Acquiring ‘Knowledge’—A Wittgensteinian-Merleau-Pontian (Alternative) Model

Avner Baz


A common form of practice in contemporary analytic philosophy is the so-called ‘method of cases’—developing and testing philosophical theories of some x (knowledge, causation, moral responsibility, necessary truth, and so on) on the basis of the ‘application’ of the word ‘x’ to cases. This common form of practice presupposes a prevailing conception of language that, in essence, is the very same (‘Augustinian’) conception that Wittgenstein identifies at the opening of his Philosophical Investigations as lying at the root of at least very many traditional philosophical difficulties. Arguing against this prevailing conception of language can in general take one of two forms: the first is purely ‘therapeutic’; the second involves an attempt to articulate an alternative conception of language, and possibly even seek to support it empirically. This talk presents part of an attempt to argue against the prevailing conception of language in the second way. In response to a passage in which Frank Jackson, in attempting to defend the method of cases, offers an ‘Augustinian’ account of how children acquire the word ‘knowledge’, I offer an alternative account. The account I offer is inspired by Wittgenstein and by Merleau-Ponty. And, unlike Jackson’s account, it actually receives support from recent empirical studies of language acquisition.


philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; 20th century philosophy; method of cases; representational view of language; acquisition of knowledge; Merleau-Ponty Maurice; Frank Jackson; Tomasello Michael

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