Friday, August 22, 2014

The Ludwig Wittgenstein Chair at the University of Veracruz

I'm just about back and ready to catch up on emails, blogging, etc., having been in Mexico as a visiting professor at the University of Veracruz. Every 18 months or so they bring someone in for this position, and the purpose of this post is basically to describe what it involves. Robert Arrington was the first person to occupy the chair, and I was the second. In other words, it's pretty new, so who knows how the position might develop in future. What I can tell you is what I did.

My job was to give a public lecture on a Wittgenstein-related subject to an audience of roughly a hundred people and then to lead a seminar for two hours every day for a week, with between twenty and thirty people (mostly graduate students but also members of the faculty) in the seminar. All of this, apart from the last meeting of the seminar, was recorded, so perhaps it will be available online somewhere sometime. The subject of Winch's The Idea of a Social Science was suggested to me, so my lecture was directly about that book, and the seminar dealt with related topics: Wittgenstein's lecture on ethics (which perhaps is not all that relevant, in fact, but it seemed like a good idea at the time), the first part of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein's remarks on Frazer, selected parts of Winch's book, and Winch's "Understanding a Primitive Society."

I speak no Spanish, so language was an issue sometimes, but not a huge problem. More important, I think, was that most people in the audience at both the lecture and the seminar were not philosophers but psychologists and other social scientists. They were certainly interested in Wittgenstein, but particularly in how what he said might relate to social science. And for the most part their idea of the aims of social science is not the same as Winch's. More about this, perhaps, in another post.

What did I get out of it? A lot. It's a real joy to teach students who are genuinely interested in the subject and do not have to be manipulated with carrot and stick to read the assigned material and discuss it. It's also a pleasure to discuss philosophy with people who are more knowledgeable and sophisticated than the typical undergraduate. Not just a pleasure but an education too. I also had my expenses covered, so I got a plane ticket there and back, hotel, and meals, plus a car, driver, and interpreter to take me around during the day (the seminars were held in the late afternoon/early evening) to all the best sights in the area. The people there are extremely hospitable and gave me various gifts as well. In short, if you get the chance to do this I highly recommend it.

Sorry if this comes across as bragging but I think I may have been annoyingly obscure about what I've been up to, and I loved it, so it's hard not to talk about it.             


  1. doesn't sound like bragging at all, would be interested in hearing more about how Wittgenstein resonates or not in such an environs.

    1. That sounds like a very interesting book.

      They seemed to like Wittgenstein a lot, but I don't have a very clear sense of how similar their understanding of him is to mine. It was a short course and only half focused on Wittgenstein. Also, I did most of the talking, or much of it anyway. I have some papers to read by one of the senior professors there, so I should get some idea once I've had a chance to read them. Not that they all necessarily share his views, but I think he has been influential there.

    2. hope you get a chance to keep up the exchange with them,
      meanwhile on the home-front:

    3. I hope so too. And I agree with Jon Cogburn. Thanks.