Wittgenstein on Science and Philosophy

Quotes from Hans Sluga, Wittgenstein

Chapter 1. The situated thinker.

The Alienated Thinker

“For one thing, Wittgenstein appears to assume in them a sharp division between philosophy and science. Thus he rejects any conception of philosophy that would make it into a quasi-scientific enterprise. He writes accordingly, in the Blue Book: ‘Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics and leads the philosophers into complete darkness‘. It is also clear that he feels generally antipathetic to science or, at least, that he feels distanced from it. ‘I am not aiming at the same target as the scientists,’ he writes, ‘and my way of thinking is different from theirs‘. And: ‘We cannot speak in science of a great, essential problem‘. And finally: ‘I may find scientific questions interesting, but they never really grip me‘.”

“In either case he holds that ‘the work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose‘. That purpose is at times described as therapeutic in character and the therapies are understood by him, in turn, as multiple and diverse. ‘There is no such thing as one philosophical method, but there are methods, like different therapies‘. The ultimate goal of these therapies is to bring about the disappearance of the problem of life. ‘We feel that even when all  possible scientific questions have been answered, the problem of life remains completely untouched … The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing the problem‘. Elsewhere, he describes philosophy as ‘a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language,’ and declares ‘the real discovery‘ to be ‘the one that gives philosophy peace‘.”

A Man at the Crossroads

“If we are to classify him [Wittgenstein] at all, we would certainly have to call Wittgenstein a religious thinker within the Christian tradition. But that characterization is not easy to reconcile with the content of Wittgenstein’s actual philosophical work, where religious issues are never directly apparent. That aspects of Wittgenstein’s thought has therefore been understandably ignored by most interpreters. Still, we cannot doubt that Wittgenstein considered questions on ethics and religion with utter seriousness and that this attitude expressed an abiding distrust of modern secular culture. While this may not affect Wittgenstein’s particular views on language or the mind, it will certainly bear on the question of what his work can mean for political thinking.”

Chapter 6. Our Unsurveyable Grammar

Essential Complexity

“The physical universe, for instance, is very large but we may still be able to construct a surveyable representation of certain of its properties. That is why we can formulate general laws of physics that have both an explanatory and a predictive power. The human world, on the other hand, is only a small part of the physical universe but since we are interested in a vast array of diverse and shifting relationships, the human world turns out to be unsurveyable. And because of this, find ourselves unable to formulate anthropological, social, or historical laws. Biology, finally, seems to fall between these two cases. The facts that concern biochemistry may be fully surveyable, but the actual course of biological evolution may not.”

The Practice of Language