A Pragmatist Perspective on Wittgenstein

Pragmatists approach philosophical problems by enquiring about the practical role of disputed notions — truth, causation, value, or necessity, for example — in human life. Over the past century, many distinguished Cambridge philosophers have been pragmatists in one sense or another. Most famously of all, the remarkable shift in Wittgenstein’s views when he returned to Cambridge in 1929 is distinctly pragmatist in nature: it focuses on the many things that we humans do with language. In the same period, many of Frank Ramsey’s contributions to topics such as probability, belief, causation and laws have a deeply practical character. Later, it is easy to identify pragmatist strands in von Wright’s views of causation, Anscombe’s writings on indexical thought, Mellor’s work on tense and on success semantics, and Craig’s view of knowledge, to name just four of the more prominent examples. And in this century, to date, Simon Blackburn and Huw Price are self-avowed pragmatists about a range of philosophical topics.

This talk was given at Cambridge as part of a workshop on Cambridge Pragmatism. The workshop aims to explore this distinctive Cambridge philosophical tradition: its origins in the 1920s in the Cambridge of Bertrand Russell and G E Moore; its common themes; and its links and influences, in both directions, with other prominent figures, movements and schools in international philosophy.

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