Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sean Wilson's new book project

Sean writes:
I am seeking feedback on the enclosed proposal. I wonder if people think it looks like a viable project? Would the thesis of such a book interest you? Basically, the book is a bit personal: it's based upon an intellectual transformation that I went through and how I came to see the fields of political science, law, and philosophy so differently. The premise is that Wittgenstein did this to me. But the important part is not that -- it is: (a) what this "new thinking" is; and (b) why it is important for other scholars to think this way. The enthymeme here is that the fields of law, political science and philosophy need more Wittgensteinians.
The proposal is here.


  1. given that the actual Wittgenstein didn't bring about a revolution in how academic philosophy (even among the converted) happens these are rather grand claims (the pseudo-science medical dx of Wittgenstein himself is dreadful btw), has it been tested?

  2. It's hard to say exactly what Wittgenstein's method or new way of thinking is. I'd welcome anything that sheds light on the matter.

    He didn't bring about a revolution in how philosophy is done, but he did inspire some very good work. It went out of fashion, but it's not as if no one does work like that anymore. Thankfully.

    1. sure but that doesn't sound like what's being proposed by this author.

    2. I thought it was. I'll re-read his proposal.

    3. I may have missed the point, wouldn't be the 1st time...

    4. I'm going by this: what is written in this
      book is neither dogma nor idolatry; it is merely something that Wittgenstein himself called “the new thinking.” And it is what I call “post-analytic thought.”

      The book, therefore, is a presentation of an intellectual orientation. It covers how to think about language, meaning, assertability conditions, aspect-sight, “picturing” in argumentation and connoisseur judgment. It shows how to behave toward assertion -- how to dissolve a confusion therapeutically rather than trying to refute an argument or “win a debate.”

      Perhaps I'm reading into these words what I want to see. Hard to know what it will be until it's written.

  3. I sympathise with Sean's position, but isn't this just Peter Winch Part II? I'm not saying that would be a bad thing - far from it - just that Sean's reaction to Wittgenstein's philosophy is hardly unique.

    Also, I would suggest he adds a chapter on what's involved in going against the prevalent culture of one's times. It seems to me that the obstacles in his path are at least as much political as they are philosophical.

    1. Yes, how this relates to other people's work is one of the main questions I have about it. Sean does intend to engage with existing literature and not just write as if in a vacuum, but I don't know a lot more than that.

  4. Sean, you remind me of a man who attempts to hone a fine blade by rubbing it against paper.

    If you are to play in this game you must understand the degree of insincerity - in a sense - of claims to interpret the constitution by limiting its use to "original intent". It is not that they believe in that interpretation and so they say what they say. They want certain things to happen and know they can convince others by arguing for certain positions and so gain political traction for what is already pre-decided. So you cannot just convince them. In their game you must overcome them politically.

    Now you do a very good job of cutting their paper with that knife that Wittgenstein gave you. But you will miss the other side - the positive side of the constitution - for example.

    The implication of your idea that it is really "connoisseur judgment" "aspect sight" "just a game" is at best tinny. It won't carry. You will be dismissed. Gleefully. And they will be right. Technically. Certainly not in their glee.

    You miss it because that one deep contact you have with only one philosopher is not enough. You are incapable of saying what the constitution really means.

    You clearly see how they fail - you can cut paper easily. But you will not be able to lead sufficiently in a political sense without broadening your exposure to philosophy. Your focus on Wittgenstein is just too narrow. And the fact that you are right about the interpretations of the constitution in some strict sense, and wrong in broader senses, means that you will not carry the political weight you need to fully leverage your position or - what is the same - you will not say the whole truth.

    Why don't you broaden your study before you write this? Look at Heidegger or look elsewhere but don't just go on this one insight. It is a poor view of language in the end.

    Meaning as use fails to capture the relationship of being to language. It cannot hope to capture what happens in people. At least it needs to see how experiences of being occur as a result of the occurrence of meaning withing a single mind and not between people and certainly not in a game. The term will be interpreted as pejoritive in connotation no matter how little it was meant so.

    I greatly respect your work and hope that nothing in what I say connotes that I do not but you are perilously close to nihilism and your readers need to hear you affirm not just deny the wrong. Not just react but act.

    Your program so far is amazingly ambitious already and paradoxically not even close to being as ambitious as it needs to be.

    You are too young for an autobiography now. You are still living and quite young!

    Anyway... this post is all your fault because you asked for opinions! :)

  5. (... in reply to anonymous above)

    I don't believe you are right. The final draft speaks to many issues you raise, including the instrumental nature of arguments from those drunken with politics. Our remedy is sobriety, not better beer.

    Mostly I think the book will surely prove this particular assertion of yours quite wrong (see quote below). Wittgenstein gave us new tools in critical thinking, not merely "philosophy." And those of us who receive this inheritance are not one dimensional (needing more philosophy). Quite to the contrary, there is a great deal of philosophy that is no longer needed. But I must be a bit careful: I'm not against philosophers who deal with being. I think, frankly, that is a noble charge. I just think we need to understand the New Critical Thinking first, no matter what we contemplate, after.

    Major objection to this:

    "Why don't you broaden your study before you write this? Look at Heidegger or look elsewhere but don't just go on this one insight. It is a poor view of language in the end.
    Meaning as use fails to capture the relationship of being to language. It cannot hope to capture what happens in people."