; that is, wine. Both
grapes and the wine exist, but the wine, like logical essences, is a renement of
natural occurrences fullling practical purposes.
Classical pragmatists believe we abstract logical grammar from experience;
hence, while lacking specic spatialtemporal reference logical norms and the like
remain derivatively empirical. Perhaps the greatest error in the history of Western
philosophy involves reifying otherwise useful hypostatic abstractions, and in so
doing forgetting the concrete historical process by which we arrived at the abstract
product. We could not have the product of meaning without the genetic process of
meaning construction. For classical pragmatists, there are no meanings without
meaning makers. This is how they reconcile the tension in Wittgenstein between
historicism and the necessity of grammar.
James overcomes the ontological dualism between percepts (feeling, sensation,
and perception) and conceptualization. However, a subtle dualism and subjectivism
remains of the kind that offends Wittgensteins rejection of representationalism.
Mark Johnson (2007) notes, Though James does not intend this, these terms
[selects, etc.] suggest the need for a mental homunculus (a mini-conceptualizer in
the mind) who does the selecting, cutting, and carving from experience (89). The
homunculus constructs things inside the mind that resemble mental
For James, experience remains private. However, social experience such as
participating in forms of life is public and shared, which is why Wittgenstein rightly
condemns Jamess subjectivism. When Dewey took up Jamess later radical em-
piricism, in which relations as well as relata are part of experience, he reconstructed
it to overcome Jamess subjectivism as well as his mind verses body and subject
versus object dualisms. The result bears striking resemblances to Wittgenstein.
Johnson (2007) indicates, Deweys solution is to grant that [thoughtful] activity
is a fundamental capacity of certain types of living creature, but without positing a
conscious [or unconscious] inner, agent-like source of that activity (90). For
Dewey, intentionality fundamentally involves taking something in the environment
and using it to refer to something else in the environment.8 Thus,
As exercising the function, we may call it mental. Neither the thing meant nor the thing
signifying is mental. Nor is the meaning itself mental in any psychical, dualistic, existential
sense A probable rain storm, as indicated to us by the look of the clouds or the barometer,

Of course, we may perform the activity of taking and using signs reflexively. It is worth adding
that entire body performs such activity.
Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism 331

gets embodied in a word and hence can be treated for certain purposes just as an actual
rain storm would be treated. (MW 13: 5657)

Notice Dewey, like Wittgenstein, moves mental functioning into the world; it is no
longer an entirely private experience, although it has private aspects.
In spite of errors, James joins with other traditional pragmatists in nding dis-
embodied Kantian transcendental accounts fundamentally mistaken. We may
embody cultural practices as dispositions to act; that is, habits of linguistic use and
response that structure vague feelings into cognitively informed emotions.
Wittgenstein lacks a robust sense of embodiment, although it is easily added.
Peirce, James, and Dewey share empirical holism, historicism, and revisability
with the neo-pragmatist W.V.O. Quines (1953) stance in his famous essay Two
Dogmas of Empiricism, which is a devastating refutation of the logical posi-
tivists analytic versus synthetic dualism, reductionism, and foundationalism.9 It
raises serious questions about the plasticity and consistency of Wittgensteins
holism, historicism, and anti-foundationalism:
It might be imagined that some propositions of the form of empirical propositions were
hardened and functioned as channels for such empirical propositions a were not hardened
but fluid; and that this relation altered with time, in the fluid propositions hardened, and
hard one become fluid. (OC 96)

This is how Quine and other pragmatists imagine it. However, Wittgenstein afrms:
But if someone were to say, So logic too is an empirical science he would be
wrong. Yet this is right: the same propositions may get treated at one time as
something tested by experience, at another as a rule of testing (OC 98). Given the
second sentence, what does it mean to say logic is not an empirical science?
Wittgensteins distinction here is extremely subtle. Clearly, he is not a simple
neo-Kantian defending a sharp analyticsynthetic distinction. There is something
neo-Kantian, but what exactly and why is it irreconcilable with empiricism? If it is
simply forms of life and human nature functioning quasi-transcendentally, then it
is reconcilable. How does the necessity of grammar square with Wittgensteins
holistic, historicized, and nonreductive anti-foundationalism? Why is he not an
empiricist all the way down like Peirce if not James or Dewey?

4 Wittgenstein and Dewey

Dewey does not mention Wittgenstein in the Collected Works and only once in his
Correspondence.10 Wittgenstein mentions Dewey held that belief was an
adjustment of the organism (L 90). It is typical of Wittgensteins Cambridge

Some believe this essay was the most important single philosophical paper of the twentieth
century. According to Quine (1953), pragmatism is one of the major effects of rejecting the two
1939.07.22 (09313): John Dewey to Corinne Chisholm Frost.
332 J. Garrison

pragmatism. He did comment that if Dewey was still living, he Ought not to be
(Bouwsma 1986: 2829). A striking statement since Dewey is the pragmatist to
whom most compare Wittgenstein.
We focus on social-linguistic practice and meaning as use. First, let us locate
language in Deweys philosophy. For him, there is a natural bridge that joins the
gap between existence and essence; namely communication, language, discourse
(LW 1: 133). Essences for Dewey are simply renements of ordinary language.
H2O is no more real than thirst slaking water, although it is more useful in scientic
language games.
Dewey builds on the following Jamesian insight: The treating of a name as
excluding from the fact named what the names denition fails positively to include,
is what I call vicious intellectualism (PU 32). The problem is not with abstraction
or conceptual logic; it is with the notion that abstract concepts are somehow more
real than other experiences. The error arises from reifying our abstractions and
forgetting the noncognitive experiences from whence they derive. For James, the
naming of a thing is merely for our own petty purpose (PP II 960961). Thus,
the only meaning of essence is teleological, and that classication and conception
are purely teleological weapons of the mind (PP II 961). Meanwhile, he insists,
reality overflows these purposes at every pore (PP II 961). Existence always
overflows the concepts we distil from it for our petty nite purposes. Would
Wittgenstein agree? I leave this question for the Wittgenstein scholars.
When intellectual experience and its material are taken to be primary, Dewey
declares, the cord that binds experience and nature is cut (LW 1: 29). His nat-
uralism also condemns intellectualism:
[T]he great vice of philosophy is an arbitrary intellectualism By intellectualism as an
indictment is meant the theory that all experiencing is a mode of knowing, and that all
subject-matter, all nature, is, in principle, to be reduced and transformed till it is dened in
terms identical with the characteristics presented by rened objects of science as such.
(LW 1: 28)

In his genetic philosophical method, the rened essences of science are products of
a process of abstraction. Empirical genetic method protects us from conversion of
eventual functions into antecedent existence: a conversion that may be said to be the
philosophic fallacy (LW 1: 34). This fallacy yields Platonic transcendent essences
(i.e., the Forms) and Kants transcendental a priori categories.
Dewey titles the second chapter of his 1938 Logic, The Existential Matrix of
Inquiry: Biological (LW 12). The biology of human experience is part of the
genetic trace from crude meaningless existences to the rened essences of logic.
There is an aspect of naturalism in Wittgenstein as well:
I want to regard man here as an animal; as a primitive being to which one grants instinct but
not ratiocination. As a creature in a primitive state. Any logic good enough for a creature in
a primitive means of communication needs no apology from us. Language did not emerge
from some kind of ratiocination. (OC 475)
Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism 333

One might argue that human animality and world pictures place quasi-
transcendental constraints on thought. After all, we cannot exceed our human
perspectives on existence even when we rely on the sciences to help us understand
how other species experience existence (e.g., elephants communicating
non-linguistically via ultrasound). Insofar as he is a naturalist, Wittgenstein lacks
the pragmatists robust sense of embodiment.
The Existential Matrix of Inquiry: Cultural is the next chapter of the Logic.
There, Dewey examines the bridge from biological existence to logical essence. For
Dewey, the modication of organic behavior in and by a cultural environment
accounts for behavior marked by intellectual properties (LW 12: 49).
Furthermore, Intellectual behavior is foreshadowed in behavior of the biological
kind (LW 12: 49). Borrowing from Peirce and James, Dewey is thinking about
how feelings influence intuitions from whence inquiry commences in doubtful
situations and how biological habits carry out existential inference (see LW 11:
107). When habits become consciously under our control, we may, perhaps, state
them as logical generalizations regarding existences having spatialtemporal ref-
erence that we may pair with abstract, decontextualized logical universals (i.e.,
conceptual) propositions. However, we cannot reduce logical functioning to their
biological, or social, matrices.11
We have already discussed Wittgensteins anti-foundationalism. Wittgenstein
states: The difculty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing (OC 166).
He does not mean we have no ground, only that we lack indubitable foundations.
He also says, The truth of certain empirical propositions belongs to our frame of
reference (OC 83). Of course, so too do certain propositions lacking direct
empirical reference. Pragmatists nd no sharp analytic versus synthetic difference
between such propositions, only practically useful distinctions. Wittgenstein seems
to agree when he compares the propositions of the world picture to a riverbed: [T]
he 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 (OC 97).12 Hence, the same proposition may
get treated at one time as something to test by experience, at another as a rule of
testing (OC 98). This sounds like the so-called pragmatic a priori wherein the
products of prior inquiries my function as if they were transcendental a priori to
future inquiry, although they never lose empirical contingency and falsiability.
Scientic revolutions often involve refuting putatively a priori assumptions (e.g.,
Newtonian separation of space and time).
For Dewey, acquiring linguistic meaning is a social transaction: The bare fact
that language consists of sounds which are mutually intelligible is enough of itself
to show that its meaning depends upon connection with a shared experience

Instead, logical properties emerge from biological and social functioning and when they do they
transform such functioning.
Wittgenstein could have derived this metaphor from Jamess chapter on The Stream of
Consciousness in Principles.
334 J. Garrison

(MW 9: 19). This passage is from Deweys 1916 Democracy and Education; he
In short, the sound h-a-t gains meaning in precisely the same way that the thing hat gains
it, by being used in a given way. And they acquire the same meaning with the child which
they have with the adult because they are used in a common experience by both. The
guarantee for the same manner of use is found in the fact that the thing and the sound are
rst employed in a joint activity, as a means of setting up an active connection between the
child and a grown-up. (MW 9: 19)

Wittgenstein and Dewey agree words derive their meaning when used within forms
of life.
We turn now to Quines (1969) influential essay, Ontological Relativity. What
he says there about Dewey goes a long way toward establishing similarities to
Wittgenstein regarding the depiction of linguistic behavior, use, and context.
Quine nds: Philosophically I am bound to Dewey by the naturalism With
Dewey I hold that knowledge, mind, and meaning are part of the same world.
There is no place for a prior philosophy (26). He further adds that, like Dewey,
when discussing the philosophy of mind, he turns to language to comprehend
mental functioning. Linguistically, he too wishes to avoid pernicious mentalism
(e.g., mental representations) in semantics (27).
Quine cites Dewey to support his rejection of mentalism: Meaning is not a
psychic existence; it is primarily a property of behavior (27; see LW 1: 141).13
Quine states:
Meanings are, rst and foremost, meanings of language. Language is a social art which we
all acquire on the evidence solely of other peoples overt behavior under publicly recog-
nizable circumstances. Meanings, therefore, those very models of mental entities, end up as
grist for the behaviorists mill. (26)

He goes on to mention that once we understand the use of language in its social
context, we will realize there are no private languages. Again, he cites Dewey:
Soliloquy, he wrote, is the product and reflex of converse with others (27; see LW
1: 135). He cites yet another passage to enlarge the point: Language is specically a
mode of interaction of at least two beings, a speaker and a hearer; it presupposes an
organized group to which these creatures belong, and from whom they have acquired
their habits of speech. It is therefore a relationship (27; see LW 1: 145).
In making his points about Dewey, Quine comments: Years later, Wittgenstein
likewise rejected private language. When Dewey was writing in this naturalistic
vein, Wittgenstein still held his copy theory of language (27).14 Quine reviews the
usual complaints against the uncritical semantics of the picture theory of meaning

Wittgenstein writes: When I think in language, there arent meanings going though my mind
in addition to the verbal expressions: the language is itself the vehicle of thought (PI 329).
Linguistic behavior is irreducible to psychic mental functioning, although there are no doubt
neurophysiological concomitants including linguistic habits.
Quines quotes are from (LW 1, 1925), but he had already shown the primacy of socially
coordinated action (i.e., behavior) at least as early as 1916.
Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism 335

that in Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein associates with his Tractatus (see

PI 23, 97, 114).
Quine (1969) writes: When we turn thus toward a naturalistic view of language
and a behavioral view of meaning, what we give up is not just the museum gure
[i.e., picture theory] of speech. We give up an assurance of determinacy (28).
Quine uses Wittgenstein and Dewey to develop his own thesis of ontological
When we recognize with Dewey that meaning is primarily a property of behavior,
we recognize that there are no meanings, nor likenesses nor distinctions of meaning,
beyond what are implicit in peoples dispositions to overt behavior. If by these standards
there are indeterminate cases, so much the worse for the terminology of meaning and
likeness of meaning. (29)

Identical twins raised in the same happy home may never be sure they are in
ontological agreement. Reference itself,Quine concludes, proves behaviorally
inscrutable (35).
In one of the passages Quines cites from, Dewey afrms: To fail to understand
is to fail to come into agreement in action; to misunderstand is to set up action at
cross purposes (LW 1: 141; see also, LW 12: 5253). The point he makes is
remarkably similar to Wittgensteins notion of linguistic agreement in action
(RFM, VI, 39). This is social conventionalism, but not of the crude majoritarian
type. We do not have conventions to vote on meaning. It is not an agreement of
opinions, but of actions.
While Wittgenstein and Dewey are naturalists and behaviorists that emphasize
the primacy of practice, they are not reductivists in Quines Skinnerian sense, which
is unnecessary for his argument. Wittgensteins asks himself, Are you not really a
behaviourist in disguise Arent you at bottom really saying that everything except
human behaviour is a ction?If I do speak of a ction, then it is of a gram-
matical ction (PI 307; see also 308).
Peirce writes, what a thing means is simply what habits it involves (CP 5,
400). Wittgenstein condemns such reductionism:
(And suppose it were merely our habituation to these concepts, to these language-games?
But I am not saying that it is so.) If we teach a human being such-and-such a technique by
means of examplesthat he then proceeds like this and not that in a particular new case, or
that in this case he gets stuck, and thus that this and not that is the natural continuation for
him: this of itself is an extremely important fact of nature. (Z 355)

Dewey wants to avoid reductivism by emphasizing social behavior. At the same

time, he wants to retain emergent naturalistic continuity. So too does Wittgenstein:
What does this explanation explain? Ask yourself: What sort of ignorance does it remove?
Being sure that someone is in pain, doubting whether he is, and so on, are so many
natural, instinctive, kinds of behaviour towards other human beings, and our language is
merely an extension of this relation. Our language-game is an extension of primitive
behaviour (For our language-game is behaviour.) (Instinct.) (Z 545)
336 J. Garrison

We are born with species typical instincts (impulses, reflexes, etc.). However,
according to Dewey, Habit is second nature and second nature under ordinary
circumstances is as potent and urgent as rst nature (LW 13: 108). Wittgenstein
wonders about the primitive reactions with which the language-game begins (PI,
p. 218). If he is willing to include native instincts among such starting behavior, he
certainly should include acquired habits. We may supplement Wittgensteins ani-
mality in ways discussed earlier in the section on Peirce.
Supplementing Wittgenstein need not involve us in the kind of reductive be-
haviorism he wishes to avoid. Dewey shows us how. In a chapter of Human Nature
and Conduct titled, Custom and Habit, Dewey declares, customs persist because
individuals form their personal habits under conditions set by prior customs (MW
14: 43). Linguistic habits provide a biological matrix for emergent linguistic
behavior; indeed, unconscious habits may trigger a good deal of mindless lin-
guistic behavior (clichs and such). However, it is possible to acknowledge prim-
itive behavior without reducing linguistic or mental functioning to such action.
We have already seen that Dewey distributes intentionality and mental func-
tioning; now we discuss the social distribution of meaning. Dewey declares: Mind
denotes the whole system of meanings as they are embodied in the workings of
organic life; consciousness in a being with language denotes awareness or per-
ception of meanings (LW 1: 230). Linguistic meaning supervenes upon and alters
organic functioning even as such functioning serves as the matrix of meaning and
mental function. Such is Deweys naturalistic Darwinian continuity.
In a section titled Experience as Social, Dewey nds it fallacious to ignore
the biological aspect and to use it to determine subject-matter as the narrower form
of behaviorism does. By social is denoted such things as communication, partici-
pation, sharing, communion (MW 13: 382). Elsewhere, he states: The chief
objection, it seems to me, to the narrower forms of behaviorism is their obsession
against the mental, because of previous false theories about it (LW 5: 227).15 This
is likely also Wittgensteins chief objection. Dewey also says, I have no doubt that
language in its general sense, or symbols, is connected with all mental operations
that are intellectual in import and with the emotions associated with them (LW 5:
227). The divergence, if any, between Wittgenstein and Dewey here is slight, but
signicant. Bernard Williams (1974) does not believe Wittgenstein is thinking at
all in terms of actual groups of human beings (91). Meanwhile, Dewey is thinking
in terms of contingent concrete empirical anthropological terms.

Skinnerian and earlier forms of behaviorism cannot account for linguistic behavior.
Wittgenstein and Classical Pragmatism 337

5 Conclusion

Wittgenstein is not a pragmatist. However, it is easy to put him into dialogue with
pragmatism. In starting this conversation, we have assumed specic readings of
Wittgenstein, Pierce, James, and Dewey. There are alternative readings that bring
them closer together or further apart. Neo-pragmatists, having taken the linguistic
turn, and especially those that treat the norms of language as somehow necessary
and transcendental, are closer. Pragmatists that continue to emphasize experience
while insisting that necessity along with the norms of language and logic are only
useful abstractions derived genetically from experience are further away. Peirce
remains pivotal in this debate.
There is also a difference in the conception of the work of philosophy.
Wittgenstein understands it as a quietist tool of clarication that leaves everything
unchanged (see PI 124 and 126). James, and especially Dewey, understand
philosophy etymologically as a tool of cultural value critique in pursuit of wisdom
intended to actively change the world. Again, Peirce is the more ambivalent


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