Volume 12, Issue 1, Fall 2007
Changing the Subject
The Auto/biographical as the Philosophical in Wittgenstein
In this essay, I investigate our understanding of what counts as philosophical. Using the life and work of Wittgenstein as a test case, I take a close look at how various Wittgenstein scholars relate to work other than the principal and accepted philosophical texts (such as the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations), and suggest that there is an inconsistency in the criteria of what we can and should be taking seriously for philosophical purposes; sometimes there is inconsistency of use (one thing is said, another is done), and sometimes there is inconsistency in the form of occlusion (the scholar simply avoids the chance (or responsibility) to define terms). Guarding against advocacy for essentialism, I argue that philosophers might benefit from a more direct and explicit engagement with the criteria they use when writing about the philosophical significance of material other than dominant texts. That engagement, however, reveals that the pursuit of criteria is at odds with the spirit of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. As a result, we stand in need of an alternative method of discerning what counts. I suggest
that, in the context of Wittgenstein’s work, such a method is a matter of approach, not criteria. Perhaps this method can extend beyond Wittgenstein’s work to a general view of what counts as philosophical.