Wittgenstein’s Confessions : Reading Philosophical Investigations with St. Augustine

Heythrop Journal 62 (1):25-38 (2021)
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Abstract

This paper draws on a number of parallels between Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations and St. Augustine’s Confessions to suggest that Wittgenstein’s relation to the text with which he opens the Investigations is less adversarial than is normally supposed. In particular, the paper draws attention to two important parallels: the difficulty both Philosophical Investigations and Confessions have with beginning and with arrogating to themselves the authority to begin, and the role of conversion in both texts. These parallels help us read the methodological remarks of Philosophical Investigations §§89–133 as a conversion narrative of sorts. However, Wittgenstein’s conception of conversion runs counter to Augustine’s: where Augustine aspires to overcome the lusts of the physical world and and toward the purity of the divine, Wittgenstein turns away from the aspiration for purity toward a humbler acceptance of the ordinary. Augustine’s text is an exhortation to conversion, but not the kind of conversion Wittgenstein seeks, and this is the deeper provocation that Wittgenstein finds in Augustine’s text.

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David Egan
Hunter College (CUNY)

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