CFP: New Perspectives on Wittgenstein on Expression

Submission deadline: November 27, 2020

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Call for Workshop Participants/Special Issue: New Perspectives on Wittgenstein on Expression

Organizers: Michael Campbell (Centre for Ethics, Pardubice); Lynette Reid (Dalhousie)

Advisors/participants: David Cockburn (Lampeter); Lars Hertzberg (Åbo Akademi)

We invite applications for participation for a virtual workshop on Ludwig Wittgenstein's use of the concept of expression and related notions, centered around the question of the integration of what was formerly presented as Part I and Part II of the Investigations. (See the workshop format below.)

A pivotal difficulty for what is in earlier editions presented as Part II of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations is the question that launches II.x: “how did we ever come to use such an expression as ‘I believe…’?”. The discussion that follows moves from the concept of belief to the phenomena of aspect-perception and the possibility of meaning-blindness, to aesthetic taste and judgement. These discussions of distinctive experiences are intended to enable us to “shift for ourselves” (II.xi, p. 206) when confused about expression and meaning. Wittgenstein frames his investigations into aspect seeing and related phenomena as training ground for navigating the complexity of the dual face of expression: in making an assertion, I say something about the world and, in so doing, express my own state of mind.

Wittgenstein’s comments about aspect seeing and meaning blindness have intrinsic interest as investigations of human experiences of meaning, and some construe them as a distinct project, one that stands apart from Wittgenstein’s concerns with language and logic. However, a number of considerations speak against this bifurcation. Peter Winch pointed out (1996/2001) that the Necker cube discussion in the Tractatus is a comment on Wittgenstein’s analysis of Russell’s theory of judgment, a move echoed in the ordering of Moore’s paradox about belief and the aspect-seeing discussions of the traditional Part II of the Investigations. Lars Hertzberg (1992) argued that Wittgenstein’s interest in primitive reactions straddles—and undermines—the distinction between logic and anthropology. More recently, Hugh Knott (2017) presents historical and exegetical evidence that, from the Blue and Brown Books onwards, Wittgenstein saw his discussion of aspect seeing as an intrinsic culmination of his treatment of language and logic. 

An utterance may express both a proposition (a claim about the world; capable of being true or false) and something about the person making the utterance (at least, their belief, or some closely related characterization of the person or their point of view). Two questions then arise: what is the nature of the relation between the sign and what is expressed by it, since these things appear to be of entirely different orders?; and what is the relation between these two expressive functions of an utterance—how does the meaning of an utterance relate to the one who makes it, their person or their point of view? These questions and the presuppositions that give rise to them exercised Wittgenstein throughout his life.

We invite papers that explore how the discussions of aspect seeing help us “shift for ourselves when we encounter conceptual difficulties” that arise in, and in reflection on, our practices of expressing and attributing inner states, and of seeing things as meaningful or meaningless.

Questions could include, for example:

•       How do we characterize challenges in the attribution of belief across historical, conceptual, cultural, scientific and political change? (Cf. Diamond 1999, 2012)

•       Is there philosophically significant variety we have been ignoring in what it is for one person to respond to another person as believing something—or in what it is to believe another person—in different contexts? 

•       What should we retain and what should we discard from the Tractatus view of the “enormously complicated” “silent adjustments” necessary “to understand colloquial language” (4.002)? 

•       Does the word “expression” in the phrases “self-expression,” “expression of a thought,” and “expression of a belief” mean the same? In the phrases “expressive face” and “expressive musical passage”? Could we replace “expression” with a different word in each of these uses?

•       Can Wittgenstein’s comments cast useful light on debates concerning the doctrine of expressivism?

•       What can we learn about the question of II.x (“how did we ever come to use such an expression as ‘I believe’?”) from investigating examples of owning and disowning one’s words, avowing and disavowing beliefs or their implications? 

•       Is there a connection between Wittgenstein’s early discussion of Russell’s conception of belief and his later discussion of Moore’s paradox?

•       What is the relationship between the logical and the psychological, if we are true to the particularity of uses of language in context? 

•       In what sense can “making a move in a language game” characterize who a person is? What is the relationship between expression and identity? 

•       How do the visual features of objects relate to the judgements which can be made about them? And, is this related to the question of how we ought to characterise the relationship between pictorial models and our understanding of the phenomena which they depict?


We intend to form a group of approximately 12-20 participants, of whom 12 will present papers (via zoom, dates and times tbc) on the topic, to be followed by discussion with the group. We envision fruitful collaboration between a diverse group of academics working to make Wittgenstein's philosophy relevant to contemporary questions, both academic and practical. Participation in all 12 sessions is not mandatory but is strongly encouraged, and we would expect participants to commit to attending a majority of the sessions. We envision approximately 12 sessions to be held over approximately 6 months, beginning in January 2021 and running until June 2021, and will do our best to come up with a schedule that suits the majority of participants.

At the end of the process, interested participants may submit their papers to a special issue of a journal devoted to the topic. (The Nordic Wittgenstein Review have expressed an interest.) 

Please submit a 500 word abstract (for paper presentation) or statement of interest (for participation without presentation) to [email protected] by November 27, 2020. Successful applicants will be notified by Dec 1. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email us on [email protected] and [email protected]. This workshop is hosted by the Centre for Ethics, at the University of Pardubice.

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