Wittgenstein: The Place of Normativity in a Naturalistic World

June 15, 2018 - June 16, 2018
Department of Philosophy, University of Ottawa

Desmarais Hall - Room 12102
55 Laurier Ave E
Ottawa K1N 6N5


  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
  • Revue Philosophiques
  • SCFP 2626


University of Reading (PhD)
University of Virginia
University of Helsinki


Université Laval
University of Ottawa
University of Ottawa

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At first glance, any naturalistic conception of the world struggles with the kind of explanation that normativity seems to require. Roughly speaking, philosophical naturalism tends to undermine the role of normative sciences in philosophy. This view advocates descriptive sciences that depict empirical facts or daily life practices—by which they describe how things normally are. That being said, one must recognize that the descriptive discourse and the normative one are in tension with each other, since the description of normal regularities does not rely on the same necessity as the one required by normative laws. However, some of the proponents of naturalism still promote a continuity between philosophy and science, understood as a continuity between normative and descriptive sciences. So, not only is it a framework that should be better defined in general, but the whole question of normativity seems problematic from a naturalistic point of view. This conference aims to explore this theme.

This is an issue that plays a key role in the later thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein. As a matter of fact, and in both his early and his late writings, Wittgenstein investigates the modalities of normativity and its scientific implications. However, this question becomes even more central in his Philosophical Investigations, in which Wittgenstein rejects his first theory, namely an explanatory attempt through a picture theory to articulate the general propositional structure of language together with the general structure of the world. Instead, he now considers that meaning is acquired through the regular use of words in contextual situations. If we take logical laws for example, the crux of this problem rests on the relation between the rule-following considerations and the nature of logic and grammar. In order to provide a Wittgensteinian perspective on normativity, one could discuss the question “what does it mean to follow a rule?” To this question, the naturalistic approach seems tempted to answer that the rules of logic hold that the normativity of the logical structure stems from the world, or one could even find a naturalistic dispositional oriented answer to the rule-following problem. There is also the so-called “location problems,” namely the question of what we should or should not consider to be in the spectrum of scientific discourse, even when we consider this type of discourse seriously in philosophy. In any case, adopting a Wittgensteinian perspective on these issues requires positioning ourselves in relation to a wide range of issues, both in regards to the semantic relationship between language and the natural world, and in regards to the fundamental status of the basic principles of logic and grammar.

Regardless of the specific form it takes, the meaning and implications of this general perspective on naturalism, which is all too popular among scholars nowadays, are far from well understood. Thus, this conference aims to investigate the various aspects of the role of normativity in a naturalistic world within a Wittgensteinian framework. This two-day conference is then structured around the following line of reflection. We need an exegetical analysis in order to clarify Wittgenstein's position with regard to naturalism and normativity. How does Wittgenstein, as well as those claiming to adopt his perspective, conceive the relation between the basic rules of language and the empirical world? And, can one think of normative issues in a naturalized framework while remaining consistent with Wittgensteinian thought?


Friday, June 15 (DMS 12102)

9h00-9h15 Opening Speech

9h15-10h45 Keynote speaker
Thinking about Naturalism and Pragmatism: Wittgenstein and Rorty
Cora Diamond (University of Virginia)

10h45-11h00 Coffee break

11h00-12h15 Wittgenstein and Placing Normativity
Benedict Smith (Durham University)
Commentary: Arnaud Petit (University of Oxford)

12h15-1h30 Lunch

1h30-2h45 Normativity within Naturalism, without Scientism
Jonathan Beale (Queen Anne's School)
Commentary: Samuel Descarreaux (University of Ottawa)

2h45-3h00 Coffee Break

3h00-4h15 The Natural and the Normative : Wittgenstein on the Human Condition
Patrice Philie (University of Ottawa)
Commentary: Pierre-Yves Rochefort (Cégep de l'Outaouais)

Saturday, June 16 (DMS 12102)

9h00-10h15 "Private Language"?: Wittgenstein as care-ethicist
Rupert Read (University of East Anglia)
Commentary: Julie Gauthier (Université du Québec à Chicoutimi)

10h15-10h30 Coffee break

10h30-11h45 "We can go no further": Meaning, Use, and the Limits of Language
William Child (University of Oxford)
Commentary: Olivier Provencher (Université Laval)

11h45-1h00 Lunch

1h00-2h15 Naturalism and Normativity: Some Continuities in Wittgenstein's Early and Late Philosophies
Chon Tejedor (University of Valencia)
Commentary: Philippe-Antoine Hoyek (University of Ottawa)

2h15-2h30 Coffee Break

2h30-3h45 Constitutivity and Normativity in the Tractatus and after: Reading Wittgenstein through Kantian spectacles
Anssi Korhonen (University of Helsinki)
Commentary: Ageel Al-Fadli (University of Ottawa)

3h45-3h55 Closing speech

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