Saturday, March 07, 2015

"Wittgenstein, Schoolteacher"

That's the title of this charming Paris Review essay about the six-year slice of the philosopher's life spent as a teacher in several Austrian villages.

... [His] later work is full of references to teaching and children. His Philosophical Investigations opens with a long discussion of how children learn language, in order to investigate what the essence of language is. And Wittgenstein is sometimes explicit about the connection; he once said that in considering the meaning of a word, it’s helpful to ask, “How would one set about teaching a child to use this word?” If nothing else, the style of his later work is absolutely teacherly; his post-return writings are so full of thought experiments phrased in the imperative that they can feel like exercises in a textbook or transcripts of a class discussion. “Consider for example the proceedings that we call ‘games’ … What is common to them all?—Don’t say: ‘There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’—but look and see whether there is anything common to all … ”

The style reflects Wittgenstein’s new aim, which was pedagogical. [...]