December 27, 2015

NORDIC WITTGENSTEIN REVIEW 4 (2015), No 2, available online

The Nordic Wittgenstein Review has published a new issue: Vol. 4, No. 2, (2015). It is available Open Access, i.e. free of charge, online, for anyone to read. See below.

Peaceful holidays to those who have them!

Best wishes,
Yrsa, and the Editors Martin and Anne-Marie

PS. CFP - Online submission by January 31, 2016


Note from the Editors
Yrsa Neuman, Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen, Martin Gustafsson


Naturalism, Conventionalism, and Forms of Life: Wittgenstein and the "Cratylus"
Paul M Livingston


Reincarnation and the Lack of Imagination in Philosophy
Mikel Burley

A Missing Folio at the Beginning of Wittgenstein's MS 104
Martin Pilch

"Let us imagine...": Wittgenstein's Invitation to Philosophy
Beth Savickey


On the Ketner and Eigsti Edition of Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer’s "The Golden Bough"
Peter K. Westergaard


Wittgenstein’s Lecture on Ethics, edited by Zamuner, Di Lascio & Levy
Lars Hertzberg

Some Thoughts on "Varieties of Skepticism" by James Conant and Andrea Kern (eds.)
Adam Leite

Review of "Clarity and Confusion in Social Theory" by Leonidas Tsilipakos
Robert Vinten

December 19, 2015

Jon Fosse between the language games

I recently had occasion to watch the play Barnet [The child] by Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse at the Dramaten Theatre in Stockholm. It was a moving experience; the dialogue moves slowly and undramatically, the surface is calm but strong emotions move underneath: dread, love, compassion. Speakers communicate not so much through the specific things said, the words used, as through the way they speak, or through the mere fact of saying something.
            The dialogue has a ring of Beckett or Pinter, but in Fosse’s play the words are closer to actual everyday conversation. He appears to have an ability to listen to the way we actually talk free from preconceptions about what linguistic communication is. (Fosse also seems to view his characters with more sympathy than Beckett and Pinter do.)
            The play is about a man, Fredrick, and a woman, Agnes, who meet, fall in love and move in together. She becomes pregnant, there are complications, she is taken to hospital, tests have to be made to determine whether labour will have to be induced prematurely, which would entail a grave risk for the survival of the child.
            Here is a conversation between Fredrick and a nurse waiting for the test results:

Does something like this happen often

It seems so anyway

Because it’s things like this they work
on here


Yes it’s like that I guess
But won’t she come soon

(Looks at her watch)
Yes she’ll probably come
soon now

Is it taking a longer time than usual

(Draws it out)

(Looks at her sceptically)
Are you certain

Maybe it’s taken a little longer
It’s taken a bit of time
(Short pause)
But that isn’t unusual
These examinations
can often take time
You know
the doctors are often busy

I know

But tonight
it’s been quiet so far
She’ll probably come soon

(The quotation is from Jon Fosse, Plays One, London: Oberon Books, 2002, pp. 265 f. The translation is by Louis Muinzer. It may be noticed that the lines do not have punctuation marks.)
            If one were to try to understand what the characters are saying as an attempt at acquiring and conveying information it would all seem hopelessly bewildered. What exactly would it mean for “something like this” to happen “often” or not so “often”? How often is “often”, how soon is “soon”? Does the nurse have any concrete grounds for saying that Agnes will be back soon? She offers an explanation of why the process might take longer (“the doctors are often busy”) but immediately takes it back (“tonight it’s been quiet so far”).
            (There’s the same kind of ambivalence in the doctor telling Fredrick to prepare for the worst yet keep his hopes up:

It can be all right
this sort of thing
well to be frank
the chances aren’t so great)

Fredrick’s questions seek reassurance rather than information, and the nurse tries to offer it. Their remarks have something of the character of poetry or song. The dialogue brings to mind Wittgenstein’s remark (Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, Vol.  I, § 888):

The way music speaks. Don’t forget that even though a poem is framed in the language of information, it is not employed in the language game of information….
            Verbal language contains a strong musical element. (A sigh, the modulation of tone for a question, for an announcement, for longing; all the countless gestures  in the verbal cadences.)

One could imagine a culture in which, rather than ask and answer questions, the participants in this kind of interaction played pieces of music for one another, or together. Of course, what they played would vary with the situation.


The interest of this, to me, is that Fosse brings to the fore aspects of human conversation that tend to be overlooked in accounts of language and meaning.
            Paul Grice, famously, defined speaker’s meaning as follows:

“A meant­NN something by x” is (roughly) equivalent to “A intended the utterance of x to produce some effect in an audience by means of the recognition of this intention; and we may add that to ask what A meant is to ask for a specification of the intended effect. (“Meaning”, originally in Philosophical Review 66 (1957))

(“MeaningNN” – “nonnatural meaning” - stands for cases in which somebody means this or that by something, as opposed to cases of “natural” – i.e. roughly causal meaning – as when we say “These spots mean measles”.)
            One type of case Grice considers is “an utterance [which], if it qualifies at all as meaningNN something, will be of a descriptive or informative kind”, in which case the attitude to be produced “will be a cognitive one, for example, a belief.” When the nurse says, “she’ll probably come soon now”, then, is she attempting to produce a certain belief (which belief exactly?) in Fredrick? But even if we take it that that is not what she is doing, can we really understand her words except through reference to the practice of conveying information? Her words are “framed in the language of information” (and that’s what enables us to understand them) but they are not “employed in the language game of information” (nor do we take them to be).
            Similarly, we might ask: in Searlian terms, what is the illocutionary force of the nurse’s lines? Are they assertives, thus counting “as an undertaking to the effect that [the proposition uttered] represents an actual state of affairs”?


J. L. Austin was impressively sensitive to word nuances, not so much to the kinds of speakings there are. Philosophers of language like Grice, Austin or Searle are apt to look at the variety of human forms of linguistic interaction through a grid pattern imposed, I believe, by a tendency to model speech on written language – or perhaps we should say: on the kind of language we were taught to produce at school, with complete and grammatically consistent subject-predicate sentences and clearly indicated references, each sentence having been constructed for a distinct purpose. (For an exception, see Charles Taylor on the expressive use of speech, “Theories of Meaning”, in his collection Human Agency and Language.)
When M. Jourdain in Molière’s The Bourgeois Gentleman is told that unknowingly he has been speaking prose all his life I am not so sure that was accurate. The idea of written prose shapes our ways of looking at speech, it influences the way we actually speak in various contexts, but many of our interchanges are no closer to written prose than they are to poetry.
            We are all familiar with conversations like that quoted above, yet philosophers are inclined to ignore them in thinking about language. The speakers’ lines have an obvious role in the interchange. We can well imagine the sort of line that would be out of place in the context. Yet the words are not used instrumentally in the sense of being deliberately chosen with a specific aim in mind.


Wittgenstein writes, in Philosophical Investigations, Part II ix:

79. ---- Is it so surprising that I use the same expression in different games? And sometimes, as it were, even in between the games?
80. And do I always talk with very definite purpose? – And is what I say senseless because I don’t?

A playwright like Jon Fosse can make us notice what lies between the language games.

October 06, 2015

NORDIC WITTGENSTEIN REVIEW, Special issue on Wittgenstein and forms of life

The Nordic Wittgenstein Review, published by the NWS, has published its
first ever Special Issue, edited by Danièle Moyal-Sharrock, Piergiorgio
Donatelli and Sandra Laugier in collaboration with the present editors
of NWR.

It's open access, as always.

Best wishes,
Yrsa Neuman as the ed-in-chief
Anne-Marie Soendergaard Christensen & Martin Gustafsson, editors

PS. Submissions to NWR:


Note from the Editors    
Daniele Moyal-Sharrock     0

Forms of Life    
Peter Hacker     1-20

Wittgenstein on Forms of Life, Patterns of Life, and Ways of Living    
Daniele Moyal-Sharrock     21-42

Forms of Life, Forms of Reality    
Piergiorgio Donatelli     43-62

Voice as Form of Life and Life Form    
Sandra Laugier     63-82

Tractarian Form as the Precursor to Forms of Life    
Chon Tejedor     83-109

Mathematics and Forms of Life
Severin Schroeder     111-130

“If Some People Looked Like Elephants and Others Like Cats”:
Wittgenstein on Understanding Others and Forms of Life
Constantine Sandis     131-153

Elucidating Forms of Life. The Evolution of a Philosophical Tool    
Anna Boncompagni     155-175

September 15, 2015

Recent doctoral dissertations at Åbo Akademi

Recent doctoral dissertations at Åbo Akademi

During the last academic year three doctoral dissertations in philosophy were defended at my old department at Åbo Akademi, Åbo/Turku, Finland:

Ylva Gustafsson, Interpersonal understanding and theory of mind (19 September, 2014)

Summary: The claim that a “theory of mind”, is a fundamental cognitive capacity that grounds human social life is popular within both modern philosophical and psychological theorising on interpersonal understanding. This claim surfaces in evolutionary psychology, in theories of child development, in theories of autism as well as in philosophy on emotions and in moral philosophy. The aim of this work is to scrutinise certain psychological and philosophical theories on interpersonal understanding that are connected with empirical research. The author argues that the theories as well as the empirical research are often based on problematic philosophical assumptions about interpersonal understanding. The assumptions shape the theories and also shape the way empirical research is designed and the way results are interpreted.


Antony Fredriksson, Vision, Image, Record – A Cultivation of the Visual Field (9 January, 2015)

 Summary: The first part of this thesis delivers a genealogy of the image. It chronicles how the concepts of image, vision and the self evolved in relation to one another in a specific scientific and philosophical context, starting with the early Renaissance, which saw the invention of the perspectivist painting, up to the birth of Positivism and the photographic image. This development entailed a form of reductionism in which “the self” – the role of human psychology, our judgement, our attention and our will – was sidestepped. Within this intellectual tradition there is only a short step, from the understanding of the image as a representation of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface, to the idea of the image as a transparent picture, a window towards the world. By taking this short step one would easily lose sight of the role of the self in the practices of making and viewing images.
In the second part the author offers an alternative to the intellectual tradition described in the first part. The idea of depiction as a neutral “view from nowhere” would support a skeptical attitude towards communication, dialogue and human testimony, and therefore our reliance upon each other and consequently our reliance on ourselves. What was forgotten in this understanding of the image as a view from nowhere, was that the image is an aid in the task cultivating our visual field, an aid in sharing our views. Due to this function of sharing, the image becomes a guide as we find our orientation in this world. I might stand beside another person and see what she sees, but I do not necessarily know her reading of it. The image adds a dimension to this relation, since it does not only show me what the other sees. When an image works properly it also shows how that other person sees, and thus the image becomes an agent.
While the present thesis combines the fields of philosophical epistemology, history of science and visual studies, its main interest is philosophical. It engages with philosophical misconceptions of depiction as a mimetic art form, of knowledge as domestication and of perception as reception of data.


Mari Lindman, Work and Non-Work : On Work and Meaning (8 May, 2015)

Summary: It may seem self-evident that employment is crucial to a happy life and that job creation is a central societal concern. However, this dissertation suggests that work is neutralized when it is understood simply as a valuable societal asset or as an individual life project, while its existential, ethical and political significance in a specific life situation is ignored. One example of such neutralization is when the importance of work is reduced to the importance of “having a job”, whatever its practical content or purposes. To challenge such neutralizations, the author looks at the tension within the conceptions of work (necessity, hard work and self-realization are three examples) which underlie them. The danger of such neutralization is that political and existential worries about work and the working life are swept under the rug. The book aims to repoliticize work by looking at it as an essentially contested concept. The author suggests that important aspects of work are revealed within such contestations of the role of work in our lives and that tensions can be a fruitful point of departure for resisting neutralizations of work. All chapters are structured around dialogues with critical accounts of work, including those of Hannah Arendt, André Gorz, Kathi Weeks, Simone Weil, Raimond Gaita, Karl Marx and Richard Sennett. What does it mean to say that society has been invaded by necessity? What does it mean to imagine a society beyond wage labor? Is it a utopia or a dystopia to think about work as a limitless activity? What is at stake when work becomes a commodity on the market? What are the hazards of fragmentation of work?