Wittgenstein on the true battle of philosophy

Susie asked:

Hi… I have a reaction paper to make on Ludwig’s ‘Philosophy is a battle against the bewitched of our intelligence by means of language.’… What does Ludwig really mean by this? I need to expound and react.

Answer by Shaun Williamson

It doesn’t help that you have misquoted Wittgenstein in a nonsensical way. The quotation should be ‘Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.’

The fact is that Wittgenstein said what he meant and he meant what he said so there is no question of what did he really mean. If he had really meant something else he would have said something else.

In this one sentence Wittgenstein is summing up what he sees as the real task of philosophy. When we are thinking philosophically language deceives us, it bewitches our intelligence and this is the thing that we have to battle against. The task of the philosopher is to free himself from thinking philosophically.

One thought on “Wittgenstein on the true battle of philosophy

  1. wow, an amazingly unhelpful, patronising, and rude response. Lets try something thats useful:

    (Early) Wittgenstein held that our thoughts had a deep structure that could be revealed by philosophical investigation. Sometimes this deep structure was shown openly in our statements, sometimes it was hidden beneath a superficial simplicity, and sometimes the superficial structure was outright misleading. Philosophy, according to this epigram, is the task of seeingthrough the misleading ways we express our thought.

    For a superficial example try “for the sake of”, as in “I went to visit mother for the sake of the children”. Superficially this sentence looks as though it talks about things called sakes, and a range of somewhat silly questions arise: How many sakes are there, how do work out whose sake it is, can there be sakes without people etc., wheras instead we could (perhaps) rephrase the initial statement as “I went to visit mother because I wished to make the children happy, and OI thought that my visit would make them happy”.

    A more philosophically substantial example would be the self – the thing you use the word “I” to refer to. At some points Wittgenstein suggests that this object is also an illusion produced by language just like sakes. Roughly, if you list all the things you see, everything about the world you experience, there is nothing left to say about the self. This is not a doctrine to be explained in 1 paragraph, but I hope it gives you a sense of the sort of bewitchment W was talking about.

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