Wittgenstein and Political Theory

Wittgenstein and Political Theory: The View from Somewhere

Christopher C. Robinson
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Wittgenstein and Political Theory
    Book Description:

    Relates Wittgenstein's philosophy to a range of problems and trends in contemporary political theory

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4213-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Introduction: Wittgenstein and the Scene of Contemporary Political Theory
    (pp. 1-20)

    Political theorists have been at a loss on what to do with Wittgenstein. The form his work most often takes is that of the remark. It is a style that defies coherence, both because Wittgenstein sought to write what and as he saw, and this was fragmented; and because he did not “want to spare other people the trouble of thinking.” His work therefore suggested many directions, but pursued only a few. For some, the way to work with Wittgenstein is indirectly through surrogate “Wittgensteinians” like Peter Winch or Thomas Kuhn, who focus on aspects of the work, create a...

  5. Chapter 1 Theorizing as a Lived Experience: A Wittgensteinian Investigation
    (pp. 21-43)

    Themes of entrapment and escape are pervasive in Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Indeed, the philosopher or theorist’s apparent preference for being chained to a given picture of reality is the target of Wittgenstein’s therapeutic skepticism and his corresponding call for a return from metaphysical language to ordinary language use. This call should be understood as more than a break from one picture and a step into another. For Wittgenstein, ordinary language lacks any pretense to epistemological or perceptual privilege and affords a great range of horizontal motion that, if recognized, will challenge any future forms of entrapment. The pictures or zones of...

  6. Chapter 2 Wittgenstein’s Philosophy after the Disaster
    (pp. 44-65)

    Where is the disaster in Wittgenstein’s writing? Where are the protracted reflections on what humans are capable of doing to one another found in contemporaries and near-contemporaries like Adorno, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Bataille, Benjamin, Russell, Arendt, and even Heidegger? Where are the meditations on scenes of horror from the wars, pogroms, purges, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did Wittgenstein think these scenes too sacred to be appropriated and profaned by philosophy? Is the level of inhumanity unique to the twentieth century that edge separating speech from silence he posited in his Tractatus?

    In my reading of Wittgenstein, he is categorized best...

  7. Chapter 3 Wittgenstein and Citizenship: Reading Socrates in Tehran
    (pp. 66-86)

    The presupposition of this chapter is that the contemporary political landscape is composed of large, discontinuous areas that are difficult to see by design. In particular, the bureaucratic order and military and surveillance powers of the modern state have necessitated a transformation of dissenting politics from the sphere of public symbolism to subaltern counterpublics that value less visible and untraceable forms of action. The hard work of theorizing today is a matter of recognizing these new forms of political life, and this sort of theoretical vision requires mobility embodied by both the theorist and the citizen. Most often this work...

  8. Chapter 4 Why Wittgenstein is Not Conservative: Conventions and Critique
    (pp. 87-114)

    When Wittgenstein looked at a particular neighborhood or form of life in the city of language, what he examined were surface details and activities. Activities were performed with adherence to rules that were perhaps beneath the surface, but these subterranean features could be made visible by asking the question, “What is the rule for . . .?” or by a dispute over a play in a game that requires reference to the rules, or even by a behavioral faux pas that breaches a rule or rules, resulting in embarrassment. The rules themselves were the product of the activities visible on...

  9. Chapter 5 Aspect-Blindness in Religion, Philosophy, and Law: The Force of Wittgensteinian Reading
    (pp. 115-133)

    Aspect-blindness is a condition that Wittgenstein posits in order to create a contrast to the experience of changes in aspect. We cannot be sure if Wittgenstein is describing an actual condition – as tone deafness, or lacking a sense of humor are actual conditions likened to aspect-blindness – or if he is merely presenting the conceptual negation of seeing something as something else, a painting of a cube as a cube, for example. If it is the latter, then the matter of aspect-blindness could be settled by speculating that an aspect blind person can, when observing the Jastrow drawing of...

  10. Chapter 6 Seeing as it Happens: Theorizing Politics through the Eyes of Wittgenstein
    (pp. 134-155)

    Much of what has been written on Wittgenstein by political theorists is concerned with how his work fits into the array of contemporary orientations to theory.¹ From this literature we learn there are two great obstacles to incorporating Wittgenstein into political theory: His stated antipathy toward theory and the absence of concern with politics in the body of his writings. Despite these barriers, a number of political theorists have sensed that Wittgenstein has something important to offer their enterprise and have sought to graft his ideas regarding meaning, language-games, Lebensformen, the character of language, and its relation to the world...

  11. Chapter 7 Bare Life: Comedy, Trust, and Language in Wittgenstein and Beckett
    (pp. 156-175)

    Unless you accept a generic definition of politics as, for instance, “power” or “the personal,” the idea that you can step out of politics – literally walk away from the conventions that give political language-games their contours into another area of existence – is uncontroversial. I have worked in earlier chapters to explicate the importance of this kind of horizontal movement for perception and creativity, two components of theorizing, in Wittgenstein’s work. This is not the only kind of motion I want to talk about here. In this chapter, I want to focus on the vertical drop below the conventions...

  12. Conclusion: The Personal is the Theoretical
    (pp. 176-178)

    At first, Wittgenstein’s work struck me as beautiful visually. Because my college philosophy teacher had warned me about the difficulty of his work, I expected the problem of reading Wittgenstein to be one of density in the prose akin to the problem of reading a late dialogue of Plato or one of Kant’s critiques. The spare, even hygienic, quality of Wittgenstein’s remarks was therefore something of a surprise. But I soon found accuracy in my teacher’s admonishment. Reading Wittgenstein as an author with coherent narrative or immediately comprehensible messages or points was, for a novice, all but impossible. Still I...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 179-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-200)