Human Subjectivity, a Philosophical Investigation After Wittgenstein

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A Philosophical Investigation after Wittgenstein

Jose Nandhikkara(

1. Introduction
Wittgenstein often labelled his later philosophical investigations as “grammatical investigations” (PR 52, PG 71, PI 90, 150).[1] According to him, “A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words. – Our grammar is lacking in this sort of perspicuity” (PI 122). This is true about the words that we use for human beings. Besides the proper names and personal pronouns, we use words like ego, self, soul, mind, spirit, reason, will, etc., to define, describe, or refer to human beings. By arranging Wittgenstein’s relevant remarks I would like to render a synoptic view of ‘human being’ showing various connexions as well as differences of our uses of words that refer to human subjectivity. “Language,” Wittgenstein wrote, “is a labyrinth of paths. You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about” (PI 203). The object of philosophy is to provide us with an Übersicht of our use of words so that we know our way about (PI 123). Besides labyrinth, Wittgenstein used the metaphors of fly-bottle (PI 309) and jigsaw puzzle (BB 46)[2] to draw our attention to certain pitfalls and confusions in many philosophical questions. We are driven to certain ways of thinking which are far from the actual use of words. “The thing to do in such cases,” according to Wittgenstein, “is always to look how the words in question are actually used in our language” (BB 56). For, “only in the stream of thought and life do words have meaning” (Z 173).[3] Our real need in life is the norm of our philosophical investigations. A grammatical investigation, after Wittgenstein, is undertaken here in order to bring to light the use of words that refer to human subjectivity. The aim is to have a synoptic view of the actual use of the words and the concepts involved so that we get a picture of the concept of human being. According to Wittgenstein, “the idea that the real I lives in my body is connected with the peculiar grammar of the word ‘I’, and the misunderstanding this grammar is liable to give rise to” (BB 66). “How the words ‘I’, ‘self’, ‘body’, ‘mind’, ‘soul’, etc., are used?” is the question that we should raise if we want to clarify the nature of these concepts as well as the nature of human subject. Questions like ‘What is I, body, soul, etc.?’ are confusing and misleading; they are the result of wrong pictures (such as all words are names referring to objects similar to physical objects) that hold us captives. The division of a human being into body and soul results from our failure to understand the actual use of these words. First of all, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’, ‘mind’, ‘reason’, ‘will’, etc., are not used to refer to something in the way ‘body’ refers to a body. Secondly, we need to look and see the actual uses of these words in relation to human being. For example, though we say, ‘I have a body’, it is different from ‘I have a pen’ or even ‘I have a hand’. Like other objects, I occupy a space, but I am not my body. Though we can say ‘I am a body’, the expression ‘my body’ shows certain distinctness between a human being and human body and we say ‘I am not my body’. When we use expressions like ‘I have a soul (mind, will, etc.)’ it is different from ‘I have a body’. ‘I can search my soul’; but it is not like searching in my room. We say ‘I make up my mind’, but I am not my mind. ‘I can bring up something into my mind’; it is not, however, bringing something into my room or into my body. ‘My soul/mind/will’, like ‘my body’, shows certain distinctness but cannot be separated from ‘my being’. It would only add to the confusion if we think that the distinctions are similar to those between different kinds of things like chairs and tables. We would fail to see the categorical differences and similarities....
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