The Failure of the Body Politic

In her exploration of Wittgenstein’s elusive and scattered commentary on community, Chantal Bax notes the absence of an explicit understanding of community in the philosopher’s work. Though Wittgenstein often invokes communal concepts, he rarely provides any details regarding the exact nature of a proper community, or the maintenance and governance a just society requires. Bax highlights the one place where Wittgenstein succumbs to the “unfortunate metaphor” of the body politic: he suggests the Jews, marginalized by European society, resemble a “‘kind of disease, anomaly,'” a “‘swelling'” which can “‘only be considered to be a proper part of the body when the whole feeling for the body is changed'” (105). Bax reads this as a tragic and empathetic lament: Wittgenstein doubts the possibility of a renewed, welcoming society that nonetheless adheres to this same vocabulary of the political body. And it is this prophetic doubt that intensifies the crisis of community that reiterates the necessity of Wittgenstein’s rethinking of life together.

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Wittgenstein and Marx on Reification, Language, and Commonality

Dimitris Gakis’s “Wittgenstein and Marx on Reification, Language, and Commonality” appears in Telos 169 (Winter 2014). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.

The article is primarily occupied with some of the affinities that can be discerned between the philosophical outlooks of (later) Wittgenstein and Marx. Starting from a short account of the connections that can be drawn between Wittgenstein and Marx from a historico-biographical and a metaphilosophical point of view, we focus then on three main points on which their philosophical perspectives converge. The first one has to do with Marx’s concept of reification and Wittgenstein’s deep criticism against those approaches to language and meaning that exhibit reificatory characteristics. The second one is related, first, to their common conception of language as a matter of social praxis and their shared rejection of the idea of a private language and, second, to their common prioritization of everyday language over what they often call metaphysical or philosophical language which they take to be a distorted and deceiving form of everyday language. The third and last point regards the shared emphasis of Wittgenstein and Marx on the notion of the “common” and on the communal aspects of human life and praxis. The article concludes with a reference to some of Wittgenstein’s criticisms against certain aspects of Marxist thought, such as scientism, determinism, and economism, and a brief discussion of how Wittgenstein’s later philosophy may be viewed as a (potentially) significant contribution to the cause of personal and social autonomy.

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Subjectivity After Wittgenstein by Chantal Bax

Chantal Bax’s Subjectivity After Wittgenstein: The Post-Cartesian Subject and the “Death of Man” is now available in paperback from Bloomsbury Academic. Although Wittgenstein is often held co-responsible for the so-called death of man as it was pronounced in the course of the previous century, no detailed description of his alternative to the traditional or Cartesian account of human being has so far been available. By consulting several parts of Wittgenstein’s later oeuvre, Subjectivity after Wittgenstein aims to fill this gap.

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Law and the Ordinary: Hart, Wittgenstein, Jurisprudence

Alexandre Lefebvre’s “Law and the Ordinary: Hart, Wittgenstein, Jurisprudence” appears in Telos 154 (Spring 2011). Read the full version at TELOS Online website.

This essay argues that H. L. A. Hart’s concept of jurisprudence in the first chapter of The Concept of Law is strongly influenced by the relationship that Wittgenstein establishes between ordinary and metaphysical language. The article is divided into three sections. The first section shows how jurisprudence emerges as a denial of ordinary language in its pursuit of a definition of law. The second section traces Hart’s use of ordinary language to identify idleness or emptiness in jurisprudence. The third section presents Hart’s conception of his work as therapeutic in its attempt to lead jurisprudence back to the everyday.

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