Terms of Engagement–A Question

I am currently writing a new paper and have been developing in it a ‘variant’ of a point of Cavell’s–his point about the importance of identifying and thinking through a philosopher’s terms of criticism in reckoning the significance of the philosopher’s work.  I want to say that there is a genus of which terms of criticism are a species, namely terms of engagement.  These include the terms of address (of reader, of interlocutor) used by the philosopher, the expositives, exercitives, commissives, behabitives and verdictives typically employed, etc.  Assuming this makes sense, I am curious:  what stands out to you about Wittgenstein’s terms of engagement in PI?

7 responses

  1. i would hesitate to think of these terms primarily in terms of ‘terms’ (compared to cavell’s seemingly closer focus on actual terms when he talks about this kind of thing), though ascending to speech-acts without requiring that the names of the speech acts be used in their execution would probably take care of a lot of that.

    anyway, i think many of those are similar in type to the terms of engagement of other philosophers, they just retain a closer connection to ordinary language because of the structural and rhetorical matrix in which they occur.

    so maybe a more telling term of engagement would be one that draws a bigger contrast to other philosophers – the way wittgenstein has of selecting out what other philosophers actually say in a very limited way, compared to what we would usually count as engagement with their views. usually he doesn’t do that; he engages with kinds of things that someone who has a view which such a philosopher exemplifies, would be drawn to say.

  2. Thanks, j, that’s helpful. Yes, ‘terms’ is just a convenience here; I don’t mean to suggest that we can identify the relevant set of terms independent of careful consideration of their use. My choice of Austin’s speech-act terms was also meant only as a convenience, as a way of highlighting the ‘sort’ of thing I am interested in.

    What I am struck by is the ‘room’ W leaves his reader or interlocutor, the way in which their next move is rarely if ever dictated by W. His terms of engagement–and here I have in mind his frequent use of ‘Consider’, ‘think’…his open-ended questions, his stress on allowing oneself to be ‘struck’ by something–leave something decisive to the reader or interlocutor. He does not engage in terms of compulsion. –That’s pretty vague, I know, and not particularly a new thought, but I am trying to think through how to say it more precisely and perhaps in a way that does make the thought new. That’s one reason for my question.

  3. ha, i don’t know if there is very much that is convenient about the term ‘behabitive’.

    i think it’s difficult to ground a judgment about the room wittgenstein leaves for the interlocutor (and thus reader) without also accounting for the (a) ultimate authorial responsibility for what the interlocutor says resting with wittgenstein, and (b) the seemingly constant appearance of wittgenstein NOT leaving room for the interlocutor by supplying answers, choosing examples, citing what we say, terminating remarks to begin new ones on related themes and questions, etc. on the one hand, an unfriendly reader will say, ‘but W dictates ALL the moves!!’. on the other, he clearly does often write open-endishly but does the other thing so often that it undercuts the claim constituted by the open-endishness.

    which is why i mentioned the ‘structural and rhetorical matrix’ in which these things happen. somehow i got the idea from cavell that wittgenstein should be readable in terms of a very regular (near-constant?) asymmetry between how the interlocutor sees something (having to do with criteria), and how wittgenstein sees it in the course of responding to the interlocutor.

    the details are dark to me, but i think i came to that view eventually because i was having so many problems reconciling what i thought wittgenstein’s metaphilosophy was, with the way the text seemed to lend itself (and has lent itself) to more ‘compulsory’ interpretations, more dogmatic interpretations. and i was convinced that the answer had to make use of the fact that the remarks are sequential but distinct.

    if you put that together with the idea that the interlocutor and wittgenstein regularly see things asymmetrically, then it seems natural to say that each individual remark is likely to permit being read in an open-ended, non-compulsory way, AND in the opposite way. (the latter is particularly important because it is naturally suited to wittgenstein’s idea of his reader as being predisposed not to understand him.)

    i mention this because i wanted to say that i’ve been studying mulhall’s ‘private language’ book (pitched as a continuation of ‘inheritance and originality’ AND as an exposition of cavell on W on private language) lately, and kind of impressed and abashed that he employs a similar principle, that each remark ought to permit being read in both of the ways he identifies (‘substantive’ and ‘resolute’, the latter being hopefully in line with cavell and in line with wittgenstein’s aspiration for doing philosophy the ‘open-ended’ way). for him this means that the cases like (b) require explanation in terms of subtleties of W’s tone, in terms of responsiveness to particular concerns evinced by the interlocutor, etc., but also ultimately with reference to whether W can be taken to have done an adequate job ‘hearing’ the skeptic and drawing on the same kinds of experiences that the skeptic tries to give voice to, when W does what could otherwise be taken as putting words in the interlocutor’s mouth.

    which i think is why cavell tends to circle back to the ideas of an author’s aiming for representativeness and seeking acknowledgement, in some way, from his readers – those being the criteria pertaining to whether W has done a good job representing the skeptic that he represents himself as listening to, on the overall level of (a), W’s ultimate responsibility for everything in the text.

    • j. Many thanks for such a thoughtful, helpful note. I agree with most, maybe all, that you’ve said. In fact, one reason I asked the question was because I have the same sense that what W writes can be taken both ways, and I was curious how others react to it. More on this soon.

  4. btw, have you ever looked at jeff mason, ‘the philosopher’s address’? i’m not sure i had ever encountered it before (doh) but i stumbled onto it when googling for a cheatsheet on behabitives (ha). it appears highly relevant to your interests (and mine).

      • I’ve had an admittedly quick peek at Mason’s book. Interesting that he too gravitates to Austin’s lists from HTDTWW. Part of what I find of interest in W can be expressed in this way: it doesn’t seem to me that his typical philosophical ‘speech-act’ is expositive, or even verdictive, but instead is rather evenly divided (as if I have counted!) between exercitives, commissives and behabitives. That’s a rather ‘external’ way of getting at what matters to me, but it seems like an ok first approximation.

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