Wittgenstein and pyrrhonism: on the nature of philosophy

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Plínio Junqueira Smith (Unifesp)

Translated by Israel Vilas Bôas

“Vision is the essential faculty and, once used, I shall cast it aside” – Clarice Lispector.
1. The systematic comparison between the philosophy of Wittgenstein and scepticism seems only to point out profound differences. It is known that Wittgenstein himself rejected scepticism explicitly during his whole life. As early as the Tagebücher from 14-16 (1.5.15), Wittgenstein formulates an objection, which will reappear in the Tractatus (6:51), according to which sceptical doubt is nonsensical (unsinnig), for it is intended to raise doubts about what cannot be said. And, in the end of his life, he condemns a universal scepticism, since doubt only makes sense if there are previous certainties: “If one tried to doubt everything, one would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty” (UG, 115). In these two objections, Wittgenstein insists in the idea that sceptical doubt is deprived of meaning2.

The critique of a so-called “private language” could also be seen as a critique of scepticism, for the solipsist position, which defends a “private language”, would be a consequence of the sceptical objections to the realist position3. Scepticism would argue towards showing that we could never know the internal states of other people: for example, when I perceive something as red, I do not know if another person has the perception of green or any other colour. Even saying that we believe that the other person perceives the same colour I do, would be mistaken, because to speak of “belief”, it would be necessary that this belief could be at least partially proved (or refuted) and that is impossible in the case of other minds. And, finally, if the meaning of words consists in the reference to personal experiences and if two people cannot have the same experience, then communicability is lost and I can never attribute my internal states to other people: the word “pain” can only refer to my pain and not to someone else’s. Once accepted these sceptical arguments, there would be no other philosophical option than sustaining solipsism and a theory of private language. Now, if Wittgenstein shows the absurd of the supposition of a private language (PI, 243-315), he would equally show the absurd of the sceptical position, since this posture would lead us to that supposition.

On the other hand, Kripke4 intended to see a new way of scepticism in Wittgenstein's philosophy, which would bear strong similarity to Humean scepticism: Wittgenstein would have had formulated a “sceptical doubt” to which he had given a “sceptical solution”, like Hume did in the sections IV and V of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Kripke’s interpretation hinges on the theme “rule-following”, of which the question of private language would just be a particular case. Kripke expresses Wittgenstein’s argument in a Humean form: from past cases, how can we know in the future that we are really following the same rule? According to the “sceptical solution”, the correct understanding of a rule would be shown by a behaviour that would be in accordance with the majority of the linguistic community. But Baker and Hacker5 persuasively argue that the connection between the rule and the act in conformity with it is an “internal relation”, that is, to understand a rule is precisely to know which acts are in accordance with it. The “community view” would be, in contrast, a way of associating empirically the rule to the acts conform to it and, thus, there would be here only an “external relation”. It would be incorrect to attribute to Wittgenstein a scepticism of Humean kind such as Kripke understands it.

Thus, at first sight nothing seems to indicate an approximation between Wittgenstein's philosophy and scepticism and everything seems to point at the opposite direction. Wittgenstein's reflexions on the meaning of a sceptical doubt, on the possibility of a private language, and on what it is to follow a rule would culminate in the rejection of scepticism rather than in its acceptance. Those who deny any kinship between scepticism and Wittgenstein seem to be on the right track.

But it is necessary to notice that the scepticism to which Wittgenstein and his commentators refer is the scepticism in its modern form, inaugurated by Descartes’s first Meditation. The problematic of doubt and certainty, mainly as it is discussed in On Certainty clearly has its origins in the Cartesian idea of ​​a methodical, radical and universal doubt, as well as in Berkeley's intention of denying the existence of the physical world6. No less modern is the question of solipsism, in which sceptical doubts lead us to a subject, the Cartesian cogito or the Humean bundle of perceptions, which has access only to its own representations7. Anyhow, it is with reference to modern philosophy that one has been thinking the question of scepticism in Wittgenstein8.

If one wants to attribute a genuine meaning to this issue of the relationship between Wittgenstein's philosophy and scepticism, one must introduce two modifications in the way it is formulated. The first is to set aside the reference to this form of scepticism that is only a methodological step of Cartesian dogmatism, as well as to the empirical and scientific twist that Hume gives to it, and turn our attention to ancient Greek sceptics. The second is to set aside temporarily this discussion by topics, and first tackle Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy and the more general sense which he attributes to his own thinking. Only thus, one will be able to discuss the purported scepticism of Wittgenstein with the necessary historical and conceptual rigour.

My suggestion is that Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy has many similarities with the Pyrrhonian conception9. To support this point, I shall expound briefly some aspects of Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy, and then I will compare it with the one that Sextus presents us. I do not intend to offer a new interpretation of the Wittgensteinian conception of philosophy, but only to ordain what we already know with a view to a determined purpose: to show the sceptical style in his conception.
2. Wittgenstein opposes roughly to his own conception of philosophy another one10, which I will name traditional conception of philosophy. According to the traditional conception, philosophy should deal with phenomena to see through them (“die Erscheinungen durchschauen”; PI, 90) or with the things to see through them (“die Sache durchschauen”; PI, 92) reaching, thus, the essence of all things. By “essence of all things”, Wittgenstein refers to something hidden behind things themselves and that an analysis of these would reveal. The idea that the essence is hidden (“Das Wesen ist uns verborgen”) is a basic idea that Wittgenstein attributes to traditional philosophy. Philosophy’s task would be to discover this hidden essence by means of an analysis of the phenomena or of the things.

To Wittgenstein, on contrast, philosophy does not deal with phenomena or things, but with the “possibilities” of phenomena, i.e., with the “kind of statement that we make about phenomena” (PI, 90). Philosophers take our ordinary claims about phenomena as raw material of their philosophical reflexions. It is what Saint Augustine would have done when discussing the nature of time and, hence, his considerations are grammatical: every philosophy is involved with our way of making statements. As he says farther to his purported interlocutor, “Your questions refer to words; so I have to talk about words” (PI, 120). Because traditional philosophy confounds the semantic domain with the domain of things, it attributes to the latter that which belongs to the former. “One predicates of the thing what lies in the method of representing it” (PI, 104). But the correct understanding of language separates rigorously these two domains and the philosopher will focus only on language. “Philosophical investigations: conceptual investigations. The essential thing about metaphysics: it obliterates the distinction between factual and conceptual investigations” (Z, 458). In other words, traditional philosophy confounds logic and ontology, and Wittgenstein makes sure to separate them carefully.

Once delimited the field of philosophy (language or discourse, whereas science would deal with objective investigations), one sees that Wittgenstein opposes to the Erscheinungen durchschauen another expression, viz., übersichtliche Darstellung (PI, 92). This übersichtliche Darstellung is a description of the rules of our grammar, which allow us to acknowledge what we already knew but had difficulty to see. Unlike the traditional conception, Wittgenstein does not intend to go beyond things or phenomena to apprehend some hidden essence. The essence, to Wittgenstein, is already visible on broad day light and, through a sorting of grammatical facts, becomes clear. It is no longer about unveiling the “real structure of the world”, but only about describing conceptual connexions. The essence, which was conceived by philosophers as a hidden entity to be unveiled by an analysis, is now interpreted by Wittgenstein as a mere grammatical rule of our language. If, to the traditional conception, philosophy formulated ontological-epistemological questions, to Wittgenstein, all questions are, in the end, semantic.

Wittgenstein characterises the propositions of traditional philosophy as scientific, as if philosophy were a superscience, for it builds theories, formulates hypotheses, and explains the world in the same way science does. But, to Wittgenstein, instead of these theories, hypotheses, and explanations, philosophy should only make descriptions of the workings of our language (PI, 109). No new thesis is proposed and, if it were the case to propose them, there would never be a discussion about them, because everybody would agree about them (PI, 128; BT. p.12). Thus, Wittgenstein does not sustain a philosophical opinion and cannot even resort to any opinion that is not shared by his purported interlocutor, because, in this case, they do not share the same language game that it is necessary to describe. “Of all the topics that we have discussed, I do not have an opinion, and if I had one, I would immediately disregard it in benefit of this debate for it would not be important to our discussion.”11. To adopt an opinion is, to Wittgenstein, a way to be partial, as well as to sustain a creed, which is contrary to philosophy: “Our only task is to be impartial, i.e., all we have to do is to point out and dissolve the partialities of philosophy; we must not set up new parties – and creeds.” (BT, p. 14).

Associated with this refusal to formulate philosophical theses or theories, one finds the idea that, in philosophy, there is no argumentative method in the sense of articulating premises and conclusions in order to establish the truth of the latter from the evidence of the former. The argumentation employed by Wittgenstein aims at the dissolution of problems, by resorting only to linguistic facts recognised by his interlocutor. “In philosophy, one does not draw conclusions. ‘But it must be like this!’ is not a philosophical proposition. Philosophy only states what everyone admits” (PI, 599).

It is important to notice that this ordaining is not the result of an empirical science, of an investigation regarding facts, and that empirical knowledge of grammar is up to the grammarian. Everything we want to know is already given from the beginning, and it is enough to recall what we already know about our language. “The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known” (PI, 109).

One may explain in this way that, after saying that philosophy does not deal with phenomena and things, Wittgenstein is then able say that philosophy of logic speaks of propositions and of words in the common meaning of these terms, i.e., “we are talking about the spatial and temporal phenomenon of language, not about some non-spatial, non-temporal phantasm” (PI, 108). Not postulating hidden entities as an “essence”, Wittgenstein refers only to what we refer in our “habitual” life, not only to real language, but also to ordinary objects (PI, 106).

This positive objective, of description and understanding of what is already before our eyes but we have difficulties in perceiving, acquires philosophical meaning from a negative objective. The übersichtliche Darstellung does not have the goal of presenting a new doctrine of essence of things, according to which the essence would be apparent in grammar and not hidden behind things, but of eliminating philosophical confusions. The grammatical consideration “sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away” (PI, 90).

It is in this sense that one must understand the statement, “the work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose” (PI, 127; cf. BT, p.10). This assemblage of reminders is nothing but the elucidation of the effective use of the words in our common language. Further, Wittgenstein suggests that organizing our knowledge of the use of language has a purpose, viz., to avoid theoretical confusions that arise when language spins in the void, when it no longer works (PI, 132), when it “goes on holiday”. If, on one hand, it is undeniable that one of Wittgenstein's goals is the description of grammatical rules (“Wir wollen etwas verstehen, was schon offen vor unsern Augen liegt”; IF, 89), one the other, the explication of the reason for which he wants to understand something points at a critical design (“Denn das scheinen wir, in irgendeinem Sinne, nicht zu verstehen”; IF, 89), viz., to undo the miscomprehension that philosophers have of the logic of ordinary language. “For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear” (PI, 133). This passage, albeit it suggests a certain equivalence amongst clarification and elimination of incomprehension, also points at a certain priority of the disappearance of philosophical problems in face of the task of describing our grammar12.

Confined to the conceptual questions, philosophical investigations will not obtain a new and deeper knowledge of things, but will make us recognise that the purported philosophical knowledge is only a product of an inadequate use of language. It is precisely because they destroy “houses of cards” that Wittgenstein judges important his considerations (PI, 118). Shortly afterwards, he admits that “the results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery” (PI, 119). In the Big Typescript, Wittgenstein formulates this idea in a more incisive way: “All that philosophy can do is to destroy idols” (BT, p. 9). The conceptual description, put in the place of traditional philosophical explanations, “gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems” (PI, 109). And Wittgenstein is emphatic here: philosophical problems must “solved by means of an insight about the workings of our language, and those workings must be recognised this way: in despite of an urge (entgegen einem Trieb) to misunderstand them” (PI, 109; highlighted by Wittgenstein), Wittgenstein can now give us a precise definition of what philosophy is: “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language” (PI, 109)13.

When the nature of philosophy is defined this way, it is natural to characterise it as therapeutic, as a philosophy whose objective is to heal the philosopher of the malady of which his understanding is victim. “The philosopher’s treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness” (PI, 255). The metaphor of the bumps caused by the dashes of the understanding against the limits of language (PI, 119) is in consonance with this characterisation: bumps must be treated. At first, Wittgenstein thought there was only one therapeutic method (M, p. 322), but then he recognised the existence of various ways of conducting this treatment: “There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies” (PI, 133)14.

The idea that the method is the essential in philosophy makes it so that the latter turns into “a matter of skill” (M, p. 322). The idea of a “skill” comes here in opposition to the idea of “profundity” present in traditional philosophy. The reflexions from this philosophy have a general meaning, which consists in the discovery of the hidden essence of phenomena or of things and of the foundation of the sciences (PI, 89). Philosophical profundity can be characterised as a (supposed) contemplation of the “ideal” that hides itself in reality (PI, 101). However, it is an illusion, because the profundity is but a grammar Witz, and the whole question is to know why do we experience the feeling of profundity when we are confronted with philosophical problems (PI, 111). What characteristics, by its time, does the Wittgensteinian skill have?

This skill is, as all the others, “very difficult to acquire”. In order to do that, says Wittgenstein, it is not enough to attend classes, but discussion is indispensable. As the physician, the philosopher must learn a technique, he must acquire an ability to heal; and, as the physician must diagnose the true cause, and prescribe the appropriate medicine, Wittgenstein must investigate which grammar mistake is in the origin of a determined philosophical illusion, as well as the way to make the philosopher abandon his particular way of speaking15. In the Big Typescript, Wittgenstein speaks of a capacity to philosophy and, right after it, tackles the problem of teaching philosophy. Here, “the capacity for philosophy consists in the ability to receive a strong and lasting impression from a grammatical fact” (BT, p. 15)16. Not only the memories of our uses of the words will not be allowed to leave anything out, under the charge of there remaining the feeling that something is wrong (M, p. 323), but also their ordering and reordering will be necessary until we find a determined order that will allow us to shun away a philosophical illusion (If, 132). On the other hand, the description of our language is not only made of remembrances, and Wittgenstein allows himself to resort to apparently absurd possible uses to illuminate certain “regions” of language that, otherwise, could remain obscure. “Our method is not merely to enumerate actual usages of words, but rather deliberately to invent new ones, some of them because of their absurd appearance” (BB, p. 28; cf. PI, 122, 130). Wittgenstein demands yet another philosophical ability, viz., to learn how to express precisely that which the philosopher would like to say. “One of the most important tasks is to express all false thought processes so true to character that the reader says, “Yes, that’s exactly the way I meant it”. ... Indeed, we can only prove that someone made a mistake if he (really) acknowledges this expression as the correct expression of his feeling” (BB, p.28; cf. IF, 122, 130).

Of what does the philosopher suffer, after all? Of what kind are the philosophical problems that cause intellectual wounds, and must be dissolved? Philosophical questions have origin in “a vague mental uneasiness” (M. p. 323, emphasis added). “Philosophical errors or ‘troubles in our thought’ were due false analogies suggested by our actual use of expressions” (M, p.257, emphasis added; cf. too pp. 318-319 e 323-324). “The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes (tiefe Beunruhigungen)” (PI, 111; the second highlight is mine). “A simile that has been absorbed into the forms of our language produces a false appearance, and this disquiets us (der beunruhigt uns) (IF, 112; emphasis added; cf. IF, 125; cf. also BT, pp, 6, 9-11, 14, 19). In the Blue Book, when rejecting the idea that an ideal language should be produced to improve ordinary language, Wittgenstein attributes a new function to the construction of ideal languages. “Whenever we make up 'ideal languages' it is not in order to replace our ordinary language by them; but just to remove some trouble caused in someone's mind by thinking that he has got hold of the exact use of a common word” (BB, p. 28; emphasis added). A little before, Wittgenstein referred to the philosophical question “what is...?” as “an utterance of unclarity, of mental discomfort” (BB, p.26; emphasis added; cf. BB, p.1 e p.59). This discomfort would be comparable with the mental discomfort children experience when they ask “why?”.

What causes this disturbance? What philosophical form adopts this mental discomfort? “A philosophical problem has the form: 'I don’t know my way about' (ich kenne mich nicht aus)” (PI, 123). This disorientation can only relate to a disorientation in language, in the grammatical rules (PI, 203), and, as a disease, generates a sensation of malaise. In those passages of the Blue Book that deal with Saint Augustine's reflexions upon time (BB, p. 26), Wittgenstein talks about a contradiction amongst different uses of the word “measure”. In the paragraph 125 of the PI, Wittgenstein talks about a mathematical contradiction that generates the mental discomfort. It is here, hence, that there is the origin of the philosophical problem taken in its generality: “The civil status of a contradiction, or its status in civil life: there is the philosophical problem. (PI, 125). How does one interpret this passage?17

The Blue Book gives us the first indications to think the mechanism that leads us from contradiction to discomfort: the philosopher “sees a law in the way a word is used, and, trying to apply this law consistently, comes up against cases where it leads to paradoxical results” (BB, p. 27). The PI describes this mechanism in a different way: “The fundamental fact here is that we lay down rules, a technique, for a game, and that then when we follow the rules, things do not turn out as we had assumed. That we are therefore as it were entangled in our own rules” (PI, 125). Different rules can work well until a new and unusual situation causes two of them to come into disagreement, producing a contradiction that can generate a philosophical problem. If we treat mathematically, e.g., a mathematical contradiction, no philosophical disturbance will arise, for it is up to the mathematician to solve that conflict manifested by two mathematical rules. But if we attribute a philosophical status to the mathematical contradiction, then it will be inevitable the rise of a philosophical problem. Transgressing the conceptual domain, to enter the objective domain, the philosopher will seek outside the mathematics the solution to an eminently mathematical problem, when he should only search um a conceptual description the origin of that contradiction. “This entanglement in our rules is what we want to understand (i.e. übersehen)” (PI, 125; cf. PI, 89)18.

That is why, according to Wittgenstein, of the two ways to cure these disturbances – either answering the philosophical question or showing that the particular question is not permitted (M, p. 323) -, only the latter is satisfactory. As long as the philosopher seeks after epistemological or ontological solutions to semantic problems, his disturbances will not cease to exist. The Blue Book illustrates this point: “Very often, the way the discussion of such a puzzle runs is this: First, the question is asked, “What is time?”. This question makes it appear that what we want is a definition. We mistakenly think that a definition is what will remove the trouble (as in certain states of indigestion we feel a kind of hunger, which cannot be removed by eating). The question is then answered by a wrong definition; say, “Time is the motion of the celestial bodies”. The next step is to see that this definition is unsatisfactory. But this only means that we do not use the word “time” synonymously with “motion of the celestial bodies”. However, in saying that the first definition is wrong, we are now tempted to think that we must replace it by a different one, the correct one” (BB, 27). But there is no correct definition of time and the solution to the problem must come from somewhere else. Wittgenstein compares this situation to that one wherein we have a hair on our tongue, but cannot get hold of it, and cannot get rid of it (BT, p. 6).

In a passage of the PI, Wittgenstein says, “A main cause of philosophical disease – a one-sided diet: one nourishes one’s thinking with only one kind of example” (PI, 593). To avoid these diseases, hence, it is fit to prescribe a multisided diet; thence the idea of multiplying the examples of language games, of providing the conditions to the execution of an analysis that deals with the problem from various angles, without ever intending to a systematisation (cf. PI, 130-31). The Blue Book did not say something much different (p. 28), when it recommended counteracting the false analogies with descriptions and inventions of uses of words, for the false analogies imposed a single meaning to different uses of a determined word19.

Another one of these methods is substituting a form of expression for other, in order to make the misunderstanding disappear. This substitution method can be called an “analysis”, for it often resembles a decomposition (PI, 90). But, in contrast with Tractatus, there is not a perfect decomposed form of an expression, not is there a complete logical analysis to unveil the determinate meaning of a proposition of common language (PI, 91). The analysis Wittgenstein intends to perform now only aims at avoiding misunderstandings and, hence, the language games he invents to that end must be interpreted only as objects of comparison that illuminate our language, and not as revealers of a hidden meaning, but present, in all correctly constructed propositions (PI, 130). The analytical method acquires, thus, a new meaning in the later thought of Wittgenstein.

Roughly, one can say that, by pointing to an original contradiction in our rules and to different uses of words, Wittgenstein intends to dissolve the philosophical problems. Thus, to perform the linguistic therapy is to make the ways of language known again to philosophers, to orient them in grammar rules and, by this means, to eliminate the contradictions that produce their disquietudes. By detecting the origin of the problem and the conflict of rules upon which the misunderstandings lie, we will quit putting philosophical questions to ourselves, and, in this sense, we will quit philosophising in the traditional sense.

The disappearance of the disturbance that afflicted the philosopher follows the abandonment of traditional philosophising. No longer confused or seduced by language, the philosopher quits running his head up against the limits of language. Wittgenstein expresses this point in a very famous metaphor, “What is your aim in philosophy? – To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle” (PI, 309). The Notes for Lectures confirm the idea that this metaphor expresses the disquietude of the philosopher and shows that to leave the fly-bottle is to reach tranquillity: “The solipsist flutters and flutters in the flyglass, strikes against the walls, flutters further. How can he be brought to rest (zur Ruhe zu bringen)?” (NL, p. 300)20. Other passages also refer to tranquillity as the end pursued by philosophy, “The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to. – The one that gives philosophy peace (zur Ruhe bringt), so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question. – Instead, we now demonstrate a method, by examples; and the series of examples can be broken off. – Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem” (PI, 133; the first highlight is mine; cf. BT, p. 19). “Disquiet in philosophy (Die Unruhe in der Philosophie) might be said to arise from looking at philosophy wrongly... Instead of the turbulent conjectures and explanations (turbulenten Mutmassungen und Erklärungen), we want to establish the quiet weighing of linguistic facts (ruhige Erwägung sprachlicher Tatsachen setzen,)” (Z, 447, emphasis added; cf. BT, p. 20)21. It becomes undeniable therefore that tranquillity is the ultimate goal of the therapy, that it plays a central role in Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy. If we describe language, it is to eliminate the philosophical illusions and if we eliminate the philosophical illusions, it is to alleviate the mind22 of its discomfort or to remove its disturbance and reach tranquillity. Thus, intellectual tranquillity is the supreme purpose of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, and it is what explains the objectives subordinate to it that otherwise could seem gratuitous23.

This psychological aspect, so to speak, of therapy has its counterpart in a linguistic aspect. The first and more evident is that we “bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use” (PI, 116)24. On the other hand, by helping the philosopher to escape this from the metaphysical use of the terms, “clear up the ground of language on which they (the houses of cards) stand” (PI, 118). It is effectively about a liberation, for we were imprisoned in a metaphysical language, which constrains and bothers us. Wittgenstein employs a metaphor to express the difficulty of making language come back to work normally, “the choice of our words is so important, because the point is to hit the physiognomy of the matter exactly; because only the thought that is precisely targeted can lead the right way. The railway carriage must be placed on the tracks exactly, so that it can keep on rolling as it is supposed to” (BT, p. 6). This precision consists in the adequate choice of words to express what the philosopher would like to say, so that he recognises himself in the formulation proposed by the “therapist”.

Even the mathematician, e.g., is tempted to make (nonmathematical) affirmations upon the objectivity and the reality of mathematical facts (der mathematischen Tatsachen); these affirmations do not properly constitute a philosophy, but are rather its raw material, i.e., they must be treated by philosophy (PI, 254). When we encounter contradictions, we will seek to clarify the grammatical rules that give rise to these contradictions so that science can solve them in its own domain. Scientific investigations will be, thus, free of philosophical confusions, of distortions that result from a necessarily partial philosophical perspective. Since philosophy is “before all new discoveries and inventions” (PI, 126; BT, p. 13), one can sustain that one of its functions is to disentangle sciences from the false problems risen by philosophers and, sometimes, by scientists themselves when they step aside from their scientific work.

The return to the common use of words does not mean a blind adherence to the conceptions of the common person, nor a prejudice against speculation. Wittgenstein, on one hand, acknowledges the value of philosophical illusions: they are not mere mistakes, but answer to basic errors that allow us to reflect upon our language; the importance of philosophical problems is as great as that of our own language (PI, 111; cf. BT, p.8). And, on the other hand, he does not aim at rejecting the modifications of our language, but, on the contrary, conceive it as essentially mutable (albeit its structure changes in an extremely slow rhythm; cf. IF, 18 and UG, 95-99). To his mind, however, it is not up to the philosopher to promote the reform and improvement of language: “Such a reform for particular practical purposes, an improvement in our terminology designed to prevent misunderstandings in practice, is perfectly possible. But these are not the cases we have to do with. The confusions which occupy us arise when language is like an engine idling (leerläuft), not when it is doing work” (PI, 132). One of the meanings of the famous affirmation that “philosophy leaves everything as it is” (PI, 124) is precisely that common language must not be altered by philosophy, but only described when misunderstandings arise.

Giving up the great theoretical and systematic constructions, philosophy will constitute itself in a practice, i.e., in the activity of reminding or producing possible uses of words to perform the therapy25. We imagine other language games as object of comparison to illuminate our language game (PI, 130). If language is like a city (PI, 18), the philosophical observations that Wittgenstein makes regarding it are like sketches of a landscape (PI, pref.), accentuating some of its aspects, or walls surrounding its limits, so that philosophers do not contravene them (BT, p. 16). In the same way medicine is an activity, so is Wittgenstein's linguistic therapy, “philosophy unravels the knots in our thinking; hence its result must be simple, but its activity as complicated as the knots it unravels” (BT, p. 14; emphasis added). It is precisely because philosophy is an activity that Wittgenstein will demand, as we have seen above, a technical capacity from the philosopher. A method to cure the dogmatists and metaphysicians of the disease is a way of conducting an investigation, a particular way of exerting this therapeutic activity.

According to Wittgenstein, of the traces of the traditional way of philosophising, only a few remain valid (to be of general character, to be fundamental both to ordinary life and to the sciences, and to be independent of the results of science; cf. M, p. 323) and, in its place, we have only a new discipline that is no more than an heiress of what we call traditional philosophy (BB, p. 28).

But it is certain that philosophy has no end, since language will continue to suggest false analogies, and certain people will be propense to be seduced by them26. Thus, new problems will arise and new philosophical theories will be proposed, making necessary new therapies. Besides, the dissolution of philosophical problems is always through the “transversal streets”, never through the “main road” (Z, 447), i.e., the therapy solves particular problems and repels punctual difficulties, but not a single problem (PI, 133). Thus, therapeutic philosophy demands an unceasing work: “but in that case we never get to the end of our work! – Of course not, for it has no end” (Z, 447)27.

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