Realism, but not empiricism: Wittgenstein versus Searle

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On Wittgenstein's view, in being concerned with conceptual elucidation, philosophy is inextricably concerned with our life, though not empirically concerned. Empiricism is, for philosophy, off-limits. It is not to be ignored, but nor is it to be used. The first part of this paper shows how Wittgenstein's conceptual elucidation is concerned with life, and is therefore a realism, but without empiricism. In the second part, Wittgenstein's realism is contrasted with a kind of realism that is an empiricism: Searle's biological naturalism, where conceptual description gives way to naturalistic explanation. Though there is much in Searle's philosophy that is close to Wittgenstein – his descriptions of the visible aspects of our human form of life; of the relationship between language and action; of the Background as underpinning linguistic meaning in particular and all intentionality in general, and indeed of language as partly constitutive of institutional reality – the affinity ceases where Searle seeks to make the visible 'bottom out' in brute facts. Yet here again, were those brute facts something like the 'very general facts of nature' that Wittgenstein sees as conditioning our concepts, there would be harmony. But Searle's brute facts are not of that general type; they are of the order of molecules and neurons. And to make language, action and institutions bottom out in those is where Searle and Wittgenstein radically differ.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Wittgensteinian Perspective on the Use of Conceptual Analysis in Psychology
EditorsTimothy P. Racine, Kathleen L. Slaney
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Print)9780230369153
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2013


  • Wittgenstein, Searle, concept-formation, empiricism, realism


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