Abstracts of Papers in Progress

Below are abstracts for the following papers in progress:

  • “Games and Stories”
  • “Wittgenstein’s Fictions”
  • “Rule Following, Anxiety, and Authenticity”
  • “Wittgenstein’s Confessions: Reading Philosophical Investigations with St. Augustine”
  • “Homo neotenicus and Homo ludens”


Games and Stories

This paper argues for a structural continuity between stories and games. A close examination of the sub-set of games that have a story element reveals that traditional stories can be seen as a limiting case of such narrative games in general. This approach expands upon Kendall Walton’s make-believe theory of the representational arts, in particular considering both stories and make-believe games within the broader field of games simpliciter. In particular, I focus on similarities between the “normative fictions” (a term I borrow from C. Thi Nguyen) of game world and fictional worlds and on similarities between characters in fictional worlds and players in games. The conclusion suggests further ramifications of considering the centrality of play to human experience.

Wittgenstein’s Fictions

At various points in his later philosophy, Wittgenstein insists that he is not advancing any claims that one could dispute, and says that, rather than theses, theories, explanations, and the like, he is offering descriptions. This paper addresses two related puzzles that stand out if we take Wittgenstein at his word: How can we make sense of his claim that he says nothing we can dispute? And how, if what he says is beyond dispute, can it nevertheless be philosophically interesting? This paper answers these questions by drawing an analogy between the language-games and other imaginary scenarios that pepper Wittgenstein’s later writings on the one hand, and works of literary fiction on the other. Like literature, Wittgenstein offers us “objects of comparison,” scenarios or worlds that stand in contrast with our own, and which work on us not by persuading us of the truths of particular propositions, but by shifting our general orientation. This argument proceeds by distinguishing Wittgenstein’s imaginary scenarios from standard philosophical thought experiments, and applies the conclusions it reaches regarding Wittgenstein’s imaginary scenarios to the problem of cognitivism in literary fiction.

Rule Following, Anxiety, and Authenticity

The problematic of rule following in Wittgenstein’s later philosophy exhibits a number of striking homologies to the problematic of anxiety in Heidegger’s Being and Time. In fact, Wittgenstein’s rule following considerations can be seen as a special case of Heideggerian anxiety. Noting these homologies allows us to apply the Heideggerian categories of authenticity and inauthenticity to Wittgenstein’s problematic of rule following. One consequence of doing so is that a new category of criticism emerges regarding Kripke’s much-discussed and controversial reading of Wittgenstein on rules: it presents an inauthentic response to the problem is seeks to address.

Wittgenstein’s Confessions: Reading Philosophical Investigations with St. Augustine

Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations begins with a quotation from St. Augustine’s Confessions, and then proceeds to scrutinize “the picture of the essence of human language” that Wittgenstein claims to find in the passage that he quotes. Wittgenstein is normally read as criticizing the “Augustinian picture of language,” and by extension, Augustine himself, but this paper argues that Wittgenstein takes Augustine as his starting point primarily out of a sense of affinity with Augustine’s project, rather than in rejection of it.

In particular, I draw attention to the difficulty both Philosophical Investigations and Confessions have with beginning, and with arrogating to themselves the authority to begin. Both texts begin with the words from another text—Confessions in the case of Philosophical Investigations, and the Book of Psalms in the case of Confessions—such that the author’s voice enters in response to the voice of another. Over the first few pages of Confessions, Augustine struggles with the question of how he can begin, a struggle that I read as calling into question Augustine’s own authority to act as author to his own life story. One central aim of Confessions is precisely to challenge the autonomy of the individual as author of his or her own life, insisting instead that a life can only be properly understood through God and as a part of God’s creation.

Ultimately, Confessions is a text about conversion, and the difficulty of conversion—in particular, the difficulty that conversion requires more than assenting to a set of propositions. In this respect, Philosophical Investigations is also a text about conversion and its difficulty: Wittgenstein does not try to persuade his readers of a set of propositions so much as he attempts to shift his readers’ overall way of seeing. By exploring Wittgenstein’s own deferral of authority at the outset of his text, and by comparing it with Augustine’s own, this paper seeks to cast light on the aim of Philosophical Investigations as a whole, and the significance of Stanley Cavell’s proposal that the text might be read as a confession.

Homo neotenicus and Homo ludens

Human physiology shows many signs of neoteny—delayed physiological development that results in the retention in adulthood of traits normally only seen in the young. With our hairless bodies, large eyes, small jaws, and globular skulls containing large brains, we look more like the juveniles of other ape species than like the adults. This paper explores one common form of juvenile animal behaviour that is more prominent in adult humans than in the adults of other species: play. Drawing on work by Johan Huizinga, as well as Roger Caillois and Bernard Suits, I lay out some of the characteristic features of play, and of the distinctively human form of play that we call games. Play unfolds in what Huizinga calls a “magic circle” or “play ground,” which is delimited from “ordinary” life spatially, temporally, and socially. We begin to see the centrality of play to human existence when we recognize the delimitation of structurally similar “play grounds” in artistic and religious practice. To the extent that a “human difference” is worth marking, on this view, it is more a matter of degree than of kind: other animals play as well, just nothing like as intensively as we do, especially not into adulthood. However, adult human play takes on a much more regulated structure than either the play of human children or of other animals. We are not the only creatures that play, but we may be the only creatures that play games.