Wittgenstein and the Three Spheres

A note from a few months back when I was reading Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein. I’m posting it as a reminder to my future self.

Reading Wittgenstein is a challenge. But toward the end of Philosophical Investigations it seemed to me that there were three spheres of argumentation going on in Wittgenstein.

  1. There is the sphere of ordinary language. This is the source for the examples and cases which Wittgenstein builds his argument. Ordinary language is the testing ground for his ideas and becomes the touchstone for evaluation.
  2. There is the sphere of philosophy. This is where the skeptical argument is mounted, defended, and perhaps defeated or supported. But the skeptical argument is a language game played within philosophy itself and never in ordinary language. Being skeptical about mental states in ordinary language just leads to weird looks and people wondering if you’ve been reading too much philosophy again.
  3. There is a metaphilosophy sphere where an argument about the value of philosophy itself takes place. This is where the therapeutic argument is made - too much time in sphere 2 is bad for our mental health.

Wittgenstein is strongly skeptical in sphere 2. He is perhaps too accepting of the truth of meaning in sphere 1. And sphere 3 is suggested by implication - the idea that philosophy should be a type of therapy.

A related question is where does jargon fit in? Jargon seems to be in a middle state. It’s not quite ordinary language but it isn’t really philosophical language either.