Murdoch University Research Repository

Welcome to the Murdoch University Research Repository

The Murdoch University Research Repository is an open access digital collection of research
created by Murdoch University staff, researchers and postgraduate students.

Learn more

Wittgenstein and criticism: Towards a praxiological view of the text

McHoul, A. (1978) Wittgenstein and criticism: Towards a praxiological view of the text. New Literature Review, 3 . pp. 49-57.

PDF - Published Version
Download (2MB)


FROM SIXTEENTH CENTURY metaphysical views of language to the modern concerns of structuralism, semiology and generative semantics, philosophers and linguists have sought in vain for a simple relation of words to objects, of sentences and propositions to situations and states of affairs. The linguistic philosopher's stone has been the nature of the correspondence, the isomorphism of word and world. The tendency - which we shall call 'linguistic essentialism' or 'correspondence theories of meaning' -still exists in implicit form at the roots of much linguistic thinking. But in philosophy the spectre was put to rest by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the studies which led to Philosophical Investigations and which rejected the most sophisticated form of linguistic essentialism -logical atomism- which, in turn, had received its fullest realisation in the earlier Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Yet in those disciplines which deal with linguistic formations but which also take for granted the work which language performs, the essentialist doctrine remains latent. Literary criticism is a case in point. The purpose of this paper is to show this and to suggest how criticism might benefit from (a} making literary language itself an object of study (as opposed to language's manifestation as a text), thereby being able to (b) reject its implicit acceptance of the essentialism paradigm, (c) replacing that acceptance, as the later Wittgenstein did, with what will be called a 'praxiological' view, and (d) looking at texts in this light. The story of Wittgenstein's shift from logic to praxiology is the story of a potential shift in the paradigm of literary criticism.

In what follows we shall ask: 'What is the essentialist view of language and meaning as it is found in the early Wittgenstein?'; 'How is it uncovered in the work of one literary critic, F.R. Leavis?'; 'What is the critique of essentialism that Wittgenstein performed in the Investigations?'; and 'How does this critique lend itself to the methodology of literary criticism?'.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Dept. of English, Australian National University
Item Control Page Item Control Page


Downloads per month over past year