Wittgenstein, Cavell and the Register of Philosophy: Discerning Seriousness and Triviality in Drama Teaching

  • Adrian Skilbeck


Throughout his life, Wittgenstein regarded philosophy’s attraction to science with suspicion. In Culture and Value, he wrote, “People nowadays think, scientists are there to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc. to entertain them. That the latter have something to teach them; that never occurs to them” (CV, p. 36e). As if to demonstrate his shrewd and mischievous ear for the serious and the absurd, Wittgenstein chose a quote from the Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy, a writer renowned for his comedies, as the epigraph for Philosophical Investigations . Framing his work with the words of a farceur suggests Wittgenstein wanted to resist his work being read with a toneless literalism akin to the reasoning of science , the epitome of serious thinking for associates like Russell . Careful attention reveals the play of voices heard in the text not only mark out contrasting positions in various arguments but also allow for the expression of different registers of philosophical seriousness , including humour and irony. Wittgenstein’s attention to voice has had a profound influence on the work of Stanley Cavell . Via reflection on Cavell’s association of voice with Wittgensteinian criteria , the essay argues for the value of drama education in providing aesthetic perspectives from which young people can critically engage with their culture whilst acknowledging its significance in their lives.


Seriousness Humour Voice Criteria Drama education 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCL Institute of EducationLondonUK

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