Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Some Remarks on Philosophy and on Wittgenstein’s Conception of Philosophy and its Misinterpretation

Topics: Meta-Philosophy
Keywords: Diego Marconi, philosophy, private language arguments, Timothy Williamson, Wittgenstein


The paper advances a broadly Wittgensteinian conception of the nature and limits of philosophy. It differs from Wittgenstein over the claims that (i) philosophical problems arise only when language is idling; (ii) that philosophy does not result in new knowledge: it does. But the new knowledge does not concern the nature of the world, but the character of our forms of description of the world, and its form is not discovery but realisation. (iii) in the domain of practical philosophy further considerations come into play that are not budgeted for in Wittgenstein’s conception. A variety of criticisms of Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy, in particular some advanced recently by Diego Marconi and Timothy Williamson, are examined and shown to rest on misunderstandings and ignorance.

1. Philosophy: some reminders

Philosophy is not a natural science. There is no body of philosophical facts, on the model of facts of physics. There is no body of well-established philosophical truths, on the model of the truths of chemistry. There are no philosophical theories on the model of theories in the natural sciences that can be or have been confirmed by experiment and observation. Philosophy, unlike the hard sciences, issues no predictions. Philosophical reasoning, unlike scientific reasoning, involves no idealizations of observable phenomena for theoretical purposes and formulations of laws of nature. There are no hypotheses in philosophy that may be confirmed or disconfirmed by an experiment. Nor can philosophy tolerate approximations to the facts. For philosophy is not concerned with discovering laws of nature or with determining the facts. It is concerned with plotting the bounds of sense. And a mere approximation to sense is one form or another of nonsense.


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