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Garry Hagberg WITTGENSTEIN, HENRY JAMES, AND EPISTEMOLOGICAL FICTION That Wittgenstein, in his later philosophy, brought a deep and powerful argument against a certain conception of philosophical activity, and that this argument in both its content and method was stardingly revolutionary, is widely known. The argument was carried out in the new form ofa philosophical investigation;1 the old conception of philosophy which it supplanted was that ofcarrying out a conceptual analysis in search of an essence. The implications of Wittgenstein's argument have been discussed, both for philosophy generally2 and for aesthetic theory in particular,3 but only in one direction. The discussion has proceeded from Wittgenstein's argument to the concept of art, culminating in the conclusion that art is not a unitary concept, or that there is no single essential feature both necessary and sufficient for arthood. In this essay I want to reverse this direction and ask what significance art, particularly fiction, can hold for our conception of philosophy. Specifically, I will argue that we can indeed arrive at a deeper comprehension of Wittgenstein's conception of a philosophical investigation through a close examination of a piece of fiction than through any attempt at theoretical encapsulation or general metaphilosophical characterizations of method. If we begin by asking the question which some might claim lies at the center of philosophy, "What is knowledge?," we will, if bound by the essentialist presumption, search for a feature, an element, an attribute, indeed an essence, that is present in every case of knowledge and moreover which, by virtue of its presence, renders the case in question a case of knowledge. Thus, just as scotch is identified as a member of a certain class ofbeverages by virtue of the presence ofa certain distillate, 75 76Philosophy and Literature so cases of knowledge are on this traditional view thought to be made to be what they are, to count as knowledge, through the presence of some common ingredient. This definitional core of the concept of knowledge has been given many formulations; perhaps the most prominent has been that ofjustified true belief.4 Thus we have in the foregoing remarks a sketch ofthe position against which Wittgenstein's argument was posed. Should we not at this point ask for a sketch ofWittgenstein's position? Consider Wittgenstein's own words: "I cannot characterize my standpoint better than by saying that it is opposed to that which Socrates represents in the Platonic dialogues. For if asked what knowledge is I would list examples of knowledge, and add the words 'and the like.' No common element is to be found in them all."5 This, as a sketch ofa position, is undeniably disappointing. It tells us, again, what the argument is opposed to; it does not shed much light on the actual argument, or the new method ofinvestigation, itself. But this is not surprising, for another well-known aspect of Wittgenstein 's later philosophy is the initially somewhat mysterious impossibility of encapsulation, or, indeed of generally characterizing the standpoint. What, we want to know with some precision, is a philosophical investigation ? To answer this question we will turn to literature. From Henry James's characteristically compressed short story, "The Tree of Knowledge,"6 one can derive an expansive list of the varieties of knowledge.7 But before attempting to assemble that list, let me say a word about the story itself. The story is constructed around four characters, including a father, mother, son, and friend of the family. But, not surprisingly, there ends the simplicity. The father is an artist, a sculptor, known by the family as "the Master"; his name to the world beyond this slightly extended family circle is Morgan Mallow. Mrs. Mallow is a gentle soul who "rejoices " in her husband's statues, and she is "attached to [the friend] Peter Brench . . . because of his affection for Morgan." Peter Brench, however, even though sincerely good friends with Morgan, has secredy been in love with Mrs. Morgan for years. Although all knew that Peter had reached the age offifty and "escaped marriage," they did not know precisely through what means this position in life had been achieved. Furthermore, James, as the narrator, tells us in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 75-95
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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