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

  • Michael A. Peters
Chapter

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

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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

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