First-Person Knowledge: Wittgenstein, Cavell, and "Therapy"

The recent publication of The New Wittgenstein signals the arrival of a distinctive "therapeutic" reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein"s philosophical enterprise. As announced in its Preface, this collection presents the "nonsense" of philosophy as the subject of Wittgenstein"s therapeutic work. The simple, plain nonsense of many philosophical remarks is revealed under the scrutiny of Wittgenstein"s investigations, according to this interpretation, leading us to see that such remarks "fail to make any claim at all" (Crary 6). This view of Wittgenstein"s use of "nonsense" as a term of criticism begins with the work of Stanley Cavell, on this account, and has extended more recently to work on a wide area of Wittgenstein"s concerns, elevating "nonsense" to a central position in his philosophy. This paper argues that, in at least one case of Wittgenstein"s talk of nonsense, this "therapeutic reading" (Crary 7) oversimplifies the subtlety of Wittgenstein"s writing. Indeed, one of the most prominent cases of "nonsense" in the later Wittgenstein concerns the remark "I know I am in pain". Though Wittgenstein repeatedly treats this remark as nonsense, this treatment is not final in his philosophy of psychology. Rather, though his rich discussion in the later manuscripts of the indeterminacy of psychological judgments, the relation of these judgments to knowledge, and the role of first-person psychological descriptions, Wittgenstein is able to find what sense a remark such as "I know I am in pain" might perhaps have. "I know I am in pain" may be called nonsense, but this is not the last word on the matter in Wittgenstein"s text: as Cavell says, ""it makes no sense to say these things" (in the way we think it does)" (Cavell 70). Wittgenstein is able to find what sense our remarks of first person psychological knowledge might have, contrary to what the therapeutic reading in The New Wittgenstein would have us suppose. Therefore, at least in one case, the therapeutic reading of Wittgenstein goes wrong
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