In Rosaria Egidi (ed.), n Search of a New Humanism: the Philosophy of Georg Henrik von Wright. Kluwer Academic Publishers (1999)

Carlo Penco
University of Genoa
In "Wittgenstein in relation to his times" Von Wright1 poses a dilemma regarding the relationship between three wittgensteinian tenets: (i) the view that individual's beliefs and thoughts are entrenched in accepted language games and socially sanctioned forms of life (ii) the view that "philosophical problems are disquietudes of the mind caused by some malfunctioning in the language games, and hence in the way of life of the community". (iii) the "rejection of the scientific-technological civilisation of industrialised societies". The dilemma is the following: is Wittgenstein's rejection of technological civilisation strictly linked to his general view of philosophy? Or is it "only contingently - that is for historical and psychological reasons, connected with the other two in Wittgenstein's thought"? Von Wright argues, even with some doubts, for a strong link between Wittgenstein's rejection of technological society and his general approach to philosophy; the argument is as follows: "because of the interlocking of language and ways of life, a disorder in the former reflects disorder in the latter. If philosophical problems are symptomatic of language, producing malignant outgrowths which obscure our thinking, then there must be a cancer in the Lebensweise, in the way of life itself" (p.119). The argument seems to be not compelling; among some of the main philosophical problems Wittgenstein is willing to "cure" there are misunderstandings lying in the history of our language much time before our technological civilisation (Wittgenstein refers to Augustine and Plato as suffering these disorder of language). We should generalise the criticism to technological society to the effect of enclosing ancient Greece. In this way the criticism seems to loose all its polemical vein, becoming a generic criticism of the structures of western thought since Greece. But probably this was the point Wittgenstein wanted to make in his criticism of the idea of progress and technological civilisation. I will argue therefore for the second horn of the dilemma, relying on another kind of de facto argument: contemporary technological civilisation is embodying some of Wittgenstein's main ideas (we might also note that these ideas are among the strongest points Wittgenstein gives against Greek classical tradition in philosophy)..
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