A Series of Six Symposia on Philosophy and Its Bewitchment by Language


Conducted by Professor David Cockburn

University of Wales Trinity-St David

United Kingdom


Philosophy has long aspired to give the most general account possible of what the world is like, how we have knowledge of it, and how we should live in it. Philosophers have taken themselves to be investigating a realm of facts and truths, proceeding either by pure reason or reason powerfully informed by such sources as divine revelation, or more recently, science. The fate of many of our ordinary beliefs and practices is often taken to depend on these inquiries. Examples are legion. In metaphysics, if there are to be tables and chairs, cabbages and cauliflowers, there must be ‘things in themselves’ or ‘substances’ (or ‘bundles’ of properties); if there are to be people there must be hidden domains called ‘minds’ or ‘selves’ the home to private objects and processes; if there are to be rules (for speaking or counting or …) there must be special mental or metaphysical processes which ground them – and so on. In epistemology, the knowing subject must master the known object by entertaining representations of the latter, representations perfected by methods of inquiry able to meet the demanding challenges of radical scepticism. In ethics our moral life is taken, on pain of irrationality or illusion, to assume the existence of peculiarly moral facts (perhaps natural, perhaps not). And so on. Philosophers thus effectively assume the power of life and death over the ways of the ‘folk’.


But some philosophers dissent from this picture of the subject. One line of dissent, due to Wittgenstein, argues that philosophers ‘sublime the logic of our language’, mistaking aspects of the human form of life for the realm of special, almost occult facts they take themselves to be investigating. Wittgenstein argues these aspects of our lives do not have the ‘ontological commitments’ philosophers suppose them to have, and thus do not depend on philosophical inquiry into those commitments for their legitimacy. The recognition of this can prevent the deflection of inquiry into those dimensions of our lives onto the study, or pseudo study, of those commitments. Wittgenstein diagnosed the philosophers’ mistake as arising in part from the magnetic hold on our minds on a referential picture of language which sees it as essentially about categorization (general terms are names allocating individual things to a general category). On this view human beings are fundamentally divided into two components, a private, intellectual, cognizing component (which applies words to things, the essence of understanding) and a conceptually separate component of bodily action in the world. Thus, for example, first I know that someone is in pain – my mind assigns to another’s mind an object belonging to the pain category – and then I respond (with cruelty or compassion or whatever). It is from the consequent neglect of language’s intimate interwoven-ness with life that philosophers fall into what Wittgenstein called philosophical fantasies.


In these symposia Professor Cockburn will lead us through a series of papers by different authors exploring the themes of Wittgenstein’s critique across a number of different areas of philosophy. The symposia will be held across a period of five weeks this June and July. The symposia are not lectures by Professor Cockburn, but reading groups in which he briefly introduces the main points of each paper under discussion. Everyone is welcome to attend. If you want to come to a symposium, please download a copy of the paper for that symposium from the list of links below and read the paper before the meeting. The schedule for the symposia is set out below. All are in the morning from 10am-12pm and are held in the indicated rooms at the Bedford Park campus of Flinders University. (I apologise for the different days of the week on which the symposia are being held, but this irregularity has proved unavoidable.)


Click  on the links below to view papers.


Please direct any inquiries to Andrew Gleeson on 8201 7968 or at Andrew.Gleeson@flinders.edu.au


  1. Philosophy of Language     

    Baz 'The Reaches of Words'

    Wednesday 26 June

    Humanities Building, Room 228



  1. Philosophy of Religion

    White 'Notes on Analogical Predication and Talking About God'

    Monday 1 July

    Humanities Building, Room 228



  1. Rule Following

    Goldfarb 'Rule Following Revisited'

    Thursday 11 July

    Humanities Building, Room 228

  2. Moral Philosophy

    Baz 'Moral Justification and the Idea of an Ethical Position'

    Friday 19 July

    Humanities Building, Room 234 (NB: Different venue for this week only)

  3. Epistemology

    Diamond How Old areThese Bones

    Wednesday 24 July

    Humanities Building, Room 228

  4. Philosophy of Mind

    Merleau-Ponty Science and Experience of Expression.pdf (PDF 2MB)

    Friday 26 July

    Humanities Building, Room 228