Wittgenstein and British Philosophy

Eight classes x 120 minutes

Dr N Krishna

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work, spare and suggestive in style, needs and rewards close exegetical scrutiny. But this isn’t, and hasn’t, been the only way of putting his thought to use.  This class looks at themes from Wittgenstein’s work, in all its phases, as they figure in the writings of his British contemporaries, disciples, students, fellow travellers and critics, most of them working from Oxford, the dominant centre of British philosophy after the war. The point of the class is not to use the work of these philosophers to thrown light on Wittgenstein’s writings, but rather to see how they used his writings to throw light on the problems that concerned them. The themes we shall look at include language, the explanation of action, the nature of philosophical problems, the foundations of ethics, the nature of pictorial representation, and the possibility of a Wittgensteinian politics. We shall be reading essays by GE Moore, John Wisdom, Gilbert Ryle, GEM Anscombe, JL Austin, PF Strawson, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, Bernard Williams and Richard Wollheim.

Open to Part II, MPhil and PhD students; others may attend with the permission of the class convener. The first reading listed for each week is required, the passages from Wittgenstein are recommended, any further readings are optional.


Draft schedule (tbc)

1 Philosophical problems and language

– Gilbert Ryle, “Systematically Misleading Expressions,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society32 (1931): 139–70.

– John Wisdom, “Philosophical Perplexity,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society37 (1936): 71–88.

– Wittgenstein, Excerpts from Philosophical Investigations (tbc)


2 Common sense and Hinge Propositions

– P. F. Strawson, “Scepticism, Naturalism and Transcendental Arguments,” in Scepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties(London: Methuen, 1985), 1–24.

– GE Moore, “A Defence of Common Sense,” in Contemporary British Philosophy, Second Series, ed. J. H. Muirhead (George Allen and Unwin, 1925), 192–233.

– G. A. Paul, “GE Moore, Analysis, Common Usage, and Common Sense,” in The Revolution in Philosophy, ed. A. J. Ayer (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1956), 56–69.

– Wittgenstein, Excerpts from Philosophical Investigations, On Certainty (tbc)


3 Ordinary language

– Stanley Cavell, “Austin at Criticism,” The Philosophical Review 74, no. 2 (1965): 204–219.

– J. L. Austin, “A Plea for Excuses,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, 57 (January 1, 1956): 1–30.

– Wittgenstein, Excerpts from The Blue Book, Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations (tbc)


4 Inner life

– Iris Murdoch, “The Idea of Perfection,” in The Sovereignty of Good(London: Routledge, 1970), 1–45.

– Stuart Hampshire, “Disposition and Memory,” in Freedom of Mind and Other Essays(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015 [originally, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972]), 160–182.

– Wittgenstein, Excerpts from Philosophical Investigations and Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology (tbc)


5 Action

– G. E. M. Anscombe, “Intention,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, 57 (January 1, 1956): 321–32.

– Wittgenstein, Excerpts from Philosophical Investigations and Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology (tbc)


6 Ethics

– Philippa Foot, “Moral Beliefs,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society59 (1958): 83–104.

– Wittgenstein, Excerpts from Philosophical Investigations (tbc)


7 Political philosophy

– Bernard Williams, “Pluralism, Community and Left Wittgensteinianism,” in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 29–39.

– Wittgenstein, Excerpts from Philosophical Investigationsand Culture and Value (tbc)


8 Aesthetics

– Richard Wollheim, “Seeing-as, Seeing-in, and Pictorial Representation,” in Art and Its Objects, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 137–51.

– Wittgenstein, Excerpts from Philosophical Investigationand Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology.