Is Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy Therapeutic and Does this Mean that it is Anti-Systematic?

Hans Julius Schneider


The paper takes the word ‘therapeutic’ that is used by some interpreters of the later writings of Wittgenstein (like McDowell) to characterize its ‘unsystematic’ side, as a starting point for a discussion of how much ‘theory’ can be found in these writings despite Wittgenstein’s statements that theory has to give way to description. 

It takes sides with McDowell (against Michael Dummett) in that it agrees that an axiomatic-deductive type of theory is not feasible for natural languages. But from this it does not follow (as Dummett had feared) that we learn the sentences of our languages one by one. Instead, so the paper argues, we do fnd a systematic body of insights in the later writings of Wittgenstein that specify kinds of linguistic procedures that are not restricted to single cases. The crucial point is that the capacity to invent and understand metaphors is a central ingredient of our natural-language competence and that this ability cannot be captured by axiomatic systems. While Wittgenstein mainly discussed the pitfalls resulting from these kinds of linguistic moves, Eugene Gendlin is credited for highlighting the positive side of this competence, including its use in Psychotherapy proper.

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