Action and The Will

John Hyman

in The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199287505
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Action and The Will

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  • Epistemology
  • History of Western Philosophy


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In Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein talks about action and the will. The main ideas we need to be acquainted with in order to understand Wittgenstein's remarks on this topic are, first, Arthur Schopenhauer's neo-Kantian theory of the will, which Wittgenstein seems to have fully accepted in 1916, and which still influenced his thinking in 1947, and second, the theory advanced in William James's The Principles of Psychology, which Wittgenstein encountered in the 1930s, and rejected root and branch. Schopenhauer and James were in turn reacting, in very different ways, to the empiricist theory of the will, which received its classic exposition in John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. This article argues that Wittgenstein's treatment of action and the will in Philosophical Investigations is seriously flawed. Wittgenstein fails to disentangle the active/passive distinction and the voluntary/not voluntary distinction; he fails to see that voluntariness is not only an attribute of activity, but of passivity as well; and he confuses action and motion.

Keywords: Philosophical Investigations; Ludwig Wittgenstein; action; will; Arthur Schopenhauer; William James; John Locke; empiricist theory; motion; voluntariness

Article.  11757 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Epistemology ; History of Western Philosophy

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