Getting clear about perspicuous representations: Wittgenstein, Baker, & Fodor
Deciding what role perspicuous representations play in Wittgenstein’s philosophy matters, not only for determining what one thinks of the contributions of this great figure of twentieth century philosophy but also for recognising the ‘live options’ for conducting philosophical enquiries full stop. It is not surprising, given this importance, that perspicuous representations is the topic of the opening chapter of Gordon Baker’s posthumous collection of essays on philosophical method. In that contribution he offers grounds for thinking that the relevant passage in which the notion is explicitly mentioned (cited above) should be read as promoting a strongly therapeutic approach to philosophy: he exposes ‘this possibility’ in the modest hope of persuading receptive readers to explore it further for themselves (see Baker 2004, 46). I endorse some of Baker’s central insights about understanding and use of perspicuous representations but I firmly reject his conclusions about the end of philosophy. Specifically, I agree with him that Wittgenstein set his face against the very idea of philosophical ‘theorising’, but I deny that this led him (or ought to lead anyone) to promote a purely therapeutic philosophy. In the first three sections, I supply reasons for preferring an account of Wittgenstein’s approach to philosophy that emphasises its clarificatory ambitions. In doing so, I say something about: (i) what I take perspicuous representations to be and how they function; (ii) what motivates Baker’s reading and its implications; and (iii) how perspicuous and other forms of representations have been misused in attempts at so-called philosophical theorising. I conclude by proposing that in steering clear of both theory and extreme therapy, it is possible to prosecute a positive philosophy – one that employs perspicuous representations to bring ‘relevant connections’ to light for the purposes of enabling us to understand and reflect on aspects of various domains of human being.