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He has published widely on the history of twentieth century philosophy and topics in contemporary analytic and continental philosophy. He is the sole author of three books; the most recent of these, The Politics of Logic: Badiou, Wittgenstein, and the Consequences of Formalism Routledge, , considers the implications of formalism and formal structures for contemporary thought about politics, social organization, and the possibility of radical change.

He is also working on an ongoing project of which this paper is a part on parallels and connections between Plato and Wittgenstein. The second is a naturalist view, according to which the correctness of names is initially fixed and subsequently maintained by some kind of natural assignment, rooted in the things themselves. Rather, it points to an autonomous dimension of form, which articulates the relationship between language and life as it relates to the possibility of truth. Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Cavell, S.

Oxford: Clarendon. Livingston, P. New York: Routledge.

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Perissinotto and B. Wittgenstein and Plato: Connections, Comparisons, and Contrasts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Wittgenstein, L. Wittgenstein L. Phillips D. Article Tools Indexing metadata. Finding References. La Repubblica, vol.

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For now this conclusion must be taken in the weakest and most general possible way, i. What reasons do we have to claim that there exist mental objects independent from linguistic games or that there exist meanings which are anterior to their use within linguistic games? And why is there no real definition of the terms we use?

And how can they be defined unless we use words, which in their turn need defining? A more precise statement should be recalled here: Philosophers very often talk about investigating, analysing, the meaning of words. A word has the meaning someone has given to it BLB, pp. Since words acquire their meaning only on the basis of their use within language, it is impossible to think of an enquiry aiming at establishing what a word really means. In order to do this, one should assume that the meaning of words has been established a priori, by some external power independent of us.

But since such a power does not exist, such an assumption would amount to extending our language beyond its own boundaries, looking for a perfect language which ascribes roles to words before we use them. Even if such a power existed, the definitions established by it would still be built out of linguistic terms and, therefore, out of signs which must be interpreted and the infinite regress could not be avoided. Accordingly, what Wittgenstein claims is that, given that language is structurally vague and imprecise and given that we do not have access to extra-linguistic sources of knowledge, there is no way to find out the true real, absolute, ultimate meaning of words.

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Therefore, if there is nothing to enquire into outside language and if language is resistant to definition, the enquiry into the definition makes no sense at all. There are no definitions as a matter of fact because Plato never defines the noetic content of an idea and, even in the only case in which he seems to do so, he unmistakably declares that he is just providing a provisional definition9. Again, this is a false opposition which, exactly as all other seeming oppositions, has unfortunately ended up concealing where the genuine disagreement between the two philosophers lies.

In order to clarify this point, let us go back to the first pages of BLB. Some of them have the same nose, others the same eyebrows and others again the same way of walking p. The very fact that a genuine common term justifying the similarity does not exist is what makes the search for the definition impossible. The object of the debate is whether the Socratic Fallacy is a genuine fallacy and whether such a fallacy can be rightly ascribed to Plato rather than to Socrates or to both PU, In other words, the basic idea would be that, first of all, one must obtain definitions.

Wittgenstein and Plato: Connections, Comparisons and Contrasts.

We have already seen how this idea is very unlikely to be correct from a general point of view. And this corresponds precisely to what Wittgenstein thinks. This is, as Wittgenstein has it BLB, p. And since a contradiction must be solved, the reader of Plato is invited to think about it with the precise aim of finding a possible solution. As a matter of fact, we realize to have a certain knowledge of what justice is in general. For, if someone asks us whether justice is something or nothing — referring to justice in general — we reply that it is something without hesitation.

In the second place, we are actually able to apply the notion of justice to events that occur to us or that we witness with a certain degree of confidence. Finally — and this is the most important thing — we are more than convinced that the justice that we have in mind must be equally and indiscriminately applicable to all cases double standards should not be used! Now, all these premises seem to point quite naturally in the same direction: Since these conditions are given, we should also be in a position to produce a definition of justice such that the definition is unique, simple, absolute and ultimate.

In doing this Plato is aware that in the future new difficulties might rise, which shall prompt the philosopher to improve and to update the answers so far provided whereas the pretention of finding at a certain time t an answer that is valid at any time would be a complete illusion. On these themes see F. When asked about the nature of justice, human beings provide different attempts of definition, on which it is impossible to find an agreement. The definition is therefore deficient since it does not comply with the requirement of complete generality which is an essential part of the knowledge we have of it.

At a deeper and more technical philosophical level we can also spot the theoretical reason why it is impossible to give a definition. And this is the same reason given by Wittgenstein, namely that any definition includes terms which must be defined in their turn and so on to infinity. How is this ambiguous state of affairs, i.

Wittgenstein and Plato: Connections, Comparisons and Contrasts

What could be its conditions of possibility, at least in line of theory? When we talk of justice in general we must reject the idea that this notion has such a universal value as to be indiscriminately applicable to all relevant cases. We should therefore admit that we have to do with a mistake of our language, since there is no universal justice; rather, there are several meanings of this term. These meanings are determined on each occasion by the role that the term at issue plays in the linguistic game and are connected to each other by family likenesses.

On the basis of this principle, one could propose a Wittgensteinian or Protagorean version of the Socratic question.

1. Wittgenstein's Use of the Words 'Grammar' and 'Logic'

The goal in asking for a definition would not be the pseudo-Platonic goal of finding an answer, but that of showing on the one hand that certainty and universality in the application of specific cases could follow just where the definition has been found, and, on the other hand, that such certainty and universality are but optical illusions, given that definition is impossible. Plato, Resp. Wittgenstein insists much on the fact that universal notions have a vague, imprecise and blurred character cf.

PU, — which is undoubtedly true. Nonetheless, it is easy to realize that we are not dealing with an indifferent and uniform vagueness, utterly deprived of any structural articulations. The notion of justice is vague both in the sense that its borders are indefinite there are border areas where it seems impossible to distinguish neatly what is just from what is not just and in the sense that it is not possible to provide an ultimate definition of it. Because language — in contrast with chess — is not a self- sufficient game in which the meaning of the elements of the system are only supposed to obey the rules of internal consistency.

Language, as we observed above, entertains a specific set of relations — of both descriptive and performative character — with extra-linguistic reality.

For, even if there are no reasons, in line of theory, which prevent me from playing chess according to different rules from the actual ones it is enough that we enjoy the game , there are very good reasons to reject a language that determines the meaning of its elements in such a way to be incompatible with my attitude and my expectations toward external reality Furthermore, if it is true that general terms have blurred and vague boundaries so that it turns out that it is impossible to find definitions of them, this does not imply that all definitions are perceived as equivalent.

Let us suppose that two different definitions of justice are provided. We agree that both definitions are vague and that neither of them is able to give the essence of justice.


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Nevertheless we perceive very clearly that the second definition is much more plausible than the first one. The situation that we have just described represents the basic theoretical kernel of the whole philosophy of Plato. The Platonist — contrary to what is often believed — is not the one who possesses a clear and stable knowledge of the essence of things.