Heward Wilkinson – Why the cognitive dissonances of Wittgenstein’s philosophy has resulted in massive oversimplification in commentaries upon him

Date(s) - 07/08/2022
12:30 pm - 2:00 pm

The young Jonathan Bennett (1966) in Kant’s Analytic (Preface) writes:
“I make no apology for this approach, for fighting Kant tooth and nail. Had I instead indulged him, or even given him the benefit of every doubt, I could neither have learned from his opaque masterpiece nor reported intelligibly on what it says.
Like all great pioneering works in philosophy, the Critique is full of mistakes and confusions. It is a misunderstanding to think that a supreme philosopher cannot have erred badly and often; the Critique still has much to  teach us but it is wrong on nearly every page.
I have no feelings about the man Immanuel Kant, and in my exploration of his work I have no room for notions like those of charity, sympathy, deference or hostility.”

By Bennett’s own statement, this argument should also apply to Wittgenstein. I am going to argue that it indeed does. Yet Bennett does not treat Wittgenstein in the above pretty disrespectful way. Notoriously, Derrida was treated with even more hostility in the Anglophone philosophy world. But, on the whole, by his devotees, Wittgenstein is treated with enormous deference, particularly the ‘ordinary language’ Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations. In her book Revolution of the Ordinary Toril Noi (under the benign wing of the revered late Stanley Cavell) writes about Wittgenstein in tones of near rapture:
“Wittgenstein gives us no theory that can be summarized and used, but rather gives us a radical alternative to theory. He teaches us to give up theory’s craving for generality and instead look to examples. He insists that the old scientistic way of ‘doing theory’ simply wont work. And once we have swept away the old cobwebs, we are on our own.”
Wittgenstein’s pupils were often nicknamed disciples, and here too in Noi’s work we seem to have the note of discipleship.

As soon as I had worked my way into Wittgenstein’s later philosophy in the second half of the sixties, I noticed two things: first, a radical contradiction, or rather complex of contradictions, ran right through his work. Second, whenever one found oneself disagreeing with him, it was as if one had burped in church, – to pass over ruder expressions. To disagree with him itself produced cognitive dissonance. To disagree with Kant, with Bennett, apparently does not have the same effect.

My conjecture, which I shall explore on 7 August, is that the two things are linked; the deference and discipleship which has protected Wittgenstein for so long, is itself linked to the peculiar types of cognitive dissonance present in his work. I am not saying Wittgenstein is not a great philosopher; I am saying something profound protects him from criticism in a peculiar way.
A preliminary look at Wittgenstein in preparation for this discussion is on my youtube page at:



We meet in The Duke of Battersea, but Heward Wilkinson is not London based and will present his talk on Zoom.  For details see SLPC Zoom Meeting

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