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Wittgenstein did not address the question of history directly or extensively. But his vision of language is pervasively historical and has implications for the way we do literary history. This chapter examines the idea of use at the heart of Wittgenstein’s vision of language, especially how it differs from the question of context, and how it is related to “forms of life.” After exemplifying these concepts in Wittgenstein by revisiting some of the early remarks in the Philosophical Investigations, I explore the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to show how the teaching of the differences in the use of words is at the heart of its practice. Finally, I highlight the work of an exemplary critic, William Empson, who regarded his work as an important corrective to the OED, and whose work is highly attuned to the history of use. The implications of Wittgenstein’s vision of language with its fundamental revision of linguistic agency show that much contemporary historical criticism is not historical enough.
This chapter begins by showing why Hegel thinks that recognition depends on sociality, on shared forms of “ethical life” (Sittlichkeit). Drawing on a comparison with Rahel Jaeggi’s conceptions of “social practices” and “forms of life,” I consider the central elements of the social theory advanced in the Phenomenology. I show that “ethical life,” in particular when understood as a configuration of “spirit,” both provides the terms for individual self-understanding and secures the conditions for equality and reciprocity with other subjects. At the same time, I demonstrate that relations of reciprocal intersubjective recognition will not be possible in all forms of social life. While social forms that entrench relations of domination and inequality among their members are among the primary threats to the achievement of reciprocal recognition, I argue that, in the Phenomenology, Hegel makes a unique argument that it is possible for a form of social life to be structured so that no one is recognized within them, in which even one-sided configurations of recognition are impossible. I conclude by pointing to Hegel’s proposed solution to this problem, a universal conception of the self that is explicitly articulated within a shared way of life.
The question of what Wittgenstein meant by 'forms of life' has attracted a great deal of attention in the literature, yet it is an expression that Wittgenstein himself employs on only a relatively small number of occasions, and that he does not explicitly define. This Element gives a description of this concept that also explains Wittgenstein's reluctance to say much about it. A short historical introduction examines the origins and uses of the term in Wittgenstein's time. The Element then presents a survey of Wittgenstein's employment of it, and an overview of the literature. Finally, the Element offers a methodological reading of this notion, interpreting it as a conceptual tool in Wittgenstein's wider inquiries into the workings of our language.
An exploration of what made Cavell’s debut with Wittgenstein so revolutionary, not only at the time he wrote it, but in relation to themes that have continued to rise tenaciously to prominence within philosophy, especially philosophy of language and epistemology, since 1969. Rule-following and skepticism; truth, conventionalism, necessity, and creativity in meaning; the New Wittgenstein and Cavell’s overcoming of the idea of Wittgenstein as an end-of-philosophy or conservative philosopher; the transformation of Wittgenstein into a radically reformist philosopher. These are strewn throughout Must We Mean What We Say? through Cavell’s radically new redeployment of Wittgenstein in and for ordinary language philosophy conceived as a liberatory tradition, a tradition whose significance has lasted into our time.
This chapter highlights how Cavell’s pioneering interpretation of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations in “The Availability of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy” bears on literary studies. It traces an influential misreading of the Investigations deriving from Jean-François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979) whose understanding of “language-games” has become foundational to the conception of postmodern literature put forth by leading literary scholars, even as it relies on an unacknowledged simplification of how Wittgenstein understands the linked concepts of “language-games” and “rules” in the Investigations.
Cavell’s “Availability” essay exposes the problems with this postmodern reading of Wittgenstein. As Cavell makes clear, Wittgenstein compares the “rules” of language to “moves in a game” in part because he wishes to emphasize the differences between these two cases: unlike those of, say, a board game, the rules of “everyday language” cannot be exhaustively listed or written down, and yet, “the absence of such a structure in no way impairs its [i.e., language’s] functioning.” For this reason, as the “Availability” essay shows, “rules” turn out to be a concept of only secondary importance within the Investigations; rather, language-games emerge against the backdrop of what Wittgenstein calls “forms of life” or, elsewhere, “the natural history of human beings.”
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