Philosophical Investigations §122: Neglected Aspects” (hereafter PINA) was first published in 1991. In this paper Gordon Baker announced his rejection of the reading of Wittgenstein advanced by him (and co-author Peter Hacker) in the first two volumes of the Analytic Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations and his intention to advance a new reading of PI. This new reading emphasised what Baker termed the ‘radically therapeutic nature’ of Wittgenstein’s method. However, while Baker deepened the argument of this early paper in subsequent papers published throughout the 1990s (brought together in a collection in 2004). There was one question left unanswered. This question is explicitly raised by Baker in PINA (cf. Baker 2004: pp. 43 & 51) and it is the question of relativism.


The thought, and it is a thought with which we concur, is that while the therapeutic reading of PI offered by Baker (and in a strikingly similar vein by authors such as Cavell, Conant and Diamond)[1] offers a correct reading of PI it fails, through omission, to rebut the charge of relativism. That is to say, while to our eye the therapeutic reading is the most plausible, without further work it does give rise to a charge of relativism. Furthermore, in being open to this charge, the therapeutic vision of philosophy is weakened. In what follows we offer suggestions as to how one can sustain a therapeutic reading of PI while avoiding relativism. We begin by summarising the therapeutic reading, identifying its strengths as both a reading of PI and as a vision of philosophical practice.


The therapeutic reading of PI reads Wittgenstein as attempting to break us free of the impulse to metaphysics by engaging the reader in a dialogue with a diverse and dialectically structured range of philosophical impulses. These impulses are presented as the voice of Wittgenstein’s imaginary interlocutor(s) in PI. Wittgenstein presents us with different aspects of our language use, customs and practices with the intention of helping us to free ourselves from the grip of a particular, entrenched, picture or its lure. This then frees us of the thought restricting tendencies (mental cramps) fostered by our being held in thrall of a particular picture to the exclusion of other equally viable ones. While this reading takes Wittgenstein at his metaphilosophical word (as it were) it is contested; most notably by Peter Hacker.


Hacker (2001) claims that there are two distinct tasks which Wittgenstein executes in PI, one is therapeutic and the other is what Hacker terms (following Strawson), connective analysis, i.e. elucidating hitherto unacknowledged connections between the use of concepts so that we might clarify our grammar through the offering of perspicuous presentations. The key term employed by such readers, and never used by Wittgenstein, is ‘bird’s-eye view’, that is to say, readers such as Hacker (whom I will henceforth refer to as elucidatory readers of PI)[2] claim Wittgenstein’s task is to provide a bird’s-eye view of our grammar.


While one might question whether such a task is, in fact, undertaken in PI there is another problem Hacker’s account faces. The problem is this, if therapy and connective analysis are distinct endeavours, though both undertaken in PI, then what motivates the connective analysis? It is difficult, without relating, i.e. subsuming, connective analysis to the therapeutic thrust of PI, to understand why Wittgenstein would want to engage in such clarifications of our language. For if the clarification of our grammar is not occasion sensitive and carried out on a case by case basis with a particular interlocutor, then Wittgenstein, it seems, is embroiled in something of a ‘performative contradiction.’ For if clarification per se is a goal then it presupposes a particular view of how language must be (Contrast PI para.s 132 & 107). In clarifying language in this way Wittgenstein is taken to dissolve philosophical problems by showing us (clarifying, perspicuously representing) the rules of our grammar.[3] Again we are faced with the prospect of Wittgenstein, at a really quite basic level, contradicting his own metaphilosophical remarks in the very same text in which he makes those remarks; a text, we should recall, he laboured over for sixteen years.


To begin to find a way out of the exegetical conundrum is to see that if anything akin to connective analysis is in play in PI it is so in order to subserve the therapeutic goals of the text. This then puts a different spin on how one interprets the clarifications – perspicuous presentations. The clarifications offered are, when read through the hermeneutic of therapy, clarifications in the achievement sense. That is to say they serve only as clarifications if our interlocutor recognises them as such and thus lead him to see other pictures as equally valid as the one that has hitherto held him in thrall and led him to his seemingly insurmountable philosophical problem. [[Insert references here – or below? -- to Pleasants, Cavell, etc.?]]


The distinction between an elucidatory and therapeutic reading therefore has implications for how we, as readers, make sense of Wittgenstein’s remark at PI §122 that a “perspicuous presentation is of fundamental importance for us”. And it is this consideration that first led Baker to question his early readings (with Hacker) to his later radically therapeutic readings.


The elucidatory reading understands ‘perspicuous presentation’ in this passage in the functional sense, i.e. a perspicuous presentation is such if it fulfils the functional criteria identified by the philosopher. This, as already mentioned, presupposes that the philosopher has insight into the way our language actually is. On the other hand the therapeutic reading understands ‘perspicuous presentation’ in the achievement sense, i.e. something is a perspicuous presentation only in so much that it achieves the task of facilitating our interlocutor’s (or our own) aspect shift. This presupposes no special insight into how language works but is rather dialogical. The philosophical therapist enters into dialogue with her interlocutor and seeks to persuade her, through the use of examples, that there are other ways to see things (say ‘meaning’). If our interlocutor freely accepts that there are other ways to see things, the lure of the philosophical problem is thus broken. Then, and only then, has the philosophical therapist provided a presentation which is perspicuous, and it is so, potentially, on this occasion only. [[more refs to Baker here?]]


Another point of divergence between the two readings is how one might interpret the ‘us’ of PI §122. For the elucidatory reading the unavoidable implication is that the ‘us’ are the philosophers who have insight into the true workings of our language. This reading then gives rise to the charge that Wittgenstein is advocating, a somewhat intellectualist, philosophical policing of our grammar. However, for therapeutic readers, such as Gordon Baker, the ‘us’ of §122 refers to the practitioners of ‘our method’, i.e. philosophers who share this therapeutic vision of philosophy. In doing so the ‘us’ does not invoke any special skill or insight on the part of the philosopher, it merely denotes those who accept this vision of philosophy and practise philosophy therapeutically.


This point reached it is only fair to ask the question as to what might motivate one to practise the therapeutic vision of philosophy. For while we’ve seen that connective analysis if understood as independent from therapy would result in embroiling Wittgenstein in a performative contradiction, in avoiding this by finding it motivated by a therapeutic vision of philosophy we must further show why we might wish to accept such a vision of philosophy in the first place. The answer offered by Baker is that for Wittgenstein the therapeutic vision is just that; a vision, not the vision. And this is where the spectre of relativism arises. For in seeing that which is of fundamental significance (perspicuous presentation) for us (philosophers who practise philosophy as therapy) in the achievement sense and in seeing our method as a method and not arguing for it as the method we do seem well on the road to giving hostage to the ill-fortune promised by relativism.


Furthermore, there are additional reasons, internal to the ‘school’ of philosophers that includes Cavell, Conant, Diamond and the later Baker, for worrying that Wittgensteinian philosophy at its best is as yet still haunted by a spectre, the spectre of relativism. Here is one important one: Conant et al take seriously Wittgenstein’s use of ‘nonsense’ as a term of philosophical criticism. These ‘New Wittgensteinians’, to whom later Baker was at least on later Wittgenstein a very close ally, take seriously that philosophy is about passing from disguised to patent nonsense (cf. PI 464), and that most of the passing happens indeed by means of nonsense.[4] Thus, for example, the Builders at the opening of PI are not simply to be accepted as having a primitive language. Rather, one’s inclination to accept that they do have a primitive language is itself a topic of philosophical investigation and a moment for therapy, rather than being a resource for philosophical clarification or knowledge. This is the way that the opening movements of Wittgenstein’s symphony work: reamrks pass themselves off as giving you genuine currency, and it is up to the reader to decide, painfully, how much of them is merely false coin. The ‘return’ to the everyday promised by Wittgenstein is achieved by means of a repeated miring of oneself in nonsense, as one comes to a better understanding of what one means -- or wants to mean – by, for instance, the word ‘language’. But if this is so, then is there not a serious risk of a relativism here? For we seem to have lost the possibility now of judging (in any given case) that we have found ‘the liberating word’. Perhaps we only think we have found it.[5] Perhaps ‘our nonsense’ is no better than the very nonsense we have denounced elsewhere, as metaphysics.[6] Is there anywhere left to stand, in the shifting sands of Wittgenstein’s work, if it is read after Cavell, Conant et al?

            Now, a partial escape here is offered by our method, our practice being an established practice that is always re-tethering itself to ‘the ordinary’, to everyday, and non-technical, uses of words. But this merely raises again the worry already presented, earlier: for doesn’t the problem then re-arise, ‘at the meta-level’? I.e. Why should one adopt the philosophical perspective that leads to such temptations to relativism in the first place? Wittgenstein’s method is self-avowedly not compulsory; so why should one take it up, when it will inevitably leave one feeling as though one has not established its own validity? And how can it be compelling to others not already ‘convinced’ by it (and the scare-quotes seeming necessary here seem another index of the problem)? Is the process of persuasion involved in Wittgenstein’s activity – and likewise, in Baker’s, in Cavell’s, in our’s – not in any meaningful sense a process of rational persuasion? [[ cite Winch’s “persuasion”? cite passages from witt where he does indeed seem very non-rational in his view of his method?]]

            Combining all the discussions so far, the issue can be boiled down, and fairly bluntly put, as follows: If ‘perspicuous presentation’ is an achievement term, if philosophical success is achieved through the judicious use of nonsense, if nonsense is really nonsense, then is philosophy itself, when practiced according to ‘our method’, not a method of reason at all? Do claims of reason give out here; does a successful therapeutic intervention a la Baker or the ‘New Wittgensteinians’ come to the same kind of thing, qualitatively, as a well-aimed blow on the head?[7] Is there no more a rational reason for adopting such a therapeutic method than there is for preferring rabbits to ducks? [[should there be some substantive discussion of – or references to – aspect disccusions in witt and in his interpreters – e.g. stuff about seeing-as as being perception according to an interpretation, or involving a kind of intellection, etc. – in this paper?]]


            [[is the answer to the questions we are asking: one just does find it compelling/ I t just does satisfty one’s needs?

Is it a practice of health, integrated with needed societal transformations, as we have discussed previously?]]


[1] Baker explicitly relates his reading to that of Cavell, Conant and Diamond (see Baker 2004: p. 104). We share Baker’s thought that there are important similarities (though also differences). Our ‘solution’ to the spectre of relativism is, we feel, inspired by the writings of Stanley Cavell.

[2] Other readers who might qualify as elucidatory are Dan Hutto (2003) Anthony Kenny, Hanjo Glock. Here I deal only with the details of Hacker’s reading.

[3] It is important to be clear about our claim here. It is not that Wittgenstein cannot be concerned to offer clarifications of our grammar without committing himself to a particular picture of language. But rather that if, as Hacker claims, the project of clarification is distinct from the therapeutic project in PI, then what can it possibly be for? For clarification to stand alone in the way Hacker claims it does -- i.e. not serve a therapeutic (or even a deflationary) goal – is to commit oneself tacitly to a picture of ordinary language as in need of clarification.

[4] An important qualification (just how important will emerge, below): We are not taking up the absurd stance that is often attributed to Conant and Diamond, namely that Wittgenstein (at least in the Tractatus) held to the risible (because obviously self-defeating) metaphysical view/claim that ‘There really is only one kind of nonsense’. It should be transparent that that claim is exactly the kind of claim that itself needs to be overcome, if one is to take up the challenge to traditional philosophy that Wittgenstein lays down already, in the Tractatus, and that Diamond was the first effectively to follow up, in her “Throwing away the ladder”.

[5] Certainly, there is no good reason to think that we have found it once and for all, for ourselves or others. This crucial point is implicit throughout Baker’s later work, and (we would urge) in the work of the ‘New Wittgensteinians’ (certainly of Read), in various important remarks of Wittgenstein’s in Zettel, etc. . As we have already made clear, above, ‘the liberating word’ liberates in the first instance a person, in a given circumstance, for a period of time of as yet quite indefinite duration. There is no such thing as a guarantee that one’s therapeutic philosophizing will be effective, any more than can be a guarantee that it will not be misunderstood, reified into yet another theory, etc. . The reverse is closer to the truth.

This in itself is a major clue to our ‘dissolution’ of the spectre of relativism.

[6] It is essential to avoiding misunderstanding the point we are making here to understand that we understand the point made by Witherspoon throughout his essay in The New Wittgenstein: namely, that being nonsensical is best understood not as a property of sentences, nor even as a property of sentences in contexts. A condition of alienation from our own words, of having conflicting desires in relation to those words, of ‘hovering’ between alternative assignments of meaning to them: that is what licences the claim that a would-be claim is nonsense, is not yet even a claim.

(Incidentally, it is essential that these remarks are themselves not misinterpreted as making controversial claims – see notes 4 & 5, above. These remarks are themselves to be assessed by their therapeutic efficacy. And again, this raises the topic of our essay: for then, is there any rational element to an assessment, according to ‘our method’ of our own remarks (or of Wittgenstein’s, or of whoever’s)? Or are we reduced to saying that whether our remarks are good ones or not depends upon their effects – in which case we are close to the perils of ‘Reader-response Criticism’, as made famous by arch-relativist Stanley Fish. And, if one has a choice, is it wise to adopt a version of philosophy that leads to such perils? Do we have any good reason to offer anyone for why they should adopt ‘our method’?)

[7] A structurally-parallel debate is that over the nature of metaphor. Here, Davidson (followed by Rorty and Guetti) takes up a stance that is attractive to Wittgensteinian thinkers – that metaphors mean nothing but what their words considered non-metaphorically mean, but are otherwise akin to effectors of sudden aspect-shifts, such as blows on the head can be) but problematic, especially if extended (as Davidson subsequently did his line of thinking) to cover all language. Including, obviously, ‘philosophical language’? (On the latter, see Read’s “Wittgenstein and Marx on vampires and parasites”, in Kitching and Pleasants (eds.), Marx and Wittgenstein.