Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept

A special issue of Philosophies (ISSN 2409-9287).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 25 April 2024 | Viewed by 12029

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department of Philosophy, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA
Interests: history and philosophy of logic and mathematics; history and development of analytic philosophy; philosophy of language

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Guest Editor
Department of Philosophy, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, 75005 Paris, France
Interests: Wittgenstein; Austin; ordinary language philosophy; Stanley Cavell; philosophy and anthropology; radical democracy; popular culture

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues, 

We are pleased to invite you to contribute to a special issue of Philosophies on the future of the concept of “forms of life”. This notion, drawn from Wittgenstein, is receiving recent attention in philosophy, political theory, anthropology, and the sociology of new medias. This special issue will explore the possibilities of developing this notion as a tool of elucidation and analysis of social structures and the importance of forms of life and individual expression to them. “Forms” pertain to the shape and logic of concepts, and concepts and life evolve rapidly in our computationally-driven world. The pluralistic embedding of language and biology in life form a nexus of fundamental importance, and a challenge to find appropriate forms of criticism and description. This special issue will explore the prospects of Wittgenstein’s notion for future research.

This special issue of Philosophies will focus on the transformations of thinking about politics, language, social relations and experience potentially brought about by the move to “forms of life”.  In The Brown Book to imagine a language is to imagine a “culture”, but in Philosophical Investigations it is to imagine a “form of life”.  What is the significance of this replacement? Stanley Cavell argued that there are multiple dimensions to Wittgenstein’s notion, including a biological and an ethological axis, and recent work on “forms of life” has ventured a multi-dimensional reworking of the human bodily experience of vulnerability in language and life. The notion of form of life as well as "life forms" is used in various fields, from biology to philosophy, sociology, political science and anthropology, as a set of practices and customs of various kinds, explicitly or implicitly present in beliefs, language, institutions, modes of action and values.  From the study of its various contemporary meanings to its critical and political scope and its ethical implications, this issue will unfold all the dimensions of this new approach  of “life” – the porosity between the private, social, economic and political spheres, and the new articulation of the social and the biological it engages  Sensitivity to forms of life is coming to confront top-down theories about structure, value, and policy. This relates, not only to knowledge and expression, but to ethics and the politics of democracy, for these depend crucially upon the formation of life in speech, agreement in and critique of forms of life,  and on the pluralities, plasticities, and rapid evolution of forms of life.

In this Special Issue, original research articles and reviews are welcome. Research areas may include (but not limited to) the following:  Wittgenstein, Philosophy of Language, Social philosophy, Critical Theory, Anthropology.

I/We look forward to receiving your contributions.

Prof. Dr. Juliet Floyd
Prof. Dr. Sandra Laugier
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • forms of life
  • Wittgenstein
  • critical theory
  • philosophy of anthropology
  • description
  • concepts
  • expression

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

16 pages, 271 KiB  
Article
Forms of Life and Public Space
by Sandra Laugier
Philosophies 2024, 9(2), 31; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies9020031 - 26 Feb 2024
Viewed by 932
Abstract
New words have found their way into the public sphere: we now commonly talk about “confinement”, “barrier-gesture” or “distancing”. The very idea of public space has been transformed: with restrictions on movement and interaction in public; with the reintegration of lives (certain lives) [...] Read more.
New words have found their way into the public sphere: we now commonly talk about “confinement”, “barrier-gesture” or “distancing”. The very idea of public space has been transformed: with restrictions on movement and interaction in public; with the reintegration of lives (certain lives) into the home (if there is one) and private space; with the publicization of private space through internet relationships; with the cities’ space occupied, during confinement, by so-called “essential” workers; with the restriction of gatherings and political demonstrations in public space. With these and other recent changes, it is imperative to revisit the concept of public space, which continues to be used as if it were self-evident, despite its profound transformation over the past few decades, in a process of realization and “literalization”. No longer just a comfortable metaphor for reasonable debates, public space has become a concrete reality in the 21th century. This transformation in the various phenomena, such as the occupation of squares and public spaces; the demand for spaces of conversation and expression for those without a voice; the transition of private matters into the public realm through verbal expression; and the expression and circulation of public issues within popular cultures. As a result, the question of public space is increasingly intertwined with that of private spaces, such as the home or individual subjectivities, forming an internal, logical relationship. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept)
16 pages, 259 KiB  
Article
Wittgenstein and Forms of Life: Constellation and Mechanism
by Piergiorgio Donatelli
Philosophies 2024, 9(1), 4; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies9010004 - 23 Dec 2023
Viewed by 1323
Abstract
The notion of forms of life points to a crucial aspect of Wittgenstein’s philosophical approach that challenges an influential line in the philosophical tradition. He portrays intellectual activities in terms of a cohesion of things held together in linguistic scenes rooted in the [...] Read more.
The notion of forms of life points to a crucial aspect of Wittgenstein’s philosophical approach that challenges an influential line in the philosophical tradition. He portrays intellectual activities in terms of a cohesion of things held together in linguistic scenes rooted in the lives of people and the facts of the world. The original inspiration with which Wittgenstein worked on this approach is still relevant today in the recent technological turn associated with AI. He attacked a conception that treated human activities as material to be examined by external models of rationality. Along with other modernists such as Musil, he saw the danger of losing faith in human intellectual and moral capacities. In contrast, Wittgenstein elucidates and substantively defends an idea of forms of life in which the great normative enterprises, from science to the works of the imagination, are based on our individual capacity to take the next step from a normative authority that rests entirely with us, as agents who can claim it in the name of others, in the name of arithmetic, in the name of our native language, in the name of justice, and so on. Forms of life are the place to look to claim this authority over the mistrust we feel compelled to cultivate in our human endeavors. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept)
21 pages, 345 KiB  
Article
Artificial Forms of Life
by Sebastian Sunday Grève
Philosophies 2023, 8(5), 89; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies8050089 - 22 Sep 2023
Viewed by 1601
Abstract
The logical problem of artificial intelligence—the question of whether the notion sometimes referred to as ‘strong’ AI is self-contradictory—is, essentially, the question of whether an artificial form of life is possible. This question has an immediately paradoxical character, which can be made explicit [...] Read more.
The logical problem of artificial intelligence—the question of whether the notion sometimes referred to as ‘strong’ AI is self-contradictory—is, essentially, the question of whether an artificial form of life is possible. This question has an immediately paradoxical character, which can be made explicit if we recast it (in terms that would ordinarily seem to be implied by it) as the question of whether an unnatural form of nature is possible. The present paper seeks to explain this paradoxical kind of possibility by arguing that machines can share the human form of life and thus acquire human mindedness, which is to say they can be intelligent, conscious, sentient, etc. in precisely the way that a human being typically is. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept)
13 pages, 273 KiB  
Article
Facts, Concepts and Patterns of Life—Or How to Change Things with Words
by Jasmin Trächtler
Philosophies 2023, 8(4), 58; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies8040058 - 30 Jun 2023
Viewed by 1565
Abstract
In his last writings, Wittgenstein repeatedly addresses the question of how our concepts relate to general facts of nature or human nature and how they are embedded in our lives. In doing so, he uses the term “pattern of life”, characterizing the complicated [...] Read more.
In his last writings, Wittgenstein repeatedly addresses the question of how our concepts relate to general facts of nature or human nature and how they are embedded in our lives. In doing so, he uses the term “pattern of life”, characterizing the complicated relationship between concepts and our lives and how our concepts “are connected with what interests us, with what matters to us” (LWPP II, 46). But who is this “us”, and whose interests manifest in the concepts we use to designate patterns of life? What if certain concepts—or their absence—are exclusionary, discriminatory, or otherwise unjust to those who are not “us”? In this paper, I want to discuss Wittgenstein’s notion of “pattern of life” in its interweaving with facts, human life, and concepts, as well as its political implications. To this end, I will first outline the relationship between facts and concept formation as Wittgenstein drew it in his last writings. Based on this, I will argue that he uses the concept of pattern of life to capture the complicated relationship between concepts and human nature or “social facts”. Going beyond Wittgenstein and drawing on recent feminist epistemology, I will raise the question of the political implications of our patterns of life and concomitant social “conceptual injustices”. Finally, I will show how imagining facts otherwise and other conceptual worlds can help us to reveal the prejudices and injustices of our concepts and can lead to conceptual change and new patterns of life that may ultimately even change “things”, i.e., our thinking, judging and acting in the world. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept)
14 pages, 266 KiB  
Article
Forms of Life, Honesty and Conditioned Responsibility
by Chon Tejedor
Philosophies 2023, 8(4), 55; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies8040055 - 25 Jun 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1103
Abstract
Individual responsibility is usually articulated either in terms of an individual’s intentions or in terms of the consequences of her actions. However, many of the situations we encounter on a regular basis are structured in such a way as to render the attribution [...] Read more.
Individual responsibility is usually articulated either in terms of an individual’s intentions or in terms of the consequences of her actions. However, many of the situations we encounter on a regular basis are structured in such a way as to render the attribution of individual responsibility unintelligible in intentional or consequential terms. Situations of this type require a different understanding of individual responsibility, which I call conditioned responsibility. The conditioned responsibility model advances that, in such situations, responsibility arises directly out of the conditions in which the individual finds herself, irrespective of her intentions or of the consequences of her actions. This model gives rise to a series of challenges, some of which, I propose, can be addressed by drawing on Wittgenstein’s later notion of form of life, together with the notion of honesty implicit in his early approach to ethics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept)
12 pages, 249 KiB  
Article
Forms of Life and Linguistic Change: The Case of Trans Communities
by Anna Boncompagni
Philosophies 2023, 8(3), 50; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies8030050 - 31 May 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1537
Abstract
Wittgenstein mentions “forms of life” only on a limited number of occasions in his writings; however, this concept is at the core of his approach to language, as the vast literature on the subject shows. My aim in this paper is neither to [...] Read more.
Wittgenstein mentions “forms of life” only on a limited number of occasions in his writings; however, this concept is at the core of his approach to language, as the vast literature on the subject shows. My aim in this paper is neither to adjudicate which of the many competing interpretations of “forms of life” is correct nor to propose a new one. I start with a methodological take on this notion and test it by applying it to a specific case. In my view, the notion of forms of life is a methodological tool that Wittgenstein uses to draw attention to the embeddedness of language in our lives and practices. This reading, I suggest, allows us to oppose those who want to see in Wittgenstein a conservative thinker, based on his remark on forms of life as “the given” that must be accepted. In particular, it becomes possible to put his notion to use in the study of linguistic and social change. Hence, I propose as an example the case of innovative language games in trans communities. In this context, the notion of forms of life enables us to see with more clarity how linguistic change occurs, which also helps us better understand phenomena such as disagreement, conflict, and hermeneutical injustice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept)
21 pages, 331 KiB  
Article
Ends of Life: Forms of Life as the “Ruins of an Enduring Fable”?
by Edward Guetti
Philosophies 2023, 8(3), 46; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies8030046 - 25 May 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1150
Abstract
This paper addresses the possibility of using the Wittgensteinian conception of “forms of life” (“Lebensformen”) as a potentially transformative philosophical framework that responds to contemporary challenges. These challenges can be understood as resulting from parallel discourses of “ends”: that of “nature” [...] Read more.
This paper addresses the possibility of using the Wittgensteinian conception of “forms of life” (“Lebensformen”) as a potentially transformative philosophical framework that responds to contemporary challenges. These challenges can be understood as resulting from parallel discourses of “ends”: that of “nature” and that of the “human”. These challenges are relevant, especially, for a Cavellian interpretation of Wittgensteinian Lebensformen as an expression of cultural and natural factors. My purpose is to show how Cavell’s elaboration of Wittgensteinian Lebensformen can be maintained against the critical pressures exerted by prevailing discourses of ends. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept)
14 pages, 285 KiB  
Article
The Wrong Question?
by Michael Lambek
Philosophies 2023, 8(2), 38; https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies8020038 - 15 Apr 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1352
Abstract
The Wrong Question? is the response by an anthropologist to a question posed by a philosopher concerning the intelligibility of alien forms of thought. I argue that it is wrong to describe the problem of intelligibility as one of logic or rationality. Indeed, [...] Read more.
The Wrong Question? is the response by an anthropologist to a question posed by a philosopher concerning the intelligibility of alien forms of thought. I argue that it is wrong to describe the problem of intelligibility as one of logic or rationality. Indeed, foreign practices (no less than our own) may become intelligible only once they are not evaluated according to abstract criteria of rationality. To ask of a given practice or form of life whether it is rational is an error of grammar (nonsense) in Wittgenstein’s sense. I describe how intelligibility emerges over the course of ethnographic fieldwork but also argue that we must work on our own concepts in order to make foreign ones intelligible. The response draws from both Gadamer and Wittgenstein as well as anthropologists Geertz, Evans-Pritchard, and Lévi-Strauss. Following Cora Diamond, I suggest further that the ethical and rational dimensions of understanding another are indissociable. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Wittgenstein’s “Forms of Life”: Future of the Concept)
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