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Saturday, 8 February 2020

Kripke on Wittgenstein: Kripkenstein [A Commentary on a YouTube Video]


The following paragraph is a standard introduction to my commentaries on various science- and philosophy-based YouTube videos.

When it comes to my commentaries on particular videos, only the content of - or the words within - the video itself will be discussed. That is, the commentaries aren't cases of detailed research on the subjects discussed or the persons interviewed. (As one would find in an academic paper or even in an in depth article.) The reason for this is that I believe that this will help both the readers of the commentaries and the viewers of the video. And that, hopefully, will still be the case even when it comes to those readers and viewers who aren't newcomers to the subjects discussed or the people being interviewed in the videos.

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i) Kripke as a Student and the Philosophical Investigations
ii) Stop Getting Wittgenstein Wrong!
iii) Wittgenstein's Scepticism and Relativism?

The Student Kripke and the Philosophical Investigations

Saul Kripke is honest enough to admit (in this video) that his initial interest in Ludwig Wittgenstein was solely down to who taught him at university when he was a student. (He mentions “three faculty members” particularly.) Of course alongside the fact that his teachers had an interest in Wittgenstein (specifically the “late Wittgenstein” of the Philosophical Investigations) would have been the fact that Kripke actually developed an independent interest in what Wittgenstein wrote and said. Having said that, Kripke also confesses that he didn't at first see the importance of Wittgenstein or his Philosophical Investigations. Indeed he didn't “develop [his] own take on what [Wittgenstein] was doing until 1962 and 1963”. Then again, Kripke was still only 22 in 1962!

Nonetheless, all this highlights the “context of discovery”, rather than “the context of justification”. In other words, the context of Kripke's discovery of Wittgenstein will have no interest to those strict analytic philosophers who're solely interested in the context of justifying Kripke's analyses of Wittgenstein.

Stop Getting Wittgenstein Wrong!




The very neologism, 'Kripkenstein', was coined to express the idea that Saul Kripke got Wittgenstein wrong! This was particularly in reference to the issues of rule-following and the Private Language Argument, which aren't actually discussed in the video above.

The important point about Kripke is that he challenged what he deemed to be the standard interpretation/s of Wittgenstein at the time (i.e., in the early 1960s). Nonetheless, other philosophers didn't see Kripke's Wittgenstein as being that original or different – and that's according to Kripke himself.

What we get in this video is a reference to the classic problem of Wittgenstein: how to (correctly) interpret him. Unlike many other philosophers of the Anglo-American analytic tradition, most of what's said (or argued about) when it comes to Wittgenstein is about interpretation. Thus we have Philosophy X saying that Philosopher Y has “got Wittgenstein wrong!”. And then Philosophy Z ostentatiously comes along and says that both Philosopher X and Philosopher Y haven't “got Witggenstein right!”. And this goes on and on and on.

All this is very-well expressed by Lee Braver in his Groundless Grounds: A Study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger. He writes:

[Wittgenstein's] writing style is perhaps the most obscure of all the great analytic figures, leading to an unusual state of affairs: 'one of the most striking characteristics of the secondary literature on Wittgenstein is the overwhelming lack of agreement about what he believed and why.' Already in 1961, the literature on the Tractatus was compared to literary scholarship in dissension and sheer mass. His opaque prose and sparse argumentation have given rise to a cottage industry of exegetical work and scholarly contention...”

In terms of the video itself, Kripke obviously denies those who said that he “didn't understand Wittgenstein at all”. Indeed Kripke backs this up when he says that “it's hard for anyone to claim that he or she has got the right understanding of Wittgenstein”. Why is that? Kripke continues by saying that “both the early and late Wittgenstein writes in some style which invites one to wonder what it really means”. More surprisingly, Kripke then says that Wittgenstein's work “may be more like continental philosophy than analytic philosophy”. However, it's still the case that Wittgenstein is “mostly thought to be an analytic philosopher anyway”.

The interviewer picks up on Wittgenstein's obscure way of writing. She says that perhaps Wittgenstein wrote in that style “on purpose in order to get readers to think on their own terms”. Kripke responds by saying: “Well, yes, that's what he says.” Kripke continues by saying that Wittgenstein wanted to “encourage readers to think for themselves”. More concretely, Kripke says that Wittgenstein didn't “state theses in philosophy, since everyone would agree to [not with] them”. In other words, Wittgenstein didn't want agreement – at least not in this respect.

Wittgenstein's Scepticism and Relativism?

It's ironic that Kripke (when asked about Wittgenstein's scepticism) says that Wittgenstein wouldn't have seen himself as a sceptic. That's true. In an ironic sense, Wittgenstein didn't see himself in any way – and that's partly the point of Wittgenstein. Yet Wittgenstein did have a go at (almost) the whole of Western philosophy. He also had a go at scepticism itself. That is, he was sceptical about scepticism. But scepticism about scepticism is... well, scepticism. Instead, and I believe that Kripke is bang on here, Wittgenstein “might have compared himself to Berkeley, who also believed that he was defending common sense”. Kripke, then, does believe that that Wittgenstein was a “sceptic”. He says that Wittgenstein “certainly raised sceptical problems”. Of course Wittgenstein (as already stated) and many Wittgensteinians would deny this. Why? Because the “game of scepticism” (to use the language of Wittgensteinians) is part of the Western tradition that Wittgenstein wanted to escape from. (Though Wittgenstein never escaped from Kant, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, etc.)

Not only does Kripke accuse (as it were) Wittgenstein of being a sceptic, he believes that he was a “relativist” too. Here again Wittgenstein and many Wittgensteinians would deny such an accusation. (Though the term “relativism” wasn't much used in Wittgenstein's day.) Indeed Kripe says that Wittgenstein's On Certainty is a “highly relativistic book”. An example of this is that Wittgenstein would have argued that “instead of consulting a physicist, consult a witch doctor” in order to find out what is and what isn't the case in a particular culture or language game. (This chimes in with Paul Feyerabend's well-known position on voodoo.). Indeed Kripke detects a moral motivation here. That is: “If you're going outside the language game, aren't you trying to condemn and fight the other one?” And that is “certainly relativism plus”, as Kripke puts it. According to Kripke, the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (who translated Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations) classed Wittgenstein's position as “linguistic idealism”. Indeed Anscombe once asked Wittgenstein (according to Kripke) this question:

What if you had a friend of took up witch doctoring? Would you be embarrassed or at all opposed to this?”

Wittgenstein replied by saying that he “probably wouldn't like it, but [he didn't] know why”.



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