Wittgenstein And Therapy

This is the first section of an essay published in the Spring 2011 Journal Of Leeds University Philosophy Society.


This essay will examine therapy as a theme uniting all of Wittgenstein’s arguments in the Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein, 2001). It will begin by observing some translation errors and omissions which bear directly on how that idea should be considered, and will then continue by considering how therapy permeates Wittgenstein’s approach in several of the arguments presented in that work. In particular, it will be shown that the `popular’ conception of Wittgenstein’s meaning in several quotations that are widely known in philosophical circles is incorrect. Also an intriguing insight into Wittgenstein’s intentions is gained by consideration of the frontispiece quotation and its context.

The therapeutic background to Wittgenstein’s position is considered in relation to Freud, and this brings out common elements with the work of Ryle. This leads to characterization of Wittgenstein as being primarily a negative philosopher concerned to eliminate false conceptions to which we are prone. This is the primary therapeutic aim; going beyond mere elimination of error, which would be an aim of all argument. Wittgenstein aims to show how deep-seated are the errors to which we are naturally prone and to permit us to heal ourselves rather than persuade us of the truth.

Further, Wittgenstein may be seen as using multiple voices in his work. This echoes psycho-therapeutic practice but also is a method to require our engagement in disentangling his own voice — should that figure — and those of ourselves as objectors. Wittgenstein is also very prone to use of similes. All three of these characterizations are viewed through the therapeutic prism.

Several of the major arguments in the Investigations will be reviewed from the perspective gained. Finally other works by Wittgenstein, primarily On Certainty, will be considered in the same light.

Author: Tim Short

I went to Imperial College in 1988 for a BSc(hons) in Physics. I then went back to my hometown, Bristol, for a PhD in Particle Physics. This was written in 1992 on the ZEUS experiment which was located at the HERA accelerator in Hamburg (http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1354624/). I spent the next four years as a post-doc in Hamburg. I learned German and developed a fondness for the language and people. I spent a couple of years doing technical sales for a US computer company in Ireland. In 1997, I returned to London to become an investment banker, joining the legendary Principal Finance Group at Nomura. After a spell at Paribas, I moved to Credit Suisse First Boston. I specialized in securitization, leading over €9bn of transactions. My interest in philosophy began in 2006, when I read David Chalmers's "The Conscious Mind." My reaction, apart from fascination, was "he has to be wrong, but I can't see why"! I then became an undergraduate in Philosophy at UCL in 2007. In 2010, I was admitted to graduate school, also at UCL. I wrote my Master's on the topic of "Nietzsche on Memory" (http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1421265/). Also during this time, I published a popular article on Sherlock Holmes (http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1430371/2/194-1429-1-PB.pdf). I then began work on the Simulation Theory account of Theory of Mind. This led to my second PhD on philosophical aspects of that topic; this was awarded by UCL in March 2016 (http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1475972/ -- currently embargoed for copyright reasons). The psychological version of this work formed my book "Simulation Theory". My second book, "The Psychology Of Successful Trading: Behavioural Strategies For Profitability" is in production at Taylor and Francis and will be published in December 2017. It will discuss how cognitive biases affect investment decisions and how knowing this can make us better traders by understanding ourselves and other market participants more fully. I am currently drafting my third book, wherein I will return to more purely academic philosophical psychology, on "Theory of Mind in Abnormal Psychology." Education: I have five degrees, two in physics and three in philosophy. Areas of Research / Professional Expertise: Particle physics, Monte Carlo simulation, Nietzsche (especially psychological topics), phenomenology, Theory of Mind, Simulation Theory Personal Interests: I am a bit of an opera fanatic and I often attend wine tastings. I follow current affairs, especially in their economic aspect. I started as a beginner at the London Piano Institute in August 2015 and passed Grade One in November 2016!

4 thoughts on “Wittgenstein And Therapy”

  1. AIAIT that there a link between your incarnations, alternately attending universities, securitising them and then re-attending and publishing your stuff with them. You seem strangely drawn to the ivory tower. Anyhoo — Interesting abstract – Question: Given that Freud and his methodology and philosophy have been largely discredited, does this not mean that Witt^n deserves a more modern context or foil, with a little more currency than the barking Austrian? And if Freud is even one apex of this therapeutic prism – does that not compromise your argument’s view/relevance in light of current developments in neuroscience? ICGO, Yours aye. etc


  2. Not really. Freud and Wittgenstein were both part of the same Vienna milieu; Freud even conducted psychoanalysis on Wittgenstein’s sister. But that is only a minor historical part of the overall piece, which you do not have here in full. I’m not arguing that Wittgenstein could have known about modern developments in neuroscience or should have anticipated them. I am arguing that he will make claims like the following, for example. Language can provide meaning, but it cannot be used to examine how it does that: the eye cannot see itself because no external standpoint is available. That isn’t affected by scientific developments.


  3. I can see floaters in my eye. Most people can. That counts as seeing my own eye without an external standpoint. Yes language *can* provide meaning, it didnt in this case in your reply. Are you possibly are restating Godel’s theorem ? – closed systems need an axiom. This isn’t affected and CAN’T be affected by scientific developments (as the science is built on the maths built on the axiom). But that would mean that Witt^n DID anticipate a mathematical development. Well done on the correct translation of “milieu” into German (from the lingua franca).


  4. I think you might be meaning to comment on a different post; Godel isn’t here.

    I don’t think I have a problem with your first line. What does it entail that’s bad for me?

    The later Wittgenstein didn’t do much in mathematics — that would be more the Tractatus Wittgenstein. But if you do mean to comment on this article, you probably need to read it in the JLUPS Journal as opposed to guess what I am going to say by looking at the abstract here.


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