Review: Fergus Kerr on Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Psychology

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Richard Eldridge reviews Fergus Kerr’s “Work on Oneself”: Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Psychology in the March 2009 issue of The Review of Metaphysics. If you are affiliated with an institution that provides you with online access to the journal, you can go to Eldridge’s review by clicking here. Here are the first two paragraphs of the review:

This odd and elegant little book originated as a set of lectures given at “a Catholic institution for students of clinical psychology” (p. 8). As a result, the emphasis falls on eliciting from Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations and 1946-47 Lectures on Philosophical Psychology a vision of the human person that is all at once antidualist, antiphysicalist, (implicitly) Thomist, and yet faithful to the complexities of modern life, with its pluralizations of forms of social selfhood.

The eliciting of this vision comes in four chapters. “Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Psychology” begins by surveying various ways of dividing Wittgenstein’s career into stages. Argumentatively, it then focuses on Wittgenstein’s later conception of the nature of discursive thinking. Thinking is not analytically definable in terms of its behavioral or ‘mental’ accompaniments, nor is it graspable introspectively. Rather “psychological concepts [thinking, believing, imagining, wishing, fearing …] are essentially practical” (p. 14) in describing ways in which embodied, whole persons are doing something, and they are both irreducible to neural processes and ineliminable in favor of other descriptions, at least insofar as we are concerned to characterize what human subjects do. “If one thing more than another lay at the center of [Wittgenstein’s] writing, he sought to preserve ordinary, everyday humanity, in a culture that threatened to lose it in a fog of metaphysical theorizing and scientific dogmatism (pp. 25-6).

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