Wittgenstein’s Trials, Teaching and Cavell’s Romantic “Figure of the Child”

  • Michael A. Peters


In “Time And Place For Philosophy”, Cavell (2008) discusses the “political reading” of Wittgenstein (attributed to Kripke) illustrated by the so-called scene of instruction in the Investigations, at §217 and “moments in Wittgenstein’s biography that can seem to substantiate such a reading”. Cavell refers to “a well-known story of his striking a pupil ” where power resides purely on the side of the teacher. Wittgenstein attended teacher training in Vienna in 1919 and taught in Austrian rural village schools until 1926 when he abruptly resigned after an incident involving hitting a pupil that led to a court trial held in Gloggnitz beginning on 17 May 1926 and lasted several over several months. The court judge called for a psychiatric examination of Wittgenstein , a report that has gone missing. The so-called Haibauer incident constitutes a central and smouldering episode in Wittgenstein’s own psychological make-up and ethical self-development—one that he returns to many years later as the basis for his “confession”. In contra distinction to Cavell’s romantic reading of the figure of the child and Matthews’ (2006) philosophy of the child, I embrace an historicist reading of Wittgenstein on the figure of the child arguing for a position that attempts to avoid both essentializing the child and forms of “adultism” by historicizing child subjectivity (Peters and Johansson 2012). This argument is advanced by focusing on and exploring the biographical incident to which Cavell refers in more detail for the light it casts on Wittgenstein’s teaching sensibilities and his state of mind (especially his suicide ideation) in the period he was a teacher, including his relationships with the Austrian children he taught. The effect of this historicist approach is to relativise Wittgenstein’s teaching and his “discipline” to the cultural context of his time—1920s Austria dominated by the Glöckel educational reforms that introduced pedagogy based on social democratic principles. This paper also imagines what the psychiatric report contained entertaining the diagnosis of Wittgenstein’s childhood autism and adult Aspergers as a means to understand Wittgenstein’s early language difficulties during his “solipsistic” phase, his lifelong struggle in sustaining reciprocal social interactions and his philosophical interests in language learning.


Wittgenstein Cavell Figure of the child Wittgenstein’s teaching Wittgenstein’s trial 


  1. Abramovitc, H. (2006). The Jewish heritage of Ludwig Wittgenstein: Its influence on his life and work. Transcultural Psychiatry, 43(4), 533–553.Google Scholar
  2. Anan, R. (2007). Foreword to the encyclopedia of autism spectrum disorders. In C. Turkington & R. Anan (Eds.), Facts on file. New York.Google Scholar
  3. Bartley, W., III. (1973). Wittgenstein. London: Quartet Books.Google Scholar
  4. Bartley, W., III. (1983/1992). Wittgenstein and homosexuality. Revised version of the “Afterword 1982” to German and Spanish translations of Wittgenstein, Salmagundi, No. 58/59 (Fall 1982–Winter 1983, pp. 166–196).Google Scholar
  5. Bellucci, F. (2013). Wittgenstein’s grammar of emotions. Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 13(1), 1–7. At
  6. Borradori, G. (1994). The American philosopher: Conversations with Quine, Davidson, Putnam, Nozick, Danto, Rorty, Cavell, MacIntyre, Kuhn. (R. Crocitto, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cavell, S. (1995). Notes and afterthoughts on the opening of Wittgenstein’s investigations. In Philosophical passages: Wittgenstein, Emerson, Austin, Derrida (pp. 124–186). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  8. Cavell, S. (1996). Epilogue: The investigations’ everyday aesthetics of itself. In S. Mulhall (Ed.), The Cavell reader (pp. 369–389) Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  9. Cavell, S. (2008). Time and place for philosophy. Metaphilosophy, 39(1), 51–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chatterjee, R. (2005). Wittgenstein and Judaism: A triumph of concealment. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  11. Cornish, K. (1998). The Jew of Linz: Wittgenstein, Hitler and their secret battle for the mind. New York: Century Books.Google Scholar
  12. Fitzgerald, M. (2000). Did Ludwig Wittgenstein have Asperger’s syndrome? European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 9(1):61–65.Google Scholar
  13. Fitzgerald, M. (2004). Autism and creativity: Is there a link between autism in men and exceptional ability? New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and punish. The birth of the prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  15. Freud, S. (1923). Certain neurotic mechanisms in jealousy, paranoia, and homo sexuality. The International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 4, 1.Google Scholar
  16. Freud, S. (1962; originally 1905). Three essays on the theory of sexuality (J. Strachey, Trans.). New York: Basic Books.
  17. Gillberg, C. (1991). Clinical and neurobiological aspects in six family studies of Asperger’s syndrome. In U. Frith (Ed.), Autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Griswold, A. (2007). The world as Wittgenstein found it: The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as a model of autistic cognition. In Autistic symphony. New York: iUniverse.
  19. Hacker, P. M. S. (2010). The development of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of psychology. At
  20. Hadot, P. (1995). Philosophy as a way of life (M. Chase, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  21. Hadot, P. (2002). What is ancient philosophy? (M. Chase, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Hadot, P. (2004). Wittgenstein et les limites du langage. Paris, J. Vrin, 2004 (Bibliothèque d’histoire de la philosophie).Google Scholar
  23. Ishisaka, Y. (2003). Wittgenstein and Asperger syndrome: Did Wittgenstein have this syndrome? Japanese Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 44(3), 231–251.Google Scholar
  24. Janik, A., & Toulmin, S. (1973). Wittgenstein’s Vienna. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  25. Kripke, S. (1982). The Wittgensteinian paradox. In Wittgenstein on rules and private language. An elementary exposition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
  26. Laugier, S. (2011). Pierre Hadot as a reader of Wittgenstein. Paragraph, 34(3), 322–337. ISSN 0264-8334. Available Online November 2011.Google Scholar
  27. Levi, A. W. (1978–79). The biographical sources of Wittgenstein’s ethics. Telos, 38.Google Scholar
  28. Luntley, M. (2008). Training and learning. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 40(5), 695–711.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Matthews, G. (1994). The philosophy of childhood. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Matthews, G. (2005). The philosophy of childhood. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. At
  31. Matthews, G. (2006). The philosophy of childhood. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. At
  32. Monk, R. (1990). Wittgenstein: The duty of genius. London: Cape.Google Scholar
  33. Monk, R. (1991). Wittgenstein: The duty of genius. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  34. Parak. (1978). Selections from Wittgenstein prigioniero a Cassino (Roma 1978). At
  35. Parson, L. (1999). Music and text in Elisabeth Lutyens’s Wittgenstein Motet. Canadian University Music Review, 20(1), 71–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Peters, M. (1984). The problem of rationality: An historicist approach for philosophy of education (Unpublished Ph.D. thesis). University of Auckland.Google Scholar
  37. Peters, M. A. (1998). Deranging the investigations: Cavell on the figure of the child. At
  38. Peters, M. A. (2001). Philosophy as pedagogy: Wittgenstein’s styles of thinking. Radical Pedagogy, 3, 3.
  39. Peters, M. A. (2002). Writing the self: Wittgenstein, confession and pedagogy. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 34(2), 353–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Peters, M. A. (2011). White philosophy in/of America, special issue on “The roots of Rorty’s philosophy”. Pragmatism Today, 2(1), 144–154. At
  41. Peters, M. A., Burbules, N., & Smeyers, P. (2008). Showing and doing: Wittgenstein as a pedagogical philosopher. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Peters, M. A., & Marshall, J. (1999). Wittgenstein: Philosophy, postmodernism, pedagogy. Westport, CT and London: Bergin and Garvey.Google Scholar
  43. Peters, M. A, & Johansson, V. (2012). Historizing subjectivity in childhood studies, linguistic and philosophical investigations (Vol. 11, pp. 42–61).Google Scholar
  44. Rosenman, S., & Nasti, J. (2012). Psychiatric diagnoses are not mental processes: Wittgenstein on conceptual confusion. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 46(11), 1046–1052.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rusinow, D. (1978). Otto Glockel and Austrian school reform movement. At
  46. Schwarzschild, S. (1979). Wittgenstein as alienated Jew. Telos, 160–165. doi: 10.3817/0679040160
  47. Shields, P. (1993). Logic and sin in the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  48. Sluga, H. (1996). Wittgenstein and the self. In H. Sluga & D. Stern (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Wittgenstein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stern, D. (2001). Was Wittgenstein a Jew? In J. Klagge (Ed.), Wittgenstein: Biography and philosophy. Early version at
  50. Szabados, B. (1999). Was Wittgenstein an anti-semite? The significance of anti-semitism for Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 29(1), 1–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Waugh, A. (2010). The house of Wittgenstein: A family at war. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
  52. Waugh, A. (2011). The house of Wittgenstein: A family at war. London: Anchor.Google Scholar
  53. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Oxford: Blackwell (PI).Google Scholar
  54. Wittgenstein, L. (1961). Notebooks 1914–1916 (G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Harper: New York (N).Google Scholar
  55. Wittgenstein, L. (1967). Zettel (G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (Z).Google Scholar
  56. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On certainty (D. Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (OC).Google Scholar
  57. Wittgenstein, L. (1974). Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore (G. H. von Wright assisted by B. F. McGuinness, Eds.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (LRKM).Google Scholar
  58. Wittgenstein, L. (1980). Culture and value. (G. H. von Wright Ed., in collaboration with H. Nyman and P. Winch, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell (CV).Google Scholar
  59. Wolff, S. (1995). Loners: The life path of unusual children. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wilf Malcolm Institute for Educational ResearchWaikato University, University of IllinoisHamilton, Urbana-ChampaignNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations