From Neuroanthropology, May 28, 2008
On the interdisciplinary New Humanities Initiative being created by David Sloan Wilson and Leslie Heywood at Binghamton University.
Would Wittgenstein have favored closer research ties between the humanities and the sciences? Given his general disdain for academic culture and cultural conservatism, the answer is likely not. Then again, his conception of philosophy as an adverbial does promote – in theory at least – interdisciplinary work, if only to contrast philosophy with science.
The differences between philosophy and science make the prospect of interdisciplinary work exciting. According to Wittgenstein, science provides causal explanations of empirical phenomena; philosophical problems, by contrast, cannot be solved by experience or causal explanation, since they are conceptual, not factual. They need not new information or discoveries, but greater clarity about linguistic meaning. The second-order reflections of philosophy on our conceptual apparatus can address in scientific practice, according to Wittgenstein, the contempt for the ‘particular case’ and the ‘craving for generality’. Instead of seeking analytic definitions, we should be mapping the various uses of words in linguistic practice.