Monday, July 2, 2018

Nordic Wittgenstein Review

Vol 7 No 1 is out now. I feel as though I say this every time, but this really does look like an especially interesting issue.


  1. According to the reviewer, "Richter argues that 'Wittgenstein [early and late] denies that words like "good" denote anything' (167), although for different reasons. However, this version of the "no subject matter claim" is not particularly controversial: no one(to my knowledge) endorses Moore’s view these days."

    Perhaps not precisely but certainly there are moral intuitionists of various sorts around yet. See Michael Huemer's work, Ethical Intuitionism.

    Perhaps, however, the reviewer had something else about Moore's work in mind?

    Intuitionism does, of course, remain a very problematic kind of claim and is rightly, I think, superseded by ethical emotivism and expressivism (both forms of moral non-cognitivism to some degree). But neither of these satisfy the most important demand of ethical discourse, that it provide guidance about what we should do in certain kinds of situations (those which bring us into contact with other creatures and especially those most like ourselves). The problem that I have always seen with Wittgenstein on questions like this is that his work seems to offer little insight into those kinds of questions (how and when we should defer our own interests for others when these conflict).

    1. I think the reviewer was talking about Moore's view that 'good' denotes a simple and indefinable notion. This is related to his intuitionism, but it isn't the same thing.

      You are right that Wittgenstein's work does not address the kind of questions you mention.

    2. Was not the Moorean idea, that "good" denotes "a simple and indefinable" quality, the essence of his inuitionism concerning what counts as good? Of course the problem, when we turn to intuitionism, is always characterized by a claim like this, that nothing more can be said (no further explanations, reductions, etc. can be possible) concerning the bit of knowledge at issue. Whether intuiting goodness or rightness or something else, in the end its the intuiter's word against the non-intuiter's.

      While there are other kinds of intuitionism (Sidgwick, Ross, etc.), in the end intuitionism in moral theory is just a claim that here is something we just know and that the evidence that we know it lies in the fact that all right thinking people will recognize and agree to it if they are being honest? But what if they don't? Then there is nothing more to be said. The blind man does not see yellow no matter how we try to explain it.

      For Moore, ethical intuitionism lies in the claim that there was a non-natural property we call "goodness" which can be seen by all normal folks if they are being honest and know all the relevant facts. Failure to "see" it is a failure of faculty. Huemer makes a similar point, arguing that the property of goodness can be understood as a concept embedded in certain other concepts that those of us who are sufficiently adept and/or attuned to this can recognize when we see it. In a sense Huemer is in the business of trying to reclaim the Moorean notion about non-natural simple qualities (though his account suffers from the same weaknesses as Moore's: in the end it amounts to a declaration magic).

      Moore's effort soon led to emotivism and more sophisticated forms of expressivism but Wittgenstein's work on the role of language itself offered a slightly different path albeit still unhelpful if the point of moral philosophy is to explicate ethics in order to save it AS a means of guiding behavior. Wittgenstein, in his own life was caught up in moral considerations of a personal nature but to move from the merely subjective implications of expressivism to the objective status moral claims purport to make we need more than a personal notion about what it means to be a decent person.

    "(4) Foucault makes an extended analogy to contemporary Anglo-American philosophy of language (by this he is clearly referring to the late Wittgenstein and his disciples). Rather than trying to say universally what language “is,” the emphasis is on what language does, and on “language games.” By analogy, we need to y “a philosophy that would address the relations of power rather than the games of language” (192). There is a connection to genealogy here that goes unemphasized. Consider the following remark from Wittgenstein:

    “Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses” (Philosophical Investigations sec. 18).

    Genealogy is partly about seeing the contingency of the architecture of our power, and we need to be very wary of cities and philosophies that are imagined whole cloth from the top down. There is always a power expressed by architectural schemes."