In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Wittgenstein’s Preface
  • Brett Bourbon

In his preface to Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein admits his failure to make his book anything more than an interrelated collection of remarks: "After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into . . . a whole, I realized that I should never succeed. The best I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks." The fragmented character of Investigations is matched by its other formal oddities and difficulties: its metaphors, its cryptic evocative obscurity about some things and its linguistic precision about others, its dramatization of philosophical positions in stories, in hypothetical worlds, and in the role of the interlocutor(s). Our initial and continual problem in reading Investigations is to understand the reason for its form, and to justify this form relative to its philosophical concerns and methods. I will argue that the justification of the form of Investigations comes down to a single question: how do we take up Wittgenstein's example—in thinking and in confusion—without mimicking him?


The justification pursued in the preface bears affinities with theological justification, defined as our becoming righteous relative to God, as Calvin characterizes it, "an acceptation, whereby God receiving us into [End Page 428] favour, taketh us for righteous" (Institutes III. xi. §2).1 Righteousness as a mark of acceptation, the very tone of "righteousness" and God's power of acceptation, have no direct counterparts in Wittgenstein's philosophy. Philosophical justification does not have a doctrinal foundation that would establish any particular content nor any special relation between the pursuit of that justification (through philosophy) and its fulfillment, even hypothetically, in some possible acknowledgment of righteousness. The seriousness betrayed by Investigations need for justification, however, is expressed in the moral fervor of Wittgenstein's philosophizing. It is also his philosophical goal to encourage a kind of acceptation that the ground of our involvement in the world, in what constrains and confuses us, is no more than how we live and what we are: "Instead of the unanalyzsable, specific, indefinable; the fact that we act in such-and-such ways, e.g. punish certain actions, establish the state of affairs thus and so, give orders, render accounts, describe colours, take an interest in other's feelings. What has to be accepted, the given—it might be said—are facts of living" (Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, §630; c.f. PI, p. 226d).2 The translators comment in a footnote that a variant for "facts of living" in Wittgenstein's manuscript is "forms of life." What has to be accepted are forms of life.

The form of Investigations is justified as part of a discovery, with or without a supporting theology, of how to move ourselves toward some greater form of perfection (although not to reach it). The Protestant cast of this justification, in Wittgenstein's case, is just (and I wouldn't want to extend it further) that while this justification is achieved by virtue of our effort, it is not effort towards the world, but towards our intransigent will, and that the grace that might enable our work is less a gift, than a condition within which we can struggle.3 Thus, "what has to be overcome," in philosophy, "is not the difficulty of the understanding but of the will" (CV, p.17).4 Philosophy for Wittgenstein is a form of self-education. One works on the will in order to see differently: but the will is neither a thing nor a faculty. Working on the will is not a psychological project of self-reform, but a reconstitution of our attitude toward what we take as necessary. We can describe such attitudes with the vocabulary of the passions by which express or curb our will: devotion, derision, hope, fear, confidence, indignation, pride, repentance, emulation, gratitude, consternation, daring, timidity, and so on. And thus "philosophy is a work on the will" is kind of maxim to help us remember a kind of attitude, purpose, and justification.

I will derive an agnostic notion of justification from its Protestant [End Page 429] theological form, retaining its moral force and claim on our person, but without psychologizing it, with minimal doctrinal content, and without God. This is...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 428-443
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.