Wittgenstein Versus Artificial Intelligence?

  • Steve Gerrard
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 165)


Those of us who grew up on Frege were raised to believe that “psychologism” was worse than any four-letter word.* If we smelled the slightest intrusion of psychology into logic, if we heard even the rumor that someone had conflated the laws of logic with empirical psychological laws, we reacted as Akhilleus did to the death of Patroklos. As well we should — we were raised correctly. Logic is not psychology.


Nicomachean Ethic Philosophical Investigation Brute Fact Logical Calculus Artificial Intelli 
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  1. 1.
    G. P. Baker and P. M. S. Hacker make their case in Language, Sense and Nonsense: A Critical Investigation into Modern Theories of Language, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, rev. edition, ed. G. H. von Wright, R. Rhees, G. E. M. Anscombe, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1978; emphasis added. Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Philosophical Investigations, ed. G. E. M. Anscombe and R. Rhees, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, New York: Macmillan Company, 1953; first emphasis added. Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bertrand Russell, Principles of Mathematics, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., n.d.,Sec. 46, p. 43.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Mind, vol. LIX, no. 236 (1950).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The qualifier is important: Wittgenstein (almost always) was doing more than one thing at once.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Emphasis added. Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Some important passages are: Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, Part III, sees. 67–71; Part IV, sec. 31; Part VI, sec. 15, and C. Diamond (ed.), Wittgenstein’s Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics: Cambridge 1939, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976, p. 97.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    G. E. M. Anscombe, ‘On Brute Facts’, Analysis 184, March 1958.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Turing, p. 433.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Substitute “belief” for language and this sentence would be true for much of Aristotle (especially in the Nicomachean Ethics) as well. The similarity in technique is often striking; see, for example Wittgenstein’s discussion in Philosophical Investigations, Part II, p. 227: “[w]hat one acquires here is not a technique; one learns correct judgments. There are also rules, but they do not form a system, and only experienced people can apply them right.” That comment could have been lifted straight out of the Nicomachean Ethics. Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Section VII, Part I, emphasis added. Whether Hume is always faithful to his instrument is another question. Much of his discussion in the Second Enguiry (as opposed to the First), for example, seems rather Wittgensteinean (or is it Aristotelian?). Consider also this marvelous sentence from the Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part II, Sectio V: “a promise is not intelligible naturally, nor antecedent to human conventions; and […] a man, unacquainted with society, could never enter into any engagements with another, even tho’ they could perceive each other’s thoughts by intuition.”Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Edited by P. T. Geach, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988, p. 150. See also p. 272.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Wittgenstein adds in parentheses “(A family of cases.)” Other remarks in the Philosophical Investigations which concern what Wittgenstein often calls “calculating in the head” are ##364, 366, 369, and 385. Investigations, #236 reappears in Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, Part VII, section 57, p. 420. There it is followed by a warning that I perhaps have not taken to heart: “[t]hese things are finer spun than crude hands have any inkling of”.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, New York: Harper and Row, 1987, p. 197.Google Scholar
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    Sacks, pp. 201–202.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    P. 203; emphasis added. Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Sacks, p. 210.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    In retrospect, I regret placing so much weight on a sharp conceptual/empirical distinction. It is part of the later Wittgenstein’s project to argue that such distinctions are radically contextual and cannot be assumed in advance. (Note added in proof, March 1995.)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steve Gerrard
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyWilliams CollegeWilliamstownUSA

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