7th BWS Lecture: Bernard Harrison on “Wittgenstein, Reality and the Novel”

On behalf of the British Wittgenstein Society, we are pleased to announce the following public lecture:

The 7th BWS Lecture will be delivered by Prof. Bernard Harrison

Title: Wittgenstein, Reality and the Novel (see abstract below)

  • University of Hertfordshire
  • De Havilland Campus, Room R115
  • Tuesday 18 October 2011 at 5 pm (a wine reception will follow)

Professor Harrison is Honorary Professor at Sussex, and holds the E.E. Ericksen Chair as Emeritus Professor at the University of Utah. He has, for many years, divided his time between philosophy and literary studies. His work in the former category includes Meaning and Structure (1972) and Form and Content (1973); and, in the latter, ‘Tom Jones’: The Novelist as Moral Philosopher (Text & Context) (1975) and Inconvenient Fictions (1991). His most recent book, in collaboration with Patricia Hanna, is Word & World: Practice and the Foundations of Language (2004), focused on Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language. Professor Harrison’s lecture will be of interest to literary scholars as much as to philosophers.

Abstract: Is there a connection between language and reality which runs, not by way of true indicative sentences, but by way of meaning? Our two currently dominant accounts of language seem to stand in the way of any such ambition. The first presents language as, essentially, a device for describing the nature of empirical reality. On this account, the function of language is to record, not to create. Experience is the only test of reality, and the only ‘germs of being’ are to be found in the natural world, not in the writer’s ingenious putting together of words and phrases. The second account denies that the natural world is the source of meaning in language. On the contrary, meaning in language is determined internally to language, through the relation of words to one another, and is thus never finally or definitively determined. On this view, not only the world we affect to describe by means of language, but even the authorial self which notionally offers the descriptions, dissolve into linguistic constructs. The word cannot be a ‘germ of being’ because language has lost all connection with being, with anything external to itself. These two alternative accounts appear to present us with a classical type of philosophical dilemma. This paper proposes a way of resolving this dilemma. It suggests, following Wittgenstein, that we think of meaning, not as a two- term relation between linguistic expressions and items or aspects of reality, but as a three-term relationship between linguistic expressions, items or aspects of reality, and socially devised and maintained practices. Meaning arises as a result of the roles assigned to linguistic expressions in the conduct of practices.

The event is free, but registration is required. Please email bws@herts.ac.uk

If you require parking, please mention it in your email and a parking voucher will be attached to your registration confirmation.

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