Wednesday, November 11, 2020

New Perspectives on Wittgenstein on Expression

This is nothing to do with me, but it looks really interesting:

Call for Workshop Participants/Special Issue: New Perspectives on Wittgenstein on Expression

Organizers: Michael Campbell (Centre for Ethics, Pardubice); Lynette Reid (Dalhousie)

Advisors/participants: David Cockburn (Lampeter); Lars Hertzberg (Åbo Akademi)

We invite applications for participation for a virtual workshop on Ludwig Wittgenstein's use of the concept of expression and related notions, centered around the question of the integration of what was formerly presented as Part I and Part II of the Investigations. (See the workshop format below.)

A pivotal difficulty for what is in earlier editions presented as Part II of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations is the question that launches II.x: “how did we ever come to use such an expression as ‘I believe…’?”. The discussion that follows moves from the concept of belief to the phenomena of aspect-perception and the possibility of meaning-blindness, to aesthetic taste and judgement. These discussions of distinctive experiences are intended to enable us to “shift for ourselves” (II.xi, p. 206) when confused about expression and meaning. Wittgenstein frames his investigations into aspect seeing and related phenomena as training ground for navigating the complexity of the dual face of expression: in making an assertion, I say something about the world and, in so doing, express my own state of mind.

Wittgenstein’s comments about aspect seeing and meaning blindness have intrinsic interest as investigations of human experiences of meaning, and some construe them as a distinct project, one that stands apart from Wittgenstein’s concerns with language and logic. However, a number of considerations speak against this bifurcation. Peter Winch pointed out (1996/2001) that the Necker cube discussion in the Tractatus is a comment on Wittgenstein’s analysis of Russell’s theory of judgment, a move echoed in the ordering of Moore’s paradox about belief and the aspect-seeing discussions of the traditional Part II of the Investigations. Lars Hertzberg (1992) argued that Wittgenstein’s interest in primitive reactions straddles—and undermines—the distinction between logic and anthropology. More recently, Hugh Knott (2017) presents historical and exegetical evidence that, from the Blue and Brown Books onwards, Wittgenstein saw his discussion of aspect seeing as an intrinsic culmination of his treatment of language and logic.

An utterance may express both a proposition (a claim about the world; capable of being true or false) and something about the person making the utterance (at least, their belief, or some closely related characterization of the person or their point of view). Two questions then arise: what is the nature of the relation between the sign and what is expressed by it, since these things appear to be of entirely different orders?; and what is the relation between these two expressive functions of an utterance—how does the meaning of an utterance relate to the one who makes it, their person or their point of view? These questions and the presuppositions that give rise to them exercised Wittgenstein throughout his life.

We invite papers that explore how the discussions of aspect seeing help us “shift for ourselves when we encounter conceptual difficulties” that arise in, and in reflection on, our practices of expressing and attributing inner states, and of seeing things as meaningful or meaningless.

Questions could include, for example:

•       How do we characterize challenges in the attribution of belief across historical, conceptual, cultural, scientific and political change? (Cf. Diamond 1999, 2012)

•       Is there philosophically significant variety we have been ignoring in what it is for one person to respond to another person as believing something—or in what it is to believe another person—in different contexts?

•       What should we retain and what should we discard from the Tractatus view of the “enormously complicated” “silent adjustments” necessary “to understand colloquial language” (4.002)?

•       Does the word “expression” in the phrases “self-expression,” “expression of a thought,” and “expression of a belief” mean the same? In the phrases “expressive face” and “expressive musical passage”? Could we replace “expression” with a different word in each of these uses?

•       Can Wittgenstein’s comments cast useful light on debates concerning the doctrine of expressivism?

•       What can we learn about the question of II.x (“how did we ever come to use such an expression as ‘I believe’?”) from investigating examples of owning and disowning one’s words, avowing and disavowing beliefs or their implications?

•       Is there a connection between Wittgenstein’s early discussion of Russell’s conception of belief and his later discussion of Moore’s paradox?

•       What is the relationship between the logical and the psychological, if we are true to the particularity of uses of language in context?

•       In what sense can “making a move in a language game” characterize who a person is? What is the relationship between expression and identity?

•       How do the visual features of objects relate to the judgements which can be made about them? And, is this related to the question of how we ought to characterise the relationship between pictorial models and our understanding of the phenomena which they depict?



We intend to form a group of approximately 12-20 participants, of whom 12 will present papers (via zoom, dates and times tbc) on the topic, to be followed by discussion with the group. We envision fruitful collaboration between a diverse group of academics working to make Wittgenstein's philosophy relevant to contemporary questions, both academic and practical. Participation in all 12 sessions is not mandatory but is strongly encouraged, and we would expect participants to commit to attending a majority of the sessions. We envision approximately 12 sessions to be held over approximately 6 months, beginning in January 2021 and running until June 2021, and will do our best to come up with a schedule that suits the majority of participants.

At the end of the process, interested participants may submit their papers to a special issue of a journal devoted to the topic. (The Nordic Wittgenstein Review have expressed an interest.)

Please submit a 500 word abstract (for paper presentation) or statement of interest (for participation without presentation) to by November 27, 2020. Successful applicants will be notified by Dec 1. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email us on and This workshop is hosted by the Centre for Ethics, at the University of Pardubice.

Christensen's "Wittgenstein and Ethics" again

I have changed my mind after reading the paper more carefully.

Here I said:

According to Wittgenstein, 
Christensen argues, ethics is "an active perspective or attitude" that structures one's view of the world in a particular way "because it concerns the world as a place in which one has to live" (p. 798). This sounds right, but it is a very broad view. Christensen immediately refers, in fact, to "the ubiquitous character of this conception," referring to Cora Diamond's work. And at the foot of the same page Christensen says that, "Our ethical attitude [...] is not just a particular view of the world; it encompasses our entire way of relating to and acting in particular circumstances." This sounds like a good description of ethics, but it doesn't seem like a definition. Something that encompasses our entire way of acting sounds like life, or at least something too big to be part of philosophy. It sounds bigger than philosophy. Christensen says  (bottom of p. 799) that Wittgenstein places ethics within the question of the meaning of life, but that he does not try to answer this question; "instead, he is simply showing us how it arises, namely in any attempt to live a human life" (p. 800). I don't know what to think about this. I don't know how one would show that ethics (or anything else) arises in any attempt to live a human life. One could try to argue that it necessarily must do so, but that doesn't sound like Wittgenstein. Or one could try to show that it just does arise in every human life, but that sounds too empirical (and too time-consuming to be practical). But I don't mean this as more than an objection, a point that might usefully be clarified. I don't mean it as an attempted refutation of Christensen's position. In fact I think she is at least partly right (and maybe completely right). Perhaps the truth is that Wittgenstein does not try to show how or that ethics arises in any attempt to live a human life but that he believes it does (and perhaps shows that he believes so in various remarks).


I think the answer lies in this passage from pp. 803-804:


Especially relevant, both to the question I wanted to ask and to the answer that Christensen implies, is the idea that “the very concept of a rational subject […] involves the possibility of will” which in turn means “it has genuine alternative options” for action. This sounds much more metaphysical and theoretical than I think of Wittgenstein as being.

But Christensen has a nice response to this kind of objection: “we use the word ‘action’ for an event that is connected to a will.” McDowell sounds unlike Wittgenstein, but he can be understood as elaborating on a simple (albeit very significant) grammatical point. So far as action implies will (which implies regarding some things as better than others), ethics will arise in any attempt to live a human life. And it’s hard to imagine trying to show that this is the case. All that can be done is to elucidate what it means.

So, eight years later, I think I’ve answered my own question. Or realized that my objection/question was ill conceived.