Wittgenstein’s Non-Explanatory ‘Craving’, ‘Discomforts’ and ‘Satisfactions’

Frank Cioffi


Wittgenstein questions the pertinence of empirical enquiry to a wide range of psychological, aesthetic and historical problems. What those cases in which Wittgenstein denies a role to empirical enquiry have in common is not that the phenomena are necessarily empirically inexplicable but rather that explicability is not what is wanted. What is wanted is a clearer sense of the significance the phenomena have for us and, where appropriate, relief from the disturbance they cause. Wittgenstein’s most fundamental predilection is the prioritising of discourse in which issues can be resolved without recourse to matters not already known to the participants and of which they only need be reminded. Wittgenstein's suggestion that information-gathering and information-frequenting activities often have a deluded rationale has been found by some to be apposite and emancipating. But there are many who will feel that you misrepresent their situation if you don't give prominence to their craving for causal knowledge and causal narratives and for their need to reconcile themselves not just to inarticulacy but to vulgar causal ignorance. Why then should Wittgenstein’s anti -explanatory remarks nevertheless be attended to and circulated? Because some whom they reach will find liberating the notion that though much of the darkness in which they live is the darkness of vulgar empirical ignorance, this awareness must be complemented by acknowledgement of an inadequate grasp of their perplexities and their frequent misperception of them as predominantly matters which further information could resolve. Wittgenstein's remarks are best taken as flaschenpost uttered in the hope that they will incite some whom they reach to know their own minds better.


20th century philosophy; epistemology; philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; empiricism; epistemology; explanation; non explanatory; Frazer James George; Freud Sigmund

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