Describing Ourselves: Wittgenstein and Autobiographical Consciousness
Garry L. Hagberg
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The voluminous writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein contain some of the most profound reflections of recent times on the nature of the human subject and self-understanding - the human condition, philosophically speaking. Describing Ourselves mines those extensive writings for a conception of the self that stands in striking contrast to its predecessors as well as its more recent alternatives. More specifically, the book offers a detailed discussion of Wittgenstein's later writings on language and mind as they hold special significance for the understanding and clarification of the distinctive character of self-descriptive or autobiographical language.
Garry L. Hagberg undertakes a ground-breaking philosophical investigation of selected autobiographical writings--among the best examples we have of human selves exploring themselves--as they cast new and special light on the critique of mind-body dualism and its undercurrents in particular and on the nature of autobiographical consciousness more generally. The chapters take up in turn the topics of self-consciousness, what Wittgenstein calls 'the inner picture', mental privacy and the picture of metaphysical seclusion, the very idea of our observation of the contents of consciousness, first-person expressive speech, reflexive or self-directed thought and competing pictures of introspection, the nuances of retrospective self-understanding, person-perception and the corollary issues of self-perception (itself an interestingly dangerous phrase), self-defining memory, and the therapeutic conception of philosophical progress as it applies to all of these issues.
The cast of characters interwoven throughout this rich discussion include, in addition to Wittgenstein centrally, Augustine, Goethe, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Iris Murdoch, Donald Davidson, and Stanley Cavell, among others. Throughout, conceptual clarifications concerning mind and language are put to work in the investigation of issues relating to self-description and in novel philosophical readings of autobiographical texts.
Cartesianism; his employment of the concept of avowal (supplanting our conception of the verbal description of an inner state with the verbal expression of an inner state—where the phrase ‘inner state’ is thus differently understood); his penetrating remarks on consciousness; and his positive or nondualistic conception, unfortunately more intimated than argued and explicated, of genuine introspection. And all of these, taken together, will lead to a position from which the epistemological value
commentators, xiv Acknowledgements symposiasts, audience members, and late-night bon vivants (these, happily, are not exclusive categories), and I send my heartfelt thanks to them all. Every book—or so I imagine—is, also like persons, in a manner of speaking a palimpsest, and this one bears every kind of mark, ranging from direct, strong, plainly evident inﬂuences to the slightest under-layered traces of the encounters and experiences recounted above. And despite the passage of many years the
‘While you can have complete certainty about someone else’s state of mind, still it is always merely subjective, not objective, certainty,’ Wittgenstein ﬂatly replies: ‘These two words betoken a difference between language-games’ (p. 225). Again, a logical difference is misconstrued as a psychological one; the very word ‘subjective’ shows its danger¹⁹ in calling us back to the philosophical voice, and the inﬂuence our own language holds over us (in making us want to say what ﬁts the metaphysical
articulation of) the metaphysical predicament or condition of the self that runs throughout Cavell’s work, demands the recognition of a deep problem doubled: the asymmetry between the ﬁrst and third person can be mirrored in an internalized version of this problem, such that the self does not understand, does not know, itself. This, one might say, is the internal psychological doubling of an external social problem, or the single-mind version of the other-minds problem, or to express it still
preceding Wittgensteinian philosophical–critical undertakings. It may fairly be taken to be clear at this point that we are inclined, owing to a cohort of interrelated misleading philosophical pictures, to envision the meaning of a word as a ghostly, hidden, ﬁxed inner referent. Seeing the expansive—and no doubt expanding—vocabulary of the self in context could free us of that blinding misconception. That would be one hardly negligible beneﬁt. But we are also inclined to see, indeed, the self in