Sunday, March 4, 2007

What Is It

The Austrian/British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein exercised enormous influence over philosophy in the middle third of the last century, and his view and his life continue to fascinate thinkers around the world.  What are the basic tenets of Wittgenstein's philosophy, and what is their enduring legacy?  Join John and Ken as they investigate the ideas and implications of one of the great philosophers of language and thought with Juliet Floyd from Boston University, co-editor of Future Pasts: The Analytic Tradition in Twentieth Century Philosophy.

Listening Notes

Ken begins the show by asking John about his experience at Cornell under the tutelage of Wittgenstein scholars, and John divides what he learned about Wittgenstein into the good, the not-so-good, and the ugly. John talks about what he thinks the good things are, Wittgenstein's early notions about language as a game and his observation that the world is made up of facts, not of things. The not-so-good, according to John, is Wittgenstein's philosophy of mind, which led to behaviorism and similar theories. Finally, John discusses the ugly, which he sees as Wittgenstein's attacks on philosophy and philosophers in general, as well as the cult of personality that developed surrounding him and his later work.

In order to discuss some of these issues as well as Wittgenstein's influence on current philosophy and allied fields, Ken introduces Juliet Floyd, Professor of Philosophy at Boston University. John asks Juliet to talk about what many people refer to as the "linguistic turn" in 20th century philosophy, and Juliet discusses how Wittgenstein combined the logical systems of Frege and Russell with his own insights to create a new way of looking at the way we use language. John and Ken describe the accomplishments of Frege and Russell and the explosion of developments in formal logic which really led to the underpinnings of modern computer science. John goes on to discuss the difference between formal Logic with a big-L and everyday logic, and Juliet describes how Wittgenstein tried to integrate these notions under the guise of human language.

Ken directs the discussion towards truth and argument, and Juliet describes the similar assumptions that Wittgenstein observes in those who discuss everyday matters and those who argue philosophical doctrines. This talk of logic as a "scaffolding" of the world which conditions all of our interactions leads to the discussion of Wittgenstein's unique theory of language. Ken mentions the distinction between "saying" and "showing," and Juliet discusses the differences between the early and late Wittgenstein, highlighting mostly his disillusionment with the idea that we can make wide universal statements about logic or even morality. John explores the ethical arguments in Wittgenstein's work, asking Juliet what exactly Wittgenstein's views are, and Juliet discusses the development of ethics from Kant to Wittgenstein. Ken asks Juliet to expand on the methodological points that Wittgenstein makes, and wonders why he was interested in philosophy at all given his assumptions? Is philosophy useful? If it doesn't answer universal questions, what questions can it answer? John, Ken, and Juliet try to deal with some of these problems initially raised by Wittgenstein.

John, Ken, and Juliet answer many questions from callers about their conceptions and misconceptions about Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein's legacy and influence in cognitive science and linguistics, Wittgenstein's character, and individuals' own views, however similar or different, about language as a game and logic as a universal framework.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 4:35): Zoe Corneli talks to one of the authors of Wittgenstein's Poker about the character of Wittgenstein and how his eccentricities contributed to his philosophy and his legacy.
  • Philosophy Talk Goes to the Movies (Seek to 46:01): John and Ken discuss the philosophical import and their take on the recent apocalyptic movie Children of Men.



John Perry  
Hello, I'm John Perry.

Ken Taylor  
And I'm Ken Taylor. Coming up after the news, it's Philosophy Talk.

John Perry  
Our topic today: the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.