Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch [1st ed.] 9783030407414, 9783030407421

This volume is a reappraisal of the work of Peter Guy Winch (1926 -1997), one of the most important philosophers of the

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Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-vi
Introduction (Michael Campbell, Lynette Reid)....Pages 1-9
Moral Agency (Carolyn Wilde)....Pages 11-24
Ethics and Action (David Cockburn)....Pages 25-40
“What Justifies the Justifications?” Winch on Punishment and Justice (Lars Hertzberg)....Pages 41-55
Winch on Punishment: Contested Concepts, Justification, and Primitive Reactions (Lynette Reid)....Pages 57-83
Political Philosophy and the Primacy of Agency (Olli Lagerspetz)....Pages 85-102
Winch on Political Authority & Obedience (Marina Barabas)....Pages 103-115
Aspects of Period-Turns (Helen Geyer)....Pages 117-133
The Identity of Man – Winch Between Spinoza, Weil, and Wittgenstein (Sarah Tropper)....Pages 135-148
Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life (Francesca R. Recchia Luciani)....Pages 149-166
Wanting to Be Better: On the Self-Defeating Character of Moral Perfection (Kamila Pacovská)....Pages 167-182
Between Discovery and Decision: Winch’s Critique of the Universalizability of Moral Judgment Revisited (Takeshi Sato)....Pages 183-197
The Good and Bad in Sexual Relations: A Reconsideration of Winch’s Limiting Notions (Camilla Kronqvist)....Pages 199-215
Winch on First Philosophy: Unity and Multiplicity (Steven Burns)....Pages 217-230
Researching Education: Perspectives from Winch’s Approach to the Social Sciences (Christopher Winch)....Pages 231-249
“Don’t Mention the Idea of a Social Science”: The Legacy of an Idea (Mark Theunissen)....Pages 251-270
Winch and Animal Minds (Craig Taylor)....Pages 271-279
Back Matter ....Pages 281-286
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Nordic Wittgenstein Studies Series Editor: Niklas Forsberg

Michael Campbell Lynette Reid  Editors

Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch

Nordic Wittgenstein Studies Volume 6 Series Editor Niklas Forsberg, Centre for Ethics, Department of Philosophy, University of Pardubice, Pardubice, Czech Republic Editorial Board Sorin Bangu, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway Martin Gustafsson, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland Lars Hertzberg, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland Kjell S. Johannessen, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway Oskari Kuusela, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK Yrsa Neuman, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland Bernt Österman, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland Alois Pichler, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway Simo Säätelä, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway Anne-Marie Søndergaard Christensen, University of South Denmark, Odense, Denmark Thomas Wallgren, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland Cato Wittusen, University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway Advisory Board Maija Aalto-Heinilä, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland Hanne Appelqvist, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland Avner Baz, Tufts University, Medford, USA Anat Biletzki, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel Steen Brock, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark Kevin Cahill, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway David Cockburn, University of Wales, Cardiff, UK James Conant, University of Chicago, Chicago, USA Cora Diamond, Professor Emeritus, Charlottesville, VA, USA Alberto Emiliani, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland Juliet Floyd, Boston University, Boston, USA Gottfried Gabriel, Professor Emeritus, Jena, Germany Dinda L. Gorlée, The Hague, The Netherlands Herbert Hrachovec, University of Vienna, Wien, Austria Allan Janik, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria James Klagge, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA Michael Kremer, University of Chicago, Chicago, USA Camilla Kronqvist, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland David Levy, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK Denis McManus, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK Felix Mühlhölzer, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany Jean Philippe Narboux, University of Bordeaux, Pessac, France Joachim Schulte, Universität Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland Daniele Moyal-Sharrock, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK Stephen Mulhall, Oxford, UK Antonia Soulez, Paris, France David G Stern, University of Iowa, Iowa, USA Nuno Venturinha, Lisbon, Portugal David E. Wellbery, Chicago, USA Edward Witherspoon, Colgate University, New York, USA

The series publishes high-quality studies of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work and philosophy. It is affiliated with The Nordic Wittgenstein Society, The Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen and The von Wright and Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Helsinki. The series welcomes any first rank study of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, biography or work, and contributions in the subject areas of philosophy and other human and social studies (including philology, linguistics, cognitive science and others) that draw upon Wittgenstein’s work. It also invites studies that demonstrate the philosophical relevance of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass as well as purely philological or literary studies of the Nachlass. Each submission to the series, if found eligible by the series editor, is peer reviewed by the editorial board and independent experts. The series accepts submissions in English of approximately 80 000 – 125 000 words. For further information (about how to submit a proposal, formatting etc.), please contact: [email protected] More information about this series at

Michael Campbell  •  Lynette Reid Editors

Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch

Editors Michael Campbell Department of Philosophy University of Pardubice Pardubice, Czech Republic

Lynette Reid Department of Bioethics Dalhousie University Halifax, NS, Canada

ISSN 2520-1514     ISSN 2520-1522 (electronic) Nordic Wittgenstein Studies ISBN 978-3-030-40741-4    ISBN 978-3-030-40742-1 (eBook) © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover Illustration: The cover makes use of Wittgenstein Nachlass MS 115, page 118. The Master and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge and the University of Bergen have kindly permitted the use of this picture. This Springer imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


1 Introduction����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������    1 Michael Campbell and Lynette Reid 2 Moral Agency ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   11 Carolyn Wilde 3 Ethics and Action ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������   25 David Cockburn 4 “What Justifies the Justifications?” Winch on Punishment and Justice ��������������������������������������������������������   41 Lars Hertzberg 5 Winch on Punishment: Contested Concepts, Justification, and Primitive Reactions����������������������������������������������������   57 Lynette Reid 6 Political Philosophy and the Primacy of Agency����������������������������������   85 Olli Lagerspetz 7 Winch on Political Authority & Obedience ������������������������������������������  103 Marina Barabas 8 Aspects of Period-Turns��������������������������������������������������������������������������  117 Helen Geyer 9 The Identity of Man – Winch Between Spinoza, Weil, and Wittgenstein����������������������������������������������������������������������������  135 Sarah Tropper 10 Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life��������������������������������������������������������������������  149 Francesca R. Recchia Luciani




11 Wanting to Be Better: On the Self-­Defeating Character of Moral Perfection����������������������������������������������������������������������������������  167 Kamila Pacovská 12 Between Discovery and Decision: Winch’s Critique of the Universalizability of Moral Judgment Revisited������������������������  183 Takeshi Sato 13 The Good and Bad in Sexual Relations: A Reconsideration of Winch’s Limiting Notions����������������������������������  199 Camilla Kronqvist 14 Winch on First Philosophy: Unity and Multiplicity ����������������������������  217 Steven Burns 15 Researching Education: Perspectives from Winch’s Approach to the Social Sciences ������������������������������������  231 Christopher Winch 16 “Don’t Mention the Idea of a Social Science”: The Legacy of an Idea������������������������������������������������������������������������������  251 Mark Theunissen 17 Winch and Animal Minds ����������������������������������������������������������������������  271 Craig Taylor Peter Winch’s Complete Bibliography����������������������������������������������������������  281

Chapter 1

Introduction Michael Campbell and Lynette Reid

Peter Guy Winch (1926–1997) was one of the most important philosophers of the second half of the twentieth Century. He is best-known for his early work on the philosophy of the social sciences, in particular his monograph On the Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy (ISS) (Winch 1958/1990), which generated controversy within both philosophical and social scientific circles. In that work and subsequent publications Winch argued against the presupposition that social relations could be understood using only the conceptual tools of the natural sciences. Winch would later come to regret the reputation ISS garnered him, which was a mixture of roughly equal degrees fame and infamy. In part this regret stemmed from the (as it seemed to him) uncharitable light in which ISS was read by its many critics. In part also it was because that book overshadowed all of his subsequent work. Alongside his writings on the philosophy of the social sciences, his interests ranged widely. Winch was an important interpreter and translator of Wittgenstein, (Winch 1969) and together with Rush Rhees was an instrumental figure in the development of the so-called ‘Swansea School’ of Wittgenstein interpretation.1 He also published a groundbreaking study of the philosophy of Simone Weil, entitled Simone Weil: The Just Balance (Winch 1989). In his critical review of that work, Rowan Williams praised Winch for “writing a book whose main purpose is to make us think with Weil, and in so doing recognise her as a philosopher.”2 Alongside these interests, Winch also published numerous essays in areas including ethics, political philosophy, the philosophy of religion and philosophical logic, most of which are collected together in two volumes of essays published during his lifetime, Ethics

 On which see Edelman (2009).  Williams (1991, 159).

1 2

M. Campbell (*) Department of Philosophy, University of Pardubice, Pardubice, Czech Republic e-mail: [email protected] L. Reid Department of Bioethics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



M. Campbell and L. Reid

and Action (1972) and Trying to Make Sense (1987). At his death, he was turning his attention to a book manuscript on the problem of political authority. Despite the apparent diversity of these topics, Winch’s work was animated by a conviction that philosophical problems form a unity, and he rejected any attempt sharply to delineate between different sub-disciplines within philosophy. He was steadfastly opposed to the drift in academic philosophy towards narrow specialisation and technicality, seeing in that drift the mistaken assumption that one can for instance worry about metaphysics without considering ethics, or epistemology without considering metaphysics. Instead, for Winch these issues are all entangled, in a variety of different ways, in the philosophical problems which arise in human endeavours. The following passage from ISS captures his sense of the unity of philosophical inquiry—as well as a sense of the era to which he belonged: A man’s social relations with his fellows are permeated with his ideas about reality. Indeed, ‘permeated’ is hardly a strong enough word: social relations are expressions of ideas about reality. In [Ibsen’s Wild Ducks], for example, it would be impossible to delineate the character’s attitudes to the people surrounding him except in terms of his ideas about what they think of him, what they have done in the past, what they are likely to do in the future, and so on; and, in Ghosts, his ideas about how he is biologically related to them. (Winch 1958/1990, 23)

And: In this way the discussion of what an understanding of reality consists in merges into the discussion of the difference the possession of such an understanding may be expected to make to the life of man; and this again involves a consideration of the general nature of a human society, an analysis, that is, of the concept of a human society. (Winch 1958/1990, 22–23)

Particularly distinctive of how Winch took up Wittgenstein’s philosophical work is his rejection of the so-called ‘linguistic turn’; he never thought that questions of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics could be resolved simply by attending more carefully to the meanings of our words, or through the provision of a more sophisticated philosophy of language. Unlike certain of his contemporaries, Winch was never accused of being unserious in his attitude towards the problems of traditional philosophy, and never saw them as being (as it were) mere shadows cast by grammar. Even when his engagement with philosophical problems involved undermining the claims of philosophers to have established or debunked some general truth, his method for such an undermining maneuver always involved taking seriously the motivations of the philosopher who felt the need for such an account. At the same time, Winch was always careful to make philosophy answerable to the depth and range of human experience. At a time when philosophy was divided between conceptual analysis on the one hand and scientific positivism on the other, Winch took care to work always with examples of sufficient depth or directness— whether taken from art, literature, movies, cartoons or radio shows—in the belief that reflection on them would deepen understanding of the issues at hand. Rather than simply using these examples to illuminate an independently intelligible argument, Winch would allow these cases to guide his thought in ways which brought out, against a tendency towards simplification, the richness and complexity of

1 Introduction


thought and practice. Thanks to his early work in the social sciences, he was sensitive to cultural and historical differences, and was aware of the danger of mistaking for universal some feature of our thought or practice which is instead only an expression of a particularity of our culture. As a result of this sensitivity towards the particular, he was often accused of relativism, a charge which he found frustrating. After all, as a philosophical position, relativism displays the same kind of uncritical tendency as its realist denial, that is, the tendency to generalise over cases in advance of consideration of particulars. Winch’s work, more than any other philosopher of his generation, shows a way to avoid this craving for generality while leaving room for genuine philosophical thought. Despite the importance of Winch’s work, he has faded into relative obscurity compared to his contemporaries such as Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot and Bernard Williams. One reason for this neglect is a mistaken belief that there are no systematic connections between the different aspects of Winch’s work. This volume aims to correct that presupposition and to reintroduce Winch’s work to a new generation of scholars. By showing how ethical, political and social issues are interrelated in Winch’s work, and by showing the connections between these issues and themes in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, the volume demonstrates both the breadth and the unity of Winch’s approach. In recent years there has been an upsurge in interest in Winch’s philosophical oeuvre, spurred in part by a project to investigate his Nachlass, held at Kings College London as the Peter Winch Archives. An edited collection of Winch’s hitherto unpublished notes on Spinoza is due to be published in 2020 and a project is underway to collect together Winch’s unpublished remarks on the philosophy of law and political philosophy. Several contributors to the current volume draw on these unpublished writings to enrich our understanding of Winch’s work and to point the way to avenues for further research. Carolyn Wilde provides a substantive overview of Winch’s papers on morality. She explores his persistent concern with key themes—human agency, particularity, integrity, and embodiment—and confronts the popular image of Winch as a relativist. A core commitment for Winch is that we do not save the reality of morality by papering over the “heterogeneity of moral judgments” (Chap. 2, p. 20). Fidelity to the depth of moral conflict and the importance of individual judgment in morality does not equate to relativism. Cockburn takes up an important cluster of papers in Ethics and Action where Winch engages with Wittgenstein’s early discussions of the will in the Tractatus. Cockburn contrasts Winch and Anscombe in their views of the relationship between moral commitments and our understanding of—or distortions in our understanding of—the metaphysics of persons. Winch argues in these papers that the moral fatalism to which Wittgenstein gives voice in the Tractatus is forced on him by his conception of language; Cockburn proposes on the contrary that Wittgenstein was first attracted to Schopenhauer’s ethics and this made him sympathetic to a certain account of the relationship between language, thought, and reality. But in the end Cockburn is not advancing the opposite thesis—that one’s metaphysics follow from one’s ethics — suggesting rather that “perhaps we would do better to think in terms


M. Campbell and L. Reid

of a ‘picture’, with both an ethical and a metaphysical face, that draws sustenance from a number of sources” (Chap. 3, p. 33). This paper by Cockburn is another step in a sustained critical engagement with Winch’s thought: echoing a thought in his earlier (2013) paper on primitive reactions and justification. In that paper, he distinguishes Winch’s characteristic attention to how concepts weave together across temporal and individual perspectives from his interest in placing limits on the demand for justification. The theme of ‘primitive reactions’ in Winch’s thought serves both aims, and Cockburn argues that these should be distinguished (something Winch himself sometimes fails to do). This contrast plays out in the following two papers by Hertzberg  (Chap. 4) and Reid (Chap. 5), both of which discuss Winch’s views on punishment. Hertzberg develops Winch’s critique of the philosophical demand for justification in relation to the institution of punishment. He suggests that looking at Winch’s thought in his unpublished lecture and book outline notes can shed light on Winch’s thoughts on punishment beyond those in his two published papers on the subject. Like Cockburn, he pursues this line of thinking through focusing on the category of primitive reactions and Winch’s use of it. Not only does the role of primitive reactions in concept formation set limits to philosophical skepticism, our ability to make sense of human action—to identify an action as a punishment in itself—places the act in the space of justification and critique, particularly in relation to the central political concept of justice. That space is threatened by philosophical skepticism about the possibility of conceptualizing punishment as a response to the past and insisting, as the consequentialist does, that its only justification lies in the aspiration to change future course of events. The conceptual space of desert—of punishment as being ‘for’ a crime—in addition to concepts of justice, is a space in which we make a coherent distinction between revenge and punishment. Hertzberg grapples with Winch’s statement that our practices and the primitive reactions from which they are elaborated could be subject to wholesale critique, framing this as perhaps a spiritual attitude that could be taken to a certain set of crimes. Reid takes up Winch’s suggestion that our practices of punishment could be open to wholesale critique and treats this not as a hypothetical but as an observation about our ‘ordinary life’ with core moral and political concepts. These concepts are shot through with deep differences and conflicts, all the way from primitive reactions through to their conceptual elaboration—with no bright line here between our conceptually elaborated practices and philosophical reflection and critique on these practices. She directs us to Winch’s original discussion (in his late paper, “The Expression of Belief”) of aspect-seeing in the Tractatus and in Part II of the Investigations. According to Winch, whatever clarification of phenomenology is on offer here is in service of gaining a clear understanding of a particular example of aspect-shifting, one central to the relation between language, thought, and reality: seeing what is said as saying what it does about the world and seeing it as expressing the belief of the person who says it. She uses Winch’s analysis of this to develop a different understanding of the ‘intensionality’ of punishment as being ‘for’ a crime, one focused less on recovering the intelligibility of retributive justice and

1 Introduction


more on helping us understand the challenges of reading the concept of punishment into the acts and agencies of individuals and societies. Olli Lagerspetz (Chap. 6) distinguishes Winch’s concern with justification of the state—its authority and institutions—and his interest in what Lagerspetz calls the primacy of agency. Lagerspetz argues that the latter is the most promising aspect of Winch’s thought to follow out, and the one that most strongly connects Winch’s political writings with his writings on the social sciences and moral philosophy. He brings into focus Winch’s interest in the position of the citizen and their actions outside formal institutions: Socrates the gadfly of the state, Simone Weil the citizen of a government in exile, and Václav Havel’s greengrocer, who lives in his own life the conflict between reality and political lies. By contrast, Marina Barabas’s paper (Chap. 7) examines Winch’s work on political philosophy through the lens of an analysis of the concepts of authority, obligation and law. After explaining Winch’s critique of contractarian answers to the question ‘when is the state justified?’ she goes on to suggest that Winch’s view is defective in not distinguishing sharply enough political authority from authority based on familial or social ties. According to Barabas, in some communities political authority is made sui generis by virtue of its connection to a conception of individuals as persons, ruled not by each other but rather by the law. By connecting this concept of personhood to a process of self-understanding, she aims to show that political structures transcend particularities of our historical context. Rather, politics is a science, which like “physics, geography or history, stand[s] in no clear, let alone dependent, relation to ‘ordinary’ practices” (Chap. 7). Barabas suggests therefore that Winch’s Wittgensteinian dissolution of the philosophical problem of political authority misses out on what is most distinctive about the political sphere. The picture of Winch as a ‘Wittgensteinian’ does not do justice to the range of his philosophical interests. Recchia Luciani (Chap. 10) and Tropper (Chap. 9) fill out the picture with discussions of his work on Simone Weil and on Spinoza. Recchia Luciani highlights Winch’s achievement in elaborating Simone Weil’s distinctive philosophical work, demonstrating how much of philosophical depth is available from her thought whether one does or does not follow her better-known path to religious commitment. Winch makes extensive use of comparisons with Wittgenstein—particularly around the key theme of the embodiment of concepts in human action and response in context (going now beyond social context to a broader understanding of ‘environment’). Recchia Luciani captures well Winch’s distinctive philosophical approach to both thinkers: his work is not exactly exegetical; it is, rather, his own attempt to think through the philosophical problems that engage him, in the process of reconstructing their thought. Weil and Wittgenstein have philosophical parallels beyond the primacy they give to action in the development of thought and language. They also share a passionate and uncompromising manner of doing philosophy, a demonstration of what it is to do philosophy as a practice. Sarah Tropper connects Winch’s work on Spinoza both to his interest in Simone Weil and more broadly to his anti-reductionist philosophical methodology. Tropper shows that, for Winch, epistemological, metaphysical and ethical questions are interdependent. Winch can find these themes to be mutually interrelated because of his


M. Campbell and L. Reid

awareness of the importance of the individual in thought, conceived not as a bare agent or judge of circumstances, but rather as “a moral agent, who is embedded in a web of circumstances that shape her view on the world and the possibilities and options she is able to entertain” (Chap. 9). By examining Winch’s idiosyncratic reading of Spinoza, Tropper brings out the irreducibility of the first personal perspective in human thought, and the significance of this insight for philosophical inquiry. Burns (Chap. 14)  and Kronqvist (Chap. 13)  take up (respectively) Winch’s themes of ‘primitive reactions’ and Vico’s ‘limiting notions’ of birth, death, and copulation. Winch’s readers might see these as the closest thing to universals in his thought. Both Burns and Kronqvist make cases for the depth and subtlety of Winch’s treatment of these ideas. Burns (Chap. 14) walks us through a paper published in German towards the end of Winch’s life: Einheit: Voraussetzung oder Forderung?—“Unity—presupposition or demand?”. Burns maintains (against Cockburn’s critique) that there is a kind of conceptual and ethical grounding in the primitive and taken for granted responses of trust and truth-telling, and in the conceptually derivative nature of lying and mistrust. It is noteable that in this paper Winch gives his response to Phillips’s well-­known critique of Winch’s use of primitive reactions. Philips argues that the primitive reactions that characterize our concept of the human include, for example, cruelty and domination. Winch argues that Phillips’s observation, true as it is, does not imply a Manichean equivalence of good and evil. Winch takes the second option of his title: the unity of ethical life is a kind of demand we can make on one another, the demand Socrates makes in conversation with Callicles and Polus. But, at the same time, Burns points out that Winch, following Socrates, takes Callicles seriously as an interlocutor—as it were an intermediate space between seeing his stance as ‘merely derivative’ and granting it equal ethical weight as just another possible primitive reaction. In his papers about understanding, Winch suggests Vico’s trio of birth, death and copulation as a starting point for the on-going process of developing cross-cultural understanding. Kronqvist (Chap. 13) treats these concepts not as a set of universals, but rather as “determin[ing] the ‘ethical space’ within which the possibilities of good and evil in human life can be exercised” (Winch 1964/1972, 43). Reflecting on Maggie Nelson’s novel The Argonauts (2015), Kronqvist brings on board the full complexity and open conflict that characterizes contemporary sexual relations. She argues that these conflicts are not resolved by rule-based approaches that keep us safe from transgression, but rather call for a heightened ethical sensitivity in our dealings with one another. Takeshi Sato (Chap. 12) and Kamila Pacovská’s (Chap. 11) contributions build on the ethical themes latent in earlier papers, by engaging directly with Winch’s work in ethics. Sato (Chap. 12) takes up Winch’s paper ‘The Universalizability of Moral Judgements’, where Winch argued that there is no valid inference from premises concerning what is morally required for me in a given situation, to a conclusion concerning what is therefore morally required for you in the same situation. Through considering Herman Melville’s character Billy Budd and his own response to Vere’s decision to have him put to death, Winch claims that what is morally possible for you in a given situation need not be possible for me in the very same circumstances;

1 Introduction


moreover, that this difference need not betoken an error on either of our parts. Though, as Winch reminds us, this is a commonplace in actual moral thinking, there is a strong resistance to the idea within moral philosophy, with thinkers such as Sidgwick and Hare appearing to hold that to allow such ‘relativity’ into moral judgement would cause it to collapse. Sato considers Winch’s argument and its uptake in moral philosophy. He argues for the enduring relevance of Winch’s thoughts on this matter, by showing that Winch highlights a lacuna in modern meta-­ ethics, namely, that it neglects the fact that morality involves not only the evaluation of alternatives but also the process of deciding what kind of person one will be. Continuing the theme of how an individual’s choices relate to their self-­ conception, Pacovská (Chap. 11)  takes as her centrepiece Stocks’ remark that morality can require of an individual that they abandon any specifiable end, including that of their own moral perfection, which Winch cited approvingly in his paper “Moral Integrity”. Pacovská uses this remark to show the way in which the pursuit of moral perfection can be self-defeating, considering Tolstoy’s example of Father Sergius and George Eliot’s character Banker Bulstrode, both of whom, in different ways, become inappropriately related to their moral ends and, as a result, become wrongdoers. The upshot, for Pacovská, is that the aspiration for perfection must always be regulated by the virtue of humility. Like Sato, Helen Geyer (Chap. 8) takes as her starting point Winch’s discussion of Billy Budd. She takes Budd as one case of many portrayals of intergenerational conflict on the opera stage. By linking Budd to other operatic figures, including Moazrt’s Don Giovanni and Wagner’s Wotan, Geyer shows the moral and political complexity of portrayals of old age on the opera stage. Generational conflict is in this way shown as a driver of moral dilemma and an engine of the dramatic. Thus located, Winch’s example of Vere comes to have more depth and resonance than it might otherwise, belying Winch’s own laconic presentation of the case. Mark Theunissen (Chap. 16) deals explicitly with ISS and its reception. He gives a critical summary of several influential critiques of the book, showing how Winch is mis-read by those who find in ISS a defence of social constructivism or relativism, or who find it to be overly conservative about the possibility for social change. Theunissen shows that rather than aiming to find a philosophical foundation for social critique, Winch was in fact arguing against the need for a philosophical foundation, which would provide a unity to the methodologies of social understanding and would answer a philosophical question as to how genuine social understanding is possible. On Theunissen’s reading, for Winch social understanding always has a possible ethical component, since it involves understanding human beings and their lives. By stressing this, he shows the enduring relevance of Winch’s work to modern social science, and points up some similarities between Winch’s work and that of modern critical theory. Chris Winch takes on Theunissen’s call to make use of Winch’s work on social science, showing how Winch’s conception of the importance and complexity of social understanding points towards a nuanced and complex picture of the nature of education and its place in society. This is shown through a comparison of British and German conceptions of education. Inter alia, Winch argues that, correctly


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understood, ISS provides “the beginnings of a practical guide to empirical research into human practices and societies” (Chap. 15). Finally, Craig Taylor (Chap. 17)  considers what lessons we can learn from Winch’s work about the tools for understanding animal behaviour, and human-­ animal relations more generally. Taylor argues, in a Wittgensteinian spirit, that our rule-governed practices are open to refinement through the spontaneous reactions of participants, and the ways in which these reactions are then taken up into the practice as it progresses. Using the example of a child playing with a dog, Taylor argues that non-human animals are not excluded from this creative process, even if they lack the ability consciously to reflect upon the practices in which they are involved. In this way, he corrects an over-emphasis, within ISS, on the role of ratiocination in collective understanding. Taken synoptically, the papers in the volume show the enduring relevance, as well as the depth and richness, of Winch’s work. We hope that they will serve as a stimulus for future research on, or inspired by, the thought of this underappreciated philosopher.3

References Cockburn, D. (2013). In the beginning was the deed. Philosophical Investigations, 36, 303–319. Edelman, J. (Ed.). (2009). Sense and Reality: Essays out of Swansea. Frankfurt: Ontos. Williams, R. (1991). Review of Winch, P. Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Philosophical Investigations, 14(2), 155–171. Winch, P. (1958/1990). The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1964/1972). Understanding a primitive society. American Philosophical Quarterly, 1(4), 307–324. Reprinted in Ethics and Action (pp. 8–49). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1968/1972). Moral integrity. In Ethics and Action (pp. 171–192). London: Routledge and Kegan. (Originally published as Inaugural Lecture, Kings College London. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.) Winch, P. (1969). The unity of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. In P. Winch (Ed.), Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein (pp. 1–19). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1972). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1987). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Winch, P. (1989). Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press. Michael Campbell  is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value at the University of Pardubice, Czech Republic. Prior to this he was Visiting Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Centre for Bioethics at Chinese University, Hong Kong. His work has appeared in journals including the Asian Bioethics Review, the Journal of Value 3  Michael Campbell’s work on this project was supported within the project of Operational Programme Research, Development and Education (OP VVV/OP RDE), “Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value”, registration No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000425, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic.

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Inquiry, Symposion, and Philosophical Investigations. He is the co-editor, with Michael O’Sullivan, of Wittgenstein and Perception (Routledge 2015). Lynette Reid  is Associate Professor in the Bioethics Department at Dalhousie University, Canada. She completed a PhD on Wittgnsetin’s Tractatus with Winch at Illinois in the mid-1990s. She works on ethical, political, and philosophical issues in public health, focusing on cancer screening (a book in progress), the normative significance of health inequalities (a number of articles), and preferential access in universal health care systems (an edited journal special issue).

Chapter 2

Moral Agency Carolyn Wilde

The philosopher has often assumed that in order to gain a proper understanding of moral judgement we need to explain or justify the meaning of moral concepts by showing how they are based on some abstracted idea of moral principles founded on some generalised conception of well-being or interests or some universal conception of reason. Peter Winch did not do so. In his inaugural lecture on Moral Integrity at Kings College London in 1968 he said that it is thoroughly misguided to suppose that philosophers can provide any generalizable rules for moral guidance of the will (Winch 1968/1972b, 171–192). In the lecture he was explicitly critical of Kant’s attempt to show how reason itself as manifested in universal law provided the motivating force for any morally designated action. And in his lecture on Particularity and Morals at the University of Vienna in 1983 (Winch 1983/1987, 167–180), he said, “Unpalatable as it may be to the theorizing philosopher, he has to accept that men of moral goodwill may occupy or arrive at different and even opposed moral positions – and on the basis of circumstances which cannot be differentiated from each other so as to justify one of those positions against the other in a way that would have to be accepted by any rational being.” (Winch 1983/1987, 177) Yet, this not to deny the essential role of reason in understanding anyone’s action and its place within the agent’s moral responsibility. For Winch, it is our knowledge and understanding of ourselves as human beings capable of rational action which itself imposes moral bounds on our will. What is central to any person’s moral responsibility is their understanding and acknowledgement of their own reasons for what they have done, and their accountability to others in explaining, justifying or even excusing themselves. But there are no universalizable principles of moral reasons which can provide any a priori ground for claiming that it is possible to arrive at some position which anyone should accept or which would resolve all difficulties, conflicts or disagreements. For, we cannot give any generalizable explanation of C. Wilde (*) University of Bristol, Bristol, UK © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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moral concepts prior to a shared understanding of the diversity of applications in different contexts and their use in response to particular situations. In his essay The Universalizability of Moral Judgement (Winch 1965/1972b, 151–170) Winch directly refers to Wittgenstein when he says that the moral seriousness of a particular situation shows itself in the description or explanation of that situation. In this way Winch is applying Wittgenstein’s later account of meaning directly to moral concepts as they are used and understood in the contexts of the actions and interactions we have with one another within the complexities of human life. And, by refusing to accept any theoretical positions aiming to resolve all moral dilemmas or disputes which can arise within the entanglements of life, he was acknowledging ways in which particular situations can face us with eliminable moral conflict, not only with others but also, and significantly, within ourselves. In his essay Authority and Rationality (Winch 1972a) Winch says that those who aim to establish some moral or political values on which all participants must agree are ignoring the fact that conflict is just as much a public matter as solidarity. Thus, as he illustrates in many ways in his essays on moral philosophy, in understanding moral concepts and their application within moral judgement we have to understand both the relation of a particular agent to their actions and the particular situation to which they respond. Since there are many ways in which any particular agent is individuated, what constitutes any person’s identity is of course a complex matter. Rabbi Simone Luzzato wrote “The internal image of our soul is like a mosaic, which seems to be a single shape but on closer inspection shows itself to be made up of various fragments of small stoned, both cheap and precious. Our soul is made up of various different and conflicting pieces, any one of which can appear distinctively different at different times.” (Luzzato 1638/2019, 99) But, fundamental to anybody’s identity is their own unique embodied continuity throughout the narrative of their own mortal life. In Understanding a Primitive Society Winch refers to T. S. Eliot’s trinity of ‘birth, copulation and death’ to focus on the difference between human beings and other animals. Human beings have a self-awareness of life as it is limited by these concepts, and which gives context to its meaning and values. “The very concept of what it is to do good or evil is deeply bound up with my concept of my life as ending in death.” (Winch 1964/1972b, 44) A person’s embodiment is not only a basic condition of their own movements and ability to act in response to the world as they experience it through what they see, hear, touch and feel, it is also, of course, fundamental to our recognition of, and responses to, each other, to being seen and touched by others. Once separated from the womb and incorporated into the world, a child’s sense of itself is gradually formed through its physical relationship and interactions with others, to ‘somebody’ else. Even before a child has any reflective sense of itself, it is able to hold out its hand to take something being given to it or even to ‘ask’ for something. In its innocence a child does not yet see others as doing right or wrong, yet doing these things gives a foundation for trust. In his essay Im Anfang war die Tat (Winch 1976/1987, 33–53), Winch quotes from Wittgenstein’s notes of 1937  in which we are asked to imagine the unhesitating response of a mother to comfort her crying child. The mother’s response need not be based on any belief that the child is suffering but merely on what can, in the Wittgensteinian

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sense, be described as the mother’s primitive reaction to the child. “It is our unreflective reactions which are part of the primitive material out of which our concept of the human person is formed and which makes such more sophisticated reflection possible.” (Winch 1976/1987, 147) And in his essay Human Nature, Winch describes how, as a child grows and learns to speak in engaging with others, it gradually develops not only an understanding of what is permissible and what is not in interacting with others but also, at the same time, an understanding of itself, which in its turn, is the development of the kind of person the child becomes. Our relationships with others thus transcend the sense of our own independent bodily self and are certainly not focussed merely on self-interest or even mere reciprocal advantage. (This is what rancorous Iago does not acknowledge when he proclaims, “Virtue? A fig! Tis in ourselves that we are thus and thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.” (Othello, Act1 Scene3)) As Winch says in Understanding a Primitive Society (Winch 1964/1972b, 46) “I am from birth in specific relations with other people, from which obligations spring which cannot but be ethically fundamental.” It is the many different relationships we have with others, beginning with a parent’s direct responses to a child’s needs, vulnerabilities and pleasures that are fundamental to our recognition and acceptance of the many different responsibilities and obligations which we can have to each other. At the conclusion of Eine Einstellung zur Seele (1981/1987, 140–153), Winch says that it is in the context of a shared life together, involving a consensus of what can be reasonably expected as a response to someone’s suffering, that such attitudes as pity can be understood in the way they are. But as he emphasises – and this is a crucial point – such consensus does not justify such attitudes, but rather provides the conditions within which such things as pity and compassion can be understood. But an understanding of, and response to, the embodied conditions of others can of course also have malevolent implications. Someone’s vulnerabilities can be responded to with indifference or, even further from benign attitudes, with cruelty. Our recognition of, and response to, our embodied states establishes the understanding of hostility and malice, as well as kindness, trust, and love. Love is of course a particularly complex concept and although, as Winch says in Authority and Rationality (1972a) love if not freely given is not love but something else, it has significantly different applications in contexts such as romance, the family, pets, patriotism, religious piety, marriage or sexual intimacy. In Understanding a Primitive Society (1964/1972b, 8–49) Winch says that the identification of morals with sexual morality certainly is vulgar; but it is a vulgarization of an important truth. Sexuality has of course its own strong, particular and very diverse connections to the moral implications of our embodied relations with one another in terms of principles such as respect, consent, fidelity, modesty, chastity, purity and, of course, to our individual responsibility for human procreation. In his notes to Drury, Wittgenstein spoke of regarding that act by which human life is perpetuated with awe and reverence. But possibly the most basic fact of our embodiment, which we share with all other animals, is our mortality, which gives direct focus to the act of killing. In many very different contexts such as abortion, euthanasia, self-defence,


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execution, assassination or warfare, killing other human beings is, in different ways, morally contestable. As is killing other animals. Yet, although the different situations within which human beings are responsible for killing others can be contentious, murder and rape are both singly negative moral concepts explicitly condemning the violation of another person’s embodied life. Possibly the most complex and deeply problematic context in which to attribute moral responsibility for killing people is war. Responsibility for the death of thousands can be attributed to the personal ambition for power and territorial domination of some egotistical demagogue motivated by their own sense of superiority over other people. Yet, how do those who submit to the tyrant, at risk to their own lives and definite loss of many others, align with this? There are of course many explanations of why people will submit to the belief that they are doing something good in the service of some higher cause. “He who does not want to fight in this world of ethical struggle”, pronounced Hitler, “does not deserve to live.” Some who voluntarily enlisted in commitment to Fascist ideology accused others who did not of cowardice. But under the diverse ambitions and conditions of war what counts as courage and what counts as cowardice is not always clear. Although a person’s embodiment is essential to their unique identity, who any particular person is and the moral principles, duties or obligations which inform their agency, also of course depends on many other things, such as their position within a family, their work or profession, their nationality or race, their status within a social or military hierarchy, or their religious affiliation. And in different contexts and situations a person’s identity depends on their recognition of others as brothers, co-workers, colleagues, compatriots, competitors, superiors, collaborators, friends, or as strangers or enemies. Each of these relationships have their own particular commitments. Concepts of honour, loyalty and respect, for example, each have distinctive applications within military organisations or within different tribal communities. Even within gang cultures, collaborating with fellow criminals requires mutual trust. And the circumstances in which someone is seen as an enemy brings its own demands and conflicts. In such ways our understanding of moral concepts is embedded within the many different identities and relationships we have with one another, and since we learn the meaning and application of moral concepts through reciprocal relationships with others, morality is itself as complex and diverse as human relationships themselves. But it would be wrong to base our understanding of moral concepts on merely contractual relationships with others. Relationships within a family can be, but not always are, based on mutual unquestioned and unconditional loyalty, care and responsibility. But crucially, and this returns again to Winch’s emphasis on how moral attitudes and responsibilities are understood within the context of our shared lives together, such loyalty follows from what we understand a family to be, not on some external justification of how members of a family ought to behave in relation with each other. Similarly, true friendship is not based on how useful a relationship can be. In his dialogue on friendship Cicero says that only good people can be true friends, since anyone who courts or flatters someone in the name of friendship in order to gain some advantage, are not sincere friends. In contrast with these examples, some

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co-­operative activities with others, such as the competitive aims of sport or the combative ends of military engagements do have explicit rules of conduct directly related to collective purpose. In such cases intentionally breaking rules in any sport is clearly cheating, and a soldier not following orders may be legally accused of cowardice or betrayal. And of course a person’s particular status or position within the hierarchy of any organisation has its own reciprocal ties in respect for, or in subordination to, authority. But although not all rules of conduct are made explicit in all co-operative organisations, a person’s occupational identity, such as a labourer, politician, stockbroker, cook, lawyer, nurse or journalist, still brings with it its own particular commitments and moral responsibilities. In some, but not all organisations, there will be shared understanding of the purpose, aims and values of that organisation. Yet even in such cases there can be morally significant difference between those who are working in cooperation with others in mutual respect for corporate purpose, such as someone working in an international aid agency or engaged in combat in loyal defence of their country, and someone working in collusion with others with shared criminal intent or collaborating within some terrorist organisation. In many of his essays, Winch uses examples in which the personal identity of the agent, such as a sea captain with authority over the sailors of his ship, or an elder with responsibilities within a particular community, has its own essential role in both the agent’s and other people’s understanding of the moral demands which confront that particular person. Importantly, however, a person’s professional or social identity is not sufficient in describing the agent’s own perspective on some situation. In one case, which Winch discusses in two of his essays, it is the way in which a person’s own religious identity, in contrast to that of others, is at odds with what he could have been expected to do. In Who is My Neighbour? (1987, 154–166), Winch uses the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan. He describes the way the parable begins by the lawyer asking Jesus for practical advice with the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Winch does not however mention the fact that the way in which the lawyer is asking the question shows that he is asking out of self-interest, as though moral motivation has no value other than the promotion of self-interest. For his purpose in this essay is to focus on the particular way Jesus responds to the question by asking the lawyer to give his own answer from his knowledge of Divine Law. The lawyer replies by quoting the prescription to love thy neighbour as thyself. But when the lawyer continues by asking the further question, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus does not, as the lawyer would have expected, give an answer in terms of any generally defining characteristics of a fellow human being which demand or deserve moral recognition. Instead he tells a story, and does so, as Winch emphasises, in a way which puts its own emphasis on the indexical use of the word ‘my’ in the lawyer’s questions. Thus the way in which the story is told gives particular focus to the distinction between the generalizable fact that we recognise each other as human beings and the ways in which different people may actually see and respond to someone else. It is significant that the Priest and the Levite, whose religious identities could presume a commitment to help the fallen traveller, look with indifference and pass him by. But the Samaritan, who is traditionally a foe of


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the wounded man, and thus could have reason to distance himself, sees with compassion and goes directly to help him. Yet it can be expected that no-one who understands the parable will have any disagreement about what anyone in that situation should have done. The Samaritan did the right thing. In his other discussion of the parable in Particularity and Morals, Winch says that its point and force springs precisely from the fact that no justificatory supplementation is offered. But it does also show that although there can be a shared understanding of the normative import of any moral concept which informs recognition of another person’s needs or vulnerabilities, not every person will necessarily respond in the same way to the same situation. It is not incomprehensible that those who passed by acted with indifference to the wounded man. Some people can be callously indifferent to the suffering of others. Everyone is indifferent to the suffering of others to some extent. The question is when we are to call it callous. But more extremely, in some cases the ways in which some human beings treat others can be, as Winch says, beyond comprehension, as inhumane. Wittgenstein’s remark at the beginning of Culture and Value, “I often cannot discern the humanity in a man” (Wittgenstein 1980, 1), has its own distinctive application when thinking of such people as Reinhardt Heydrich or Josef Mengele. In this way the Biblical parable brings forward a further distinguishing feature of a particular person’s identity, one which gives a fundamentally moral focus to their own agency and relations with others, that is, their own character. How different people respond to what they see as possibilities or difficulties is directed not only by their social role or identity, but also by their own individuating character. In the final sentence of Who is my Neighbour? Winch says that questions concerning our moral sensitivity to each other is an aspect of how we see things, of what we make of the world we live in together. All three people saw the same wounded man, but the Samaritan responded to what he saw in a different way from the other two. By ignoring the wounded man, the Priest, who has his own leading concerns for the suffering of others, and the Levite, who could be expected to have loyalty to a fellow Levite, are both showing hypocrisy and lack of integrity within their own character. Integrity is of course a central concept in judgement of a person’s character. In any action how the agent’s own acknowledgement of how their own reasons, intentions, motives and purposes are integrated has its own specific moral implications in understanding their character. A crucial point in Moral Integrity is that if someone is genuinely honest or benevolent, we do not need to ask for further explanation or justification of the action. To do something for the morally right reason requires no further purpose. Yet although someone may do the right thing their action may not be directed to that end but be motivated purely by self-righteous intention. Winch distinguishes the man who repays his debt simply because he owes it from one whose motive is to avoid criminal proceedings. So even if someone did the right thing, if their motive for doing so were purely self-interested then they can be judged differently from someone who acted from genuinely generous intent. In Moral Integrity Winch says that in order to understand the moral character of a person and their actions, it is sometimes not sufficient to notice why someone chooses a given

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course of action from what were the alternatives. For it may be at least as important to notice what he considered the alternatives to be and what reason the agent considered relevant in deciding between them. An obvious example could be when two different people see someone ahead of them dropping their wallet. Both see and understand the same thing. But whereas one person runs ahead to pick it up and return it, the other surreptitiously picks it up and pockets it. Clearly this is a case of difference in moral character, which subjects the person themselves to moral judgment. But not only can someone be clearly motivated to exploit or act viciously towards someone else, they may also be deceiving themselves about how they see a situation in order to ignore the demands it presents. Thus a person’s integrity relates to their own authenticity, that is to their own ability and willingness to acknowledge how they have seen and understood a particular situation and reasons for acting in response to it in the way they did. And someone who fails to resist the temptation to do something they know they should not do can be in conflict with themselves. Thus, in different ways, a person is answerable for what they have done, both to others and to themselves. Yet unless there has been some genuine misunderstanding on either side, ‘answerable’ in this context does not mean exonerated. Winch’s focus on the concept of integrity is a central example of his resistance to calling upon any generalisations of moral concepts when understanding their application in particular cases. In the final sections of his earlier essay, Nature and Convention (Winch 1959/1972b, 50–72) he draws attention to the way in which integrity is to human actions what truthfulness is to language. In language there is a distinction, yet important relation, between what a statement means and what a person intends the listener to understand when that statement is made. Thus, as truth telling is a moral condition of using language when speaking to others, integrity is to action. Significantly however, Winch is not attempting to give any generalizable account of the concept of integrity. For, as he says in conclusion to that essay, we are under no obligation to respect every manifestation of integrity. His example is that of the concentration camp commandant who does what he does with full professional integrity but whose actions are what Winch describes as of a peculiarly revolting sort. “To say that he was acting with integrity is for most of us an additional point against him.” (Winch 1972b, 71) Another familiar example is honesty. Even the concept of honesty has its own exceptions, as someone may lie with integrity when protecting someone else from malign violation. In Moral Integrity Winch gives particular focus onto the role of an agent’s own ability and willingness to acknowledge their own responsibility when he introduces the case of Oedipus. Since Oedipus did not knowingly kill his father and marry his mother some philosophers would say that no question of blame can arise. But Winch disagrees. Even though Oedipus had not intentionally done these things, once he realised what he had done it is not difficult to understand that Oedipus then blamed himself, even though others may not have done so. For, as Winch emphasises, blaming oneself is different from blaming other people, a difference which is marked by the word ‘remorse’. In contrast someone can of course be in self-denial of their responsibility for or what they have or have not done.


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Yet even when someone is acting with complete integrity, in some situations, equally demanding moral principles of personal loyalty or professional responsibility can face them with irresoluble conflict. In Moral Integrity Winch describes a case taken from the film Violent Saturday. In that film the elder of a religious community, in which nonviolence is a fundamental and sincerely held principle, is faced with a situation in which a young girl is about to be shot by an intrusive gangster. The elder, as Winch describes it, “with horror and doubt on his face, seizes a pitchfork and hurls it into the gangster’s back.” (Winch 1972b, 185) But in doing this the elder has not abandoned his principles of nonviolence. Even though he would have felt that he had no choice in what he did he nevertheless recognises that he has wilfully done something deeply wrong. There can be tragic situations such as this in which when faced by conflict between alternative actions, the agent cannot avoid doing wrong, whatever they decide to do. There are also of course different sorts of cases in which an agent may be faced with conflict of decision and thus can be disagreement with others in response to some particular situation. Winch’s example of this is the case he discusses in The Universalizability of Moral Judgement taken from Herman Melville’s novel Billy Budd. Billy Budd, who has been impressed into naval service, and has ‘angelic character’, has been falsely accused by an ill motivated officer of inciting mutiny. Under frustrated and angry duress in repeating his innocence Budd lashes out and unintentionally kills the officer. He is then brought before Court Marshal at which the ship’s commander, Captain Vere, is faced with a conflict between adhering to the legal codes which his position demands, or acting on his own compassionate inclination to acknowledge Billy Budd’s innocence. Captain Vere decides to argue for committing Budd, who is then executed. But Vere was not simply acting in accordance with military authority. He was taking responsibility for his decision. Yet, although he never withdrew from his decision, because he acknowledged the gravity of the situation he had been faced with, Vere was tormented by it for the rest of his life. Winch uses this literary example to put emphasis on the claim that Vere’s dilemma was not a conflict between morality and military law but a conflict within morality itself, between two different moral demands. Vere was faced with what Melville describes as two qualities not readily interfusible – prudence and rigour. Thus this case puts a certain class of first person moral judgement in a special position. For it shows that in some particularly difficult situations there is nothing in the meaning of the use of the word ‘ought’ which logically commits a person to accept the corollary that anyone else in such a situation ought to do the same. In fact Winch says that if he asked himself what he would do in such a situation and be able to discount both failure of nerve or softness in the face of terrible duty, he believes that he could have not have acted as Vere did. Yet essentially, he would not have appealed to any considerations over and above those to which Vere himself appeals. The story shows, says Winch, that Vere did the right thing for him even though he did not see the situation differently from how Winch imagined seeing it. The fact that Winch has brought himself into this fictional case in this way – and I thank Lynette Reid for focussing on this – is an interesting corollary to his discussion. How do you know, as a neutral spectator, what you would do in someone else’s

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conflicted situation? In Melville’s story another officer who was also present at the Court proceedings, and equally aware of the facts of the situation, claims that he would have acquitted Billy Budd. But how does the reader, from outside, and without sharing the responsibility of either of the officers, know how they would have decided? Possibly the situation is described in enough detail for Winch, who did himself have experience of military responsibility, to be able to imagine how he would have responded. But I think the purpose of bringing himself into the example is given in how Winch describes his response: “It is just that I think I should find the considerations connected with Billy Budd’s peculiar innocence too powerful to be overridden by the appeal to military law.” Both Vere’s and Winch’s responses can of course be contrasted with someone who saw no conflict of decision but responded merely from some pusillanimous subservience to duty. But someone who acts merely from deference to duty may not be taking full personal responsibility for their decision. No-one’s responsibility is made totally complete by their professional identity. Throughout Moral Integrity Winch was emphasising how the agent’s own perspective onto a situation not only determines that person’s own response to it, but also how he or she sees it in making the particular demands it does. But does the emphasis which Winch is putting on the agent’s own perspective imply that moral judgment is merely subjective? No, it does not. In Particularity and Morals Winch acknowledges Spinoza when he maintains that a person can attain clarity about their own actions only through a sharpening of their own perception of the particular circumstances which characterise their individual presence in the world. For ethics does not enter at the point of deliberation about action, rather, it has already entered in determining the way in which someone has perceived and understood a particular situation. What Winch describes as the agent’s own perspective, that is the perspective within which the possibilities, demands or alternatives determining decision are recognised, acknowledged and prioritised by the agent is crucial, both in understanding and in judgment of their action. For not only is a person responsible for what they do, but for how they see things, for the sort of person they are. The use of fictional examples from works of literature within moral philosophy has come under much criticism. But as Winch says in The Universalizability of Moral Judgments, “In moral as in other branches of philosophy good examples are indispensable: examples, that is, which bring out the real force of the ways in which we speak and in which language is not ‘on holiday’ (to adapt a remark of Wittgenstein’s). It is needful to say this in opposition to a fairly well established, but no less debilitating, tradition in recent Anglo-American moral philosophy, according to which it is not merely permissible, but desirable, to take trivial examples.” (Winch 1972b, 154) Thus serious work of literature (unlike, for example, Murder Mysteries, which ignore any moral details of the situation in favour of just holding interest to find out whodunit), can give detailed focus to specific complexities of agency, to its strengths and weaknesses and to the conflicts within our relationships with each other, in ways which the abstracted simplicity of philosophical ‘thought experiments’ do not. In this way Winch’s use of literary examples endorses Wittgenstein’s admonishment not to say what a concept means but to show how it


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can be applied in particular cases. Works of art enable people to share someone else’s particular perspective, sometimes by employing the objective principles of visual perspective but sometimes by configuring their own. But it is ways in which a painting can give focus to some particular historical, Biblical or mythological event, or the way in which some novel, play or film presents human relationships within the context of a specific narrative, which create a shared perspective onto particular moral issues. Thus the variety of ways in which works of art enable a particular perspective to be shared between people has significant affinities with a person’s own perspective on their own and other people’s actions and interests in real life. Many philosophers have of course sought to claim a clear distinction between empirical judgements about ‘the facts of reality’ and value judgements in ethics and aesthetics. But distinctions between facts and values can be too simple. As Wittgenstein says in On Certainty, “the idea of ‘agreement with reality’ does not always have the same application” (Wittgenstein 1969, §215), for “our empirical propositions do not form a homogeneous mass” (§213). Since we attend to our experiences of the multitude of different kinds of things and events with different interests and concerns, as they are, were, will be or could be, not all claims to truth or falsity are applied and validated in the same way. Some facts of reality depend on conventional application of rules of calculation, such as what time it is in some particular place in the world, others depend on empirical evidence in accordance with natural laws, such as predicting the weather, or are subject to proof through experimentation. Differently, others depend on an understanding of an event within some historical narrative as it is understood from the perspective of the present, or on what sorts of things determines human action in predicting what someone will do. In Ethical Relativism (1987, 181–193) Winch illustrates the misleading simplicity of the claim that the truth of factual judgments counts as correspondence with the facts by comparing the familiar philosophical example ‘the cat on the mat’, with even ‘the cat was on the mat yesterday’. Yet in all such cases, even though establishing the truth of any claim depends on differences in appropriately informed attention, whether something is true or false is independent of any particular person’s judgment. Similarly, a moral judgment which has clear and uncontentious conceptual application and evidential basis, can also be true or false. She was not given the money, it is a fact that she stole it. If someone acted with malicious intent then it is a fact that what they did was wrong. And if someone accuses someone else of doing something wrong, they may have misunderstood the situation in some way and be mistaken. And so they can be corrected. But Winch’s point in his brief discussion of the distinction between facts and values in Ethical Relativism is to note how very limited is the usefulness of examining the facts within the heterogeneity of moral judgements. One significant difference between moral and other factual judgments, however, is that once faced with appropriate evidence a person cannot choose to believe the wrong thing. (I am ignoring cases of superstition.) Yet, a person can choose to do something they know is morally wrong. But, although an agent’s decision about what to do can be entirely their own, and is in that sense subjective, moral

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judgement about what they have done is not. For, not only is an agent answerable for what they have done but, as has been emphasised, they can also be responsible for how they saw the situation in the first place. An agent can be criticised if their perspective was limited by some prejudice or directed by their own sense of privilege. And, if someone has intentionally allowed their own personal interests to dominate over their attention to others then they can, objectively, be critically described as selfish. In such cases, the subjectivity of the agent is itself subject to criticism. But, not only can we be critical of each other, for to act with moral responsibility is to be answerable not only to others but also to ourselves. As Winch says in Ethical Relativism, “A central, though not always authoritative, place within moral consideration of what someone has done belongs to what the agent himself says about what he has done, which will be connected with the stand he takes about his commitments, intentions, and relations with others etc.” (Winch 1987, 178–179) Thus “The concept of respect for another person will then be importantly connected with that of taking seriously his own conception of himself.” (ibid.) But, it  is also an important element of moral judgment that someone may try and understand and accept what someone else has done by trying to see the situation from the agent’s perspective. Just as we can move across to stand beside someone and look at the same view of a landscape, we can also try and re-orientate our own perspective onto some situation and try to see how or why that person has prioritised one thing rather than another. “One way in which a man may exhibit reason in the context of moral disputes is through understanding the moral position of others opposed to his own, seeing the difficulties in them but equally allowing them to highlight difficulties in his own position.” (Winch 1987, 178) Yet, willingness to do so is based on cooperation and trust, and has its limits. How could Adolf Eichmann have been proud of what he did? It is not that there is no answer to this, but any answer requires not only an understanding but also an explanation of his own perspective on the situation in Germany at that time. Yet, to understand this is to condemn him. The example of Captain Vere, however, presents its own particular case about the subjectivity of moral decisions. Although Winch disagrees about what he would have done, he is not criticising Vere for his decision. But even this does not imply that the difference between Vere and Winch’s judgments shows that their judgements were merely subjective. What it does show is that given the intractable complexity of moral judgement, in some cases, even when there is shared understanding of the same situation, we have to take responsibility for our own perspective onto that situation, the perspective from which particular fact of the situation have been prioritised. Winch’s initial purpose in Moral Integrity was to reject any philosophical position aiming to show how morality is a guide to conduct. This example from Herman Melville’s novel shows how morality can itself be the source of conflicts facing a person in deciding what to do. And in doing so he shows how the agent’s own subjectivity brings with it a moral responsibility answerable both to others and to the agent him or herself. But in some particular cases, even when two different people make different decisions in response to the same situation, if each responds with genuine moral responsibility, there can still be acknowledgment and respect for the other person’s decision.


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In rejecting arguments claiming to authorise any generalisable account of moral values Winch may also be seen as being committed to what is critically described as ‘Relativism’. But this would simply take us to the other extreme. To apply this term critically to Winch’s account of how moral concepts inform our actions and many different relations with each other would just be calling for some synoptic vision of moral values from behind thick clouds in the sky. Winch addresses this directly of course in his later work Ethical Relativism when he returns to the claim which is basic throughout his work on morality, that there is no uniform account of what are called ‘ethical issues’, and says that one important distinction is between conflicts of judgement made between people who share a common culture and those which are characteristic of very different cultures. Even though we share fundamental conditions of human life, the various ways in which these inform relations with each other in different cultures and communities do not enable any generalizable conception of moral values. At the beginning of Human Nature Winch says that “Confronted with the enormous and conflicting varieties of human life in different times and places we may be inclined to ask whether there is not something which holds these phenomena together and unifies them. But this question is so vague as to approach meaninglessness.” (Winch 1969/1972a, b, 73) He specifically criticises approaches in moral philosophy which attempt to locate the moral within any general account of human needs, for the identification of such needs may itself be a matter of dispute between different cultures or social institutions. Winch however directly rejects what he describes as the ‘crude’ philosophical position of Relativism which claims that moral judgments of particular cultures are ‘true for them’. A clear example of this is slavery. Saying that slavery is wrong is a clear accusation of corrupt relationships with other human beings. This connects directly with what Wittgenstein said in conversation with Rush Rhees: “If you say that there are various systems of ethics you are not saying that they are all equally right. For that means nothing.” (Rhees 1965, 18) In his earlier essay Authority and Rationality Winch had already referred to what he there called the philosophical illusion of taking the standards in terms of which we describe situations and activities as themselves descriptive of actual or possible situations and actions. For this overlooks the fact that there is nothing in the standards themselves which dictates what should or should not count as a meaningful application. It is not the case that you can understand the role and status of moral concepts before you can apply them to life. It is only within the diversity of circumstances in the particular times and places within which people live that they can be understood. In the background to this we can of course see Wittgenstein’s fundamental claim about language and meaning when he says that in order to understand what a concept means we have to see how it is actually used. In his later essay, Can We Understand Ourselves? (1997), Winch says that a central task for anyone wanting to understand a culture will be to clarify the concepts which shape the relationships which the people in that culture have with one another. This applies directly to moral concepts. Although there can be general concepts common to many if not all cultures, such as respect, honesty or loyalty, there

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can be radically different ways in which such concepts are applied. One clear example is sexual propriety, which has very different applications in different times and cultures in relations to such various things as marital authority, fertility, contraception, homosexuality, monogamy, genital mutilation, celibacy, prostitution, nakedness and clothing. In Understanding a Primitive Society Winch had described sex, like birth and death, as a ‘limiting concept’, that is, a concept which determines what he there calls “the ‘ethical space’ within which the possibilities of good and evil in human life can be exercised.” (Winch 1964/1972a, b, 43) And he follows this by saying that masculinity and femininity are not just components in a man or a woman’s life, they are its mode. A person’s gender is itself a way of experiencing the world. Yet although the concepts of masculinity and femininity obviously require each other, as he says, relations between man and women are not simple converses. When Adam and Eve leave Paradise in Masaccio’s fresco in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence, Adam walks ahead, covering his eyes from the future and the responsibilities which now confront him. However, Eve covers her own naked body with her arms from the sight of others. But although the difference between men and women is of course common to all cultures, it has radically different applications in different societies and communities. There is obviously a wide extreme, for example, between strict authoritarian rules of covering the female body within some religious communities, and the freedom of women in more individualistic societies to dress in ways which openly invite sexual attention. But although some differences in moral values or principles across different cultures may be incommensurable, the example of sexual propriety shows how differences in the understanding and application of many moral concepts are not just arbitrarily different: they are internally related to each other. As such, differences in acknowledgment and application of the moral principles and values informing the actions of people in different societies or cultures, or even within the same culture, may not merely be different but be in opposition to each other. Even though, or perhaps because different religious faiths present different transcendent perspectives onto moral values, there has been ineliminable conflict throughout history not only between, but also within different religions. But even though each side may see the limitations of the other, there is no reason to suppose that people holding such radically different positions could reach agreement on whatever divides them. As Winch says in Ethical Relativism reason itself can place no premium on tolerance as the reaction to moral diversity. Yet it is such disagreement and conflict which shows the import and seriousness of moral values. But the limits to what may be respected or tolerated within other cultures or times can lead to conflict, as it has done throughout history and across cultures, resulting in domination, xenophobic segregation and genocide. But philosophy can offer no overarching perspective for reconciliation. As Winch concludes in the final sentence to Moral Integrity, “Philosophy can no more show a man what he should attach importance to than geometry can show a man where he should stand.” (Winch 1972b, 191)


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References Luzzato, S. (1638/2019). Discourse on the Condition of the Jews (G. Veltri & A. Lissa, Eds. and Trans.). Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH. Rhees, R. (1965). Some developments in Wittgenstein’s view of ethics. Philosophical Review, 74(1), 18–19. Winch, P. (1972a). Authority and rationality. The Human World, 8, 11–21. Winch, P. (1972b). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1987). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Blackwell. Winch, P. (1997). Can we understand ourselves? Philosophical Investigations, 20(3), 193–204. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty  (G.  E. M.  Anscombe & G.  H. von Wright, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe & D. Paul Trans.). New York: Harper and Row. Wittgenstein, L. (1980). Culture and Value (G.  H. von Wright & H.  Nyman, Eds., P.  Winch, Trans.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Carolyn Wilde originally graduated in Fine Art and subsequently taught Art Theory and Aesthetics in various institutions. After attending a public lecture by Peter Winch in 1968 she was inspired to take up philosophy. She later graduated in Philosophy from King’s College London. After appointment as full time lecturer in Philosophy at the Open University, she undertook postgraduate studies with Bernard Williams at King’s College Cambridge.  She was appointed full time Lecturer in Philosophy in the Department for Adult Education in the University of London. She subsequently completed her PhD in Aesthetics whilst appointed Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Bristol. She has been a long time member of the British Wittgenstein Society.  

Chapter 3

Ethics and Action David Cockburn

It is important to notice that the concept of trying operates in a moral dimension…. [W]e cannot first get clear about what trying is (as an exercise, perhaps in “the philosophy of mind”) and then go on to consider as a further interesting, but only contingently connected matter, how the notion of trying enters into our thought about moral matters. Rather, understanding how the notion of trying enters into our thought about moral matters must itself be a very important part of our attempt to understand what trying is. (Winch 1971/1972, 131) …. it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology, in which we are conspicuously lacking. (Anscombe 1981, 26)

These two remarks embody what I take to be a fundamental difference between Peter Winch and a philosopher whom he greatly admired, Elizabeth Anscombe. My aim in this paper is to explore that difference—explore the relationship between moral philosophy and the philosophy of mind—through a discussion of four essays that appear in Winch’s first collection of papers Ethics and Action: “The Universalizability of moral judgements” (1965/1972), “Moral integrity” (1968a/1972), “Wittgenstein’s treatment of the will” (1968b/1972) and “Trying” (1971/1972). In his writings on ethics in this period Winch’s focus is specifically on the connection between a picture of “the will” of the form presented in the Tractatus and the inclination to say how certain things must be in ethics. My interest is in the character of that connection.

D. Cockburn (*) University of Wales, Trinity St David, Lampeter, Wales © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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3.1  “Wittgenstein’s Treatment of the Will” In the Tractatus Wittgenstein presupposes a view of the will that, on the one hand, is closely tied to his treatment of thought and language at that time, and, on the other, is linked with an “ethical” vision that owes much to the influence on him of Schopenhauer. In key passages he writes: The world is independent of my will. (Wittgenstein 1922, 6.373) Even if all we wish for were to happen, still this would only be a favour granted by fate, so to speak; for there is no logical connection between the will and the world, which would guarantee it, and the supposed physical connection itself is surely not something that we could will. (Wittgenstein 1922, 6.374) I cannot bend the happenings of the world to my will: I am completely powerless. I can only make myself independent of the world – and so in a certain sense master it – by renouncing any influence on happenings. (Wittgenstein 1984, 11/6/16)

One of the central questions of Winch’s paper “Wittgenstein’s treatment of the will” is: why is it that a very different view of the will that surfaces briefly in the Notebooks—one that is much more closely aligned with Wittgenstein’s later thought on these matters—is totally absent from the Tractatus? The sharpest early statement of the rival view is this: Wishing is not acting. But willing is acting. … The fact that I will an action consists in my performing the action, not in my doing something else which causes the action. (Wittgenstein 1984, 4/11/16)

Winch’s answer to this puzzle is that the insights of the Notebooks are fundamentally at odds with the conception of the relation between language, thought and the world presented in the Tractatus. The crucial point is articulated in the Notebooks in this way: “[T]he consideration of willing makes it look as if one part of the world were closer to me than another (which would be intolerable)” (Wittgenstein 1984, 4/11/16). It would be “intolerable”, Winch suggests, for the following reason: In the Tractatus my relation to the world is mediated through, and only through, the proposition. The proposition is a picture of a state of affairs and the relation between a proposition and a state of affairs is always of the same sort. I discover whether a proposition is true by comparing it with a state of affairs – by seeing whether things are in reality as the proposition says they are. But the consideration of willing seems to imply that I can be related to reality in quite a different way: that I can formulate a proposition and then not discover it is true by comparing it with the facts, but make it true by tinkering with the facts. (Winch 1968b/1972, 123–4)

I am inclined to think that there may be another key factor at work in Wittgenstein’s thought here: that an ethical vision drawn largely from Schopenhauer and that he found enormously attractive seemed to Wittgenstein to require the Tractatus conception of the will. I will return to this. First, in the following two sections, I want to spend some time on the idea that “my relation to the world is mediated through, and only through, the proposition”.

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3.2  My Relation to My Own Future Actions There is another apparent discrepancy, noted by Winch, between the treatments of action in the Notebooks and the Tractatus. The discrepancy is illustrated by the following pair of remarks: But in that case how can I predict – as in some sense I surely can – that I shall raise my arm in five minutes time? That I shall will this? (Wittgenstein 1984, 4/11/16) The freedom of the will consists in the impossibility of knowing actions that still lie in the future. We could know them only if causality were an inner necessity like that of logical inference. – The connection between knowledge and what is known is that of logical necessity. (Wittgenstein 1922, 5.1362)

Again, Winch suggests that the thought from the Notebooks is much closer to Wittgenstein’s later thinking in which: “when it is a question of my own actions I can know what is going to happen (what I am going to do) in a sense which does not imply that my knowledge is based on inductive evidence (or indeed on any evidence at all)” (Winch 1968b/1972, 127); and, further, that “such knowledge is in a way more fundamental than inductive knowledge” in that the latter is dependent on the existence of forms of life that involve acting in accordance with established rules, which in turn involves: … the conception “now I can go on”, ie the conception of knowing what my actions in certain future circumstances will be, in a way which is not itself based on inductive inference. (Winch 1968b/1972, 127–8)

It is, I believe, worth pressing these important points further than Winch does here. In particular, we can ask: what is the connection between knowing how to go on and knowing how I will go on. Winch moves from the first to the second without comment: speaking, indeed, as if the second is simply a reformulation of the first. But if there is any such relationship between knowing what to do and knowing what I will do it is, one might think, a philosophically rather startling one: a step from an “ought” to an “is” (or “will be”) that one might suppose is every bit as suspect as many have found the step in the reverse direction. One might seek to bridge this gap by a certain assimilation of my knowledge of what I am going to do to other cases of knowledge: by, that is, conceiving it in terms of a causal/inductive base. Thus, we might suggest that the reasons I have seen to do something, or my judgement that this is the thing to do, is the cause of the future action: a cause from which I may infer that I will act in that way. In a remark already quoted, Winch rejects such an inferentialist account. One problem is that it does not appear correctly to characterize the place of decision in such thinking: a decision of which the most immediate linguistic expression may be “Now I know what I am going to do”. With that, it fails to do justice to a fundamental difference between “knowledge” of what I will do and other forms of “knowledge”: the difference highlighted in Winch’s observation that “I can formulate a proposition and then …. make it true by tinkering with the facts” (Winch 1968b/1972, 123–4; my italics), and in Anscombe’s idea of different “directions of fit” between someone’s words


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and that about which they speak.1 When someone fails to do what they said they would they are characteristically2 criticized not for the rashness of their words but for their failure to do what they said they would. With that, when we are startled by someone’s statement of what they are going to do we may challenge them by asking, not what grounds they have for supposing that this is what they will do, but by asking what reasons they have for doing this. In light of these differences—differences that by many standard philosophical accounts would disqualify this from being a form of “knowledge”—why do we characterize it as such? Does our use of the same word in these different kinds of case mark any significant commonality between them? One commonality may lie in the fact that in both cases I can reliably say what will happen: can reliably say, in the one case, that the roof will collapse, in the other, that I will paint the wall yellow. But the commonality goes further. “Theoretical” and “practical” “knowledge” characteristically involve parallel structural relations of reasons. In the “theoretical” case I have reasons for the judgement expressed in my words “The roof will collapse”; in the “practical” case reasons for the decision expressed in my words “I will paint the wall yellow”.3 But further, and this will be the focus of what I say, in the theoretical case, the fact that this is what will happen is, given an appropriate context, reason for saying “The roof will collapse”; in the practical case, the fact that this is what I said I would do (would happen) is a reason for doing it (making sure that it does).4 This (in a way that I cannot develop here) goes with the fact that, in both the theoretical and practical cases, in saying what I do I (characteristically) take on certain responsibilities to others. Where, in the “theoretical” case, I “take responsibility” through only asserting what I have adequate grounds for, so in the practical case, through having asserted ensuring that what I said will happen does. My words are a reason for doing what I said I would: they commit me to doing it in the sense that I may be answerable to others if I fail to. My question was: does our use of the same word “knowledge” in both the theoretical and practical cases mark any significant commonality between them? My suggestion, very lightly sketched, is that it does—through the different relations of reasons between my words and that about which I speak, and, linked with that, through the responsibilities to others that I acquire in saying what I do. In this sense, 1  As Anscombe expresses it, when I am in error, “the mistake here is one of performance, not of judgement” (Anscombe 1957, 5). 2  The criticism, along with the challenge spoken of in the next sentence, may also take forms familiar in other cases of “knowledge”. My point is that they may, and perhaps normally do, take the form I sketch here. More generally, I should stress that throughout this discussion I am speaking of how things “characteristically”, or at least very often, are. 3  What now if someone asks: why do we speak of “reasons” in these two very different cases? The following remarks are the beginnings of an answer to that question. A fuller answer would explore the ways in which talk of “reasons” in both contexts is linked up with other commonalities in the grammar across the “theoretical” and “practical” cases. 4  I suspect that this is the truth in the remark by Aquinas quoted by Anscombe: “Practical knowledge is “the cause of what it understands”, unlike “speculative” knowledge, which is “derived from the objects known”.” (Anscombe 1957, 87)

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we might, echoing Winch’s remark about “trying”, say: the concept of knowledge operates in a moral dimension. It does so through its link—which takes different forms in the theoretical and practical cases—with the idea of my responsibility to another. More specifically, and more directly relevant to my immediate concerns, these considerations, in bringing out the moral dimension of assertions about what I will do, reveal a sense in which the concept of action operates in a moral dimension. Someone who can speak with understanding of what she will do grasps that in telling another that she will wash the dishes she takes on a responsibility to do so. In summary, and further echoing Winch, we cannot first get clear about what action is (as an exercise, perhaps in “the philosophy of mind”) and then go on to consider as a further interesting, but only contingently connected matter, how the notion of action enters into our thought about moral matters. Rather, understanding how the notion of action enters into our thought about moral matters must itself be a very important part of our attempt to understand what action is. I have here focused on one specific way in which this is so: namely, the fact that assertions about what I will do involve commitments to others. I will turn to other ways in which it may be so shortly. In the next section, however, I want to pursue in a slightly different way the relationship between judgement and action.

3.3  “The Universalizability of Moral Judgements” Commenting on the contrast between the Tractatus and Wittgenstein’s later views, Winch writes: [F]rom Wittgenstein’s new point of view there is no difficulty in the idea that “one part of the world should be closer to me than another”; he insists, indeed (II.x), that “My relation to my own words is wholly different from other people’s” – and it is a corollary, I think, that my relation to my own actions is wholly different from my relation to anything else. (Winch 1968b/1972, 128)

In the previous section I spoke of one way in which my relation to my own words and to my own actions is wholly different from other people’s. In “The universalizability of moral judgements” Winch explores another way in which this is so. More specifically, Winch defends a position that places “a certain class of first-person moral judgements in a special position as not subject to the universalizability principle”. Requirements of logical consistency dictate, Winch suggests, that in making a “spectators’ judgement”—a judgement of the form “Jones ought to do this”—I am committed to the claim that anyone in circumstances that do not differ in any morally relevant respect ought to do the same. By contrast, Winch argues, there is a class of judgements of the form “This is what I ought to do” such that “there is nothing in the meaning or use of the word ‘ought’ which logically commits the judger to accepting as a corollary: ‘And anyone else in a situation like this ought to do the same’” (Winch 1965/1972, 161). It is consistent with my making the judgement


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about myself that I judge that someone else, in the same circumstances, who comes to, and acts on, a different conclusion about what he ought to do, has acted rightly. While I believe that this is an accurate summary of a central strand in Winch’s paper I am not sure that it is consistent with everything that he says there. With that, I am inclined to think that Winch himself fails at certain points in this paper to work through his central idea in a way that does full justice to the sense in which my relation to my own actions is different from my relation to the actions of others.5 Nor am I certain that, if we take seriously the insistence that we must consider the concrete details of someone actually combining such judgements about himself and about another we should find this wholly unproblematic. Are we, for example, to picture Winch trying to persuade Vere that he must condemn Billy if he senses some backsliding in Vere? I believe that either answer to that question raises problems for Winch’s position as I have sketched it. But rather than pursuing those doubts, I want to suggest another kind of consideration that I suspect is at work at some level in Winch’s thinking about universalizability: a consideration that, while not self-­ consciously in play in this paper, is brought into focus by Winch’s discussion of the Tractatus treatment of the will. Winch writes: “In the Tractatus my relation to the world is mediated through, and only through, the proposition”. (Winch 1968b/1972, 123) We might usefully break this down like this: in the Tractatus (i) my relation to the world is mediated through, and only through, judgement, and (ii) to judge that something is so is to stand in a certain relation to a proposition; or, perhaps more accurately, to the thought that a proposition expresses. Winch’s “universalizability” paper can be read as a challenge to the understanding of judgement, and of the attendant notion of a “proposition’, that is central to the Tractatus vision. Key to that understanding is the insistence that whether a proposition has sense—that is to say, what can be thought—is independent of how anything happens to be.6 Thus, what any individual can think is independent of his position in the world: the thoughts available to me are the same as those available to anyone else. The core of Vere’s thought “I ought to condemn Billy Budd” must be something that is available to anyone to think, no matter how they stand in relation to the situation, and so one that can be assessed as true or false in a totally “impersonal” way.7 The core of Vere’s thought must, that is, be a judgement of the form: “One with characteristics x, y, z, in situation a, b, c, ought to condemn Billy Budd”; and 5  Perhaps we see this in one way in which he himself appears to minimize the contrast in his suggestion that: “[W]hen I think about the moral decisions and dilemmas of others, it seems to me that I am very often asking “What would I think it right to do in such a situation?” That is, I am making a hypothetical agent’s judgement of my own”. (Winch 1965/1972, 153–4) 6  “If the world had no substance, then whether a proposition had sense would depend on whether another proposition was true. / In that case we could no sketch any picture of the world (true or false).” (Wittgenstein 1922, 2.0211, 20212) 7  I here try to articulate the key idea in a way that will be acceptable both to the early Wittgenstein and to the many philosophers who will be more or less in agreement with him at this point, if nowhere else. One respect in which I clearly fail in this is that for the early Wittgenstein the words “I ought to condemn Billy Budd” do not articulate a thought.

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so, in judging for himself, Vere is implicitly judging for anyone else with those characteristics in such a situation. Winch’s paper can be read as a defence of the claim that judging that I ought to do something should not be construed in terms of “standing in an appropriate relation to a proposition”. Judging is not, or need not be, “impersonal” in that sense: the sense that is fundamental to the Tractatus conception. By formulating the matter in these terms, however, we may bring into clearer focus what may be another strand in Winch’s thinking on these matters: albeit one that, I suspect, he does not at this stage succeed in fully disentangling from the first. Thus, someone might reject the particular conception of “judgement” defended in the Tractatus and yet still hold on to the idea that “my relation to the world is mediated through, and only through, judgement”. So, for example, it might be suggested that what marks something that I do as action is the fact that it arises from a judgement of the form “I ought to do this”. In a modified form8 the suggestion would be that the action itself is the judgement of “I ought to do this”. However, a more radical alternative will take seriously the proposal that we may reject the view that “my relation to the world is mediated through, and only through, judgement”. Following Aristotle (on one reading of him), we might argue that the conclusion of a piece of deliberation about what to do is, at least sometimes, an action, as opposed to a judgement.9 In the most persuasive defence of Aristotle’s suggestion of which I am aware, Philip Clark notes that there are two quite different phenomena that could be called “reaching a conclusion in practical reasoning” (Clark 2001, 491). There is coming to a belief about where the weight of reasons lies: that is, being persuaded that something is true of an action—perhaps, that it is one that I ought to perform—by an argument that it is so. But there is also coming to act, or forming an intention to do so, on the basis of certain reasons. As he expresses the contrast: “[T]hinking this is the conclusion to draw is one thing and drawing it is another” (Clark 2001, 494). Deciding that I ought to do x is one thing; deciding to do x is another. In deciding, in the light of the considerations that confront me, to do a certain thing I may draw the conclusion—that is, decide to act—while taking no stand on the question of whether this is the conclusion to draw: without, that is, forming of the action a judgement—a judgement that I would articulate to myself or hold up to others—that this is what I ought to do. Certainly I may take such a stand: may hold a certain course of action up to others as “the right thing for me to do’, or perhaps “the right thing for anyone in these circumstances to do”. If I do so, this judgement may be related in various different ways to what I actually do. But taking Aristotle’s

 Towards which Winch perhaps leans in his suggestion that “the deciding what to do is, in a situation like this, itself a sort of finding out what is the right thing to do” (1965/1972, 165). For an explicit defence of such a view see (Rödl 2007, 48–49). See also Korsgaard’s suggestion that there is a sense in which no human action can happen without reflective endorsement (Korsgaard 1996, 161). 9  See Aristotle, The Movement of Animals (2014, 701a1). I will speak of this as “Aristotle’s suggestion” without pursuing the question of whether it is clearly a correct reading of Aristotle. 8


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suggestion seriously involves acknowledging that there are cases in which my relation to the world is not mediated by judgement: in which the conclusion is an action as opposed to a judgement. In deciding, in the light of the considerations that confront me, to do a certain thing I need take no stand on this being the thing for me to do, or the thing to be done in these circumstances. That is, just as there is reasoning whose conclusion is a belief, so there is reasoning whose conclusion is an action. And in so far as, in a particular case, no such judgement is involved in someone’s decision to act as he does there is clearly no inconsistency in his refusal to make any judgement of the rightness or wrongness of another, in the same circumstances, who acts differently. I do not know how readily Melville’s story might be read in these terms. But, while I must leave it to the reader to determine how far this fits with her own experience, I do believe that our relation to our own actions is very often of this form. A failure to acknowledge this may spring from various a priori considerations: from, for example, an idea that the presence of such a judgement is an essential mark of moral seriousness; or that it is only the involvement of a judgement of the form “I ought to do this” that marks a piece of behaviour as something other than a purely psychological response to his circumstances. But, whether or not we share Winch’s reservations about the notion of the “purely psychological’, there is, I would suggest, no reason to doubt that the distinctions that need to be made here can be made in terms of the character of the considerations that move the individual. And while I see no reason to suppose that the presence of a judgement of the form “I ought to …” or “It would be right for me to ….” is a requirement of the claim that the individual is thinking in moral terms, if it be so, so be it. The conclusion need not be that some of us should go in for a bit more judging than we are now inclined to. It could be, rather, that we should give up an understanding of “the moral” such that “thinking in moral terms” is the criterion of seriousness in action. The conclusion of practical reasoning may be the decision to do something, or the doing of it, rather than the judgement that this is the right thing to do. This should be taken with Winch’s observation that my relation to my own words and to my own actions is wholly different from other people’s. There is no analogue in my relation to what another does of deciding to do something. It can be taken, too, with a point developed in my previous section: my words “I will meet you at 7:00” are an expression of “knowledge’, not through being a judgement grounded in reason, but through being a commitment that provides me with reason for acting as I said I would.10  One might aim to articulate the theme of this section in this way: while familiar philosophical pictures entail that my relation to the world is mediated through, and only through, judgement, we must acknowledge the possibility of direct, and perhaps more fundamental, relations to the world through action. But there may be room for reservations about both halves of that articulation; reservations stemming from the contrast presupposed between “myself” and “the world”.


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3.4  “Trying” The discussion of the previous section might be viewed as providing support for the view expressed by Anscombe in the remark quoted at the start of this paper: the view that clear thinking in moral philosophy is dependent on having an adequate philosophy of psychology. Some of what Winch argues in his paper “Trying” may seem to point in the same direction. There are, however, other strands in this paper that suggest a different assessment. In this paper Winch engages from a moral perspective with the general picture of the will found in a specific form in the Tractatus. He articulates the picture in this way: A man, considered as a moral being, is an active centre of consciousness. As such, he is not really in the world at all: the world, that is, in which actions in the ordinary sense and their consequences occur. This is something which he contemplates and, in a way which on this whole view must remain essentially mysterious, may sometimes causally effect. (Winch 1971/1972, 137)

The explicit focus of his discussion is the inclination that perhaps most of us have to insist that “[f]rom the point of view of moral responsibility (= blameworthiness) someone who tries to commit a murder and fails is in exactly the same position as one who actually commits the murder” (Winch 1971/1972, 136). Winch suggests, in a discussion rich in detailed examples, that the tendency to say that this must be so springs from a mistaken metaphysical picture of the relation between trying and acting. But while that strand in his discussion traces a feature of our ethical leanings to an underlying metaphysical picture there are other strands that suggest a different understanding of the relationships here. Thus, he argues that Prichard’s commitment to that picture of the will is underpinned by reasoning of the following form: …. it can only be my duty to do what is in my power to do; and as far as actions are concerned, since their performance depends on factors which it is not within my present power to modify, the argument seems to show that it is not in my power to act (in the ordinary sense), but only to do something which is one of the necessary conditions of my acting. (Winch 1971/1972, 133)

This suggestion (which closely mirrors a strand in the early Wittgenstein’s treatment of the will) involves, it seems, a reversal of the suggested relation between the ethical and the metaphysical. On the line of thought sketched here, it is a certain understanding of what duty can require of me that drives the distinctive picture of the will: the picture in which what is really in my power is only something which is one of the necessary conditions of my acting in the ordinary sense—in the sense of baking a cake or killing someone. I am not sure if this should be spoken of as a “tension” in Winch’s thinking. There is no reason why the relationships should not be thought of as running in both directions. Indeed, perhaps we would do better to think in terms of a “picture”, with both an ethical and a metaphysical face, that draws sustenance from a number of


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sources. In any case, we should be open to the possibility that the ideas about “blameworthiness” that Winch is considering have other roots too; and so to the possibility that the inclinations in our thinking about the morality of blame may be not only nourished by but themselves nourish the metaphysical picture of action. There are strands in Winch’s discussion that may be helpful in identifying such roots. In particular, Winch speaks of “The complexity in the kinds of moral judgement that may be occasioned by somebody’s action and the impossibility of discussing the whole issue simply in terms of the concept of ‘blameworthiness’” (Winch 1971/1972, 137). Winch provides rich illustrations of that complexity, and touches on what may be an important strand of it when he speaks of the difficulty we may have “in distinguishing between judgements about the act and judgements about the agent” (Winch 1971/1972, 143). Slightly differently, it is possible that some confusion in our reactions towards others, along with some attendant confusion in our philosophical reflections on those reactions, spring from difficulties in keeping the following distinction clearly in focus: a change in our feelings about an individual directly in virtue of something she has done (for example, an expectation that she should apologise for her deception) and a change in our feelings about her in virtue of what we take her action to have revealed about her (for example, that she is capable of such deceit.) It is, I have suggested, possible that confusions in our moral thinking or in our thinking about morality underpin a certain picture of action. It is the other side of this coin that, as Winch remarks: It is important to notice that the concept of trying operates in a moral dimension…. [W]e cannot first get clear about what trying is (as an exercise, perhaps in “the philosophy of mind”) and then go on to consider as a further interesting, but only contingently connected matter, how the notion of trying enters into our thought about moral matters. Rather, understanding how the notion of trying enters into our thought about moral matters must itself be a very important part of our attempt to understand what trying is. (Winch 1971/1972, 131)

As we might express the matter, Winch offers his detailed discussion of the contrasting ways in which completed actions, on the one hand, and failed attempts, on the other, may enter into our moral thinking as a contribution to “the metaphysics of action”: more specifically, to a proper understanding of the relationship between ascriptions of tryings and ascriptions of actions.

3.5  “Moral Integrity” I want to develop this further by turning to another of Winch’s papers from this period. While the dominant, explicit theme of “Moral Integrity” is the idea of morality as a guide to conduct Winch introduces the topic in more “metaphysical” terms. He offers the following sketch of a picture, by now familiar, of “the relation between a man and his acts” (Winch 1968a/1972, 171):

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The idea is of an action as a change in the world which the agent brings about. This may involve changes which are brought about “indirectly” by a movement of the agent’s body, or it may simply be a movement of the agent’s body. Even in the latter case, though, this movement is thought of as “brought about” by the agent. The picture of the agent involved here is, as it were, of a spectator of a world which includes his own body; though this spectator is also able, to a limited extent, to effect changes in the world he observes. So he needs to be presented with considerations which will show him why he should initiate one set of changes rather than another, or rather than none at all; he needs guidance, that is, in the exercise of his will. Morality is thought of by many philosophers as one such guide. (Winch 1968a/1972, 171–2)

Winch suggests that such a picture is secretly at work in the thought of many philosophers writing about morality. He cites John Stuart Mill as a philosopher in whose writings the underlying picture is no secret. In his Systems of Logic Mill presents an interpretation of action that separates the agent from the world in which he acts. Anything that might happen in the world can, then, only bear on what I should do in so far as it is something I might aim at. Mill brings out the moral dimension of this in a beautifully direct way in a remark quoted by Winch: “All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action, it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and colour from the end to which they are subservient” (J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, Ch 1; quoted in Winch 1968a/1972, 174). The “rules of action” of which Mill speaks—the rules that are morality—dictate what goals are to be pursued and what are the surest routes to those goals.11 The picture at work in Mill combines a certain understanding of the kind of importance that lies in our ability to act with a familiar view of “the metaphysics of action”. While Winch’s presentation “leans towards” the suggestion that it is the “metaphysical” face of the picture that underpins, or dictates, the ethical face, I want again to press a little further the question of how we should think of the relation between these two faces. I believe that consequentialism of a relevant kind does have some grip on our thinking independently of the metaphysical picture, and so may contribute to the pull of that picture. Rather than pursuing that directly, however, I want to approach this through certain strands in the thought of the early Wittgenstein. Consider the following remark: Even if all we wish for were to happen, still this would only be a favour granted by fate, so to speak; for there is no logical connection between the will and the world, which would guarantee it, and the supposed physical connection itself is surely not something that we could will. (Wittgenstein 1922, 6.374)

This remark has a number of striking features. The idea that “there is no logical connection between the will and the world” clearly presupposes the conception of agency—of “the will”—about which Wittgenstein raised doubts in the Notebooks. This defence of fatalism depends on that conception of agency. It depends, too, on

 See also: “In Principia Ethica Moore argues that there are three great divisions of ethical inquiry. The first concerns the question: What is the meaning of the word “good”; the second: What things are good in themselves?, and the third: What things are related as causes to that which is good in itself?” (Winch 1968a/1972, 176).



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the further, perhaps surprising, idea that we do not really have control over something if that “control” is not itself something under our control. My immediate interest, however, is in something else that I believe we should find striking. This is the suggestion that the fantasy condition—all we wish for happens just through our wishing it—would be a favour granted to us: if the deal were clinched, the cake was baked, or the book was written merely by my wishing it, without my lifting a finger, this would be an act of grace. Now, might we not equally—indeed, perhaps much better—think of it in a very different way: think of it, that is, as a condition that would be, not a blessing, but one in which much of what gives sense to our lives— our active engagement in projects—would be removed? A world in which the transition from wish to satisfaction was effortless and instant would, at least for a great many of us as we are now, be one in which we were utterly lost.12 The way in which Wittgenstein speaks here suggests an understanding—a controversial one—of the relation between action and value that directly parallels that presented by Mill: an understanding in which any value in what we do is strictly dependent on the value of what happens. My question is: what is the relation between that understanding and the associated metaphysics of action? I believe that a remark in the Notebooks is particularly instructive here: “I can only make myself independent of the world – and so in a certain sense master it – by renouncing any influence on happenings” (Wittgenstein 1984, 11/6/16). Wittgenstein’s call on us to “renounce” our influence appears to presuppose that, as things are now, we do have an influence on the course of events in the world; but it is an influence that we are to give up. We are to stop attempting to influence the course of events; not, however, on the grounds that it can be demonstrated that we have no such influence, but, rather, on the grounds that thinking in this way will make me, as Wittgenstein expresses it, “independent of the world”. While Wittgenstein says little about what being “independent of the world” would come to and why it would be a good way to be, it is clear that one underlying thought is of a kind that is central to Schopenhauer’s vision of life. In one of many relevant passages Schopenhauer writes: Epictetus began and ended with the doctrine as the kernel of his philosophy, that we should consider well and distinguish what depends upon us and what does not, and therefore entirely avoid counting upon the latter, whereby we shall certainly remain free from all pain, sorrow, and anxiety. But that which alone is dependent upon us is the will; ….. since, however, only the maxims of our conduct, not the consequences nor the outward circumstances, are in our power, in order to be always consistent we must set before us as our aim only the maxims and not the consequences and circumstances, and thus again a doctrine of virtue is introduced. (Schopenhauer 1818/1883, 16/117)

 Lars Hertzberg has pointed out to me that there are serious doubts about whether this characterisation of a “world” is even intelligible. Despite such doubts, I believe that we have sufficient grip on the speculation for there to be room for the judgement I make on it.


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It is perhaps directly under the influence of Schopenhauer that Wittgenstein asks: “But can one want and yet not be unhappy if the want does not attain fulfilment?”; immediately adding in parenthesis: “(And this possibility always exists.)”. Given the way that (as he sees it) things tend to go in life, our current pattern of wants can be expected to result in endless disappointment, and so unhappiness. Our best prospect of avoiding unhappiness, then, is to be “independent of the world”: in the sense of not wanting, and striving to attain, particular things. I am to renounce my influence on what happens in the world. Thus, fatalism is defended on the grounds that it is a better way to think in the sense that my life will be less wretched to the extent that I give up the idea that I have any influence on anything that happens “in the world”; for anything that happens “in the world” is dependent on contingencies over which I have no control. I will do better to think of the extent of my agency as limited to a realm within which my control is not dependent on anything that I do not control; and that is to say to movements of my “will” (as conceived in the Tractatus).13 I will not ask how persuasive we should find such reasoning. My point has simply been to note the way in which it may be, at least in part, that it is the ethical that dictates the metaphysical picture. It does so in a way that runs closely parallel to a strand in Winch’s reading of Prichard: to his suggestion that the account of action is the product of the (ethical) requirement that it cannot be our duty to do—we cannot be held responsible for—anything whose occurrence is dependent on factors over which we have no control.

3.6  What Is an Action? One implication of the view of the will that is a focus in this group of papers is that it is crucial that we preserve a clear distinction between, on the one hand, the changes in the world at which our actions are aimed and, on the other, what we actually do. Thus, our normal action descriptions—for example, “He killed her”—seem to run together two very different kinds of thing: two things of totally different kinds of importance. There is the significant event in the world: the woman’s death. And there is: his bringing that about. The word “killed” points in two directions, spans two totally different kinds of interest: our interest in what happened in the world— she died—and our interest in what the man strictly speaking did. A more perspicuous terminology would separate these two strands: split the description up into a part about what happened to her and a part about him. A failure to do so may lead to serious moral confusion. (As, it may be argued, it does when I think that I cannot do a certain thing even though it would clearly be for the best in terms of what happens.)

 This line of thought may throw light on the idea, which I described as “surprising”, that we do not really have control over something if that “control” is not itself something under our control.



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One key strand in Winch’s thought in these papers is a resistance to such a splitting. For example, he writes: There is one important feature of the situation which we should not lose sight of, namely that Oedipus had done these things – married his mother and killed his father, even if he had not intended them. (Winch 1968a/1972, 184)

In “Trying” he focuses on ways in which what a person has done14—has “done” in the everyday sense of baking a cake or killing someone—may be of enormous importance: of enormous importance, in particular, to the individual’s thought about himself. Winch gives much of his attention in these papers to bringing out the moral intelligibility of such ways of thinking: to countering the deep temptation that we may feel to discount them as confusions. There is a sense, of course, in which, from the perspective of a defender of the view of the will that he is challenging, Winch’s formulations simply beg the question. Thus, the claim that Oedipus had done these things will appear as an exploitation of the very everyday locutions that are under challenge. But while that is true in a sense, what Winch is offering is a moral case for resisting that challenge. Or, in a formulation that may be truer to Winch’s understanding of what he is doing: he is presenting, in a strongly sympathetic light, structures of moral thinking within which these ways of thinking of actions have their home. I have formulated a central strand of my discussion in terms of the relationship between “ethics” and “metaphysics” in our thought about action. The formulation will jar with some readers of Winch’s work. For closely linked with the kind of priority Winch gives to what I have called “ethics” is a striking feature of his philosophical method that places his work at a great distance from much that is normally classified as “metaphysics”. Winch calls on us to consider in detail, and from a variety of perspectives, how we can readily imagine individuals—how, perhaps, we can readily imagine ourselves—thinking and feeling about a particular action. I want to stress here the variety of perspectives.15 In particular, while moral philosophy of a certain character16 may focus fairly exclusively on the perspective of one contemplating action—one trying to decide what to do—Winch gives an important place to our thought about what has been done; and, again in contrast to much philosophical discussion of blame, punishment, and so on, to, in particular, an individual’s thought about things she herself has done. The importance of this variety of perspectives might be highlighted through a consideration of Mill’s focus on the “ends” of action: the states of the world brought about or prevented through what I do, considered independently of their having been brought about or prevented in this way. In a wide range of cases one might

 It is tempting to add “as opposed, simply, to what he has tried to do”. But Winch warns that with this formulation we may already be revealing the grip of the picture he is resisting. 15  Also relevant here is the variety in the ways of thinking and feeling that we can readily imagine. But this is not an aspect of Winch’s work that I will pursue. 16  In particular, moral philosophy that construes morality as a guide in the individual’s exercise of her will. 14

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expect that from the perspective of one contemplating or engaged in action the focus will be on “ends” in that sense. For example, each movement that I make is dictated by the demand that: this woman must not drown. That I will, if I am successful, be saving her would, we might hope, be no part of my thinking. Winch, however, reminds us of a sense in which matters may be different from the perspective of myself or another looking back on what I have done. As in the forward looking case, that the woman drowned or not will, presumably, be of importance: of importance, that is, independently of the death having been brought about or prevented by me. But what I did (or failed to do)—in the everyday sense of saving a life (or not jumping in immediately)—may also be significant. As we see, for example, in the fact that, if I saved her, others have something to thank me for that they don’t if my attempt, however serious, failed. Winch calls on us to pay attention to such variety in the ways in which, from different personal and temporal perspectives, we may think and feel about an action: the variety in the ways of thinking and feeling of which we can make moral sense. Attaining a clear overview of that variety is getting clear about our notion of action (or, at least, is one of the things that it may be). One of the things that “metaphysics” may be is the idea that this variety of ways of thinking and feeling is underpinned by, and so unified by, our grasp of “what an action is”: it being one of the tasks of philosophy to investigate the character of this underlying grasp. In a different image, “metaphysics” may be the idea that there is one perspective on an action to which all others are subservient, and that it is the task of philosophy to characterize that. In so far as that is how we think of “metaphysics”, Winch’s work is profoundly antithetical to metaphysics.17

References Anscombe, G. E. M. (1957). Intention. Oxford: Blackwell. Anscombe, G. E. M. (1981). Modern moral philosophy. In Ethics, Religion, and Politics: Collected Philosophical Papers (Vol. III, pp. 26–42). Oxford: Blackwell. Aristotle (2014). Complete Works of Aristotle, Volume 1 (J.  Barnes, Ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press. Clark, P. (2001). The action as conclusion. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 31(4), 481–505. Korsgaard, C. M. (1996). The Sources of Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rödl, S. (2007). Self-consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Schopenhauer, A. (1818/1883). The World as Will and Representation (R.  B. H.  Haldane & J. Kemp, Trans.). London: Trübner & Co. Winch, P. (1965/1972). The universalizability of moral judgments. In Ethics and Action (pp. 151–170). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1968a/1972). Moral integrity. In Ethics and Action (pp. 171–192). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

 I would like to thank Lars Hertzberg and Lynette Reid for helpful comments on drafts of this paper.



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Winch, P. (1968b/1972). Wittgenstein’s treatment of the will. In Ethics and Action (pp. 110–129). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1971/1972). Trying. In Ethics and Action (pp.  130–150). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Wittgenstein, L. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner &, Ltd.. Wittgenstein, L. (1984). Notebooks, 1914–1916 (G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans., G. H. von Wright & G. E. M. Anscombe, Eds.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. David Cockburn is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. His publications include  Other Human Beings  (Macmillan, 1990),  Other Times: Philosophical perspectives on past, present and future (Cambridge University Press, 1997), An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (Palgrave, 2001), and a range of papers on themes in philosophy of mind, ethics, Wittgenstein, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of time.  

Chapter 4

“What Justifies the Justifications?” Winch on Punishment and Justice Lars Hertzberg

1. Peter Winch first broached the problem of punishment and justice in his essay “Ethical Reward and Punishment” from 1970. He returned to the theme, from a different angle, in “‘He’s to Blame!’”, published in 1989, and in his lectures on Philosophy of Law and the State (Winch 1992) to be found in the Peter Winch Archives at Kings College London. The earlier essay begins with a quotation from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-­ Philosophicus (Wittgenstein 1921, 6.422): When an ethical law of the form, “Thou shalt…” is laid down, one’s first thought is, “And what if I do not do it?” It is clear, however, that ethics has nothing to do with punishment and reward in the usual sense of the terms. So our question about the consequences of an action must be unimportant. – At least those consequences should not be events. For there must be something right about the question we posed. There must indeed be some kind of ethical reward and punishment, but they must reside in the action itself. (And it is also clear that the reward must be something pleasant and the punishment something unpleasant).

Winch’s essay is an attempt to explicate Wittgenstein’s distinction between the usual and the ethical sense of reward and punishment. For Winch, ethical reward and punishment are a matter of how an agent perceives her action. He suggests that, when an agent thinks of the way she is treated as reward or punishment for something she has done, provided she feels the reward or punishment was something she deserved, then her thoughts are “a way of thinking about the act itself” (Winch 1972, 221). The pleasantness or unpleasantness of how she is treated, if taken to be deserved, are internal to her action as she sees it. What underlies Wittgenstein’s remark that ethical reward and punishment “must reside in the action itself”, Winch argues, is that

L. Hertzberg (*) Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



L. Hertzberg what matters, ethically, to an agent contemplating his own past actions is, quite simply, what he has done; if his judgment is affected by anything which is merely contingently connected with the character of what he has done (e.g. by the fact that he has been found out), then he is ceasing to think of his action in an ethical way. (Winch 1972, 213)

Winch observes that such an attitude may not be limited to things that are done to me by others because of my past action. Someone may also come to accept “a natural disaster which afflicts him as a punishment for some wrong which he has committed in the past” (Winch 1972, 224). Indeed, one could imagine many kinds of fortunate or tragic events – becoming fatally ill, losing a spouse or a child, having a catastrophic car accident, etc  – being seen in this way, without entertaining any superstitious idea of an actual causal connection between one’s action and the later events. Or again, being treated unfairly by others might be accepted by the agent as punishment for some past action which had gone unnoticed. What I find surprising – to such a degree that I am unsure whether I have understood Winch’s intentions correctly – is that he explicitly wishes to delimit the ethical perspective on reward and punishment to a person’s thinking about her own actions. Concerning the third person perspective, Winch points out that people may be induced to conform to various demands by the fear of punishment or by the hope for reward – in the sense of external events – and that this in itself does not mean that they will be acting morally. He here invokes Kant’s distinction between acting “in accordance with” and acting “for the sake of” a principle. (Winch 1972, 212). This seems unobjectionable. He then goes on to say that “inducements are the only considerations which are likely to appear in third person talk”, i.e. in our talk about another person’s actions: though we may attribute merit or guilt to a person we are talking about, “[t]he question is … whether the words ‘guilt’ and ‘merit’ can, from a purely third-person point of view, amount to any more than deviance from or conformity to a given standard of what is ‘required’ or ‘to be praised’.” (Ibid). It seems clear from the context that he means for the answer to this question to be negative. What Winch appears to be saying is that when we speak of someone other than ourselves, the concept of desert signifies a neutral consideration – it refers to a person’s disposition to act in ways that do or do not conform to commonly accepted standards of behaviour. If we are to take Winch at his words here, what this would mean is that we would never feel joy on behalf of another person for some reward which we felt had been justly bestowed on her for some admirable deeds; say, for deeds courageously carried out in defiance of public opinion or official sanctions. Nor, on the other hand, would we feel indignant on behalf of someone who had been unjustly sentenced for an act he did not commit, or for violating some statute we found unjust. The agents might feel joy or indignation, but for an observer there would only be room for considering whether the sanctions had or had not been applied in accordance with existing standards, and whether or not they were likely to influence the agent’s behaviour in the future.

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Winch goes on to say: “Retribution” [as a concept tied up with desert in an ethical sense] has to be understood in connection with the way in which an agent is related to his own acts, with what those acts are for him. We can see what role the concept of punishment may play in this dimension only by considering ways in which the agent may use it in coming to terms with himself and his actions. (Winch 1972, 213)

Perhaps this passage provides a clue to Winch’s reasoning about the third person case. His point seems to be that for desert and retribution to carry ethical significance, they have, in some way, to encompass the agent’s potential perspective on her own action; for instance, even if the agent, in some sense, does not recognize the wrongness of what she has done, does not recognize, for instance, in what way her action wronged or harmed those who were affected by it, we judge it to be just to punish her only provided such a recognition is in her reach. Perhaps we will say, “She ought to have realized what she did was wrong”. Where justice is concerned, it might be argued, the third person perspective always has the first person perspective at its core. This seems to me a defensible position. It is in line with this that we hold that those deemed criminally insane ought not to be punished. Similarly, a system of punishment which completely disregards the perspective of agents strikes us as inhuman, as in the case of a criminal organization trying to impose its will on a community through the deterrent use of punishment. I am suggesting that these considerations might explain Winch’s claim that retribution, as an ethical notion, can only be understood “in connection with the way in which the agent is related to his own acts, with what those acts are for him”. Nevertheless, I would argue that his claim that in the third person case, we can only think of punishment in terms of an inducement to conform to standards of behaviour, and of guilt as a failure to conform, is misleading. 2. Let me tie Wittgenstein’s distinction between reward and punishment “in the usual sense of the terms” on the one hand, and ethical reward and punishment on the other hand, to two different aspects of the institution of legal punishment as it exists in many modern societies. On the one hand, sanctions are a way of regulating behaviour, their importance deriving from the values served by bringing about or forestalling certain ways of acting: rules of traffic for road safety, taxation for securing certain public functions deemed to be essential, etc. In short, these regulations are justified by an appeal to the common good. From this point of view, the measure of success within this system of sanctions is efficacy. On the other hand, systems of reward and punishment will also be judged for their justice. A central requirement of the whole legal system is that the legal statutes and the procedures adopted in implementing them should safeguard the just treatment of those falling under their purview: people should only be punished for actions they have actually committed, and their punishment should be proportionate to their crimes and should take account of the circumstances in which the act was committed. In fact, there is overlap between the two aspects, since part of what the regulation of behaviour aims at is to deter the inhabitants of a state from unjustly violating the safety and rights of their fellow inhabitants. As Winch puts it:


L. Hertzberg … what I wanted to say all along was not that the rationale of the penal law is the preservation of public order, so much as the preservation of justice. The preservation, or attainment, of a just social order. (Winch 1992, Lecture 11)

Of course most legal systems will fail to live up to these requirements to a lower or higher degree – for one thing, economic, political and social forms of corruption are more or less prevalent in most human societies; and for another thing, even in a system administered by people of good will, errors of implementation will be inevitable in a system run by human beings. Still, in many societies appeals to the common good and to justice are held to be relevant to the appraisal of the legal system and its workings. The ideal aimed at in such societies is commonly (not wholly accurately) referred to as the rule of law in contradistinction to the rule of men. A legal system can of course be imagined in which the regulation of behaviour overrides considerations of justice. In an extreme case, sanctions are in practice a pure exercise of power for ends set by those in control (even though the system may be made out as serving some higher values). In such cases, questions of culpability are only taken into consideration to the extent that this serves the purposes of the system. We might call such a system despotic. History abounds with examples of such systems; in today’s world, the paradigmatic case is the North Korean regime. However, in most of the societies we are familiar with this is not the way systems of justice work. On the contrary, even where behaviour is regulated for the sake of social utility we are inclined to think that it should take place in observance of certain standards of justice. Thus, ethical concerns seem to be relevant to punishment even when it is a contingent consequence of the crime – even when it does not, in the Tractatus sense, “reside in the action itself”. However, Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus, is denying this, and Winch, in his early essay, seems to agree. On their view, the connection between legal punishment and ethics is only external. In his later work on punishment, however, Winch reverses his position. 3. Rush Rhees commented on Winch’s thoughts in an essay borrowing its title from that of Winch: “‘Ethical Reward and Punishment’”. This appeared posthumously in the collection Value and Understanding: Essays for Peter Winch, edited by Raimond Gaita. Rhees has doubts about Winch’s interpretation of the Tractatus remark about “a kind of ethical punishment in which the punishment lies in the act itself” (although he hastens to add that “[a]s always with questions of interpretation, it is at least as likely that he is on the right lines and I am wrong”) (Rhees 1990, 179). In fact, Rhees’s essay is somewhat sketchy and his criticism of Winch is elusive. He does not offer an alternative reading of the Tractatus passage, rather he says that the Tractatus sentences about punishment are difficult (by which he means, I believe, that he thinks they present unsolvable problems). Winch, he claims, makes the mistake of trying to read the Tractatus passage as it stands, without considering Wittgenstein’s own later critique of his early work. If I read Rhees correctly, he is arguing that it is pointless to try to explain Wittgenstein’s remarks about value and ethics in the Tractatus – as well as in the “Lecture on Ethics” – given that Wittgenstein himself later on rejected them as groundless, an assessment with which Rhees

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agrees. My own inclination is to think that Rhees is not wrong on this matter, even though Winch should be given credit for the intellectual boldness of his attempt. Rhees points to difficulties with Wittgenstein’s idea that “ethics cannot be expressed”, as he puts it in Tractatus 6.421, the remark immediately preceding the one about ethical reward and punishment (Rhees 1990, 180 f). The reason ethics cannot be expressed is that, according to the Tractatus, language, in essence, consists of nothing but factual propositions and truth-functions of factual propositions. In speaking ethically, however, we are not asserting facts, hence to try to put something ethical into words is to fail to say anything. However, Rhees questions the idea that language has an essence, and he points out that Wittgenstein rejected this whole way of looking at language in the Philosophical Investigations.1 According to Rhees and the later Wittgenstein, it cannot be settled a priori which things can be said and which things cannot. When this idea is given up, however, there is no longer any good reason for thinking that ethical matters cannot be spoken about. It is not immediately obvious what the connection is between the idea that ethics cannot be expressed and the remark about ethical reward and punishment. I take it that they are connected via the opening sentence of 6.422: When an ethical law of the form, “Thou shalt…” is laid down, one’s first thought is, “And what if I do not do it?”

A hypothetical command of the form, “Do so and so in order to avoid such and such a consequence!” – e.g. “Observe the speed limit to avoid getting a speeding ticket!” – can (let’s assume) be reduced to a factual assertion: “If NN does x, y will happen.” Accordingly, such a command would make unproblematic sense on the Tractatus conception. However, the idea that acting ethically means striving to achieve some result which is external to ethics (say, for the sake of being rewarded or avoiding punishment) is obviously misguided. An ethical command is not hypothetical, hence not factual, hence it cannot be put into meaningful words. Actually, when confronted with a command such as “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour”, I doubt whether one’s first thought is “And what if I do?”. Wittgenstein’s point seems to be, rather, that for someone who has taken the Tractatus view of language to heart, that ought to be one’s first reaction. I would suggest, on the other hand, that if we understand what is commanded we see its rightness. Further on, Rhees writes: There are certain ethical judgments for which I have no answer to the question “Why?” “As far as I am concerned, it stops there.” …

 Wittgenstein’s self-criticism is summed up in § 65:


Instead of pointing out something common to all that we call language, I’m saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common in virtue of which we use the same word for all – but there are many different kinds of affinity between them. And on account of this affinity, or these affinities, we call them all “languages”. (Wittgenstein 1953/2009) (I am here quoting from the revised translation by Hacker and Schulte, rather than the Anscombe translation used by Rhees. This should make no difference to the content of the remark).


L. Hertzberg I do not think these are judgments I could discover by any method, unless it might be self-examination. (Rhees 1990, 185)

If I have understood his drift, he is suggesting that what led Wittgenstein to the conclusion that the ethical is inexpressible is the fact that ethical judgments are often without ground (in particular they have no extra-ethical ground). From the point of view of the Tractatus these things were indistinguishable: only that which can be grounded in empirical observation can be meaningfully uttered; however, there is no reason one should think so. Since Wittgenstein’s remark about reward and punishment is tied to a conception of language he himself later came to recognize as misconceived, Winch’s attempt to find sense in the remark, according to Rhees, is a wild-goose chase. 4. Winch’s more recent essay, “‘He’s to Blame!’” takes off from an altogether different angle. In his 1992 Lectures, he carries the discussion begun in that essay further. Winch’s essay was published in a volume honouring Rush Rhees, but when it appeared Rhees had died. There is no evidence that Rhees had read Winch’s essay, nor, it seems, had Winch read Rhees’s essay “‘Ethical Reward and Punishment’” at the time he published “He’s to Blame!” However, as we shall see, there are parallels between Winch’s more recent essay and some of Rhees’s thoughts in the second half of his essay. Winch’s central concern in these later texts is with getting clear about the question of the justification of punishment – the question which is regarded as central in most philosophical discussions of the concept. I wish here to take note in passing of a conceptual peculiarity connected with the debate about the justification of punishment. The word “justification” is typically bound up with rights, but it may be asked whether the central question in connection with punishment is one of a right to punish rather than an obligation to punish (as it might be thought, towards those victimized by the crime), and if the latter, whether “justification” is a good term to use. (Kant certainly thought there was an obligation to punish, though one that was independent of any consideration of the victims). I am not aware of any discussion in the literature of the relation between punishment as a right and as an obligation. This issue may have important bearings on how the debate is to be conceived. I must admit that this paper wavers on the distinction. Now, rather than proposing a theory of justification from among those on offer (deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, retribution, etc) or adding a new one of his own, Winch argues that the difficulty lies in understanding the issue itself aright. Adopting a remark of Wittgenstein’s, he says that in raising the question, we fail to “put the question marks deep enough down” (Wittgenstein 1998, quoted on Winch 1989, 151). In other words, we tend to forge ahead looking for an answer without stopping to reflect what question we are actually asking. As Winch points out, when the question of the justification of the practice of punishment is raised, we should recognize, first of all, that the practice we are referring to is in itself partly constituted by the fact that certain justificatory questions are relevant to it. The practice consists of cases in which persons are sentenced to

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undergoing such and such punishments for such and such crimes. It belongs to the nature of the practice that we may raise questions like: was the accused really guilty, was the evidence sufficient, was he sentenced by a competent court, was the sentence fair, etc., etc. (Winch 1989, 152). As Winch puts it: one sort of case is regarded as unjustified in contrast with others. Our familiarity with the terms in which these contrasts are drawn is itself a very important feature of our understanding of what punishment is. The concept of someone’s being punished for an offence is not itself called into question in these examples [of the justice of a verdict being questioned]; indeed, the examples would evaporate if it were. (Winch 1989, 153; first italics mine)

Here it should be pointed out in passing that in the family of uses of the word “punishment”, there are some in which the connection with such a justificatory discourse is much thinner or non-existent, as in the forms of despotic punishment described above. Winch’s observations are limited to the type of legal practice which we might be prepared to call “a system of justice” (which does not imply, as was said, that the system as such may not suffer from failures of justice, great or small); in other words, they are limited to systems which aspire, or at least make a show of aspiring, to justice in the creation and application of laws. It is, of course, for the most part to such systems that the traditional discussion of the justification of punishment limits itself. As Winch puts it: It may well be the case (it would be hard to deny that it is the case) that our penal institutions and the way they are administered in many ways fall short of what we should think ideal. Perhaps sometimes we may think they fall so far short as be to “more honoured in the breach than in the observance”. To think this, however, is not necessarily to think the whole concept of punishment discredited: for it may be the case that what our institutions fall short of is precisely what the concept of punishment itself, properly understood, requires. (Winch 1992, Lecture 28)

Now, the fact that such systems of justice contain forms of justificatory discourse in themselves will not of course be enough to satisfy the traditional punishment theorist – let us call him “the justificationist”. The question he will want to ask, as Winch formulates it, is: “What is the justification of these justifications?” (Winch 1992, Lecture 28), in other words, why should there be such a system of punishment – including its justificatory discourse – in the first place? Winch quotes Protagoras from the Platonic dialogue carrying his name (Winch 1989, 153): Punishment is not inflicted by any rational man for the sake of the crime that has been committed – after all one cannot undo what is past – but for the sake of the future, to prevent either the same man, or, by the spectacle of his punishment, someone else, from doing wrong again. (324b)

Plato’s Protagoras here gives expression to an inclination which has held a powerful sway over much of the justificationist debate over the ages. The only acceptable justification for maintaining a system of punishment, it may seem, is the future consequences of punishment, either through its deterrent effect, as a means of rehabilitation, or for the sake of incapacitation, or all of these together. If future


L. Hertzberg

consequences are discounted, it will appear, punishment will be reduced to a mere act of revenge. The idea that some past event could in itself be a reason for performing such and such an action sounds like a superstition. Now Winch is not denying the importance of the future-oriented aspects of punishment. As one might put it: once the authorities have rightfully incarcerated an individual, they have an obligation to make the best of the situation as far as compatible with the principle that the punishment should be a negative event (this concern could be held to be one difference between punishment and revenge). However, Winch is questioning the idea that the only thing that can justify any action at all are future consequences. For one thing, he points to an ambiguity in the notion that the past cannot be undone. He considers the saying, “It’s no use crying over spilt milk”. We are tempted to cry when the effects of having spilt the milk are irreparable, as when we have ruined a precious tablecloth in spilling the milk, or if we cannot afford another glass of it. In other cases there is no need to cry since we can simply pour another glass from the container. So in the first case the past cannot be undone in terms of its consequences, in the latter case the consequences can be undone; what cannot be “undone” is simply the fact that something was the case. Winch points out that those who speak of punishing someone for a crime are hardly under the illusion that past actions can be undone in the latter sense; whereas it is a contingent question whether or in what way the past can be undone in the former sense – that seems to be a possibility in cases in which compensation or restitution may be in place, whereas in other cases this would not be a possibility (Winch 1989, 154). So the saying that the past cannot be undone will not work by itself as an argument for the purely forward-looking conception of punishment; some additional argument is required to show that punishment cannot “undo the past” in any relevant sense. Or better put: some other argument is required if we are to be forced to the conclusion that a past event cannot by itself be a reasonable ground for action regardless of future consequences. Punishing someone for a crime is punishing him for something done in the past. We might also say: in punishing him we implement the judgment that he deserves to be punished. And the concept of desert points to the past without regard to future consequences. 5. Let me interject a few remarks about revenge. The wish for revenge is the most notorious backward-looking motive. There is a common inclination to think, like Protagoras, that only forward-looking motives can be rational – in other words, that the wish to act on a backward-looking motive always embodies an error.2 And so, when penal practices in general, or some particular practices, are criticized, the criticism often takes the form of arguing that the practices in question are really a form of (are no better than) “simple revenge”, and this, it is claimed, is irrational and barbaric. At the same time, there is another backward-looking motive that is hardly 2  We should note that even forward-looking motives do not necessarily presuppose an instrumental connection between one’s acts and the future envisaged, as in the case of someone who volunteers to visit with old people in the hope that someone will visit him when he himself is old and lonely. We might not call such a motive rational, but neither is it irrational.

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ever criticized: that is, gratitude. We would not shake our heads at Jack, say, for doing Jill a favour in gratitude for something that Jill had done for him (or even, let’s say, for something Jill’s father or her cousin had done for him) – independently of whether the return of favour might reasonably be expected to inspire further benefits in the future. On the contrary, it is refusing the favour that would be likely to earn him contempt  – in spite of the fact that Jill’s favour to him “was something in the past”. Whence, then, the widespread suspicion of revenge? It is true that revenge is often out of proportion, or aimed at the wrong individuals (say, taking revenge on an entire ethnic group for actions done by an individual member of the group) – but to say so is in itself to admit that at least in some cases the proportion and the target of revenge are not wrong. Questions of proportionality aside, assessing acts of revenge in terms of rationality seems out of place, but so does assessing acts of gratitude in terms of rationality. We might call such motives non-rational. On the other hand, there seems to be no problem about discussing revenge, or gratitude, in terms of intelligibility. In Heinrich von Kleist’s story Michael Kohlhaas, the protagonist’s unbending search for retribution is fully comprehensible, he even earns our respect. Perhaps what we condemn is not revenge itself as a general motive, but the particular motive for revenge, since this will, as often as not, be petty, self-seeking, or self-­ centred, the avenger being blinded by his subjectivity. In discussing revenge we tend to focus on dramatic acts of retaliation. But vindictiveness may also creep into people’s everyday dealings with one another, as when Joe, the CEO of a company, fails to appoint Susan to a job even though she is the best qualified applicant, on the grounds that Susan had criticized Joe on some earlier occasion, or maybe because she had resisted his advances. In such a case, Joe may be at pains to hide his motives from others and maybe even from himself, unlike the case of punishment where one normally makes a point of making manifest what the culprit is being punished for. Thus revenge may be insidious in a way that punishment is not. Decrying legal punishment by likening it to revenge is empty rhetoric. Punishment is administered by those to whom the task has been assigned, in the name of all citizens, and we are all ultimately responsible for holding them to the standards of justice. We have a stake, we might say, both in the culprit’s not escaping punishment and in the punishment being just. Revenge, on the other hand, is taken by those injured or insulted, or by some of them on behalf of the others. The rest of us are bystanders, though we, or our authorities, may be responsible for seeing to it that revenge does not get out of hand. It is because revenge tends to be driven by subjectivity that it tends to be misdirected or disproportionate, thereby often giving rise to a spiral of destruction. Where the legal administration of punishment is concerned, on the other hand, there are statutes intended to make sure that the authorities involved in the process – including members of juries – do not have a personal stake in the matter. In some cases, it is true, this condition is notoriously difficult to fulfil. (There are, of course, intermediate forms, systems of vendetta, where forms of revenge are more or less institutionalized, and on the other hand criminal trials or parole hearings in which the victims of crime or their families are given a role


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almost as party to the proceedings. The criminal justice system in the United States, it is sometimes claimed, in some of its aspects verges on state-sponsored revenge. But this does not refute the point that there are paradigmatic cases in which punishment and revenge are clearly distinct). 6. Suppose we ask: what reasons might there be for introducing something corresponding to our penal system in a society in which there is no concept of desert, and where accordingly such a system does not exist? (It does not matter for this thought experiment that it is questionable whether such a society can even be imagined). Of course, if the concept of desert existed, there would be no need for inventing reasons for punishment. Let us imagine that there is a proposal that people who have committed assault should be locked up. We must assume, of course, that the word “assault” is given a neutral definition, e.g. as behaviour causing long-lasting pain, bleeding, fractures, etc. (maybe with a clause listing exemptions such as surgery). The justification would be that one wants to discourage people from behaving in such ways. However, this by itself would not be an instance of justifying a penal system. What we are describing here might as well suit a group of vigilantes deciding to put a stop to the violence rampant in their neighbourhood. What would be absent in such a case are questions like: who has the authority to do the locking up? through what procedures is the decision to incarcerate someone to be reached? what would the term of incarceration be? etc. Furthermore, if the sole purpose of introducing this practice is to achieve some specific change in behaviour, there is no reason why the reprisal should be limited to the perpetrator of an assault. It might be thought more effective, for instance, to lock up his friends or colleagues or the members of his family in addition to him or in place of him. In the kind of society with which we are familiar, the use of force is the prerogative of the state, and its exercise is – in principle – carefully circumscribed by penal laws and by rules of procedure. The exercise of legal force is subject to the law of the land, no less than the behaviour of ordinary citizens. Just as central is the requirement that the infliction of punishment should be limited by considerations of desert. In short, the instrumental purposes of the law should always be tempered by the requirements of justice. In discussing the practice of punishment as a practice with pretensions to justice, we must take into consideration the justificatory discourse that is internal to it, otherwise we will not be talking about this practice but about something else. Our discussion concerns the coupling of crimes and punishments. Taking into consideration the justificatory discourse does not, of course, mean accepting each and every justificatory argument that is on offer  – that would be impossible anyway, since those arguments will often conflict with one another. Rather it means being ready to argue within the framework of that discourse, one of the core features of which is the concept of desert. And the word “desert” is internally linked to the word “crime”. Rhees: “We cannot speak of a crime – we should not call it a crime – unless we could say: ‘Whoever did that should be punished.’” (Rhees 1990, 189). Well, we might allow for exceptions in special cases, as when the perpetrator is criminally

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insane, is under overwhelming pressure, etc., but the default response to what we consider a crime is that the perpetrator deserves to be punished. Rhees seems to suggest, in a later context, that we respond with horror or indignation to a crime. But this is not necessarily true for many ordinary criminal acts, such as traffic violations or faking an ID card to gain entrance to a pub. The legal tradition makes an important distinction between what is called mala per se and mala quia prohibita – that is, between actions that are bad in themselves and actions which are bad because they are prohibited. Of course, the line between these is not a sharp one. Without the idea that a person may deserve to be punished, i.e. that he may justly be made to suffer solely because of some past action, nothing analogous to our system of criminal law could exist. But could not this idea be introduced in a society? Perhaps it will be decided that it is useful to treat a person as responsible in a given set of circumstances, since doing so would be beneficial for society. Such a proposal, however, makes no sense. To judge either that it would be useful to treat a person as responsible, in an individual case, or generally to treat persons as responsible in a given range of circumstances, is not the same as judging them to be responsible. Of course the authorities may on some occasion be tempted to make an outward show of holding someone responsible for a crime – say, in order to stave off a lynch mob or to appease a political group by scapegoating some individual – but whatever we may think of the wisdom of such a procedure in a given case, it is and remains a pretence. We cannot decide by stipulation that someone deserves to answer for some given action. The judgment that a person deserves to be punished can be based only on the considerations pertinent to judging of a person’s responsibility, not on any external grounds. The use of the word “desert” embodies a justificatory claim, but there can be no justification for the thought that actions may deserve punishment as such. As Rhees puts it: There cannot be a reason for punishing – a justification of punishing at all, of punishing as such. There may, of course, be a justification of means or methods of punishing. … When Kant says that punishment must be inflicted on a criminal only because he has committed a crime, we cannot ask how that justifies it. We should have no idea what we were seeking. (Rhees 1990, 190)

In sum: if it is asked, “Should one punish people who deserve to be punished?” the answer is “Yes, that’s what we mean by ‘deserve’”; and if it is asked, “Does a person who commits a crime deserve to be punished?” the answer is “Yes, that’s what we mean by ‘crime’.” There seems to be a paradox in the idea of what taking an enlightened view of punishment would amount to. When the matter is discussed on a general level, there is, I believe, a widespread view that the only thing that can justify punishment are forward-looking considerations. However, in an individual case, I believe most people would be appalled at the idea of punishment being administered independently of desert.


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7. Winch’s essay concludes with a discussion of an essay by John Mackie called “Retributivism: A Test Case for Ethical Objectivity” (Mackie 1986). While rejecting most justificationist accounts of punishment, Mackie maintains that (in Winch’s words) “the widespread idea that … the infliction of pain is appropriate when someone has done something wrong” should be taken seriously (Winch 1989, 160). So far, Winch agrees with Mackie. However, according to Winch, Mackie in the end fails to meet this ambition. To spell out his disagreement with Mackie, Winch sets out the following elements of the problem of punishment: (1) There exists a practice involving the infliction of pain or unpleasantness on those who commit certain acts of wrongful behaviour. (2) This practice also involves certain ways of speaking and thinking, focused on the concept of “punishment”, according to which given the right circumstances, such an infliction of pain etc. is “called for”, “justified”, “fitting” etc. (3) There exist ideas about the justification of this practice. (Winch 1989, 161)

The central issue concerns elements (1) and (2) and the relation between them. Mackie evidently assumes that (2) is prior to (1): as we might put it, “in the beginning was the thought”. The thoughts in question are “sentiments”, i.e. ways we feel about actions. These are, as it were, superimposed on what is actually the case. They, in turn, give rise to ways of responding to human wrongdoing. Winch wishes to turn this perspective around. In order to do so, he draws a parallel between the discussion of punishment and Wittgenstein’s discussion of the way our thinking about causality might be thought of as arising from human primitive reactions (Wittgenstein 1976/1993). An example of such a reaction might be this: someone hits me painfully on the nose, and I immediately react by hitting him back or shouting at him, etc. (I here deliberately choose a case in which the reaction to a cause takes the form of retaliation, but of course there are many other forms of primitive reactions to causes: e.g. hearing a loud bang and turning to look in the direction it came from, stopping to remove a pebble from one’s shoe, protecting oneself from a stream of water suddenly pouring down from the roof, etc). Now the role of such reactions may be misconstrued in two ways. One mistake would be to regard them as justifications of our causal judgments, as if one’s reaction to something as a cause were actually evidence that a causal connection was at hand. In fact, of course, our reactions are frequently too hasty. But neither are we to think of them as mere “sentiments”, responses that are to be kept separate from what is objectively the case  – along the lines on which Mackie construes our retaliatory reactions. Rather their significance lies in providing a life environment in which there is a place for talk about causes, inquiry into causes, speculation about causes, etc. – talk in which correct as well as erroneous causal judgments will be made. It is within this talk that questions about what is “objectively the case” concerning causal beliefs finds its sense. Let us call this Wittgenstein’s picture of how causal thought might be grounded in human behaviour. Now, Winch’s suggestion is that a similar picture might be drawn concerning the roots of our talk of punishment and desert. The disanalogies should be obvious (a point which Winch does not bring up). For instance, there may

4  “What Justifies the Justifications?” Winch on Punishment and Justice


be ways of investigating causal connections which are independent of our reactions to causes, as when we trace the course of an epidemic or study the benefits of a new fertilizer for wheat crops. In this way, our immediate responses may be shown to have been misguided. When it comes to matters of responsibility and desert, on the other hand, there are no facts independent of our inclinations to react in various ways to human actions by which the “veracity” of our reactions might be checked. This, however, is not to say that facts may not have an indirect corrective effect on our responses; thus if we found that a person’s outrageous behaviour had its ground in neurological or psychological malfunctioning, our retaliatory reactions might be held back. At any rate, through familiarizing myself with a case, through discussions with others, etc., I may come to change my verdict concerning a person’s culpability. However, it does not make sense to suppose that we might somehow come to discover that the whole practice of holding people responsible for their actions is erroneous, that it involves a factual mistake; that there is nothing in reality “corresponding to” it. (Thus, the suggestion that all of human behaviour might have its ground in neurological malfunctioning is incoherent). At this point, Winch makes a somewhat surprising claim. He says, almost as an afterthought, that [w]e cannot therefore rule out a priori the possibility of a wholesale condemnation of punishment, not merely as a set of practices but even as a way of thinking. And hence, I think, we cannot rule out a priori the possibility of asking questions about their justification. (Winch 1989, 163)

This is surprising to me since it seems to run counter to the whole tenor of Winch’s essay, at least as I have understood it. I take him to have been arguing that, unless, in raising questions of justification, we stay within the family of concepts constituting our thinking about crime, desert and punishment, then the focus of our questions vanishes – it is no longer clear what it is we wish to justify or to bring into question. And now it appears as if Winch wishes to bring back the possibility of a wholesale rejection of the thinking surrounding punishment. How are we to understand this reversal?3 I am unsure how this question is to be resolved. Let me, however, propose a conceivable way out. On my reading of Winch, what was shown to be confused was the question whether the idea of punishment as such is either just or unjust. It makes no sense to ask, concerning verdicts within the system, in so far as they are just, whether they may nevertheless be unjust. In short, the practice of punishment as such cannot be called out on the issue of justice. This, however, does not exclude another possibility: someone might turn her back on any kind of penal system and any notion of desert. She wants no part of it, she will never use any of the concepts that belong to the family of concepts surrounding penal practices. She is not arguing that the way of thinking is confused or 3  We may note that there is no similar concession in his 1992 Lecture Notes, which in many respects appears to be an elaboration of the thoughts in “He’s to blame!”


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erroneous in some sense, she simply considers it alien and inhuman. Maybe she is a soulmate of Leo Tolstoy, with his radical reading of Luke vi: 37: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven”. I would suggest the attitude sketched out here is easier to embrace if one restricts one’s attention to a certain range of crime – the kind that is liable to call for our compassion rather than indignation. (The reading I propose might be taken to be suggested by the first of the sentences quoted above, but harder to square with the second sentence).4 This reading of the passage seems to be borne out by what follows: “… it is important to be aware of how much one is taking on if one tries to do this.” Winch points out that “our punitive reactions are continuous with other, very fundamental, moral responses” and that “our penal concepts are intimately and subtly interwoven with our other moral concepts”. In other words, it is a hard question how much of our moral thinking can remain intact if any idea of desert is weeded out. We may ask: could there be a notion of responsibility without a notion of desert; and furthermore, can the concept of agency be understood without any connection with responsibility? These are huge questions, too large to be entered into here. In any case, I believe this reading of Winch’s concluding thoughts is roughly on the mark, and I believe he succeeds in showing that a desert-based practice of punishment is deeply entrenched in the human form of life.5

References Mackie, J. (1986). Retributivism: A test case for ethical objectivity. In J.  Feinberg & H.  Gross (Eds.), Philosophy of Law (3rd ed., pp. 622–629). Belmont: Wadsworth. Rhees, R. (1990). ‘Ethical reward and punishment.’ In R. Gaita (Ed.), Value and Understanding: Essays for Peter Winch (pp. 179–193). London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1970/1972). Ethical reward and punishment. In Ethics and Action (pp.  210–228). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1989). He’s to blame. In D. Z. Philips & P. Winch (Eds.), Wittgenstein: Attention to Particulars: Essays in Honour of Rush Rhees (pp. 151–164). London: Palgrave Macmillan. Winch, P. (1992). Philosophy of Law and the State [Computer printout; lecture notes; 61 pp.]. Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 16). King’s College London. Wittgenstein, L. (1921/1961). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, Trans.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Wittgenstein, L. (1976). Cause and effect: Intuitive awareness (P. Winch, Trans.). In J. Klagge & A. Nordmann (Eds.), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Occasions (pp. 370–426). Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company.

4  Another way of reading the remark about the possibility of raising questions about the justification of punishment was suggested to me by David Cockburn in discussion. On his proposal, we could imagine the case of someone who accepted the idea of desert but who favoured other ways of meting out retribution, and to whom we were trying to show the superiority of a penal system. 5  I wish to thank Michael Campbell, David Cockburn and Merete Mazzarella for helpful comments on previous drafts of this essay.

4  “What Justifies the Justifications?” Winch on Punishment and Justice


Wittgenstein, L. (1980/1998). Culture and Value (Rev. ed., G. H. von Wright & H. Nyman, Eds., Peter Winch, Trans., A. Pichler, Rev. Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/2009). Philosophical Investigations (4th ed., P. M. S. Hacker & J. Schulte, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker, & J. Schulte, Trans.). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Lars Hertzberg is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. He did his doctorate in philosophy at Cornell University in 1970. Hertzberg has written essays on ethics, the philosophy of language, philosophical psychology and Wittgenstein, some of them collected in The Limits of Experience (Acta Philosophica Fennica 1994). Among his most important essays are “On the Attitude of Trust” (originally in Inquiry 1988), “The Sense is where You Find it” (in McCarthy & Stidd, eds, Wittgenstein in America, 2001), “The Importance of Being Thoughtful” (in Moyal-Sharrock, ed., Perspicuous Presentations, 2007), and “Very Important Facts of Nature” (Kuusela & McGinn, eds, The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein). He is the editor, together with Martin Gustafsson, of The Practice of Language (2002). Hertzberg has done translations of Wittgenstein into Swedish (together with Martin Gustafsson he is currently finishing a translation of Philosophische Untersuchungen). He is on the editorial board of the Nordic Wittgenstein Review and Nordic Wittgenstein Studies, and he has a blog called “Language is things we do” .  

Chapter 5

Winch on Punishment: Contested Concepts, Justification, and Primitive Reactions Lynette Reid

5.1  Introduction At the border between Peter Winch’s discussions of ethics, agency (the will and trying), and political philosophy, he published two discussions of punishment— “Ethical Reward and Punishment” in the Swansea journal The Human World, reprinted in Ethics and Action (Winch 1970/1972), and “‘He’s to blame!’,” his contribution to Rush Rhees’s festschrift (Winch 1989a). Each paper is characteristic of the period of Winch’s thought in which it was published—that is, each works through the problem at hand with a distinct approach that is shared by other papers written around the same time. In “Ethical reward and punishment”, a central idea in the paper is that the concept of punishment cannot be understood without being seen from the distinctive first person point of view; the problem with the views of punishment he criticizes is that they consider punishment from the third person—equated with causal—point of view. In “‘He’s to blame!’,” a central idea in the paper is that the concept of punishment is built on primitive reactions; the problem with the views of punishment he criticizes is that they take punishment to be built on reason rather than seeing reasoning (about punishment) being built on a process of concept formation that starts with primitive reactions. These approaches have each come under critical scrutiny by those who have engaged seriously with Winch’s ethical thought. One of the biggest differences between the two papers is the attention Winch devotes to the question of the justification of punishment. In the first paper, the question of justification is bracketed at the beginning and gestured to at the end of the paper: his main focus is on questioning a distinction Wittgenstein draws in the Tractatus between reward and punishment in the “usual” and the “ethical” senses. L. Reid (*) Bioethics Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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In the second paper, this previously-bracketed thought about justification is treated at length. The first paper discusses in more detail a cluster of concepts loosely related to retributive justice; the second paper briefly gestures to these at the end. Winch frames the second paper with the challenge from Rhees to place the question in the right place—a challenge he does not locate specifically in Rhees’s contemporaneous paper critical of “Ethical reward and punishment”1 and published in Winch’s festschrift. Presumably re-focusing his treatment of the topic around the challenge of placing the question of justification in the right place was his attempt to place the question deep enough. It’s natural to read Winch on punishment in a certain way, informed by what we see as his central themes from his most well-known works, The Idea of a Social Science (Winch 1958/1990) and “Understanding a Primitive Society” (Winch 1972). His overall goal across both papers is surely to reject the philosophical—that is, external—critique of the concept of punishment and rescue the intelligibility of punishment—its logic—from external critiques that place this in question. His discussions of punishment then would be akin to his treatment of the Azande witchcraft practices in “Understanding a Primitive Society”. Of course, there is Winch’s usual caveat that an argument for the intelligibility of the practice doesn’t force one to adopt it (“philosophy can no more show a man what he should attach importance to than geometry can show a man where he should stand” (Winch 1968/1972, 191)). But how one philosophizes cannot be divorced from where one stands either, so it would seem that, as readers, we can see where Winch stands: the logic of punishment that he attempts to recover is, by his own account, a retributivist one. At the end of the day, it seems, Winch is making some kind of argument for retributivism, even if he denies that he is doing so. He is at any rate advancing a negative argument against the possibility of an “external” critique of a retributive account of punishment, perhaps supported by a claim (never explicitly defended) that the retributive function or understanding of punishment is the “ordinary language” or punishment, and other understandings of punishment are philosophically motivated (in a bad sense, in the sense in which philosophy abstracts from ordinary life). I’m not satisfied with this argument—either with attributing it to Winch, although I think he says enough to suggest it is an element in his thinking, or with the idea that this would constitute an interesting philosophical treatment of punishment. Winch is at pains to point out the close intertwining of philosophical and practical critique when he does political philosophy: there is no bright line between raising philosophical questions and making an intervention in the cultural conversation (the moral and political conversation) around our practices in an area like punishment. In the early paper, he cites Nietzsche’s list of rationales for/uses of punishment in 1  We do not know whether the criticisms of this paper were known to Winch prior to the publication of “‘He’s to Blame!’.” He doesn’t engage them directly. Rhees poses an exegetical challenge—did he get Wittgenstein in the Tractatus right?—and a methodological challenge—is Winch’s discussion coloured by drawing on a limited diet of examples? Would one say one say what Winch does about the first and third person in punishment if one thought not of retributive practices of incarceration but of exile (the example is the export of prisoners to Australia)?

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the Genealogy of Morals (Winch 1970/1972, 228 n. 8). He talks about making a place for concepts of retribution “alongside utilitarian concepts like that of deterrence or inducement” (Winch 1970/1972, 213). In general I recall that he was committed to John Anderson’s claims, emphasized by Rhees, that a social practice never has one aim, but rather is sustained by different agents enacting it for different reasons. Furthermore, we can find his response to people attributing to him views about understanding and critique “within” and “outside” practices in his late paper “Can we understand ourselves?” (Winch 1997) and in “Ethical Relativism” (Winch 1982/1987). In both places, he raises important questions about any simple equation of being able to understand with being “inside” and “outside” a culture. He was a trenchant critic of metaphysically motivated distortions in our understandings of culture, but had nothing against radical moral critique. But distinguishing a “metaphysical misunderstanding” from a moral critique may not always be a straightforward matter. Winch suggests in “‘He’s to Blame!’” (availing himself of a formulation of the problem of punishment from Mackie) that he is trying to bring something broader into focus than the intelligibility of this one particular view of punishment. He formulates his concern in the second paper, again borrowing from Mackie, as being a concern about what the “for” stands for in “punishment for a crime”. I’ll call this the intensional formulation of the problem of punishment. This formulation of the problem brings him close to contemporary expressivist accounts of punishment (Feinberg 1965; Skillen 1980; Primoratz 1989; Bennett 2009): Punishment is a conventional device for the expression of attitudes of resentment and indignation, and of judgments of disapproval and reprobation, either on the part of the punishing authority himself or of those “in whose name” the punishment is inflicted. Punishment, in short, has a symbolic significance largely missing from other kinds of penalty. (Feinberg 1965, 400)

While he did not engage with this debate, I would like by the end of this paper to place his discussion in relation to it. To get there, I will sort through some of Cockburn’s recent critiques of Winch on primitive reactions and justification. One problem in understanding Winch’s papers on punishment is that he repeatedly “passes close by” important philosophical stands, while seeming to take an interest in some idea that lies on the horizon, beyond these specific commitments. So we wonder, is he a retributivist? Is he speaking of remorse and repentance? Is he talking about character in the sense a virtue ethicist would?2 I think Winch has some suggestive things to say about what it is for punishment to be for a crime in his first paper; in his second paper, he formulates more precisely that this is his interest (what it is for punishment to be for a crime)—but he spends most of the paper on a line of 2  The reader might be ready with a quick way to dispel worries on this account: surely Winch as a particularist would reject these qua theory. There is something right in this objection, but also something very wrong. Winch rejected philosophical shortcuts: some general and over-reaching claims are distorting; some are illuminating; many are both. To diagnose distortion and benefit from illumination, we need patient discussion, not a label that we use to justify dismissing philosophical work.


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thought about justification that pulls him away from where he might more profitably have gone in exploring that question. I propose that we can find an approach he might have taken in his late paper “The Expression of Belief” (Winch 1996/2001), in particular in his comments on aspect seeing in the Tractatus and the Investigations.

5.2  Ethical Reward and Punishment In ERP, Winch says explicitly that he is going to focus on a question that is not adequately addressed when we concern ourselves with the issue of justification within and justification of the practice of punishment, briefly referencing recent discussion that helpfully distinguishes what counts as a justification of a given punishment within the practice versus what justifies identifying a practice as punishment. He wants to get at what is wrong with a distinction Wittgenstein draws in the Tractatus: the distinction between reward and punishment in their “usual” and in their “ethical” senses. The brief discussion of punishment in the Tractatus consists in imagining the issuing of a moral command (“thou shalt…”) and the “natural” question one wants to raise in response—but what if I don’t? Wittgenstein argues that something is right in this question—there must be a consequence of doing wrong—but that consequence cannot be a mere “event” (punishment in its “usual” sense, presumably). “There must indeed be some kind of ethical reward and ethical punishment, but they must reside in the action itself,” Wittgenstein concludes, adding parenthetically “…it is also clear that the reward must be something pleasant and the punishment something unpleasant” (Wittgenstein 1922, 6.422). Winch understands the “usual sense” to which Wittgenstein refers—and the idea of punishment or reward as an event—as the idea of punishment or reward as a mere causal consequence, a consequence that qua unpleasant or pleasant will constitute deterrence or inducement, but that might or might not follow on the event and might or might not deter or induce behaviour. In any case, reward or punishment in this “merely causal” sense will not influence the moral motivation of a wrong-doer or would-be wrongdoer. He supposes that the sociologist will care about whether the punishment deters the crime, whether or not deterrence is merely external—one wants to avoid the consequences of getting caught—or is achieved by a moral awakening occasioned by the punishment,3 and distinguishes his interest is in the latter possibility.

3  This characterization of sociology in broad—if not dismissive—strokes is one that Winch had no sympathy for later in his career. Different sociologists take different kinds of interest in the relationship between social structure and individual agency, and the sociological investigation of such questions is by no means less conceptually rich than philosophical work in the area. When he presented his material on punishment in his lectures on philosophy of law and the state, he identified the view of punishment as external deterrence with a positivist account of punishment and the law. It is however notable that he does not use that term for his foil in his published papers.

5  Winch on Punishment: Contested Concepts, Justification, and Primitive Reactions


A natural reading of the passage would be that reward and punishment in the ethical sense are intrinsic to what has been done irrespective of consequences, i.e. having committed murder is the true punishment for murder and having been gallant the true reward for gallantry. The moral person understands virtue as its own reward and vice as its own punishment. But Winch construes the idea in another way: the reward or punishment that follows the action (if it does) is ethical insofar as it becomes a vehicle for the one praised or punished through which they reflect on the good or bad deed. But on this understanding, Winch argues, it’s the reward or punishment in what Wittgenstein has called the usual sense that is the vehicle for this thought that the deed was good or bad, and so Wittgenstein’s dualism is unjustified. This line of thought is suggestive and not particularly objectionable: the thought “what I have done is wrong” can be given concrete form in how one occupies oneself with the punishment one undergoes for that wrong-doing, or how one occupies oneself with the thought that one deserves punishment even if one does not receive it. Winch does not just leave this formulation (what it is for punishment to be a concrete expression of the thought that an action is wrong) as an abstraction. He spells it out via a cluster of concepts that (loosely speaking) characterize retributive views about punishment. He also gives some philosophical account of the structure of this cluster of concepts. This philosophical account constitutes his diagnosis of what has gone wrong in approaches to punishment or reward that treat them merely as external inducement or deterrence: the first person perspective is central to this cluster of concepts, and some accounts of reward or punishment (“sociological accounts,” he says, though he does not name any particular sociologist) restrict themselves to the third person point of view. For example, punishment acting as a vehicle for repentance: [In contrast to the view that…] punishment [is]… merely contingently connected with repentance, Simone Weil is considering the kind of repentance which demands punishment as a vehicle of expiation. That is, the form which repentance takes here cannot be understood apart from the need for punishment experienced by the penitent. It seems to me just to be a fact that some people do sometimes experience such a need, a fact which is made possible by the existence of the concept of punishment and the possibility of applying that concept in a certain way. One of the circumstances which creates difficulty here is that not everybody does think thus—repentance has many forms—and that some even feel considerable repugnance and hostility towards such a way of thinking. The very presentation of such a point of view may be felt by some as an assault on themselves and on their own ethical outlook. But that is not here in question. What is in question is that we should recognize the possibility and character of a certain way of thinking and see that it does make a sort of sense, even if it is alien to the way we ourselves may think. (Winch 1970/1972, 220)

This is connected with what he considers a paradox: that the one who receives a reward or a punishment might care about the opinions of others (the reward or punishment they give out)—but not in the sense of being concerned about the consequences that come to one as a result, consequences that would come whether or not


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one was rewarded or punished correctly. One way that the particular quality of caring about another’s judgment here manifests is in the commitment to value the consequences of the judgment of others only insofar as one shares that judgment. Perhaps Winch is thinking of the argument that shame is irrational—it would be wrong to feel shame in the eyes of others, rather than simply feeling guilt or remorse for what one has done and what one has become. Williams famously proposed that “shame can understand guilt, but guilt cannot understand itself”—far from being irrational, shame is the way in which guilt (feeling bad for the misfortune another experiences) has personal significance (via the thought that I am such as to have caused that misfortune to the other) (Williams 1993, 93). Winch says the paradox is addressed by the idea of the deed characterizing the life as a whole (here discussed in the case of reward): …these practices (of public honours) are one way (but not the only possible way) of filling out, of expressing, the judgment that a good action has been performed. It is a form of expression which emphasizes that the good action is not an isolated event in the life of the agent, but is something which, as it were, spreads out and affects the character of the rest of his life. But someone who thinks about good actions in this way will do so whether or not such actions as a matter of fact attract what are commonly called rewards. The good action will be thought of as having a certain sort of bearing on the rest of the life of the agent anyway, in itself, whether or not this bearing is actually symbolized in the form of tangible benefits. (Winch 1970/1972, 216)

And then in the case of punishment (where he says the relationship between the deed and the life as a whole is more clear (Winch 1970/1972, 217)) this connects to the possibility of pitying wrongdoers: […] one who believes that all wrong-doing is punished is committed in all cases to pitying wrong-doers, not merely when they are subsequently visited by worldly misfortunes (including pangs of remorse) but also, and even more especially, when they seem to have escaped any consequences of their crimes. (Winch 1970/1972, 226)

The philosophical articulation of this cluster of ideas is analyzed via a distinction between first and third person points of view on punishment: This [the adoption of a third-person point of view on punishment] may help to explain why it has been found so difficult to provide an intelligible role for the concept of retribution alongside utilitarian concepts like that of deterrence or inducement. These concepts exist in different dimensions. ‘Retribution’ has to be understood in connection with the way in which an agent is related to his own acts, with what those acts are for him. We can see what role the concept of punishment may play in this dimension only by considering ways in which the agent may use it in coming to terms with himself and his actions. (Winch 1970/1972, 213)

This much—the retributive and/or anti-utilitarian nature and the loose fit of the concepts whose intelligibility he is trying to preserve—Winch shares with expressivist accounts of punishment: …most theorists who express an ‘expressionist’ view do not present it as an exhaustive account, but rather claim to be highlighting an aspect that tends to be neglected within the rationalist frame—work common to retributivism and utilitarianism. (Skillen 1980, 509)

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And expressivists similarly claim to characterize retributive punishment, not to justify it. Is Winch, then, an expressivist manqué who happened not to read that literature although it predates both papers?

5.3  Where’s the Argument? Winch was disappointed that his ethical writings did not receive the attention attracted by the Idea of a Social Science (Winch 1958/1990)—his “young man’s book” (as he characterized it). It is perhaps not surprising that a book with a sweeping thesis and grand claims succinctly expressed is attractive as a focus of philosophical attention. There are genuine questions about the “availability” of Winch’s ethical thought. It is often difficult to construe the precise argument in his ethical papers, and he disavows ideals of precision in argumentation that most take for granted in philosophy. Sometimes this refusal to produce a neat argument is justified: making untidy concepts tidy can be a falsification (“what’s ragged must be left ragged” (Wittgenstein 1980, 51)), and pretending that logic dictates your moral attitudes can be an abdication of responsibility (philosophy does not tell a person where to stand). Without attempting to pin Winch down into a form of argument that is foreign to his style of thinking, I want to raise questions about some of the ways he moves us through these untidily-consistent concepts and challenges us to reveal our moral attitudes. So, the fit between all these ideas in the retributive cluster of concepts is loose, and Winch deliberately keeps it so. While he is not arguing positively for some kind of connection between desert, repentance and character, he is at least defending this retributive cluster from an argument that such a bundle of views is unintelligible— an argument that he thinks follows from taking a third person perspective on punishment. But the claims he makes for how these ideas line up raise more questions than he seems to intend to take on. One is left wondering why he raises these claims if he doesn’t mean to develop or defend the elements of the account of punishment and how they are connected in any detail. Furthermore, in absence of a patient discussion of those questions, the reader isn’t offered the option of agreeing and disagreeing with components of the bundle, but is faced with a challenge to accept or reject them wholesale—on very specific terms. If they reject them, he suggests, it is because they “feel considerable repugnance and hostility towards such a way of thinking” and somehow object not just to the view but to its “very presentation” … and not just object to it, but feel it “as an assault on themselves and on their own ethical outlook” (Winch 1970/1972, 220). And again one is left wondering why the reader can’t consider them in turn as substantial and interesting claims that are subject to moral and political critique—instead the reader who raises questions is consigned to a very particular critical stance: one of hostility and of feeling under personal assault. To clarify, I am not unsympathetic to Winch’s challenge that philosophy is no logical calculus for telling us how to live our lives (Winch 1968/1972, 1982/1987,


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1992) and his admiring description of Socrates grappling with the “why be moral” question with his interlocutors and appealing to their sense of shame (a discussion found in various places in Winch’s lectures and papers, including Winch n.d., 1990, 1991). But where does that form of argument take us with the questions at hand here, in the case of punishment? I propose to take the space for consideration of the views he adumbrates and sets aside and the argument-by-challenge he issues, without being cowed by the tone of this challenge. Is Winch suggesting that something akin to virtue ethics (or some other form of ethics of character or disposition) is entailed by a retributivist view of punishment or the equivalent view of reward? He focuses first on reward—the idea of reward recognizing that something about the virtuous deed reflects the life of the agent as a whole. But we could reward heroic events even if we saw them as isolated events in the life of the agent. A person could accept a reward for heroism and reject the idea that they have a particularly heroic character; indeed, this is a familiar response to rewards for heroism—“anyone would have done what I did”. Rewarding heroic deeds as reflecting character is not the only alternative to rewarding them to incentivize heroic behaviour. Maybe a society sees the heroic act as the heroic spirit acting through the agent, and it rewards the appearance of heroism in that person, relishing it all the more when the life as a whole does not demonstrate this disposition; perhaps the agent accepts the reward in the spirit of honouring that the heroic acted through them. This discussion doesn’t transpose into punishment in any simple way.4 There is a long history of seeing the bad deed as indicative of the person. Brownlee (2016) argues that it is a manifestation of our deep stigmatization of those who run foul of the law that we refer to them in the reductive language as being “criminals” long after we have rejected this kind of reductivism about religious and racialized or ethnic traits—we’ve come to realize how dehumanizing it is to speak of “Jews” or “homosexuals” and prefer “Jewish people” or “gay men”—or simply the description of the person omitting what was once a defining characteristic. In a similar way, it seems to me that the process for someone who has committed a crime of living their life after having done what they did could involve coming to take a perspective on the human capability for evil—and seeing that, in a sense, evil was done through them. I’m not thinking of someone who kills another person and comes to think, 4  Winch says that the collection of ideas he is trying to bring together are sharper in the case of punishment. It is notable that he is trying to say something that holds equally of both reward and punishment, and notable how much less there is to say on the reward side. It is problematic to force the two into the same pattern, but I don’t mean to dismiss the attempt as empty philosophical parallel-drawing. We have little social debate around awards and honours, but there is a range of reactions and principled views here that are little debated. Compare the inequality researchers Thomas Piketty and Sir Anthony Atkinson in their responses to the public honours offered them (Piketty rejecting them and Atkinson accepting). Naturally we feel it important to justify harming people but not so pressing to justify doing something nice for people, but this is also an important presupposition to examine particularly in the context of contemporary concern with inequality and privilege.

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“it’s no big deal; anyone would or could have done the same thing in the same situation”. Rather, the person who has done something terrible can both reflect on their agency and responsibility in ways that engender or have the potential to engender change—within the awareness that they carry a burden of having been marked by an intimate acquaintance with evil that most people never know. Most of us sleep well at night with evil as an abstraction—something done by other people who must be fundamentally different from us. We may be momentarily unsettled if we reflect on whether we would have had the courage to resist in Nazi Germany. Arguably, this is another function of the totalizing labels that are the aim of Brownlee’s criticism: not only do we express a global hostility to the person who has done wrong in using these labels, we also reassure ourselves that we could not possibly do those things, because we are not those people. But deeper reflection on that unsettled feeling of our possible complicity in evil may lead to a kind of fellow-feeling for the one who has done wrong—a fellow feeling that would not have the patronizing quality suggested by the “pity” that Winch includes as part of the bundle of retributive concepts. Now, what Winch actually says here is not that reward and punishment imply virtue ethics and that this makes sense of how people care about the judgment of society. He says, “the character of the rest of his life” not “his character”. So the person who does something heroic once and is rewarded for it has still done something that characterizes his life as a whole (as such)—as a life in which this heroic deed was done. Now, this is to my ear much more likely to be the sort of thing Winch would be thinking. It is consistent with his interest, for example, in the particularity of Vere’s momentous decision in “The Universalizability of Moral Judgment” (Winch 1972). But what does it consist in and does it do the work he is looking for here? Brownlee suggests a problem with this idea, pointing out the difficulty of making sense of what it would be to say a person is “the sort of person” who does x, when x is a singular deed. She quotes from a character in Hornby’s novel How to be Good—“Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs” (Brownlee 2016, 340–341). She makes her peace with this through the idea that a singular event in one’s life is only accidentally singular: it would still be the case that the character is by disposition the sort of person who would do x, even if the occasion for doing x arose only once in their life. This is reminiscent of Winch’s foil in “Universalizability”, who, he imagines, insists that the principle on which one acts could still be construed as a universal, even if the action that satisfies that universal happens only to be satisfied by one person on one occasion—and even if it is so closely specified that we can only make sense of it as being the decision faced by this person on this occasion (Vere facing his advice to the court in the judgment of Billy Budd for his striking and killing Claggart). This is not a mere factual singularity of the life in question. There are many factually singular events in a life of which we do not say that they characterize the life as a whole (for example, what was eaten for breakfast on the third Tuesday in January of the person’s 20th year), pace current treatments of identity. There must be ways we treat and/or think about the person and the ways that the person themselves understands or acts in light of the deed for this description of the life as


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characterized by this deed to take hold. From this perspective, we could say the opposite of what Brownlee says: for it to be significant that we think of someone as being the sort of person who would do x in general, there has to be some sense in which someone is the sort of person who did x in particular. This isn’t so easily dismissed. There are dispositional terms, where the tendency to do x just is shown in the repeated doing of x and there is no sense in which the single x or the repeated x indicates anything about the person (though here there is a strong tendency to think there must be something about the person, a causal constant, that explains the repetition). But there are all sorts of aspects of the person with which we connect the kind of singular deed under discussion (how they think, what they take seriously, what their fears and attractions are, what relationships they are embedded and how they respond to the demands of those relationships, what their context is, etc.). A singular act can ramify through a life not by typing a person as having a particular feature shared by other people, viz. the propensity to do similar deeds, but by all of the ways it reflects different aspects of the person in their context and affects how we understand and judge them—or perhaps refrain from judging them but acknowledge the burden they carry for something for which “no one would judge them”. (I’m not going to argue for one side or the other—the singular deed or the general tendency—being “primary”.) Now, struck by this possibility that punishment can consist in working with the material of the world as a concrete expression of the fact that what one did was wrong, Winch commits himself to the claim that this implies that ethical reward and punishment (in some sense) can only be seen from the first person point of view, which seems to mean the view of the person who does just that—occupies him or herself with their punishment as an occasion for reflection on their wrongdoing. What is wrong with the “sociological” (what he would have called in his lectures positivist) account of punishment is that it tries to make sense of punishment only from the third person point of view. From the third person point of view, Winch claims, reward and punishment are only inducement and deterrence, externally related to the wrong and justified or successful only in their results. He expresses this from the perspective of the wrongdoer: …punishment, for instance, will have an ‘ethical’ sense for me only in so far as the events (e.g. my arrest and imprisonment) which follow from the wrong which I committed enter into my thoughts about that past action in a way which makes a certain sort of difference to my understanding of what that past action consisted in. (Winch 1970/1972, 214)

Now, there are problems here, but let’s not be too quick to ascribe elementary errors or irrelevant points to Winch. He is not saying that punishment only becomes punishment when it is recognized by the person undergoing punishment as a vehicle for expiation. He is not saying that punishment is unethical, i.e. wrong, unless it is experienced this way by the offender—that would introduce a kind of subjectivism into his account of the practice that would make it clearly unfit as an account of punishment. At most he can be saying that there are practices of punishment that are characterized by this particular first person possibility, and that this is possibility is an important feature of these practices. This resonates with his discussions of the

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particular relationship one has to one’s own words in other papers collected in Ethics and Action (the discussion of Oedipus and one’s own relation to what one has done, and pity in “Moral Integrity” (Winch 1968/1972, 184); his discussion of one’s relation to one’s own words in “Can a Good Man be Harmed?” (Winch 1965–66/1972)). But to point out this common thread through the papers of this era is not to justify the focus on the first person point of view. Now, in this paper, Winch himself collapses Wittgenstein’s dichotomy between punishment in the ordinary and in the ethical senses—the distinction he explicated via the idea of first and third person perspectives. He does not read this critique back into his own formulation of the dualism—that identifying something in the world as an instance of punishment “from the third person point of view” involves the whole practice and the particular possibilities available to the first person point of view in that practice. We still would have to ask, what is the first person perspective on punishment, anyway? The perspective of the one punished, or that of the one doing the punishing, or that of the one who suffered the wrongdoing for which the wrong-doer is being punished? The different moments that constitute the practice each have a first, second, and third person perspectives. Winch’s detailed discussion of the solipsist’s headache in Simone Weil: The Just Balance is a more careful treatment of the point of highlighting distinctive implications of asymmetries in first and third person perspectives in language. He emphasizes there precisely the pattern as whole containing the different relations to words: Linguistic communication is shot through and through with analogous distinctness between roles which give different speakers different kinds of relation to what is said. And the existence of these differences helps to determine what it is that is being said. It belongs, in Wittgenstein’s phrase, to its grammar. Hearers can understand speakers  — that is, can understand the same thing as is meant by the speaker, only in so far as speakers and hearers express their understand of what is being said quite differently. (Winch 1989b, 39)

Exploration of this point could be fruitful if framed without the limiting focus on the first person perspective. Consider the idea that in the practice of punishment, the wrongdoer and the punisher come to what counts as a common understanding of the wrongdoing. Exploration of this thought would involve an honest depiction of the fragmented and contested nature of this “common understanding” and the imperfect achievement of “understanding” on all sides. It should encompass the absurdity of a complacent bourgeois judge passing sentence on someone of whose reality they have no understanding—and the gravity of society’s marking the wrong the victim has suffered—without dismissing the former as a merely a case of contingencies muddying the water of an otherwise clear concept.5 In this section, I have given two examples of meeting Winch’s philosophy taking it on its own terms. The first is by pinning down what he says about the bundle of retributive concepts that he seems to suggest hang together but that he does not 5  It is notable that Winch discusses very uncharacteristically general and lightly-sketched—if not sentimental—examples of reward and punishment in these papers. When he turns to literature, he turns to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which does little to address the concerns of the reader who has moral doubts about his cluster of retributive concepts.


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defend. Here there is some possibility of seeing the details of what he is doing as opening doors to take a discussion of punishment in quite different directions than a negative argument for retributivism. And the second is by meeting head on his challenge that if I, as a philosophical reader, do not like to construe this bundle as intelligible, this must be because it offends my very ethical stance in the world. And here I say, be that as it may, we can still have a discussion of what is morally troubling in the bundle he presents and what alternatives there might be to this bundle. I have not carried that discussion through in any detail.

5.4  ‘He’s to Blame!’ Primitive Reactions and Justification In “Ethical reward and punishment”, Winch refers to but sets aside the problem of understanding the relationship of the justification of punishment (within the practice) and of the practice of punishment. In “‘He’s to blame!’”, the discussion of justification takes centre stage. He does not directly pose the question “what is the justification for the practice?” Rather, he poses a prior question on which we lack clarity. He asks: “what is the relationship between the practice and justification?” The suggestion is that placing the question here is an attempt to come to grips with the challenge from Rhees to place the question in the right place when doing philosophy. And so in this late paper, Winch discusses at some length the fact that to see something as an instance of punishment is to put it in a space where a certain range of justifications and criticisms are available. This would place us on what we might feel is familiar Winchean ground: his claim is that justification is internal to the practice; identifying an action as punishment is identifying it as something for which it makes sense to ask, for example, “what is the punishment for?” and “how was it decided to punish this person?” and “is the punishment proportionate to the wrong-doing?” First, notice how little he claims for this and what he hints about it. He is not making some general point that you can’t get outside of a practice to critique or reject it. But there is one particular external critique that he engages with. The particular critique of punishment that he considers is Protagoras’s objection against any backward-looking justification of punishment: Protagoras argues that since the past cannot be changed, the justification for punishment cannot lie in the past. It is no longer the third person point of view that pushes us towards the deterrence view of punishment, as it was in “Ethical reward and punishment”; rather, it is now a future-­ oriented or goal-oriented account of action that drives us towards the deterrence view. The positivist is no longer Winch’s foil: while a utilitarian may argue that the rational justification of punishment can only lie in its consequences, so too can MacIntyre in a teleological vein (the significance of an action lies in the future—the possibilities it opens and those it forecloses for action which is intrinsically teleological) (Winch 1989a, 155–156). Nussbaum has recently revived the argument that the concept of punishment is incoherent insofar as it is an expression of wishful thinking that past harms can be undone (Nussbaum 2016).

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Winch takes the discussion to the role of primitive reactions in concept formation—via a discussion of Wittgenstein’s notes on causality that he had translated as “Cause and Effect: Intuitive Awareness” (Wittgenstein 1976). In “Cause and Effect”, Wittgenstein contrasts the primitive reaction to a blow (“He’s to blame!”) with the knowledge of causality by experiment. Winch takes away from this discussion: One of Wittgenstein’s most important points [in this paper], I believe, is that there could not be cases of the former sort [the investigation of causes] without cases of the latter sort [where causality is taken for granted]. Perhaps even more important is his insistence that in many of the cases of the latter sort what I have called ‘a causal attribution’ is not a matter of insight but of reaction; and that such reactions are, as it were, the nucleus around which questions about justification and procedures for answering those questions grow. (Winch 1989a, 159)

Winch insists that the involvement of primitive reaction without ratiocination matters. Describing a film scene, he makes a great deal of a Mennonite woman’s impulsive betrayal of her own pacifist beliefs when she responds to the soldier threatening her chickens. What is the importance Winch gives to her reacting without thinking (Winch 1989a, 162)? Surely in her world view the impulsive nature of a violent response and the cultivated, reflective moral practice of refraining from such a response is the very stuff of morality. This is the very illustration of the moral importance of a critical perspective on a primitive reaction. The conclusion here seems to be a claim about the impossibility of wholesale critique justification. But practically in the same breath Winch argues that nothing about the reactions being primitive renders them immune to wholesale critique: Clearly it doesn’t follow from the fact that a certain concept can only be formed in the context of a certain existing form of reaction that the whole form of behaviour cannot be roundly condemned. Examples of cruelty and jealousy are enough to show that. And the same may hold even where the concept concerned is used in a justificatory manner: consider, for example, the concepts of “seeking personal profit” or “praying to God”. We cannot therefore role out a priori the possibility of a wholesale condemnation of punishment, not nearly as a set of practises but even as a way of thinking. And hence, I think, we cannot rule out a priority the possibility of asking questions about their justification. (Winch 1989a, 163)

Furthermore, he describes Wittgenstein’s example of the response to a blow with “He’s to blame!” as “a sort of primitive punitive reaction. (No doubt in the most primitive cases it will hardly be possible to make a distinction between such cases and cases of revenge. That distinction belongs to a less primitive refinement.)” (Winch 1989a, 159–160) Winch also argues that you can’t solve the problems he is raising by definitional fiat—that punishment just is defined as the response to wrongdoing (or wrongdoing defined as that which deserves punishment) (Winch 1989a,160–161). David Cockburn has recently raised a series of challenges to Winch’s appeals to primitive reactions, the role of primitive reactions in “concept formation,” and the implications Winch claims for the possibility of seeking justification (Cockburn 2013). I find this analysis very illuminating and useful for diagnosing what is happening in Winch’s arguments here.


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Winch leans on certain passages from Wittgenstein, such as claims that justification comes to an end and then there is persuasion (Wittgenstein 1969, §262) and Wittgenstein’s appeal to Goethe’s “Im Anfang war die Tat” (Wittgenstein 1976, 420; quoted in Winch 1976/1987, 51). Cockburn asks: What supports this generalization about justification and persuasion? Justifications are sometimes sought and sometimes not, for many different reasons (to settle a doubt, to test understanding, for the sake of intellectual exploration, to satisfy curiosity, to pass the time, because you’re in a hurry, because the person asking for the justification hasn’t yet learned enough to understand it)—or for no determinate reason at all. Is there anything that in general rules out challenge and justification where it is not sought? And what supports the generalization that what comes after is persuasion? (Or for that matter that what lies before is brute reaction.) Cockburn brings out the kind of pictures of justification that can stand behind the plausibility of this claim (justification provides ever more basic reasons) and contrasts it with the ordinary experience of justification—which is a process of offering proof, clearing up misconception, etc., which certainly does frequently “come to an end” — without that end being at some sort of place beyond which “in principle” no more questions can be raised. (I add: is there any general principle that establishes where justification is superfluous, an idle wheel, or not?) Cockburn argues that having a firm grasp on the diversity of things that count as justification will make us less willing to accede to the claim that justification must come to an end somewhere—a point at which we pass to something that is not justification, but persuasion: When we recognise the variety of the forms that the giving of reasons may take, and that to give reasons is to respond to a doubt, we should, I think, lose our sense of having a firm grip on the idea that the process of giving reasons must come to an end. Why should there be any limit on the ways in which doubts, and possible “rational” responses to them, might ramify? I am not of course suggesting that we should now accept that there are further reasons to be given at every point in any dispute. I am suggesting, rather, that there is nothing of a completely general nature to be said a priori here. And when we recognise that, the unsettling sense that we may get on reading Wittgenstein—a sense that is closely linked with idealist thoughts—that the whole of human language and life “rests on nothing at all,” or that at its base lies something completely arbitrary, should be partially dissipated. (Cockburn 2013, 310)

I won’t do justice to the full scope of Cockburn’s treatment of Winch’s thought. For the purposes of coming to grips with what is going on in Winch’s two punishment papers, I want to focus on Cockburn’s suggestion that Winch’s talk of primitive reaction takes Winch in two different directions. The appeal to reactions and their role in concept formation, Cockburn argues, suggests two possibilities that Winch does not distinguish or resolve: one is that there is some philosophical grounding available from empirical investigation into learning and the other is that: In his emphasis on reactions and attitudes, Wittgenstein is drawing our attention to the richness of an individual’s life that is necessary if we are to say of him that, for example, “He believes that Jones is in pain” or “He recognised that Mary was angry”. (Cockburn 2013, 307)

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I want to qualify Cockburn’s expression of this point. He says “richness of an individual’s life,” but I take this not to mean that the individual could, in the style of a philosophical Robinson Crusoe, create or contain solely in themselves this richness. Rather, the richness in question is a matter of the life that individual shares with others. With that qualification in hand, the point that “the behaviour—in context— has the multiplicity to do justice to the complexity of the concept” (particularly in contrast to the impoverished philosophical alternatives) is the fruitful philosophical nugget at the heart of Winch’s discussions of primitive reactions; “the behaviour is a stopping point in the process of justification” is a distraction—it is implausible in itself and it obscures this point. To take up the task of clarifying what it is for punishment to be for a crime—what I have called Winch’s intensional framing of the question—we do not need to foreclose on the deep moral question of how we should respond to wrongdoing (e.g. should we do as Socrates argues and educate?). The same problem rears its head in Winch’s intensional framing of the question. Winch finds Mackie’s formulation of the problem appealing (though not Mackie’s solution): Mackie wonders whether the “for” in “punishment for wrongdoing” “stands for anything” (my italics). Something is prima facie implausible about this framing. More deeply, Winch’s analysis here very starkly demonstrates the mis-­ match between the two sides of Winch’s thought about primitive reactions that Cockburn has identified. First, what clarity can come from the formulation that there is something in the relation of the sanction to the past act that constitutes the reason for the sanction? The reason for the punishment is the act that deserves punishment, within the parameters that constitute the practice of punishment—insofar as one does not reject that practice. Winch puts it this way at one point in the paper: To say that somebody is being punished ‘for’ such and such an offence, though intimately connected with the offering of justifications, is not necessarily itself to offer one. One may agree that someone is being punished for an offence without accepting that what is being done to him has any justification at all. For instance, one may be sure that he did not commit the offence for which he is being punished… Nevertheless the phrase is important in helping to mark out the area within which justifications are to be sought. (Winch 1989a, 153)

But if these are the kinds of distinctions he wants to make, this is not helped by asking about the reality of the relationship indicated by “for”. It is not common to defend or criticize the practice of punishment philosophically based on a claimed intuition into the relation between something that exists and something that doesn’t yet exist and puts that thing in place to satisfy the intuited relation. (Despite his claim at the bottom of p. 157 that both those who attack and defend the notion of desert treat it as though it is based on an intuition of the relationship.) In this, the philosophical problem of punishment differs from the philosophical problems typically raised by causality. The appeal to “Cause and Effect: Intuitive Awareness” doesn’t help. In the case of causality, it’s relatively clear what drives people philosophically to the belief in an intuited relationship—the causal relationship—to support the language game of causes.


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In “‘He’s to blame!’,” Winch compares punishment for a crime with laughing at a joke (“subsuming the case under the concept of the funny”). Here comes the characteristic pair of thoughts that Cockburn has put his finger on: Winch claims in one and the same breath that it is important that one does this without intervening thought, blocking justification—and that “one does this in a certain context, the structure of which derives from the concept of the funny” (Winch 1989a, 158), gesturing to the complexity of the response in the context of our lives with the concept. Elsewhere, Winch even points out that the description of the primitive response as one of blame or retribution relies on the whole articulated background. This is not to say that “thought” comes before the response, but to say that the thought we take the response to express relies on the context, including our rich social lives as structured by the concept, and all the characteristic struggles and disagreements of our rich social lives. In “Ethical reward and punishment”, Winch’s warning took the form of the suggestion that if we rejected the bundle of retributive concepts, this would be due to some feeling that seeing it as intelligible would be felt “as an assault on [our]selves and on [our] own ethical outlook”. Here, Winch’s warning is different: if you throw out the intelligibility of punishment for an action—of any backward looking account of punishment—you might have to throw out much more than you want. He explicitly affirms that you can critique the practice wholesale. But if you want to critique the practice wholesale, you might (he suggests, following Mackie) lose the whole idea of social approbation and disapprobation and lose something essential to morality itself (Winch 1989a, 162–163). Or at any rate you might lose some important moral resources for the critique of punishment (Winch 1989a, 163–164). The example he gives to support this latter thought is very briefly and indirectly adumbrated, even by Winch’s standards. It is something like the idea that within this retributive bundle of concepts we can distinguish our attitude to the criminal and our attitude to the crime, and this might open up attitudes to the criminal that are not hostile—a comment that distances himself from Mackie and places himself (he says) in the camp of Socrates, Kant, and Weil (Winch 1989a, 164). Winch’s warning now is that if we don’t accept this bundle of retributive concepts, or at least their intelligibility, we lose with it the whole possibility of a reaction to the person in terms of what that person has become by committing a crime as a state characterized by the wrong-doing itself. The logical concerns here are very close to the concerns about belief and related “states of mind” discussed in Part II of the Investigations. This is a connection Winch comes close to drawing in his late paper “The Expression of Belief.” I turn now to that paper.

5.5  Aspect Seeing Cockburn couches his critique of Winch with a caveat about what he values in Winch’s philosophy: at the heart of Winch’s distinctive philosophical development of Wittgenstein’s thought is the fact that he treats:

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…ideas encapsulated in remarks such as “In the beginning was the deed” and “My attitude towards him is an attitude towards a soul” in a richer and more illuminating way than has any other philosopher. (Cockburn 2013, 303)

This resonates with my experience of Winch as a teacher. The discussions of primitive reactions and concept formation are methodological contributions towards capturing the depth and complexity of these “very special pattern[s] in the weave of our lives” (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, 226) that constitute our use of psychological concepts. Consider Wittgenstein’s invitation at the beginning of Part II to treat “the phenomena of hope” (his example at the moment) as “…modes of this complex form of life” (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, 174). One thing that is distinctive about psychological concepts of this sort is the blending of considerations that would make us call hope a feeling (in the moment etc.) with considerations that would make us see it as a cognitive achievement (said “only [of] those who have mastered the use of language”). What then is the distinctive complexity of an emotional-cum-moral-cum-political concept like punishment? In his political philosophy, Winch emphasizes what is distinctive in the kind of interest we take in one another and the possibilities that open to us in our life with these concepts. I will try now to say more about this. Wittgenstein starts II.x with the curious question: How did we ever come to use such an expression as “I believe…”? Did we at some time become aware of a phenomenon (of belief)? Did we observe ourselves and other people and so discover belief? (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, II.x, 190)

This is where I would locate the proper response to Rhees’s challenge to put the question deep enough, applied to the discussion of punishment. In this passage, Wittgenstein is not just poking fun at the interlocutor who naively thinks we woke up one morning and noticed a belief sitting in our head. He really means us to be struck with the particularity and the details of the practices that constitute our talking about belief (or perception or whatever other source of philosophical concern): “We find certain things about seeing puzzling, because we do not find the whole business about seeing puzzling enough” (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, II.xi, 212). The thought I see Winch as attempting to bring out in the intensional formulation of the problem of punishment is this: we find the concept of retribution puzzling because we don’t find the whole idea of punishment for a crime puzzling enough. This is the more interesting question that I think is obscured by his concern with bringing an end to justification via an appeal to primitive reactions and all the ambivalence he displays towards what seems to be his own attempt to shield retributive punishment as a practice from social critique. Winch’s late paper “The Expression of Belief” (1996/2001) was his Central Division APA presidential address. This paper includes an unjustly neglected discussion of the “seeing as” passages in the Tractatus (Wittgenstein 1922, 5.5423) and the Investigations (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, II. xi). The Investigations passage is the familiar discussion of the duck-rabbit and other ambiguous figures in Section II.xi; the Tractatus passage is the discussion of the Necker Cube (Wittgenstein


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1922, 5.5423). Winch points out that the context of the discussion in both cases is Wittgenstein’s treatment of belief: “his [Wittgenstein’s] discussion is not focussed on the kind of question we meet in most of the literature: what is belief? Is it a state, a process, an activity, a disposition, or what?…” (Winch 1996/2001, 7). The concept of belief is of interest to Wittgenstein, Winch says, because it “introduces logical anomalies”.6 According to Winch’s distinctive reading, the aspect-shifting that is of interest to Wittgenstein in each work is the shift between seeing the proposition for what it says and seeing it as telling us something about the person saying it: “the language game of reporting can be given such a turn that a report is not meant to inform the hearer about its subject matter but about the person making the report,” as he puts it in the Investigations (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, 190). Winch gives the example of saying that his lecture will go on too long. We may treat this expression in one or the other way by attending and responding selectively to the various aspects of the context and of Winch’s expression, things that contribute to characterizing what he says as expressing the belief it does. For example, in deciding not to attend the lecture, we treat what Winch has said as a statement about the world—we infer from what is said to what we should do given our own goals and desires and preferences etc.; in reassuring Winch, or in drawing conclusions about Winch’s likely past experiences and future behaviour (to give a few of a series of examples we could extend indefinitely), we treat it as an expression of his state of mind. All of the Investigations Part II discussion of taking a picture in one way or another is preparatory to the consideration of what it is to take a statement of fact as an expression of belief of the one making the statement. The interest philosophers have taken in it as a treatment of philosophical questions in perception is not exactly wrong, but it is short-sighted. Wittgenstein is dealing with these puzzles of perception in order to enable us to shift for ourselves (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, 206) when we encounter these kinds of puzzle—in the very complex case of belief. The aspect-­ seeing discussion in the Investigations is particularly engaged with preparing us to sort the tension we encounter between the momentary flash of understanding and the fact that the demonstration of understanding is extended in time through the expression of what is understood in the on-going behaviour of the person who understands—and in the context in which that understanding is expressed and enacted. For example, seeing a triangle with one side as base or with another side as the base (and a different angle as the apex each time) presupposes a great deal of background and the mastery of relevant techniques: In the triangle I can see now this as apex, that as base—now this as apex, that as base.— Clearly the words “Now I am seeing this as the apex” cannot so far mean anything to a learner who has only just met the concepts of apex, base, and so on.—But I do not mean this as an empirical proposition.

6  In the Investigations, the logical anomaly to which he refers is Moore’s paradox—the difficulty about saying “I believe it is so, but it isn’t”. In the Tractatus, the logical anomaly is the way an account of belief can (like Russell’s) make it appear possible to believe something nonsensical. I leave for another time the specifics of how this constitutes a treatment of such logical anomalies.

5  Winch on Punishment: Contested Concepts, Justification, and Primitive Reactions


“Now he’s seeing it like this”, “now like that” would only be said of someone capable of making certain applications of the figure quite freely. The substratum of this experience is the mastery of a technique. (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, 208)

Now, already with rabbits or ducks, it becomes strained to speak of our participation in life with that language—the backdrop to seeing a drawing as first the one and then the other—as “mastery of a technique” (say, a technique of sorting animals into two groups). What it is to live with the concept of animals and with distinguishing among animals is already something much more than a technique. But still it is something we do—a practice—in which we occupy ourselves with ducks and with rabbits and there are ducks and rabbits to occupy ourselves with—and there are pictures of each one, and in this life there is the move available of taking an image for one or the other. Consider the greater complication of the territory we enter with the idea of seeing a belief as a statement about the world and as an expression of an inner state. First, the complexity and indeterminacy is greater. The “family resemblance” that characterizes ducks as such and rabbits as such may be complex enough, but it has nothing on the complexity of the family resemblance of different actions or responses—encompassing even characteristic inaction—across different contexts that constitute the expression of the same belief. This complexity is in turn relevant to the duck/rabbit example: we readily agree to the idea that we “treat” the picture “as” a picture of a duck or a rabbit without considering what enormous variety of things we might do to treat the picture as one of a duck or a rabbit—or the complexity and variety of contexts in which we might say that a person does this.7 Second, there is a sui generis or de novo quality of the idea of what it is for us to treat this statement as an expression of belief. We know what cubes and ducks and rabbits are (I don’t mean this in an individualist, mentalist sense); this is important background to the experience of taking an ambiguous drawing for one or another. Taking a statement of fact as an expression of belief (as characterising the mental life of the one making the statement) is, by comparison to this, to do something new with it. How we treat Winch as having this belief (how we treat one another, in light of what is said to us, as having beliefs, and how we express ourselves knowing we are playing this language game in which beliefs are attributed to us based on what we say) constitutes the concept of belief; it isn’t something we are familiar with and then see in Winch uttering these words. At the same time, it is very important that the details that occupy us when we see the utterance as an expression of Winch’s

7  In many cases it might not be clear what we would describe as the actions a person takes to treat the picture one way or another. Where do they file the picture—in the duck drawer or the rabbit drawer? But they do not actually file pictures in drawers very often at all. In the associations they form? But how do we keep that from collapsing into an associative mental account of meaning? I don’t mean by these questions to reject the offered answers, but to show that the offered answers have to take their place among many more potential observations of what would count as taking the picture one way or the other.


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belief are not new, because the bare sounds that a creature utters would not constitute a statement about the world if a great deal were not already in place—and all this that makes it possible to depict the world in language constitutes the materials we engage with when we treat what is said as the expression of Winch’s belief. Winch traces this through a line of thought present already in the Tractatus: the idea that “A says/believes/thinks that p” (that this is of the form “‘p’ says p”) (Wittgenstein 1922, 5.542) suggests that, in some sense, every element of p is part of the subject of belief, A; the idea that “every part of the proposition which characterizes its sense is an expression (a symbol)” (Wittgenstein 1922, 3.31) confirms and extends this suggestion of the kind of complexity that characterizes the subject of belief, A. Winch takes this idea very far: everything that characterizes the sense of p also consists in the context in which p can intelligibly be taken to express the proposition it does. Winch then takes up the idea that colloquial language is no less complicated than the human organism and requires enormously complicated “silent adjustments” for its understanding (Wittgenstein 1922, 4.002). This brings on board nuances of the embodiment of language in both expression and response. In Winch’s view, these thoughts are not abandoned in the developments that led Wittgenstein from the Tractatus to the Investigations, but they are enormously transformed by changes in his approach; Winch characterizes these changes in terms of Wittgenstein’s task in the Investigations being precisely the detailed and patient description of these “silent adjustments” (Winch 1996/2001, 11–12). Third, there is here the distinctive (intensional) intertwining of the fact expressed in the statement and the belief of the one making the statement. To see a drawing as once a duck and once a rabbit is not yet to see one in or through the other, and so Wittgenstein moves on to discuss examples where the one thing is seen as an aspect of the other. To see the expression of belief as an expression of a state of mind as well as a statement of fact is to keep that statement of fact, as it were, in play, while attending (or, more concretely, responding) to different aspects of that statement in the context in which it is made than those to which one would respond if responding to it primarily as stating something about the world. Mental phenomena share certain features that mislead us when we consider them philosophically. These features pertain to the complexity of our lives with language: e.g. what belongs to a practice (extended in time; constituted by many different possible steps; encompassing implications and inferences; differentiation of roles etc.) underwrites the expression of what looks like the state of a person, now, in this moment—in a way that makes us think that the expression of the inner could only be justified by an inner state that somehow contains the complexity of that practice.8 But the expression of the belief is more like a move in that language game where the language game and our competence in it have all that complexity—it is more like a move in a complex game than it is like the description of an inner state that contains

8  Cockburn locates some connection between justification questions that arise in an area of philosophy and the philosophical importance of attending to the richness of our lives with the concepts in question here.

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in itself all the complexity of the language game. But for all that, it is still an expression of an inner state: “While I was speaking to him I did not know what was going on in his head.” In saying this, one is not thinking of brain-processes, but of thought-processes. The picture should be taken seriously. We should really like to see into his head. And yet we only mean what elsewhere we should mean by saying: we should like to know what he is thinking. I want to say: we have this vivid picture—and that use, apparently contradicting the picture, which expresses the psychical.9 (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, §427) Then has “understanding” two different meanings here?—I would rather say that these kinds of use of “understanding” make up its meaning, make up my concept of understanding. For I want to apply the word “understanding” to all this. (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, §532)

Now, if there is something quite sui generis about taking what is said as an expression of a state of mind—something constituted by the ways we engage with one another, selectively attending to and responding to this or that aspect of the situation and the expression in that context, aspects of the person and the situation that license us to understand what is said as saying what it does about the world—what is it to take a person’s action as expressing something about that person, as an agent whose actions merit a response? We forge this connection in our practices of responding to wrong-doing—including our practices of punishment (but of course not only in our practices of punishment). Now we have arrived at a very broad question about morality and agency as such, just as Winch suggests in “‘He’s to Blame!’” when he follows Mackie in raising the idea that the criticism of retribution threatens any idea of the social expression of approbation and disapprobation—and that this, in turn, would go to the heart of morality. This warning is more plausible than Winch’s earlier warnings about justification in “Ethical Reward and Punishment”—that if we give up retributive ideas of punishment, we are giving up much more than we think (e.g. the possibility of compassion for wrong-doers; the moral concepts with which we can critique this or that specific instance or practice of punishment) or that we are somehow opposed to this whole way of thinking because allowing the expression of a retributive view of punishment is “an assault on [our]selves and on [our] own ethical outlook.” The key point Winch wants to bring out is that punishment of the person who did something is a way of—constitutes one form of—treating the deed as something done by the person who did it. We don’t have to do this—we could have a world in which we simply recompense people for harm suffered and treat it is inconsequential that this or that person did the harm—a world in which people are as it were involved in the causal chain of injury but there is no insult added to that injury in the

9  Winch liked to treat this passage as saying that the apparent contradiction between the picture and its use was part of what made language expressive of the psychical, though he disavowed any claim that Wittgenstein meant this (personal communication).


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form of the belief that the wrongdoer did something that constitutes a violation of the wronged person or an action that they ought not to have done. Or a world in which we might consider it very consequential, but only the concern of the person harmed and not matter for others to take on. Or a world in which others take it on but it is not a matter for the organized polity to take on. For some kinds of wrong doing, these are our worlds. Not every wrong-doing attracts formal or even informal punishment—or conceptualization as a harm done by one person to another. I do not raise these possibilities to advocate normatively for them, but these examples do suggest some typical moral battlegrounds. Nor do I raise them in the spirit of philosophical justification according to the methodology of Pettit’s recent naturalization of morality (Pettit and Hoekstra 2018)—where he seeks to justify the practice of morality by showing what problems we would have without it. I am bringing them up as thought experiments that enable us to see that there are distinctive practices already involved in the idea of punishment for a crime as such. It is also a construal of Winch’s warning that opens the door to other conceptions of response to wrongdoing, in light of Rhees’s reasonable objection that Winch seemed to be building an account of agency and moral response on a one-sided diet of certain examples of punishment (Rhees 1990). This idea of the intensionality of punishment is important to a range of different accounts of punishment, or a range of different functions. Different concepts and functions of punishment forge different versions of what it is to treat the deed as expressing something about the person who did it. In restorative justice, for example, there is a concern with what the person has become relationally by their deed; the judicial process is formed around “repairing” that relationship and offering a way forward for the perpetrator to live their life in relation to their victim and the community. The idea that having done the deed has personal significance is divorced from the idea that someone’s whole life is characterized by their having done what they did. In his engagement with Mackie on the question of what the “for” stands for, Winch is (obviously) suggesting an intervention around questions in meta-ethics: does moral judgment reflect laws independent of us, or does it reflect an emotional response of disapproval in the moment? Expressivism in ethics typically means something like locating the moral status of the action in a good or bad feeling towards the action. The “attitude” expressed (in expressivist accounts of ethics) is this minimal content of normative feeling (approval or disapproval). Expressivism in theories of punishment starts at a similar though less psychological and more linguistic point: it is the idea that society uses punishment as a symbolic expression of disapproval—“How to say things with walls,” as Skillen jokes in a paper title (Skillen 1980). The puzzle that expressionism in this domain is left with is why that symbolic expression cannot be carried out without harming the interests of the punished: if punishment by its nature is symbolic, why not punish with something actually symbolic, like a demerit badge or the wagging of a finger (Feinberg 1965)? If Winch were to engage here—or if we engage using the tools we learn from Winch—his version of “expressivism” could take the discussion in different directions. Punishment is not symbolic in the sense of one thing being used to symbolize something else: it is a symbolic in the sense of being a concrete instantiation of the

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disapproval in question. A concrete expression is not a symbol, any more than (in different ways) the standard meter is a symbol of a meter or a proposition is a symbol of what it represents. To point out that something is symbolic qua concrete instantiation is not to say that it constitutes an end to justification. To say that punishment is like a language in which we express something is not to absolve us of the responsibility to give a robust account of what is being expressed. What is this “disapproval”, anyway? The language game has to be described and as part of that description we have this action as a move in that language game, and the responses and implications that constitute that disapproval being what is expressed by someone (or by society), and the possibility of that person being an object of concern in particular ways. We could also disentangle the intensionality of punishment from its function: Winch is open in both papers to the idea that punishment does not have one social function. I don’t mean by this that he thinks there is no one correct concept of punishment that all different societies should adopt, but that he sees that punishment has a multiplicity of forms and functions within a given society. Punishment’s being expressive is a dimension of these practices, not the goal or the function of these practices. We might think that there is a solid line between those features of the situation that contribute to an understanding of punishment as expressive and those features that are merely contingently a feature of this or that historical instance of punishment. But there is unlikely to be a bright line. In a particularly interesting move in “The Expression of Belief,” Winch emphasizes the breadth and the indeterminacy of the contextual features that might inform our understanding of the belief someone has expressed, and therefore the breadth and indeterminacy of the field in which our engagement might count as an engagement with them as the subject of their belief. Winch relates this to Wittgenstein’s appeal to the importance of “fine shades of behaviour” in judging a person’s inner life: Throughout these discussions [in Part II xi, as they shift back from the long discussion of perceptual aspect-shifting to judgments about another’s inner life that these discussions are meant to inform] the emphasis is on the one hand on the indeterminateness of what may be considered as relevant to the making of judgments in these areas and on the other hand on the importance of such judgments: …(Fine shades of behaviour.-Why are they important? They have important consequences.) (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, II xi, 204; Winch 1996, 19)

Consider now the transposition to our case of an action as expressing something about the agent and the response of punishment (and the agent’s engagement with that response) as expressing what it is for that action to characterize the agent. Establishing whether an act is worthy of punishment is a complex undertaking, involving factual and causal claims, claims about the purported wrongdoer’s state of mind and their intentions, about the freedom or compulsion under which they acted, about shared and individuated responsibilities. It involves collective and cultural determinations about what people can be expected to do, the standards to which we can reasonably hold them, and about what we owe those who are harmed by wrong-­ doing. There is substantial scope for moral disagreement about our practices— moral disagreement that comes from any or all of these elements of justification—and


L. Reid

scope for these practices to influence and be influenced by political dynamics, or indeed to constitute politics by another means. This puts a great deal on the table as constituting the context of punishment— and constituting what counts as the aspects of the person in their context to which the person might attend, or to which we might attend, in taking their punishment as for what they have done. There is social and political complexity to the question of who ends up a criminal and who does not, of who ends up paying for their crime by imprisonment and who does not—the racialization of the “criminal” (distinctive to each country and its history—compare incarceration of black persons and indigenous persons in the United States and Canada); the powerful role of early childhood abuse and material and social deprivation in creating criminal entanglement—at least the kind of criminal entanglement that leads to jail, in contrast to the perpetrator of sexual violence who rarely ends up punished; which methods of personal enrichment are criminalized and which are not; which forms of substance use are criminalized and which are not. These possibilities are not just superficial, merely historical variations in a practice with a pure core; they connect in deep ways to the self-understanding and possibilities for agency that are differentially available to persons in our social world. Imprisonment may be an opportunity for deep reflection on one’s wrong-doing— extraordinarily, I imagine; more often it entrenches criminality and exposes vulnerable persons to further abuse by staff and other inmates. Where there is “repentance” it is closely linked to recovery from trauma, abuse, and addictions. For some people the experience of coming to grips with having harmed others takes place at the same time as they come into the hands of deeply unjust institutions designed to enact ideals of agency that do not reflect their realities—and that constitute a continuation of racialized slave labour by other means. That the person who has broken the law is asked to come to terms with themselves as a wrongdoer—as having harmed another person who is in turn quite removed from this institutional setting—is extraordinary. To raise these resonances—the broad and political aspects of the context, engaging with which would constitute treating the punishment as being about the person’s having done what they did—is not to dismiss the whole idea of punishment being for a crime, or the whole idea of a person engaging with their punishment as a form of reflection on their wrong-doing. It positions us to examine the deep challenges that a person faces grappling with what they have done within the context that brought them to where they are and treats them as it does.10

 Consider as an example in another context Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels as an extended study of two women coming of age and coming each to her own sense of justice (distributive and retributive) in a society with its own characteristic Venn diagram of state power, institutional corruption, non-state interpersonal violence (usually gender-based), historical legacy of fascism and complicity with the Nazis, and class domination (Ferrante 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015).


5  Winch on Punishment: Contested Concepts, Justification, and Primitive Reactions


5.6  Conclusion In Winch’s papers on punishment, I have distinguished three strands: his grappling with the question of the justification of punishment, his concern to rescue the intelligibility of a cluster of concepts loosely characterized as retributive concepts, and his characterization that an important philosophical problem—or set of problems— about punishment arise from the intensionality of punishment (what it is for punishment to be “for” a crime). It is characteristic of Winch’s moral philosophy that he leaves the reader with the burden of owning their own response. In the papers on punishment, this is manifest in a number of challenges and warnings —but warnings that in this case are difficult to construe. Cockburn’s careful critical work distinguishing Winch’s interest in the complexity of a life that supports the attribution of (the concept in question) from his interest in making a point about the limits of justification and what lies beyond (persuasion; force) has helped me make sense of the work that Winch thought his appeal to primitive reactions in his second punishment paper is doing. Cockburn’s characterization of what is valuable in Winch’s philosophical approach has brought me to another late Winch paper to suggest a more promising route forward for a philosophical treatment of punishment, less entangled with the question of justification and more focused directly on the intensional formulation of the problem of punishment, on getting at the complexities of lives with concepts of punishment. Not (for example): without the cluster of retributive ideas, we would lose the possibility of an empathic response to what it means to a person to have committed a wrong. Not: what threatens the cluster of retributive ideas is the demand that punishment be justified. But: don’t take it for granted that we have the idea that the harm someone suffers is to be ascribed to a wrong-doer at all; in the cluster of concepts surrounding the victim (as a victim) and their proportionate response to the wrongdoing and the wrongdoer; the social disapprobation and the action (punishment) taken towards the wrongdoer that expresses (constitutes rather than symbolizes) that disapprobation; the way the wrongdoer might or might not intelligibly occupy themselves with (including be discouraged from wrongdoing by) or undergo that punishment (e.g. feel repentant or have their relationship with society or the victim repaired)—this is where the connection between punishment and crime is forged. And mutatis mutandis those practices have some bearing on what we take crime and responsibility to be. I have only been able to sketch possibilities at the end of where a treatment of punishment as being “for” a crime might go. The hard work would be in taking the materials of Part II of the Investigations, clarifying how Wittgenstein’s treatment of the expression of the inner there can make an advance on “expressivism” in philosophy today, and working with suitably rich and complex examples of punishment.11


 Thanks to Michael Campbell for his stimulating and helpful comments on this paper.


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References Bennett, C. (2009). The Apology Ritual. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brownlee, K. (2016). Don’t call people ‘rapists’: On the social contribution injustice of punishment. Current Legal Problems, 69(1), 327–352. Cockburn, D. (2013). In the beginning was the deed. Philosophical Investigations, 36, 303–319. Feinberg, J. (1965). The expressive function of punishment. The Monist, 49, 397–423. Ferrante, E. (2012). My Brilliant Friend (A. Goldstein, Trans.). New York: Europa Editions. Ferrante, E. (2013). The Story of a New Name (A. Goldstein, Trans.). New York: Europa Editions. Ferrante, E. (2014). Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay  (A.  Goldstein, Trans.). New  York: Europa Editions. Ferrante, E. (2015). The Story of the Lost Child (A. Goldstein, Trans.). New York: Europa Editions. Nussbaum, M.  C. (2016). Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice. New  York: Oxford University Press. Pettit, P., & Hoekstra, K. (2018). The Birth of Ethics: Reconstructing the Role and Nature of Morality. New York: Oxford University Press. Primoratz, I. (1989). Punishment as language. Philosophy, 64(248), 187–205. Rhees, R. (1990). Ethical reward and punishment. In R. Gaita (Ed.), Value and Understanding: Essays for Peter Winch (pp. 179–193). London: Routledge. Skillen, A. J. (1980). How to say things with walls. Philosophy, 55(214), 509–523. Williams, B. A. O. (1993). Shame and Necessity. Berkeley: University of California Press. Winch, P. (1958/1990). The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1964/1972). Understanding a primitive society. In Ethics and Action (pp.  8–49). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1965–66/1972). Can a good man be harmed? In Ethics and Action (pp.  193–209). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1965/1972). The universalizability of moral judgments. In Ethics and Action (pp. 151–170). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1968/1972). Moral integrity. In Ethics and Action (pp. 171–192). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1970/1972). Ethical reward and punishment. In Ethics and Action (pp.  210–228). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1976/1987). Im Anfang war die Tat. In Trying to Make Sense (pp.  33–53). Oxford: Blackwell. Winch, P. (1982/1987). Ethical relativism. In Trying to Make Sense (pp.  181–193). Oxford: Blackwell. Winch, P. (1989a). He’s to blame. In D. Z. Philips & P. Winch (Eds.), Wittgenstein: Attention to Particulars: Essays in Honour of Rush Rhees (pp. 151–164). London: Palgrave Macmillan. Winch, P. (1989b). Simone Weil: “The Just Balance”. Cambridge. New  York: Cambridge University Press. Winch, P. (1990). Einheit: Voraussetzung oder Forderung? In O.  Marquard (Ed.), Einheit und Vielheit: Proceedings of the XIV German Congress of Philosophy – Giessen, 21–26 September, 1987 (pp.  94–100). Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag. (“Unity: Prerequisite or Demand?”, S. Burns (Trans.). Unpublished, 2019). Winch, P. (1991). Persuasion and Reason. [Typescript of a lecture delivered at Brooklyn College.] Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 28). London: Kings College. (Shared with students at Illinois and Abo.) Winch, P. (1992). Persuasion. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 17(1), 123–137. Winch, P. (1996/2001). The expression of belief. In Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (Vol. 70, pp. 7–23). Reprinted (2001) in T. McCarthy & S. Stidd (Eds.), Wittgenstein in America (pp. 195–214). New York: Oxford University Press. Winch, P. (1997). Can we understand ourselves? Philosophical Investigations, 20(3), 193–204.

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Winch, P. (n.d. [mid-1990s]). Authority, Consent, and Practical Reason [Computer print-out outline for a book]. Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 16), Kings College, London. Wittgenstein, L. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/1967). Philosophical Investigations (3rd ed., G.  E. M.  Anscombe & G. H. Von Wright, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. Von Wright, Eds., D. Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1976). Cause and effect: Intuitive awareness. (P. Winch, Trans.). Philosophia, 6, 409–425. Wittgenstein, L. (1980/1998). Culture and Value (G. H. von Wright & H. Nyman, Eds., P. Winch, Trans., A. Pichler, Rev. Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Lynette Reid is Associate Professor in the Bioethics Department at Dalhousie University, Canada. She completed a PhD on Wittgnsetin’s Tractatus with Winch at Illinois in the mid-1990s. She works on ethical, political, and philosophical issues in public health, focusing on cancer screening (a book in progress), the normative significance of health inequalities (a number of articles), and preferential access in universal health care systems (an edited journal special issu).  

Chapter 6

Political Philosophy and the Primacy of Agency Olli Lagerspetz

6.1  Two Themes In his political philosophy, Peter Winch was largely pursuing two themes, one of which is more conventional and easier to pin down than the other. The first theme was his critique of classical contract theory, as exemplified especially by Hobbes and Locke and to some extent, in our own time and in his own way, by John Rawls (1971) in his Theory of Justice. The aim of classical contractarianism was to demonstrate that the authority of the State could be derived from the practical reasoning of individuals, reacting to concerns they might have before organised social life is in place.1 Winch argued that that theory fails by its own lights. The role of authority in human reasoning must, instead, be seen as something primitive. His conclusion was mainly a negative one about the viability of a rationalist conception of the nature social relations; one for which, as it seems to me, Winch presented a compelling argument. The second theme is, perhaps necessarily, more open-ended. I argue, however, that the connections between Winch’s political philosophy and his other long-term philosophical commitments are especially visible there – much more so than when he engages with contractarianism directly. Among the philosophical commitments that Peter Winch expressed in his work, his resistance to the philosophical impulse to reify general concepts and rules is one of the most distinctive and consistent. I would call it his emphasis on the primacy of 1  On Rawls, see Winch (1989, 184–185, 187). Today certain applications of game theory to political philosophy would look like an obvious target of Winch’s criticism. This is, however, not a theme that Winch discussed.

O. Lagerspetz (*) Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



O. Lagerspetz

the particular (but I am not aware of Winch having used this expression).2 In different ways, Winch kept returning to the idea that the meanings of general terms – like ‘rationality’, ‘reality’, ‘agency’, ‘contradiction’, etc., − should be elucidated in relation to the concrete instances where they are invoked. This is not to say the one can be reduced to the other; rather, there is ongoing interplay between the general and the particular. For Winch, this elucidation required a further but related philosophical commitment: the primacy of agency over spectatorship. The idea is that we understand particular cases of human reasoning and motivation primarily from the ‘inside’ – thanks to our ability to take up the position of an agent who confronts the case at issue. This is, then, what I choose to call Winch’s ‘second theme’: the primacy of agency over spectatorship. It goes without saying that this second theme is much more difficult, as it were, to wrap up than the relatively limited task of producing a critique of contractarianism. It is more like a method for attacking local questions – a pursuit rather than a result. Winch, moreover, did not get very far in deploying his method with specifically political themes. He stressed in several places that answers to the question how to recognise the legitimate exercise of political authority, cannot be derived merely from an analysis of a generalised concept of rational agency. What was still lacking, however, was his own ‘agent’s perspective’ on questions of political legitimacy in his own day. In his teaching in the ‘90s, Winch took up Václav Havel’s (1990) essay ‘The Power of the Powerless’ as an example of someone describing the perspective of an agent confronting a political situation. But we do not have any similar text by Winch himself. For Winch, the meaning of legitimacy is always tied up with a particular political culture, with the specific choices that it presents to the agent. Yet, somewhat uncharacteristically, a large part of Winch’s work on political philosophy concerns the general question of ‘the nature of the state’s authority and the citizen’s obligation to it’ (Winch 1990, 223). It seems as if Winch had, to some extent, been derailed from his philosophical idée maîtresse. I can see two reasons for this. One is the sheer weight of the tradition he was criticising. When engaging with a text, even a critical reader runs the risk of going too much along with its ways of framing its questions. The other reason might be Winch’s reluctance for his own part to engage in political analysis or partisanship – his reluctance to take the kind of agent’s perspective that he agrees to be essential. There is a thin line between analysing one’s present political culture and being an active participant in it; a line that, as it seems, Winch was wary of crossing or even approaching. In the end of this paper, I hope to present some ideas about how what I have called Winch’s ‘second theme’ might be developed further in political philosophy. I do this chiefly by way of a brief presentation of recent work by political theorist Christopher Robinson.

2  In his notes for ‘Intercollegiate Lectures on Political Philosophy’ (1969–70, 3) Winch includes a mention of ‘the craving for particularity’. Lynette Reid informs me that Winch is repeating a joke that Gerald Cohen (who participated in the lectures) made about him.

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6.2  The ‘Paradox’ of Authority First let me present a summary of how Winch criticised contract theory. This is obviously not a full-fledged defence of his views, but only the outlines of an argument that I for my own part find convincing. Winch’s favoured starting point was Hobbes ([1651] 1981) who, as he believed, had produced a very explicit and therefore helpful account of the view of human motivation that underlies contractarianism. Winch wrote, [W]hat I see as the central problem about the nature of legitimate political authority, and which led me into a consideration of Hobbes […] is one that concerns the relation between the “will” of the one who exercises authority and that of the one who is subject to his commands. How can the latter be regarded as acting genuinely rationally and responsibly? (Winch 1992b, Lecture 13).

The problem is, briefly, this. The exercise of legitimate authority is not simply an application of coercive power. Some way or other, the citizen or subject is expected to obey voluntarily. Authority implies consent. But the concept of voluntary obedience presents us with an apparent paradox. We do something voluntarily because we want it. But to obey someone is, by definition, to do something, not because one wants it, but because someone else wants it. So the question is how the subject’s will can possibly ‘bind itself’ to someone else’s commands, especially when compliance implies doing things that one otherwise would not. Yet, clearly this is what happens, and it is not routinely dismissed as confused.3 Famously, Hobbes and subsequent contract theorists argued that political authority could be understood as the outcome of a hypothetical contract. The subjects have exchanged their freedom to act in ways that lie in their short-term interest for the long-term benefits of living in an organised society. Winch’s critique of Hobbes is largely an immanent one: Hobbes cannot reach the conclusion he wants with the conceptual resources he allows himself. The essence of the social contract is not that it creates a tolerable modus vivendi, but the fact that it is supposed to create an obligation. How can rational agents get from prudence to obligation? This, or so Winch argues, would require that they have an idea of being ‘bound’ by their word already before they enter the social contract. But this is something that Hobbes excludes ex hypothesi in the state of nature. In the state of nature, no obligations exist. Everyone is expected to fend for himself and for himself only, by any means available, including fraud.4 For Hobbes, the social contract or ‘Covenant’ is the primaeval contract that creates the foundation for any future contract, indeed for the very way of life that includes the possibility of entering a contract. 3  As Winch’s discussion (1992b, Lecture 9) brings out, this paradox is particularly pressing for Hobbes because of his specific view on human motivation: his determinism, his causalist view on action and his logical hedonism. 4  Winch’s main criticism of Locke’s subsequent development of contract theory is that, rather than solving the problem, he brushes it under the carpet.


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Winch argues that ‘the paradox of authority’ is only solved by admitting that ‘the reaction to authority is something primitive’ (Winch n.d., Chapter 1). This means, first of all, that discussions about legitimacy take place within some established framework of political thinking, where differences between legitimate and illegitimate rule are already presupposed. Secondly and more radically, reason and concepts of authority develop together. The exercise of reason belongs to social life, some of which involves relationships of authority as a matter of course. At this point, Winch takes in an argument from Wittgenstein’s (1972) On Certainty. He argues that Wittgenstein’s perspective dissolves the apparent paradox. The fact that we do things simply because others expect us to (obedience being one form of such action) is not a departure from rationality. It is an important, indeed constitutive, form that practical rationality may take. The notion of practical reason itself requires at many points a recognition of the authority of others that is primitive. Once this is accepted the notion of the state’s authority is freed from the requirement to satisfy conditions that are in fact unsatisfiable (Winch 1990, 236).

6.3  The Argument from on Certainty Wittgenstein describes meaningful thought as an activity bound up with human interaction and interdependence. We learn from him that there is no one ‘standpoint of reason’ given to us independently of our relations with people. Wittgenstein starts from the observation that there will be statements that we do not doubt. His examples are not of the kind usually cited as self-evident truths, but statements that, on the surface, look much more like empirical claims. I do not doubt that the world is more than 150  years old (Wittgenstein 1972, §§ 138, 182–192).5 I have never visited outer space, and I cannot be mistaken about that (Wittgenstein 1972, § 102). Wittgenstein argues that my absence of doubt here is ‘anchored in all my questions and answers’ because ‘[a]ll testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system’ (Wittgenstein 1972, §§ 103, 105). My rational thinking on the whole is characterised by my membership in a ‘community […] bound together by science and education’(Wittgenstein 1972, § 298, quoted in Winch 1990, 232). I build up my world picture by listening to others and generally believing them. But even cases of disbelief presuppose trust in other directions (Wittgenstein 1972, § 115). Crucially, the roles of trust and epistemic authority are highlighted. As a child, I rely on my parents and educators for the truth. I do not start by first satisfying myself of their trustworthiness.

5  One conclusion from Wittgenstein would be that, in a sense, it is easier to refute the statement that the world is less than five million years old than that it is less than 150 years old. Engaging with the first statement mobilises all the resources of geology and genetics, while the latter statement implies utter scepticism about those very resources.

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Winch argues that this is ‘quite continuous with’ children’s natural tendency to do what adults tell them to, ‘a response which cries out to be called an acceptance of adult authority’ (Winch 1990, 231). So the solution, for Winch, is that the recognition of authority is a constitutive element of rational thinking; and that our acceptance of the possibility of legitimate political authority is one aspect of that. I personally find the general idea that the recognition of authority in some form is integral to rational thinking quite convincing. But would it appeal to confirmed rationalists or contractarians? The obvious question here would be: What is the bearing of this factual point about the role of authority in belief formation on the normative question of the justification of authority? Isn’t the answer, ‘This is just what we do’, beside the point if justification is the crucial question? However, I do not think this objection is really relevant from Winch’s point of view. He is trying to see what is involved in rationality as we know it, not assessing it against an idealised picture of rational belief formation. It is easy to see that any interesting or demanding intellectual enterprise, such as science or history, and even just participating in an ordinary conversation, implies teamwork. You cannot engage in scientific research unless you accept on trust a huge amount of knowledge from those you consider authorities on the field (see Hardwig 1991). It takes a rather heroic or stubborn cast of mind to maintain that science, the activity usually framed as the pivot of human rationality, is in fact irrational. In this context, Winch and Wittgenstein want to persuade us that we should go for a more realistic (and more helpful) conception of what rationality involves. This being granted, it seems to me, however, that Winch’s argument invites two further questions in the specific context of political philosophy. First of all: Does the child accept the authority of its parents? Secondly: To what extent is the relation between children and parents comparable to political authority at all? Children certainly often go ‘unquestioningly’ along with what their parents suggest to them. For instance, we all get dressed and go to the supermarket. In some ways, this operation is a continuation of the earlier situation where the baby was just physically moved from one place to the next like another piece of luggage.6 If our shopping trip goes smoothly, questions stop there. The situation only turns into a case of ‘exercising authority’ when the child protests or just does not get dressed quickly enough. Moreover, think of what happens at the supermarket once you get there. The child’s behaviour sometimes develops into the classical nightmare scenario for parents – throwing a tantrum on the floor, etc. The parents may need to muster all of their authority. But at this point of course their authority is not exactly ‘unquestioned’! In other words: When the parents’ authority is not challenged, it is not obvious that the concept of authority has a role to play in the situation at all. Why not simply say that the parents and the child undertake a trip together? When, on the other hand, the authority of the parents is questioned, there is a contest of wills. To learn the concept of authority is, in part, to learn the give-and-take that is part of any

 As pointed out by Reid (2017).



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cooperative enterprise.7 In her discussion of On Certainty and Winch’s presentation of it, Lynette Reid points out that infant development should not be pictured as a simple process of ‘agreement first, disagreement later’: This whole scenario could hardly be described as a bedrock of obedience and deference that must be in place before rebellion (or questioning) can be made sense of. Rather, we have complex patterns of dependence, struggle, and differential power from which notions of agency and society emerge – where primitive reactions constitute the materials from which more sophisticated notions of harmony and conflict are developed.8

Perhaps the lesson here is to think of authority in wider terms than the Hobbesian idea of near-total submission. For Wittgenstein as for Winch, authority is perhaps more like part of a continuum of various ways of doing things together. The ‘paradox of authority’ makes its appearance only if you have a very simple idea of what ‘free choice’ implies. In reality, you are always surrounded by people who influence you, who expect something from you, whose lives matter to you and who are dependent on your actions. We face the questions: Whom should we listen to, whom can we let down? The important thing is to see these supposedly ‘external’ influences on our thinking, not as aberrations from the ideally rational exercise of judgment, but as integral to what rationality involves. The fact is, however, that neither Wittgenstein nor Winch presented very detailed considerations about the educational process. Some of Wittgenstein’s descriptions may give the off-putting impression of authoritarian teaching methods. He insists that the child ‘learns by believing the adult’ and imagines the teacher telling it off: ‘Stop interrupting me and do as I tell you’ (Wittgenstein 1972, §§ 160, 310).9 In a realistic scenario, one should not think of child upbringing just in terms of one-way communication. There is the corresponding element of the child expressing its beliefs and the adult (to an extent) taking them seriously. This is also more in line with Wittgenstein’s general emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge as a collective enterprise. But there is a second question. From the argument just presented, it does not follow that human life universally involves a specifically political form of dependence. Winch himself acknowledges the importance of distinguishing between different kinds of authority, pointing to questions ‘concerning for instance, the various roles that the state plays in our lives and thinking, the relations between its authority and other forms of authority with which we are familiar, the maintenance of social order, etc.’ (Winch 1990, 236). However, he does not actually go very far into those questions. Having the concept of political legitimacy implies for Winch ‘a whole way of thinking and proceeding’, which crucially implies a kind of life that involves ‘invoking the state’ (Winch 1990, 236–237). Thus in practice, Winch is prone to make a

 For a related discussion, see Lagerspetz 2015, 145–146.  Reid 2017, 11. Italicisation added. 9  Elsewhere in his work, Wittgenstein frequently offers mechanical training as a model for teaching language or specific rule following activities – admittedly always in stylized illustrations of specific activities and not as a general model for learning. See, for instance, Wittgenstein 1960, p. 77; Wittgenstein 1953, §§ 5–6, 157. 7 8

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shortcut from authority in general to political authority and further from there to the authority of the State.

6.4  The Primacy of Agency Winch starts his posthumously published essay, ‘How is Political Authority Possible?’ (2002) with a general remark on political philosophy. He says the question of ‘what political authority is’ has often been raised in the context of specific political disagreements. [T]here is no doubt that the greatest work in political philosophy has been written by philosophers in the service of some political cause to which they have been deeply committed. This may even be inevitable. Such overlapping concerns are nowhere more evident than in the treatment of the nature of political authority. It is quite evident in the work of, for instance, such writers as Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and, in our own time, Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil, that the accounts they have offered of ‘what authority is’ are inseparable from their evident views about the preferability of some kinds of civil society over others. This situation suggests the possibility that the question ‘what political authority is’ gains its sense from a context of particular political concerns, concerns which, of their nature, will not be shared by everybody and will be opposed by the concerns of others. I am not going to discuss that interesting possibility here (Winch 2002, 20).

Winch is ‘not going to discuss that […] possibility’, but the things he does discuss in that paper as well as in his other work give us an idea of what he was thinking. Why is it perhaps ‘inevitable’ that the most important questions of political philosophy should arise in the context of specific political advocacy? The answer is connected with Winch’s general idea of what social understanding is. The situation of the political theorist might be somewhat similar to that of the art historian, as Winch describes it in The Idea of a Social Science. ‘A historian of art’, he says there, – must have some aesthetic sense if he is to understand the problems confronting the artists of his period; and without this he will have left out of his account precisely what would have made it a history of art, as opposed to a rather puzzling external account of certain motions which certain people have been perceived to go through (Winch [1958] 1990, 88).

‘Aesthetic sense’ means, in this context, being alive to the problems of picture composition, etc. that the artist had to tackle with. To be sure, the art historian does not need to pass judgment about whose picture composition is the best. Yet, inevitably, it seems, he will be required to conduct his work from ‘the inside’ of the aesthetic concerns that guided the artists of the time. In Collingwood’s terms, he will have to re-enact their reasoning. In his Autobiography, Collingwood (1939, 2) relates how, observing his parents’ artistic work, he ‘learned to think of a picture not


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as a finished product exposed for the admiration of virtuosi, but as the visible record […] of an attempt to solve a definite problem in painting’.10 Similarly, perhaps, the question of the nature of political authority ‘gains its sense from a context of particular political concerns’ (Winch 2002, 20) which would need addressing from an agent’s perspective. This would, at the same time, imply that philosophical discussion of political authority in the abstract, outside such contexts, is to some extent meaningless. Just as there is no right way, which is the right way, always and everywhere to compose a picture, there is no answer once and for all to the question what constitutes legitimate political authority. Even more radically, the question itself is not the same in sufficiently different political environments. Winch consistently made this point in his political philosophy. In 1972 he expressed it as follows: [The] concepts [of authority and rationality] […] have complex and shifting relations to each other depending on the contexts within which they are being applied […,] [to] be decided upon by considering relevant particular cases of [the] exercise [of authority] and there is no general answer which can be given (Winch 1972b, 21).

As a case in point, Winch discusses the idea of consent in his posthumous essay (2002). He agrees that some idea of consent is inherent in any concept of legitimate authority. However, he thinks the questions which Locke and Hobbes had framed as ones about the nature of political consent in general, in fact presuppose historically specific frameworks for ‘the very multifarious ways’ (Winch 2002, 31) in which questions about consent emerge. The individual is not facing the abstract question of how human social life always should be organised, but she is born into a society already faced with particular political choices. In that life, on the other hand, those choices may come across as very urgent. Winch (2002) cites, with approval, Hume’s (1970) criticism of Locke’s idea of political consent. In the concrete case that Hume apparently had in mind (the Stuart Restoration of 1660), the subjects joyously welcomed their King back from exile, or so Hume claims, because they believed him to be their lawful sovereign. Unlike how Locke would have it, they did not think the returning King was the legitimate ruler because of their consent. Their consent had been based on ideas of dynastic succession inherent in the political tradition in which they had been raised. They were thinking as citizens of a particular country in a particular situation. In an earlier essay,11 Winch includes a formulation of Rousseau’s views on political education, one with which he agrees. For Winch as for Rousseau, developing an understanding of the idea of political legitimacy is all of a piece with becoming a citizen who exercises that sort of understanding. ‘What it requires’, Winch  Winch avoids the term ‘re-enactment’, partly because he goes along with the then (1958) usual misconception of re-enactment as psychological Einfühlung and not, as Collingwood would have it, a critical reconstruction of past reasoning along with the historically contingent conditions of its meaningfulness (see Winch 1958/1990, 132). That view is no longer held among Collingwood scholars (D’Oro and Connelly 2015). 11  ‘Man and Society in Hobbes and Rousseau’, included in (Winch 1972a, 90–109).


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says, ‘is a life in which the citizens can exercise judgment and in which they do apply that judgment to questions about the justice of social arrangements’ (Winch 1972a, 108). Thus, for one thing, it is only in the context of the specific political tradition that one will be able to identify the ‘right’ kind of consent that goes together with legitimacy. Secondly, the discussion of such questions requires one to adopt the perspective of agency. Whether a citizen does consent to an authority is a question to which that citizen will have the answer. However, we can evaluate the nature of that consent – whether it is voluntary or forced, genuine or manipulated – by placing ourselves inside the kind of reasoning that guides the citizen’s thinking. To formulate this in a way that avoids unwanted associations with psychologically ‘getting inside people’s heads’ (see Winch 1997): We must address their questions and choices from the point of view of the ‘definite problem’ (Collingwood 1939, 2) they were trying to solve. Even if it may not, or no longer, be a problem for us, we must recognise its meaningfulness in the situation we are analysing.

6.5  T  he Primacy of Agency Elsewhere in Winch’s Philosophy Before moving on, let me point to parallels in works by Winch on themes other than political philosophy. The primacy of the particular and the primacy of agency are discussed in an illuminating way in the essay, ‘The Universalisability of Moral Judgments’ (in Winch 1972a, 151–170). In our activity of judging, as spectators, there is interplay between general principles and our grasp of particular cases. To be sure, our moral thinking is by definition shaped by the fact that we view particular cases in the light of general moral issues (Winch 1972a, 153) – which may sometimes involve the formulation of general moral principles. We are rationally committed to judging relevantly similar cases similarly (Winch 1972a, 154). On the other hand, Winch says, it is only by considering particular cases that we discover what the general principles amount to. The particular case and our responses to it are the final touchstone of any general principle. – In sum, from a spectator’s point of view, there is room both for judgments about what people generally ought to do and for views on particular cases. But the activity of passing spectator’s judgments in moral issues is secondary to the experience of being faced with moral choices of one’s own. [W]hen I think about the moral decisions and dilemmas of others, it seems to me that I am very often asking: ‘What would I think it right to do in such a situation?’ That is, I am making a hypothetical agent’s judgment of my own. Thus, only a man who is himself a moral agent, who is capable of making moral decisions of his own, is capable of making and understanding spectators’ moral judgments about the actions of other people. In this respect moral judgments are analogous to statements of intention or statements about pain. The grammar of my attributions of intentions or of pains to other people is quite different from that of my expressions of intention or pain-complaints; but I have to understand the gram-


O. Lagerspetz mar of first-person expressions of intention or pain-complaints, if I am to be able to make and understand third-person attributions; and my ability to operate with such first-person expressions is an essential part of such understanding (Winch 1972a, 153–154).

Winch’s view on universalisability, as well as the specific example he is considering in that essay, fall outside the present discussion.12 But three important ideas stand out. First of all (1), considerations of particular cases in ethics are primary in the sense that the meaning of general principles, and the weight they carry, can only be understood via their particular instantiations. Winch’s later paper, ‘Who is my Neighbour?’ picks up this thread (Winch 1987, 154–166). Secondly (2), this kind of understanding requires the ability to reconstruct the position where action is required. Even if we might not find ourselves able imaginatively to inhabit the position of a moral agent facing a particular choice (because that choice would not pose a problem to us) we must see why the agent sees the dilemma as something that calls for action. Agency is primary to spectatorship. The need of this kind of agent’s perspective for social understanding is integral to the argument in The Idea of a Social Science (Winch 1958/1990). Thirdly (3), agent’s judgments, in the kinds of moral dilemma Winch considers particularly revealing, involve first vs. third person asymmetry. They are cases of arriving at some insight about what is morally possible or impossible in one’s own case. Thus ‘what one finds out is something about oneself, rather than anything one can speak of as holding universally’ (Winch 1972a, 168). In the later paper, ‘Darwin, Genesis and Contradiction’ (Winch 1987, 132–139), Winch makes a similar point about logical contradiction in general and contradiction in religious beliefs in particular. Winch perhaps still does not make it quite clear what the primacy of the particular and the primacy of agency amount to in a moral context. His argument is of the form, ‘Without this, you cannot do that’; or perhaps, ‘First you must understand this before you can understand that’. He frequently presents arguments concerning relations between different uses of concepts in terms of considerations of how we would learn to understand the relevant concepts. But even though Winch often frames his argument in terms of the stages of a learning process13 the main issue has to do with logical rather than temporal succession.14 It is, he suggests, impossible for you to understand what it means to endorse general moral rules unless you are able also to make judgments of particular cases. And it is impossible for you to evaluate other people’s actions unless you can apply the same kind of reasoning to your own case.

 The conclusion Winch draws here is, firstly, that any moral agent is committed, by pain of inconsistency, to treating all similar cases (including his own) in the same way – unless of course he has changed his mind in the meanwhile. This view is widely shared among moral philosophers. His second conclusion is not so. He argues that the moral agent is not similarly committed to thinking that other moral agents, looking at the same cases, would have to arrive at the same judgments as he has. 13  E.g. Winch (1972a, 62; 108; 1987, 162–163) 14  The temporal reading of his argument would face the obvious objection that it might be empirically refuted. Is it obvious, for instance, that we need first-hand experience of a murder case before we can judge that murder is wrong? 12

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One way to put this is: You must be able to participate in the language game of ­giving praise and assigning blame, etc., for the choices that people make in their lives. You display your understanding of the game by applying it in particular cases. But to ‘participate in the game’ is not only to judge it but to play it, i.e., to live as a person who makes moral choices. Hence, a formulation of the primacy of agency in terms of ‘acquiring the ability to make judgments’ seems slightly misleading. Such ability does not appear to be simply a cognitive capacity, something like the ability to apply general rules correctly to a case that one is presented with. Winch’s view rather seems to hinge on the idea of the subject being in a position authoritatively to pass judgments. Apparently, Winch would say: There is no reason for anyone else to take seriously the verdicts of someone who only wants to pass judgments over others but appears unable to judge his or her own actions. And the important idea here seems to be that genuinely passing moral judgments – rather than just, e.g., parroting what appears to be the socially accepted consensus  – is an aspect of the general condition of being a moral agent. In describing a particular case, you no doubt describe it as a particular case of something or other – of murder, cruelty, friendship, etc. Indeed if our descriptions only were of particular cases in isolation, it would be difficult to justify their philosophical relevance. There is a kind of dialectic between the general concept and its particular instantiation. But then, in the case of such mutual relation, why would one describe one of the poles of this relation as primary with regard to the other? From Winch’s writings, it is clear that he does not think that a particular case can be adequately understood entirely on its own  – e.g., the varying reactions of the Priest, the Levite and the Samaritan to the injured man lying in a ditch (Luke 10.29–37; Winch 1987, 154–159). We should think of it in relation to something that goes ‘beyond’ it, something we bring to it when we confront it as a moral issue. You might describe my moral response to the case in terms of moral necessity or possibility. It may present itself to me as a kind of ‘absolute’ demand – such as the demand to offer help. I feel the importance of seeing the case in one kind of way rather than another. But particularity is here not merely opposed to generality or universality. It is not always correct to describe the element of going ‘beyond’ the specific case at hand in terms of applying universal rules. The fact that I see a perspective of moral necessity as inescapable in the case I am confronting does not imply that I must think of it as an application of a rule that must be true of all other moral agents as well. This highlights the importance of Winch’s emphasis on the primacy of agency. I take the perspective of an agent when I perceive a course of action as the only one morally possible. When I imagine the Samaritan saying, of the injured man, ‘I can’t just leave him here to die’ (Winch 1972a, 157), I am taking up the perspective of someone who must do something. Winch’s take on moral questions involves, then, two related but separate concerns. The first insight is that ethics needs to reflect on particular cases. This is beginning to be widely accepted, at least within the movement known as ‘the literary turn’ in moral philosophy. We are encouraged to analyse full-bodied examples


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from literature. As Ondřej Beran (2018, 55) has recently put it, such examples constitute a ‘reservoir’ of cases that may shape our experience of moral life for the better. But this kind of interest is still compatible with mere spectatorship, even if it is agreed that literature should be perused for ‘cultivating’ one’s moral sensibilities or one’s vision (the last word implying a more advanced or refined form of spectatorship). Beran, however, cites a further observation from Winch – one that Beran, however, does not develop at any length in his own discussion: Winch makes an even stronger point and talks about necessity or impossibility as internal to understanding the example for what it is. Therefore, it was, as he says, impossible for the Good Samaritan just to pass by the injured man. As far as he understood what he saw, he could not pass by (Beran 2018, 69; see Winch 1987, 157-159).

This paraphrase of Winch spells out the primacy of agency over spectatorship. The moral responsiveness and sensibility of the Samaritan consisted in the fact that he perceived himself as being called to moral agency. (And we do not need to suppose that he had previously cultivated his sensibilities by reading novels.) The Samaritan had a sense of moral necessity that the Priest and the Levite were lacking – and that means he understood something in the situation that escaped the others. In this case, to understand was to respond with action. Moreover: We for our part, as readers of the story, understand what ‘being called to moral agency’ is by confronting this particular case.

6.6  Consent and Authenticity Now going back to issues of political philosophy. Especially in times of political crisis, the question will arise whether the citizen owes allegiance to a given political authority. The citizen is expected to judge for himself or herself what courses of action are acceptable and in this sense, morally possible. The citizen has a kind of first person authority here. One might now want to draw the conclusion: Whatever authority the majority of citizens recognise is, by definition, legitimate authority for citizens of that community. It is one to which they have given their consent. But the story does not quite end there. For Winch holds that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways of influencing people’s opinions (see Winch 1990, ed. Lagerspetz, Winch 1991a, b, Winch 1992a). Politics is notoriously an area where manipulation is rife. In an extreme situation, it is quite possible for me to hold that the majority of my fellow citizens are misled, blinded by fear and hate, etc., and so cannot give their informed consent to any authority. I might contend that the sense of legitimacy is generally lost among my fellow citizens. How would one judge in such a case? In an unfinished manuscript, Winch describes the development of his work in the following way: I initially concentrated on developing this insight [concerning the classical social contract tradition], e.g. my paper ‘Authority’. But I still didn’t see clearly enough how radically a

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proper understanding of these relations [between authority and reason] undermines not merely certain orthodox conceptions of the authority of the state but also certain orthodox conceptions of reason and logic. In this way I get from political philosophy to the philosophy of logic. If we think that reason must be the source of authority we must ask what is the authority of reason? And this is now my more fundamental concern (Winch n.d., Chapter 1).

These reflections on reason and reasoning were prominent in the seminars on political philosophy that Winch gave in the 1990s, including the resulting manuscript fragment ‘The Authority of Reason’, as well as in his papers ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Persuasion & Reason’ (Winch 1992b, Chapters 3 and 8, Winch 1993, Seminars 4 and 10; Winch 1991b, Winch 1992a). The new departure that Winch is announcing seems to be his exploration of ways in which moral relations between interlocutors, e.g., honesty, are integral to the very idea of rational persuasion. The question of the position of ‘reason’ in human intercourse was not, however, a completely new theme for Winch, although the connection of this question with the authority of the State might have been. On the contrary, he takes up a theme that has followed him constantly, starting with The Idea of a Social Science. Asking about the ‘authority’ of reason connects with Winch’s general resistance to a kind of reification of logical relationships. He insists in that book that ‘criteria of logic are not a direct gift of God, but arise out of, and are only intelligible in the context of, ways of living or modes of social life’ (Winch 1958/1990, 100). To put this concisely, ‘Reason’ as such does not have authority. Instead, authority comes into relations between people via their specific uses of reason; in how reasons for doing or thinking this or that figure in their intercourse. In his seminars on authority (Winch, ed. Lagerspetz 1990), Winch considered three thinkers who voiced their distrust of the political life of their respective societies: Socrates, Simone Weil15 and Václav Havel. Each believed they lived in a society where genuine political reflection was almost dead. They were also, each in their own way, driven to the political margins of their respective societies. The central question for them was how to make authentic political discourse possible. Winch was, in particular, interested in Socrates, especially as portrayed in Plato’s dialogue Gorgias. Socrates insisted on a difference between good and bad ways of producing persuasion, or genuine persuasion as opposed to false semblances of it (taking the easy way out, appeals to individual or national self-­ aggrandizement, fear of the opinion of others, etc.). For Socrates, genuine politics presupposes dialogue, where the participants are made to examine themselves – to think critically of their own priorities and ambitions.16 A central problem at this juncture, both as a theme addressed in Plato’s dialogues and as their subtext (anticipating the fate of Socrates) is how a just person will fare in a society riddled with injustices. In his 1990 seminar, Winch used Václav Havel’s (1990) essay ‘The Power of the Powerless’ (written in 1978) to discuss ways in which the individual’s relation to

15 16

 See also Winch 1989 and Winch’s translation of Weil 1987.  See my paper Lagerspetz 2019.


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politics may be corrupted when political discourse has turned into empty phrases. (Winch also discusses Havel in Winch 1990, 12–16.) Havel considers what happens when a greengrocer in East Bloc Czechoslovakia adorns the shop window with the slogan: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ He puts up the sign – which has probably arrived from a central warehouse together with the onions and carrots  – simply because that is what his superiors expect of him. Havel writes: Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan, ‘I am afraid and therefore unquestionably obedient’, he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. […] [H]is expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, ‘What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?’ Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the façade of something high. And that something is ideology (Havel 1990, 42).

The message of the slogan in the window is directed upwards, towards the greengrocer’s superiors. It indicates that he is not a trouble-maker. The main conflict in the story takes place, not between different social groups but within the individual – who must choose to display the poster or to discard it (Winch, ed. Lagerspetz, 1990). Against conformism, Havel raises the possibility of ‘living within the truth’: rejecting ritual, discovering one’s authentic thinking. Living within the truth has a political significance, not because it is inherently oppositional, but because of the context of ‘post-totalitarian’ Czechoslovakia where it is bound to lead to conflict. It arises out of what a person normally does – as a greengrocer, poet, brewery worker and so on – when the requirements of ‘life itself’ (Havel’s term) conflict with prescribed behaviour.

6.7  Politics of Order and Politics of Dissent Winch was impressed by Havel’s essay, apparently because it was the actual case of a citizen confronting questions of legitimacy in his own society. He agreed with Havel that many of the phenomena the latter was describing may also be found in modern liberal societies; such as the political use of legitimising myths. But with a few exceptions,17 Winch did not engage in the analysis of political discourse in his own society. One reason may have been sheer reluctance to get mired in controversy. Another might be an image of ‘the political’ which he inherits from the classical theory he is criticising – a tradition that focusses on the authority of the State (Winch 1990, 223; Winch 1972a, 100). The general question of the authority of the State is presented as something independent of the political life of any particular 17

 Winch (1972a), 3, 68; Winch ([1958] 1990), 123; Winch 1957.

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State, and thus, as a question that may be addressed outside any specific historical framework. However, this tradition represents in fact a kind of anachronism which, on the whole, would rather go against the grain of Winch’s thinking.18 In a recent book, Wittgenstein and Political Theory: The View from Somewhere, Christopher Robinson (2009) presents a critique of the classical or, as he calls it, ‘epic’ tradition of political theory. The subtitle captures the main idea – in conscious contrast with Thomas Nagel’s famous book title, ‘A View from Nowhere’. Wittgenstein, Robinson reminds us, compared language with an ancient but steadily developing city, with buildings, streets and suburbs stemming from different periods and following different organisational principles (Wittgenstein 1953, § 18). All of it can be captured at a glance if you climb up a hill and look down. However, understanding the real functioning of a city requires an assembly of various street views or landscape sketches of the kind Wittgenstein said he was assembling in his Philosophical Investigations (1953, ix). Robinson contends that political theory has been hostage to the one-sided expectation of a hilltop view. The effect of such an approach is that political theory has created a timeless theoretical artefact: the political system perceived as a hierarchical order. ‘The political’ is supposedly a natural category, underlying every conventional form of human organisation. Reading and learning from the products of the epic tradition – The Republic, The Prince, Leviathan, and so on – is a bond shared by theorists. Yet, the view of politics offered by the heroic theorist is a trap. An entire constellation of concepts emerges around the agreement that politics is a form of order, and these concepts are accepted so readily they may serve to keep us from seeing how politics, the political life, is actually lived today (Robinson 2009, 28–29).

The political life, however, is a historically specific phenomenon. It may disappear – especially at a time when the state apparatus feels threatened – and it may appear in new forms, e.g. as forms of dissent. As to politics today, Robinson argues that in present societies, especially in the U.S., political life has bifurcated into two phenomena, both of which are conventionally described as ‘political’. ‘Politics of unity or order’ involves a Hobbesian sovereign power structure ostensibly dedicated to preserving peace. On the other hand there is ‘politics of resistance or dissent’. After 9/11, politics of unity has become increasingly militarised and de-­democratised, casting itself as non-political, which leaves politics of dissent the only form of political life available (Robinson 2009, 161–162). In sum, politics today is hard to see, firstly, because it does not occur where we might expect it most – the institutions of government, the modern state, have been thoroughly bureaucra-

 Cf. Winch 1969–70, 3: ‘It would be dangerous to assume that there is any one problem which all political philosophers have been concerned with. Even if one uses a formula which could be thought to cover the enquiries and difficulties of many different philosophers, there is the real possibility that different men have been troubled about the problem in different ways and hence have different kinds of requirement about what would constitute a satisfactory solution. This being said I am going to ignore the danger for the time being and talk about what I do think is in a way the fundamental problem in political philosophy’ (italicization added).



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tized. Politics in this context is an ordinary usage, but for theorists who observe changes in political life and concepts over time, this usage is anachronistic. […] Politics today, then, is found (if at all) outside of government, and outside of any unitary or exclusive representation of politics as the province of governmental administration or government as the representation of politics (Robinson 2009, 150).

This is what Robinson describes as ‘politics of dissent’. Political life now exists outside the traditional state structure and outside G7 meetings. It involves people engaging themselves for some agenda or other, sometimes in complete disjunction from the administrative apparatus. Robinson is not alone in his diagnosis; the idea that official politics is drained of genuine content and that it confronts a nascent politics of resistance is put forward, for instance, by Neo-Marxists such as Hardt and Negri in Empire (2001). One might object that Robinson is unduly disillusioned about current conventional politics in the U.S. – and perhaps too optimistic about the viability of informal politics. Whether his assessments are correct will be a matter both of debate and of empirical research. However, we do not need to agree with his diagnosis in order to appreciate the conceptual point – which is this: It is a contingent question whether politics is still present in the places where we, according to classical political theory, should expect to find it. I do not consider these ideas to be essentially opposed to the kind of political philosophy that Peter Winch was pursuing – especially considering his interest in the informal politics that Socrates, Weil and Havel were practicing. Robinson certainly questions the ‘Statist’ approach which Winch perhaps took for granted due to his immersion in classical political theory. However, Robinson’s approach agrees with what I have called Winch’s ‘second theme’ – the primacy of the particular and of agency. Winch’s ‘second theme’ is also the place where the continuities between Winch’s philosophy of the human sciences, his moral philosophy and his political philosophy come into sight.19

References Beran, O. (2018). “Give me an example”: Peter Winch and learning from the particular. Nordic Wittgenstein Review, 7, 49–75. Collingwood, R. G. (1939). An autobiography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. D’Oro, G., & Connelly, J. (2015). Robin George Collingwood. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta. sum2015/entries/collingwood/  Parts of this paper were presented at the Centre of Ethics at the University of Pardubice, 4 May 2018 and at the conference Keeping it Honest. Vulnerable Writing, 22–23 August 2019, Uppsala University (conference hosted by Engaging Vulnerability and organized in collaboration with the Nordic Wittgenstein Society). The paper was presented again at Philosophy Research Seminar, Åbo Akademi University, 9 September 2019. Thanks to the participants and others for comments and discussions  – especially, but not exclusively, to Jonas Ahlskog, Michael Campbell, Martin Gustafsson, Lars Hertzberg, Markus Kortesmäki, Camilla Kronqvist, Lynette Reid and Björn Vikström.


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Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2001). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hardwig, J. (1991). The role of trust in knowledge. The Journal of Philosophy, 88, 693–708. Havel, V. (1990). The power of the powerless. In J. Vladislav (Ed.), Living in Truth (pp. 36–122). London: Faber & Faber. Hobbes, T. (1651/1981). Leviathan. London: Penguin. Hume, D. (1970). Of the original contract. In A.  MacIntyre (Ed.), Hume’s Ethical Writings (pp. 255–273). London: Collier-Macmillan. Lagerspetz, O. (2015). Trust, Ethics and Human Reason. London: Bloomsbury. Lagerspetz, O. (2019). Peter Winch on “Aristotelian” and “Socratic” reasoning. Philosophical Investigations, 42, 146–162. Rawls, J. (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Reid, L. (2017). Peter Winch on political and epistemic authority, Manuscript draft, presented at Philosophy research seminar at Åbo Akademi University, 4 September 2017 and at Peter Winch conference – truth in politics and metaphysics at King’s College London, 30 June to 2 July 2017. Robinson, C. (2009). Wittgenstein and Political Theory. The View from Somewhere. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Weil, S. (1987). The legitimacy of the provisional government (P. Winch, Trans.). Philosophical Investigations, 53, 87–98. Winch, P. (1957). The universities and the state. Higher Education Quarterly, XII, 14–23. Winch, P. (1958/1990). The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy. 2nd ed. London: Routledge/Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1969–1970). Intercollegiate lectures in political philosophy. [Typescript; lecture notes; 16 pp]. Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 14). King’s College London. Winch, P. (1972a). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge/Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1972b). Authority and rationality. The Human World, 8, 11–21. Winch, P. (1987). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Blackwell. Winch, P. (1989). Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Winch, P., ed. Lagerspetz, O. (1990). Seminars on authority, The University of Illinois at Urbana-­ Champaign. Notes by O. Lagerspetz, MS, 39 pp. Winch, P. (1990). Introduction. In I.  Maclean, A.  Montefiore, & P.  Winch (Eds.), The Political Responsibility of Intellectuals (pp. 1–16). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Winch, P. (1991a). Certainty and authority. In A. P. Griffiths (Ed.), Wittgenstein Centenary Essays (pp. 223–238). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Winch, P. (1991b). Persuasion and reason. [Typescript of a lecture delivered at Brooklyn College; 20 pp.] Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 28), Kings College, London. (Shared with students at Illinois and Abo.) Winch, P. (1992a). Persuasion. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 17, 123–137. Winch, P. (1992b). Philosophy of law and the state [Computer printout; lecture notes; 61 pp.]. Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 16). King’s College London. Winch, P. (1993). Political authority. [Computer printout; seminar notes; 24 pp.]. Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 16). King’s College London. Winch, P. (1997). Can We Understand Ourselves? Philosophical Investigations, 20, 193–204. Winch, P. (2002). How is political authority possible? D.  Z. Phillips (Ed.). Philosophical Investigations, 25, 20–32. Winch, P. (n.d. [mid-1990s]). Authority, consent, and practical reason [Computer print-out outline for a book]. Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 16), Kings College, London. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1960). The Blue and Brown Books (Second ed.). New York: Harper & Row. Wittgenstein, L. (1972). On Certainty. New York: Harper & Row.


O. Lagerspetz

Olli Lagerspetz is Senior Lecturer at Åbo Akademi University. From 1992 to 1998, Lagerspetz was Lecturer of philosophy at the University of Wales Swansea. Lagerspetz is the author of Trust: The Tacit Demand (Kluwer, 1998), Trust, Ethics and Human Reason (Bloomsbury, 2015), A Philosophy of Dirt (Reaktion, 2018) and, with Kirsti Suolinna, Edward Westermarck: Intellectual Networks, Philosophy and Social Anthropology (The Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, 2014).  

Chapter 7

Winch on Political Authority & Obedience Marina Barabas

Peter Winch’s name is associated mainly with social and moral philosophy. In both areas his work went beyond, and at times against, the mainstream. The innovation in his work as well as the opposition to it owed much to his efforts to re-think the issues under discussion in the light of lessons drawn from Wittgenstein, in turn showing Wittgenstein’s relevance to these areas. Towards the end of his life his interest turned to political philosophy:1 at the time of his death he was working on a more comprehensive account. The substance of his thinking came from his life-long teaching of the subject, of which authority and obedience form a central part. The posthumously published “How is Political Authority Possible?”2 considers the standard seventeenth–eighteenth century contractarian accounts to argue, by way of Hume’s critique, their inadequacy and promises a more satisfactory alternative. The promise is met by “Certainty and Authority”.3 As the title intimates, Winch intends to do here for political philosophy what he has done elsewhere: draw on Wittgenstein to clarify, resolve – or dissolve – philosophical problems. In this case these are “certain deep questions in political philosophy, … the nature of the state’s authority and the citizen’s obligation to it; the notion of legitimacy and the role of consent (1990, 223). Indeed the title’s reference to Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, and the article’s motto drawn from it (“So is this it: I must recognise certain authorities to make judgements at all?” (Wittgenstein 1969, 493)) intimate that the inquiry may go beyond the ‘deep questions’ all the way to the issue of philosophical justification itself. 1  Winch’s early paper on authority (Peters et al. 1958) was written in the wake of On the Idea of a Social Science. 2  (Winch 2002). The article was put together by D.Z. Phillips from Winch’s lecture notes. 3  (Winch 1990).

M. Barabas (*) Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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The following will focus on three connected issues: practical necessity; action; the nature and scope of reason. Practical or unconditional necessity, necessity which is neither physical nor psychological, is implicit in the very idea of (moral or political) obligation. The issue received what for many is the canonical treatment in Kant’s account of duty, more generally human action, in terms of practical Reason, and his explication of that in terms of freedom and autonomy: “Practical is all that is possible through freedom”.4 While ‘practical necessity’, the necessity or impossibility of doing or refraining, is an important concern in Winch’s earlier ethical work, he is not interested in obligation and does not draw on Kant’s account; indeed as he made clear,5 he finds Kant’s view humanly, even morally, disturbing and philosophically unacceptable. The human and moral unease is directed at any attempt to pronounce ‘morally’, once and for all, and thus once and for any and all; the philosophical objection is tied to his belief that necessity to do or refrain is grounded in the particular: the individual man or woman engaged with, trying to do justice to, the particular situation they are in. But while Winch’s commitment to the personal is repeatedly and variously expressed in his attacks on ‘Kantianism’,6 his ‘positive’ position is less clear. He rejects a relativistic rendering of the ‘situation’, and a psychological rendering of the ‘I must/ I can’t’, but seems unwilling to accept what might appear to be left when one centres on necessity grounded in the ‘reading’ of the situation – some idea of moral reality. His ongoing concern with the issue is manifested in and, I would argue, also altered through, his engagement with Elizabeth Anscombe’s Wittgensteininspired accounts of practical necessity.7 His rejection of Anscombe’s position is, however, no longer in terms of necessity arising out of the one’s understanding of his situation, but, in an attempt to overcome the psychology-rationality dichotomy, in terms of primitive reaction, an idea he found in the work of Wittgenstein and Simone Weil.8 Winch’s use of primitive reaction in his thinking about political authority as directed against Contractarianism unfolds against his discussion of the other two concerns of the article: action, and the role of Reason. Winch argues that Contractarianism, from Hobbes to Rawls, stands on a shared, often unnoted, conception of action and practical rationality which views action as a special kind of event ‘caused’ by reason (for action), the latter being a “combination of the agent’s desires and beliefs. ... The ‘beliefs’ ... constitute the agent’s (rational) assessment of the current situation [for] his or her desires”. Action is thus an effort to bring about

 “Praktisch ist alles was durch Freiheit möglich ist” (Kant 1787/1965, A 800/ B 828).  Winch (1972, 151–170). See also Winch (1972, 171–192); Winch (1987, 167–180). See also Lars Hertzberg’s discussion of the issue as central to Winch’s ethics in Gaita (1990, 102–117). 6  He seldom discusses Kant directly. 7  Anscombe (1978a, b). 8  Winch (1997, 177–196); Winch (1987, 154–166). 4


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“a change believed, in the light of an assessment of the current situation, to further the agent’s desires” (1990, 223–4). This view of action gives rise to the ‘paradox of authority’: obligation to obey is obligatory, yet made impossible by “our understanding of human rationality, especially practical rationality” (223). If by ‘our understanding of practical rationality’ Winch means philosophical, specifically Naturalist, understanding, then what he says is true. But then it does not apply only to the (English-speaking9) Contractarians, but also to their opponents like Hume; indeed it goes all the way back to Aristotle, and all the way forward to philosophers such as Bernard Williams, Elizabeth Anscombe or Donald Davidson. And it is opposed by that part of ‘our’ understanding of practical rationality which was expressed in the ‘rationalist’ philosophical tradition which opposes Naturalism not the least on the role of reason in action and the possibility of obligation. The absence of obligation is as much a threat to the moral10 as it is to the political, where it undermines the idea of obedience recognised as what is due to authority. Winch focuses on the more general issue of action. The problem arises as soon as the above conception is confronted with the idea of authority modelled on command as “… where a man saith do this … without expecting other reasons than the will of him that say it,” and the fact that “the proper object of every man’s will is some good to himself”; from this it “followeth manifestly that he that commandeth pretendeth thereby to his own benefit.”11 No less manifestly this leads us to ask “How the will of another person, the one who commands, can be thought of by the one commanded as on its own a reason for acting?” (224) That question, Winch suggests, or rather the answer to it, defines Contractarianism: the person has consented to be subject to someone’s authority for the sake of long-term concerns of his own (224). Winch believes that the project is doomed to failure. He begins with Hume’s famous attack on Contractarianism.12 Even were contract/ consent not ‘factually’ false,13 it could not bind us unless here and now obedience were in our interest: “These difficulties ... are ... the difficulties of reconciling an obligation with a ­conception of practical rationality as acting in pursuit of one’s projects in the light 9  It certainly does not apply to Rousseau let alone to Kant. Winch ignores their contribution to Contractarianism. 10  Bishop Butler and Adam Smith tried to get around the problem, at least of (objective) ‘moral judgement’, by postulating the position of an ‘impartial benevolent observer’; Hume himself, probably due to Smith’s influence, toned down the role of emotions between the Treatise and the 2nd Inquiry to make space for judgement. Kant in his pre-critical work embraces Sentimentalist ethics, but recognises that it cannot stand unless the issue of obligation is resolved. The ‘resolution’ of the issue constitutes the heart Kant’s eventual ‘rationalist’ ethical theory. 11  Hobbes (1651), cited in Winch (1990, 224). 12  Hume (and Winch) does not distinguish between contract and consent (“Hume offers what he calls ‘a more regular, at least a more philosophical, refutation of this principle of an original contract, or popular consent’” (1990, 225). Yet the concepts are not interchangeable: contract is the beginning of something new, consent can only be given to something already existing. 13  There was, as a matter of fact, no such thing as contract; consent makes no sense where people have no choice but to live where they are born. Can we seriously say that a poor peasant or artisan has a free choice to leave his country when he knows no foreign language or manners and lives from day to day by the small wages which he acquires?


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of one’s present assessment of one’s situation. To be ‘bound’ by something one has said in the past seems incompatible with that” (225). So: “People do not normally accept the state’s authority because they have inquired into the reasons for so doing; in particular, not because they have previously consented to it; and if they did, that would not solve the problem that the Contractarian tradition has set itself, since it is no more puzzling that people should accept the authority of the state than that they should in any other way behave in ways contrary to what they see will further their interests and concerns in the situation they are presently in” (227). Instead Hume suggests that we are born into hierarchically structured communities, growing up with and into habits of obedience, so that “Obedience or subjection becomes so familiar that most men never make any inquiry about its origin or cause, more than about the principle of gravity, resistance, or the most universal laws of nature.”14 So, if born into hereditary monarchy, they consent “because they perceive [the monarch] to be already by birth their lawful sovereign” (Hume 1994, 188). It is habit rather than Reason which accounts for obedience. Having disposed of the ‘philosophical’ account or justification of obedience (which puts him on the ‘conservative’ side of the debate), Winch turns to account philosophically for why we don’t need, indeed cannot have, such a thing. Here too he begins with Hume: “as G.  E. M.  Anscombe has noted (Anscombe 1978a, b), Hume’s point has a much wider application than he realizes, since it applies to all cases of ... acting in accordance with a rule; and hence affects our understanding of all our ‘practices of reason’.” (Winch 1990, 225)).15 The search for justification of political obedience is now subsumed under the search for justification inherent in philosophy’s demand for “a perspective independent of ‘the way we think and live’” (226). Here it involves two underlying assumptions: “a) that reasonable belief is belief that is justified”, and “b) that reasonable action is action  based on reasonable belief” (228). The examination proceeds by way of challenging traditional logic’s distinction between (a priori) form and (experiential) content (229). For far from being a priori, these practices which define ‘reason’ have to be learned (Wittgenstein, 129). And far from being independent of the content, these practices (the form) are learnt by participating in the ordinary practices. The learning (of this and that) comes with “certainties which, without being learnt, stand fast for us.” (229). “I do not explicitly learn the propositions that stand fast for me. I can discover them subsequently like the axis round which a body rotates. The axis is not fixed in the sense of being held fast, rather the movement around it determines it as unmoved” (Wittgenstein 1969, 152).16 It is thus “a feature of the manner in which we acquire these practices that we do not, as a matter of fact, doubt their reliability”. Indeed, “this absence of doubt is a requirement for the intelligibility of the practice or practices within which it

 ‘Of the Original Contract’, in Hume (1994, 186–201).  Given Hume’s account of beliefs in terms of associations and thus habits, it can be argued that he was well aware of these implications. 16  My translation. 14 15

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is embedded. And it is the practice that determines when an apparent expression of doubt is understandable as such” (Winch 1990, 230). Far from being the default position of the reasonable man, doubt or a demand for justification requires justification. Underlying this is a ‘genealogical’ account of the acquisition of competence: “The child learns by believing the adult. Doubt comes after belief” (Wittgenstein 1969, 160). Without this ‘primitive trust’ the child would not learn enough to recognise problems, ask ‘sensible’ questions (Winch 1990, 230–1). Winch returns to the ‘practical’ issue of authority and obedience, on the back of the unity of the theoretical and the practical, implicit in the idea of ‘practices of reason’, by summing up the discussion of learning as: the child’s relation of trust to the adult “can quite naturally be called one of accepting the adult’s authority… [and is] continuous with other kinds of relation between children and adults within the context of which children will quite naturally do what adults tell them to do, a response which cries out to be called an acceptance of adult  authority” (231; emphasis added). And: “[their] responses to adults comprise not merely acceptance of adult authority in the imparting of information but also reactions of obedience when told to do something” (233; emphasis added). Indeed, “this acceptance of informants as trustworthy is characteristic of adult life too…” (231): we learn at all levels, including the ‘disciplines of reason’ – sciences, history, etc. – by accepting the teacher, the experts, those who are specially trusted. Here too what is learnt rests on what is not learnt, with respect to which there are no ‘experts’: the reliability of the historian regarding the authenticity of a document does not extend to e.g. the existence of the past. That kind of knowledge can only be made sense of with reference “to the life of the community” a “community which is bound together by science and education” (Wittgenstein 1969, 298).17 In conclusion Winch returns to Hobbes’ account of contract whereby ‘a multitude’ – many unconnected men – is transformed into one entity – the ‘body politic’. Hobbes, he argues, needs this elaborate account only because of his view of reason as “the faculty through which the individual pursues his or her own interests” (Winch 1990, 233); this means not only self-interested conduct, but absence of “any mutual trust or agreement”, which in turn makes ‘state of war’ ‘mankind’s natural condition’. On Certainty, by contrast, “turns the tables on Hobbes by showing that the conception of reason requires as its background precisely a community in which there is such trust and agreement. This same goes for the notions of authorising and authority on which Hobbes relies for establishing a ‘representer’” (233–234): giving such authority requires “a community where such relations of authority are already recognised” (234), and thus already “has the sort of ‘unity’ which Hobbes

17  “Die durch Wissenschaft und Erziehung verbunden ist.” German Wissenschaft (science) is visibly tied to wissen – ‘know’ in the way English science is not tied to know. In the context of the discussion Wissenschaft means something like structures of knowledge. Still more misleading is the rendering of Erziehung as ‘education’. Erziehung means bringing (‘drawing’ (ziehen) up, raising: it is what we do with children.


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takes to be achievable only through such an  individualistic conferring of authority” (234). At stake is the task of political philosophy – “the kind of description of political life needed to make the relation between a citizen and the state intelligible” (234), which in turn is “inseparable from the question of the point of view” required by such a description. Political philosophy, especially but not only Contractarianism, seeks “to view our political life ‘from the outside’” (234): to offer us reasons for adopting certain attitudes to relations of power, rather than just describing them. To do so they must “address the reader ... in the context of his or her own interests and concerns.” (235) This, however makes authority, command, irreconcilable “with the notion of agency. By barring the putative ‘agent’ from acting according to his or her own reasons the notion of authority seems to threaten to make the notion of ‘agent’s’ will inapplicable and thereby drain away the status of agency into the one exercising authority” (236). Wittgenstein shows us that, “so far from its being the case that all recognition of authority derives from the exercise of practical reason on the part of the recogniser, … practical reason itself requires at many points a recognition of the authority of others that is primitive” (236). Eliminating the “illusory problem” allows us to face “real problems”, e.g. the various roles played by the state in our life, the relation between state and other forms of authority, etc.. Disqualifying the philosophical question ‘Why should I obey?’ does not disqualify raising that question in concrete circumstances, e.g. in the apartheid South Africa or in the pre −1990 Communist countries. Here the question involves “evaluating an existing situation against a norm … of political legitimacy …which takes place within the general framework if political authority” rather than “questioning that whole concept” (236). In conclusion Winch asks: “Am I then maintaining that such a wholesale questioning of the concept is impossible? No. Am I setting the status quo in concrete as is well known to be the sneaky practice of ‘Wittgensteinian conservatives’? No. To say: ‘this is a way in which people think’ is not to say ‘You, or we, should, or must, think like this.’ It is to say: there is more than one way of thinking and it takes more than the bare concept of ‘rationality’ to decide between the sense of these. It is to point out some of our conceptual resources… Anyone is at liberty to set himself or herself against the whole way of thinking and proceeding” (236). Anarchism – the wholesale rejection of the state – might be inconsistent, “But I am not saying that no such life is possible” (237). As it happens, he is, but even were he not, the suggestion is that it might not be a good, or even a recognisably human, life. More generally, anarchism may be confused about the value but not about the ‘method’. It is philosophical thinking which is fundamentally confused – confused qua thinking. While I agree with much of what Winch says in general, I’m uneasy with its application to the political sphere  and, by extension, to the role of reason in that sphere.

7  Winch on Political Authority & Obedience


Though authority features in the title of the article, the account’s focus is on obedience. Authority, especially given the continuous account of family, society and politics, appears as a quasi ‘object’ of the natural reaction or habit of obedience. Things may look different if we start with authority. I would suggest that internal to the concept of authority, emphatically so political authority, is the distinction between power and force, between legitimate and coercion-backed command. In turn, acting in recognition of the command’s legitimacy is obedience rather than submission or doing as one is told. One submits out of fear or to attain some further end; one obeys because, when the command is legitimate, doing so is right, obligatory.18 And if obligatory then necessary, and yet free: to obey out of obligation is to do what (one believes) one should, while aware that one might not. Tied as it is to recognition of authority, obedient action is centrally ‘immediate’: performed without deliberation or an eye to a further end. However, the fact that is it action  – performed freely19 and with understanding  – makes such immediate action a response, rather than a reaction. The agent can, if asked, say what he did and thus also why he did it: She is my mother, my teacher, magistrate... explains why her ‘Do / Don’t...’ is a legitimate command to be obeyed immediately, i.e. without further reasons. Or: the legitimacy of the command is a (sufficient) reason for acting. The necessary presence of understanding precludes infants and small children from obedience: infants are coerced or cajoled, small children do (and as often don’t do) as they are told. Language is needed to move from in-fancy (non-speaking) to childhood; a concept of authority (parent, teacher magistrate) is needed to move from doing as one is told to obeying. Relations and interactions which are conceptual, which involve understanding, are not reactions. One may accept Winch’s account of the individual born into a community, growing up with, and into, its various practices, where trust and acceptance precede recognition, without accepting his linear treatment. The appearance of language, of growth of understanding, is a new, qualitatively different stage. The process described by Winch is not habituation but learning. Integral to that learning is the development of the capacity for action and with it the awareness that one may refrain or refuse. Furthermore, the understanding which enables the recognition of a command as legitimate comes with the recognition of the authority’s limits. While the substance of these concepts and the relations they constitute differ between cultures, the ‘form’ of legitimate authority and due obedience, and thus also their limited nature, does not. In a given culture a father may have the right to command that his child marry

 This does not mean that one would always obey if there were not e.g. fear of punishment. But even when motivated by fear, the action has a different character when one obeys authority rather than force. 19  ‘Freely’ may mean simply that one does not act under coercion and is (thus) aware that one might not act. 18


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according to his wishes, but not to command her or him sexually20; a king may command the killing of enemies in war but not of fellow subjects in peace-time. The conceptual nature of the relation makes power and its limits coextensive. The fact that the relation is understood means also that it can be misunderstood, misconstrued, and rightly or wrongly questioned. The discussion so far is largely in line with Winch’s earlier work, and might be taken on board by him.21 The following turns to a more significant point of disagreement: the role of reason in political relations. The account works with an undifferentiated treatment of all – familial, social and political – forms of authority. In all these contexts the individual is presented as standing variously, including hierarchically, related to other individuals and institutions. I argued that the epistemic character of these relations, specifically the various concepts of legitimate authority, involve a certain kind of justification. Put differently: the ‘thickness’ of these concepts means that they come with a ‘grammar’ of, scope of and limits on, proper authority and due obedience. That he is my father, teacher, priest, king, explains-­ cum-­justifies his right to command, and the fact and manner of my obedience. And while, as we saw, I might question my father’s or the sovereign’s right to command this or that, to ask ‘Why should I obey my father/priest/king?’ amounts to asking ‘Why should I obey the one I should obey?’, ‘Why should I do what I should do?’ So even on this account, which works with concepts rather than habits and reactions, there seems to be a continuity between the familial, the social and the political: the account applies to all authority relations in all societies. I wish to question this on both points: to argue that in some – specifically West-­ influenced – communities, political authority differs from authority within family and society and does so in a manner which opposes it both to Winch’s account and the assumptions of the Wittgensteinean model. That model comes with the dichotomies of practice-theory and ordinary life/ speech-philosophy, and in both the first trumps the second. ‘Practical’ covers any rule-governed activity, including the ‘sciences’, even the more fundamental ‘practices of reason’. More substantively, and questionably, thinking of any kind is viewed as grounded in ordinary doings and practices. I would argue that certain ‘practices of thinking’, notably the ‘sciences’ mentioned by Winch, such as physics, geography or history, stand in no clear, let alone dependent, relation to ‘ordinary’ practices. They are born of the innate striving for truth and systematic understanding which, once it makes itself felt, invents its own questions and in the process of dealing with them creates itself as a ‘theoretical’ subject or practice. While self-contained, such practices may feed into, and consequently alter, ordinary practices. A society does not need the ‘science’ of history but  The tragedy of King Lear begins with a father’s ‘inappropriate’, even ‘unnatural’ demand for his daughters’ ‘absolute’ love. 21  It feels strange to argue this way against Winch who in his 1958 piece on authority urges the importance of its conceptual nature against the more standard renderings of authority in terms of will. Yet his 1990 piece makes no mention of the role of concepts and their possible impact on previously ‘acquired’ modes of (re)acting. 20

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once history emerges it may affect the society’s ordinary understanding of its past, raise questions about the ‘absolute’ nature of its present customs and institutions, even transform its sense of time.22 More complex and to the point is the ‘science’ left unmentioned by both Wittgenstein and Winch: philosophy as the effort of intellect seeking to logon didonai of our world and life, to give the kind of account which merges explanation with justification. When that effort turn to ‘things human’, it creates a ‘theory’ of human life and practices. Such theory – moral and political philosophy – draws on ordinary thought life and practices for its material but raises its own questions and, in answering them, re-structures that material into an account according to its own criteria, with which it then confronts those ordinary practices. Unlike the sciences of physics or history, which deal with their own subject-matter and may thus be ignored by ordinary understanding, accounts of human nature, good life and just interactions cannot be ignored by those who try to live good and just lives. The concepts and conceptions investigated in reasoning about ‘things human’, and developed into moral and political theories, are of the same kind as what structures individual and communal self-understanding, integral to which is some, however implicit, concern to avoid falsehood and injustice.23 Making things that matter to us conscious and making explicit their relations to others, may already alter their character.24 The element of ‘reflection’, the awareness that they may, and perhaps should, be questioned and justified25 shifts things still further; the concurrent, commitment to coherence, consistency, even systematisation, integral to theoretical endeavour, will highlight some concerns, downplay, even silence others,26 thereby altering the language and the practices of which it is giving an account. When theorising turns to the political – modes of government and institutions – the need for justification creates new theoretical practices, such as political theory, or jurisprudence, which in turn enter existing language and practices and alter them in part in their own image.27 In turn justication enters the ordinary concepts we acquire, ordinary practices we grow into as we move from childhood to adulthood. Since we can’t go into this, I’ll limit myself to a few, somewhat dogmatic, remarks which rest on a distinction between thinking and reasoning and understanding and reason.

 See e.g. “The Concept of History Ancient and Modern”, in (Arendt 1961, 41–90).  The negative formulation – eschewing falsehood and injustice – seems to me truer to ordinary motivation than the positive ‘seeking truth and justice’. 24  One obvious change effected by philosophical effort is a shift from the negative concern not to cross the line to the positive commitment to truth and justice. 25  Bernard Williams (1985/2006) points to the inherent reflectiveness of our society and argues that it is destructive of certain values; the issue is of continuous concern also in Kierkegaard’s work. 26  So e.g. the virtual disappearance of concern with purity (or rather, avoidance of impurity) from both individual and communal life. 27  See e.g. Maine (1861) on the interplay between the needs of the growing Roman empire to find a legal framework for its non-citizens and the philosophical-legal, Stoic-influenced changing of the very concept of law, moving from the particular to the ever more general, till, in the idea of ‘Law of Nature’ it seeks to unite the legal with the moral and to cover all human beings. 22 23


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For our purposes I would describe thinking as effort to make or find sense within the parameters of ‘sense made’, of understanding. Thinking  moves within these parameters, at times testing even altering them; navigating, at times modifying, the grammar of the concepts. Wittgenstein’s work captures this brilliantly. By contrast, I suggest that philosophical thinking, reasoning, involves trying to make sense of the ‘sense made’. This requires, or it understands itself as requiring, stepping outside, viewing things as if from ‘nowhere’. For it to emerge certain conditions, including those of practices and understanding, have to be present ‘on the ground’, though these conditions never quite explain its emergence. Once ‘there’ it follows its own routes. The fact that human conduct and practices involve limits on doing as one likes (of which obedience is one form), effort to make sense of them comes with the demand to justify these limits. That demand, as we saw, could not get off the ground when asked of ‘thick’ concepts whose very meaning is relational and hierarchical. What was needed was a concept of self-understanding which was general, ‘thin’, and could function non-relationally. The concept ‘man’, anthropos, satisfied these requirements. Its appearance was a function of complex historical developments in sixth–fifth century Greece;28 once there, however, ‘man’, generates thinking and speaking which is unclearly related to, even in tension with, understanding ‘on the ground’. “‘Man’ becoming problem for man”, is expressed and structured by the inquiry into ta anthopina, into good life, virtue, justice for man – for any and every man, for ‘one’ here and everywhere.29 This inquiry created only not the subject of ‘ethics’ or moral philosophy, but the very concept of ethics or morality.30 Inquiry into ‘things human’, in tandem with social and political developments, created also a new concept of the political. At its heart lies the possibility of raising the previously unraisable question of obedience. The question ‘Why should man/I do what man/I don’t want to do/not do what I want to do?’ turns attention to the very nature of constraints: nomos, rule, convention, law. Applied to life outside the family it becomes the question ‘Why should man/I obey (another) man?’ The question seems not only possible but unavoidable, yet raising it shows it to be rhetorical: for there is only one answer to it, namely that Man should not obey another man. Perhaps the question could not have been raised were there not already a way out of

 The original meaning of the term is ‘someone’s man’, i.e. servant, the same as the Slav term ‘clovek’ is derived from ‘celed’ (servant). 29  Socrates’ demands for the definition of ‘virtue as such’ is a demand for a definition of virtue for ‘man as such’. That is made clear in the Meno both by Socrates’ initial demand and by the use made of a slave boy to make the point about (everyone’s) ‘knowledge’ of virtue, and thus everyone’s ‘moral’ nature. It’s worth noting that the inquiry, ethics, never gave up its concern with ‘man as such’ even when, as e.g. in Aristotle’s case, the account is tailor made for the male. 30  ‘Ethics’ is not used before Aristotle and his use of ‘ethical’, does not refer to ethics as we (and to some extent also he) would understand it, but to virtues connected to emotions. Yet by the time of the Stoics, ethics is in general use and becomes one of the three branches of philosophy. This allows us not only to date the emergence of the term within one generation, but also to recognise that the concept as well as the term is a philosophical ‘invention’, the latter beginning its life as terminus technicus. 28

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the just given answer, which would be destructive of any communal life. The new answer is: ‘man should not be ruled by man but by law’.31 The unacceptability of man being ruled by man or, in its later formulation, of being subject to another’s will, the idea that the only thing that can properly ‘rule’ man is law, came to define the very concept of the political, in part by distinguishing law from prevailing rule or convention and, partly in consequence, by separating political from familial and social authority. Law became the defining idea of our concept of the political at both the theoretical and ordinary level.32 What constitutes law, its relation to morality, tradition, etc., is a matter for, and largely the substance of, debate. But constitutive of our very concept of the political is the point manifested in the very term ‘legitimate’: authority must be grounded in law. And the idea of law was developed in the long history of ‘theoretical’ – philosophical, juridical and theological  – debate which, where external conditions permitted, structured ordinary practices and interaction between individuals/ groups and institutions of political power. Liberalism with its idea of contract as the foundation of law-­ governed political authority is one contribution to that debate. And while it is true that ‘I obey the law’ needs no further justification since ‘justified’, ‘legitimate’ is internal to the concept, unlike ‘father’ or ‘king’, the concept is itself grounded in complex theoretical effort to provide justification and can, at any point, be re-opened either when there is actual political unclarity or disagreement or when one wants to re-examine the issue philosophically.33 The philosophical nature of the concept extends its claim beyond any particular community. The general concept ‘man’ undergoes further abstraction and ‘thinning’ in political and legal theory where it becomes ‘person’. As entity defined simply in terms of capacity for obligations and rights, ‘person’ is still further removed from any concrete context. It is this process that Hobbes seeks to clarify when he shows that obedience understood as one (natural) man doing the will of another is paradoxical; the paradox is resolved when relations between natural men are transformed – via law – into relations between ‘persons’.34 Unlike the atomistic ‘man’,35 ‘person’ is not only relational but is normatively so. It comes to structure even the ‘natural’ familial and social categories (parent – child; teacher – student;  See Aristotle’s Politics (1984); also Locke (1690/1980).  Originally western, now, at least in appearance, our as human. See Siedentop (2014) on the fate of law after the fall of Rome, and its importance for the ‘invention’ of the ‘individual’ and of the modern conception of the political. 33  The disagreement can be about the legitimacy of a particular law, on the ground of its incompatibility with other laws, or even the ‘spirit’ of the existing laws; it can, however, be about the justice of it and through that about whether, if ‘unjust’, it can be law. And it can go still deeper, as e.g. in Anarchist theory, to question the legitimacy of the political, of laws, as such. 34  In the Leviathan, the chapter ‘On Person’ concludes Book I (‘On man’, i.e. the pre-political) and marks the beginning of the political discussion. Similarly, though Locke believes that man is a communal being, it is only once law emerges that the communal becomes ‘political’. 35  The atomistic reading of ‘man’ is tied to Hobbes’ general account. But the fact that ‘man’ lacks any clear relations is made clear when Aristotle feels the need to assert that ‘man is a social animal’. 31 32


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doctor – patient36), and creates new, exclusively political, concepts such as s­ ubject/ citizen, magistrate, sovereign. We inhabit a number of these ‘personhoods’,37 many of which relate us normatively – in terms of obligations and rights, authority and obedience – to other ‘persons’, human and institutional. The concept of law and the connected concept of person does not only set political authority apart from familial and social authority, but claims validity for any government which purports to rule legitimately. And it could  be, and has been, argued that properly understood, the idea of law is coextensive with ‘our’ – human – practical rationality, with practical reason as such.38 Our ordinary political institutions and the self-understanding and practices structured by them, have not only a history and tradition, but a philosophical history and a number of philosophical traditions.39

References Anscombe, G. E. M. (1978a\1981). Rules, rights and promises. In Collected Philosophical Papers (Vol. III). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Anscombe, G.  E. M. (1978b\1981). On the source of the authority of the state. In Collected Philosophical Papers (Vol. III). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Arendt, H. (1961). Between Past and Future. New York: Viking Press. Aristotle (1984). Politics. (B.  Jowett, Trans.).  In J.  A. Barnes (Ed.),  The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation (Volume 2) (pp. 1986–2129). Princeton: Princeton University Press. Cicero. (1991). On Duties. New York: Cambridge University Press. Gaita, R. (Ed.). (1990). Value and Understanding: Essays for Peter Winch. London: Routledge. Hobbes, T. (1651). Leviathan, or, the Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill. London: Touchstone. Hume, D. (1846/1994). Of the original contract. In Political Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kant, I. (1787/1965). Critique of Pure Reason (N.  Kemp-Smith, Trans.). New  York: St. Martin’s Press. Locke, J. (1690/1980). The Second Treatise on Government. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.  Child – parent; woman - man, are of course also natural categories but they change under the law. One sees some of the tension precisely when the ‘natural’ is out of step with the ‘legal’ – a natural rather than a legitimate child; wife or husband under ‘common law’ rather than – well – the law. 37  In the chapter on ‘Person’, Hobbes refers to Cicero “Unus sustineo tres personas; mei, adversarii, et judicis- I bear three persons; my own, my adversary’s, and the judge’s.” See Cicero 1991, 1: 107–115, pp. 42–45. 38  This is Kant’s position and it covers both the moral and the political. 39  The paper was delivered originally at a conference in London 2017, Truth in Politics and Metaphysics: celebrating the Work of Peter Winch, which, like the further work on it was supported within the project of Operational Programme Research, Development and Education (OP VVV/ OP RDE), “Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value”, registration No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/1 5_003/0000425, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic, and by the Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences. 36

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Maine, H.  S. (1861). Ancient Law: Its Connections With the Early History of Society, and Its Relations to Modern Ideas. London: John Murray. Peters, R.  S., Winch, P. & Duncan-Jones, A.  E. (1958). Symposium: Authority. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Supplementary Vol. 32, 207–260). Reprinted (Peters & Winch) in A. Quinton (Ed.), Political Philosophy (pp. 97–111). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Siedentop, L. (2014). Inventing the Individual. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Williams, B. (1985/2006). Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1972). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1987). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Winch, P. (1990). Certainty and authority. Royal Institute of Philosophy, Supplements, 28. Winch, P. (1997). Professor Anscombe’s moral philosophy. In A.  Lilli, H.  Sara, & W.  Thomas (Eds.), Commonality and Particularity in Ethics (pp. 177–196). London: Macmillan Press Ltd. Winch, P. (2002). How is political authority possible? Philosophical Investigations, 25(1), 20–32. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty. (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. Von Wright, Eds., D. Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Marina Barabas is member of the Institute of Philosophy of Czech Academy of Sciences, and Fellow at the Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value at the University of Pardubice. She works primarily in moral philosophy and moral psychology, focusing in particular on the work of Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Wittgenstein. Her articles have appeared in journals including Organon F and Philosophical Investigations. She has translated work by Simone Weil into English, as well as helping translate works of Kant, Hobbes and Wittgenstein into Czech.  

Chapter 8

Aspects of Period-Turns Helen Geyer

The old man/the old woman/old age on the operatic stage—or: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90: 10).1 Age—advanced age—and death, seem to be very closely connected, though not so much death with age, as a glance at representations of the dance of death teaches us.2 It is hard to form a definition of old age: today we speak of seniors from 60 on, or from the start of the old age pension. But what does it mean? What do we connect with the image of the “old”: someone in need of care, frail, demented; the mentor, the Elder—full of worldly-wisdom and insight; the old lady who exercises restraint and imparts good advice, judiciousness (balance, maturity, clarity), perhaps also gentleness, renunciation of immediate pleasures, or attachment to them again? The “funny” old man, the “funny” old woman, who both put social convention in question? Is fertility the border-line? Old age, the old man, the old woman were for a long time esteemed, honoured and revered as persons of respect, as authorities not only within the family but also in the social unit. In contrast stood examples of nonconformity: examples which,

Translated by Steven Burns. 1  There are popular psalm compositions to this text by Seth Calvisius, Heinrich Schütz and many others. 2  [The Danse Macabre, in which Death embraces the young as well as the old.] (Footnotes or inserts in square brackets have been added by the translator).

H. Geyer (*) Hochschule für Musik FRANZ LISZT Weimar, Weimar, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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because they stood outside of a social “norm”, were often smiled at or even criticized. In German poetry, this figure appears at the latest with Neidhart von Riuwenthal:3 the funny old woman (or the funny old man) who says, “I’d like to dance”—when the storm of love sweeps once again through the heart, and “Spring feelings set in”, provoked by handsome, young chaps.4 This mirror-image portrays, if you will, a sort of back-side. It was not the love full of resignation—then the demanding love; it was not that melancholy reflection on how one’s life has flown past—as wonderfully expressed by Walther von der Vogelweide in his elegy of 1227. I quote: Owê war sint verswunden allîu mîniu jâr! Ist mir mîn leben getroumet, oder ist ez wâr? Daz ich ie wânde es waere, was daz allez iht? Dar nâch hân ich geslâfen und enweiz es niht.5

Who, then, can or should we take into consideration as “the old man”/”the old woman” on stage? Surely we don’t mean the senile, who of course can also be found on the stage. Is it the wise person, who reacts with oversight, breadth of vision and sagacity, or even the person who behaves “crazily”? Couldn’t it mean the “next” generation too, the generation that is now no longer in charge, no longer responsible for bringing up a younger generation that is now grown up and therefore assuming the responsibility? No doubt it is often a matter of persons who count as models, who represent certain social or political orders (arrangements), or who function as advisers, and discounting the comical figures who are often exposed to irony or ridicule because they do not conform to certain norms.6 Opera is acquainted with all of these old or elderly dignitaries. In order to show some facets of the many in this constellation presented on the opera stage, I would like to take up a few striking examples. I will use examples that seem to focus on a challenging confrontation between old age or the elderly and apparently “modern”, that means “other” younger life-forms or social-political models.

 [Neidhart von Riuwenthal (or Reuental) was a famous minnesinger in Bavaria and Austria who flourished in the early thirteenth century.] 4  Neidhart von Riuwenthal, L 15–16. 5  Woe, where have all my years disappeared? Have I only dreamt my life or was it reality? This that I always believed was reality, is this a Nothing? Was I just asleep and knew it not? 6  As such they are the laughingstocks of the scene; they were drawn by Hogarth, to give the foremost example among many in the eighteenth century, who illustrated with them a discourse both topical at the time, and fiercely socially critical. 3

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8.1  L  a ragione regge gl’uomini e gli Dei—La ragione è misura rigorosa per chi ubbidisce e non per chi comanda7 At the, undoubtedly for his time, ripe old age of about 75, Claudio Monteverdi composed his very last opera, The Coronation of Poppea (1642/1931). The concluding, sensual and erotic duet between Nero and Poppea, which was based on a successful duet by Ferrerri, was already at the time famous and admired.8 The plot of this opera, in spite of its latent eroticism and sensuality, is very complex: Nero decides, against the advice of his mentor Seneca, to divorce his wife Ottavia in favour of the much less noble Poppea. The plot implies a weighty argument which seems in the end to contain a political provocation, namely, the argument between Seneca, who posits rational grounds as the measure of private and public behaviour,9 and Nero, who decides to put into effect his own concept of political power based on his own emotional, and thus individual, privately-determined imagination. This points to farreaching problems, not only with regard to attendant aesthetic conceptions, but above all to an exemplary code of behaviour especially for those in responsible positions. This late work makes thematic, among other things, the crucial connection of such problematic themes with politics, and the farewell to art executed according to higher and universal laws, rather than subjective and capricious ones. But at the very end, such a thematic field as is offered by Monteverdi and his librettist turns back to a thematic exposition which was taken up by Monteverdi at the very beginning of his operatic career, and this means about four decades earlier. To begin with, let us look more closely at this argument: Nero informs Seneca of his decision to marry Poppea and divorce Ottavia, and Seneca warns him, “Consiglier scellerato è ’l sentimento. / Ch’odia le leggi e la raggion disprezza”.10

A hefty dispute ensues from this, and each side gains dangerous trenchancy with every objection: Nero:


La legge è per chi serve, e se vogl’io Posso abolir l’antica e indur le nove; È partito l’imperio, è il ciel di Giove, Ma del mondo terren lo scettro è mio. Sregolato voler non è volere, Ma — dirò per tua pace — egli è furore.

7  Reason rules both men and gods—Reason is a strict measure for those who obey, not for those who command. (Yeld 2010). 8  The nature of the sources of this opera is very complex. There are two distinct versions (I–Vc, Nc), but the original has not survived. There are speculations about multiple authorship of the opera. The standard monograph for this theme is Osthoff (1960). Lorenzo Bianconi was able to track down Ferrarri’s authorship of the concluding duet, recently there is a detailed analysis of the writing hands by Hendrik Schulze (Monteverdi 1642/2017). 9  This dialogue seems to be a reduction of a few theses of De Vita Beata, by Seneca. 10  “Emotion is an evil counsellor that abhors laws and disdains reason.”


Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero:

[…] Seneca:


H. Geyer

La ragione è misura rigorosa Per chi ubbidisce e non per chi comanda. Anzi l’irragionevole comando distrugge l’obbedienza. Lascia i discorsi, io voglio a modo mio. Non irritar il popolo e il senato. Del senato e del popolo non curo. Cura almeno te stesso e la tua fama. Trarrò la lingua a chi vorrà biasmarmi. Più muti che farai, più parleranno. Ottavia è infrigidita ed infeconda. Chi ragioni non ha cerca pretesti. A chi può ciò che vuol, ragion non manca. Manca la sicurezza all’opre ingiuste. Sarà sempre più giusto il più potente. Ma chi non sa regnar sempre può meno. La forza è legge in pace e spade in guerra…. La forza accende gl’odi e turba il sangue. … E bisogno non ha della ragione. La ragione regge gl’uomini e gli Dei. Tu mi sforzi allo sdegno; al tuo dispetto, E del popol in onta, e del senato, E d’Ottavia, e del cielo, e dell’abisso. Siansi giuste o ingiuste le mie voglie, Oggi, oggi Poppea sarà mia moglie! Il partito peggior sempre sovrasta Quando la forza alla ragion contrasta. 11

Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca:

The law is for those who serve. If I wish I can abolish the old and make new ones. The empire is divided, Jupiter reigns in heaven, but in this earthly world the sceptre is mine. Intemperate will is no will, but (permit me to say) it is madness. Reason is a strict measure for those who obey, not for those who command. On the contrary, unreasoned rule destroys obedience. Stop the lectures, I want it my way. Do not provoke the people and the senate. For the senate and the people I care not. Care at least for yourself and your reputation. I shall pull out the tongue of anyone who censures me. The more tongues you cut out, the more they will talk.

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Strictly speaking, this confrontation is central. Divergent views of life, worldviews, positions on the exercise of power, and ethical standards, all collide here with a breath-taking power. On one side stands Nero, who represents a very wilful and despotic understanding of power when he proclaims: “If I wish I can abolish the old [laws] and make new ones”, or, “I want it my way. … The most just will always be the one who is most powerful”, and, “Strength and law in peace and the sword in war … and there is no need for reason”. Against this, after many separate rejoinders, Seneca tersely sets out his maxims: “Reason rules both men and gods”, and finally, “The worse part always wins, when force contradicts reason.” On the one side stands a world order that is emotional-subjective and arbitrary, and aligned according to individual needs, while on the other we have the standard of behaviour informed by reason, with which Seneca tears off the mask of despotism from the emperor. Emotion, wilfulness and unbridled egoistic governance stand against an exercise of power informed by reason, and against a division of powers, in this case between emperor, Senate, and people. Interestingly, Monteverdi uses distinct stylistic devices to contrast the two combatants. Nero, in his stormy rage and his agitation, becomes increasingly nervous. His declamation is restricted in range, and finally characterized by the modern stile concitato and melismas, which thus prevail over the emotionally constrained reciting note. Seneca, on the other hand, is less nervous; he reacts with normal musicality, and only resorts to the stile concitato in order to secure Nero’s attention (Claudio Monteverdi 1642/1931).

Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: Seneca: Nero: […] Seneca:

Octavia is frigid and barren. Who has no reason seeks excuses. He who can get what he wants lacks not reason. There is no safety in unjust deeds. The most just will always be the one who is most powerful. But he who knows not how to rule will always grow weaker. Strength and law in peace and the sword in war, … Force enkindles hatred and stirs up the blood. … and there is no need for reason. Reason rules both men and gods. You make me angry; in despite of you, and of the people and the senate, and Octavia, and heaven and the abyss, by my wish, just or unjust, today, today Poppea will be my wife! The worse part always wins, when force contradicts reason.

(Yeld 2010, and the last verse by the author).


H. Geyer

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Monteverdi is underlining with the latest techniques of emotional expression the emotional side of Nero, who is driven by his feelings. This is shown most clearly during his outbursts of anger, where Monteverdi brings to bear the stile concitato that he wrote about in the Eighth Madrigal Book, the style of anger or of confrontation in battle. With increasing intensity, moreover: the first time as pure repetition, the second time as excited declamation. As we know, this dialogue ends fatally for Seneca. He will be condemned to death, and drinks the poisoned cup in a famous farewell scene surrounded by his students and close friends. What an apparently political explosion—it threatens to open up here like an abyss, at the end of the first Act of this opera, where it serves to some extent as an exposition of what follows, mercilessly presenting all the consequences of a concatenation of the protagonist’s uncontrolled feelings, up to and including the banishment of the revengeful Ottavia. Not very surprising and nonetheless instructive is the phenomenon that the hand of his student, Cavalli, can perhaps also be seen in one of Monteverdi’s last operas. It is in part his handwriting that the manuscript in the National Library of Marciana is preserved. It shows that the concluding duet is from another pen, and that, moreover, the theme, intended to be hostile to absolutist monarchy, reflects a program that counted as a matter of concern to the Accademia degli Incogniti [Academy of the Unknowns] in Venice. Busenello, the librettist, was a member of the Academy, and some of the texts and operas that were produced by the circle connected with the Academy breathe the same spirit. Busenello produced not only from great freedom, but also from a distinctly antimonarchistic attitude. It is interesting that in November, 1631, Cardinal Richelieu was accepted as a permanent member of the Senate of Venice. The active Doge, Francesco Erizzo, was also a member at the time, and found himself in the midst of bitter altercations with France, Spain, the Habsburg empire, and as usual again and again with the Vatican. Obviously a current state of power politics can be presumed to lie behind this operatic altercation. Of course there is a further viewpoint to take into account. At the beginning of his operatic output Monteverdi had already dealt once on the operatic stage with the theme of the confrontation of rationality with emotional and wilful irrationality. He deals with the theme of the conflict between emotional behaviour driven by feelings and a life lead by the measure of reason when Orfeo reacts to the definitive loss of Euridice. At the forgiving conclusion of Orfeo,12 Apollo reproaches his son Orfeo:

 There exist two versions of the conclusion of Monteverdi’s Orfeo libretto, by Alessandro Striggio: one without lieto fine (a happy ending), in which Orfeo is torn away from the Bacchanalian orgy, and one with lieto fine, as Monteverdi composed it, and as it stands in the printed score. Nevertheless, this opera was composed as a favola in musica (fable in music), taking into account all the theatrical and performance practicalities, first of all for performance in the intimate setting of the Accademia degli Invaghiti (Academy of the Enamored) in Mantua. It came to a “public” performance because it had obviously aroused great enthusiasm, in which the “happy ending”, which foresees the possibility of Orfeo’s immortality, no doubt played a role.


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Apollo: Perch’a lo sdegno et al dolor in preda  Così ti doni, o figlio? Non è, non è consiglio Di generoso petto Servir al proprio affetto. And: Troppo, troppo gioisti Di tua lieta ventura, Or troppo piangi Tua sorte acerba e dura. Ancor non sai Come nulla qua giù diletta e dura?13

This is about the Orfeo of 1607, and the forgiving second ending which Alessandro Striggio provided for Monteverdi on the occasion of the Duke of Mantua’s birthday. In the first ending, Orfeo was torn away from the Bacchants on account of his renunciation of art and women—or speaking generally, it is about the argument between personal emotion and reasonable behaviour, embedded in the transitoriness of earthly life. But a similar argument 35 years later gains dramatic weight. From the fundamental argument about the acceptance of emotions presented musically, and transposed into an individual musical language (that “breaks the rules”), which as we know set off the Monteverdi-Artusi quarrel, the last Monteverdi opera portrays a politically motivated exchange of blows between the system of a republican, reason-based constitution, and that of an absolute and arbitrary state-constitution. This happens after all at the beginning of the 1640s. It is not just that two generations confront one another here—it is much more the case that two systems of power collide with each other—the reason-based republic, represented by Seneca, and the arbitrary, apparently unlimited exercise of power by a centralist ruler, represented by Nero. The opera was produced in 1643 at the Teatro di SS. Giovanni e Paolo (only the stage-directions survive, the MSS are a few years younger). The Theatre of Saints John and Paul, which seated about 1,000, was the third Grimani theatre, which the important Doge-family Grimani had built near the Basilica of Saints John and Paul. The theatre-director was Zuane Grimani, who not only belonged to the then ruling Grimani family, and above all had served well the theatre establishment in Venice, but was also a member of the Academy of the Unknowns, like Busenello, the librettist of Monteverdi’s Incoronazione di Poppea. It is natural to think about political implications. Seneca, who has long been the mentor and advisor of the young Nero, appears here as a representative of an other ethical order, in the face of Nero`s intentions for the exercise of power in the state. This also applies to the leading of one’s personal

 “Why do you give yourself up to scorn and grief, oh my son? No, no it is not wise for a generous heart to become a slave of his own passions…. Too much did you enjoy your good fortune, now too much do you bewail your hard and bitter fate. Do you still not know that earthly delights have no lasting?” (Rogers 1984).



H. Geyer

life, particularly if one is in a position of responsibility. Nero contrasts Seneca’s ideas with his own, contrary ones. Two systems, conjoined with two generations, confront one another. The older generation is stepping back, while at the same time another begins to sketch its ascent, threatening the republican constitution of Venice.

8.2  Pentiti—Nò14 Let us take another case from opera history, a century and a half later, one that everyone is familiar with: Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Here there is a confrontation not only between the titular hero and the women, but above all an essential altercation between the two protagonists, Don Giovanni and the Commendatore (Commander). The latter appears at first as an engaged, protective father-figure, who during the altercation with Don Giovanni is killed by him. Don Giovanni’s reaction is well known: the scornful meeting in a cemetery by the Commendatore’s grave, gives rise to Don Giovanni’s fatally inviting the stone statue of the Commendatore to dinner. Their definitive altercation takes place at the very beginning of this dinner. A dispute of the highest explosiveness and trenchancy happens, when the Commendatore tries to force Don Giovanni to repent his misdoings, which finds its equally powerful realization in highly individual music. Until this point, Mozart had characterized Don Giovanni as a noteworthy “non-­ hero”, by using a restricted vocal range, mostly confined to the compass of a fourth or a sixth, and without elaborate texture.15 Now for the final exchange between the Commendatore and Don Giovanni he chooses a bright-sounding language of confrontation. Dallapiccola had already observed this.16 To the demands of the Commendatore that he repent (“Pentiti”) of his past mode of life, Don Giovanni hurls back in a tritone [an augmented fourth] a resolute “Nò”, and Mozart completes in this fashion a 12-tone-row. At the end of it, Don Giovanni indeed perishes—but without a “yes”, without regret. This has an explosive potential with which the opera could also have ended, if it were not for the conventional sextet-finale, which is moralizing, sounds as though it were tacked on like a curtain drawn in front of a macabre and unpleasant story, and which raises at the same time the questionableness of such a redeeming “happy end” (lieto fine).17 We have to deal here with a multi-layered double perspective, with the intrusion of Verismo, and with the embryonic laying out of the potential to deconstruct the tonal system. In the figures of the Commendatore and the eponymous hero, Don Giovanni, two generations confront one another. Both perish in the end, but we are also confronted

 (Repent—No)  On this point, see (Geyer 2001). 16  Dallapiccola (1950). For critical comment see Carapezza (1974), who discusses this thesis of Dallapiccolo’s, especially on p. 147; see also Helen Geyer, ibid., especially pp. 115ff.. 17  [Mozart apparently cut this scene after the first performance, but it is now commonly reinserted.] 14 15

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with a contrasting and highly differentiated model of society—as I have demonstrated in detail elsewhere.18 If the Commendatore represents a society that conventionally sets as a standard, behaviour guided by the general public interest, and demands that this be applied in every unreconcilable altercation, then Don Giovanni represents a worldview that exclusively has its most private interests as its goal, without regard to particular circumstances. This means a confrontation between a purely individual and egomaniacal mode of conduct, in this case the exclusive gratification of the senses, and a diametrically opposed, traditional or conventional way of behaving guided by general public interests. Thus the egocentric world obviously posits emotionally-directed and individual wants, and brutally fulfills them, which as we know is demonstrated by the opening scene that ends with the death of the Commendatore. Musically, Mozart does set limits for Don Giovanni, by means of his preference for intervals of the fourth and the tritone, and the very narrow speaking-­range of his declamation and arias or ariosos. And at the end—if we leave aside the conventional ending—he intimates an essential explosive power even for conventional tonality, and leaves as a final message a question mark. Still, we imagine that we have experienced the dawn of the 12-tone-system, as Monteverdi during the confrontation of Seneca and Nero applied the modern stylistic features of the stile concitato. And we can recognize in the figures of Don Giovanni and the Commendatore a further facet of this Nero-Seneca argument, to some extent as a continuation of a confrontation that Monteverdi had initiated. Of course in its fundamental constellation—individualism versus republicanism or public interest— little had changed, but in detail an enormous re-weighting took place according to contemporary discussions and historical events.

8.3  Between “Truth” (in Rousseau’s sense) and Enlightenment On the other hand, there are generational confrontations of quite a different sort that take place on the opera stage at the same time. They are confrontations between older and younger generations, as they occur in Demofoonte,19 or in Idalide. Idalide, which was also titled Virgin of the Sun / Cora, etc., took up a theme popular at the time. In the decades of the Enlightenment that preceded the French Revolution, and inspired by Marmontel’s Les Incas, ou la Destruction de l’Empire du Pérou (The Incas: or the Destruction of the Empire of Peru), this theme dealt with the conquest of Peru, and thus the problematic conquest of South America. These are confrontations that also shift the standard of value and law, with regard to social-political and/ or ideological or even indirectly religious messages. In striving for a conventional happy ending, it is not so much a question of a deus ex machina that comes to the

 See n. 15.  [Demofoonte is a libretto by Metastasio that was very popular in the eighteenth century; it was set to music more than seventy times.]

18 19


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rescue, as in Mozart’s Idomeneo, or in Gluck’s Ifigenia, but much more it is about intellectual discourse between a younger generation that finds itself in existential desperation (as a rule, a couple in love), mostly represented by the lover, and an older ruler, priest, or father-figure. In the end, an insight into a new/different system of justice triumphs, whether it be “natural law”, or even a dispute mirrored in some ideas of the Enlightenment,20 whereby a traditional, and up to this point functioning legal system is disempowered. In a certain sense this gives testimony to modern and topical ideas concerning truth, the perception of nature, and the Enlightenment. For example, one such dispute takes place in Cherubini’s opera, Idalide. He composed it in 1783 for Florence, and perhaps indirectly it seems to realize an idea of the impresario, Campigli, namely to present a “Spettacolo in musica in luogo d’opera seria che crederà piu adatto ai tempi, e alle circostanze” (“spectacle in music instead of an opera seria, which could be more convenient for the period and the circumstances”).21,22 From this developed the commission for Cherubini’s third opera seria. It was for the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, and originated with Marmontel’s popular narrative, Les Incas, ou la Destruction de l’Empire du Perou of 1777, reworked as libretto by Fernando Moretti, and it fully reflects the French Enlightenment. This subject matter enjoyed extraordinary popularity during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, combining as it does glamour, exotic and foreign worlds, the savage with uncommon tragedy, and the fever of the discovery of the new continent—one only needs to think of the popularity of the writings of Alexander von Humboldt. The story is a model of Enlightenment ideas — and in opera productions it is often treated in that way. The central topic is a tragic love story. The protagonist, Idalide, is a consecrated virgin of the sun, and  —  because of an ancient law for priestesses — must relinquish her budding love for Enrico, a courageous and victorious Spanish knight, who knows how to win in battle, but has no conception of a valid foreign system of laws. Enrico and Idalide try to pacify their love’s torment through mutual renunciation. But an earthquake causes the priestesses’ temple to collapse, and Enrico rushes to save his beloved. This is a transgression that can be atoned for only by the death of the beloved, or if Idalide herself cannot be found, by the death of her closest relative, her father. Shortly before Idalide is to be executed by being buried alive,23 the horrified Enrico leads a dispute that results in changing the ruler’s mind, and thus in abolishing the old system of justice in favour of the prevailing natural law. Here the younger generation, and thus the enlightened European, represents a perspective that abolishes a law seen as inhumane that was applied by an older generation of a society considered, perhaps for that reason, to be

 On this point, see Bach (2016).  On this point see also Siegert (2008), especially pp. 342 ff.  22  On this point see Bach (2016). 23  On this point see also Siegert (2008), especially pp. 342 ff. 20 21

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barbaric. Thus we find ourselves again in the midst of political discourses that today have very new facets. In the discussion of the day, with its repeated critical judgements of the military procedure of the colonization of South America, especially when one carefully studies the very popular travel notebooks of an Alexander von Humboldt, the Idalide-material reflects back a European, Enlightenment aspect, more than a critique of colonialism.24 But is it the confrontation of distinct generations that is in question here, or will we rather see in these examples two as it were efficacious, parallel streams, exhibited by two generations?

8.4  “Dem ewig Jungen weicht in Wonne der Gott”25 If we recall the disillusioning meeting between Siegfried and Wotan, in Wagner’s Siegfried from the Ring of the Nibelung, the confrontation between generations is comparable, but differently oriented. There is a vehement confrontation here, too, but I don’t mean the one in which Siegfried kills Mime, whom he hates and deeply despises, but the one in which Wotan, “the old man”, as Siegfried calls him, stands in the way of the impetuous hero who has no fear and no respect, at the foot of the crag where Brünnhilde sleeps. After reflections about the end of the world and the end of his power, “Dem ewig Jungen weicht in Wonne der Gott”, or from his earlier conversation with Erda, “dem herrlichsten Wälsung weis ich mein Erbe nun an…,”26 Wotan reaches the decisive altercation in the second scene of Act III of Siegfried. It begins in apparent friendliness, with Wotan interrogating Siegfried until he must indirectly acknowledge his relative ignorance. Wotan turns the tables in their power-­ relationship, and Siegfried out of impotence slips into crudeness. “Was Lachst du mich aus? / Alter Frager! / Hör einmal auf, / lass’ mich nicht länger hier schwatzen. / Kannst du den Weg / mir weisen, so rede: / Vermagst du’s nicht, so halte dein Maul!“27 Wotan replies: “Geduld, du Knabe! / Dünk’ ich dich alt, so sollst du Achtung mir bieten.”28 To which Siegfried retorts: “Das wär nicht Übel! / So lange ich lebe, stand mir ein Alter / stets im Wege, den hab’ ich nun fort gefegt. / Stemmst du dort länger / steif dich mir entgegen, / sieh dich vor, sag’ ich, /dass Du wie Mime nicht fährst.”29  Over and over again, Peter Winch engaged with questions about strangers and friends, the limits to their perception of each other, and the possibilities of [mutual] understanding. See the complex discussions in his collections (Winch 1972, 1987). 25  “To the ever-young hero the god is delighted to yield”. (All translations of Siegfried are by William Mann (Wagner, R. 1876/1964). 26  “But now to a glorious Volsung I bequeath my inheritance.” 27  “Why are you laughing at me, inquisitive old chap? Just stop it; don’t keep me chatting here. If you can point the way out to me, well speak: if you can’t, then hold your tongue.” 28  “Patience, my lad. If I look old to you, then you should treat me with respect.” 29  “That’s a good one! All my life an old fellow’s been getting permanently in my way: now I’ve got rid of him. If you go on standing right in my light there, I tell you, watch out that you don’t go the way of Mime.” 24


H. Geyer

The scene then comes to a crisis. Siegfried now interrogates Wotan, to the sounds of a Polonaise, and no real agreement ensues. Wotan broods over the carelessly-­ brutal and snotty-nosed impudence of the young hero, and threatens, “Heut’ nicht wecke mir Neid: er vernichtete dich und mich!”30 Siegfried: “Bleibst du mir stumm, / störrischer Wicht? / Weich’ von der Stelle, / denn dorthin, ich weiß, / führt es zur schlafenden Frau.”31 This is not the end of the altercation, however, for Wotan designates himself the protector of the crag; he is still the father who aspires to shelter his daughter. The scene ends, as we know, with Wotan pointing out the raging flames protecting Brünnhilde, and Siegfried destroying Wotan’s spear with the sword he had forged himself. He comments, “Mit zerfocht’ner Waffe floh mir der Feige?”32 and makes his way on up the crag while Wotan disappears. The choice of the Polonaise, the sometimes wild Polish peasant dance, takes on an ironic character, and essentially undermines this scene.33 In the end, after the insult and the demonstration of the Darwinian power-relationship which naturally sides with the younger, Wotan hands over authority to the younger man. The older and wiser must give way to the naïf fool, the stronger and more brutal, and also to the one who does not wish to know. And yet everything develops according to Wotan’s plan, as he had declared it in the discussion with Erda in the previous scene: “dem herrlichsten Wälsung weis ich mein Erbe nun an. / Der von mir erkoren, / doch nie mich gekannt.”34 And thus the way is prepared for the conclusion. Do we have in this moment a mere transfer of power, or the foreshadowing of an ultimate, visionary redemption?

8.5  “ Oh I could have saved him…. But he has saved me… and blessed me….” In conclusion, let me take up once more the problem of the justice system, this time as discussed by the now aged Naval Commander, Captain Vere. In looking back on his life, he discusses a difficult decision: he condemned to death a young seaman, Billy Budd, in accordance with the law of the sea and martial law. In Benjamin Britten’s opera, Billy Budd, the decisive confrontation has a three-part structure: on one side stands the neutral Captain Vere; across from him are the two diametrically contrasting opponents.35 The protagonist, Billy Budd, is characterized by innocence, thus endowed with a “white” (in the best sense), beautiful, credulous and good natured soul. He is similarly characterized  “Do not rouse my anger today; it could ruin yourself and me.”  “Are you keeping mum, you aggravating fellow? Move out of the way, for I know that direction leads to the sleeping woman.” 32  “Now his spear is shattered, the coward’s run off, has he?” 33  On the meaning of the Polonaise and other allusions that are connected with the original classification of Siegfried as a “heroic comedy”, see Geyer-Kiefl 1987, 203 ff. 34  “But now to a glorious Volsung I bequeath my inheritance. Though he was chosen by me, he still does not know me; the brave lad, unaided by advice from me….”. 35  I do not discuss any questions of gender or sexual orientation here, because this might obscure the central point I want to make. 30 31

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by grace and beauty of body and character, though he has a fatal defect: in stressful situations he becomes tongue-­tied and therefore is unable to express himself. Billy Budd was impressed to serve on the British warship Indomitable, where he found the Masterat-Arms, Claggart, to be a furious adversary, merely because of Billy’s moral and physical purity. Claggart charged him with mutiny, and Billy Budd did not know how to defend himself with words, only with his fist. The blow killed Claggart. The courtmartial was held before Captain Vere, who is convinced that Billy Budd is innocent. Captain Vere was the only witness to this altercation, and fully conscious that Claggart’s false accusation was aimed at the death sentence; it was a murderous intrigue. Vere nonetheless invokes martial law (the only valid law for him in this situation): death by hanging, because Budd had struck his superior and killed him. Britten finds a conciliatory dénouement in the famous cabin scene, where Vere informs Budd of the death sentence, and again during the hanging scene, and finally in the Epilogue of the opera. But what theme was being discussed here in 1951?36 In the Epilogue, Vere acknowledges the other possibility, namely that he might have not convicted Budd, because he had acted in self-defence, was deprived of the capacity to speak, and Vere knew he was innocent. At the end of his life, Captain Vere analyses again the problem of this justification of the death sentence that he thought he had to impose according to the laws of the sea and of combat. On the other hand there was Vere’s proper conviction that Budd had only killed the superior officer in self-defence in the face of the mortal threat from Claggart, because he was incapable of defending himself with words. The verdict in the end, therefore, was a verdict against Vere’s own proper conviction. Finally, this is a dispute about precedence: martial law over psychological understanding, or natural law — over the insight into the psychology of an inability to speak. Perhaps the intrigue, and thus the principle of “evil”, has won out in the end? In Britten, and in Forster and Crozier’s adaptation of Melville’s novel, Vere finds peace. He knows himself at peace with Billy Budd, musically expressed through the harmonies in the cabin scene (the verdict-delivering scene), and the Epilogue. Vere declares in the Prologue: “I am an old man, who has experienced much. I have been a man of action and have fought for my King and Country at sea…. I have also read books, … and studied… and pondered… and tried to fathom eternal truth….” With these words began the reflection on what was surely the most moving and difficult decision in the life of the old Captain, and he concludes with these words: Oh I could have saved him. He knew it, and even his shipmates knew it, though earthly laws silenced them. Oh what have I done? But he has saved me… and blessed me…. I am an old man now… and my mind can go back in peace… to that faraway summer of seventeen hundred and ninety-seven… long ago now, years ago, years ago, centuries ago…. (Britten 1961)37

 The reference is to the first production of Billy Budd, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1 December 1951. 37  Britten (1961) and see the detailed analysis in Geyer (1996). See also Reid (2019). 36


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Old age on the opera stage, therefore, does not exclusively mean the portrayal of comical characters, as in Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, or in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, where a social masquerade is being deconstructed. Rather, manifold possibilities are displayed, which allow deeply-rooted ethical and political themes to be discussed and fundamentally set in order—themes that can have uncommon power and relevance even today. The few examples that we have presented here have been subject in recent years to increased scrutiny. They show that opera has pursued and continues to pursue, both in itself and hence on stage, political implications. It does so with the help of characters who approach a certain singularity due to their age. They in turn are presented as examples which promote fundamental reflections on world orderings, social orderings, systems of justice, and universal phenomena of ethical values, all of which have dealt since time immemorial with what it is to be human. They serve us as stimulation, critique, and possibly as (warning) exemplars.38

References Bach, S. (2016). Von Metastasio zu Marmontel. Demophon am Übergang vom italienischen zum französischen Opernschaffen Cherubinis. In I. H. Geyer & M. Pauser (Eds.), Cherubini Studies (pp. 145–176). Sinzig: Studio-Verlag. Britten, B. (Composer), Forster, E.  M., Crozier, E. (Librettists), & E.  Stein (Vocal score). (1951/1961). Billy Budd: An Opera in Two Acts, Opus 50 (Revised version). London: Boosey & Hawkes. Carapezza, P.  E. (1974). Figaro e Don Giovanni—due folli giornate.  Puncta 2. Palermo: SF Flaccovio. Dallapiccola, L. (1950). “A propos d’un trait ‘expressionniste’ de Mozart.” Polyphonie—quatrème cahier: le système dodecaphonicque 4, 72–79. Geyer, H. (1996) “Billy Budd. Ein Moderner Mythos. Überlegungen zu Brittens Allegorie von Gut und Böse”. In P. Ackermann, U. Kienzle & A. Nowak (Eds.), Festschrift für Winfried Kirsch zum 65. Geburtstag (pp. 511–527). Tutzing: Schneider. Geyer-Kiefl, H. (1987). Die heroisch-komische Oper ca. 1770–1820 (Vol. 1). Tutzing: Hans Schneider. Geyer, H. (2001). “Tritonus—Grenzstein des ‘Jenseits’.” In H. Geyer, M. Jabłonski & J. Stęszewski (Eds.). Music in the World of Ideas (pp. 103–122). Poznag: Ars Nova. Monteverdi, C. (Composer), & Busenello, G.  F. (Libtrettist). (1642/1931). L’Incoronazione di Poppea (SV 308) [The Coronation of Poppea]. In G.F. Malipiero (Ed.), Claudio Monteverdi: Tutte le opere. Vienna. Monteverdi, C. (Composer), & Busenello, G.  F. (Libtrettist), Schulz, H. (Ed.). (1642/2017). L’Incoronazione di Poppea (SV 308). Kassel: Bärenreiter. Osthoff, W. (1960). Das dramatische Spätwerk Claudio Monteverdis [Claudio Monteverdi’s Late Dramatic Works]. In T. Georgiades (Ed.), Münchener Veröffentlichungen zur Musikgeschichte [Munich Publications in Music History], Volume 3. Tutzing: Schneider. (2 volumes.)

 I am very obliged to Steven Burns for the English version of this paper, and for his helpful comments and discussion.


8  Aspects of Period-Turns


Reid, L. (2019). The ethical and the political in the dilemma of Winch’s Vere. In B. de Mesel & O. Kuusela (Eds.), Ethics in the Wake of Wittgenstein (pp. 256–276). Routledge: NY. Rogers, N. (1984). Translation for Monteverdi. L’Orfeo. Chiaroscuro, London Baroque, London Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble. Nigel Rogers and Charles Medlam. EMI CDS 7 47142 8. Compact Disc. Siegert, C. (2008). Cherubini in Florenz: Zur Funktion der Oper in der toskanischen Gesellschaft des späten 18. Jahrhunderts (= Analecta Musicologica, 41). Laaber: Böhlau Verlag. Wagner, R. (1876/1964). Siegfried [Pocket Score] (W.  Mann, Trans.). London: The Friends of Covent Garden, London. Winch, P. (1972). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1987/1992). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Versuch zu Verstehen (J. Schulte, Trans.). Frankfurt am Main. Yeld, D. (2010). Translation for Monteverdi. L’Incoronazione di Poppea. Concerto Vocale. René Jacobs. Harmonia Mundi (Monteverdi Opera Edition, HML 5901330.32). Compact Disc.  Helen Geyer is Professor of Musicology at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt Weimar. She is the author of over 100 articles and several monographs, including Aspetti dell’oratorio veneziano nel tardo Settecento (Venedig 1985), Die heroisch-komische Oper. 1770–1820 (2 Bde.,Tutzing 1987), and Das Venezianische Oratorium 1750–1830. Einzigartiges Phänomen und musikdramatisches Experiment (2 Bde., Laaber 2005).  

Chapter 9

The Identity of Man – Winch Between Spinoza, Weil, and Wittgenstein Sarah Tropper

9.1  Introduction In the 1980s, Peter Winch gave several seminars and lectures on Spinoza’s philosophical system, in which he not only tried to encourage his students to engage seriously with the complex thought and system of Spinoza, but also tried to connect it to his own interests and viewpoints as well as to aspects of the philosophies of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil. But what motivated Winch to bring together such seemingly widely different philosophical systems and what was the importance he saw in Spinoza’s system? Talking about Winch and his relation to figures that now are most frequently taken to belong to the history of philosophy is not an easy task. It might even be said that Winch himself by now belongs to the history of philosophy and that our interest should also be a historical one. If that were the approach taken in this paper, then it might serve to clarify both what the purpose of engaging in the history of philosophy in general could be and the approach Winch takes towards his subject matter. But instead of approaching the topic at hand in such a traditional manner, discussing interpretative stances on Spinoza and considering legitimate uses of the history of philosophy, we might take here Winch’s lead and follow him in an endeavour that was for him clearly as important as the analysis and reconstruction of historical texts, an attitude evidenced in the way he expresses his own relationship with Wittgenstein and his philosophy: “[M]y attitude to Wittgenstein’s work has always been one of gratitude for the help it has given me in seeing what are the important questions, and what kinds of questions they are, rather than that of an aspiring exegete” (Winch 1987, 1). The philosophies of Spinoza and Wittgenstein, and to a lesser extent those of Winch and Weil—even when we confine ourselves to a narrow and rather specific area of philosophical interest—have already received much S. Tropper (*) Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, Klagenfurt, Austria © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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discussion and even just recapitulating them would be an impossible task for such a short paper. The emphasis in this paper is therefore not predominantly a historical one, but, rather, to gain an understanding as to what were the important issues Winch discovered in Spinoza’s system and why it was this early modern philosopher— rather than any of the others such as Descartes, Leibniz, Locke or Hume—whose thought was of particular interest for him throughout his philosophical career. Asking the question this way makes it clear that our interest here is, like Winch’s in Wittgenstein, not one of exegesis or reconstruction, but rather to find those questions that are still of particular relevance to us today. I will aim to show that in his reading of Spinoza Winch’s chief interest is the sense of the irreducible and irreplaceable character and perspective of the human individual as it features in epistemological as well as in ethical situations. Since Winch’s lectures are currently unpublished, I will quote extensively from them, so that the reader can get a more accurate picture of the view Winch offers in them than a summary would otherwise provide.1 Given the nature of Spinoza’s philosophical system, it will be required, in the first part, to follow Winch’s analysis of its metaphysical and epistemological aspects, before turning to the ethical individual in the second part.

9.2  W  inch’s Approach to Spinoza: Understanding Ourselves and the World Before we can turn to Winch’s reconstruction of Spinoza’s Ethics in order to see what he found of particular interest in it, let me say a few preliminary words about the book itself, its structure and its content. Its full title is Ethics Demonstrated in Geometrical Order (Ethica, ordine geometrico demonstrata),2 which has often been taken to require that the work is best understood as “one geometrical demonstration that begins from definitions and axioms arranged in a geometrical order in Spinoza’s sense, which at least appear to be essential definitions of basic metaphysical concepts and laws, and then adds more and more definitions and axioms […]” (Garrett 2018, 32).3 According to this reading, the starting points are the basic definitions and axioms of metaphysics, such as those of ‘God’, ‘substance’, ‘mode’, etc. and its

1  The version I will quote from is derived from transcriptions of Peter Winch’s seminars, supplemented by his unpublished lecture notes. See Peter Winch (2019). Lectures on Spinoza: Ethics and Understanding. Ed. by Michael Campbell and Sarah Tropper (Unpublished manuscript). For the original material, see the Peter Winch Collection at King’s College London Archives, Reference Code GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171. 2  Abbreviations for the Ethics (=E) in the following are Roman numerals indicating the individual parts of the Ethics, p = proposition, s = scholium, pref = preface (hence EIIp43s is Ethics, Part 2, Proposition 43, Scholium). 3  For an overview of interpretations concerning the import of the ‘geometrical order’, see Steenbakkers 2009.

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propositions (Part I), followed by an analysis of mind, body, knowledge (Part II), the affects, activity and passivity (Part III), of ‘human bondage’, i.e. of man’s lack of control over the affects (Part IV), and of what freedom amounts to in a deterministic Spinozistic system in terms of human knowledge and blessedness (Part V). For Winch, on the other hand, the explanatory priority in reading and understanding Spinoza should be placed elsewhere. Criticising Jonathan Bennett for his dismissal of discussions in later parts of the Ethics, passages which lay out, as Winch calls it, Spinoza’s “ethical vision”, he says: For unless we see the life Spinoza attempts to describe in Parts 4 and 5 as the culmination towards which the metaphysics of the earlier Parts is directed from the start, I believe we shall miss some important aspects of the metaphysics. (Winch 1986, 141)

It is, therefore, maybe of little surprise that Winch does not adhere strictly to the order of the Ethics in his own lectures on Spinoza’s philosophy. Most notably, Winch reverses to a certain extent  the order of Parts I and II, thereby taking the answer to the question as to what knowledge is and how the mind comes to know (Part II) as fundamental for questions of metaphysics (Part I). He, thus, does not follow Spinoza’s reasoning that appears to lead him from definitions of substance, mode and God (among other important concepts) via a proof for substance monism (there is only one substance, that is ‘God or Nature’) and the claim that all finite things are nothing but modifications of that one substance, to the theory of the human mind and of knowledge. But it would be too simplistic to view this procedure as being nothing other than Winch putting epistemology before metaphysics (and both of them before ethics). In fact, all of these areas are for Winch’s Spinoza intimately connected. The main question of the Ethics, Winch claims, is a metaphysico-­epistemological-cum-ethical one: What is it to judge and how must the world be constituted in order for any judgement to be possible? This entails, according to Winch, the further question as to how the individual, not only as an epistemological but also as an ethical subject, is constituted. This becomes clear in the beginning of the lectures, where Winch sets out with a comparison between Spinoza’s Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (in the following: TIE), one of his earlier works, and Descartes’s Discourse of Method. His aim is to establish in the first instance that there is a fundamental difference between Spinoza’s and Descartes’s views as to what belongs to the core of a philosophical system. The former, according to Winch, regards theoretical and practical concerns as deeply interwoven, while the latter abandons practical concerns in favour of theoretical ones. On this reading, the aim of both the TIE and the Ethics is a clarification of the notion of the true good and blessedness, i.e. they both aim at the elucidation of ideas relevant to practice and concerning questions as to how to lead one’s life rather than having primarily the justification of knowledge at their hearts. But because, at the same time, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are, according to Spinoza, relative to man, any clarification of these notions requires an understanding of the nature of man, which in turn requires an understanding of the relation of man to his surroundings: “So the enquiry broadens into a general metaphysical one: into the nature of the ‘world’ and of man’s ‘place’ in it” (Winch 2019).


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But Winch does not stop at claiming that there is an intimate connection between various philosophical sub-disciplines in Spinoza. He, furthermore, diagnoses a single foundational principle that grounds the unification of the various parts of the Ethics: The driving force, for his Spinoza, is understanding.4 We must understand the relevant relationships of man to his surroundings and therefore we must understand the involved relata. But in order to improve our understanding of these issues, we must further understand the mechanisms and workings of understanding itself. At this point, the contrast between Spinoza and Descartes—that for Spinoza there are no purely theoretical concerns, since such concerns are always dependent or essentially related to practical concerns—becomes the clearest: Generalising, we can say that Spinoza’s enquiry has ethical, metaphysical and epistemological aspects, all internally related. Ethics presupposes both metaphysics and epistemology; the former, because the good life for men is something that requires understanding and the latter, because the nature of man and of the world and of the relation between them has to be understood. And metaphysics presupposes epistemology because we have to enquire what sort of understanding man is capable of and what sort of understanding it is possible to have of these particular kinds of questions. But epistemology presupposes metaphysics too, since understanding is itself a relation of man to the world and to himself, and we need to grasp the nature of the terms of this relation. (Winch 2019)

Having identified understanding as the starting point for his approach to the Ethics, Winch naturally focuses on the notion of ‘idea’ as employed by Spinoza. In contrast to other early modern conceptions, a Spinozistic idea is an act of the understanding which makes a claim for truth independently of its particular content.5 In other words, on Winch’s reading of Spinoza, an idea has the character of a judgement or proposition; it is a judgement in which something is asserted to be true of something else. Fundamentally, therefore, “an idea points beyond itself” (Winch 2019) at some object or situation other than itself. And, Winch thinks, there are good grounds to accept this view. If it is accepted, it undercuts a certain (in

4  This driving notion of ‘understanding’ in Winch might be best contrasted with Della Rocca’s interpretation of Spinoza’s system as a “rationalism on steroids”: According to Della Rocca, everything is for Spinoza in principle understandable because of his adherence to the Principle of Sufficient Reason and the uniformity of laws according to which all things behave, which is itself connected to that principle. On this reading, our understanding of the world is itself a consequence of another principle rather than being the driving principle. (Della Rocca 2008, 4–6). Closer to Winch’s approach seems to be Ursula Renz’s, who summarizes her general claim regarding Spinoza’s system as follows: “subjective experience is explainable, and its successful explanation is of ethical relevance because it makes us wiser, freer, and happier” (Renz 2018, 1). 5  Winch invokes EIIp43s in support of this reading: “For no one who has a true idea is unaware that a true idea involves the highest certainty. For to have a true idea means nothing other than knowing a thing perfectly, or in the best way. And of course no one can doubt this unless he thinks that an idea is something mute, like a picture on a tablet, and not a mode of thinking, viz. the very [act of] understanding. And I ask, who can know that he understands some thing unless he first understands it? I.e., who can know that he is certain about some thing unless he is first certain about it? What can there be which is clearer and more certain than a true idea, to serve as a standard of truth? As the light makes both itself and the darkness plain, so truth is the standard both of itself and of the false” (Spinoza 1985, 479).

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particular Cartesian) brand of scepticism regarding the existence and the accessibility of the external world. If the content of an idea is given by reference to some situation or some way the world is, then to doubt the existence of the world is not to render the ideas false or unjustified, but to undercut that on which the intelligibility of language rests: But the essential point is that, as it were, in its original primitive appearance, the idea is a representation of another situation. And this has to be accepted if anything is to be said at all. We can’t use language to cast doubt on the possibility of language. There can’t be ‘doubt concerning the possibility of language’, for that would have to be expressed in language. As Spinoza says, the only way such a doubt could express itself would be silence.6 (Winch 2019)

Or, as he says later on in the lectures, if hyperbolic doubt were be exercised, it would not yield a first secure truth, because this doubt “will equally undermine confidence in the intelligibility of our attempts to express the cogito. On Descartes’s argument we couldn’t even be sure we were expressing anything intelligible when we made those sounds” (Winch 2019). Winch’s Spinoza, thus, does not follow the Cartesian path that leads to the question as to whether there is anything that corresponds to our ideas, since to form this question in a meaningful way already requires us to presuppose that there is something concerning which the question is being asked. The important aspect for Winch’s Spinoza is not, therefore, whether the things represented exist, but whether our ideas adequately represent their objects: “I may have a distorted idea of what the world is like, but it cannot be that there is no world corresponding to my ideas; the existence of the world is a presupposition of my having any ideas” (Winch 2019). That means that the problem of the existence of the world is a non-starter: the world is given with ideas, since ideas are ideas of a world. Here Winch insinuates an analogy to Wittgenstein’s reasoning in the Tractatus that “if there were a logic, even if there were no world, how then could there be a logic, since there is a world?” (Wittgenstein 1922, 5.5521): The “experience” which we need to understand logic is not that such and such is the case, but that something is; but that is no experience. Logic precedes every experience—that something is so. It is before the How, not before the What. (Wittgenstein 1922, 5.552)

Spinoza’s point, according to Winch, is that the fact that we are thinking already guarantees that there is a world. But as much as there is no place for universal doubt, this means at the same time that there are constraints exercised on our thoughts by their objects, the world. Doubt cannot be mandated as a universal approach to our ideas (as Descartes would have it in order to secure absolutely certain knowledge), because doubt arises from the ideas themselves, not from an additional judgement that is added to the idea. In addition, we do not have free reign over the content of our thought. All human thought is essentially constrained by the world and, given the relation of ideas and their objects, the ideas belong to a system of judgements as 6  Winch has here probably Spinoza’s comments on skeptics in Treatise on the Emendation on the Intellect in mind (see Spinoza 1985, 22).


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much as their objects belong to a system of physical causes. Therefore, “[t]he conditions which make it possible for me to think at all also constrain me to think certain things and prevent me from thinking other things” (Winch 2019). In a nutshell, what allows one to think at all and prohibits universal doubt at the same time constrains one to think certain things rather than others. Error is thus not, and cannot be, a complete absence of correspondence with reality, since the relation to reality is what determines thinking with respect to certain things (rather than others) in the first place. For Spinoza, there is not an idea and something completely independent of it (an external object), but it is ideas that represent a corresponding reality more or less adequately. Thus ‘true ideas’ represent adequately, while error is due to ‘false ideas’, which represent more or less inadequately. Adequacy is to be understood as the clarity and distinctness with which the relations of a given thought to other thoughts in the system are perceived. Hence ideas cannot be imagistic but must involve truth claims or are qua ideas also assertions: They claim that something is the case or, as Winch stresses, they are the ‘putting together’ of a subject and a predicate in the form of a judgement. In such a system, where judgement and ideas fall together, doubt and error have the same basis, namely inadequate ideas, while their difference lies in the fact that in the case of doubt, the idea makes it clear that the data is insufficient for assertion while false ideas lack the clarity that the thing that is affirmed should not in fact be affirmed and they have thus the appearance of constraining in the sense of demanding affirmation. Error is, then, having an idea or act of understanding that demands affirmation as true without being of a sufficiently adequate character. In this sense, falsity is a privation of truth and requires a relation to truth: “I can’t be wrong about everything. [Because, in that case, w]hat would I be wrong ‘about’?” (Winch 2019). The impossibility of hyperbolic doubt because of the nature of ideas also impacts the question of the right method for seeking the truth: According to Winch’s Spinoza, there cannot be a question as to how to conduct an inquiry that is independent of the inquiry itself (TIE, Spinoza 1985, 16–17). We have an inbuilt capacity or a ‘true idea’ on which any kind of method must be based (EIIp43s). And a progressive increase in understanding of the original inquiry, which we are always already undertaking, is at the same time an increase in knowledge and a path towards wisdom. Spinoza is insisting (rightly, it seems to me) that the connection between subject and predicate in a judgement presupposes the form of enquiry to which the judgement belongs. He is also insisting (and this is more questionable) that a form of enquiry presupposes the possibility of giving definite answers to the questions it raises; and also (even more questionably) that there are no fundamental logical differences between different forms of enquiry involving different relations between the procedures for seeking answers and the giving of such answers.7 (Winch 2019)

The claim that we are always already having a ‘true idea’ and are always already undertaking our own inquiries into the truth of things ties in with Spinoza’s claim about the relative nature of good and bad as individual perspectives on things (TIE,

 To see what motivates this assessment, see Winch 1958.


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Spinoza 1985, 10; EIVpref, Spinoza 1985, 545): Any inquiry into the true good has to begin from the individual’s relative perspective on the world and the ideas available to that individual. There is, for inquiry, no godlike perspective to be taken—a point that Winch finds reflected in Wittgenstein’s remark that “[a] curious analogy could be based on the fact that the eye-piece of even the hugest telescope cannot be bigger than our eye” (Wittgenstein 1980/1998, 25). We see here how certain of Winch’s views on Spinoza’s underlying reasoning and motivation for his metaphysics come together with the importance of the concrete individual and the constraints that the world puts on its ideas: The aspect of Cartesianism that is under criticism is the supposition that our ideas might have no truth in them—the supposition, I mean, not merely that we might be mistaken about something, but that we might be mistaken about everything. It’s a sort of attempt to prise away, to consider our ideas in complete distinction from any truth that they might have in them. Spinoza attempts to show that a supposition that our ideas are radically dissociated from any world will land us into confusion which there is no way out of. Such a supposition can’t provide the basis for any search for truth. (Winch 2019)

To summarize Winch’s take on Spinoza’s account of ideas and their essential perspectival character: An idea is not an image, but has the character of an assertion and thus has a claim to truth. An idea is not an isolated occurrence and entails not only something asserted, but in addition also a connection with ideas of other things. Therefore, ideas not only intrinsically involve a claim to truth, but they are also not completely arbitrary and are constrained in important respects (TIE, Spinoza 1985, 28; EIIp43s), because they are the ‘very act of understanding’ (EIIp43s) and involve a relation with other ideas, i.e. are embedded in and imply various ideas of a greater causal nexus. For Spinoza, therefore, the mere having of an idea is already and necessarily a judgement that something is the case, there is at least some truth in it, what is the case constrains the judgement, and the judgement’s object is an integral and real mental constituent of it. He puts these considerations more clearly in his review of Bennett’s A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics: Now, it is true that we cannot as it were identify a given idea except by saying what is its object […]. However, we must not forget that corresponding to the fact that we cannot identify a given idea except by reference to its object is the fact that we cannot identify a given physical thing, situation or event except by forming an idea of it. If, for instance, I report that Paul reached out his hand and switched on the light, then the physical movements and processes which I am referring to are those which answer to my understanding of what switching on a light is. There is only a reference to a physical event where there is an intelligible thought that that event takes place. (Winch 1986, 146–47)

Hence it is not the case that everything that has the grammatical form of a judgement and might be put forward as if it were an assertion is in fact a genuine judgement and thus a genuine idea. It is not the outward form of the utterance that can assure us that the utterer is communicating a genuine idea. To use Winch’s example: ‘l shall defeat Wellington at Waterloo tomorrow.’ Uttered (or ‘thought’) by Napoleon the day before the battle, that may express Napoleon’s judgment. Uttered (or ‘thought’) by me now it certainly does not. It does not make sense to suppose that I, now, could make that judgment. Why not? It can have no intelligible relation to my present situation; and that situation includes what I know about myself, my surroundings and Wellington. (Winch 2019)


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Any isolated items of ‘knowledge’ (such as the Cartesian cogito or any arbitrary composition of terms with the outward form of a grammatically correct sentence) lack connections to other judgements and to the world as it presents itself to the individual in question, and would therefore not be considered to be genuine ideas. While the tight connection between subject and predicate might seem more obvious in the case of, for example, simple geometrical judgments (see EIIp49), it is also and even more so in the case of empirical judgments: Empirical judgements are only meaningful if the judgement is connected to a causal system of supporting judgements. So the structure of an idea (‘the connection of subject and predicate’) comes from the reality which is its object. As the idea belongs to a system of ideas, so its object (if something physical) belongs to a physical system. The object of this system of ideas is the system of physical causes and effects. Spinoza expresses this in his talk about thought and extension both being attributes of the same substance. The constraints to which thought is subject (expressed in the subject-predicate relation) are exercised by the intellectual system of which it is a part, which is identified by reference to its subject matter (physical reality). What Spinoza is getting at is that there would be no articulated thought, hence no inquiry, discovery, knowledge, were thinking not part of the very same world of the physical causes and effects which form its object or subject matter. (This is of course contrary to the view of Descartes.) The more a given idea represents of the connection of causes and effects the firmer and more determinate is its own structure; the more is it ‘adequate’. (Winch 2019)

Here mathematical and empirical judgement are on a par: The more clearly one understands the context in which the judgement is embedded, the more determinate becomes the judgement and the less it is possible to judge otherwise. In order to make a genuine judgement rather than just putting words or images together, I must have some understanding of the context in which this judgement is embedded. Unless there are some further supporting reasons, ideas, or judgements, it can be questioned whether a sentence that is uttered as if it were an assertion in fact is one. That judgments are given with the world and constrained by it, but are therefore also always to a minimal degree true, might also provide an alternative underpinning for and relate to Winch’s early conviction that truthful speaking is the norm in any society and that any human society is always also a moral society that is characterized by a shared language and the exercise of intelligence (Winch 1959/1972, 239–40). And, as Wittgenstein says, “the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life” (Wittgenstein 1953/1958, §23), and “[i]t is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions, but in form of life” (Wittgenstein 1953/1958, §241). Hence there is a certain agreement that grounds the fact that humans can and do belong to a society or a shared life form, but there is a further and equally important aspect of the position each human occupies in the universe. The constraint by the world on the individual’s perception and experience also means that, while there is truth in all ideas, we are embedded in a nexus of physical causes that determine our bodily states and therefore our judgements and which determine, thereby, also individual perspectives on the world. And this, given what has been said so far, is not only of epistemological, but also moral, consequence.

9  The Identity of Man – Winch Between Spinoza, Weil, and Wittgenstein


9.3  Man’s Fragmented and Unique Position In his “Particularity and Morals”, Winch cites Spinoza as an ally in his opposition to moral systems that operate on the assumption or invocation of objective, general, rational moral principles. This criticism is based on the unique point of reference that each moral individual occupies in the network of causes or nature and which cannot and should not be neglected by moral philosophy. We have to view each moral agent as an individual with particular interests and in a particular situation and therefore the assumption that what has to or should be done in a particular situation can be generalized is deeply problematic, to say the least: Opponents of Kant since Schopenhauer have retorted that a rational principle could not of itself dispose of the force necessary to make a man act counter to his own strong interests. That force could come only from some strong practical engagement of the agent in the situation in which he has to act. It is the same point as that made by Spinoza: ‘An emotion can only be controlled or destroyed by another emotion contrary thereto, and with more power for controlling emotion.’ And: ‘A true knowledge of good and evil cannot check any emotion by virtue of being true, but only in so far as it is considered as an emotion.’ [E4p7, p14] In fact Spinoza maintained (in my opinion with some justice) that ‘knowledge of good and evil’, expressed in a purely general way, is a confused form of awareness. In his view I can attain clarity only through a sharpening of my perception of the particular circumstances which characterize my individual presence in the world, a sharpening of perception which is at the same time a purification of my practical involvement. Since the most important aspect of this practical involvement is involvement with other human beings, what is required is an account of our knowledge and understanding of other human beings which will make it possible to see how such knowledge and understanding can of itself impose moral bounds on our will. An account that would achieve this is one which makes recognition of such moral bounds on the will a criterion for the knowledge and understanding of human beings that is in question. (Winch 1987, 173)

This passage provides some insight not only into Winch’s view on Spinoza’s moral philosophy, but also into the reasons for his sympathy for Spinoza’s whole philosophical system. The constitution of any human being is deeply and inextricably embedded in her surroundings, which constrain not only her thoughts, but also her emotions and actions, while being part of the whole of nature and governed by general laws. In their presence, composition and influence, they are unique to each individual and shape the character of her being as well as the possibilities she will entertain in each situation in which she has to make a decision. And it is these circumstances and their relevance for the individual from their own point of view that need to be understood if we want to say with any justification that we understand the individual in question. This mirrors Winch’s own philosophical view that “[a] proper understanding of the character and importance of human individuality will alter our sense of both the moral subject and those to whom he is responsive” (Gaita 1990, 118). While understanding an individual involves seeing that  individual thing and event in its relation to the whole, it is nonetheless still the case that for man as a finite being it is virtually impossible to achieve such an infinitely complex view, not only of other individuals, but also concerning their own position. Our position in the


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world, by virtue of our limited nature, is determined to be fragmented and distorted. Men are part of this natural order, they are subject to and driven about by a wide variety of external and internal causes that are impossible to grasp in all their details, but this neither dispenses with the need to understand those circumstances as well as possible nor is it an evaluative statement, and even less an invitation to despair. Rather, understanding and analysing the world and our understanding of it, seeing that each of us is neither fully in control of our actions nor our circumstances, is understanding a fact about the structure of the world: “if men are subject to emotions, it’s a feature of the natural order that they should be so. And our task, as Spinoza understands it, is simply to understand this situation, not to denounce it” (Winch 2019). From this limited and fragmented view of the world arises also the importance of individual interests that each agent attaches to certain things but not to others. For Spinoza, man has some understanding of forces acting on him because it is his body that is acted on by these forces, but because of his spatial location in a greater network of causes that is the whole of nature, he is at the same time “limited to that aspect of them which is relevant to their effects on him” (Winch 2019). The limitation of a perspective is therefore not only with respect to knowledge, but also with respect to individual interests of greatest importance. Each man will have a view of things and people that is distorted insofar as he has particular interests that are influenced by those aspects that have a bearing on his particular finite concerns. Hence, for Winch’s Spinoza, it is this attachment to the finite that is at the same time the essence of ‘human bondage’.8 Freedom, on the other hand, would be to view all things sub specie aeternitatis as equally real and necessary and thus detaching oneself from certain particular things. Based on Spinoza’s claim that the degree of adequacy of ideas is mirrored by the body (EVp39), Winch rejects a superficial reading of this passage that reduces it to the claim that those, whose ideas are more adequate, have a healthier or more versatile body, in favour of a reading that allows for more adequate ideas not only to influence one’s bodily constitution, but to move one away from bondage by extending one’s body into the greater causal network: “a man whose ideas are adequate will live differently from one whose ideas are inadequate, live in such a way that his own body is not the centre of his activities. In a sense he will increasingly come to treat the whole extended universe as ‘his body’” (Winch 2019). With this reconstruction, Winch broadens Spinoza’s explicit conception of the effects of an increase in knowledge or adequate ideas and merges it with some aspects of Simone Weil’s thought, who utilizes an analogy with a blind man’s stick in order to express a similar sounding position: One should identify oneself with the universe itself. Everything that is less than the universe is subjected to suffering [being partial and consequently exposed to outside forces]. 8  See EIVpref: “Man’s lack of power to moderate and restrain the affects I call Bondage. For the man who is subject to affects is under the control, not of himself, but of fortune, in whose power he so greatly is that often, though he sees the better for himself, he is still forced to follow the worse” (Spinoza 1985, 543).

9  The Identity of Man – Winch Between Spinoza, Weil, and Wittgenstein


Even though I die, the universe continues. That does not console me if I am anything other than the universe. If, however, the universe is, as it were, another body to my soul, my death ceases to have any more importance for me than that of a stranger. The same is true of my sufferings. Let the whole universe be for me, in relation to my body, what the stick of a blind man is in relation to his hand. His sensibility really no longer resides in his hand, but at the end of his stick. (Weil 1956, 19)9

Each individual is the centre of a variety of forces that push and pull him in various directions, but greater knowledge and understanding of that state would extend the reach of one’s body and alter one’s attitude towards the world. Ultimately, a position of fully understanding one’s place and the forces impacting it is, for Weil probably as much as for Winch’s Spinoza, an ideal state and not achievable for any finite individual. But, further, an individual would—so it seems—also cease to be a finite individual, or at least an individual in a moral sense, if it were to achieve such an identification with the universe to the ultimate degree. Therefore, we have in our daily encounters to deal with an essential human limitation in the understanding of our surroundings and therefore our emotions remain, to the degree that we lack this understanding, unstable and we continue to be driven about by external causes. But this does not preclude the improvement of our understanding and thereby a change in our attitude towards the world. A consequence of our human condition is for Spinoza, according to Winch, that we are confused about the concepts of good and evil. And this is not a trivial or, as I feel inclined to say, ‘merely local’ confusion, as would be, say, confusion about the distinction between a sonnet and an epigram. To be confused about the nature of good and evil is to be confused about one’s own nature and about the nature of one’s relation to the rest of the world. (Winch 2019)

This confusion about the nature of good and bad, according to Winch, is not located in the fact that we use ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in an egocentric fashion and relative to us insofar as they are an expression of our own desires,10 but it arises when we assume that there is good in things themselves. Since good and evil are nothing but expressions of our desires, any change in what things we consider to be good or bad and how we consider them to be good or bad can only follow from a change in our desires. “Of course our use of the words [‘good’ and ‘bad’] may change. Spinoza’s point is that if our use of the words did change in this crucial respect, the words would express different concepts entirely. Cf. Wittgenstein Zettel: if we speak according to a different grammar we are not doing something ‘wrong’—we are speaking of something different” (Winch 2019).11 This is not to say that we cannot change what we consider good or bad, but that this change cannot be brought about by simple reflection on what we already consider ‘good’ and ‘bad’, since such a  See also Winch 1989, 134–36.  EIIIp9s: “From all this, then, it is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, and desire it” (Spinoza 1985, 500). 11  Winch is referring here to Zettel 320 in Wittgenstein 1967, 59. 9



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reflection would only reinforce the prejudices we hold. It can only be brought about by reflection on what is adequate in our ideas, such that our understanding about our connection with the world and the objects in it becomes more adequate and brings about real change in the direction of our desires. But even then it will not be the truth in our ideas that brings about the change, since truth cannot change desires and therefore cannot alter what we consider ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is not reason that can make us act against our affects: “No affect can be restrained by the true knowledge of good and evil insofar as it is true, but insofar as it is considered as an affect” (EIVp14). Since our notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are the result of the presence of desires in us and are therefore also dependent in their application and in their force on our individual constitution, we are in fact not only egocentric in our desires, but we also have a stronger inclination towards (or desire for) things that are closer to us in space or time compared to the same thing if it lies in the future or is far away from us. But this is also a consequence of our limited and individual perspective: “the dominance of what is thought to be present on the strength of the affects is a special case (perhaps a specially important case) of the importance of our essentially perspectival existence and relation to other things” (Winch 2019). But it would be mistake, according to Winch, to understand this point as an attempt to reduce our individual identity to a particular biologically or physically understood body or portion of matter. While there is a meaningful use of such a conception in certain contexts (e.g. the body a doctor would be interested in during medical treatment), he detects a more important sense of identity in the Ethics: We have to understand the identity of each man “in terms of a certain coherence in the way that he lives” (Winch 2019), that is, in a manner that takes into account a person’s interests, relationships with others, position in the world, involvement with particular causes, and participation in certain activities. This, for Winch, is an extension, albeit, he thinks, a legitimate one, of what Spinoza himself explicitly states. It is not only what harms a person’s body or improves it, that she has an interest in and a desire to obtain or avoid; but a person also has an interest in what happens to things she is connected to, such as her property or her commitments. What happens to our house, our family and friends and whatever else we consider important, matters to us and should be included in Spinoza’s picture of what it means to be a particular individual. This rich picture of what it means to be an individual, the emphasis on the individual perspective with all its connections to the world and its being influenced by the world, is what Winch found in Spinoza; a view that makes it clear that there is no general rule or guideline that could determine what matters to each of us, since any interest and desire is always dependent on the perspective from which an individual views, and is connected to, the world. This deep entrenchment in one’s surrounding and one’s attitudes towards it therefore requires that we do not think of a human individual and her identity in general or abstract terms and that when we are dealing with her as a moral subject or engage with her in such a context, we have to take this identity into account. This is our responsibility in our encounters with other individuals in any moral context, but also, and maybe even more importantly, this also applies to moral philosophy:

9  The Identity of Man – Winch Between Spinoza, Weil, and Wittgenstein


Treating a person justly involves treating with seriousness his own conception of himself, his own commitments and cares, his own understanding of his situation and of what the situation demands of him. […] Unpalatable as it may be to the theorizing moral philosopher, he has to accept in the end that men of moral good will may indeed occupy or arrive at different and even opposed moral positions—and on the basis of circumstances which cannot be differentiated from each other so as to justify one of those positions against the other in a way that would have to be accepted by any rational being. That may sound like anarchy and the ultimate denial of reason, but I believe that if we look at the way it works in practice we shall see that it is not so. (Winch 1987, 177–78)

Taking another human being seriously means taking seriously how this individual takes herself to be, and that means that we cannot dictate interests and desires onto each other, and view interests and attitudes in isolation from the person holding them. Wittgenstein diagnoses a similar problem within ourselves, namely that we tend to regard our ethical dilemmas in isolation, without considering that they are driven in part by the attitude we take, and that we do not see ourselves as part of the situation: “If life becomes hard we think of improvements. But the most important & effective improvement, in our own attitude, hardly occurs to us, & we can decide on this only with utmost difficulty” (Wittgenstein 1980/1998, 60). Therefore, we should reflect upon the fact that our circumstances cannot be treated in isolation, but that for our understanding and assessment it is equally relevant that they are of particular and specific importance to an individual as the individual who encounters and is influenced by them, and that they are therefore inseparable from this individual’s attitudes12—even if we, and Winch, might not want to go all the way with Spinoza and regard each aspect as part of a single, necessary, fully determined whole. But that we have those attitudes and interests, which are intricately related to our identity, along with the web of circumstances we are embedded in, means that they reach to the core of who we are and that, while they are up for reasonable discussion, they cannot be mandated—neither by another man nor by philosophy. Philosophy might indeed try to remove intellectual obstacles in the way of recognizing certain possibilities (although there is always the danger that it will throw up new obstacles). But what a man makes of the possibilities he can comprehend is a matter of what man he is. This is revealed in the way he lives; it is revealed to him in his understanding of what he can and what he cannot attach importance to. But philosophy can no more show a man what he should attach importance to than geometry can show a man where he should stand. (Winch 1968/1972, 25)13

 See also Christensen 2011, 798.  I would like to thank the FWF (Austrian Science Fund) for its support of the research project P 29072 ‘Spinoza on the Concept of the Human Life Form’ and its project leader Ursula Renz, as well as Michael Campbell for his careful reading and helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

12 13


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References Christensen, A.-M. S. (2011). Wittgenstein and Ethics. In O. Kuusela & M. McGinn (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein (pp. 796–817). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Della Rocca, M. (2008). Spinoza. London/New York: Routledge. Gaita, R. (1990). Ethical individuality. In R.  Gaita (Ed.), Value and Understanding. Essays for Peter Winch (pp. 118–148). London/New York: Routledge. Garrett, A. (2018). The virtues of geometry. In M. Della Rocca (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Spinoza (pp. 18–44). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Renz, U. (2018). The Explainability of Experience. Realism and Subjectivity in Spinoza’s Theory of the Human Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Spinoza, B. (1985). The Collected Works of Spinoza. Volume 1 (E. Curley, Ed. & Trans.). Princeton: Princeton University Press. Steenbakkers, P. (2009). The geometrical order in the Ethics. In O. Koistinen (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza’s Ethics (pp. 42–55). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Weil, S. (1956). The Notebooks of Simone Weil. Volume One (A.  Wills, Trans.). New  York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Winch, P. (1958). The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy. London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1959/1972). Nature and convention. In Ethics and Action (50–72). London: Routledge and Kegan. (Originally published in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 60, 231–252) Winch, P. (1968/1972). Moral integrity. In Ethics and Action (171–192). London: Routledge and Kegan. (Originally published as Inaugural Lecture, Kings College London. Oxford: Basil Blackwell). Winch, P. (1986). Review of Jonathan Bennett’s A study of Spinoza’s ethics. Philosophical Investigations, 9(2), 140–152. Winch, P. (1987). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Winch, P. (1989). Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Winch, P. (2019). Lectures on Spinoza: Ethics and Understanding (Ed. M. Campbell & S. Tropper, Ed.). (Unpublished manuscript). Wittgenstein, L. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (C.  K. Ogden, Trans.). London: Routledge and Kegan. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/1958). Philosophical Investigations  (G.  E. M.  Anscombe & G.  H. Von Wright, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1967). Zettel (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1980/1998). Culture and Value (G. H. von Wright & H. Nyman, Eds., P. Winch, Trans., A. Pichler, Rev. Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Sarah Tropper received her PhD from King’s College London with a dissertation on the philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. She is currently working at the Alpen-Adria-University Klagenfurt as a researcher, until recently in the project ‘Spinoza on the Concept of the Human Life Form: Towards a Non-Essentialist and Ontologically Liberal Account’, funded by the FWF (Austrian Science Fund).  

Chapter 10

Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life Francesca R. Recchia Luciani

10.1  T  he Wittgensteinian Way to Simone Weil’s Thought: Peter Winch and “The Just Balance” Simone Weil strikes an original figure as a thinker. The singular architecture of her thought, rich with constructive and creative possibilities, attracts the reader who can cross different thresholds to access it. It is a thought or, rather, a mode of philosophizing that is not easy to penetrate. An interpretative understanding that starts from philosophy can hope to explain her thought, but at the same time risks betraying it, since Weil’s thought goes beyond philosophy. Peter Winch’s study Simone Weil:  The Just Balance (Winch 1989) documents one line in Simone Weil’s intellectual journey, in the territory of philosophy. Her mode of philosophizing was not scholastic, although that was the field of her university studies. However, even already in her graduation thesis, Science and Perception in Descartes (Weil 1987) it is apparent that Simone Weil pursued philosophy as a praxis. This impressive work of a young woman in her early twenties, not only reconstructs but revives in the first person the Cartesian search for certainty. Weil engaged in an authentic “re-thinking” of the thoughts that had brought Descartes to land on the safe shore of the Cogito ergo sum, after his shipwreck on hyperbolic doubt and the long methodical crossing that ensued. Those surprising pages, in which an exceptionally lively, active, concrete and dynamic thought is exercised, capture the very moment in which the reflexive effort becomes philosophy, theoretical conceptualization, rigorous logical construction. Winch’s analysis starts from these pages, and is largely devoted to recovering the philosophical content and depth of Weil’s texts—which are intrinsically oriented by philosophy and towards philosophy, even where this is hidden between the lines of F. R. Recchia Luciani (*) University of Bari, Bari, Italy e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



F. R. Recchia Luciani

her religious writing. Aspects of her style of thought have favoured readings of a mystical nature, but increasingly there is an interest on the part of scholars—for whom her thought and its style resonate—in the more philosophical aspects of her work. Other reductive interpretations of her theoretical works respond to her singular personal history.1 As is known, she finds herself, in the course of her brief life, in the rubble of the clash of opposing ideologies—irreconcilable visions of the world—that constituted the tragic history of the past century. She observes the epochal events with the lucid gaze of an observer, but, at the same time, participates in them and endeavours to share the fate of the countless victims of those events. Her acute sensitivity and intellectual fiber, made even more powerful by the philosophical pathos that animates her writings, put her in the uncomfortable position of an attentive interpreter of the upheavals of the decisive years that preceded the First and saw the unfolding of the Second World War—as overwhelming forces of opposing ideological, moral and political visions of the world produced explosions of unprecedented violence that disintegrated the worlds in which human beings had lived until that moment. In May 1942, while she was in Marseille waiting to leave for the United States, she sent a letter to Joë Bousquet, in which she wrote among other things: Fortunate are those in whom the affliction which enters their flesh is the same one that afflicts the world itself in their time. They have the opportunity and the function of knowing the truth of the world’s affliction and contemplating its reality. And that is the redemptive function itself. (Weil 1950/2015, 137)

Weil’s exercises a mystical fascination on scholars, with a life devoted to experiencing human pain in its entirety. Its premature end lends a religious tension to her life. This has led to a widespread underestimation of the philosophical elements of her work. By contrast, Winch’s study opens this philosophical territory, which has remained largely unexplored. Winch brings his own formative influence by Wittgenstein to the encounter with Weil’s thought, forging an original interpretation. This book examines Simone Weil’s religious, social, political and ethical thought in the context of the rigorous philosophical reflection from which it springs and, in particular, this context is illuminated by surprising parallels between his ideas and some of the ideas developed independently by Ludwig Wittgenstein, even in completely different contexts. In Winch’s method of showing consonances and playing on possible parallels, in the incessant alternation of references and reflections, he achieves striking results. One of Winch’s merits consists in identifying elective affinities in the works of these different authors, intellectual attitudes that testify to a sort of “common philosophical feeling”, and illustrating hidden, intimate aspects of each philosopher’s thought. The juxtaposition of Weil and Wittgenstein may appear exegetically

1  In addition to the already mentioned and famous book by Simone Pétrement (1976), there are numerous testimonies and rich epistolary collections to testify of an existential experience intensely lived and always intertwined with philosophical reflection: see Weil 1942/2015; Perrin and Thibon 2003.

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bold, if not implausible. However, far from being an attempt to mix and confuse heterogeneous ideas in a disorderly conceptual potpourri, his procedure leads to the identification of surprising convergences, if not robust philosophical analogies. On the other hand, the very implausibility and boldness of his philosophical approach could have surmounted the impenetrable difficulties of Weil’s thought. The value of this complex and sometimes difficult book lies in its method of traversing the intricate intellectual—and specifically philosophical—story of Simone Weil with a different theoretical armamentarium than the one usually used as a key to reading her texts. First, Winch’s interpretation programmatically renounces the reconstruction of Weil’s thought in historiographical forms or the attempt at a global evaluation. Winch, like the young Weil, thinks that one cannot understand and allow others to understand someone’s ideas “without recreating them independently”. Consequently, his reading of Weil’s texts takes place in the context of a personal and independent philosophical research, which often incorporates his reflections on Wittgenstein’s ideas. In this sense, Winch’s project is a theoretical one: he approaches the work of Weil with the intention of “rethinking” her thought, but not with the aim of providing an exegetical or literary analysis or a historical interpretation or a historiographical reconstruction—much less a definitive judgment or an exhaustive consideration. Since those who seek any of these results will be disappointed, let us now turn to the outcomes Winch achieves by his heuristic procedure. It could be said that the framework within which Winch moves is the one traced by the close link between the epistemological interests that fascinate the young Weil and the ethical-religious developments of her subsequent reflection. In this way, he also historically traces the evolution of Weil’s speculative thought, emphasizing the changes in perspective and the theoretical transformations that give rise to considerable differences across the phases of her thought, which in turn support a plurality of interpretations. Winch starts with the conviction that, in order to illustrate Weil’s philosophical thought, it will be necessary to discuss the difficulties inherent in drawing a line between authentically philosophical problems and religious questions, since Weil’s religious thought is clearly rooted in her philosophy. Thus, to develop a philosophical understanding of Weil’s work, Winch finds it necessary in his concluding chapters to translate some of the “religious” ideas of the last phase of her short life into “secular” philosophical terms. This is intrinsic to his interpretation but also a limitation of it. Winch encapsulates for us four important themes of philosophical importance central to Simone Weil since her youthful theoretical work. These themes help clarify the relations between her philosophy, here in the form of the theory of knowledge, and her religious thought. They are: (1) the “nature of human beings, material beings in a material world, who think”; (2) the “relationship between human thinking and the materiality of the human world”; (3) “what thinking is” and “how it can develop out of the peculiarly active relationship human beings have to their world and to each other”; (4) “the consequences of such a development for the nature of human society and the lives which human beings live together” (Winch 1989, 2–3).


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These very important, and clearly philosophical, arguments represent the link between the epistemological questions present in Simone Weil’s early work (for example in the already cited Science and Perception in Descartes, but also in her important Lectures on Philosophy (Weil 1978), or in texts of political and social interest such as Oppression and Liberty (Weil 1958) and the explicitly ethical-­ religious problems of her more mature reflection. But although this link represents Weil’s historical-evolutionary frame of reference, Winch’s method of investigating its content consists, as already mentioned, in an attempt to explain that thought with the words of Wittgenstein’s vocabulary. Winch makes particular use of the Wittgensteinian concept of “grammar”, involving not only consideration of specific expressions in their linguistic or syntactic context—as determined by the link they have with other expressions—but above all in “the roles they play in human attitudes and aspirations, activities, lives, and relationships” in order to achieve an adequate understanding and a real intelligibility (Winch 1989, 4). Now, according to Winch, this distinctive Wittgensteinian idea concerning the “grammar” of certain terms also belongs to Weil. She frequently applies this approach to the lexicon of philosophical interest to her, without making her methodology explicit, in the way that Wittgenstein did. It is precisely this kind of “grammatical” understanding that is in focus in much of Winch’s engagement with Weil’s thought. The first philosophical work that he treats in depth is Weil’s epistemological conception, critical of the Cartesian Cogito ergo sum and its substantialization of the “I”, of thought as “activity”. According to Winch, she replace “je suis” with “je puis”, but her resulting formulation (“Je puis, donc je suis”) does not repeat Descartes’ substantialization of the “I”. In fact her critique in the essay on Descartes brings her to identify “existing, thinking, knowing” as “aspects of a single reality: ability to act (pouvoir)” (Winch 1989, 10). Since her approach at this time is fundamentally gnoseological, that is, since she focuses on concept formation, she lingers, and Winch with her, to discuss the breadth and the determinations of the notion of “activity” (Chap. 2), of the link between sensation and temporality (Chap. 3), of the role of perception in the formation of our concepts and in knowledge in general (Chap. 4). This last discussion is also very important for its connection with the theme of solipsism, around which Winch elaborates a complex argument aimed at demonstrating how there is an intrinsic relationship between the Cartesian subjectivist perspective, expressed in the first person singular, and the objective, interpersonal perspective that manifests itself in the form of the third person. From here a theory of the origin and forms of language takes shape, extended to the mathematical, symbolic, even ritual language, which starts from Weil’s idea that language is above all “a means of coming to grips with the world” (Chap. 5). In this context, Winch turns to Weil’s “materialist point of view”, as defined in the first part of her Leçons de philosophie, a collection of notes taken from one of her pupil, Anne Reynaud-­ Guérithault, during the philosophy courses she gave at the Lycée de Roanne in

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1933–34 (Weil 1978).2 According to Winch, that point of view is characterized as “materialist” because it “treats human beings as a part of nature” (Winch 1989, 55), but, given that the natural world can also be conceived as “an order of necessary relations” (Winch 1989, 60), it is unavoidable to clarify the concept of “necessity”— i.e. its “grammar”. This analysis clarifies, first, how the idea of necessity plays a pragmatic role in enabling one to defend oneself from the unexpected, from the contingent, and, second, how Weil conceives necessity in geometric terms—in the Spinozist sense of the expression—and therefore as an “all-embracing necessity” (Winch 1989, 72; Chap. 6). Here, in Winch’s study, the transition to explicitly ethical themes is accomplished. In fact, he believes he has identified in this idea of “all-embracing necessity” the metaphysical image he was looking for at the bottom of Weil’s thought, and precisely the result of his investigation—in which he is comforted by Wittgenstein’s suggestion that there is a “world-picture” to act as a “substratum” of all our “enquiring and asserting” (Wittgenstein 1969, §162). This metaphysical image supports the transition from epistemological questions concerning the “formation of concepts” to ethical, moral and political questions raised by the modalities of relations that develop among humans. This passage takes place in steps: the first is marked by the theme of “equilibrium” (Chap. 7)—on the one hand, the equilibrium between the individual and nature; on the other, equilibrium between the individual and other individuals. But since equilibrium with nature and natural needs is not achieved through the “division of labour” (Winch 1989, 81) (despite its apparent power to alleviate our immediate vulnerability to the environment and our needs), and neither is an equilibrium among human beings established by this division of labour, the concept of equilibrium must be sought through other concepts of greater ethical relevance (that of justice, or consent, for example). We thus enter fully into the ethical sphere, since the possibility of “completely free action” (Chap. 8) is conceived by Winch precisely in terms of the ever-present contrast between individual and community: given that for Weil freedom is possible and achievable only at the individual level, this prevents that sought-after equilibrium to be realized in social life. And the crux of this antithesis lies in the “inaccessibility of an individual’s thought processes to others” (Winch 1989, 99); therefore, in a difficulty that, although it can be defined as “epistemological”, has undoubtedly ethical implications. In Weil’s thought, he argues, an individualistic tendency persists over time, although it changes in form: the individualism of the subjective perspective expressed in first person that she found in Descartes and that she had tried to overcome in Oppression and Liberty with the concept of “labour”, nevertheless remains in the unsurpassed pessimism of that phase: the real obstacle to human freedom is natural—it is nature itself, and we each confront nature as an individual. 2  Weil’s Lectures on Philosophy (1978) are a major source for Winch in this book to discuss, in particular, Weil’s epistemological theses, and as proof that it was for him a conceptually decisive text for the whole of Weil’s philosophical framework, the introduction he dedicated to the English translation of the volume is still valid.


F. R. Recchia Luciani

Far from resolving the difficulties of interpreting Weil’s thought, Winch emphasizes, the question of her persistent individualism raises further difficulties. In particular, returning to the starting point for a moment, Winch reminds us of Weil’s account of the source of our concepts of physical objects: now, in his opinion, her philosophical progress brings her, in this more mature phase of her research, to raise the same epistemological questions concerning our ideas about our fellow humans. As objects are known as “obstacles” to our projects and so as stimuli to thought and the formation of concepts, other human beings represent for us a “necessity”, an obstacle to our action, a limit to our freedom. Winch unpacked Weil’s description of our primitive, pre-reflexive contact with objects through sensations as a sort of perceptive “dance” in some detail; he now speaks of a kind of “geometry of human relations” (Winch 1989, 136) that likewise produces concepts and relationships. And one important form that human interactions acquire is that of respect for the “power to refuse”, that is to say of that necessary setback (natural, primitive, “impersonal” but a true reciprocal recognition reaction of human to human) of “hesitation” (“that interval of hesitation, wherein lies all our consideration for our brothers in humanity” (Weil 1940/1986)) and of that incessant possibility to seek for consent of the others that ethically defines human beings (Chap. 9). In order to clarify these essential issues, Winch introduces Weil’s complex notion of “reading” (the main reference here is to the significant “Essai sur la Notion de Lecture”—“An Essay on the Notion of Reading” (Weil 1990)), as a form of perspectivism that takes seriously the irreducible plurality of points of view, positions, and “readings” possible not only in relation to things or situations, but also about human beings themselves. The first lesson of perspectivism is that no one is “at the centre of the universe” (in Simone Weil’s developing religious view, only God can be) but following a widespread “illusion of perspective” (Winch 1989, 136 ff.), every human being believes that he/she is. From this derives, according to Weil, confusion related to “desire” and its objects: we aren’t aware that the multiple desires we feel for particular things are only various forms of a unitary “desire for good”. In this divergence between many apparently concrete desires and the true desire for the “good”, the “void” opens. This “void” derives precisely from the illusion of possessing a privileged perspective with respect to the universe and is based on a belief that one is master of a special “reading” of the universe, and can “only” be filled, according to Weil, by God (Chap. 10). Nevertheless, this also implies something which Winch rightly underlines: “That means that it can appear only as a matter of religious faith, not as a philosophical truth embedded in the grammar of our fundamental concepts” (Winch 1989, 132). The weaknesses in Weil’s philosophical position is the theoretical object of the Winch’s following chapter. From this point on, Winch, as he had announced at the beginning of the book, begins to translate Weil’s language into “secular” terms, despite the fact that, in the last phase of her life, her perspective becomes increasingly that of a religious adherent. He engages with Weil’s Spinozistic theme of “geometry”, to explain the parallel

10  Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life


she draws between epistemology and ethics, between the knowledge of the “order of creation” and of the necessary symmetry between perspectives, that is, between individual “readings” of the universe. In Weil’s view this is a parallelism that only geometry can guarantee, since it pursues “harmony”, equilibrium, the Pythagorean unity between the limited and the unlimited (Chap. 11). Winch argues: “[…] for Simone Weil, speaking of a geometry of human relations is not just analogical. Geometry is the general form of people’s attempts to make their relation to the world intelligible” (Winch 1989, 143). Here, then, geometry becomes indispensable for facing another Pythagorean problem that is important to Weil, that of “incommensurability”. The incommensurability under discussion here is not a mathematical one: it is the incommensurability that plays a central role in Weil’s idea that force is configured as the tragic power to “turn a human being into a thing”. So, Winch distinguishes several distinct questions that Weil treats under this description, i.e.: how can people and things be “commensurable”? How can we reduce, if possible, the irreducible incommensurability between the human being and the corpse, between the living body and the dead body? How do we interpret the incommensurability between the different traits of human nature, between and arrogance, between generosity and selfishness that can be found in the same person, sometimes after a few moments? Simone Weil was impressed by the astonishing power of force to annihilate incommensurable things, and so reduce radical differences—its power to destroy everything, “even values”. This is why, according to Winch, Weil draws on the idea of geometry to establish the possibility of explaining incommensurables—in this case, such as the “frivolity” and the “depth” of human beings and their characters (with reference to the Brothers Karamazov)—and to interpret values. Such a geometrical method can do this “only from the point of view of justice”, insofar as justice refers to equilibrium, equity, and symmetry among human beings and their “readings” (Chap. 12). But before taking on Weil’s understanding of justice, Winch tackles an issue equally significant to Weil: “beauty”. This notion is central to individual “readings” of the universe, since Weil recalls how these almost always appears as the privileged site of beauty. Indeed, she argues that raising the question of “value” with regard to the theme of “reading” implies questioning the relationship between the truth, the beauty and the good as inextricably linked concepts. Beauty, therefore, does not interest her as an aesthetic value, but as a criterion of the possible incommensurability between what is finalized and what is not, between what is fragile and what is persistent, between what is transient and what is eternal, that is, as something that inevitably calls to mind a higher value, that of “good” (Chap. 13). Beauty, moreover, is precisely what indicates or shows justice and truth. Winch thus returns to his discussion of the notion of “justice”, understood not only as a moral value, but also as an epistemological concept. It is the point of reference for that “geometry of human relations” which makes possible symmetry and parity between individuals, while differing from equality, which instead involves the sphere of “rights”, following here the line of Weil’s arguments in “La Personne et le Sacré” (known in English as “Human Personality” (Weil 1957/1962/1986)).


F. R. Recchia Luciani

The question of justice, for Weil and consequently for Winch, although linguistically linked to that of rights, is conceptually distinct from it. The language of rights, for Weil, is limited to expressing claims, while the concept of justice contains a reference to something that she will call “supernatural”, since the damage suffered by those who have been violated in their own nature is such an “injustice” as cannot be described with the vocabulary provided by the language of rights. The key to understanding Weil’s concept of justice lies in the notion of “consensus”, which is not an agreement between the parties, a “social contract” à la Rawls, but rather a mode of that symmetrical relationship between people that for Weil is ethically essential, but that also has a strong “impersonal” or, in her terms, “supernatural” trait (Chap. 14). So here we are at the heart of Winch’s thesis, exposed in the last chapter of his book, dedicated to the supposed “supernatural virtue” that Weil has described in so many of her works. Winch argues that the “supernatural” can be captured entirely as a “human” notion. He identifies it first of all with the “setback” described by Weil in connection with “the power to refuse”, which imposes itself in face of the Other. In this sense, the religious inspiration that qualifies the last phase of Weil’s thought is for him an interpretative key to the “reading” of the human world. Even that “point outside the world” that Weil indicates as the place of attention to which one aspires is, for Winch, the direction towards which to “reorient one’s love”; to clarify this, he brings to bear passages in which Simone Weil states: “The Gospel contains a conception of human life, not a theology,” and “Earthly things are the criterion of spiritual things”. On the other hand, Weil affirms in many places her love for the least, for the beings whom misfortune has touched, and considers “love for one’s neighbour” as one of the “forms of God’s implicit love”. Winch notes that, in effect, justice—or, it may be said, the balance of power—as it is debated in the very impressive example of the episode of the Athenians and the Melians depicted by Thucydides and as it exists as a possibility for human action and understanding (contra the argument of the Athenians), constitutes one of the “human” values that Weil discusses as instances of “the supernatural”. For Winch, it is only in the relations between “various attitudes, interests, strivings, aspirations, which are all part of our ‘natural history’”—that is, of human history—that we can hope to understand “the supernatural” (Winch 1989, 211).

10.2  S  imone Weil and Ludwig Wittgenstein Through Peter Winch: Socraticism as a Philosophical Attitude Winch’s book ultimately contains two lines of argument that, in their discontinuous intersections, make available to any reader of Weil’s work two possible access routes to her rich thoughts and ideas. The first itinerary can be identified in relation to the basic theses defended in this essay: it unfolds in Weil’s texts characterizing the profound ethical texture of—and the interest of—the concept of the “human”,

10  Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life


especially with regard the relations among human beings and the precarious balance that may be established among them. From this point of view, Simone Weil seems to have given birth in primis to an epistemological conception, which then constitutes the foundation of her ethical-moral vision. Furthermore, this outlook, in turn, suggests a solution to the problems raised by her early epistemological conception, and in particular to the many complex problems connected to the subjectivism and individualism that underlies it. In fact, themes as important to her as mutual understanding between human beings, and justice as a fundamental value of human interaction would not be solvable within that kind of epistemological framework; they require a profound ethical inspiration. The considerable intensification of her religious sensitivity, also determined by these specifically ethical questions that remain unanswered within the narrow confines of her epistemology of a substantialized I, corresponds to the search for a new conception of the natural order and of the social order as involving a supernatural dimension, in which the concepts of beauty and justice are prior and fundamental for her. But, as it has already been pointed out, “the supernatural” is for her a human fact, a modality of human relations, an aspect of the interactions between people, one that explains the “incommensurability” characterizing human life forms, which she found starting from epistemology and through geometry. Thus, the reading of Weil’s work proposed by Winch seems to reproduce, in some ways, a Spinozist scheme in which ethics is reached by geometric methods; a scheme which, moreover, invites the philosophical interest Weil’s discourse deserves, without irrational or fideistic shortcuts. In this sense, Winch’s book undoubtedly achieves the goal that he set out to achieve. But there is another possibility that this book opens up in relation to Simone Weil’s work: this could be called the heuristic, or even methodological, possibility. Winch gives us a key to open a narrow door allowing access to Weil’s labyrinthine thought. Rather than simply giving us one itinerary, he suggests that there are many ways we can encounter her thought and that each of them leads to insights of extraordinary depth and to discoveries of exceptional value. He took one particular path and showed us where that itinerary led him. At the same time, however, he left us the key and the possibility of choosing among the many possible interpretations of her philosophy—naturally, with awareness of the partiality of our individual perspective. Precisely in this spirit, starting from the philosophical results achieved by Winch, as well as the heuristic indications embedded throughout his book, I would like to consider several more “elective affinities” in the philosophies of Weil and Wittgenstein, with reference to some remarkable similarities in their philosophical approach as well as in the content of their ideas, in order to demonstrate what I will call their common Socratic attitude, or—as I will call it—Socraticism. In doing this, my analysis will follow Winch’s implicit instructions: I believe he has shown us, with particular originality, some deep “family resemblances” between the philosophical experiences—the “philosophical lives”—of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil. The attitude of the Socratic way of doing philosophy consists in the intransigence with which thought and life—in their case, just as in the case of Socrates at the beginning of Western thought—interact mutually and are


F. R. Recchia Luciani

inextricably intertwined, resulting in existences inspired by philosophy, as well as philosophies translated into existences. Weil’s and Wittgenstein’s common sensibility, once it has become a point of hermeneutical observation, reveals an impressive analogy in their philosophical methodologies, in the respective ways of producing thoughts and consolidating them through a robust analytical and expository discipline. At first glance, what mainly impresses the interpreter is the way that philosophy for both of them seems miraculously to turn into everyday life, which in itself gives rise to an ethical-­ philosophical pragmatics that informs and shapes the most intimate ontological dimensions. In fact, even if philosophy can sometimes seem to the uninitiated or— worse—can actually be in the hands of the “journalists of philosophy” (as Wittgenstein defined them with a certain contempt), very distant from the concrete realities of human life—from their ordinary and everyday existence, from their routines and even their repetitive and monotonous activities, from their actions completely “normal”, “regular”—despite this appearance and all the philosophical work that confirms this appearance, for some very peculiar human beings it may not be so—it may instead correspond to their very existence, to the point of encapsulating in their philosophy the meaning of their life. The mocking smile (and irreverent misunderstanding) of the Thracian maid3 before the distracted contemplation of the philosopher—the anecdote of Thales of Miletus, narrated in the Plato’s Theaetetus—embodies and illustrates the distance between reality and thought that philosophy has apparently sought more often than it has escaped, confirming itself to be a luxury that few can afford. Yet philosophy, or rather philosophy in the hands of certain philosophers, has sometimes tried to shorten that distance, to reduce detachment, and to fill the interstice or the gulf between the act of thinking and what is thought, between the object and the concept, between speculation and action—coming to conceive sophia as a true and concrete fusion of theorein and praxis. The “grammatical” understanding proposed by Winch of Weil’s intricate vision of philosophy and religion as possible ways of reading the world—difficult or impossible to separate one from the other—suggests the existence of a profound similarity between some of Wittgenstein’s religious perplexities and Weil’s reflections on those same themes.4 The methodology adopted by Winch to illuminate Weil’s thought through Wittgenstein and vice versa could be defined as a sort of “perspicuous representation” (übersichtliche Darstellung), that is by illustrating the similarities, connexions and relations in their ideas, making us sensitive to a formal

3  Hans Blumenberg (2015) illustrates very well this supposed distance of theory from the real events of the world and the consequences that this vision has on the consideration of philosophy in Western culture. 4  Winch is following here one of Wittgenstein’s most intimate friends, Maurice O’Connor Drury (1984). See also Drury (2017).

10  Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life


association in which can emerge the way in which elements are arranged in an illuminating and “speaking” order.5 The ontological declination that emerges from Weil’s and Wittgenstein’s philosophy-­impregnated existences is what I would call Socraticism, meaning with it the incessant tension “to live philosophizing” that Socrates considers to be his mission in the world and that he does every day “examining myself and others” (Ap., 28d), convinced that “[…] this even happens to be a very great good for a human being—to make speeches every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me conversing and examining both myself and others—and that the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” (Ap., 38a). Socraticism, as a convergence of phrònesis and sophìa, in linking an indissoluble bond between philosophy and life and in assigning ethical and philosophical meaning to life—the only one capable of giving it meaning and making it worthy of being lived—, becomes then a key for a better understanding that sheds light on some places, less enlightened, of the thought of both the Austrian philosopher and the French philosopher, that perhaps only the choices of their lives can truly illuminate. From this perspective, the very practice of philosophy in these authors comes to coincide with ethics. The contemplative life is translated into active life and daily practice at every moment; theoretical reason continually borders on practical reason; thinking coincides with the action. Ethics is no longer a province of moral philosophy; rather, it is the inspiration and impulse for a life with meaning and value. From this view, the whole philosophy of both Wittgenstein and Weil is ethically oriented. Its reflections emerge in individual paths, interior biographies, existential choices, and character traits. Among these attitudes, there is one in particular that emerges as a personal inclination they share: a kind of intransigence, an absolute rigor, that sometimes degenerates into rigidity in their existential conduct. This rigidity effected their human and social relations, but ultimately it connoted an attitude devoid of indulgence towards themselves. This distinctive modus vivendi then intersects with a questioning, difficult and restless religiosity, one that is lived intensely, profoundly, inwardly, dramatically, which permeates their characteristic being-in-the-world. In Wittgenstein this manifests in more recondite and intimate forms, while in Weil it is more explicit and manifest. In these two distinctive human beings, observed from this particular point of view, a complete combination of philosophy (which undoubtedly includes their religious anxieties) and life is realized: philosophy and life are merged; they mix indeterminately, resulting sometimes in explosive, contradictory, and devastating life events— anorexia for Weil; the tendency to depression and even desperation for Wittgenstein.

5  “A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words.—Our grammar is lacking in this sort of perspicuity. A perspicuous representation produces just that understanding which consists in ‘seeing connexions’. Hence the importance of finding and inventing intermediate cases. The concept of a perspicuous representation is of fundamental significance for us. It earmarks the form of account we give, the way we look at things. (Is this a Weltanschauung?)”. (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, §122).


F. R. Recchia Luciani

Nevertheless, even if the stories of their lives, their existential choices and their relationships with other human beings, have a certain “family resemblance”, this does not yet justify the kind of comparison that is our philosophical aim: it is not yet an enlightening and “perspicuous” juxtaposition. They acquire this meaning when they are seen as drawn directly from the source of their philosophy, from their writings: here again we are struck by the same “family resemblance”. On a careful reading of their notes we can identify some that are not only externally analogous (as unsystematic and rhapsodist observations), but also internally analogous because of their unusual depth and penetration. In many passages there is an uneasy upward tension, an unfulfilled desire for transcendence and the absolute that testifies to the will to go beyond the limits imposed by logic and by the habits of ordinary living. Wittgenstein and Weil both seem to be continually engaged in a gruelling fight against the rigid rationality of their own cultural universe, against the common language entangled in its obligatory semantic correspondences, and against the binding logic of the facts. In “Lecture on Ethics”, his only text explicitly devoted to this subject, Wittgenstein writes: […] if a man could write a book on Ethics which really was a book on Ethics, this book would, with an explosion, destroy all the other books in the world. Our words used as we use them in science, are vessels capable only of containing and conveying meaning and sense, natural meaning and sense. Ethics, if it is anything, is supernatural and our words will only express facts […]. […] I at once see clearly, as it were in a flash of light, not only that no description that I can think of would do to describe what I mean by absolute value, but that I would reject every significant description that anybody could possibly suggest, ab initio, on the ground of its significance. […] For all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond the world and that is to say beyond significant language. My whole tendency and, I believe, the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language. This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless […]. (Wittgenstein 1965, 11–12)

In Weil’s essay “Human Personality”, after having affirmed “a natural alliance between truth and affliction, because both of them are mute suppliants, eternally condemned to stand speechless in our presence”, she writes: At the very best, a mind enclosed in language is in prison. It is limited to the number of relations which words can make simultaneously present to it; and remains in ignorance of thoughts which involve the combination of a greater number. These thoughts are outside language, they are unformulable, although they are perfectly rigorous and clear and although every one of the relations they involve is capable of precise expression in words. So the mind moves in a closed space of partial truth, which may be larger or smaller, without ever being able so much as to glance at what is outside. (Weil 1957/1962/1986, 89)

In these statements, juxtaposed according to the method of “perspicuous representation”, we can find the same ethical dissatisfaction expressed by both philosophers with respect to language, its inability to “say” what is essential, to express anything about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolutely valuable (Wittgenstein 1965, 10)—accompanied by the same need to break through the

10  Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life


invisible barriers, while maintaining no illusion about the inanity of such an effort, alluded to by metaphors of the “cage” and the “prison”. However, this does not imply a devaluation of language as such: for both it is essential as a primary human activity and cannot be underestimated. Weil, for example, states that “we can, thanks to language, call to mind anything we please; it is language which changes us into people who act”, precisely because it is a “a means of coming to grips with the world”. This happens (1) because “through it we possess everything that is absent”, as “a support for memory”, and (2) “it gives us order”. Language is one of the “two ways in which we come to grips with the world”, i.e. “through symbols”—alongside the other, “action (bodily movements)” which “gives us real power” (Weil 1978, 68–69). In Wittgenstein, the idea of a “form of life” as it is brought to bear on language plays a similar role: in Philosophical Investigations we read: “It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life” (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, §241). The ethical impatience that characterizes both of them in their tireless philosophical work is not directed against language as such, since it appears above all the expression of a disappointment in philosophy, an expression of the frustration that comes from colliding with the limits of the philosophical investigation, which then coincides with the boundaries of language and with the fences erected by the one-­ to-­one correspondence of signifier and signified. Philosophy’s inability to solve the problems that it itself poses is disarming for both. Here is Weil’s description: The proper method of philosophy consists in clearly conceiving the insoluble problems in all their insolubility, and then in simply contemplating them, fixedly and tirelessly, year after year, without any hope, patiently waiting. By this standard, there are few philosophers. And one can hardly even say a few. There is no entry into the transcendent until the human faculties—intelligence, will, human love—have come up against a limit, and the human being waits at this threshold, which he can make no move to cross, without turning away and without knowing what he wants, in fixed, unwavering attention. It is a state of extreme humiliation, and it is impossible for anyone who cannot accept humiliation. Genius is the supernatural virtue of humility in the domain of thought. (Weil 1950/1970/2015, 335)

Wittgenstein, since the time of the Tractatus, expressed doubts about the real achievements of philosophy: 4.112 The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result of philosophy is not a number of “philosophical propositions”, but to make propositions clear. Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts which otherwise are, as it were, opaque and blurred. […] 6.521 The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem. […] 6.53 The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said […]. (Wittgenstein 1922)


F. R. Recchia Luciani

That philosophy must “limit the thinkable and thereby the unthinkable”, indeed “limit the unthinkable from within through the thinkable” (4.114) and that this coincides with its unique, possible purpose is a fixed point in the Wittgensteinian perspective. This idea remains also in Philosophical Investigations, even after his neutralization of the hermeneutical aims of philosophy, almost a nullification of its highest purposes cultivated in the millennial arc of the development of metaphysics—of which, moreover, he has always been, a sceptical observer, if not a detractor. § 124. Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundation either. It leaves everything as it is. … § 126. Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything.—Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us. […] (Wittgenstein 1953/1967)

Neither Wittgenstein nor Weil intend to settle for a philosophy understood as a simple activity of clarification, whose impact on the real world, on the limits of language and above all on the problems that philosophy itself poses, as well as on the questions of human life, remains little or not at all relevant. This risk cannot entail for two Socratic philosophers, in the sense that we have described, the renunciation of philosophy: their existence is so intertwined with their philosophizing that it prevents them from detaching from it. Philosophy is for both of them an activity, a practice, often painful, but certainly indispensable. One cannot abdicate one’s mission, the task one has set for oneself: for both, this task is to philosophize, even when such philosophizing is, as for Socrates, an untiring, endless interrogation: even if it propagates questions and uncertainties (“Now I think you have been bewitching and bewildering me. You’ve cast some spell over me, so now I’m completely at a loss”) implies being compared to the stingrays, “that paralyzes everything it touches […] now you’ve done it to me; both my mind and my tongue are completely numb. I’ve got no answer to give you”. That is what happens to Meno, Socrates’ interlocutor, who reproaches him: “you are always completely perplexed about everything, and how you drag everyone else down into the same pit of perplexity”. Nevertheless, the Socratic thinker—even when considered “as an evil enchanter” (Men. 126)—does not know how to refrain from philosophizing, cannot

 The whole quotation is:


Socrates, even before I met you, I heard others talk about how you are always completely perplexed about everything, and how you drag everyone else down into the same pit of perplexity. Now I think you have been bewitching and bewildering me. You’ve cast some spell over me, so now I’m completely at a loss. In fact, if you don’t mind me turning the whole business into a bit of a joke, on the inside you’re like one of those stingrays that paralyzes everything it touches; you look a bit like one, too—broad and flat. Anyway, now you’ve done it to me; both my mind and my tongue are completely numb. I’ve got no answer to give you. And yet I must have made a thousand speeches about virtue before

10  Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life


renounce the effort of thinking and the exercise of doubting. This is because he is aware that to “stop philosophizing” one should be able to achieve an unattainable, impossible objective of “complete clarity”: § 133. […] For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear. The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to.—The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question. […] There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies. (Wittgenstein 1953/1967)

Philosophy is, then, an activity, a practice, in particular a therapeutic practice that aims to clear the field of contradictions, confusions and misunderstandings linked to the very nature of language, especially “when language is like an engine idling” (wenn die Sprache leerläuft), when it is not “doing work” (nicht wenn sie arbeitet) (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, §132,), or, said otherwise, when it “goes on holiday” (wenn die Sprache feiert) (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, §38); in all those cases, that is, in which we lose sight of its interrelation with reality, a bond that is established and consolidated only in the continuous and daily use of the terms that constitute it. The semantic thickness of words resides in their belonging to language, which in turn represents their “original home” (Heimat) (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, §116), their natural environment. Language, in fact, receives its meaning, like words their meaning, from the pragmatic and performative use that human beings make of it: this corresponds not only to its instrumental and functional nature, but also to its naturalness, to this which it represents in the “natural history of human beings”. § 97. We are under the illusion that what is peculiar, profound, essential, in our investigation, resides in its trying to grasp the incomparable essence of language. That is, the order existing between the concepts of proposition, word, proof, truth, experience, and so on. This order is a super-order between—so to speak—super-concepts. Whereas, of course, if the words “language”, “experience”, “world”, have a use, it must be as humble (so niedrige) a one as that of the words “able”, “lamp”, “door”. (Wittgenstein 1953/1967)

In theories and in philosophical controversies we find that words, whose meanings are well known to us from everyday life, are used in an ultra-daily sense. § 119. The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery. (Wittgenstein 1953/1967)

To distance oneself from the idea, inherent in the most deeply rooted metaphysical illusions of the Western tradition, of philosophy as the supreme instrument for “grasping incomparable essences”, means to lead it back to doing business in the

now—in front of large audiences, too; but now I cannot even say what it is. I think you are wise not to sail away from Athens to live in some foreign city. Because if you behaved like this, as a stranger in a strange land, you would be driven out of town as an evil enchanter. (Plato 2002)


F. R. Recchia Luciani

world, making it aware of its own impotence, not only with respect to philosophical problems, but also with respect to those of the world. Understood in this way, then, philosophy does not consist in revealing remote meanings or invisible essences of phenomena—this tendency that led Wittgenstein to speak of “metaphysics as a kind of magic”—but simply in “showing us” what they are as such. It cannot and must not be denied that philosophy has a special relationship with language, one that can legitimately be conceived of as an activity of clarification. But it clarifies only to the extent that it eliminates contradictions or nonsense, without any pretence of ordering or improving the everyday language that is regulated solely by the use that is made of it and that only responds to its own performativity. We are a long way from the typically neo-positivist objective of amending language, purifying it through the exclusion of its philosophical or metaphysical use (as was Carnap’s intention, for example), through a logicist reduction. On the contrary, one might say, “complete clarity” which make philosophical problems “completely disappear” is not achieved by following the path of logic, but is obtained only through a therapy that brings language back into its natural riverbed, or which observes it and takes it into account its functioning, in the application it has in everyday life and in the communicative relations between human beings, in its being a form of individual and social action. In metaphysics, the problem is determined by the fact that words are used in such a way that they are no longer governed by grammatical and syntactic rules, that is, those rules which, reflecting the logical form of everyday language, govern the use of the same words in normal contexts ensuring their semantic correspondence to the real. In this sense, the principles of logic are limited to registering the use of signs and therefore arise from the use of language, rather than pre-existing or being subject to it, and this is why logic is not the solution to metaphysical problems of philosophy. Wittgenstein’s philosophical researches are, therefore, grammatical researches, and the grammar that is described through this therapeutic philosophical practice aims to identify and reproduce the criteria of its effectiveness, which are then the criteria of its existence, identifying a very strong link between language (the philosophy) and people’s lives (the world). Following this path, philosophy is a practice, a set of ideas about action in the world; once metaphysics is abandoned and the Socratic philosopher has absorbed the traumas of the experience inherent to bumping into the margins of language that an abstractly metaphysical (or merely logicist) use inevitably implies, he or she must return, so to speak, to “put his feet on the ground”, he/she must resume his/her “readings” by speaking a language understandable to all, abandoning the typically metaphysical claims of re-founding the world by imposing a “sense” on it. The Socratic philosopher must remain “humble”, a word that both Wittgenstein and Weil (“Humility is above all one of the qualities of attention” (Weil 1950/1970/2015, 351) recall in the context of philosophy, since even in the knowledge that it has tasks different from other sciences, however it cannot renounce its purposes and must not neglect its objective: rediscovering itself as a practical activity that intersects human life at every point.

10  Weil and Wittgenstein in Winch’s “Reading”: Philosophy as a Way of Life


As Weil would put it, for philosophers who assume a Socratic attitude towards what they are doing, “philosophy (including problems of cognition, etc.) is exclusively an affair of action and practice” (Weil 1950/1970/2015, 362). We must to return to consider philosophy as a praxis, to make it descend from the Olympus of essences so that it occupies itself with the reality of everyday human existence: to philosophize is to speak ordinary language, to think as one thinks in the world of everyday life, without metaphysical self-indulgences. This Socratic aim is, I believe, the one that really links Simone Weil, Ludwig Wittgenstein and, through them and through “reading” them, Peter Winch.

References Blumenberg, H. (2015). The Laughter of the Thracian Woman. A Protohistory of Theory (S. Hawkins, Trans.). London: Bloomsbury Academic. Drury, M. O. (1984). Conversations with Wittgenstein (pp. 97–171) and Some notes on conversations with Wittgenstein (pp. 76–96). In R. Rhees (Ed.), Recollections of Wittgenstein. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Drury, M.  O. (2017). The Selected Writings of Maurice O’Connor Drury: On Wittgenstein, Philosophy, Religion and Psychiatry (J. Hayes, Ed.). London: Bloomsbury Academic. Perrin, J. M., & Thibon, G. (2003). Simone Weil as We Knew Her. London/New York: Routledge. Pétrement, S. (1976). Simone Weil: A Life. New York: Pantheon Books. Plato. (2002). Meno (J. Holbo & B. Waring, Trans.). ContextsJoelGeoff/meno.pdf. Accessed 4 Nov 2019. Weil, S. (1958). Oppression and Liberty (A. Wills & J. Petrie, Trans.). London: Routledge. Weil, S. (1978). Lectures on Philosophy (A. Reynaud-Gericault & H. Price, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Weil, S. (1957/1962/1986). Human personality (R. Rees, Trans.). In S. Miles (Ed.), Simone Weil, an Anthology (pp. 69–98). London: Virago. Weil, S. (1940/1986). Iliad, or poem of force (M. McCarthy, Trans.). In S. Miles (Ed.), Simone Weil, an Anthology (pp. 162–195). London: Virago. Weil, S. (1990). Essay on the notion of reading (R. Fine Rose & T. Tessin, Trans.). Philosophical Investigations, 13(4), 297–303. Weil, S. (1950/1970/2015). First and Last Notebooks: Supernatural Knowledge (R. Rees, Trans.). Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers. Weil, S. (1942/2015). To Joë Bosquet. In Seventy letters. Personal and Intellectual Windows on a Thinker (R. Rees, Ed., & Trans.) (pp. 136–143). Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers. Weil, S. (1987). Science and perception in Descartes. In D. Tuck McFarland & W. van Ness, Eds. & Trans.). Simone Weil, Formative Writings 1929–41. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1989). Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press. Wittgenstein, L. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (C. K. Ogden, Trans.). London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd. Wittgenstein, L. (1965). A lecture on ethics. The Philosophical Review, 74(1), 3–12. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/1967). Philosophical Investigations (3rd Ed., G.  E. M.  Anscombe & G. H. von Wright, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty (G. E. M. Anscombe, & G. H. von Wright, Eds., D. Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell.


F. R. Recchia Luciani

Francesca R. Recchia Luciani is Full Professor of History of Philosophy at the University of Bari, Italy. Her research interests include Philosophies and Epistemologies of the twentieth and twenty-first century, Philosophy in the Arts and Media, Human Rights, and Women and Gender studies. She is Editorial director of «POST- FILOSOFIE. Review of philosophical practices and human sciences» since 2005.  

Chapter 11

Wanting to Be Better: On the Self-­ Defeating Character of Moral Perfection Kamila Pacovská

In the climactic part of his paper “Moral Integrity”, Peter Winch summarises with appreciation the main point of J.L. Stocks’s book Morality and Purpose: “[M]orality can require that we abandon absolutely any specifiable end, including the end of one’s own moral perfection.” (Winch 1968/1972, 187) This claim suggests that aiming at one’s moral perfection, or even caring for it, could jeopardise moral action and, therefore, that moral perfection is not always a good end to pursue. Such a claim is disturbingly unintuitive: isn’t it part of being a decent person that one recognises one’s flaws and imperfections and tries to be better? We blame people who succumb to their weaknesses for not trying to change and for lacking a strong enough moral ideal. It is also part of remorse that one sees oneself as having failed in that respect. How could wanting and trying to be better interfere with actual goodness? Certainly, moral perfection concerns one’s character, which is a different thing from action. But, there is an intimate connection between these two: improving one’s character improves one’s actions, and as far back as Aristotle we find the claim that the only way to acquire or improve virtue is to act virtuously. It is no coincidence that Stocks formulated his claim in the context of Aristotelian virtue ethics, in which the issues of moral education, self-improvement and perfection are central: if moral action depends on the quality of the agent’s character, and if moral character cannot but be acquired by learning, then aspiration to an ideal of perfection is an essential part of such an ethic. Thus, Julia Annas emphasises that the “drive to aspire” is necessary for the virtuous person (Annas 2011, Ch. 3). Similarly, Linda Zagzebski claims that ethical theory must “track moral development” and that this development is governed by admiration and imitation of exemplars that

K. Pacovská (*) University of Pardubice, Pardubice, Czech Republic e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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express an ideal of excellence (Zagzebski 2017, 1–4). What could possibly be wrong with this aspiration to excellence? It should be made clear from the outset that neither Stocks nor Winch are interested in criticising any specific moral theory that falls under the contemporary heading of “perfectionism”, that is, a moral theory stating as its primary demand that each human being should perfect herself as much as possible.1 Rather, both are after something more fundamental, the very question of how morality enters human action. Both reject the widespread notion that morality provides a special kind of end, an end with supreme weight that is to be pursued in preference to other ends. They differ, however, in how they understand this end. For Stocks, an end is always something to be achieved in the future. This is why he takes Aristotle’s supreme end of perfection as his most sophisticated enemy. Moral perfection in his understanding is a process of moral improvement, growth and development. In line with his contemporaries, Winch attaches much broader meaning to the concept of end in his reception of Stocks’s claim: an end can be a general continuous motive, object or value, such as one’s happiness or health, or someone else’s good. In that understanding, the end of moral perfection acquires the meaning of an ideal, that is, of a perfect picture that guides one’s conduct. The target of Winch’s criticism is thus all prevailing contemporary ethical theories that aim at providing such an action-guiding ideal—most importantly, consequentialism and Kantianism (Winch 1968/1972, 179, 187). Naturally, Winch was not the only philosopher who criticised the excessive emphasis on action guidance in what has come to be known as the legalistic notion of morality: there is the whole movement of virtue ethics that builds on that criticism. Nevertheless, there are important aspects of Winch’s penetrating critique that apply even to (at least Aristotelian) virtue ethics. Following on Winch’s analysis of corrupted aspirations for moral perfection, I will suggest that there is a key virtue, humility, that is indispensable for right action, but that is at the same time notoriously overlooked by (Aristotelian) virtue ethics.2 Its importance shows in what I will call the “paradox of moral perfection”: when moral perfection progresses successfully and one actually becomes a better person, an awareness of this fact corrupts the very perfection achieved. I will claim that people care about what they are morally, but that when this care is not regulated by the virtue of humility, it backfires into self-centred corruptions such as self-deception, pride, egotism, Pharisaism and judgementalism. Moral ambition can thus lead to wrongdoings performed in the very name of morality. In what follows, I will pursue two parallel lines: in Sects. 11.1 and 11.2, I investigate the meaning and validity of Stocks’s claim about moral perfection both in his 1  A particular kind of Aristotelianism falls within that category (see, for example, Den Uyl and Rasmussen 2016 or Russell 2012) or the moral perfectionism of Stanley Cavell (see, for example, Forsberg 2017). 2  With rare exceptions, such as Hare (1996). See Bommarito (2018) for an overview of the recent discussion on modesty and humility that, however, treats humility as one (if any at all) virtue among many and that fails to see its central importance for moral action.

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own exposition and in Winch’s reception of it. This investigation opens into a more systematic analysis in Sects. 11.3 and 11.4 of the way in which the aspiration to a moral ideal can be detrimental to moral life if it is taken over by ambition and pride. The two lines converge in Sect. 11.5. I will begin with Stocks’s original claim. After discussing two examples of my own in Sect. 11.1—since Stocks himself does not give an illustration—I will turn in Sect. 11.2 to examine Winch’s example of the Quaker elder. Winch uses this example to show two attitudes to an ideal, internal and external, the latter being identified with the attitude to an “end”. These two attitudes are fully developed in Winch’s substantial and penetrating analysis of Tolstoy’s story “Father Sergius”, which inspires the next two Sections. In Sect. 11.3, the externalisation of moral demand is connected with Sergius’s moral failure. Section 11.4 takes up the inquiry into the causes of Sergius’s fall. I will argue that it was Sergius’s misconceived desire for perfection that made space for his self to sneak in. In Sect. 11.5, I try to strengthen Winch’s and Stocks’s point by bringing in the example of banker Bulstrode, whose proud pursuit of moral perfection and consequent self-deception results in a crime.

11.1  Moral Improvement and the Question of the Self In the second part of his essay “Is There a Moral End?”, Stocks considers the “purposive” interpretations of morality represented by Aristotle and Bradley, and asks whether the supreme end of moral perfection understood as the “development of one’s character” or “moral improvement” can ground morality. He claims that it cannot since that would make moral action a means to some future result, and any means is always open to the possibility of being rejected on moral grounds, that is, on grounds that are independent of the supreme moral purpose.3 “Morality”, Stocks argues, “may call on a man at any moment to surrender the most promising avenue to his own moral perfection” (Stocks 1969, 29), because the “demand of decency is prepared to sacrifice, in the given case, any purpose whatever” (Stocks 1969, 77). Considering Stocks’s systematic criticism of utilitarianism, there is a certain irony in his offering as an illustration of his claim a man who jeopardised “his own moral development when thereby he seemed to serve the ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’” (Stocks 1969, 78). Stocks thus appears to suggest that the problem with one’s moral perfection is that it falls merely within one’s interests, whereas morality must take into account the interests of more, possibly all people.4 I want to offer two more substantial examples of Stocks’s claim that show that moral perfection conceived as an end that lies in the future does not have to be self-interested and  See Gaita 2006, 80 for a clear explanation of the purposive paradigm.  It is a version of a classic objection to Aristotelian virtue ethics, that the virtuous person is interested in the perfection of her own virtues and achievement of her own well-being (Scanlon 1998) and that Aristotelian virtue ethics is essentially egoistic. For a simple refutation, see, for example, Annas 2011, 152–163. 3 4


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yet can be in fatal conflict with moral consideration. Both are examples of situations in which something (at least partly) external stands in the way of a person’s becoming a better person. Example 1: A person can be trapped in a close relationship with someone (a spouse, a parent) who is extremely difficult, for example someone who is possessive, abusive, vicious or morally corrupt. Frequent interaction with such a character has a profoundly corrosive influence on the person, and she hates the kind of spiteful, vindictive and mean person she is becoming. The only way out is to end the relationship, but let us imagine that this can be done only at serious cost: for example, the person is an invalid, entirely dependent on her care. In such a case, a moral demand to stay can stand in the way of her moral reconstitution. Example 2: A person may become morally crippled by the trying material situation in which she finds herself. We might imagine that she was born into a family whose members have a history of addiction and who are deeply burdened by debt. She hates the kind of cynical, distrustful, despairing and petty person she has become under the weight of circumstances, and she hates the way she treats those around her, including her children. The only way out is to change the situation, but, again, let us imagine that this can only be done by ignoble means: dishonest marriage, theft, fraud. Again, moral scruple can lead to her sacrificing her moral repair. Both examples are cases of future moral improvement the only means to which are morally unacceptable. Both are cases in which an external obstacle stands in the way of moral improvement. Now, I think a certain disinclination to grant that this is possible comes from the deep-rooted assumption of prevailing moral theories that the only obstacle to becoming a moral person is internal. One wants to say: it must be possible to find another, moral way to break out of the situation; it must be possible to change internally, to acquire more patience or moral courage, for example, so that one resists the corrupting influence of the situation. But that kind of moral optimism is ignorant of the tragedy that human life can become and of the degree to which misfortune can corrupt human integrity.5 As D.Z. Phillips shows, life sometimes brings limits to moral endeavour that make moral action impossible, even though it is justifiably commanded by moral theories.6 Granted that the two examples are valid instances of Stocks’s thesis, let us note that, in both cases, a reverse description seems more fitting than the one used by Stocks: it is not quite the case that decency stands in the way of moral perfection. Rather, decency hinders these people from releasing themselves from moral degradation, immorality or vice. The latter is a case of moral perfection or improvement, but the weight of the description is different than in the positive case: there might be some kind of call to perfect ourselves morally even if our imperfections are not linked to any specific wrongdoing, but we definitely should try to change if our recognised indecency harms the people around us. Moral improvement is thus an

 Simone Weil’s pieces on affliction are essential here. See, for example, Weil 2009.  See an insightful discussion of four types of these limits in Phillips 1982. The final example of Tess D’Urberville, in particular, is pertinent here. 5 6

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integral part of true remorse: regretting one’s action is mere self-pity or masochistic self-flagellation if one is ready to do it again (Gaita 2006, Ch. 4, esp. 29–53). It is becoming clear that perfecting oneself morally is not something one necessarily does for one’s own self. Such a reading suggests itself only when the discussion of moral perfection or self-improvement is abstracted from the action to which moral imperfection leads. What is wrong with the “end of one’s own moral perfection” as a candidate for a moral foundation is therefore not primarily that it is self-­ seeking and therefore potentially in conflict with the good of others. The trouble with such an end is that it cannot play the role of a supreme end of morality since— as we have seen in the above examples—it can be trumped by another requirement. Contrary to what Stocks suggests, however, these cases do not necessarily represent a clash of the self with the moral world, but rather a clash between genuine moral demands. The fact that there is this commendable meaning of one’s perfection makes it difficult to spot the dangers of the innumerable self-centred misconceptions of it, such as ambition, or a desire to excel or impress, to which we will return in Sects. 11.4 and 11.5.

11.2  Action Guidance and Moral Necessity Taking up Stocks’s claim about the end of moral perfection, Winch entirely drops its reference to both (future) moral improvement and virtue ethics. He speaks instead of a positive (moral or religious) ideal a person has for conducting her life. Such an ideal of perfection is an end pursued quite differently to that of one’s moral improvement: it is a continuous general end, a guiding idea for the sake of which one acts when acting morally. In claiming that moral perfection cannot be conceived as such an end, Winch’s criticism goes much farther and deeper than Stocks’s: its target is any account of morality that conceives moral considerations as a guide to conduct, that is, any theory with the ambition of determining the right course of action in a given situation by providing guiding principles or rules (such as Kantian or utilitarian). Winch fights against the picture of moral action that these theories prompt us to adopt, a picture expressed in the idea that a moral principle or ideal is to be conceived as an end, an object among many others. Winch describes the example of the Quaker elder7 to show up the action-guiding picture and eventually to claim it as a case of Stocks’s thesis that morality can require us to abandon any kind of end, including the end of one’s own moral perfection. It is part of the moral ideal of the elder’s community to follow strictly the principle of non-violence. Yet, when a group of gangsters take refuge in their house and threaten to shoot a young female member of the community, the elder, “with horror and doubt on his face” kills the gangster with a pitchfork. Winch argues that

7  Winch takes the example from the 1955 film Violent Saturday, but since he significantly (though unintentionally) alters the story, I will not refer to the original film.


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the elder was responding to a genuine moral demand, even if it meant acting against the main guiding principle of his life (his “ideal of moral perfection”). He stresses, however, that in acting as he did, the elder “neither abandoned that ideal nor succumbed to a non-moral temptation” (Winch 1968/1972, 185). That the elder’s action could be misunderstood as a kind of psychological temptation or inclination (for example, the instinct to protect a member of one’s family) is due to the fact that its motivating moral demand is of a peculiar sort: Winch says that, in responding to it, the elder could not help acting as he did; killing the gangster was something he had to do. He introduces a special modality, that of moral necessity, to show that some of the purest cases of moral action are cases of spontaneous response in which the agent not only does not deliberate, but also does not even choose, since all the other alternatives to action do not present to him as possibilities (we will see another example of such action in Father Sergius before his fall). The necessity, however, is not psychological, but moral: it is a response to a situation perceived in moral terms (such as protecting the defenceless) (Winch 1968/1972, 186).8 It is clear that an important point of the example is to contrast the (general and external) moral principle or ideal, on the one hand, with the (particular and internal) moral demand, on the other. But it is equally important for Winch to expose the true nature of the clash between the elder’s moral ideal and his moral action, the aim of which is not so obvious but is crucial for the purpose of this paper. Winch rejects the intuitive reading of the example that by acting against the principle of non-violence, the elder simply abandons his moral ideal in favour of a more pressing moral demand. Winch insists that the elder does not abandon or even qualify the original principle; he still holds the principle of non-violence as an incontestable part of his highest moral ideal. Violating it, he “knows he has done something wrong” (Winch 1968/1972, 186). But, in granting this point, how are we to understand the elder’s situation? How could he, acting in full command of his senses, retain his moral ideal and still act intentionally against it? It is at this point that Winch’s reference to Stocks’s claim is helpful. Winch seems to suggest—even though he does not say so explicitly—that what is abandoned in the elder’s case is not the ideal of moral perfection as such, but rather his pursuit of and aspiration for it: by his acting against the ideal, the elder sacrifices his own chance of living up to it, or, in other words, he renounces his end or ambition to pursue his own moral perfection. In this reading, the elder undergoes a kind of transformation that concerns his very attitude to moral perfection. The previous, faulty attitude is that of an ideal conceived as one’s end or object. This seems to be the line Winch takes when he opens the follow-up discussion of Father Sergius: “Now in some ways a better way of expressing the truth in Stock’s remark might be to say that one’s own moral perfection is not a possible end of one’s conduct at all and, a fortiori, not a possible 8  See also Hertzberg (2009), p.  37, and a fine discussion of moral necessity in chapter 10 of Hertzberg 1994 that connects the present example with Winch’s later essays “Moral Particularity” and “Who is My Neighbour?”.

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moral end” (Winch 1968/1972, 187). His subsequent discussion of Father Sergius and of the two ways in which one can attach to an ideal suggests that if a moral ideal (or any kind of general guiding principle) is conceived in that way, it malfunctions because the self can steal in.

11.3  Two Attitudes to a Moral Ideal Proceeding to the example of Father Sergius, Winch leaves behind Stocks’s claim and the concept of moral perfection, both of which I will try to reconnect in Sect. 11.4. In contrast to the example of the elder, in which two different attitudes to morality are illustrated by a clash of two different moral demands, the example of Father Sergius shows that it is possible to have two different attitudes to a single moral demand. Let me call these attitudes “internal” and “external”. Winch defends the internal attitude and suggests that the external attitude, in which an ideal is conceived as one’s end or object, involves a certain corruption. He chooses the example of Father Sergius to show the complex change from one attitude to another and the gradual process of corruption and degradation, in which the externalisation of moral demand causes moral failure.9 Father Sergius, then Lieutenant Kasatsky, leaves a promising military career to become a monk. Eventually, he becomes a celebrated hermit. The two attitudes to a moral (or religious) ideal are illustrated by two stages of Father Sergius’s life, in each of which he faces temptation, with different results. The first stage of his life is that of “sincere religious feeling”, unmarked by doubts. When a woman tries to seduce him, he chops off his finger with an axe to prevent temptation. In the second stage, when his prestige and fame rise, his religious feeling weakens with doubts. Faced with the same temptation of lust again, he is unable to fight it and succumbs. Winch suggests that one of the reasons for Sergius’s failure is exactly the kind of attitude to a moral ideal that is implied by contemporary moral theories: faced with a desire, one should consult moral considerations and choose according to them. But Winch claims that Sergius defeated his desire in the first stage exactly because he didn’t choose: the temptation didn’t present to him as a possible course of action at all; his only object was effectively to stop it. Since he didn’t see the course of action presented by the temptation as an alternative, he didn’t have to weigh it against the claim of morality and to make a choice (Winch 1968/1972, 189). One could add, in line with the previous example, that chopping off his finger, once he realised it was the only way for him to remove the temptation, was something he simply had to do. In the second stage, his faith is weakened to the extent that the fulfilment of religious duties becomes for him “an object to be achieved” (Winch 1968/1972, 189). The satisfaction of his desire is now a real alternative that he has to weigh against

 See a fine summary of the argument in Hertzberg 2009, 34–36.



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the opposing duty. Any deliberation of this kind seems, for Winch, to imply a need for justification, a “demonstration” in this case, of the importance of religious life (which he cannot give due to his doubts). In the first stage, “the question did not arise for him” and that was the reason why he was able to fulfil the duty. Winch’s point could be tentatively summarised thus: duties (and any ideal of life in general) conceived as an object one decides on next to other objects are thereby made less powerful.10 It is part of a certain kind of commitment that is so internalised, so part of one’s self, that there is no need to look for its justification—this already is a sign of not being fully committed. Now, one could object that Winch is taking an example of religious life to prove a point about moral life. It could be pointed out that religious duties make sense only in the background of religious faith, whereas moral duties do not have any such background. I believe, however, that part of Winch’s point is to show exactly that moral commitments and moral life bear much more similarities to religious commitments and religious life than we tend to think; that morality has a spiritual aspect the neglect of which leads to its misrepresentation. A moral analogy to the present religious case can be made quite naturally: let us imagine the temptation of a married woman who is attracted to a man who clearly admires her. We can imagine a stage in which she has deep faith in marriage and is able to cut off the suitor because his offer, even though she is tempted, simply does not present as a possibility to her. At another stage, however, maybe under the influence of numerous divorces of her friends or the general unhappy situation of her life (despair, cynicism, disappointment), her faith in marriage is undermined, her commitment loosens, and she is faced with a dilemma: should she master the temptation or give in? Does it matter? Does anything matter? But it is part of the psychology of temptation that at the moment such deliberation begins, the battle is already lost. It is clear that the course of the woman’s action depends not simply on an insulated moral requirement. The strength of her commitment depends on many other things, such as the importance and meaning she attaches to family life, marriage, fidelity and trust, her orientation to life as such (hope or despair, trust or cynicism), her level of self-absorption, etc. The depth and inwardness of the commitment depend on the whole of her inner life.11 This interconnection is clearly visible in the case of Father Sergius, whose weakness can be traced to the decline of his spiritual life and the inflation of his ego. Moral commitment conceived as an external guide to conduct cannot do justice to the cause of Sergius’s fall.

 We are speaking here about the contexts in which there is obvious duty that is weighed against other non-moral considerations. The situation is different when decision is needed concerning what is the right thing to do—see Winch’s penetrating analysis in his “The Universalizability of Moral Judgments”. 11  Donald Evans describes a similar case of overall relativisation and weakening of commitment, in this case to family, in the example of Rastignac from Balzac’s Old Goriot (Evans 1975, 310). 10

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11.4  Perfectionism and Moral Ambition There is another point in comparing religious life and moral life that is of major importance for the main problem of this paper: religious life is something in which one can make a career that can, in turn, present a specific kind of threat to it. Father Sergius is a fine example of how a drive for success, pre-eminence, admiration and praise undermines spiritual life. Yet, these motives are difficult to track because they intermingle in a complex way with motives and aspirations that are genuinely worthy. Winch lays special emphasis on his observation that they are not distinct, parallel motives, but rather a corruption of the worthy ones (Winch 1968/1972, 188). I hope to show in Sects. 11.4 and 11.5 of this paper that the threat of this kind of corruption is the main and most interesting reason to support Stocks’s claim. In pursuing an ideal of moral perfection, there is always a danger that one makes a career out of moral life: if moral perfection is governed by ambition and desire for success, it becomes conceived as an end, that is, externally. But, then, moral perfection is no longer moral and its point is lost. This is what happened to Sergius: at the peak of his doubts, he looked for a justification of his religious life. The only thing he could find, Winch tells us, is the “kudos and admiration” it brought him, since it was only these he ended up truly caring for, even though not consciously (Winch 1968/1972, 190). It was at the same time the peak of his religious career: his fame was massive, admiring visitors came from all over the country to ask for his advice, blessing or healing. Their attention and devotion was immense and Sergius, even though feeling exhausted and spiritually worn out by it, could not find the strength to limit their visits: “He was oppressed and wearied by visitors, but at the bottom of his heart he was glad of their presence and glad of the praise they heaped upon him” (Tolstoy 1960 quoted by Winch 1968/1972, 191). He was flattered by their admiration, and their belief in his saintly healing power satisfied his lifelong desire for pre-eminence. But Winch points out that these feelings pervert and empty the very object of admiration: “He thought himself a shining light, and the more he felt this the more was he conscious of a weakening, a dying down of the divine light of truth that shone within him”. The sources of Sergius’s failure would, however, be misrepresented if one contented oneself with pointing out the inappropriate object of his seemingly praiseworthy activities. That would, indeed, portray them as distinct and parallel motives, a thought that Winch resists. I believe that Sergius’s spiritual fall cannot be explained without bringing out his attitude to perfection (and it is at this point that I leave Winch’s text behind and return to my initial topic). Tolstoy tells us that in any of Sergius’s numerous life occupations, it is his prime goal to achieve the highest possible perfection and that he always invests maximum effort into that enterprise. Ilham Dilman characterises Sergius as a person “ambitious for excellence”, with a “passion for distinguishing himself” (Dilman 1992, 82). Since he is actually extraordinarily gifted in many respects, he is always successful and manages to achieve pre-eminence, be it in his military or religious career.


K. Pacovská

The shortcomings of Sergius’s perfectionism can be identified using Thomas Hill’s concept of moral snobbery. A moral snob is someone who judges people, including herself, in the light of their moral merit: she disdains the vicious people and idolises the virtuous ones whom she thinks as better and more worthwhile (Hill 1991, 166f., discussed in Pettigrove and Meyer 2009). She is engaged in constant comparison of the moral merit and worth of people.12 Clearly, Sergius’s desire for pre-eminence is a case of moral snobbery in the sense that he conceives of people in terms of superiority and inferiority and the connected emotions of admiration and disdain: “By becoming a monk he showed contempt for all that seemed most important to others and had seemed so to him while he was in the service, and he now ascended a height from which he could look down on those he had formerly envied” (Tolstoy 1960 quoted by Winch 1968/1972, 187). Sergius’s motive for perfection is not his care for what is to be perfected, but rather a desire to triumph over others. As Pettigrove and Meyer point out, this sense of moral snobbery often goes with what they call “false pride”: a proud person not only ranks people but also believes that she is actually better than others (Pettigrove and Meyer 2009, 288). One can spot such conceited belief and self-satisfaction in Sergius’s later thoughts about his own saintliness (“He thought himself a shining light”, etc.). A strong desire to excel can easily tempt one to actually believe that one is excellent. It is important to notice—and it is only rarely noticed—that pride in this sense affects one’s judgement and evaluation of actions and character. Thinking too well of herself, such a person tends not only to overlook her past faults and failures but also to deceive herself about the nature of her present desires and motives. Such lack of self-­ criticism can be fatal for the moral character of her actions: Sergius, for example, is no more able to see clearly the coming temptation and to prevent his failure. Only his painful fall opens his eyes to what was before him the whole time: that his pride has corrupted his religious life into an end to pursue, a career to succeed in. In the next Section, I will show how self-deception caused by misconceived perfectionism can even result in immoral action. What is puzzling about these reflections on perfectionism is the intermingling of pride with real aspirations, achievements and qualities. In the first part of Sergius’s career, he was an excellent, saintly man with a gift for healing, a gift that certainly requires genuine commitment and devotion. One could say that at the beginning of his career as a monk, at the beginning of his journey to perfection, Sergius was still humble, since there was yet not much to be proud of. But, once his achievements reached a certain measure, they started to have a corrupting effect; pride crept in. Yet, pride in turn is incompatible with genuine religious feeling; it weakens religious commitment. It is my claim that it also weakens moral commitment. That humility is a key virtue in morality as well as in religion is clear when one starts examining the concept of moral perfection. In any success on the way to perfection, there is an inherent danger that the positive effects of success sabotage the  Roberts (2007, 83–88) condemns this tendency to ground human worth on comparison of moral merit as pride. For a thorough discussion of this concept, in connection with judgementalism and moralism, see Pacovská 2018a.


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very success. The better one becomes, the more ovations one receives, the more there is objective reason to think well of oneself and to be pleased with oneself. There is a paradox in moral perfection: people who are very advanced in moral perfection, who are better than other people, must not acknowledge the fact, because such acknowledgment would jeopardise their moral perfection. Humility, the antidote to success, manifests itself as a sort of ignorance.13 Dilman makes an important observation connected to this point: “Sergius became conscious of the humility he was seeking in himself” and “the pleasure he finds in this consciousness separated him from what he sought” (Dilman 1992, 83). There is a self-satisfaction betrayed by the pleasure, a sense that he congratulates himself for the achievement, for the excellence he has desired and reached: “How exquisitely humble I am!” But this pleasure is a sign that his motives are false: “[H]e has humbled himself not for the sake of God, but for the sake of his pride” (Dilman 1992, 84). That there can be pride even in humility is possible because one can aim at humility, be ambitious in pursuing it, succeed in that effort, and rejoice in the success. But this is a corrupt enterprise since it takes humility as an end, which it is not (Dilman 1992, 84). The abovementioned paradox of moral perfection leads one to appreciate Raimond Gaita’s conception of moral saints and his claim that central to their goodness is humility, that is, their considering themselves equal even to the worst criminals. Moral saints, that is, people of whom one could say they are closest to moral perfection, objectively have all the reason to think themselves better than murderers, rapists and other morally degraded people. But they don’t: they consider themselves equal to all human beings, because they don’t let moral or other merit affect the worth human beings have for them. Since that worth is apprised via love, one could rephrase Gaita’s observation thus: the goodness and humility of moral saints manifests in the fact that they are able to love all human beings unconditionally.14

11.5  Moral Perfection and Self-Deception In the previous two Sections, I have considered Winch’s claim that moral perfection is not a possible moral end. Winch gave deeper meaning to Stocks’s initial claim that morality can require one to abandon even the end of one’s own moral perfection, and drew attention to a serious threat of moral careerism that tends to be

 A similar point can be made about goodness; see Barabas 2011 and Cordner 2011. But see Gaita (2006, 202–203) on the very question of whether goodness (and humility) can be conceived as an achievement rather than as a gift, because the concept of purity is needed to characterise their perfection. The problem of ignorance is discussed also in connection to the virtue of modesty; see, for example Raterman 2006. I believe, however, that treating all achievements in the same way fails to do justice to the special status of moral merit and moral character. 14  See especially the chapter “Goodness beyond virtue” from Gaita (2002) and the Preface, ch. 11 and 12 from Gaita (2006). I discussed some traits of the saints’ self-conception in Pacovská (2014), part 3, and in Pacovská (2018a). 13


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overlooked in contemporary ethics. Stocks, however, suggested an even more severe danger: not only can a corrupted moral ideal jeopardise moral action; it can also lead to immoral action.15 What I want to do in this Section of the paper is to offer an example of this stronger claim and show that it is possible and actually quite common to commit wrong under the very guise of morality. I will thereby connect Stocks’s claim with some other topics in moral psychology, such as self-deception, conception of oneself and one’s identity, and self-love. In an earlier paper (Pacovská 2016), I used the example of banker Bulstrode from George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch to show a widespread type of wrongdoing, which I called “self-deceptive wrongdoing”: wrongdoing that is committed voluntarily but in which the agent deceives herself about the nature of her action to such an extent that she ends up believing she did nothing wrong and therefore does not regret her action or feel remorse. The source of her deception, I claimed, is a strong moral ideal intertwined with acute, self-seeking ambition. Banker Bulstrode is a character in many ways similar to Father Sergius: he has a genuine, unusually strong religious feeling, but also a strong desire for worldly power and respectability. This ambition corrupts in multiple ways his otherwise praiseworthy activities. Bulstrode is a wealthy and important man in Middlemarch who clings to the position that he has achieved all on his own since his arrival in the town. One day, his former employee Raffles starts to blackmail him over the dishonest way he amassed his fortune in his youth. Raffles is taken ill and stays over at Bulstrode’s house, where Bulstrode himself attends to him. As the night advances, Bulstrode’s agony increases. He is torn between a craving for Raffles’ death and dignified prayers and theories about the righteousness of his conduct. Late in the night, he gives in and disobeys two doctor’s orders, in consequence of which Raffles dies: he “forgets” to tell the housekeeper when to stop administering opium, and he allows her to give Raffles brandy on the pretext of compassion for the patient’s pleas, but against the strict and repeated prohibitions of the doctor. Bulstrode, however, manages very well to justify to himself both cases of disobedience: the doctor himself mentioned that his methods were unusual and rather revolutionary, and maybe, who knows, he is not such a good doctor after all. As I show in more detail in my text, these are clearly fabricated excuses designed to cover the fact that Bulstrode disobeyed the doctor’s orders in order to hasten Raffles’ death. It is important to notice two things, however: first, that Bulstrode would never acknowledge this description since the motive worked in him covertly, hidden by his elaborate self-deception; second, if he identified his murderous motive as it was, he would never have acted on it—he actually forbade himself explicitly and with abhorrence to contemplate that option on the previous evening.16 His self-deception

 “[W]hole-hearted attention to this aim will not ensure the rightness of the action in which it is expressed; and that it is so far from being the essence of morality that in certain circumstances it may be condemned as immoral” (Stocks 1969, 77). 16  This mechanism resembles the kind of moral weakness that Donald Evans attributes to Chekhov’s “moral slavery”: “being incapable of mortal sin yet persisting in venial sins infinitely more destruc15

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is the result of an irresolvable conflict between his desire for Raffles’ death and his conscious disapproval of any action in that direction.17 However, if his disapproval was genuine and wholehearted, he would never have acted against it. And it is here where the example connects with what Winch says about Sergius, namely, that moral consideration is too weak and external when the moral ideal is taken only as an object. If Bulstrode abhorred the idea of killing another human being instead of abhorring himself for falling short of his ideal, he would never have done it. That Bulstrode’s grip on morality is relaxed in a similar way to that of Sergius can be seen in the way its meaning is connected with his person and with his reputation: Bulstrode is anxious not to do anything blameworthy, as he is terrified of losing his moral profile not only in his own eyes but also in the eyes of others. There is an important lesson that the psychology of self-deception can provide for an inquiry into moral ambition. It is widely agreed that a crucial motivating force of self-deception is a strong conception of one’s self. As Rorty puts it, the person engaging in self-deception has strong interest in “maintaining, advancing, developing some conception of himself as the sort of person he takes himself to be” (Rorty 1985, 125; cf. Rorty 1972, 399). One can identify with one’s career (a philosopher, an artist), or with one’s role (mother, partner), but the case of Bulstrode shows that moral identity has a special and very foundational place in one’s self-conception. Cases of self-deception in moral matters show that people care immensely about who they are morally, that they are good, or at least not bad. This is why the pain of remorse, guilt and shame penetrates so deeply: by implying that one has failed morally, these emotions question the very basic fact of one’s identity: that one is, overall, a decent person. In order to maintain the approval of oneself, one might go to great lengths to conceal one’s misdemeanours from oneself. Let me make one last connection: what the importance of self-conception and self-approval shows is that each human being relates to herself somehow. For a good and happy life, this relationship has to be positive. When it is disrupted or even hateful, it causes significant disturbances to one’s life. The acknowledgement that one has done something terrible, that one is an awful person, is one of the most trying experiences for such a relationship with oneself. It was Aristotle who suggested that one’s disapproval of oneself can lead to self-hatred and self-destruction (Aristotle 2002, EN VIII, 1166b). If the relationship with oneself is modelled on interpersonal love, and if love is conditioned by the approval of the other’s character (which is the Aristotelian picture), it is clear how acknowledgment of one’s guilt can result in selfhatred or even suicide. As it is not clear how we can love a murderer, it is not clear how a human being can live with herself knowing she has murdered someone.

tive because they can be ignored and the agent can see himself as a man of honour when he is not” (Evans 1975, 304). 17  On this point, Bulstrode’s case differs from that of Sergius. Since Bulstrode is self-deceived, he does not feel any remorse. Sergius’s failure, on the other hand, is a classic case of weak will: he knows he is failing and he feels acute remorse. In this sense, a weak will is a better option than self-deception: Sergius’s remorse leads to his moral reconstitution, whereas Bulstrode never changes.


K. Pacovská

I suggested in Sect. 11.4, and have elaborated elsewhere (Pacovská 2014), that humility is an important condition for being able to love a murderer. In a similar way, I would claim that an important condition for acknowledging one’s guilt (and dealing with one’s remorse) is, again, to reach that level of humility in which the sense of one’s worth is not derived from one’s moral profile.18 False pride, as defined in Sect. 11.4, stands in the way of clear-sighted acknowledgement of one’s faults, mainly because it is not clear how a proud person could carry on living with herself once she saw and condemned what she did. This is why it is sometimes helpful to spell out self-centred corruptions in terms of (improper) self-love. An explanation in these terms accounts for partiality to oneself, and for excessive self-concern, and makes it possible to investigate the distinction between healthy and unhealthy relations to oneself. I have neither the space nor the necessary means to defend a conception of self-love here. My modest point is just to observe that pride and humility (and, with them, an aspiration to moral perfection) essentially concern one’s relation to oneself.

11.6  Conclusion This paper began with a question concerning Stocks’s claim as to whether morality can ever require one to abandon the end of one’s own moral perfection. Since this is a claim about possibility, it was necessary to find its plausible instantiations. It turned out that there are such instantiations, but it became obvious that what was important for Stocks, and later for Winch, was the implicit connection of the concept of an “end” with something that is “one’s own”. I suggested that for both thinkers, the requirement of morality in the conflict in question takes the form of resignation to a personal aspiration or ambition. Winch, nevertheless, has much more to say about the self-centred corruptions of aspiration to a moral ideal and I pursued his inquiry in the following Sections, focusing in particular on his claim that one’s moral perfection cannot be pursued as an end and on its exemplification in Father Sergius. Winch directed his claim against the prevailing picture of moral action, in which the moral requirement enters as one consideration among many. This picture, Winch shows, fails to do justice to some of the purest cases, in which the moral course of action presents itself to the agent as a necessity that precludes any possible alternatives. If moral action is conceived in the other way, that is, as something to be decided upon, it would be by that very fact weakened. The prevailing picture thus not only blurs key distinctions in the moral worth of action but also fails to identify corrupted forms of moral effort.

18  I elaborate the connection of remorse and self-love in ch. 10 of Pacovská 2018b. I use the example of Kostelnička (from Janáček’s opera Jenúfa) to show that her false pride (or self-love) was responsible for her neurotic guilt and that the final humiliation transformed this guilt into accepting remorse.

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I claimed that Winch’s criticism has far-reaching implications, especially for the analysis of moral ideal, ambition and perfection. It shows that there is genuine ambivalence in the pursuit of moral perfection: it can be worthwhile and even necessary if the motive is right, but it can turn out very wrong if the motive is taken over by the self and its main vice, pride. The danger of this turn is visible from what I called the paradox of moral perfection: the better one becomes, the more fertile the ground for a form of pride that sabotages the betterment. That is why I claimed that humility, a key virtue in religion, is also a key virtue in morality. It is exactly in the problem of moral perfection that humility’s importance is most manifest. It might seem that, in speaking of purity of motives, the discussion concerns a narrow segment of fine-grained moral distinctions that have no significant bearing on right and wrong action. In Sect. 11.5, however, I showed that the contrary is true: if one acknowledges how many wrongdoings are done such that the wrongdoer does not feel any regret, it becomes clear that there is some kind of blindness or even self-deception about the nature of her action that makes her action possible. This self-deception is motivated by a strong moral ideal that is corrupted by the agent’s pride exactly in the way pointed out by Winch, and indirectly by Stocks. Their arguments, therefore, connect very well with more recent discussions of self-deception and identity.19

References Annas, J. (2011). Intelligent Virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Aristotle. (2002). Nicomachean Ethics (S.  Broadie, Ed. & C.  Rowe, Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Barabas, M. (2011). In search of goodness. In C. Cordner (Ed.), Philosophy, ethics and common humanity (pp. 82–105). London: Routledge. Bommarito, N. (2018). Modesty and humility. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 edition). modesty-humility/. Cordner, C. (2011). Gaita and Plato: Goodness, love, and beauty. In C. Cordner (Ed.), Philosophy, Ethics and Common Humanity (pp. 49–67). London: Routledge. Den Uyl, D. J., & Rasmussen, D. B. (2016). The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Dilman, I. (1992). Philosophy and the Philosophic Life: A Study in Plato’s Phaedo. New York: St Martin’s Press. Evans, D. (1975). Moral weakness. Philosophy, 50, 295–310. Forsberg, N. (2017). M and D and Me: Iris Murdoch and Stanley Cavell on perfectionism and self-­ transformation. Iride. Journal of Philosophy and Public Debate, 30(80), 361–372.

 I would like to thank Michael Campbell, Christopher Cordner and Marina Barabas for their very helpful close comments. The paper was supported within the project of Operational Programme Research, Development and Education (OP VVV/OP RDE), “Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value”, registration No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000425, co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic.



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Gaita, R. A. (2002). Common Humanity: Thinking About Love and Truth and Justice. London/ New York: Routledge. Gaita, R. A. (2006). Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception. London/New York: Routledge. Hare, S. (1996). The paradox of moral humility. American Philosophical Quarterly, 33(2), 235–241. Hertzberg, L. (1994). The Limits of Experience. Helsinki: Societas Philosophica Fennica. Hertzberg, L. (2009). Peter Winch: Philosophy as the art of disagreement. In J. Edelman (Ed.), Sense and reality: Essays out of Swansea (pp. 23–48). Heusenstamm: Ontos Verlag. Hill, T. (1991). Social snobbery and human dignity. In Autonomy and Self-respect (pp. 155–172). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pacovská, K. (2014). Loving villains: Virtue in response to wrongdoing. In C. Maurer, T. Milligan, & K.  Pacovská (Eds.), Love and Its Objects. What Can We Care For?  (pp. 125–139). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Pacovská, K. (2016). Banker Bulstrode doesn’t do wrong intentionally: A study of self-deceptive wrongdoing. The Journal of Value Inquiry, 50(1), 169–184. Pacovská, K. (2018a). Love and the pitfall of moralism. Philosophy, 93(2), 231–249. Pacovská, K. (2018b). Vina, láska, náhoda [Guilt, Love, Luck]. Červený kostelec: Nakladatelství Pavel Mervart. Pettigrove, G. A., & Meyer, M. J. (2009). Moral ambition. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 87(2), 285–299. Phillips, D. Z. (1982). Some limits to moral Endeavour. In Through a Darkening Glass: Philosophy, Literature, and Cultural Change (pp. 30–50). Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. Raterman, T. (2006). On modesty: Being good and knowing it without flaunting it. American Philosophical Quarterly, 43(3), 221–234. Roberts, R. C. (2007). Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues. Reflections on Some Christian Virtues. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. Rorty, A. O. (1972). Belief and self-deception. Inquiry, 15(4), 387–410. Rorty, A. O. (1980/1985). Self-deception, akrasia and irrationality. In Jon Elster (Ed.), The Multiple Self (pp. 115–131). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Russell, D. C. (2012). Happiness for Humans. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Scanlon, T. (1998). What We Owe to Each Other. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Stocks, J. L. (1969). Morality and Purpose. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Tolstoy, L. (1960). The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Tales (A. Maude, Trans.). London: The World’s Classics. Weil, S. (2009). Love of god and affliction. In Waiting for God (E. Craufurd, Trans.) (pp. 117–136). New York: Harper and Row. Winch, P. (1968/1972). Moral integrity. In Ethics and action (pp. 171–192). London: Routledge and Kegan. (Originally published as Inaugural Lecture, Kings College London. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.) Zagzebski, L. T. (2017). Exemplarist Moral Theory. New York: Oxford University Press. Kamila Pacovská is Deputy Head of Research at the Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value at the University of Pardubice, Czech Republic. She works in ethics and moral psychology, with a special interest in the Platonic-Wittgensteinian tradition in moral thinking. Her article publications cover the topics of psychology of wrongdoing, self-deception and responsibility, the relation between character and action, attitude to wrongdoers, moralism, love and humility, ethics and literature. She is the author of Vina, láska, náhoda [Guilt, Love, Luck] and a co-editor of the volume Love and Its Objects. What Can We Care For?  

Chapter 12

Between Discovery and Decision: Winch’s Critique of the Universalizability of Moral Judgment Revisited Takeshi Sato

It was in 1965 that Peter Winch’s paper “The Universalizability of Moral Judgments” appeared in The Monist. At that time emotivism had subsided, and moral philosophers were trying once again to build their own original theories. Many of these were designed to overcome emotivism’s characterisation of moral judgements as subjective, individualistic, and irrational. For an emotivist, moral judgment is a kind of expression of unstable emotion of the speaker, and therefore cannot appear in any valid inference. For example, Richard Hare opposed emotivism with his own view, ‘universal prescriptivism’, according to which moral judgment is universal and rational. (See his Freedom and Reason (Hare 1963).) For a prescriptivist, moral judgment has both evaluative meaning and descriptive meaning, and the latter enables moral judgment to be a proper object of rational inference. Against such tendencies, Winch held that moral judgment is not universal but instead, that an evaluation of the truth of a moral judgement depends on irreducibly singular features of the individual who is subject to it. From around the 1980s the tide turned against Hare and the objectivity and universality of moral judgement which he purported to find in moral judgement, and towards a focus on the subjective and the singular in moral thought. Advocates of the ethics of care or virtue ethics opposed the universality of moral judgment. In particular, Nell Noddings argued that care should not be based on universal principles, and John McDowell also held that morality is not formulable in any universal principle, mechanical application of which would constitute objectively correct behaviour (Noddings 1984; McDowell 1979). David Wiggins also criticized the universalizability of moral judgments while directly referring to the work of Winch (Wiggins 1998). The purpose of this paper is to reassess Winch’s argument against the universalizability thesis. Although it seems as if criticism of his argument has been buried in T. Sato (*) Kumamoto University, Kumamoto, Japan © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



T. Sato

history, in fact, if we look carefully at his argument, we can see that it presents a viewpoint which is missing from modern mainstream metaethics. Reconstructing Winch’s position provides for a different understanding of morality itself and thus for an alternative to the range of choices offered by modern mainstream metaethics. In this paper, I will first review Winch’s criticism of the universalizability thesis (hereafter UT) (Sect. 12.1), then examine some responses to that criticism (Sect. 12.2). Finally, I will reconsider the position of Winch from another angle, one different from conventional responses (Sect. 12.3).

12.1  T  he Universalizability Thesis, and Winch’s Critique of It Moral judgments must be universalizable. This claim, typified by Kant’s categorical imperative, has been presented in various forms as the so-called “universalizability thesis” (Sidgwick 1907; Singer 1961; Hare 1963). In criticizing the universalizability thesis, Winch first addresses Henry Sidgwick’s view, as it is encapsulated in the following quotes: We cannot judge an action to be right for A and wrong for B, unless we can find in the natures or circumstances of the two some difference which we can regard as a reasonable ground for difference in their duties. If therefore I judge any action to be right for myself, I implicitly judge it to be right for any other person whose nature and circumstances do not differ from my own in certain important respect. (Sidgwick 1907, 209) If a kind of conduct that is right (or wrong) for me is not right (or wrong) for someone else, it must be on the ground of some difference between the two cases, other than the fact that I and he are different persons. (Sidgwick 1907, 379)

According to Sidgwick, if I want to say that it is right for me to break a promise I made, but it is wrong for you to break your promise, there must be some difference in our circumstances. For example, I may be breaking a promise in order to save lives, whereas you may be breaking your promise out of self-interest. In this case, a difference in the motive being pursued is being held to make a difference to the moral verdict. And if I offer different moral judgements to cases then I am implicitly committed to there being some such difference which justifies this variation in verdict. Winch points out that Sidgwick excludes “who it is making the judgement” from the evaluation of the suitability of a moral judgment. He says “Sidgwick argues that the fact that a moral judgment is made by an agent about a contemplated action of his own in no way affects what can be said about the rightness or wrongness of this judgment” (Winch 1965/1972, 152). If we follow Sidgwick, I am committed to saying that one of us is wrong if it happens that “I decide that a certain action is right for myself and act accordingly [and] another agent is then confronted with a situation not relevantly different and decides that for him the action I had regarded as right would be wrong” (ibid.).

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For example, suppose that I decide that it is right to break promises with friends to save lives, and actually break my promise to save lives. Now suppose that you encounter a situation where life saving is involved, but you decide that it is wrong to break your promise. In this case, according to Sidgwick’s argument, I must think that your judgment is wrong. For if I judge “it is right to φ in C”, then – irresolvable moral dilemmas aside – I am also committed to rejecting the claim that “it is wrong to φ in C”.1 Winch admits that it is logically excluded that I judge “it is right to φ in C” and at the same time make the judgement that “it is wrong to φ in C”. “I accept Sidgwick’s thesis about universalizability, as applied to the relation between such judgments, which is what he refers to in the premise of his argument. For, of course, considerations of consistency, intelligibility, and rationality do apply in moral matters” (Winch 1965/1972, 154). Therefore, the main point of the discussion is whether the demand of consistency can be generalised across judgements made by different individuals in the same situation. Now on the basis of the above, Winch says the following: I am holding that if A says ‘X is the right thing for me to do’ and if B in a situation not relevantly different, says ‘X is a wrong thing for me to do’, it can be that both are correct. That is it may be that neither what each says nor anything entailed by what each says contradicts anything said or implied by the other. (Winch 1965/1972, 164–165)

At first glance, this looks like a claim for moral relativism. If I say that in my judgment “breaking my promise in this situation is correct for me” but also hold that you need not be mistaken in your judgment that “breaking the promise in this situation is wrong for me”, then I seem to mean that “each judgment is right for the particular person”; my judgment is right for me and wrong for you, your judgment is wrong for me and right for you. But this is not what Winch says. Rather, he holds that both of these judgements are simply correct. In order to support this claim, Winch presents a case from Herman Melville’s Billy Budd (Melville 1959).2 A British navy sailor Budd is a good young man who has an angelic personality and is liked by everyone. However, when the satanic superior officer, Claggart, falsely accuses Budd of inciting the crew to mutiny, Budd strikes him. Unfortunately, Claggart dies from the blow. Budd is then charged before a summary court-martial with the capital offence of striking his superior officer. The ship’s captain Vere who oversees the trial now faces a moral dilemma. Should Budd be put to death in accordance with military law, or should he be acquitted according to Vere’s conscience? Vere finally judges that he ought to enforce the law, and Budd is put to death. Regarding Vere’s judgment, Winch asks “whether Sidgwick’s thesis holds of Vere’s ‘This is what I ought to do’ in this situation”. Winch’s answer is “no”. Here he first asks himself what he would have said and done if faced with the same  Here taking ‘φ-ing is wrong’ as equivalent to ‘it is not the case that φ-ing is right’.  Winch in fact bases his discussion on Benjamin Britten’s operatic rendering of the story (Britten 1951). 1 2


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circumstances. And he concludes that “I believe that I could not have acted as did Vere”. Winch continues: “According to Sidgwick, and those who think like him, this must mean that I think Vere acted wrongly, made the wrong decision. However, I do not think this” (Winch 1965/1972, 163). That is, Winch claims that his judgment and Vere’s judgment can both be correct. How can two contrasting judgments concerning the same situation both be correct at the same time? According to Winch, to make a moral judgment is to make a kind of decision. But this decision is also a discovery. “What I have suggested is that the deciding what to do is, in a situation like this, itself a sort of finding out of what it is the right thing to do”. Moreover, the decision constitutes the essential part of what we are calling “finding out what I ought to do” (Winch 1965/1972, 165). Winch explains this mixture of deciding and finding by the idea that one finds out something about oneself in this process. It is “something that can be expressed only in terms of the moral ideas by consideration of which he arrives at his decision” (Winch 1965/1972, 168). In other words, when we face a moral dilemma, we find out “what is and is not morally possible for him in these circumstances” (ibid.), and this whole process is a moral judgment. Since what is possible varies from person to person, moral judgments essentially depend on who does the judging. Let’s look back at what Winch said: “I believe that I could not have acted as did Vere”. The key phrase here is “I could not”. Winch calls the use of “possible / impossible” in this context an instance of the category of “moral modalities” (ibid.). This “could not” is decisively important for the judgment. Vere’s moral judgement is that “what I ought to do is to put Budd to death”, and in making this judgement Vere finds out / constitutes himself as a person who could frustrate the law, and Winch also finds out / constitutes himself as a person who could not declare a death sentence on a person ‘innocent in front of God’. If we look at it like this, Winch argues, both judgments can be right. And if Vere’s judgment that “Budd has to be put to death in this situation” and Winch’s judgment that “Budd cannot be put to death in this situation” can both be correct, the universalizability thesis is not valid.

12.2  Some Responses Is the universalizability thesis invalid, as Winch claims? In what follows I will discuss three defences of the thesis, as they occur in discussion of the matter by Karl-­ Otto Apel, Wiggins, and Hare. Through an evaluation of these criticisms, Winch’s argument itself will become clearer.

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12.2.1  Apel: Universalizability as a Moral Ideal In “Universal Principles and Particular Decisions and Forms of Life” (Apel 1990), Apel argued against Winch’s criticism of the universalizability thesis. According to Apel, Winch’s observations, while important, are not fatal to the universalizability thesis when properly understood. Apel says that the universalizability thesis originally appeared as something transcendental in the course of enlightenment thought (Apel 1990, 79). In other words, the universality of morality was not intended as a guide to action for individual agents to use in their everyday life. Rather, it is to be applied to the entire human race in such a way as human ideals and human rights, are: as ideals towards which we should aspire.3 Therefore, there are limitations in the application of it to practical judgments in daily life. The universalizability thesis is designed for human beings to use as a regulative ideal, something towards which we as a species ought to strive. Certainly, as Winch says, there is a serious danger in too easily deciding both for oneself and for all others and so forcing others to conform to one’s own judgements. It is arrogant to suppose that we, who are limited existences, can make universally valid judgements concerning difficult moral matters. Winch is right in this respect. But, Apel asks: “Does this mean, however, that the agent could not or should not, in searching for their right solution of his decision-problem, say to himself: ‘I ought to find a solution of my problem which, if right, would also be binding “for any other person whose nature and circumstances do not differ from my own in certain important respects” ’ ” (Apel 1990, 78). It does not. This is an admirable goal, Apel stresses, since we must live together in society looking for points to agree with each other. Therefore, Apel holds that Winch did not present an exception to the universalizability thesis, but rather presented a different problem, namely “whether it is permissible to universalize one’s own fallible judgments by making them binding for everybody?” And, Apel holds, “It is, of course, not permissible” (Apel 1990). However, Apel claims that this refusal to generalise from one’s own case is compatible with the original argument of the universalizability thesis that we should make efforts to make our judgment as close to universal as possible. Is Apel’s criticism reasonable? Certainly, if we take ourselves to be trying to find (transcendental) points of universal agreement, then Apel is right. The search for such agreement, and the humility which Apel insists upon, may be for some (or in some contexts) morally admirable. However, if the universalizability thesis is a substantive moral thesis then it will not hold for those whose moral outlook is incompatible with that principle; at the very least, we would need an argument which would show that this aspect of Enlightenment thought is non-negotiable for all rational or reasonable moral agents. Winch, however, was criticising philosophers like Sidgwick and Hare who hold that the universalizability thesis is a logical thesis. In particular, by presenting the 3  E.g. all human beings have rights to life and liberty and everyone is entitled to those rights, without discrimination.


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universalizability thesis as based on a linguistic intuition about moral judgment, Hare claimed that the universalizability of moral judgment is independent of any moral intuition. It cannot be acceptable for him to treat the universalizability thesis as a substantive moral ideal, because he elaborated a concept of the universalizability thesis as being able to bind even those who do not share this particular moral intuition. As Winch says “I shall argue that when, in answer to such a question, a man says ‘This is what I ought to do’, there is nothing in the meaning or use of the word ‘ought’ which logically commits him to accepting as a corollary… I am denying only that, in all cases, a man who refuses to accept such a corollary is thereby misusing the word ‘ought’” (Winch 1965/1972, 161).4 In that sense, Apel and Winch are not in fact in disagreement over the status of the universalizability thesis – their disagreement turns only on whether it ought to be adopted as a universal principle of reason.

12.2.2  Wiggins: The Asymmetry of Moral Judgments The next response to the universalizability thesis to be discussed is Wiggins’ discussion of the convergence of truths in Needs, Values, Truths (Wiggins 1998). Making reference to Winch’s discussion, Wiggins claims that moral truths do not necessarily converge. Although ostensibly defending Winch, we will see that his interpretation also misses the target. Wiggins develops Winch’s argument, stating that there appears to be “a primacy that the agent’s own finding and decision deserve to enjoy” (Wiggins 1998, 169). In moral judgment, the agent’s own finding out and deciding what to do occupy a special position, which is not apparent from the point of view of non-agents. There is an important asymmetry between the judgment of the agent herself and the judgments of third parties (Wiggins 1998, 170). On the one hand, the agent cannot make her decision turn on what it is morally possible for her to do, because what is morally possible for her is to be found (or constituted) through her judgment. In this way, she cannot know the range of moral possibilities open to her in advance of her decision. On the other hand, the agent’s sense of moral possibilities (her principles) can be something that judgement turns on for third parties. When they judge, the disposition of the agent and her conception of morality are treated as fixed facts. This asymmetry is a decisive factor in the difference in verdicts that the two may reach. “[O]ne part of what [our verdict] may turn on for us is Vere’s decision. But that cannot be anything it turns on for Vere!” (Wiggins 1998). In short, Wiggins points out that, to adapt a remark of Jonathan Dancy, what is “deliberatively admissible” for agents and non-agents is different. “The agent (Vere) does not deliberate from his life, position and character, since the question for him is just what sort of life, position and character he is willing to have” (Dancy 1993,

 Italic is mine.


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86). If the correctness of judgment varies depending on what is deliberatively admissible for him, then we cannot expect convergence in our moral judgments. Wiggins’ argument is plausible and important in its own right. Certainly, agents and non-agents occupy different positions and so their judgements are of different characters. That is why recommendation and advice from third parties can be meaningful. But this observation alone does not capture the full significance of Winch’s point in denying the universalizability thesis. As Raimond Gaita points out, for Winch finding out and decision are integrated in moral judgments (Gaita 1990, 146). For Wiggins “the place where self-discovery comes in is that it supervenes on the deliberated decision and need not be part of the build-up to that decision. One’s nature influences how a situation strikes one, no doubt. It can help to explain the decision. But it is not part of what strikes one in that situation” (Wiggins 1998, 182). In this way Wiggins holds that discovery is just something which supervenes on the decision. That is, what we are doing is deciding what to do, and although considerations play a role in that, they do not determine it. What we decide to do reveals something of our nature. So his schema does not escape from the model – which Winch took as his target – of a decision as made from a set of fixed considerations, the nature of which is independent of the decision itself. Against Wiggins, Gaita holds that for Winch, “a certain sense of human individuality is internal to our understanding of what it is for someone to have a moral problem and to what thinking towards its solution may be” (Gaita 1990, 123). Finding out what to do consists in this process of understanding and determination, and results in clarifying what is practically possible (or necessary, or impossible) for one in the circumstances in which one finds oneself.

12.2.3  H  are: Moral Judgement as Singular Descriptive and Prescriptive Judgement The last thing I will discuss in this section is Hare’s argument. Hare did not respond directly to Winch so here I will reconstruct a possible response to Winch, chiefly by considering Hare’s arguments in Freedom and Reason (1963). In Freedom and Reason, Hare holds that we are not able to know all things about the circumstances of another person, so assuming that the circumstances of others are very similar to our own circumstances is often arrogant (Hare 1963, 49). According to Winch, this is tantamount to conceding Winch’s point, since it leads Hare to admit that “within the class of moral judgments to which this remark applies, the universalizability principle is idle” (Winch 1965/1972, 169, 238). But how far should the idleness of the universalizability principle be threatening to Hare’s deployment of the concept? In Freedom and Reason, the universalizability thesis is formulated as follows: any singular descriptive judgement is universalizable ……in the sense that it commits the speaker to the further proposition that anything exactly like the subject of the first j­ udgement,


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or like it in the relevant respects, possesses the property attributed to it in the first judgement. (Hare 1963, 12)

According to Hare, when a person says “X is good”, she is committed to the claim that “anything which is like X in the relevant respect is also good”. However, and unlike Sidgwick,5 Hare holds that this applies to descriptive judgments in general, so that any judgment that has descriptive elements (such as a factual judgment or an aesthetic judgment) is universalizable as well. For example, if someone holds that “X is red” or “X is beautiful”, she must admit that “anything similar to X in relevant respects is red” (and mutatis mutandis for beautiful). It is in this respect that Hare takes the universalizability thesis to be only a logical and formal principle, as opposed to Apel’s conception of it as a substantive principle. The thesis of universalizability does not render self-contradictory any single, logically simple, moral judgement, or even moral principle, which is not already self-contradictory without the thesis; all it does is to force people to choose between judgements which cannot both be asserted without self-contradiction. And so no moral judgement or principle of substance follows from the thesis alone. (Hare 1963, 32)

Hare recognizes that the universalizability thesis can only function as a constraint on judgements made by a single person. Regarding divergent judgments made by the different people, Hare seems to acknowledge that the universalizability thesis is idle. This becomes apparent in the discussion of “ideals” and fanatics that is developed in Chaps. 8 and 9 of Freedom and Reason. There Hare examines whether a Nazi’s judgment that Jews ought to be exterminated can pass the test encoded in the universalizability thesis. His answer is that in principle it can. When a Nazi judges that Jews ought to be exterminated, he must, on pain of irrationality, both deny the claim that Jews ought not be exterminated, and also accept that if he turns out to be Jewish, he ought to be exterminated – or else, he must withdraw his original claim. A Nazi who holds this set of beliefs cannot be convicted of irrationality by the lights of the universalizability thesis. Against the repugnance that this provokes, Hare insists that we must be satisfied with the “fortunate contingent fact that people who would take this logically possible view, after they had really imagined themselves in the other man’s position, are extremely rare” (Hare 1963, 172). In this way, Hare substantially acknowledges Winch’s claim that “if A says ‘X is the right thing for me to do’ and if B in a situation not relevantly different, says ‘X is the wrong thing for me to do’, it can be that both are correct”. That is, when the Nazi states that “It is right to treat Jews in this manner,” and in the situation another person says, “It is wrong to treat Jews in this manner”, at least the universalizability thesis alone will not tell you which of these positions is correct. Then, what is the difference between Hare’s and Winch’s positions? For one thing, Hare thinks that even though the universalizability thesis has no power to

5  Sidgwick introduced his universalizability thesis as a feature of objective ethical judgment, as contrasted with objective physical judgments which cannot be universalizable because of the limits of our knowledge of physical causation (Sidgwick 1907/1981, 208–209).

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affect moral arguments on its own, substantial moral conclusions can be derived from it when it is combined with other theses. In other words, as is evident in his Moral Thinking (Hare 1981), by being combined with the thesis related to “prescriptivity” and “rationality”, Hare thinks that it can be derived that the Nazi’s ideals are wrong. To put it simply, rationality needs the agent to understand the situation under which he makes the moral judgment. This includes knowing all the preferences of an interested party, because moral judgment is a kind of prescription, and prescription is based on, and affects, preferences. The agent is irrational when he makes his moral judgment without knowing what his situation is and what effects his decision causes. Once he knows the preferences of all the interested parties, then it is required by the universalizability thesis that he must treat all preferences equally, for equal things must be treated equally. Here the Nazi’s ideal is condemnable for his violation of the universalizability thesis. He irrationally ignores the other’s preferences, or unjustly treats his preference as unusually important.6 In that sense, the universalizability thesis can have effectiveness, and Winch’s discussion has not captured the extent of that. However, I do not want to dwell on this point here. Rather, I am interested in what Winch’s discussion has to tell us about the relationship between moral judgments and moral behaviour, and what it is to understand these phenomena. In order to examine this difference, let’s discuss further Hare’s argument in his The Language of Morals. Hare had already stated that moral judgement is universalizable in his first book The Language of Morals: all value-judgements are covertly universal in character, which is the same as to say that they refer to, and express acceptance of, a standard which has an application to other similar instances. If I censure someone for having done something, I envisage the possibility of him, or someone else, or myself, having to make a similar choice again; otherwise there would be no point in censuring him. (Hare 1952, 129)

Value judgment is implicitly universal because it is based on criteria. For example, if someone says “That is a good car”, then one can always ask “What is good about it?” (Hare 1952, 130). To answer that question by reference to some property of it (e.g. “stability”) is to say something about other cars with these properties (Hare 1952, 131). That is, unless there is another disadvantage to offset that advantage, she should judge all cars with the same feature to be good cars and if not, we will not understand what she is saying. So far it seems to be similar to the universalizability thesis of Sidgwick summarized by Winch. That is, the remark of Hare implies that for two cars, if one is a good car and the other is not a good car, there must be some difference between the two. However, notice how Hare develops this point:

6  Some point that Hare’s understanding of meaning of “know” is so strong that his argument fails (cf. Gibbard 1988). I objected to this criticism in my book focusing on the prescriptivity of ‘I’ (Sato 2012).


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But it [telling why I called the motor cars good] would be at any rate some help to my hearer in building up an idea of my standards in motor-cars; and in this lies the importance of such questions and answers, and the importance of recognizing their relevance, whenever a value–judgement has been made. For one of the purposes of making such judgements is to make known the standard. (Hare 1952, 132)

Hare understands value judgments, including moral judgments, to be forms of “commending”. In the above case, “It is a good car” encourages you to choose this car, and the “stability” mentioned at that time conveys the standard for choosing the car. This standard is “by definition consistent”, since if it is not consistent, it cannot be a standard. After all, “if I commend motor-cars with widely different or even contrary characteristics, what I say to him will not be of assistance to him in choosing motor–cars subsequently, because I am not teaching him any consistent standard” (Hare 1952, 132).7 Hare examines moral judgment concerning universalizability here mainly from the context of speech act theory.8 That is, his question is what the speech act of moral judgment is meant to achieve, and what its nature is. The answers to that are recommendation and universalizability, respectively. Many of the criticisms of universalizability have overlooked this character of Hare’s argument. But there is also another context.9 That is the “decisions of principle” developed in Chap. 4 of The Language of Morals. There, Hare says, “if pressed to justify a decision completely we have to give a complete specification of the way of life of which it is a part” (Hare 1952, 69), and that “decision as such cannot be taught; only principles can be taught” (Hare 1952, 75). It is the principle that can be universalized, not the decision itself. The decision lies exclusively in what a person herself can accept in her way of life. If we reorganize the argument in this way, Winch’s criticism becomes clear. In the scene of decision of principle, as Winch says, the universalizability thesis is idle. The decision is exactly what must be done on the basis of ourselves, our way of life. As Gaita says, moral judgment cannot be outsourced to others (Gaita 1990, 120–121). However, as Hare would insist, once the principle is determined, we are bound by that universal principle. Furthermore, if you advise others (or yourself) and recommend a course of action with that principle, then the demands of universalizability become apparent.

7  In Freedom and Reason, Hare also says that “to universalize is to give the reason”. So his basic position seems not to change. 8  This idea is inspired by Michael Levin’s short paper “The Universalizability of Moral Judgments Revisited” (Levin 1979). In that paper Levin stressed the aspect of language in moral judgment. 9  Junya Tomita (2019) is insightful on this point. Tomita stresses the importance of the learning and education as the function of the decision.

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12.3  Winch Again: Morality and Moral Judgments As we have seen the theories of Hare and Winch are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but are focused on different aspects of moral judgment – Winch is concerned with decision-making, whereas Hare is concerned with the giving of advice. Then, does this mean that Winch does not see the full picture of Hare’s argument? To an extent, it seems to be so. But, conversely, Winch suggested that there are kinds of moral behaviour where universalizability is not relevant. In the following, I will discuss this with reference to a different article of Winch related to this point. In this section I will focus Winch’s paper “Moral Integrity” (Winch 1968/1972). In that paper Winch criticizes a model of moral behaviour that is based on a Kantian conception of will and principle. At the bottom of this picture is the notion that moral judgment is governed by a moral principle and the will is to follow it. Using the term principle interchangeably with obligation, Winch posits that morally superior behaviour does not necessarily require any such obligation or principle: we do not always need to think of a man’s action as performed by him in accordance with some principle (‘maxim’) in order to think of it as unequivocally his act and to attach moral value to it. (Winch 1968/1972, 184)

Here Winch introduces several examples; what is emphasized through these is the behaviour of people expressed in terms such as “absorbed in”, “had to”, and “had no choice”. These are moral modalities just as much as are formulations such as that certain courses of action are possible or impossible, i.e. a father playing with his child, an elder of a pacifistic community who commits a murder to protect a girl, and Oedipus’ killing of his father, are, in very different ways, examples of people related to a situation in terms other than as agents making decisions based on what they take to be the relevant considerations. The Harean explanation that we had to make a “decision of principle” here does not apply well (Winch 1968/1972, 185–186). A father does not think that playing with his children is to be done in order to fulfil his obligation, nor does he play with his child because “a situation in which a parent plays with his child has positive value in itself” (Winch 1968/1972, 183). A father will not typically describe this situation as one in which “I should play with my children” or “Playing with children is good”. He is purely absorbed in the activity. Winch says that the whole point is that in their situations “there is no room for the notion of ‘the right thing to do’ in such situations and that this shows yet again that morality is wrongly conceived as a guide to conduct” (Winch 1968/1972, 187). There is no principle that is to be referenced and that exists in advance. This endorses what was mentioned in the previous section, that the target of his argument is not something after making a judgment but rather on making the judgment itself. However Winch’s assertion is insufficient on this point. Because, as Christine Korsgaard emphasises (Korsgaard 1996), we can still ask the father, the elder, and Oedipus “Why did you do that?” And, it seems that they can answer “Because I was absorbed in it”; “Because I had no choice”, or “Because there was no room for choice”. This means that even a stopping modal like “I cannot do it” gives the


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questioner the right to ask “why can’t you do it?”. Surely, in the usual case, ‘why did you play with your child just then?’ is simply out of place. But Winch himself has nevertheless given reasons to play with child. He has described the situation with words like “absorbed in” “had to”, and “had no choice”. Through these words we can be brought to understand the situation; it makes sense for us. Modal descriptions allow us to understand or grasp someone’s action as a type of action, and are in this weak sense still reason giving and universalizable. The most basic moral experience must be understood rather as prior to even this act of conceptualisation. Murdoch describes this pre-conceptual experience in a memorable scene as follows: “Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel” (Murdoch 1970/2014, 82). But Winch’s idea appears most clearly in his discussion of Tolstoy’s character Father Sergius which is the example given at the end of the “Moral Integrity”. In the story, Sergius is exposed to strong temptations on two occasions. The first time he manages to overcome temptation by chopping off his finger. But on the second occasion he succumbs, and has sex with Marie, an intellectually disabled young girl. The crucial moment for Sergius occurs when he says to Marie “Marie, you are a devil!” and she responds “Oh, perhaps. What does it matter?”. Drawing on this scene Winch says that on the first occasion Sergius was looking at his desire satisfaction from inside of a religious point of view, whereas on the second occasion he distanced himself from his religious point of view, and instead weighed his desire satisfaction against his religious duties. His fall comes about because (and when) he can treat his religious belief as something to be compared to the satisfaction of his carnal desires: Marie’s question ‘What does it matter?’ invited a judgment explaining why religious purity is more important than the satisfaction of lust, a comparison, as it were, between two different objects. And no such judgment was possible. I do not mean that earlier, at the time of his strength, Sergius could have answered the question; the point is that, from that earlier perspective, the question did not arise for him. (Winch 1968/1972, 189)

What is to notice here is that Winch reworded this to be that “no such judgment was possible” as “the question did not arise”. As mentioned above, to describe the behaviour of the father and the elder, and Oedipus as “absorbed in”, “I had no choice”, “There was no room for choice” is still to locate them inside of the space of reason; a question of why they did it is legitimate. However, for Sergius avoiding first temptation was not the object of the “why” question. If he asked himself so, he would be puzzled and have no answer at all. Avoiding lust for him is not a “had to do”, or “had no choice”. Whether deliberately or unintentionally it is what he does not do.10 This “does not do” is another moral modality. This point becomes clearer in contrast to an argument of McDowell’s. McDowell understands a virtuous person as someone who sees certain considerations as

 Recall Cora Diamond’s argument in “Eating Meat and Eating People” (Diamond 1978). People just do not eat people.


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silenced and certain options as salient (McDowell 1979/2001). “The view of a situation that he [virtuous person] arrives at by exercising his sensitivity is one in which some aspect of the situation is seen as constituting a reason for acting in some way” (McDowell 1979/2001, 55–56). McDowell is close to the Winch position in that reasons here are not comparable for the two but rather function in a manner that silences other reasons. But even though, Winch’s remark, “the question did not arise for him”, means that the situation does not appear as a scene of choosing something in the first place, and this is different from McDowell’s conception of virtue. It is not that the options are narrowed, but rather that there are no options at all. Finally, let’s go back to the universalizability of moral judgment which is the theme of this paper. What was said in the previous section is that moral judgment cannot help becoming universal as long as it is created, but in the process where it is created through deciding and finding, universalizability plays no role. However, on this point (as in a sense, as Winch also foretold from the beginning), Winch and the defenders of the formal universalizability thesis like Hare and Sidgwick do not necessarily make exclusive claims. What was shown in this section was that our moral behaviour does not necessarily require a moral judgment. There, the universalizability thesis is disabled in a different way from that described in the previous section. That is, the universalizability is not excluded from moral behaviour due to the individuality premised on deciding and finding, but it is excluded because some aspects of morality cannot be objectified. Morality is on the side of subject and constitutes part of the individual’s vision of the world. It is expressed by how one sees the world, what one does and what one does not do. Looking at his behaviour, we just imagine under what kind of light he sees the world. That is a kind of morality which is overlooked by contemporary mainstream metaethics. Of course, this does not mean that moral judgment is not important or moral judgment should not be made. Winch himself says that “I am not trying to replace Kant’s contention that acting for the sake of duty is the only kind of behaviour which is good without qualification with the counter-contention that acting spontaneously is the only kind of behaviour which is good without qualification (Winch 1968/1972, 181). But how to understand the situation itself also reflects our view of morality, and to pretend to be taking a neutral viewpoint is to distort reality.

12.4  Conclusion The purpose of this paper was to re-evaluate Winch’s criticism of the universalizability thesis. A number of conventional evaluations do not fully capture the implications of Winch’s argument. One of the reasons why Winch’s paper is not greatly appreciated in modern times is that mainstream metaethics tends narrowly to focus on moral conflict and the judgments used there, sticking to the moral modalities of “ought” and “must”, and implicitly endorsing a dichotomy between discovery and decision.


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For example, the disputes between cognitivism and non-cognitivism have been about whether moral judgment is cognitive or not (Parfit 2011, Gibbard 2003), and the recently popular hybrid theory similarly holds that moral judgement has both a cognitive and a non-cognitive aspect on the semantic level (Ridge 2014). These debates have a narrow focus in part because their mission is to establish morality as rational. In that sense, they are still under the spell of emotivism, for they still feel a need to make an effort to explain the existence of moral truth, or to solve the Frege-­ Geach problem, or to show moral propositions are not meaningless. But morality exists in other moments as well, and if we miss these, we miss the full reality of the phenomenon. Contemporary metaethics still has much to learn from Winch’s fruitful discussion of these matters.11

References Apel, K.-O. (1990). Universal principles and particular decisions and forms of life: A problem of ethics that is both Post-Kantian and Post-Wittgensteinian. In R. Gaita (Ed.), Value & Understanding – Essays for Peter Winch (pp. 72–101). London: Routledge. Britten, B. (1951). Billy Budd. Libretto by E. M. Forster & E. Crozier. Boosey and Hawkes. Dancy, J. (1993). Moral Reasons. Oxford: Blackwell. Diamond, C. (1978). Eating meat and eating people. Philosophy, 53(206), 465–479. Gaita, R. (1990). Ethical individuality. In R. Gaita (Ed.), Value & Understanding – Essays for Peter Winch (pp. 118–148). London: Routledge. Gibbard, A. (1988). Hare’s analysis of ‘ought’ and its implication. In D. Seaner & N. Fotion (Eds.), Hare and His Critics (pp. 57–72). Oxford: Clarendon Press. Gibbard, A. (2003). Thinking How to Live. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Hare, R. M. (1952). The language of Morals. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hare, R. M. (1963). Freedom and Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hare, R. M. (1981). Moral Thinking. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Korsgaard, C. (1996). The Sources of Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Levin, M. E. (1979). The universalizability of moral judgments revisited. Mind, 88(349), 115–119. McDowell, J. (1979/2001). Virtue and reason. In Mind, Value, and Reality (pp. 50–76). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Melville, H. (1959). Billy Budd, Foretopman. In Four Short Novels. New York: Bantam Books. Murdoch, I. (1970/2014). The Sovereignty of Good. London/New York: Routledge. Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Berkeley: University of California Press. Parfit, D. (2011). On What Matters (Vol. 2). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ridge, M. (2014). Impassioned Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Sato, T. (2012). R. M. Hare’s Moral Philosophy. Keiso Shobo (in Japanese). Sidgwick, H. (1907/1981). The Methods of Ethics (7th ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing. Singer, M. (1961). Generalization in Ethics: An Essay in the Logic of Ethics, with the Rudiments of a System of Moral Philosophy. New York: Atheneum. Tomita, J. (2019). Re-examining R.  M. Hare’s ethical theory in the language of morals. [In Japanese]. Sophia Law Review, 63(1), 87–104.  I would like to thank Satomi Abe, Yoshiya Akudo, Seiyu Hayashi and Takumichi Kojo for their helpful comments on the previous draft. I thank JSPS for supporting research on this paper. I am most grateful to Michael Campbell.


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Wiggins, D. (1987/1998). Needs, Values, Truth (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Winch, P. (1965/1972). The universalizability of moral judgments. Monist  49(2), 196–214. Reprinted in Ethics and Action (pp. 151–170). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.  Winch, P. (1968/1972). Moral integrity. In Ethics and Action (pp. 171–192). London: Routledge and Kegan. (Originally published as Inaugural Lecture, Kings College London. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.) Takeshi Sato is Associate Professor of the Faculty of Humanities And Social Sciences at the Kumamoto University, Japan. His research interests include meta-­ethics, moral rationalism and anti-rationalism, and human enhancement. He is the author of The Moral Philosophy of R.M.Hare (Keiso Shobo, Japanese, 2010) and An Introduction to Meta-ethics (Keiso Shobo Japanese, 2017).  

Chapter 13

The Good and Bad in Sexual Relations: A Reconsideration of Winch’s Limiting Notions Camilla Kronqvist

Do we need to be reminded that there is something existentially and ethically troubling in sexual relations? Literature, poetry and, not the least, songs constantly speak of the pain of unrequited love,  as well as the devastation of lives due to unruled desires. Philosophers, at times, portray love as capable of destroying a life (cf. Gaita 2011, 180–183). In the public space too, as witnessed in the #metoo-­ movement, there has been a growing awareness of the vicissitudes of sexual desire. Yet, it seems as if the liberal response, indeed the only appropriate response, is to say that whatever it is that might trouble us here, or should trouble us, it is not the fact that there is something sexual conjoining these cases. In the light of political movements working for the acceptance of different sexual and gendered minorities, potential differences in how one expresses one’s sexuality are not to be taken to reveal any differences in moral character or vision, but merely differences in taste. The disastrous character of some of these cases are thus to be considered as a consequence of some other sin, such as the failure to react to the other as a freely choosing, independent being. The problem with cases of sexual harassment or abuse, thus, is analyzed as not lying in a person’s desires, or actions, but rather in their not properly ensuring the consent of another person. In this discussion, I propose that we do understand sexual relations as something that may, and sometimes also should, trouble us existentially and ethically. I do this, however, not with the intention of advancing a more strict sexual morality, or a sexual morality on the whole, neither do I wish to suggest that there is some specific way they should trouble us. Rather I propose that the social sanctions and rituals surrounding these relations as studied by social anthropologists, such as the institution of marriage, or the call for consent in our society, can be read as one way of trying to come to grips with these troubling, and in social terms often disruptive, C. Kronqvist (*) Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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features, and making them socially manageable. I also submit that our thinking about sex is indeed bound to be muddled if we fail to take this aspect of our lives seriously. If sexual relations indeed constitute a truly troubling, as well as central, feature of our life, there are clearly aspects of it that we cannot manage solely by social control. We cannot properly address these features of our life by merely raising political questions about social policy, either in the limited sense of involving legislation about the rights of marginalized sexual minorities, or in the more broad sense, addressed by social scientists or gender theorists, of questioning hierarchies of power, and seeking change on a structural level. We need to consider the ways in which these relations are expressive of what it is possible for us to conceive as good and bad in a human life. In order to show this, I first consider Peter Winch’s suggestion that sexual relations, together with birth and death, are not to be considered as events or experiences in the world, but rather as having a more fundamental role in shaping how we understand ourselves as sexed or gendered beings and conceive of our possibilities of forming intimate relationships with others. I then go on to consider how such an understanding of sexual relations contributes to our understanding of varying and conflicting conceptions about sexual morality, and to some extent, politics, in our present society, through a discussion of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015). In this work, the author attempts to combine reflections on social criticism of our on-­ going sexual and gendered practices, many of which are currently in flux, with questions about the character of language and speech in the recounting of a personal love story. This discussion helps shed light on the ethical and existential character of the differences and disagreements concerning what is at stake in our sexual lives and encounters, and why thinking clearly about these issues may be so difficult.

13.1  Winch’s Limiting Notions: The Case of Sexual Relations The article “Understanding a Primitive Society” (1964, 1972) follows up on ideas Winch explored in The Idea of a Social Science (1990), as well as in “Nature and Convention” (1972). It considers the relationship between language and reality, and the role of rationality in understanding the life and practices of human beings.1 Following the path laid out in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough” (1993), Winch questions the tendency to apply Western standards of rationality to the thinking and acting of people in other cultures, deemed to be, as the title makes clear, primitive. He exemplifies this move with a discussion of anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s work in relation to Azande witchcraft, to show that Evans-­ Pritchard still holds on to a picture according to which our scientific language 1  Winch responds to questions raised about “Understanding a Primitive Society” in “Language, Belief and Relativism” (1987), and also discusses similar matters in “Human Nature” (1972). These articles are published together with The Idea of a Social Science in the Swedish translation of that work.

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responds to reality, whereas that of the Azande fails to do so. The path staked out by Wittgenstein and Winch in these articles has been travelled by many since the publication of this article. What is more, the notion that our conceptions of rationality may be used to erect barriers between an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, where ‘they’ are deemed irrational, has become a staple in feminist and post-colonialist criticisms of Western thought. The emphasis of this discussion, however, will be on a group of remarks at the end of the paper that have received less attention. Here Winch attempts to show what possibilities of communication between different cultures are left if one rejects the notion that all languages seek to describe the same objective reality and acknowledges instead how deeply entrenched they are in the practices of people, not all of which aim at describing reality. In allusion to Vico (1968, §§ 332–33, 336–337), he suggests that sexual relations together with birth and death (cf. Wittgenstein 1993, 127), can be thought of as “limiting notions” in human life. They, says Winch, are notions “which have an obvious ethical dimension, and which indeed in a sense determine the ‘ethical space’ within which the possibilities of good and evil in human life can be exercised” (1964, 322). In parallel with anthropological studies which study rites of passage concerning these three aspects in different societies (see e.g. Hendry 2016) as a starting point for understanding their language, culture and religion, these remarks have often been taken to suggest that certain natural, biological facts about human beings, what T.S. Eliot talked about as “birth, copulation and death”, can be taken as points of departure for the hermeneutic task of understanding a foreign way of life. Rather than thinking that the world presents us with grounds for language use, we are reminded of the ways in which language is essentially used within human practices, but also that such practices are shaped by (natural, spontaneous, unreflected) reactions, which taken together reveal a certain uniformity in human life. (Cf. Wittgenstein 1967, §§540–541, 537–539, 542; 1953/2009, §244, Part II §289). Birth, death and sexual relations are, thus, among other things, taken to constitute existential facts about the human condition to which everyone must form some kind of relation. We are, as it were, beings who grieve our dead, feel wonder at new-born babies, and feel attraction and sometimes also aversion to one another. Such descriptions of our life ring true to a point, but also risk concealing that there is no easily available set of basic emotions or emotional reactions (such as facial expressions) that we can ascertain as a fact in every human society, to then seek to study the different meanings they have been assigned (cf. Hertzberg 2009 in relation to smiling). Rather, as it was important for Winch to show, the ways in which we go on speaking about and speaking out of these reactions is constitutive for what we can come to take as these primitive, and spontaneous reactions in the first place (cf. Winch 1989, ch. 4). Treating these limiting notions as a starting point for understanding, and for translating between the understandings of different societies, thus suggests a too simplistic understanding of what is involved in understanding other ways of life. It also reaffirms the notion that the problem of understanding other “cultures” present us with a difficulty of a specific kind (cf. Motturi 2003, ch. 17). Winch himself, in his 1997 article “Can We Understand


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Ourselves?” (Winch 1997), targets this tendency. There he draws on examples in which I may fail to understand aspects of my own culture, but we may equally well consider cases in which I find as much understanding in aspects of another’s culture as I do in my own. I respond, and it is interesting that this understanding often takes the form of an emotional response, to a child crying, a mother nursing a child, two persons exchanging a loving look, and so on. Thus, Winch reminds us that understanding is not always readily available even in our own cases. There are degrees of understanding, I recognize, say, the sadness in someone’s face but not the reason the person is sad, and at times understanding is hard to gain. Rather than using these limiting notions as a key to developing a general concept of understanding human life, I therefore want to consider how they, as Winch suggests, contribute to our conception of what is good and bad in our life, and even more to what we can meaningfully grasp both as important in human life and as human life. How can such an understanding of them help us explore the place different attitudes and understandings of sexual relations have in what one may think of as “our” life and language? Here part of the challenge, is recognizing what is involved in accepting a certain understanding of what is at stake in these relationships as ours. Introducing questions about good and evil into questions of sexual relations, however, may be met with suspicion. In today’s academic and political landscape, it may easily be experienced as an attempt to moralize, to decide what sexual actions or activities are good, or to find some ways of expressing one’s sexuality, or one’s desires, as better than others, in that it adheres to a social norm. To anyone familiar with Winch’s moral philosophy, however, such worries as readily appear inadequate. Most of his work in moral philosophy can be described as an attempt to reconfigure our understanding of what a serious engagement with ethical questions could be, together with other philosophers taking more or less inspiration from Wittgenstein, such as Rush Rhees, Elizabeth Anscombe, Cora Diamond, Stanley Cavell and Iris Murdoch (although with her Winch rather shared an interest in Simone Weil than in Wittgenstein). Furthermore, it is characterized by a desire to bring into the open “certain fundamental difficulties facing a philosopher who wishes to give an account of morality” (Winch 1972, 171; Winch 1972, 181). Thus, we see Winch in “Moral Integrity”, his inaugural lecture at King’s College, in 1968, take issue with the notion that moral philosophy should be a guide to action. The question that concerns him there is the “relation of a man to his acts” (Winch 1972, 171), an issue which he attempts to clarify by showing the problems with a certain “picture of the agent” (cf. Murdoch 1997, 75) that he thinks “is secretly at work” in many philosophers ways’ of thinking about morality (Winch 1972, 171). This is the idea of the agent as “a spectator of a world which includes his own body” who “is able to, to a limited extent, effect changes in the world” (Winch 1972, 171). By contrast to this idea, according to which moral philosophy should guide the agent to what are desirable effects, Winch contends that much moral significance lies in how a person thinks of his action (1972, 183), and furthermore in what we are able to think of as his act (1972, 184), or in taking that action

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as an expression of him (cf. Hertzberg 1997). The sense of integrity called forth by Winch is thus between how a person considers himself in relation to his actions. This is the kind of understanding expressed in realizing that I would be a coward if I did not do something, or an idiot if I did, but also in the realization that I may be forced to do something I recognize as wrong, because I consider it the only thing I can do, without any way of talking my way out of it. To Winch, then, questions of morality are centrally connected with questions of what is of importance of concern to us. What I take to be of moral concern, as it were, shows in my perspective on what is important, as well as in how I understand my actions, and what I take as alternatives for action (Winch 1972, 178). For that reason, it is to Winch impossible that philosophy should be able to show someone why something is important, if they were not able to recognize something of importance in that perspective themselves (Winch 1972, 190–191). This is why it is problematic to think of morality as a guide to action, since it, as Winch puts it, would be “a strange sort of guide” that “first puts obstacles in our path and then show us the way round them” (Winch 1972, 172–173). To understand the ways in which the limiting notions Winch mentions can be said to determine the ethical space within which notions of good and evil are exercised, it is therefore central to see this in relation to what is of importance to us in life, and how that becomes evident in a person’s life. “A man’s sense of the importance of something to him shows itself in all sorts of ways”, among which one can also consider the need “to contemplate it, to gain some sense of his life in relation to it” (Winch 1964, 320). The problem he and Wittgenstein identify in Evans Pritchard’s and Frazer’s thinking, thus, not only presents us with an intellectual or theoretical failure, of applying a certain view to a situation. It cannot even be considered a practical failure, in the case of Evans Pritchard, since he himself testifies to feeling at ease within the Azande practice (Winch 1964, 311). What is at stake is rather a failure to take others and their lives seriously, and at the same time, a failure to take oneself seriously. It is a failure to find the right objects of comparison in one’s one life, in seeing in what way something is important to others, but also important to ourselves (cf. Wittgenstein 1993, 125–133). They, thus, point to a form of understanding that recognizes aspects of language use and human behavior, such as reacting to the loss of a wedding ring as a betrayal of one’s marriage (Winch 1964, 323) or kissing a picture of the beloved (Wittgenstein 1993, 123), as meaningful although it demands of us to go beyond a scientistic, instrumental, understanding of our life. What may be learnt from others in such ways is thus not mere knowledge, but rather something approaching wisdom (Winch 1964, 322). The few examples Winch and Wittgenstein offer as an aspect of thinking about our sexual relations, may not appear as very sexual today. They do, however, suggest that we, besides rejecting a too simplistic picture of ethics as concerned with desirable actions, should also want to reject a too simplistic picture of what can be included in our understanding of sexual relations. Thus, although Winch (1964, 323) rejects the common conception that all morality is sexual morality as vulgar, he also suggests that that notion conveys an important truth. What is vulgar about this conception, we now see, has to do with the notion of morality inherent in such


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a claim, and at the same time the picture of a human being surfacing in that notion. This impression is augmented by the fact that Winch’s prime example of sexual relations involves the suggestion that “The life of a man is a man’s life and the life of a woman is a woman’s life” where “the masculinity or the femininity are not just components in the life, they are its mode.” (Winch 1964, 323). For a reader sensitive to political issues involving the use of gendered language, Winch’s choice of words here may awaken worries, just as his ease in speaking about the relation of “man to his actions” in what is supposed to be gender-neutral terms. Does he have to speak of men and women as if these words denoted pre-­ given categories in the life of human beings? Is he not reinstating a gender binary in speaking about the life of a man and a woman, treating as an existential fact about us something that may also be subject to cultural change? Although, it is clear that Winch too writes during a certain time, which also colors his choice of word and way of writing, Winch again does not prescribe a certain way of speaking about this issue, in the sense one today easily imagines. By speaking about his masculinity not as an “experience in the world”, but as a “way of experiencing the world”, he rather draws attention to the ways in which our thought about who we are cannot be torn apart from considerations about what role, for instance, procreation can have in our own life. Consider, say, the significance that can be given to the fact that I am born by this woman, or gave birth to that child. Or, think of how much our thinking about sexual relations has changed with the introduction of contraception. We do not need to agree with Anscombe’s judgements about the meaning of such changes, to think that, as Anscombe puts is, it really was a new offer to think that “you can have sex without children” (1981, see Richter 2011, ch. 5). Just think of how different a life is in which I as a woman, primarily seeking heterosexual relations, constantly may have to fear unwanted pregnancies, from a life in which I can think of giving birth as something to plan, or decide against. And, of course, think about what meaning notions such as giving birth may have if I, for lack of a womb, or a partner with whom to conceive, struggle to see what place could be accorded to my longing for a child, as well as the conceptual work that has gone into thinking about new family constellations for partners where sex is not a key, or not a key in a conventional sense, to conception. To think about these aspects of life is an invitation to think about the role these concepts have in our conception of life, as well as to reflect on the fact that we are such beings that have a conception of life (Winch 1964, 322). There is, however, an important sense in which sexual relations, more than the other limiting notions of birth and death, involve us in an encounter with another human being. Although Winch’s reworking of Wittgenstein’s notion that death is not a (future) event in his life but a cessation of his world shows how “one’s attitude to one’s life is at the same time an attitude to one’s death” (Winch 1964, 323), it mainly concerns the perspective of an agent on his world, or his life as a whole. Clearly, other people also appear in how we think of death and birth. Thinking about my children’s death is a reason for anxiety in a different way than the thought of my own death, partly because it involves me in contemplations about how I could go on without them. In a similar manner, I experience the birth of my and others’ children

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in ways in which I do not experience my own. The subject of our own death and birth, however, invites a certain solipsism. My way of thinking of my own sexuality, by contrast, necessarily go through my relations to others, or is a way of thinking about myself in relation to others, even in the case where my way of relating to them is constituted by a fear or reluctance of entering such relationships. It is for this reason that the consideration of the different roles sexual relations have in our life, involve us in both existential and ethical questions. They are existential in that they confront us all as individual human beings with questions about what we can regard as meaningful, pointing us both to what aspects we can regard as aspects of a concept and to what we regard as important in our life. They are ethical, in that they engage us in encounters with other human beings, and in responses to these relationships, out of which our understanding of what is to be considered good can be said to grow.

13.2  Disagreements about Desire In the following, I address differences and disagreement as to what is good and bad in our sexual relationships, in relation to some passages in Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, with the intent of showing both the ethical questions involved in the concepts we use to characterize certain forms of difficulties and distances in our sexual relationships, as well as what is entailed in taking another and ourselves seriously. The Argonauts has been characterized by some as a work in auto-theory, which groups together personal anecdotes and stories with quotes and reflections from theoretical works. In it, Nelson describes her relationship with Harry, a self-­ described ‘butch on T’2 (Nelson 2015, 65), and their different ways of relating to both love and language. She touches on themes such as their relationships with their own and each other’s bodies, Nelson’s relationship to Harry’s son from a previous relationship, and the pregnancy and birth of their child. In itself, then, the book delves into very different questions about what it means for us to be gendered beings and living in families and intimate relationships that fall outside of the still relatively normative understanding of what a family is.3 It describes the existential tensions and ethical possibilities available within these lives, but is also written out of these same tensions.

2  ‘T’ stands for the testosterone. The book touches on both Nelson’s and Harry’s shifting responses to the top surgery that takes place and the hormone treatment that is started within the time frame of the book. 3  In fact, it can be read as an attempt to find a way of relating to all of Winch’s limiting notions. Besides the reflections around sexual relationships, birth and parenthood, their own as well as their relationships to their own parents, biological as well as social, Harry is adopted, the book also deals with questions of death. These come in the form of the recounting of the murder of Nelson’s aunt Nelson had discussed in a previous book and the death of Harry’s mother.


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A set of such tensions take form in Nelson’s depiction of scene after a talk at a New York University. It reads, After the Q&A at this event, a woman came up to me and told me that she just got out of a relationship with a woman who had wanted her to hit her during sex. She was so fucked up, she said. Came from a background of abuse. I had to tell her I couldn’t do that to her, I could never be that person. She seemed to be asking me for a species of advice, so I told her the only thing that occurred to me: I didn’t know this other woman, so all that seemed clear to me was that their perversities were not compatible. (Nelson 2015, 115)

Nelson’s answer is tentative, and although she returns to the notion of incompatible perversities at diverse points in the book, it remains unclear whether she really thinks her response settles the issue. The question that is inherent in the woman’s story as well as in Nelson’s response, however, brings to the fore an issue that reoccurs, structures and even haunts Nelson’s writing. How does one come to grips with what may appear impossible to grasp in another’s vision of what is pleasurable or desirable? How does one encounter another’s request for something that appears either as wrong or as unintelligible? And how, from another perspective, does one think of the possibilities of finding union and community in what by some, or according to dominant pictures of what is normal in society, is conceived as unintelligible? It is, initially, easy to provide a Winchean reading of what the woman from the audience is saying. We can describe her as addressing the relationships between herself and her action, and as speaking about her sense of integrity, in recognizing in her partner’s request something that she herself was incapable of doing; “I could not do that to her”. Furthermore, this recognition is linked both with the question of who she was, and what she wanted to be; “I could never be that person.” It is also possible to read Nelson’s response, in being called to the moral character of the suggestion that there are certain things one cannot do and still go on respecting oneself, as expressive of a desire not to moralize about human sexuality. The tentative character of her answer, as well as her saying that she did not know the woman’s ex-­ partner, suggest that she did not want to risk excluding on beforehand certain actions and desires from what can be imagined as an aspect of (human) sexuality, and that she did not either want to judge, or did not think of herself as in the position of judging, whether the ex-partner should really be considered as “fucked up” in asking to be hit. These reactions themselves present us with a variety of questions. Is it always, or really, a way of moralizing to call upon the moral aspects of inquiring into what we, as a community and as individuals, find possible and impossible to do? Can one describe the disagreement or dissonance in the relationship between the people in the example without either moralizing, or drawing on some notion of what is or is not moral? This concerns both the disagreement between this woman and her previous partner, and what might turn out to be a difference, or disagreement, in her and Nelson’s way of approaching the issue. The woman approaching Nelson was clearly looking for some form of affirmation in her belief that this was the only way to think of the issue, but Nelson did not give her that. The quote, in that way, testifies to a

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failure to meet, or find community, both in body (in the case of the woman and her ex) and in mind (in the case of Nelson and that woman). To throw light on what meaning might be found in Nelson’s suggestion that we describe these differences as a matter of incompatible perversities, I will bring in more examples from her text. First, however, I want to introduce another example as a way of showing where these kinds of disagreements about what may and may not be part of our sexual relations can be said to sit. This is part of an entry from a homepage, which in translation reads “The truth liberates”, and which collects stories about different forms of sexual harassment and abuse within the Finnish evangelical-­lutheran church, told in the wake of the #metoo-movement. A woman, who has now left her husband, a clergyman, writes. Am I the only believing wife of a church worker who had to experience sexual harassment in her marriage? For me, my husband was practically asking for sex every day, squeezing my breasts, groping my lower parts (because I was so desirable), forcing me to have sex (so that the priest would not have to commit the sin of adultery) and expecting every night service in bed. (my translation) ( accessed 21.8.2019.)

In the story, we are presented with what happened in the marriage as a case of sexual harassment. The story speaks out of the pain of feeling forced to something, and of being the recipient of unwelcome attention. In many ways, it was precisely this pain that grabbed hold of my attention when reading this, and similar testimonies within the #metoo-movement. Yet, philosophically, it seems as if we need to say more as to why this is to be taken as a case of sexual harassment. Why should we not just think of this as yet another case of “incompatible perversities”, as a form of mal-­ communication between the parties, which certainly caused them trouble, but did not necessarily point to anything wrong in the particular actions? Certainly, people may feel differently about how often they want to have sex, and also how they want to be touched and when. Yet, there is nothing in the particular acts, such as desiring sex every day, groping someone by the groin or the butt, or squeezing the breasts, that makes these actions morally problematic, if considered in isolation from the fact that we in one case conceive of them as a form of harassment and in another case do not. To substantiate the claim that this was a form of sexual harassment, we may of course draw on such descriptions, and the sense in which the man’s attention was both constant and unwelcome. The sexually explicit language used in the descriptions, in this case also serve to emphasize the claim that this was a case of sexual harassment, whereas speaking of caressing or touching the lower parts of the body might not have been as suggestive of unwanted forms of attention. Yet, reading Nelson, we are also asked to envision relationships in which similar forms of attention and action, as well as language, are welcomed, and even desired. She suggests, for instance, that sexually explicit language is at times part of the attraction of certain sexual acts. Sometimes words are a part of it. I can remember, early on, standing beside you in a friend’s cavernous fourth-floor painting studio in Williamsburg at night (she was out of town), completely naked, more construction workers outside, this time building some kind of luxury


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high-rise across the street, their light towers flooding the studio with orange shaft and shadow, as you asked me to say aloud what I wanted you to do to me. My whole body struggled to summon any utterable phrase. I knew you were a good animal, but felt myself to be standing before an enormous mountain, a lifetime of unwillingness to claim what I wanted, to ask for it. Now here you were, your face close to mine, waiting. The words I eventually found may have been Argo, but now I know: there’s no substitute for saying them with one’s own mouth. (Nelson 2015, 87)

The reference to Argo alludes both to the title of the of the book, referring to Roland Barthes’ reflections on the ship Argo,4 and to what one as a reader is invited to think of as Nelson’s own perversity, in other words, being “fucked in the ass”. This is mentioned at several places of the work, as early as the first paragraph,5 linking it to the author’s first declaration of love (Nelson 2015, 3). Now, although, as Nelson makes clear, bringing oneself to admit both what one wants and how one wants it (that is, under what description) may be painstaking (Nelson 2015, 87), it is clear that her experiences and desires do not translate into the more clinically sounding “preference for anal sex” (although I too can admit to thinking that it would be less painstaking to use such words in an academic text). As she says, “I am not interested in a hermeneutics or erotics or metaphorics of my anus. I am interested in ass-­ fucking.” (Nelson 2015, 107). This appears at once as a protest against the distancing effect a certain theorizing language may have on us in relating to our concrete lived sexual experiences, but also as a reminder that what these experiences are, is partly an aspect of the language we use to speak of them. For one person, such as Nelson, the following description, “Then as now, you spread my legs with your legs and push your cock into me, fill my mouth with your fingers. You pretend to use me, make a theater of heeding only your pleasure while making sure I find mine” (Nelson 2015, 87), is expressive of her relishing the notion that “No matter what we do, it always feels dirty without feeling lousy.” (Nelson 2015, 87). For her, there may even be a certain excitement in regarding what they do as a perversion. For another person, such as the clergyman’s wife, however, we can imagine that such descriptions would only make her feel dirty, and that she thereby may also experience them as demeaning. Similarly, if someone were to suggest that her conviction that something that feels dirty must also be demeaning, was itself expressive of a perversion, she may experience that claim as perverse. 4  Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase “I love you” is like “the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.” Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase “I love you,” its meaning must be renewed by each use, as “the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.” (Nelson 2015, 6). 5  It is mentioned before heading into a discussion of whether words are good enough, leaning both on a Wittgensteinian therapy of being made aware of what words do in context (Nelson) rather than a more poststructuralist disappointment with language for what it leaves undone (Harry) (Nelson 2015, 4–5). It thus links up with the more general theme approached in the book of marriage as a form of conversation, where part of the conversation turns around the possibilities of conversation and communication in the first place, the reach of words, the attitudes to it. It is, I would submit, central to this conversation that the sexual relation of the parties involved in it, and what one is able to say and not say about them, is not external to the conversation, but internal to it.

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Be that as it may, someone may retort, the difference between these sexual acts may in the end be boiled down to whether they are desired or not. It is here that calls for consent become more vocal, for although one’s verbal consent does not exclude the possibility of engaging in sexual activities one does not desire, at least the explicit communication of one’s intent may lessen the risk of the other misunderstanding what sexual advances are desired. This suggestion carries some weight. With the sexual liberation movement, there has been growing agreement that in our sexual lives we should be attentive to each other’s needs and desires, and even more that a lack of desire is a reason not to force one’s advances on another. For many the notion of consent seems to speak to such concerns. In matters of legislation, also, the introduction of the term in definitions of rape may help shift the focus from victim to perpetrator in judging whether an act is to be counted as rape. Philosophically, however, I submit that the mere focus on consent, or the relation between consent and desire, is dissatisfying if one wishes to explicate what is at stake in sexual relations on an interpersonal level. The notion does not provide either the conceptual or ethical resources needed to think through the differences in description in the previous cases, and the difficulties of understanding diverging perceptions of what our sexual lives may entail. It rather reinstates the picture of a person’s relation to his or her actions, that Winch showed to be problematic, and often introduces an equally problematic picture of our relation to our desires, as well as the relation of our desires to our actions. It does not, as it were, speak to Winch’s notion that “there is no general kind of behaviour [or in this context, also desire] of which we have to say that it is good without qualification” (Winch 1972, 181). It also does not speak to Nelson’s reference to feminist theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick, following directly on the story about the woman at the Q&A, that, “Even identical genital acts mean very different things to different people.” (Sedgewick 1990, 25). These remarks serve as reminders that any action, utterance or behaviour, cannot be considered in isolation from the descriptions under which one comes to understand them, and that the pertinence of such descriptions will depend on context, and speaker, as well as the relationship one has to the speaker. “One must”, as Nelson writes in her own version of a Wittgensteinian context-­ sensitivity, “become alert to the multitude of possible uses, possible contexts, the wings with which each word can fly. Like when you whisper, You’re just a hole, letting me fill you up. Like when I say husband.” (Nelson 2015, 9.) Taken as they stand the whisper, “You’re just a hole” is reminiscent of the way in which the female sexual organ has often been depicted as a lack (cf. Irigaray 1985, 23–24), and almost gestures at the pornographic, whereas “husband” seems to speak to our more normal or normative understanding of love. Nelson, however, allows us to see how the first words may come to life as an expression of love, whereas the second, in relation to marriage, may appear as much more ambivalent. Here, both “husband” and “marriage” allude to the difficulty of specifying the gender of this particular husband, “The man she is married to”. They raise issues about Harry both passing, and not passing as a man, mentioned throughout the book, but also confronts the norms and expectations going into those words. Depending on whether one sees marriage as an


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institution worthy of treasuring, or as upholding and reinforcing problematic norms, the concept shows up quite differently. As Nelson puts it in relation to their spontaneously tying the knot, when there was a legal sanction for it, “Poor marriage! Off we went to kill it (unforgivable). Or reinforce it (unforgivable).” (Nelson 2015, 28). Furthermore, discussions on consent often present an individual’s desire as cut off from what is desired. They suggest that any act can be desired, if there is a desire for it. To the extent they provide a moral, they suggest that whatever someone wants to do, or wants to be done, is in order as long as another person consents to it. This gives us some means of describing the clergyman’s wife as offering a testimony of sexual harassment and not just of incompatible desires; “She did not consent to his advances”. It does not, however, capture the sense in which what seems to be of concern to her is not that she was not asked to consent to this treatment, but rather that he thought of this treatment as something he could ask of her, although more indirectly, or that he thought that marrying her would entitle him to this behavior. It also does not show why the woman at the Q&A thought there was a problem in doing something that the other desired, as well as the sense in which she seems to suggest that certain desires are wrong in themselves. The disagreements between the woman and her ex, as well as the clergyman and his wife, as it were, go deeper than a mere matter of having different desires, and rather touches upon what it is possible for them to regard as desirable in the first place. They offer us cases where there is not just one person wanting something that the other person does not want, but one where the other cannot conceive that anyone would want what the first person wants in the first place. For what, the women at the Q&A could ask, is it to desire a form of abuse as a sexual act? What she expresses is then an inability or difficulty to see in her partner’s utterance of the words “I want you to…” a real desire (that is, an expression of her). What she sees in those words is rather an on-­ going internalization of a form of abuse, a failure to love both another person and herself. This we could say with Wittgenstein is a failure not only to agree in opinion or judgement (both in the sense of “We both desire this” or “We both regard this as somethings desirable”) but also “in form of life” (Wittgenstein 1953/2009, §241–242). Against this background, it appears central that Nelson speaks of incompatible perversities, and not, say, different desires or preferences. But there is still a question of why she latches on to the word perversities. Now, Nelson does not provide any clear reasons for her choice of words, and as I said her use of the expression after the Q&A seems tentative. She does, however, repeatedly turn to this chain of words in aid of her thinking. In relation to a queer activist group seeking for comrades that want to “come together and attack” (straight society, capital, exploitation), she writes, I was glad for their intervention: there is some evil shit in this world that needs fucking up, and the time for blithely asserting that sleeping with whomever you want however you want is going to jam its machinery is long past. But I’ve never been able to answer to comrade, nor share in this fantasy of attack. In fact I have come to understand revolutionary language as a sort of fetish—in which case, one response to the above might be, Our diagnosis is similar, but our perversities are not compatible. (Nelson 2015, 30)

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A perversity, for Nelson, then is more encompassing than a mere preference (on a narrow understanding of preference). It involves not just an individual desire, popping up out of nowhere, but what appears as a more complex, or complicated mindset, a way of orienting oneself in the world, involving both what choices of words one answers to, and what kind of fantasies one shares. In this orientation to the world, the language one speaks, and the way one speaks it, is clearly important. Up to this point, I agree with Nelson. After this, however, her reasons for speaking about incompatible perversities become less clear. For it is quite possible to speak of such an orientation, without bringing in any notion of the perverse, that is, of something diverging from the sexually normal. In this respect, her choice of word rather appears to comment on a problematic normality, and even more express a desire to show how our normality, or what we perceive as normal, is itself perverted, in the sense that all (hetero)sexuality is formed around pictures and narratives of dominance. If you’re looking for sexual tidbits as a female child, and the only ones that present themselves depict child rape or other violations … , then your sexuality will form around that fact. There is no control group. I don’t even want to talk about “female sexuality” until there is a control group. And there never will be. (Nelson 2015, 82–83)

Although I sympathize with Nelson’s desire to subject certain pictures of normality to critical scrutiny, I am less certain whether the distinction between the normal and perverse will serve to bring out what may be problematic in them here. In this quest, Nelson’s elaboration of Sedgwick’s “Even identical genital acts mean very different things to different people” seems to express a deeper understanding of the moral and existential core of this issue, than the notion that certain perversities are incompatible. Directly after quoting Sedgwick’s remark, she remarks, “This a crucial point to remember, and also a difficult one. It reminds us that there is difference right where we may be looking for, and expecting, communion.” (Nelson 2015, 116). This response draws attention to the vulnerability of our desires, the sense in which, to put it bluntly, one does not want to hear that one is fucked up, if what one wants is to be fucked. To consider the form of distance there may be in these cases of disagreement, we therefore need to acknowledge both one’s longing for another, and the fear of rejection that goes with that longing. This is also rendered beautifully in the first paragraphs of The Argonauts, where the reflections on Barthes are offered by Nelson to Harry as a continuation of her first pronouncement of love. “I thought the passage was romantic. You read it as a possible retraction. In retrospect, I guess it was both.” (Nelson 2015, 6). This suggests that the kind of agreement in language, in posture, in how one thinks about language, “Are words good enough?”, which is constantly at stake in the work (cf. e.g. Nelson 2015, 8), is not something that we can establish as a fundamental fact, but something to yearn for, and cherish when we experience it. Furthermore the kind of communion gestured at in the description of incompatible perversities, “Why did it take me so long to find someone with whom my perversities were not only compatible, but perfectly matched?” (Nelson


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2015, 87),6 is not to be thought of in isolation from the sense of gratitude experienced in the realization that there could be this form of conversation, and Nelson’s acknowledgement, in the final sentence of the acknowledgement section, of learning, through the relationship with Harry, “what a nuptial may be” (Nelson 2015, 180).7 These remarks bring us back to the necessity of considering, not only the orientation of our desires, and our relationships to different acts, or how we orient ourselves in life as such, but our relationships with each other, to see what possible meaning we can attach to sexual relations. In particular it becomes important to consider the distinction between a desire for an act, and the desire for another person, and how these at times may intersect. The desire for another may in one case be a source of discovering what one’s own desires are, and what one could come to desire, even if one had not been able to imagine it before. The desire for contact with the other, however, may also make one more inclined to comply with desires that are not one’s own, or that one comes to discover one cannot make one’s own, out of fear of jeopardizing the relationship. The relationship may thus be a site for exploration, liberation, and for mutual learning, but also for self-deception and concealment. You do something that you think I want, because you believe that is what we should do, or what it means to act out of love. I say that I want something from you, with the hope that it would make you think of me as more desirable. Against the slightly moralistic picture of us freely choosing our sexuality, or freely expressing our desires, that many discussions on consent seem to assert, where the moralism in large part appears in the desire that we be more free-spoken than many of us often are, we may thus conjure up a picture of human life and desire, where expressing our desires is a much more vulnerable business, since our desires do not lie open to us, and where discovering what our desires are, may demand more of us than uttering the words. To again quote Nelson, “I didn’t send the fragment [of a poem blessing the previous lovers that had travelled the beloved’s body] because I had in any way achieved its serenity. I sent it with the aspiration that one day I might—that one day my jealousy might recede” (Nelson 2015, 7). The question of what we desire here, does not only serve to establish our consent, but draws attention to our vulnerability in voicing our desires given what the other may think of us, as well as asks what our desires will make of our relationship. It is to draw attention to such aspects of desire, and especially the vulnerability of our desires to fear, compliance and other possible self-deceptions, that we do well to heed Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s advice, quoted by Nelson, that “You’re the only one who knows when you’re using things to protect yourself and keep your ego together and when you’re opening and letting things fall apart, letting the world 6  But also, “Really, though, it’s more than a perfect match, as that implies a kind of stasis. Whereas we’re always moving, shape-shifting.” (Nelson 2015, 87). 7  The reference to nuptial goes back to a quote by Gilles Deleuze/Claire Parnet. “Nuptials are the opposite of a couple. There are no longer binary machines; question-answer, masculine-feminine, man-animal, etc. This could be what a conversation is–simply the outline of a becoming.” (Nelson 2015, 8).

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come as it is—working with it rather than struggling against it. You’re the only one who knows.” (Nelson 2015, 33–34) This alerts us to our own personal responsibility in answering such questions as to what we want as well as facing up to our own possible self-deceptions. It is, as the book from which the quote stems, a reminder of our tendency to withdraw from what is experienced as painful, and an urging to rather move towards it (Chödrön 2005). This, Chödrön suggests, may be an important exercise in opening one’s heart. But, we should also heed the caution that Nelson offers in response to it, “And the thing is, even you don’t always know.” (Nelson 2015, 34). Attaining knowledge about what our desires are, as it were, is not only difficult. In important respects, it is not even to be had. Certainly, there are situations in which it is utterly clear to us what we ourselves and others desire, and when we either to assert ourselves or to offer reassurance, may say that we know what we want. The kind of doubt and uncertainty that may surround other situations, however, suggests that the question facing us here is not, unequivocally, one of knowledge, either in the sense that it is open to just anyone, or in the sense that it is open to us as individuals in the private realms of our mind. It is rather one of understanding. This understanding, as in the examples above by Winch, confronts us with questions about what we are able to take seriously, both in our own lives and in those of others. It asks us to recognize the differences there may be in the reactions of others and our own, and the differences, dissonances and distances, even in our own ways of relating to things, over time or at a given moment. What I once appreciated as a form of self-aware outspokenness, I may now, say, see as a problematic form of self-­ assertiveness. Acknowledging these differences, may many times be the beginning of a bridging of distances, a ground for learning, and sometimes also a source of joyful discovery. Yet, speaking of both dissonance and disagreement, reminds us that the task of understanding, does not only have to limit itself to the acceptance of others as different. We should not jump to the conclusion that all disagreement or distances in how we relate to our sexual lives are necessary bad, but there is still a need to raise questions as to what conceptions of them we are able to see as good. Taking someone seriously is not a matter of blindly tolerating and accepting what they want or who they are, but of appreciating the difficulty and the challenge of thinking through what it means to regard their difference as a genuinely human possibility. Furthermore, it raises a question about how we can reject what another person desires as undesirable, without at the same time rejecting that other person, whether it is possible to pierce their self-deception without leaving them alone in it, or making them feel ashamed. This requires a form of lucidity, both about what they desire, and what experiences makes them desire it, to enable us to react to each other in ways that acknowledge our vulnerability to each other.


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13.3  Conclusion Through a consideration of Winch’s limiting notions, I have raised questions about what we will see both as pertinent descriptions of ethics and as good descriptions of sexual relations. These questions I have showed are not only of philosophical interest but address differences and disagreement as to what is good and bad in our sexual relationships in ordinary life. They alert us to the need to consider where and how we think such questions should come in, as well as how we should respond to them, and even more importantly to each other. Attending to such questions itself engages us ethically. Not, however, in the moralizing sense of asking us to devise plans and actions to dissolve possible conflicts or tensions between us, but in the need to acknowledge that these difficulties in understanding, in coming to see something as meaningful that first only strikes us as distant and different, are our own. Recognizing this existential feature may indeed be troubling.8

References Anscombe, G. E. M. (1981). You can have sex without children: Christianity and the new offer. In The Collected Philosophical Papers of G.E.M. Anscombe Volume III: Ethics, Religion and Politics (pp. 82–96). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Chödrön, P. (2005). When Things Fall Apart. Boston: Shambala. Gaita, R. (2011). After Romulus. Melbourne: Text Publishing. Hendry, J. (2016). Introduction to Social Anthropology. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Hertzberg, L. (1997). Voices of the will. In L.  Alanen, S.  Heinämaa, & T.  Wallgren (Eds.), Commonality and Particularity in Ethics (pp.  75–94). Houndmills/Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd. Hertzberg, L. (2009). What’s in a smile? In Y. Gustafsson, C. Kronqvist, & M. McEachrane (Eds.), Emotions and Understanding: Wittgensteinian Perspectives (pp.  113–125). Basingstoke: Palgrave. Irigaray, L. (1985). This Sex Which is not One. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Motturi, A. (2003). Filosofi vid Mörkrets Hjärta: Wittgenstein, Frazer och Vildarna. Göteborg: Glänta. Murdoch, I. (1997). Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature (Peter J Conradi, Ed.). London: Chatto & Windus. Nelson, M. (2015). The Argonauts. London: Melville House UK. Richter, D. (2011). Anscombe’s Moral Philosophy. Plymouth: Lexington Books. Sedgwick, E.  K. (1990). Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press. Vico, G. (1968). The New Science of Giambattista Vico. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Winch, P. (1958/1990). The Idea of a Social Science. 2nd Ed. London: Routledge.

8  This discussion is in significant respects an outgrowth of conversations I have had with Salla Aldrin Salskov over the years. I am grateful to Natan Elgabsi and Ryan Manhire for valuable comments during the writing of the chapter and to Ingeborg Löfgren for incisive remarks on reading The Argonauts.

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Winch, P. (1964). Understanding a primitive society. American Philosophical Quarterly, 1(4), 307–324. Winch, P. (1972). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1987). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Winch, P. (1989). Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Winch, P. (1997). Can we understand ourselves? Philosophical Investigations, 20(3), 193–204. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/2009). Philosophical Investigations (4th ed., P. M. S. Hacker & J. Schulte, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker, & J. Schulte, Trans.). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Wittgenstein L. (1967). Zettel (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1993). Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough. In J.  Klagge & A.  Nordmann (Eds.), Philosophical Occasions: 1912–1951 (pp. 119–155). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. Camilla Kronqvist currently serves as University teacher in Philosophy at Åbo Akademi University. Her research interests focus on questions concerning the intersection of philosophy of psychology and moral philosophy, in particular in the philosophy of emotion and the philosophy of love. The moral philosophy of Peter Winch, with its roots in Wittgenstein’s philosophy, is a central source of inspiration in her work. She has published articles on the philosophy of Wittgenstein and the relation of his philosophy to investigations of love and intimate relationships, moral relativism and evolutionary explanations of morality, as well as the role of emotion in humanist research. She is co-editor of two anthologies on Wittgenstein (Palgrave 2009 and Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2013) and is the co-author and co-editor of a research anthology on Finnish philosopher and anthropologist Edvard Westermarck (2017), which relates his research to new advances in sentimentalist ethics.  

Chapter 14

Winch on First Philosophy: Unity and Multiplicity Steven Burns

14.1  Preamble Philosophy began, and often begins for our contemporaries, with questions about the one and the many. Ionian materialists asked: What is the one substance from which all things are derived? Plato asked: What is the one characteristic that all Xs have in common in virtue of which we call them by the same name? And we continue to encourage our students to ask: What is Knowledge? What is Meaning? What is Justice? From the beginning of the history of European philosophy, all of these questions apparently presume that there is one best answer to the question, even though we may never reach agreement on what it is.1 And we pursue answers. Thales proposes that water, by silting, and freezing, and evaporating, makes all other elements and all particular things. Plato proposes (in Parmenides) that the Form of Largeness is the characteristic that all large things have in common in virtue of which we call them ‘large’. In Theaetetus he proposes that knowledge is true belief plus an account that justifies it. Much later examples might mention Wittgenstein’s proposal that meaning is a picturing relationship between terms in concatenation and the elements conjoined in facts. Or John Rawls’ proposal that justice is fairness, such that no difference in well-being is justified unless there is benefit for the least advantaged. I have a special interest in the general question, what is the one, because I have sometimes argued that unity of interpretation of works of art has precedence over

1  This is one conventional reading of that history. There are many other starting points. Compare, e.g., Chike Jeffers on African philosophy, or Jonathan Rée’s Witcraft.

S. Burns (*) Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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the familiar view that works of art license a multiplicity of interpretations.2 That may seem to be a very ‘unWinchean’ project; I am deliberately returning to his work on this occasion, as a measure of self-examination.

14.2  Peter Winch Peter Guy Winch was born in England in 1926, served in the Royal Navy from 1944–1947, then completed a PPE degree at Oxford University. He taught at the University of Swansea, in Wales (1951–1964), and at the University of London, where he worked until 1985, when he moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-­ Champaign in the U.S.A.  He taught there until his death in 1997. Winch’s early reputation was based on The Idea of a Social Science (1958/1990), in which he applied certain principles derived from Wittgenstein’s later work on the foundations of language to the idea that there might be empirical scientific foundations to the so-called social sciences. Winch was working in a tradition that distinguishes Naturwissenschaften from Geisteswissenschaften (natural sciences from human sciences, as we might put it), and he argues that ‘understanding’ a social subject requires a participant’s grasp of what the agents think they are doing (including their reasons for doing it), and cannot be replaced by an observer’s causal account of their patterns of behaviour. By the time of his “Unity” paper, Winch had long been concentrating on ethical issues,3 but in this case he frames his thoughts with a reflection of the main theme from 1958. That is one reason why I think it is an exemplary paper, as it touches on a wide range of his philosophical concerns.4

14.3  Unity My aim in this paper, then, is to explore just this one of Peter Winch’s later papers, “Einheit: Voraussetzung oder Forderung”. It is not a typical Winch paper. It was written, in German, for an annual meeting of the German Philosophy Congress, held in Gießen in 1987. Moreover, it was written at the invitation of Professor Herbert Schnädelbach, as part of a multi-speaker workshop. Winch’s contribution questioned the apparent presupposition of the topic chosen for the occasion, and offered several arguments partially drawn from work that he had already published on Wittgenstein and Weil. It was, then, a statement of themes that he was prepared  See Burns (2013) and Burns (2014).  See Winch (1972), which includes “Moral Integrity”, his inaugural lecture in the Chair of Philosophy at King’s College, University of London (1968). 4  I should add that Peter Winch supervised my doctoral thesis at the University of London (1970). I have maintained a steady admiration for the firm but very helpful guidance which he provided me, and for the continually engaging work which he produced for the rest of his career. 2 3

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to discuss, even go to battle for, on this particular occasion. But because of that, I think that it is a good introduction to some major themes of his work. Not surprisingly, this paper is connected to themes that Winch was writing about in other papers at the same time. I particularly  have in mind Winch’s inaugural lecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “Who is my Neighbour?” (Winch 1987, 154–166). Winch’s essay begins with the topic chosen for the whole 1987 congress: “Einheit und Vielheit”. Perhaps this topic gestured toward the reunification of East and West Germany, which was at the time both controversial and on the horizon. But for philosophers the topic is timeless. It suggests, as I have said, the One and the Many – the great problem of the pre-Socratic philosophers. Or, if we translate it more carefully, we might speak of Unity and Multiplicity. This formulation can suggest the Platonic question which I have already mentioned: What is the one characteristic that all Xs have in common in virtue of which we call them by the same name? Or in a more modern variant: Can the infinite particularity of the world be explained by simple and universal laws? The Giessen conference organizers no doubt expected a Vielheit of contributions to this attempt to find Einheit among a large number of philosophers. I imagine that the conference topic would have suited Winch very well; he would enjoy contributing to the multiplicity of voices, and would argue that unity was a misleading goal. It might bring with it the risk of reverting to Neoplatonic theology or metaphysics. His first move in such a situation was usually to say something like: “Many things can be called ‘one’, and there are thus many ‘ones’. Which one would you like to discuss?” I find this approach to the great generalities of Philosophy to be very instructive. And since his workshop topic, under the general theme of the conference, was to be universalism in ethics, the implied task was to discuss the possibility of universal laws of morality. Having acknowledged this workshop goal of finding unity in the diversity of moral views, Winch’s next move was to expose what he took to be a misleading presupposition.5 He phrased his objection this way: I do not know exactly how Professor Schnädelbach himself conceives this matter. His way of putting it, however, suggests a certain background presupposition, namely that the correct line of argument would be, first to confirm (so-called) “factual” cultural universals in order subsequently to base some “normative” demands on them. Something like this is certainly a well-known procedure, in which one strives, e.g., to base a universalist ethic on needs that are thought to stem from a presumed common human nature.6

For example, human beings universally need food. Without nourishment they die. So we might imagine that there is a moral demand that people be fed (children, certainly; the very old and the ill, presumably; strangers, perhaps; the indigent; the indolent?) This would be, in some ways at least, a scientific basis for ethics. The 5  This is true, too, of other papers of his which were written as responses to the special topic of a conference. See, e.g., “Text and Context” (Winch 1987, 18–32). 6  Winch (1990, 2/94. (In my text I shall insert page numbers when I quote from my translation of Winch’s “Einheit: Voraussetzung oder Forderung?”. The translation is in unpublished typescript, so I shall include a second number which will refer to the corresponding page in the original German publication).


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proposed empirical foundations would serve as necessary and perhaps as sufficient conditions determining the universal ethical principles.7 This idea thus frames the paper. Winch concludes his essay with the claim: “I do not know how one could justify such an ‘ethical unity’ of humanity scientifically” (12/100). So the scientific foundation of ethics is both the starting place and the ending place of the essay. By challenging this apparent presupposition of the workshop theme, Winch has focused on a specific problem, narrowing the theme quite dramatically. But this is far from all that he has accomplished. For the problem he has formulated is that of “facts and values”, specifically about whether it is possible to derive value claims from a set of facts. David Hume had famously decreed that this move, from facts to values, is illegitimate.8 From the fact that a son has killed and eaten its father, it does not follow (a) that something wrong has occurred, (b) that we observers should condemn the act, or (c) that we should be motivated to do something about it. If the son were a tree, which grew and stole light from its parent, eventually thriving on the parent’s rotting carcass, we should simply say that this was the natural regeneration of a forest. So Hume argued that there was always a step missing when facts were stated and a value judgement ensued that could motivate us to take action. Winch cites two of his own papers, which he calls a “comprehensive critique of this view”.9 Moral philosophers continue to struggle with this problem, trying to find ways of expressing factual truths which carry with them motivational force; and the entire problem goes back to the Socratic paradoxes: e.g., that no one does evil knowingly. Plato portrays Socrates as maintaining that if a person really understands a situation, s/he will respond by doing good; that evildoing is based on a mistake, on misunderstanding. And that clear understanding of a situation will bring forth its own motivation to do ‘the right thing’. It is also no accident that Winch’s final concern in this paper is to discuss Socrates. Winch’s focus, then, first zooms in on a particular aspect of the workshop’s topic, and then zooms back out to one of the oldest and most venerable of issues in the philosophy of morality. It may seem at first glance that Winch has cobbled together disparate items for discussion on this occasion: a bit of Wittgenstein, a bit of Weil, a bit of Manichaeism, and a bit of Socrates…. But in fact Winch has his main goal in sight from the very beginning of his paper, and it is never far from view. His main goal is to say what can be said about the role of unity in thinking about ethics, given that a scientific foundation should be ruled out. 7  My late colleague, David Braybrooke, is a leading exponent of such a view. See Braybrooke (1987). Another case for consideration is presented by Julia Annas (2004). She begins by invoking the Virtues Project, which, without philosophical backing, just solves many inter-cultural problems in schools. They list 52 useful virtues respected in 7 world spiritual traditions. No Consequentialist Project, they claim, has anything like the same success. Is this an empirical basis for a universalist virtue ethics? 8  David Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Book 3 “Of Morals”, §1. Of course interpreters have much more to say. Cf., for example, Rachel Cohon’s entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (accessed 20.3.2019). 9  Winch, “Unity”, 2/94. The papers are “Human Nature”, and “Man and Society in Hobbes and Rousseau”, from Winch (1972), chapters 4 and 5.

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Winch uses as his title, “Unity: Prerequisite or Demand”. The terms ‘prerequisite’ and ‘demand’ are sometimes used as equivalents. ‘Prerequisite or requirement?’ could also serve as a translation; this tends to blur the differences. But Winch is thinking of the terms as contraries. To require a prerequisite is to make a preliminary move, one which seeks to establish a foundation, one from which one can move on. Winch is thinking of the explicit aspect of the workshop topic: finding some cultural universals, which could then ground a claim that certain values are universal. In our example, ‘Human beings need food. People who cannot feed themselves ought to be fed.’ On the other hand, making demands plays a very different role in an ethical form of life, and we shall discuss such demands in due course. But Winch rejects the idea that there could be such ‘merely factual’ prerequisites.

14.4  Primitive Reactions Winch begins his positive argument by invoking work by two of the philosophers who most influenced his own thinking: Ludwig Wittgenstein and Simone Weil. From Wittgenstein he takes the idea of “the primitive human reactions from which our most fundamental concepts develop” (2/94). He uses the example of the concept of cause, which we come to grasp only because we react naturally to causes. If I feel a blow to my foot, for instance, I look instinctively at my foot. Because I naturally do this, I can develop the idea that some object has hit my foot, causing the pain, and thus the concept of ‘cause’ can arise, and be developed and refined. Winch notes that we say ‘we’ react in such a way, as though we were depending on a common human nature. He would be very surprised, he says, to meet someone who would not react with disgust to a heap of rotting meat, “and you would be too” (3/95). Such primitive reactions are widely shared, and shape the natural history of human beings. One might assume then that these natural reactions are ‘cultural universals’ of the sort Prof. Schnädelbach was seeking. But we need not concede that they are universally the case. Wittgenstein himself, introducing one of his most theoretical pronouncements, writes, “For a large class of cases – though not for all – in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language” (Wittgenstein 1953/2009, §43). On this model, we should expect that a reaction can be primitive without necessarily being universal. “I would be very surprised” does not mean that one cannot be surprised. It may seem at this point that Winch is offering primitive reactions as a different approach to a unitary foundation for ethics. This is in some ways a tempting reading, and needs careful discussion. But let me say at the outset that it is not clear that these are factual foundations at all. We might also say, Winch suggests, “that in these cases we construct a norm, against which we then measure future experiences” (3/95). Of course if we can understand primitive reactions as constructing norms, then the fact/norm distinction is significantly altered. Thinking that primitive reactions are simply factual should then be regarded with suspicion. This is another way in which the conference presupposition is put in question.


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Winch then offers a second example, taken from the essay, “The Iliad or the Poem of Force”, by Simone Weil. “If we step aside for a passer-by on the road, it is not the same thing as stepping aside to avoid a billboard; alone in our rooms we get up, walk about, sit down again quite differently from the way we do when we have a visitor.” This sketches another pattern of primitive reactions. Weil calls it “that interval of hesitation, wherein lies all our consideration for our brothers in humanity” (Weil 1986, cited by Winch 1990, 5/96. See also Winch 1989). This is another candidate for “natural reaction from which our most fundamental concepts develop”. This time it is the concept of common humanity, and she suggests that we would have no such concept if our natural reactions did not distinguish between humans and other objects in some such way. Perhaps to his reader’s surprise, Winch now goes on to raise a powerful objection to this way of thinking, but before I turn to the objection I want to explore further this idea of primitive reactions. Both of Winch’s examples come from a developed stage of our lives. Looking at the area of a causal event is beyond the capacity of an infant who cannot yet focus her eyes, let alone find her feet. And the hesitation in the presence of another person is not merely natural; it is something that we learn about, probably also as children learning to identify and to cope with adults, animals, and other children. ‘Primitive’ means ‘first’, among other things, and these reactions come before certain kinds of conceptualization, but they too are preceded by earlier stages of development. They are not absolutely first. Wittgenstein is well known for having investigated much more primitive reactions. He once asked: “Are we perhaps over-hasty in our assumption that the smile of a baby is not pretence?” (Wittgenstein 1953/2009, §249) He is investigating the idea of a private language to describe our own sensations, and has claimed that a child’s natural reaction to pain is to cry. “[T]hen adults talk to him and teach him … new pain behaviour…. [T]he verbal expression of pain replaces crying, it does not describe it” (Wittgenstein 1953/2009, §244). The most obvious implication of these remarks is that crying is a primitive reaction, part of the natural history of humankind, and that it makes possible the learning of pain-language and more sophisticated concepts. The question about the baby’s smile is interesting precisely because it makes us think of priority. It begins very early in an infant’s life. Perhaps a baby makes an inadvertent grimace, which is interpreted by its parents as a smile. But the baby soon learns of its effects, and takes delight in smiling and recognizing the smiles of others, and imitating smiles, and so on. But for an infant to pretend to smile? That, we want to say, requires much more learning. The infant must separate the facial gesture from the feeling that it naturally expresses, and from the effects that it evokes, and develop the intent to achieve the effects by means of the gesture, but without the feeling. This is a relatively complicated advance on the primitive reaction, and would be impossible without the reaction having priority, coming first. Wittgenstein goes on immediately to claim that, “Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other one.” In his next paragraph he asks whether a dog can pretend to be in pain, and, although we can teach a dog tricks, he argues that “the right surroundings for this behaviour to be real simulation would still be missing” (Wittgenstein (1953/2009), §250). Pretending is not as primitive as other behaviour. All of this has interesting ramifications for the familiar question, are

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infants guilleless? Or are they conceived in sin and imbued with evil motives from their very beginning? I hope that most of my readers will prefer the first alternative, and agree that lying is not primitive, but has to be learned. That, however, is a topic for another conversation. In another ingenious example, Wittgenstein asks why we follow the direction of a pointing finger, and do not instead look from fingertip to wrist (see Wittgenstein 1953/2009, §185, and cf. §85). Is this a matter of convention? Or an accident of human development? A contingency? I think that one can give a clear answer to these questions, and it is the sort of answer that Wittgenstein invites, and that Winch proposes: pointing is an activity rooted in primitive reactions. Again, think of an infant: it will learn gradually to co-ordinate its eyes to focus on, say a foot. And on its hands and their ability to touch and eventually to grasp things, like a foot. It is out of these primitive gestures, I think, that the idea emerges that a grasping gesture might be seen as pointing, as a short-hand for reaching and grasping. Adults, almost certainly, will sometimes react to a child’s attempt at grasping by bringing the object reached for closer to the striving child. Perhaps it is food. Perhaps a toy. In any case, the child will be taught to appreciate the connection, and it will learn to point and yell, no doubt sometimes driving its parent beyond patience. Our eyes may exceed our grasp, but they have a coordinated directionality. Both eyes and hand reach in the same directions. We would have to be quite differently constructed for over-the-­ shoulder pointing to have been a natural development for human beings. It might be objected that there is a certain naturalness to pointing over a shoulder with a shrug or a head toss, but those gestures would require a different discussion of circumstances and primitive reactions. I have given some illustrations of the ‘firstness’ of primitive reactions, of their being early stages in the natural development of concepts like pointing and smiling and pretending. And Winch has argued also for the priority of relatively primitive reactions as being prerequisites for our development of concepts like cause, and common humanity. There seems to be a big picture here, in which Winch is claiming that primitive reactions are first in human conceptual development In the 1960s, English philosophers sometimes used the ghastly phrase, “which concept wears the trousers?”. The implied reference was to the conventional view of marriage: that the woman wears a skirt, the man wears trousers, and the man is head of the household – gives the orders. If the woman were to determine household decisions, the husband would be “henpecked”. And so on.10 If we can set these unfortunate prejudices aside, what can we make of the idea that one concept has a precedent role in determining the significance of another? It seems clear enough in the case of truth and falsehood. If it were not the case that speakers normally use words to mean what they normally mean, we would not be able to use language at all. Words without any stable meanings at all quickly become meaningless; we cannot use them to convey anything. Against that semi-stable background, we can develop the practices of lying, speaking ironically, joke-telling, and so on, all of which rely on the presumption of truth-telling which constitutes the basis of meaningful language. So ‘truth’ wears the trousers, takes conceptual precedence over falsehood.  One may be reminded of the colloquial “Simandl” (little she-man) familiar in Austria and southern Germany.



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Here is another example of the ‘trousers’ phenomenon. In the case of ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ actions, it seems that ‘involuntary’ has precedence. We recognize some behaviour as involuntary: breathing (perhaps), tripping, being forced at gunpoint, acting under the influence of a drug, and so on. It is when we can distinguish various cases of my arm involuntarily rising, that by a kind of elimination we can recognize a case of my raising my arm. The voluntary act is conceived as a negation of the involuntary ones. So ‘involuntary’ has a prior, or determining role in the meaningfulness of ‘voluntary’. The tendency of such considerations about a so-called contrast-theory of meaning is to assign priority to one term over another. The suggestion here is to think that similar relations of priority and determinacy can be found in primitive reactions. So some reactions seem to be primary, and other reactions to the same stimulus seem to be derivative, sophisticated, learned or contrived.

14.5  Two Objections We should pause to consider objections to these claims about primitive reactions. The first objects to thinking of them as ‘first’, or ‘grounds’ or where analysis ‘comes to an end’. Wittgenstein approved of Goethe’s clever remark that “[I]m Anfang war die Tat” (Goethe 1998, 48). Goethe was replacing the biblical, “In the beginning was the Word”, and claiming that the deed is more fundamental than the word. What Wittgenstein makes of this is much discussed, but some things are clear. He is not endorsing a temporal claim of the kind that I have just associated with child development; “in the beginning” is not (just) about temporal precedence. The remark means something more like “at bottom are our actions”, or they are where “explanations come to an end”. And we derive from this an idea of the precedence of our actions and primitive reactions in the formation of concepts and thus of words. We have already canvassed some examples of this sort of claim. David Cockburn, in a recent paper (2013), examines the sense in which we can claim that primitive reactions “lie at the bottom”. This model, Cockburn replies, is “in part responsible for the pressure to read Wittgenstein in idealist terms. For we may hear Wittgenstein’s insistence that it is acting, not seeing, that lies at the bottom of the language-game as the insistence that we are creators, not discoverers, of order in the world. In trying to avoid this idealism, namely the idea that there was no order in the world before human beings, Cockburn argues against any reading that suggests there is a place where justification, or reason-giving, or interpretation comes to an end. Wittgenstein does make all of these suggestions, but without, I think, the implication of there being one ending place, or that humans create order out of chaos. Consider three key quotations from Philosophical Investigations.11 First take the remark from §29: “Do not say: ‘There isn’t a “last” definition’. That is just as if you


 I have adapted the next few paragraphs from a related discussion in my paper, Burns (2013).

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chose to say: ‘There isn’t a last house in this road; one can always build an additional one’.” Obviously there is no problem in our ordinary language with referring to the last house on a particular road. Perhaps we should not think it problematic to refer to the last word on a particular subject. Cockburn emphasises that no word is final in the sense that nothing more can be said. Until we actually do say more, however, “the last word” is a clear and accurate phrase. As Cockburn phrases his objection, “Why should there be any limit on the ways in which doubts, and possible “rational” responses to them, might ramify? I am not of course suggesting that we should now accept that there are further reasons to be given at every point in any dispute. I am suggesting, rather, that there is nothing of a completely general nature to be said a priori here” (Cockburn 2013, 310). I think that one must agree with Cockburn on this point. It would be quite ‘unWittgensteinian’ to insist on a universal a priori claim about the foundations of definition. A similar result is achieved in the case of a second Wittgenstein quotation: “[I]n the course of our argument we give one interpretation after another; as if each one contented us at least for a moment, until we thought of yet another standing behind it. What this shows is that there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation...” (Wittgenstein 1953/2009, §201). This is a different topic: interpretation. In this passage interpretation is being explored in connection with rule-following. An action is an interpretation of a rule, he suggests. But we had found a paradox, namely that “every course of action can be made out to accord with the rule”, and thus can be made out to be in conflict with it. “And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here” (Wittgenstein 1953/2009, §201). The fact that we do give interpretations, one after the other, is evidence against the skepticism implied by the paradox. What is thus shown is that, rather than there being neither accord nor conflict here, “there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation”. I.e., there are actions which precede rule-following, and which are the conditions which make interpretation possible.12 Interpretation comes to an end, too. Here is another kind of closure in a context that started out looking like an infinite possibility of further interpretations. Again, I think that we should agree that more doubts and further interpretation could arise, and that we are not dealing with a priori ‘givens’, here. Nonetheless, Wittgenstein has shown that a certain way of acting brings a series of interpretations to an end. Finally, I note that §1 of the Investigations is where this sequence of thoughts about endings has its beginning: “Explanations come to an end somewhere.” This is offered in connection with the case of the person sent shopping with a list: “five red apples”. Here Wittgenstein’s point is that each word requires a different sort of explanation, unlike the single explanation offered in the book’s opening quotation from Augustine. The shopkeeper has been trained to count, and on reading “five” he does not think of an object (the meaning of the word), but acts in a certain way. How the word is used is what is at issue. “Explanations come to an end somewhere.” I have called attention to these three familiar passages because, though they differ


 From this remarkable things follow: e.g., that it is not possible to obey a rule ‘privately’.


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significantly from each other, they belong to a close family. They take seriously the idea that definitions and interpretations and explanations all come to an end somewhere. Of course there is no one place at which they all come to an end, but they come to an end in different sorts of action. Am Ende war die Tat. What should we make, then, of the idea that “it is our acting, which lies at the bottom of the language-game” (Wittgenstein 1969, §204)? As Cockburn says, “Wittgenstein is drawing our attention to the richness of a person’s life that is necessary if we are to say of him that ‘He believes that Jones is in pain”, or that “He sees that Mary is angry’” (Cockburn 2013, 307). This is a claim about the complex fabric of a life that underlies our speaking in certain ways. Similarly we recognize that a dog does not have the complexity of life needed for us to say of it that it expects to be taken for a walk the day after tomorrow. We can say that it expects to be taken out daily at a certain time, but a specific reference to the day after tomorrow is inappropriate. The surroundings required are missing (as Wittgenstein remarks at 1953/2009, §250); the dog does not use calendars or date-books, for instance. And so I would like to conclude that Cockburn’s objection to taking primitive reactions as fundamental should not be the last word on the subject. Here is a second line of objection. It is mentioned by Cockburn, but starts with discussions that D. Z. Phillips had with Winch before the Giessen paper, and which Phillips published in 1992. I think that Winch begins his paper thinking of primitive reactions as a source of moral concepts (‘humanity’, ‘insincerity’), as well as non-­ moral ones (‘cause’). So he seems to begin with the idea that there might be common foundations to moral concepts after all. They just are not where the anthropologist might have looked for them. Consider what he writes on p. 3/95 of “Unity”: When I say in this regard, “we” behave in this way, I obviously mean that such reactions are characteristically human…. It is also most important that I, as well as any one of you, be in a position to assert that with such confidence…. That hangs together with the fact that each of us expects similar reactions from people whom we meet for the first time. I would, for example, be very surprised if I were to meet someone who did not react with gestures of disgust to a heap of rotting meat; and you would be too!

This idea, that human beings in general should have similar primitive reactions, sounds suspiciously like the very cultural universals that Prof. Schnädelbach proposed as starting points for ethics. They are not found among human needs, but they do seem to be empirically observable. They are, however, not mere generalizations from empirical observations, but seem to be known ahead of time (in a way, a priori?) by all of us. Nonetheless they seem to be foundations of our concept acquisition, and to be needed for our moral judgement. But now Winch raises his own objection. Winch raises this objection by invoking Manichaeism on p.  7/97. The Third-­ Century religion founded by the Persian, Mani, was widespread, and notably adhered to by Augustine until he converted to Christianity. The Manichaean faith held what was considered a heresy by Christians, namely that the powers of Good and Evil are equal, independent and opposite forces. It is offered by Winch as an

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objection to the claim that primitive reactions are the foundation of our concept-­ acquisition, and that they are the foundation especially of ethical concepts, like ‘sincerity’, and ‘humanity’, and of our hesitation in the presence of other humans as a form of recognizing their power to refuse our moral demands. The objection is that evil reactions, insincerity, inhumanity, and having no regard for the view-points of others, are reactions just as primitive as the good ones that Winch has proffered as fundamental. Evil is as foundational as Good. Primitive reactions, it seems, cannot be the foundation of ethics, for they give rise to wrongdoing as much as to doing good. Winch seems to dismiss Manichaeism as a merely theological doctrine. He does accept, however, that there are natural reactions which contradict the idea that universal ethical norms can be derived from them. Here he offers a remarkable phrase, “the question of the ethical equivalence of the Good and the Evil” (8/98). The Manichaeans believed in the equivalence of the Good and the Evil as metaphysical forces, but the ethical was all on the side of the Good. Why does Winch speak of their ethical equivalence? He wants “to look at this matter in the light of a remarkable passage in Plato’s Gorgias” (8/98). My own inclination is to think that the ‘good’ and the ‘evil’ primitive reactions are not equivalent. There is a big gap between, e.g., the natural reaction of trust, and a learned distrust. One has priority. But at this point Winch has a different goal in view. So let us turn to Gorgias (in particular to 474b, which Winch quotes).

14.6  Socratic Paradox This passage is one of Plato’s key presentations of the Socratic paradox, that all people, regardless of what they claim to believe about themselves, will be motivated by what they understand to be good; the particular form of the idea, in this debate with Polus and Callicles, is that everyone believes that to do wrong is worse than to be wronged. Polus and Callicles both think that this gets things exactly backwards: almost everyone disagrees with Socrates’ claim. We may think that Winch endorses Socrates’ view as a reassertion of the primacy of primitive reactions in the development of morality. Our primitive reaction is to do what we understand to be good. At least some primitive reactions do have precedence; they make it possible to have a concept, and that is a prerequisite for negating it. Kant understood this, when he argued that unless promise-keeping is the norm, the practice of promising would be unintelligible. And only when promise-keeping is established can the breaking of promises become a possibility. Thus, for other instances, speaking with meaning precedes scepticism, and benign smiling precedes hypocrisy. And the Socrates example seems to insist that our natural inclination is to do what our understanding of a situation shows to be good. But in fact Winch does not fully embrace this conclusion. Instead of treating Socrates as the moral model, and Callicles as a model of sophistical immorality, he


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treats the two of them as engaging in a moral debate. It is true that in the dialogue’s final “myth”, Socrates describes the fate of people like Callicles: “suffering in the greatest, the most painful, and the most fearful torments because of their sins, strung up forever in that prisonhouse of Hades, an example, a portent, and a warning to the unjust as they arrive below” (Plato 1952, 525c). He is the very antithesis of a moral exemplar, yet Winch wants us to respect his place in the moral discourse. He accepts the objection that primitive human reactions range widely over the moral spectrum. Both Callicles and Socrates appeal to primitive reactions, though to different ones, “and the conflict between the two also belongs to the natural history of human beings” (11/100). I think that we should not be surprised that what Socrates maintains, that everyone really believes his doctrine, even though they claim that they do not, resembles in certain key ways Winch’s insistence that ‘we’ need to have the confidence to maintain (even though we do not know much about “those people with whom each of you is confronted”) that we all react in common ways when confronted by a blow to the foot, or another human in our space, or by a heap of rotting meat (3/95). But now Winch insists that common primitive reactions do not necessitate common value judgements. “[I]t is Polus who must decide,” so that Socrates cannot simply have brought into the light what Polus (and all others!) always already believed” (9/98). This is dialectically complex territory. It is not just that what is right is whatever Polus prefers or chooses. Even less is it merely the will of the stronger. For Polus’s choosing involves working with certain common concepts, and acknowledging the shape of his conversational interaction with Socrates. But when Callicles protests that Socrates has simply duped Polus, Winch insists that the “inclinations to which Callicles appeals certainly belong to the natural history of humans; but so do the inclinations to which Socrates appeals;” and so does the conflict between them (11/99). At this point we are in Winch’s final paragraph, and rather abruptly he makes what I take to be his most indelible move. “[T]o the same natural history belongs the fact that we do not simply confront other human beings as observers. Sometimes we also make demands on one another” (11/100). These are, we must presume, the “demand” of Winch’s title question, and they are to be contrasted to the “prerequisite”. Sometimes the demands we make on others, for instance that a promise be kept, are not met. Sometimes we are not surprised by this. Sometimes, of course, we are surprised to find that another person does not share our moral convictions. Sometimes we nonetheless insist that the demands ought to be met. “For someone who makes such demands, that is what constitutes the ‘ethical unity’ of humanity” (11–12/100). Here, then, is Winch’s conclusion. It is not the ‘factual / scientific’ foundations which give unity to ethics. Not the “prerequisite” of his title. Rather, it is a natural tendency to make “demands” on others which gives the ethical ‘form of life’ its unity. We need to recognize that people make different, even incompatible demands of this sort. So, instead of it being a presupposition – that there must be a reason why we call all this ethics, or that there must be a common answer to the ‘what is good?’ question, − Winch just notes that we make moral demands on one another. That is also a primitive reaction, and it makes the development of a moral

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form of life possible – and it supports both agreement and disagreement in judgements within it. But we agree in form of life. That is the unity we can (must) allow; and it does not provide universality of moral judgements or principles. So the answer to the title’s question is “demand”. I must not just leave to the reader what to make of Winch’s closing insistence that we should not expect to find a “scientific” foundation for ethics. We find instead a range of primitive reactions which make a moral form of life conceivable, and which unites us in the sense that such judgements are woven into the very ‘bottom’ of our existence, even though that does not force specific moral judgements on us. On the other hand I must also take care to contemplate the very Winchian gesture: “In my opinion it is sufficient to lay out such attitudes in the light of day” (12/100). ‘Sufficient’ for a philosopher, because no amount of argument will overrule the necessity for each individual to make his or her own decisions. Incompatible attitudes reflect the primitive reactions that are not always the same from person to person. ‘Laying out in the light of day’ is a form of argument. Wittgenstein even calls the method of setting cases side by side a form of proof, though he adds that in the end we cannot dictate whether the proof will appeal to the judge or not.13 This is also connected to Winch’s perhaps overconfident assertion, in “Moral Integrity,” his inaugural lecture at King’s College, London, that “philosophy can no more show a man what he should attach importance to than geometry can show a man where he should stand” (Winch 1972, 191). I conclude that Winch’s paper is an excellent introduction to major themes in his thought. It leads us from his method of handling grand generalities, such as the One and the Many, through his respect for Weil and Wittgenstein, to his conviction that ethical sensibility is involved throughout human perception and judgement. The notion of primitive reactions serves to highlight the role that patterns of human action play in the understanding of language and thought and ethics. And his courageous reading of Plato’s Gorgias can both give us pause, and lead us to rethink the connectedness of ethics. If the debate with Callicles is internal to ethical discourse, then we have to be more tolerant of the confrontations in “the natural history of humankind”.14

 These terms are derived from Wittgenstein’s intense lecture on aesthetic judgement, as reported by G. E. Moore (1993, 104–107). 14  An early version of this paper is to be published, as “A Philosopher Crosses the Atlantic: Peter Winch on Philosophy and Ethics”, in the proceedings of a conference held in Vienna in 2018. I have extensively reworked that paper, and doubled its size, in preparing this essay. I am especially grateful to Lynette Reid for help with reading and interpreting “Unity: Prerequisite or Demand?” in a Winchian spirit. She is not responsible, however, for my enthusiasms and blind-spots. 13


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References Annas, J. (2004). Being virtuous and doing the right thing. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 78(2), 61–75. Braybrooke, D. (1987). Meeting Needs. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Burns, S. (2013). Best readings: Wittgenstein and Grillparzer. In S. Bru, W. Huemer, & D. Steuer (Eds.), Wittgenstein Reading (pp. 153–170). Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH. Burns, S. (2014). Politics in Beautiful Losers. In J. Holt (Ed.), Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: Various Positions (pp. 139–153). Chicago: Open Court. Cockburn, D. (2013). In the beginning was the deed. Philosophical Investigations, 36(4), 303–319. Goethe, J. W. (1998). Goethe Werke, Vol. 3, Faust I und II; Die Wahlverwandtschaften (A. Schöne & W. Wiethölter, Eds.). Insel Verlag. Moore, G. E. (1993). Wittgenstein’s lectures in 1930–1933. In J. Klagge & A. Nordmann (Eds.), Philosophical Occasions (pp. 46–114). Indianapolis: Hackett. Phillips, D. Z. (1992). My neighbour and my neighbours. In Interventions in Ethics (pp. 229–250). Albany (NY): State University of New York Press. Plato (1952). Gorgias (W. C. Helmbold, Trans.). New York: The Library of Liberal Arts. Weil, S. (1986). The Iliad or the poem of force. In S.  Miles (Ed.), Simone Weil: An Anthology (pp. 162–195). New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Winch, P. (1972). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Winch, P. (1987). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Winch, P. (1989). Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Winch, P. (1990). Einheit: Voraussetzung oder Forderung? In O.  Marquard (Ed.), Einheit und Vielheit: Proceedings of the XIV German Congress of Philosophy – Giessen, 21–26 September, 1987 (pp.  94–100). Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag. [“Unity: Prerequisite or Demand?” (S. Burns, Trans.). Unpublished, 2019]. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. Von Wright, Eds., D. Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe, Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1976/1993). Cause and effect: Intuitive awareness (P.  Winch, Trans.). In J. Klagge & A. Nordmann (Eds.), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Occasions 1912–1951 (pp.  371–426). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, [Winch’s translation first appeared in Philosophia 6, 391–445]. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/2009). Philosophical Investigations (P. M. S. Hacker & J. Schulte, Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker & J. Schulte, Trans.). Revised fourth edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Steven Burns  studied philosophy at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, before doing graduate studies at the Universities of Alberta, Western Australia, and London, England (D.Phil., 1970). He was professor of Philosophy at Dalhousie University and cross-appointed as professor of Contemporary Studies at the University of King’s College (Halifax, Canada). He is now retired after teaching for 44 years. Ludwig Wittgenstein has been one of his main research interests. In 2001 he published a translation of On Last Things, a posthumous book of essays and aphorisms by the 23–year-old Otto Weininger which Wittgenstein much admired. Other publications include: “Something from Nothing: Peter Winch on philosophy and religion”, in Religion nach der Religionskritik, ed. L.  Nagl, 2003; “The World Hued: Jarman and Wittgenstein on colour”, in Wittgenstein at the Movies: film and philosophy, eds. B. Szabados and C. Stojanova, 2011); and “Politics in Beautiful Losers”, in Leonard Cohen and Philosophy: various positions, ed. J. Holt, 2014.

Chapter 15

Researching Education: Perspectives from Winch’s Approach to the Social Sciences Christopher Winch

Peter Winch’s claim that the province of social science is one of philosophical as well as empirical enquiry is examined using education as an extended example. On Winch’s view, understanding a social institution or practice involves a grasp of its conceptual structure and this itself should be the subject of empirical investigation. Winch’s own criticism of his earlier position is compared with Rush Rhees’s critique of the Builders example in Wittgenstein’s  Philosophical Investigations (1958/1967). Language games are not to be considered in isolation but as part of a society consisting of interconnected practices that taken together make sense. Education as a family of preparatory human practices is considered as an integral part of a society and, drawing on Vico, the complexity of education’s role in society is considered. The implications of this complexity for a conceptual investigation of education is outlined and a distinction is drawn between the concept of education and various operative conceptions which are the province of the empirical as well as the normative researcher. This approach to the study of education is illustrated through an extended example and the possibilities for an empirical investigation of education are considered.

15.1  W  inch’s View That Social Science Is a Conceptual Enquiry My starting point is a quotation from The Idea of a Social Science (ISS) expressing a view that Winch always held. It is a striking claim:

C. Winch (*) King’s College London, London, UK e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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‘For any worthwhile study of society must be philosophical in character and any worthwhile philosophy must be concerned with the nature of society.’ (Winch 1958/1990, 3)

My contention is that this quotation expresses two interconnected insights which are not only philosophically significant but, interpreted carefully, are a valuable guide to the practice of the social sciences. I will focus mainly on Education, although many of the points I make will apply to other social sciences. What does Winch mean by ‘any worthwhile study of society must be philosophical in character’? Obviously not that philosophy should substitute for empirical enquiry, but rather that the methods of empirical enquiry should draw on philosophical resources.1 This claim has to be understood in Wittgensteinian terms. Meaning is largely use, both concerning the way in which words are used and also concerning larger units of speech and writing such as sentences (see Lynch 2018). Concepts are expressed in talk and writing. Therefore, a conceptual investigation examines the use of terms within the practice under scrutiny in their everyday, as well as in their more problematic philosophical usage. But this is not all that is meant by claiming that social science should be a conceptual enquiry. The latter part of Winch’s claim is that ‘any worthwhile philosophy must be concerned with the nature of society.’ This could be taken to mean ‘any society’ and that is partly what is meant. But it can also be taken to mean ‘the society in which we live’ and thus the particular perspective through which we view ‘society in general’. The two issues are very closely connected. Winch, especially in his later work, was concerned with the relationship between our understanding of practices in which we did not participate and our understanding of ourselves and our own practices (although this theme is already present in ‘Understanding a Primitive Society’ (UPS) (Winch 1964/1972)). In his later writing he was also clear that it is a mistake to regard practices as self-contained, developing a theme of Rhees (1959-60). What kind of unity this is Winch hints at in the concluding part of UPS (Winch 1964/1972, 40–41; see also Richter, 2018 for an interpretation). The ability to see this sort of sense in life depends not merely on the individual concerned, though this is not to say that it does not depend on him at all; it depends also on the possibilities for making such sense which the culture in which he lives does, or does not, provide. (Winch 1964/1972, 41)

In conducting empirical investigations, we have a view on what we are investigating and this what is framed in terms of our own understandings. But our own understandings of what we mean may often be unclear, either because our own usage has become unclear or because that usage is contested between different groups in our society. Often in designing investigations we either use technical terminology

1  As is well-known, the English term ‘science’ has connotations of experimental enquiries concerning natural phenomena, whereas the German ‘Wissenschaft’ is a more hold-all term encompassing all kinds of systematic enquiry aiming at knowledge. The term ‘Wissenschaft’, when substituted for ‘science’ already makes Winch’s claim sound much less controversial.

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(which may have a problematic relationship with non-philosophical usage) or we use existent terms in a philosophically directed way. Winch drew attention to examples where we cannot find our feet with practices in our own culture and hence fail to understand them. Education is full of examples of this kind, but it is also important to recognise that philosophical reflection on our practices (either formal or informal) may also lead to our misunderstanding those practices or failing to understand the practices of others within our own culture. And, if this is so, we will find difficulty in framing the concepts that we hope to use in investigating those practices or those apparently cognate practices in another culture. I offer two examples. In much of economics, it has become commonplace to use the belief + desire explanation of action to mean that the desire aspect is always concerned in some way with self-love.2 Once this view is generalised then it acts as an interpretive framework for thinking about all human action, anywhere and at any time. The work of Gary Becker and ‘Public Choice’ advocates have led to this view affecting policymaking to such a striking degree that there is more than a serious risk of viewing action and motivation in public institutions and in other practices through a lens that distorts our understanding of them and, ultimately our understanding of ourselves as individuals (Becker 1964; for a survey and critique see Orchard and Stretton 1994). The second example is that of our need to form an opinion of the quality of human efforts, especially in the arts. We often use the term ‘creative’ to describe estimable examples, despite often not agreeing what we mean by it. Does it, for example, refer to something that uses the rules for production in an original way to produce something unexpected and of high value, or is it to be better understood as an upwelling of tendencies within the producer which cannot be captured through a system of rules.3 Our own traditions of thinking about creativity, closely connected with the Romantic movement, still tend to dominate the attitudes of many. Even if we resolve this difference in favour of the latter view, it does not follow that it is therefore unproblematically applicable to children who have not yet attained anything other than elementary mastery of aesthetic genres. How then, is it possible to adequately frame our understanding of, for example, the quality of the writing of 9  year old children, if we are not able to understand it in relation to adult aesthetic production?4, 5 2  Adam Smith makes this crucial move in Bk 1 of the Wealth of Nations (1776/1981). Moving from the relatively uncontroversial suggestion that we always act from our (perceived) interests in matters economic, he equates this with the more controversial claim that we thus act out of self-love in such matters (pp. 26–27), despite his friend David Hume cautioning against such an interpretation ‘Of the Dignity and Meanness of Human Nature’ (Hume 1741/2008). 3  The dispute between Walther von Stolzing and Hans Sachs in Act 3 of Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersingers’, expresses this conflict, and Wagner gives due weight to both sides. 4  See the discussion in (Reid 1987) 5  Space does not allow me to develop this example further. It concerns the assessment of the quality of the writing of young children. In this case we have a genuinely contested concept, and perhaps a considerable degree of confusion as to how to resolve it. It is difficult to frame an investigation into a practice if the investigators cannot determine their own framing concepts for the investigation because of radical disagreements within their own culture about what the practice involves.


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Winch’s claim thus poses two challenges for the social science researcher. How do researchers understand the concepts and associated practices of their subjects? How do researchers develop a framework for even beginning to understand those concepts and practices if they have problems understanding the framing concepts in their own culture? In later writings he drew attention to the wide-ranging nature of the difficulties involved in ‘finding our feet’ with familiar practices in our own culture and the kind of understanding of them that is needed to produce an account that is more than superficial (Winch 1997). It is often possible to engage in a limited way with a practice that we cannot really understand. We can even, like Evans-Pritchard with the Zande, engage in their form of life to a certain extent. But this superficial understanding is likely to break down if we cannot relate, at the most profound and intimate levels, which touch our lives deeply, with such practices (Richter 2018). Our lack of commitment will likely be found out through the lack of attention and care which we give to important features of those practices. Without some progress with this latter set of difficulties it will be hard to gain a more than superficial understanding. The depth of understanding that we are ever likely to achieve with some of the phenomena examined may be limited. To conclude this section, researchers need to be aware of the role of their own cultural traditions in framing concepts for research and to be aware that an empirical investigation of conceptual use by another culture (or even a subculture in our own society) may risk superficiality if we fail to sufficiently engage with the relevant practice.

15.2  U  nderstanding a Primitive Society – Vico and Limiting Concepts In a striking passage at the conclusion of ‘Understanding a Primitive Society’ Winch writes that ….the very conception of human life involves certain fundamental notions – which I shall call ‘limiting notions’ – which have an obvious ethical dimension and which indeed in a sense determine the ‘ethical space’ within which the possibilities of good and evil in human life can be exercised. (Winch 1964/1972, 42–43)

Drawing here on Vico’s ‘New Science’ (1744/1968) these are: birth, death, sexual relations. One could say that the biological finitude of human life is an axis around which our more particular concerns revolve and which frame the sense that we make of our lives. Following this observation, it is not difficult to see that the preparation of the young for adult life is also going to be a major preoccupation for any possible human society.6 Furthermore, this preoccupation is closely bound up with a The interested reader should look at the references to Barrow and Woods (1974), Howe (1990), Best (1992), Gingell (2001) and Reid (1987) in the bibliography to follow this issue up. 6  This could be considered as a ‘hinge’ proposition and one might wonder about its universal scope (Dromm 2018). I am not here concerned about its status as a putative hinge proposition and merely

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society’s conception of what a worthwhile life should look like. We can note therefore that, even if they are never made explicit, there will be a concern with the values embedded in a worthwhile life and how these are expressed in the intentions of those charged with the upbringing of the young and how these are manifested in what they teach them, how they do it, how learning takes place and what society regards as success or failure in its efforts. What is considered to be worthwhile and the practices related to preparing the young to lead a worthwhile life may nevertheless be hard to get a grasp of even with such a ‘categorial’ lens for looking at them. We may need to engage with categories that we have a poor grasp of in our own society and be prepared to recognise practices that do not look at all like what we call ‘education’ or ‘upbringing’ but which, nevertheless get their point from the recognition of human finitude. The picture is further complicated by another feature of Vico’s treatment which Winch does not explicitly discuss but which he was certainly aware of, namely that where human history is dynamic it is in large measure due to conflicts between groups of what we would now call social classes.7 In this respect Vico anticipated Marx by more than a century, but developed the idea of class conflict in a different (and arguably more fruitful) way than Marx. These conflicts, Vico argues, find their echo in language. Arguably, they even find their way into conceptual structure. In Twentieth Century philosophy the view that concepts are interpreted differently by different groups was raised by W.B.  Gallie (1955-6) and was recognised by R.S. Peters in his own work on education (Peters 1981). If Vico is right and conflict between different groups is endemic, related to vital interest and reflected in the ways in which people think about the practices and institutions in which they engage, then the hermeneutic task in which educational researchers must engage is complicated considerably. We may anticipate that thinking about human upbringing will be shaped by the place that individuals occupy: as parents, children, pedagogues, businesses, churches, trade unions and so on, to take examples from our own society. Although they may share a certain ‘categorial space’ for thinking about these matters we would be wise to expect that their interpretations of that space may differ widely, even within our own society.8 We also need to recognise that the perspectives of educational researchers themselves will have a specific origin and a role to play, both in the concepts which they employ to frame their research and also in their ability to conduct an empirical investigation of conceptual usage.

suggest that it is hard to make sense of any human society without taking account of biological parameters. This does not imply that it is straightforward to just ‘read off’ the non-categorial contingent manifestations of categorial concepts simply by treating them as a kind of deduction from those concepts or by covertly importing non-categorial content into the categorial concepts. 7  The role of conflict receives explicit recognition in the 1990 Introduction to ISS. 8  One rarely remarked on consequence of such perspectivalism is that what one group may regard as a worthwhile life for another is not recognised as a worthwhile life for them. Vico was aware of such conflicts of perception.


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15.3  E  ducation as a Limiting Concept and Thus Categorial: What Can Be Extracted from the Categorial? If education is an aspect of the limiting concepts that Winch takes from Vico, what guidance do we have in investigating it as a human practice? It is useful to start with a point that Winch, no doubt influenced by Rhees, makes in his 1990 Preface to the second Edition of ISS. Had I paid proper heed to these remarks (and others in a similar vein [i.e. Philosophical Investigations sections 81,82 – CW]) I might have avoided the impression sometimes given in this book of social practices, traditions, institutions etc. as more or less self-contained and each going its own, fairly autonomous, way. (Winch 1958/1990, xiv-xv)

This acknowledges a point made by Rhees in ‘Wittgenstein’s Builders’. But the differences between one form of life and another are not like the differences between one form of institution (say, marriage customs or financial institutions) and another. And the activity of the builders does not give you an idea of a people with a definite sort of life. Do they have songs and dances and festivals, and do they have legends and stories? Are they horrified by certain sorts of crimes, and do they expose people to public ridicule? The description of them on the building site, if you add ‘this may be all,’ makes them look like marionettes. On the other hand, if they do have a life, then to say that their speaking is part of that life would be different from saying that their speaking is part of this activity of building. (Rhees 1959-60, 184–5)

Earlier in the article Rhees had written about children learning their language: In learning to speak he learns what can be said; he learns, however fumblingly, what it makes sense to say. He comes to have some sense of how different remarks have something to do with one another. This is why he can answer you and ask you things, and why he begins to follow a conversation or to carry on a conversation himself. Or rather, it is misleading to say this is why he does that, as though what we had were a condition and what results from it. For in beginning to carry on a conversation, in trying to tell you something and trying to understand your answer, he is getting a sense of how different remarks have a bearing on one another. And because he learns this, he can go on speaking or go on learning. (Rhees 1959-60, 181)

Learning to speak involves learning to take part in a culture and gaining some understanding of how the different practices and institutions within that culture are connected. Education in the categorial sense involves becoming a participant and appreciating the interconnections. The notion of an upbringing into a restricted set of practices alone, like becoming a builder, just does not make sense, even for Vico’s slaves who came from the primeval forests.9 Education, involves inculcation into a culture, even if it is restricted in respect of all the possibilities that a society offers. In a sense, education involves making the connections between the different practices and institutions that go to make up a culture and seeing that, together, they show what life’s having a point is. It might immediately be objected that there are plenty of examples of ‘education’ that fail to do just this. An objector might point to schools and forms of training that  This is not to imply that all children are inculcated into every societal practice, which would be absurd. But it does imply that they are inculcated into those practices that make a human life possible, even if, for some, that life is more restricted than that of others. 9

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do little more than prepare children to be anything other than a Wittgensteinian builder and they would be right in drawing our attention to the existence of such institutions. But this misses the point. Education in the categorial sense cannot be identified with schooling or with formal institutions or formal learning more generally, even if these are part of what we mean by it. Upbringing in the broadest sense (‘Erziehung’ in German) is part of education in this broad sense, including the informal learning that Rhees draws attention to in the passage above. So it is a mistake to assume that educational practices in our own society are available in the formal sense only, let alone that educational practices in other societies necessarily have any formal element. We cannot even assume that there are instinctive practices of speaking to very young children (‘motherese’) universal across all societies.10 Another line of objection is that it makes good sense to talk of ‘adult education’ when the ‘categorial’ concept seems to exclude this, by restricting education to inculcation of the young into society. But there is no reason to deny that concepts can receive extensions from their primary usage and that the idea of adult education is one such. Furthermore, there is a clear link with the primary concept. If we accept that a human life is a kind of journey with different phases to do with work, marriage, family responsibilities, then preparation for those phases is something we would expect to see in any society.11 This does not imply that education is an essentially incomplete process, although certain spiritual traditions might see it like this, as in the German concept of allgemeine Menschenbildung (Benner 2003, esp. Ch.1), where the continuing development of oneself as a unique individual (whatever one’s standing in society) is taken to be a desired outcome of earlier educational processes.12 The study of education is a good example of an area of human enquiry where it is particularly difficult to gain sufficient self-understanding to be able to make progress with the educational practices and experiences of others. Precisely because we have all been educated in the broad sense mentioned above, we are inclined to think that we know what education is ‘from the inside’ and can ‘find our feet’ with educational practices whatever they may be. But our own educational experiences, important as they are to our having any hope of understanding other educational practices, can also blind us to other educational possibilities. This may come about in the following ways. First, we fail to distinguish between the categorial and non-­ categorial elements of education. This may be done in a crude way, by for example, attributing to our own upbringing a universal significance, or it may be done more subtly by, for example, being aware of a categorial/non-categorial distinction but being unsure about how to apply it or by being inconsistent in its application.  See Everett (2008) on the child-rearing practices of the Piraha. When we come across examples like this, we can better understand what Winch meant when he said that any worthwhile philosophy involves the study of society. We are alerted to different ways of living and gain a better understanding of such concepts as initiation, trust, obedience and understanding as a result. 11  See Rousseau’s comments in Emile on the need for Emile to have a life partner, Sophie (Rousseau 1762/1968, 465). 12  We can add here that the Germanophone Bildungsroman literary tradition takes seriously the idea that self-knowledge is not available to one just because one is an adult, but must be painfully acquired through experiences, often of occupational engagement and romantic attachment. See for example the novels of Keller, Goethe, Lenz, and many others, in particular Goethe (1790/1980). 10


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Second, one may appreciate the categorial/non-categorial distinction but get into trouble with the way in which particular educational conceptions are contestable or even contested in different societies. If one were to come across children being brought up in training institutions as Wittgensteinian builders primarily to prepare them for the labour market, one might be horrified and inclined to say that this could not be an educational practice. Indeed, one might have grounds for thinking that it is not. But this is by no means as obvious as it might seem. Seen from the largely egalitarian perspective of our own educational thinking, the idea of upbringing into a particular, restricted ‘station in life’ might be difficult to grasp. But if Vico’s point about the pervasiveness of class struggle and class-based institutions is right, this is exactly what one should expect. It does not follow that because education is a preparation for something worthwhile that it is the same preparation for members of one social group as another, or, more disturbingly that what is considered to be worthwhile for me is necessarily considered by me to be worthwhile for you. The contestation of educational concepts is not just a purely intellectual matter. It also embodies genuine conflicts of interests and points of view, not just between individuals but also between different groups within societies.13 So education, considered as a universal institution, is an initiation into the forms of life that constitute particular societies. It embodies what is considered worthwhile in those forms of life. This entails a conception of what is worthwhile and raises the question as to whether there is disagreement about this and what the limits of discussion of what could be worthwhile for individuals actually could be. Crucially, however, what is considered worthwhile depends on an individual (or a group)‘s perspective, which is often not static and can lead to alienation of an individual to a group to which he once felt attached. What I consider to be worthwhile for me, is not necessarily what I consider to be worthwhile for you, nor is what I consider worthwhile for you considered by you to be worthwhile for yourself. Learning is also a part of our categorial conception of education, but even here we must be careful. Wittgenstein’s discussions of initiation into particular forms of life makes it clear that learning is a critical part of this initiation. In some cases though this initiation is so basic that he hesitates to call it ‘learning’. Of the relationship between personal experience and our social surroundings he writes in On Certainty (OC) at §279: This system is something that a human being acquires through observation and instruction. I intentionally do not say “learns”. (Wittgenstein, 1969)

The point here is that there is not an active engagement with propositions but an absorption of ways of acting and believing which cannot, without being misleading, be called a process of learning, even though something is acquired (or learned) as a result. As he puts it at OC §476: Children do not learn that books exist, that armchairs exist etc. etc., they learn to fetch books, sit on armchairs, etc. 13  Plato (2016) ‘The Laws’ Bk 1, 644 onwards for a very strong statement of a moral view of education as opposed to training. I do not mean to exclude of course that members of a particular group can disagree amongst themselves about what form of education is appropriate for their own children.

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This is probably the most that we can extract from a categorial concept of education as a universal human practice: it is an initiation of the young into worthwhile participation (from someone’s perspective) in forms of life, which involves learning and coming to believe through acting (see Peters 1981). As already intimated however, this is by no means all that can be said about education from a philosophical and social science perspective. This poses a serious problem for the philosopher or social scientist seeking to understand educational practices. Even if she recognises the distinction between the categorial and the non-categorial, respecting that decision in practice can be very difficult. Every student of education has had an education themselves. An intellectual commitment to respecting the distinction can be difficult to make in practice when doing research. It is all too easy to import the non-categorial into the categorial description through taking one’s own education as a reference point, particularly if one is grateful for the education that one received. Understanding ourselves may also involve guarding against a perfectly sincere form of self-deception brought about by the difficulty of observing in practice the categorial/non-categorial distinction when trying to understand an educational practice with which one is not familiar.

15.4  Conceptions of Education When it comes to understanding particular educational practices and institutions the categorial concept will only take us so far. Any society will have views on what is a worthwhile life for its members. These will encompass their fundamental ethical commitments, together with beliefs about, for example, rights, equality and justice. They are usually bound together with religious beliefs. These ethical and religious commitments constitute the society’s values. Empirical, quasi-empirical and metaphysical beliefs about the way the world is ordered, about human ability and its distribution, and about the way in which society should be ordered, are also often associated with and underpin these values. (Haldane 1989). But if different groups within the same society have different conceptions of the worthwhile, both for themselves and for others, then their values may not coincide. In their nature, such values are not negotiable even if the degree of their implementation is. Institutions are often the result of such compromises on the instantiation of values, adding a further layer of complexity to understanding them. Such values and value compromises underpin the purposive nature of educational practices. These are sometimes, but by no means always, embodied as aims of education. Even when they receive explicit embodiment it cannot be guaranteed that they are enacted in the way that their framers intended. When they are not explicitly stated they are nevertheless implicit in the educational practice. In these circumstances, the goal of a practice has to be inferred from the intentional character of the actions of those involved in the practice.


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15.4.1  How Do We Make Sense of Contested Conceptions? It is necessary therefore to distinguish between what is universal about education as a human practice and the particular conceptions that exist between and within societies. If we wish to learn about the content of education in any particular society, we need to investigate how members of the society understand those practices: their values and aims, the content, methods and success criteria of particular practices. Their instantiation in formal institutions of education may only receive partial assent (if that) from some members. Informal educational practices may contradict or undermine the formal ones. There may be fundamental disagreements about what education should be for and what its content and methods should be. It will not be enough to ask people in a random sample concerning what they take to be the meaning of educational expressions within their society, since these may often express a partial picture of the range of meanings available, particularly in a complex society. The researcher has thus to cope with a dynamic situation in which different and contested conceptions are in play, associated with different groupings. One should not assume that compromise on implementation means that there is no contestation about different conceptions of education. Indeed, it is likely that disagreements about values, aims, the content, the methods and the success criteria of educational practices within a society will continue to exist and will to a certain extent, although by no means exclusively, be linked to the perspectives of different social groupings. How can a researcher into educational practices make sense of this? Connective analysis by itself will not work as there will be disconnections as well as connections to be taken account of. There is unlikely to be a single account of education within a complex society that will give a perspicuous overview. The researcher will not only have to describe the different conceptions but attempt to give an account that shows how they relate to the lives of particular groups within that society. And, since that researcher will himself have a particular conception of education, this must be put into abeyance if he is to gain a sympathetic understanding of what others take to be the point of their own educational practices and their associated concepts. Unlike conventional connective analysis, the understanding of contested conceptions within a social context will involve relating often inconsistent conceptions with each other and with the practices and conceptions of the worthwhile that different groups may hold. This in itself may involve linking the educational conceptions to the kinds of lives with which they are connected, otherwise they will often fail to make sense. We need to remind ourselves constantly that educational practices, although they often have their own intrinsic significance, cannot be properly understood unless they are also taken to be preparatory to participating in some other activities such as work, family life, religious practices or leisure. It is helpful to remind ourselves of Rhees’s point that we can only make sense of human lives when we see how the various practices connect with each other. Seeing the connections which education has with the practices which they are preparatory (or fail to

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be preparatory) for is necessary to carry through this kind of conceptual exploration in a satisfactory way.14

15.5  Researching Education: The Role of Explanation We can see why the study of educational practices has to be in part a conceptual and thus a philosophical enquiry. If educational practices are to be understood then what they mean to those who participate in them has to be. The way they talk about those practices must be understood in terms that make sense to them. Otherwise one is in danger of imposing a pattern on talk which bears too little relation to the sense that participants make of their world. It has to be a connective investigation in the sense that it shows how the particular conceptions of different components of education fit together in the view of participants, but also how educational practices make sense in a wider cultural context.15 All this has to be done in such a way that takes account of the contestability of conceptions and the patterns of contestation within a society. One should add that such an account should be objective in two senses. First, it should represent the conceptual scene as those who are part of it see it. Second, it should preferably do so without the imposition, either covert or overt, of the researcher’s own conceptions. If it is to be overt then it should be with awareness of what that could mean in failure to understand the practice that one is studying. Failure to do the first will inevitably compromise the second. A particular kind of demanding conceptual analysis will be required, that goes beyond that which conventional philosophy is accustomed to. Educational research tries to make sense of processes as well as looking at educational practice in a static way. How does the philosophical work described above help with this? If we wish to understand an educational process, say how an innovation fares or how institutions change over time, we need not only to understand what is involved in them but also how and why change occurs. The significance of the elements of that change to the participants in it requires that we attend to what they say and think about it. But if understanding involves explanation, as it surely does, then it also follows as Winch points out, that some understanding cannot involve  If we cannot do this then it is difficult to make sense of those who reject a certain educational practice. If one fails to take account of what unwilling participants in an educational practice think about what is an adequate preparation for them and fail to relate it to what they consider to be important, for example their local labour market and its associated form of life, then one is unlikely to see that their behaviour has any point. (see Willis 1977) Learning to Labour for an example. If one thinks of fiction as a form of telling lies, then one is unlikely to see the point of storytelling for children (see Ways with Words, Brice-Heath 1983). Needless to say, such examples illustrate how it is possible for educators to misunderstand the beliefs and practices of those with whom they deal within their own society. 15  Arguably, the earlier work of Basil Bernstein (1973) on social class and language use tried to do this. It failed to gather the data that would validate the thesis however, and subsequent work has not supported Bernstein’s empirical claims. 14


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explanation. We must bring that understanding to our search for educational explanations. In part this can be achieved through a categorial framing of the kind described above, although that is not without attendant difficulties. But we need to bring something more to the investigation. A general, categorial, framing will rarely be enough. It is helpful to consider a couple of examples. How do we make sense of a people’s conception of know-how and how they prepare their young to acquire the know-how that enables them to lead a worthwhile life? How do we make sense of how they make judgements of the quality of what young people produce when those judgements are not of the same kind as ours or, worse still, when we ourselves are unsure about how to make these kinds of judgements? Here we need to frame investigatory concepts before we can even begin to understand the concepts in use in the practices that we want to understand, including understanding how those practices change. At this point we are liable to encounter problems of understanding ourselves, because there are times when we are confused or in conflict about these issues.16 This confusion and conflict has the potential to lead to our framing our investigations inadequately and thus failing to understand what we are seeking to understand. For an empirical investigation of concepts in use in the educational practice that we are looking at, this should be obvious, for we shall not be able to gain a proper focus on what we are looking at if we are unclear about what we are looking for. For processes, we are trying to establish reasons for agents’ actions and how those actions interact with each other, often in unforeseen ways. In these latter cases, it may be necessary to resort to causal explanations. But understanding an agent’s reason for acting involves, at the very least, framing that action in terms that the agent would understand and accept as his reasons. That entails expressing those reasons in the conceptual space that the agent operates within. There can be no alternative in these cases to the researcher adopting those concepts and thus understanding how they are used.

 As Winch points out, our own confusions may lie deep and may need to be brought to the surface, perhaps by a process of dialectic, as he demonstrates how Socrates attempts to show Polus what his opinion really is (Winch 1990, pp. 98–100 – the discussion is of the dialogue between Socrates and Polus in the Republic).


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15.6  E  mpirical and Conceptual Enquiry in Empirical Educational Research: Framing Concepts of Enquiry and Understanding Conceptions So far, the discussion of empirical educational research has been conducted at a high level of abstraction. It will make little sense of Winch’s views if it is not manifested in detailed examples. This I will now attempt to do. The example offered involves the investigation of how practical knowledge is understood in vocational education contexts. Here the issue concerns how we can understand a conceptual network that differs in significant respects from our own. The argument is that we need to re-examine our own network in order to make progress with the one that we wish to study.

15.7  Know-how and Vocational Education It is generally agreed that vocational education involves the acquisition of certain kinds of practical knowledge, to practise an occupation. This may not be all, but it is reasonable to assume that it is a central part of preparation to be a practitioner of an occupation.17 There are two things to observe about the conceptual background of researchers from the UK, US or Australia tackling such a study. The first is that there is a well-developed conceptual framework for thinking about such issues in their cultures, centred particularly around the concept of skill. The second is that there has been for some 70 years a lively although intermittent debate in mainstream philosophy about the distinction between know-how and propositional knowledge, starting with Gilbert Ryle’s discussion in 1946 (Ryle 1946). Ryle’s earlier discussion is arguably situated within the skills paradigm, although he does not use that term as a proxy for ‘knowing how’. It would not be a distortion of Ryle’s earlier position to say that for him, knowing how to do something involved the practice of a technique or techniques. Someone’s knowing how to fish involves practising the techniques of fishing. Since 2001  in particular, Ryle’s case has come under attack from a position broadly known as ‘intellectualism’, exemplified in the work of Stanley and Williamson (2001). Briefly put, intellectualists claim that to know how to do something is to know a proposition that expresses a way to do that thing in a practical mode of presentation. The difference with Ryle is that Stanley and Williamson do not consider knowing how as a disposition to act so much as an intellectual state (involving propositional content) which can be manifested in behaviour.18 Whatever  Some might say that it is about job rather than occupational preparation, but I will not deal with that complication now as it is not particularly relevant to the discussion. 18  See Glick (2015) for an outline of some of the complications of this position and Pavese (2015) for an attempt to resolve them. 17


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their differences, both the earlier Ryle and Stanley and Williamson appear to maintain that knowing how to do something involves the possession of a technique for doing so. In this sense, they both share the same paradigm of knowing how even though their philosophical explanation of it differs greatly.19 There is comparatively little questioning of the paradigm of knowing how as practical possession of a technique in the extensive philosophical discussion of the nature of knowing how, both in favour of and opposing Ryle’s position. Ryle’s later work on knowing how broke free from this paradigm (Ryle 1979). However, it rarely appears in the controversy over his account of knowing how. It should be added that empirical discussion of knowing how in vocational contexts tends to stick close to this paradigm as well, couching the discussion of knowing how in terms of ‘skills’ or abilities to practice techniques. A limited diet of examples might lead one to believe that this is all there is to knowing how, particularly if the chosen examples in the literature are nearly all of the practising of techniques: ski-ing tricks, ice-skating manoeuvres, riding bicycles, turning door knobs etc. A broader range of examples, together with the contexts in which they are exercised, shows that such examples give a partial and even distorted view of human powers of knowing how. In some cases, it is not necessary to know a way to do something in order to know how to do it. Someone who knows how to prove a mathematical theorem does not already know the proof but is able to find one. More generally, problem solving abilities do not usually presuppose a given way of solving a problem. Knowing how to solve problems often involves finding ways in which to do so. Nor is knowing a way sufficient. It makes sense to say of someone who can practise a technique in artificial conditions (say laying bricks) that he does not know how to do so where it matters: on a building site, at height, in bad weather, under time and financial pressures etc. Yet these are hardly the kind of esoteric and implausible examples that philosophers are often mocked for producing. They lie at the heart of work. Problem solving is one of the main challenges of most kinds of work. It is well established that learning techniques in controlled conditions will not by itself result in someone skilled in an occupation. Yet both these types of case cast doubt on the idea that knowing how is always a matter of practising a technique. This point is particularly relevant to the study of vocational education, where two distinctions are important. The distinction between work that involves following established technique and that which requires, in a broad sense, problem solving ability, is critical in differentiating between different kinds of vocational preparation: that which involves skill training on the one hand and that which involves a broader exercise of intellectual capacities on the other.20 While this point is largely accepted, it is usually done so in a misleading way. Broad-ranging abilities such as problem solving, communicating, co-ordinating,  It should, however, be noted how rich and complex Ryle’s examples often are, ranging over fishing, chess playing, surgery, archery and courtroom oratory. Stanley and Williamson focus on riding a bicycle. Later work deals with games like basketball (Stanley and Williamson 2017). 20  This does not imply that problem solving is some kind of generic ability. 19

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planning or evaluating are taken to be a kind of skill. Thus they are described, in vocational contexts as problem solving skills, communication skills etc., thus in effect reducing them to techniques or bundles of techniques. This was not Ryle’s later point about knowing how, nor is it what vocational educators in Europe have in mind when they distinguish (as they do in Germany) between skills (Fertigkeiten) and capacities (Faehigkeiten). The point is, as Ryle showed, that the ability to communicate can be realised in different ways, which ways depending on the individual possessing or learning the ability and the context in which one is communicating (Ryle 1979). Not only that, but focusing on the skills involved in exercising a Faehigkeit does not imply that one has the ability designated by the Faehigkeit. My exercise of communication skills does not mean that I necessarily have the ability to communicate, even when they are exercised in contextually appropriate conditions. The communicator must want to communicate something to someone and his attention needs to be focused on that, not on the exercise of communication skills. An investigator of German vocational education will not understand these points however, if they are not situated in a broader understanding of a range of interconnected concepts familiar in a Germanophone context. These are both connected with long-standing indigenous traditions of thinking about work and education but also with an elaborate economic, legal and educational structure at least partly shaped by the kind of class struggle considerations that Vico (if not Marx) would have recognised (Streeck 1992, 2011). In this vocational context, the concept of Beruf (not well translated as ‘occupation’) has a central place in the German conception of a worthwhile life and a secure social identity. This underpins an elaborate and constantly evolving socio-economic set of practices and laws which allocate the Beruf a central position in the formal structures of German society.21 Mastery of a Beruf, which covers a well-defined area of economic activity, depends on a complex (and contested) concept of berufliche Handlungsfaehigkeit, translated somewhat inadequately as ‘occupational action capacity’,22 itself composed of various related competences, which themselves require that the agent possess relevant Faehigkeiten and Fertigkeiten (Hanf 2010). The Faehigkeiten are of central importance to understanding German work practice (and by implication vocational education) as they are required for the relatively large degree of autonomy in the workplace that is characteristic of German industrial and artisanal practice. These are the broader intellectual capacities referred to already, which are applied to the solving of problems and the management of projects,23 as well as being thought to have a broader significance outside the workplace. Although they are realised in the exercise of skills (Fertigkeiten), they are not to be identified with them as there may be multiple realisations of a Faehigkeit.  And also, to an extent in Austria and Germanophone Switzerland.  Contested because some (especially on the trade union side of social partnership arrangements) would insist on a reflective element in this broad capacity, while others might see it as of little or no importance. 23  Cf. Kerschensteiner (1906/1968) for an articulation of this concept of work, which bears some resemblance to Marx’s non-alienated labour. 21 22


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Furthermore, as already noted, possession of a subset of Fertigkeiten appropriate to the realisation of a Faehigkeit, may not be sufficient to realise that Faehigkeit, if the appropriate teleological focus, involving attention and seriousness of purpose, is not embodied in action. To use the example of communication mentioned earlier, (a central Faehigkeit in most German Berufe), English medical students who are taught to communicate with patients by being trained to exercise a set of communications skills, may not learn to communicate effectively with patients.24 This extended example illustrates the challenge for the educational researcher. It is not just a question of grasping a subtle distinction in types of know-how which may elude many English speakers, but also of understanding the role of this distinction in the broader context of German conceptions of work and of occupational identity, if one is to grasp the significance of vocational know-how in German education. Equating know-how with the exercise of skills, as we are prone to do in both philosophical and education discussions in the English-speaking world puts us in danger of not being able to detect what is distinctive about vocational educational systems (and occupational practices) that see such a distinction as important. But it is also possible that those who use such a distinction may lose their own grip on it if the ‘skills paradigm’ assumes dominance in their own ways of talking about such matters, leading to changes in their own practices as a result.25 One consequence of working with a very familiar distinction in one’s own culture is that one may fail to appreciate its importance through its very familiarity. This is a different, but important way of understanding Winch’s point about the need to understand ourselves and how we may lose the understanding of important features of our own culture.

15.8  Conclusion Peter Winch set a high, but not unattainable bar for social science research to genuinely increase our understanding of society and social practices. Examples from the challenges faced in educational research bring this out clearly. Winch always held that the social sciences had to take epistemological issues seriously and they were thus, in part at least, a philosophical enterprise which involved conceptual enquiry. In order to understand a practice we need to see how it makes sense to its participants. This involves, as far as is possible,26 understanding the concepts they use in

 I owe this example to my colleague, Dr. Bernadette O’Neill.  See the prevalence of talk in Germany about ‘soft skills’. 26  Sometimes this is difficult, even in practices with which we are superficially familiar as Winch (1997) argued. We sometimes cannot find our feet with these practices. Winch does not elaborate, but it is reasonable to suggest that the spontaneous and affective reactions that demonstrate their importance for their participants may elude us. But can we gain some inkling of this importance? A football fan (to use Winch’s example) identifies, not just with the team, but with what the team represents, a community united in a common endeavour. And that is something that (it is to be hoped) we should all be able to understand. 24 25

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the way that they understand them in their own practices. Thus social science is in part an empirical investigation into concept use. But there is a complication; researchers need their own framing concepts in order to know what to look for and to make sense of what they become acquainted with in terms that they can understand. But they need to do this in a way that keeps faith with the very concepts that they are trying to understand. The examples of know-how and creativity both bring this out in different ways. The fact that often such concepts are contested, both in our own society and in other societies investigated, puts pressure on our own understanding of our society and even on whether we understand ourselves as individuals. We need to be aware of all these factors and to take account of them both before and during our fieldwork, bearing in mind that attaining a perspicuous view of our own educational experiences may be difficult.. Fortunately, there are some cracks in the rock face where we can get a grip. The interconnectedness of practices helps us to see how they make sense to participants. It helps if we can use our imaginative sympathies to see where relevant parallels to their practices exist in ours. The former is an important lesson learned from Rhees. The latter is a point made powerfully in UPS when Winch argues that Evans-­ Pritchard may have misconstrued the relationship between Zande magical practices and our own scientific ones. The limits of human existence as described by Vico also help us with framing our own enquiries. Education provides an example of both these points: that it connects with all manner of other practices through its role as preparation for adult life and the central role it plays in the human life cycle. ISS and subsequent writings, if taken in the spirit in which they are offered, provide the beginnings of a practical guide to empirical research into human practices and societies. One might add, as Winch did in the initial quotation of this article, that these are points that philosophy needs to bear in mind. They arise from puzzles and misunderstandings that themselves emerge from human practices and philosophy needs to constantly revert to those practices in order to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. In trying to unravel these puzzles, through an overview of the ways in which concepts are enmeshed in our forms of life,27 we are in effect, learning about our own society and those like it, even if they partly as Winch suggested, remain a mystery.

References Barrow, R., & Woods, R. (1974). An Introduction to Philosophy of Education. London: Routledge. Becker, G. (1993/1964). Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical analysis, with Special Reference to Education (3rd ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Benner, D. (2003). Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Bildungstheorie. Weinheim and Munich: Juventa. Best, D. (1992). The Rationality of Feeling. Understanding the Arts in Education. Brighton: Falmer. Bernstein, B. (1973). Class, Codes and Control (Vol. 1). London: Paladin.


 As in the case of the Germanic conception of know-how discussed above.


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Brice-Heath, S. (1983). Ways with Words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dromm, K. (2018). The difficulties with groundlessness. Philosophical Investigations, 41(4), 418–435. Everett, D. (2008). Don’t Sleep, there are Snakes. London: Profile Books. Gallie, W.  B. (1955-6). Essentially contested concepts. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 56, 167–198. Gingell, J. G. (2001). Against creativity. Irish Educational Studies, 20(1), 33–44. Glick, E. (2015). Practical modes of presentation. Nous, 49(3), 538–559. Goethe, J. (1796/1980). Wilhelm Meister’s Lehrjahre. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer. Haldane, J. (1989). Metaphysics in the philosophy of education. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 23(2), 171–183. Hanf, G. (2010). The changing relevance of the Beruf. In M.  Brockmann, L.  Clarke, G.  Hanf, P.  Mehaut, A.  Westerhuis, & C.  Winch (Eds.), Knowledge, Skills and Competence in the European Labour Market. What’s in a Qualification? (pp. 50–67). Abingdon: Routledge. Howe, M. J. (1990). The Origins of Exceptional Abilities. Oxford: Blackwell. Hume, D. (1741/2008). Of the dignity and meanness of human nature. In S. Copley & A. Edgar (Eds.), Selected Essays of David Hume (pp. 43–48). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kerschensteiner, G. (1906/1968). Produktiver Arbeit und ihr Erziehungswert. In T.  Rutt (Ed.), Ausgewählte Pädagogische Texte (Band 2) (pp. 6–25). Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh. Lynch, G. (2018). Meaning for radical contextualists: Travis and Gadamer on why words matter. Philosophical Investigations, 41(1), 22–41. Orchard, L., & Stretton, H. (1994). Public Good, Public Choice and Public Enterprise. London: Macmillan. Pavese, C. (2015). Practical senses. Philosopher’s Imprint, 15(29), 1–25. Peters, R. S. (1981). Democratic values and educational aims. In Essays on Educators (pp. 32–52). London: Allen and Unwin. Plato. (2016). The Laws. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Reid, I. (Ed.). (1987). The Place of Genre in Learning: Current debates. Geelong: Typereader Press, Deakin University. Rhees, R. (1959-60). Wittgenstein’s builders. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 60, 171–186. Richter, D. (2018). Winch on understanding other people. Philosophical Investigations, 41(4), 399–417. Rousseau, J.-J. (1762/1968). Émile ou de l’Education. Paris: Flammarion. Ryle, G. (1946/1971). Knowing how and knowing that. In Collected Papers (Vol. 2, pp. 212–225). New York: Barnes and Nobles. Ryle, G. (1979). On Thinking. London: Hutchinson. Smith, A. (1776/1981). The Wealth of Nations. Indianapolis: Liberty Press. Stanley, J., & Williamson, T. (2001). Knowing how. Journal of Philosophy, 48(8), 411–444. Stanley, J., & Williamson, T. (2017). Skill. Nous, 51(4), 713–726. Streeck, W. (1992). Social Institutions and Economic Performance. London: Sage. Streeck, W. (2011). Skills and Politics: General and Specific. Cologne: Max Planck Institute. Vico, G. (1744/1968). The New Science of Giambattista Vico (revised translation of 3rd ed., T. G. Bergin & M. H. Fisch Trans.). Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Willis, P. (1977). Learning to Labour. Abingdon: Routledge. Winch, P. (1958/1990). The Idea of a Social Science (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1964/1972). Understanding a primitive society. In Ethics and Action (pp.  8–48). London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1972). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge Kegan Paul Winch, P. (1990). Einheit: Voraussetzung oder Forderung? In O.  Marquard (Ed.), Einheit und Vielheit: Proceedings of the XIV German Congress of Philosophy – Giessen, 21–26 September, 1987 (pp. 94–100). Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag. Winch, P. (1997). Can we understand ourselves? Philosophical Investigations, 20(3), 193–204.

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Wittgenstein, L. (1958/1967). Philosophical Investigations (3rd ed. G.  E. M.  Anscombe & G. H. Von Wright Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. Von Wright Eds., D. Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Christopher Winch  studied Philosophy at the Universities of Leeds and Bradford. He taught in further and primary education before working in higher education. His main research interests are in linking discussions of professional know-how and judgement with contemporary epistemological debates about know-how and also in the relevance of philosophical considerations to research methodology in education. He has also taken part in numerous empirical research projects in education, particularly in comparative studies of European vocational education. He is currently Professor of Educational Philosophy and Policy in the School of Education, Communication and Society at King’s College London. He was Head of Department of Education and Professional Studies from 2008–2012. His publications include: Teachers’ Know-how (Wiley 2017); Dimensions of Expertise (Bloomsbury 2010); Education, Work and Social Capital (Routledge 2000); The Philosophy of Human Learning (Routledge 1998); Quality and Education (Blackwell 1996)

Chapter 16

“Don’t Mention the Idea of a Social Science”: The Legacy of an Idea Mark Theunissen

It may indeed be true that moral actions are always the same in themselves, however different may be the times and however different the societies in which they occur; but still, the same actions do not always have the same names, and it is unjust to give any action a different name from that which it used to bear in its own times and amongst its own people. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Anti-Goeze1

16.1  Introduction Peter Winch once said in reply to the question how he was to be introduced at a conference, “You can say whatever you like, only don’t mention The Idea of a Social Science.” (Palmer 1997). Outlining the various readings of The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (Winch 1990/1958) [ISS from here on] since its initial reception, this paper helps us understand why he might have made this request, but also why over the years we have good reason for viewing the book’s legacy more favorably. This essay focusses on the predominantly negative receptions of Peter Winch’s ISS in the philosophy of social science, argues how they involve a general misreading of the book and concludes with how the book can continue to be relevant for contemporary philosophy of social science and critical social inquiry. Resisting the canonical reception in the philosophy of social science, it follows the strands in the book that emphasize the inseparability of good social inquiry from philosophy as sharing in a specific type of ethical orientation.2  Epigraph of (Winch 1958/1990).  Many authors familiar with Winch’s other writing on ethics and political philosophy have defended such a reading (Lassman 2000; Lyas 1999; Hertzberg 1980, 2009; Hutchinson et  al. 2008; Theunissen 2014, 2017). 1 2

M. Theunissen (*) The New School, New York, NY, USA e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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Section 1 briefly discusses ISS and its initial receptions that frame it as cultural relativist and conservative about social change. Section 2 collects the various negative (and some positive) appropriations of ISS under the heading of either an epistemological or ontological reading which show how ISS has been misread by sympathizers and critics alike as offering a general foundation for social inquiry. Section 3 undercuts these readings by following through on the strands in the book that focus on the irreducibly ethical character of philosophical and social inquiry, further supported by his later writings, comments and courses notes. Section 4 makes a beginning with opening the work up to current debates in the philosophy of social science and more specifically critical social theory, thus arguing for the book’s continued relevance.

16.2  My Idea of a Social Science The main reception of ISS has been as a philosophy of social science that attempted to offer a foundation with a set of methodological prescriptions for proper social inquiry but in fact left us with insufficient tools for substantive knowledge production and grounds for social critique. The book’s supposed insistence that social inquiry cannot venture beyond the participants’ conceptual limits of the social life under consideration, leaves us with conservatism about our own forms of social life, fideïsm about unfamiliar forms of social life, and relativism when it comes to any comparison of independent forms of social life. Indeed, the earliest receptions of the book view Winch as a linguistic idealist whose criticism of the possibility of generalizations over different unconnected domains of social life forces him into cultural relativism, incapable of critiquing local norms and morals, or of formulating directions for positive social change (Gellner 1960; Louch 1963, 1965; MacIntyre 1967; Bernstein 1976).3 Before discussing the sources of this canonization of ISS in the next section, it will be useful to give a short summarizing commentary of the book without paraphrasing too many of the familiar and oft quoted phrases that many of the criticisms fall over. The introductory chapter,“Philosophical Bearings”, lays out the central argument of the book that draws a conceptual connection between philosophy and social inquiry. Critiquing dominant conceptions of philosophy as either deferring to or legislating the powers of the empirical natural sciences, Winch carves a space between traditional (naïve) empiricist and (aprioristic) rationalist philosophy of (social) science (ISS, 2–8). Philosophy instead ought to ask about the status of the concepts that make any empirical and conceptual inquiry possible in the first place, that is, ask about the role concepts like ‘reality’, ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ play in any inquiry. But this very question, asking about the role of the categories of thought 3  For a more exhaustive list, periodization as well as geographic characterization of the many different receptions of ISS, see chapter three of my “Rationality, Naturalism, and Critique in the Philosophy of Social Science” (Theunissen 2017).

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and action that make a particular practice meaningfully accessible to us, constitutes according to Winch a form of social inquiry already. Philosophy, in asking for the conditions of possibility of intelligibility in general – and as viewed through a late Wittgensteinian lens – is for Winch necessarily tied up with an investigation into the practices that make our lives meaningful in the first place. Attention to what we do, to the language(s) we speak, to the concepts we use as well as to the hold these have over us, is what philosophy and social inquiry naturally share in attempting to understand our lives together. As such philosophy involves a type of social inquiry, the elucidation of the concepts, rules and norms operative in given practices in order to clarify what it makes sense to say and do within these practices. And vice versa, social inquiry requires philosophy to prevent it from overstepping the bounds of sense in its desire to make general pronouncements about the ways we live our lives together. Philosophy thus helps us to reaffirm or critique the rational character of how we understand ourselves. The second chapter, “The Nature of Meaningful Behaviour”, draws out the main implications of the internal connection between philosophy and social inquiry for the very idea of a social science. If social inquiry is after the understanding of human behavior as social and meaningful behavior, then it shares with philosophy the question of the conditions under which meaningful behavior becomes intelligible to us. It is here that Winch argues against the methodological and philosophical proposals current in his day for grounding social science. He argues against the explanation of intentional (meaningful) human actions in terms of generalized psychological dispositions analogous to simple causal explanations following a deductive-­nomological logic. Such accounts lack recognition of the normative force with which human behavior is pervaded if it is to be understood as meaningful at all. Rather, social rules and norms – understood as irreducible to any finite set of precepts or dispositions – offer better descriptive resources by which an agent’s actions can be made sense of, recognizing the normative claims agency generally attempts to make on us. The rule under which an act is understood provides the criterion by which to initially assess the normative claim an agent attempts to make on us as the attempt to communicate something meaningful to us that we then can come to see as intelligible and reasonable. If we stick to the level of habits and precepts to describe human behavior using simple causal explanations, we would omit precisely that which makes social life intelligible as alive in the first place.4 Chapters three and four engage the philosopher and classic sociologists, John Stuart Mill, Pareto and Weber. In Chapter three, “The Social Studies as Science”, Winch uses Mill to exemplify the tendency in social inquiry to abstract away from

4  This chapter has been taking up in debates in the philosophy of science about reasons and causes that continues to this date. Winch criticizes a particular species of causal explanations in his time considered adequate for the explanation of meaningful human behavior. As Winch later states in his new introduction to the book, he does not want to deny reasons can be causes, nor that certain or more recent conceptions of explanation are impermissible in social inquiry. As I argue elsewhere, he is not in fact arguing for a strict demarcation between natural and social sciences along the lines of a Verstehen-Erklären distinction (Theunissen 2017).


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specific forms of social life in our desire to formulate general regularities and explanations that rely on inductive evidence taken across apparently similar social practices. The need for inductive evidence to substantiate such regularities lifts concepts and observed behaviors emic to particular forms of social life out of their contexts to be transformed and equated with concepts and behaviors from other, apparently comparable, social practices. Different unconnected practices are thus mined for data in support of the existence of general empirical phenomena and regularities that are then to be explained in terms general enough to capture all their particular manifestations. Winch argues that such procedures too easily lead to vacuity. The reduction of aspects of particular forms of social life to evidence for generalized domain independent statements, abstract precisely from the meaningful content social inquiry should keep in focus. Such abstraction removes from view the normative claim of others on us that we must try to recognize and respect, both as philosophers and social inquirers. Winch does not say that such ‘social scientific generalizations’ are always illegitimate, but rather offers a reminder that to make such generalizations and to defend them as offering more important or objective insight is in fact an invocation of one’s own norms and rules from an imagined authoritative ‘external’ point of view, and that to be forgetful of this runs the risk of reducing all social practices under consideration as deserving no more respect than functionally equivalent pieces of bare nature. In fact, if one is forgetful about the fact that there are competing normative frameworks at play in the production of social scientific knowledge, by claiming objective priority only for the abstracted social facts, then this results in the social scientist being blinded to the fact she has ended up with an ‘explanation’ of a piece social reality that was never really there to begin with. In chapter four, ‘The Mind and Society’, Winch critiques Pareto’s Mind and Society and Weber’s account of meaningful action. Here he emphasizes not the forgetfulness about particulars as a result of unmotivated abstractions and generalizations, but focusses on the effects of the illegitimate imposition of (abstracted) theory on particular bits of social life that end up distorting it.5 Winch criticizes Pareto’s methodological prescriptions as imposing criteria on social practices from an imagined outsider’s point of view with which he claims to be able to distinguish ‘logical’ and ‘non-logical’ behavior in general, thereby reducing the first to functional ‘means-ends’ types of behavior and dismissing the second as superfluous idiosyncrasies of the practice under consideration. These supposed criteria moreover allow us to separate what is constant across different practices, the ‘residue’, from the specific local instantiations of these pieces of behavior with all their subjective baggage, their ‘derivations’. Winch views this approach as the illegitimate prioritization of the norms of the community of inquirers over those of the various  Here we find an early version of the argument expanded in Winch’s infamous “Understanding a Primitive Society” (Winch 1964). The focus of this essay is exclusively on ISS. For a longer discussion of the reception of UPS, and my defense of its overall argument see chap. 4 of (Theunissen 2017). 5

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different communities and practices under observation, as it lacks any real justification apart from the desire to obtain generalizations  that satisfy one’s own (misguided) intellectual curiosity. Pareto’s account of social inquiry is thus at best distorting its objects of investigation, and at worst appropriating and colonizing them. Winch then criticizes Weber’s account of meaningful human behavior as suffering from a psychologism that leads him down a similar path as Pareto. Weber’s worry is that the interpretation of social behavior requires us to model the psychological states of the agents under investigation, a procedure that will always involve unverifiable subjective elements. According to Winch, Weber therefore thinks he needs more objective evidence to substantiate such interpretations by relying on statistical generalizations. Winch here deploys a Wittgensteinian critique of the idea of inscrutable inner psychological states to exorcise Weber’s overly psychologist conception of intentional human behavior.6 Winch instead points to a more ethnographic picture of interpretation.7 We ‘test’ our interpretation of intentional agency against a context of many other behaviors and interpretations as well as our judgments of how these hang together. It requires a certain ethnographic sensibility that considers what is familiar and unfamiliar to us and to those we interpret, attempting to make connections and comparisons between possibly incompatible alternative ways of doing things. The point is that there is no set of criteria available that allows one to say with finality when one interpretation as opposed to another is correct or not, there is always going to be indeterminacy. Interpretation is an ongoing effort that allows for better and worse outcomes during which the criteria of success themselves might shift in light of new needs and interests.8 If we acknowledge this, Weber’s worry already starts to dissipate. Chapter five, “Concepts and Actions”, offers a positive version of his overall argument. It might well be both the weakest and deepest part of the book as it gives a broad strokes account of ‘the internality of social relations.’ It is easily read as overly intellectualising social life (a criticism that Winch recognizes in the 1990s introduction to the second edition) but nevertheless, he does start interesting strands of thought here that he either already addressed elsewhere or attempted to work out later.9 In this chapter Winch starts to apply what we have learned so far in  See §§243–330 of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. (Wittgenstein 1953).  Winch supposed methodology has been compared to that of Geertz’s anthropological understanding of ‘culture as text’ (Geertz 1973) and to Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology (Garfinkel 1967). See (Lynch 2000), (Rawls 2011) and (Hutchinson et al. 2008) on the latter. However, as discussed in Sect. 3, we should resist appropriating the book for any particular methodology or school of thought taking into account the possibly significant differences between the interest and aims of anthropology, sociology and philosophy for understanding social life. 8  See (Risjord 2000) for a Neo-Winchean version of this account of interpretation. Also see (Winch 1995) for a more explicit statement of his view on intentional action explanation. 9  See for instance his respective writings on the university and the state, the relationship between nature and convention and Karl Popper (Winch 1957, 1959, 1974) that each in their own way address the limits of social scientific (instrumental) intervention aimed at satisfying individual needs while improving overall institutional life. 6 7


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the book to questions of historical explanation, critiquing Popper’s account against the explanatory role of social institutions in favor of individual level explanations, opposing his account with Collingwood’s account of a type of narrative explanations. Winch’s point here is that, if we recognize the logical (inferential) relations between different (institutionalized) social relations and between our ideas about them, the invocation of social institutions does not so much explain social phenomena as it clarifies the normative structures that inform the appropriateness of individuals’ behavior in a way that makes them intelligible to us as rational. The case of historical explanation is supposed to illustrate the central point of the section, and conclusion of the book, that philosophy and social inquiry share in a type of conceptual or discourse analyses. If philosophy is to elucidate the conditions of possibility of intelligibility in general through the clarification of the inferential, internal, relations between the concepts that partake in our grasp of an independent reality, then social inquiry, by grasping the internal (institutional) relations between meaningful human behaviors, is doing very much the same. In so far as having concepts and performing meaningful behavior are distinguishable, they track each other’s normative demands on one another and might thus be viewed as ‘two different sides of the same coin’ (ISS 123). Let me end with two often cited quotes that supposedly sum up the conclusion of the book. [O]ur language and our social relations are just two different sides of the same coin. To give an account of the meaning of a word is to describe how it is used; and to describe how it is used is to describe the social intercourse into which it enters. (ISS 123) In the course of this argument I have linked the assertion that social relations are internal with the assertion that men’s mutual interaction ‘embodies ideas’, suggesting that social interaction can more profitably be compared to the exchange of ideas in a conversation than to the interaction of forces in a physical system. (ISS 128)

Winch is here oversimplifying the situation by making it seem that the relation between discourse and the social is total, leaving no room for frictions or gaps.10 Not surprisingly, the above passages are used in much of the literature as further support that ISS is open to charges of relativism and conservatism. However, as we shall see in the following sections, this does not excuse some of the more uncharitable receptions of his work to date.

 Winch addresses this in the new Introduction (ISS, ix, xviii). However, he does in chap. 5 discuss the complicated process of concept formation in the interaction between ‘full’ meaningful behaviors and our natural reactions to others and our natural environments thereby warning against the overidentification of the social with the conceptual.


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16.3  Epistemological and Ontological Readings of the Idea Let us now see how ISS has been largely canonized as offering a flawed foundation and methodology for social inquiry in general. As mentioned, critical readings across the board argue that the book fails to offer any realistic support for (interpretative) social science, but rather results in cultural and moral relativism and general conservatism about social change.11 The many different readings of ISS that end up framing the work as relativist and as inherently conservative are characterized here as falling into two types; epistemological and ontological readings. These two types of reading are neither mutually exclusive nor complementary but largely agree in viewing ISS as offering a philosophical foundation for, and methodological intervention in, the social sciences. However, the two types of reading place different emphases on key points of Winch’s argument concerning the relation of philosophy to social science. The epistemological reading emphasizes Winch’s conception of philosophy as a type of (linguistic) conceptual analysis and draws out the supposed methodological consequences for social inquiry in general, demarcating permissible methods for social inquiry on (a priori) epistemological grounds. The ontological reading, by contrast, emphasizes Winch’s supposed proposed social ontology that determines the nature and constitution of the objects of social inquiry, thereby demarcating the domain of social inquiry on ontological grounds. The ontological reading emphasizes Winch’s supposed conception of rules and norms, whereas the epistemological reading emphasizes Winch’s supposed conception of conceptuality and language.12 Let me briefly elaborate the basis of both of these readings, before I go on to defend Winch against them in the next section. The epistemological reading finds its basis in Winch’s argument that only through an understanding of the concepts of the language shared by the participants to a form of social life does their social world come into view. This leads many interpreters to view Winch as a linguistic idealist (among others, Bernstein 1976; Horton 1976; Gellner 1960; Habermas 1988; Louch 1963, 1965; Fay 2000; Williams 1974) and indeed the following often quoted lines suggest as much: To ask whether reality is intelligible is to ask about the relation between thought and reality. In considering the nature of thought one is led also to consider the nature of language. Inseparably bound up with the question whether reality is intelligible, therefore, is the question of how language is connected with reality, of what it is to say something. (ISS 11–12) We cannot say then … that the problems of philosophy arise out of language rather than out of the world, because in discussing language philosophically we are in fact discussing what counts as belonging to the world. Our idea of what belongs to the realm of reality is given to use in the language that we use. The concepts we have settle for us the form of the

 Note the analogy with the general reception of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy for social and political inquiry. See Crary (2000) on this reception. 12  The difference isn’t always that clear cut as it depends on one’s understanding of the relation between epistemology and ontology in the first place, and many readings emphasize both or see them as different sides of the same flawed coin. 11


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experience we have of the world. It may be worth reminding ourselves of the truism that when we speak of the world we are speaking of what we in fact mean by the expression ‘the world’: there is no way of getting outside the concepts in terms of which we think of the world …. The world is for us what is presented through those concepts. That is not so say that our concepts may not change; but when they do, that means that our concept of the world has changed too. (ISS 15)

It is not a stretch for someone interested in an empiricist scientific account of social inquiry to read a type of linguistic idealism in these remarks, where language determines what reality is for us. If, moreover, language is understood as irreducibly social, we end up with a social constructivist view of the nature and constitution of reality where different language communities construct different forms of reality with different rationalities. This then leads to relativism about the nature of rationality, truth, and knowledge as fully dependent on the linguistic culture one finds oneself in. Even a weaker version of the claim that our conception of reality depends on the language we speak, can be taken to imply a problematic demarcation of social inquiry from natural inquiry. The latter allows for generalizations across social practices as it is specifically about an independent reality (even if linguistically constituted), whereas the former cannot generalize over different linguistically constituted social realities because the local use of concepts has no sense outside the community of its users. Thus, only local emic interpretations are possible in making full knowledge claims about social life, and hence we are doomed to fideïsm about alien practices and conservatism about our own.13 Some more sympathetic readings do appreciate Winch’s reminder that all social inquiry must start with concepts emic to the social practices under investigation, but take his view as being too restrictive in arguing against any abstraction and against the introduction of new conceptions that allows for generalized explanation across practices. (Bernstein 1976; Horton 1976). They thus see Winch as making a start with a foundation for social scientific methodology to then undermine the very possibility of social science by placing the generalized objects of social science out of epistemological and critical reach, as these would involve concepts alien to those that are the proper object of inquiry. Winch thus undermines the possibility of external social critique by suggesting that autonomous cultures and practices determine the epistemological horizon from within, from which the social realities of its participants can be known and criticized. One of the clearest and most explicit examples of this type of criticism comes from Jürgen Habermas in On the Logic of the Social Sciences. He takes Winch as failing to offer grounds for a critical social science because his account ends up in

 Not all epistemological readings read him as a strong linguistic idealist but frame him as defending a Kantian conceptual apriorism in linguistic guise. For instance, Louch maintains Winch holds on to an untenable distinction between conceptual and empirical investigations, that results in Winch defending philosophy as a master-science that reduces social inquiry to conceptual inquiry. See the exchange between Louch (1963, 1965) and Winch (1964). Also see Winch’s more specific view on the analytic-synthetic distinction (Winch 1953).


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the incoherent situation of both having to deny and stand in need of a meta-­linguistic point of view to allow for a critical social science. Winch’s thinking is quietly radical: he dissolves sociology into a specialized linguistic analysis. And he does not hide the idealism that this approach contains. (Habermas 1988, 129) Winch makes a theoretical claim. He thus considers possible a metalanguage in which I can describe the grammar of a language game as the structure of the lifeworld. How is this language possible, when the dogmatism of existing language games demands a strictly immanent interpretation and excludes the derivation of the grammars of different language games from a general system of rules? (Habermas 1988, 136) Winch could avoid the hermeneutic self-reflection of linguistic analysis, only under one condition: if he found a metalanguage for theory into which the grammar of any everyday language whatsoever could be translated. (Habermas 1988, 137)

Let us turn next to the ontological reading that prioritizes those parts of the text that appear to imply that rules, or the ‘Platonic’ meanings defined by them, are the unmovable building blocks of the social world. It reads Winch’s remarks on rules as establishing, via a type of private language argument (ISS 32), a social ontology of irreducible intersubjectively constituted shared rules that govern all meaningful behavior. (See among others, Bohman 1993; Pleasants 1999, 2000; Pettit 2000; Roth 2003, 2011; Turner and Roth 2003; Turner 1994.) The emphasis of the ontological reading is not on the conceptual frame through which we come to know social reality, but on the social rules that apparently independent of us bind us together in a stable social reality. According to this reading, ISS argues that the social world can only have the necessary stability if built on a web of shared rules independent of any one individual, which magically constrains each one of us from destabilizing the social reality we are members of. Rules, internalized or not, operate on some supra-individual level, affecting individuals to behave in accordance them. They can operate unbeknownst to their followers and enforcers, but not ultimately beyond complete unrecognizability as the violation of a rule, intentionally or not, will have normative consequences for the agent involved (ISS 58). The following lines are often referenced for arguing that Winch thinks that social rules fully determine the social as the building blocks from which our meaningful social experiences are constructed: I have claimed that the analyses of meaningful behavior must allot a central  role to the notion of a rule; that all behavior which is meaningful (therefore all specifically human behavior) is ipso facto rule-governed. (ISS 51–52) It is only because human actions exemplify rules that we can speak of past experience as relevant to our current behaviour. (ISS 62)

If rules are indeed the exhaustive ontological backbone of social life, relativism and conservatism again follow quickly; different possibly disjoint sets of rules, imply different social realities, possibly hermeneutically insulated from each other, beyond reproach from the outside. Indeed, the ontological readings criticize Winch


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as defending a reified conception of ‘culture’ as a supra-individual homogeneous social fact that turns its members into ‘cultural dopes’. Both critics and sympathizers read ISS ‘ontologically’. For instance, Pleasants critiques Winch for ‘ontologizing Wittgenstein’, without taking this to imply a cultural relativism, and Pettit, also otherwise sympathetic to Winch, criticizes him for allowing the ontological force of social rules to condition and determine individual agency too much (Pleasants 1999, 2000; Pettit 2000). However, the more recent influential critics of this type in the philosophy of social science are Roth and Turner, who together did much to (re)canonize Peter Winch’s early work in the philosophy of social sciences as implying an unsustainable cultural relativism and conservatism about the possibility of social change (Roth 2003, 2011; Turner 1994; Turner and Roth 2003).14 Roth gives the following characterization of Winch’s influence in the philosophy of social science that betrays his reading of ISS as ontologically committed to social rules as the supposed unexplained explainers of social life. A suggestion famously made by Peter Winch and carried through to present discussion holds that what constitutes the social as a kind consists of something shared – rules or practices commonly learned, internalized or otherwise acquired by all members belonging to a society. Some later writers attempt to avoid Winch’s over-strong assumption that something shared and internal constitutes the social but cannot. Call this the “Winch problem”: if no rules, then no social kinds, i.e., nothing brutely social to explain. The problem arises because Winchian rules create as well as explain the social. I am not contesting the philosophical truism that our theories determine our ontological commitments. Rather, the worry is why putative objects of explanation should survive the demise of the theories of which these objects are artifacts. As go the theories, so should go the objects. (Roth 2003, 390–391)

16.4  The Idea and the Demand for Recognition Let us now argue for a more charitable reading of ISS that avoids the implication of relativism and conservatism by simply reorienting the overall interpretive frame through which the book is to be read. In the process we will see some direct and indirect textual evidence against the dominant ontological and epistemological readings in the philosophy of social science.15 Both the epistemological and ontological reading understand ISS as offering a philosophical foundation for social inquiry in general that leads to specific methodological recommendations. However, at several places, Winch makes it apparent he

 Also see Jarvie (2011). Ian Jarvie (together with fellow Popperian Jospeh Agassi) played an important role in canonizing Winch as conservatist and relativist from the 1970 onward. However, most of the exchanges between Winch and Jarvie take place around Winch’s “Understanding a Primitive Society” and are therefore left out of consideration here. See (Jarvie 1970a, b, c) and (Winch 1970). 15  See (Theunissen 2017) for a more comprehensive overview of the relevant textual evidence. 14

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is not interested in offering foundations and prescribing methodologies for the social sciences. At the end of the book Winch explicitly reminds us of this: I have made no attempt, in this book, to consider the undoubted differences which exist between particular kinds of social study, such as sociology, political theory, economics, and so on. I have wanted rather to bring out certain features of the notion of a social study as such. I do not think that individual methodological differences, important as they may be within their own context, can affect the broad outlines of what I have tried to say. For this belongs to philosophy rather than to what is commonly understood by the term ‘methodology’. (ISS 136)

Winch is aware that the existing social scientific practices are a motley crew that don’t stand in need of general methodological foundations, and neither is he interested in tinkering with the conceptual and methodological resources of specific schools of social inquiry in order to improve their operation (ISS 2, 5–8). He also doesn’t argue that Mill, Pareto, Weber and Durkheim offer dysfunctional methodologies to be replaced by better alternatives, but rather that they are inadequate for understanding those features of social life that are philosophically important to us and ought to be brought into view if we think there is any worth in doing social science at all. Winch explicitly distinguishes his conception of philosophy from both the under-­ laborer and the ‘master-science’ conception of philosophy in relation to the empirical sciences. Philosophy is rather a form of conceptual investigation that is neither wholly subservient to the authority of the established sciences in telling us what is and is not an objective part of the world, nor is philosophy authoritative in legislating the structure of empirical reality a priori (ISS 2, 5–8). Indeed, the whole point of Winch’s argument is that if social inquiry is to be anything worthwhile and interesting for us, we better avoid dogmatic rationalist or naïve empiricist views of the social world in general as these blind us to the phenomena we are actually interested in. Rather, we should recognize the entwinement of the concepts we use, and of our interests in them, with the way the social world appears to us, as a complex dynamic web of constraints and possibilities exemplified in both the general structures as well as the fine nuances of our behavior that determine the horizon of our experience. Philosophy, then, as partaking in social inquiry, involves the continuous work of unpacking the normative structures that pervade our living practices, shape our self-understanding and our understanding of others and our experience of social reality in general. Winch takes this to be the central aim of philosophy and social inquiry. His book is in fact a polemic invitation to engage in a type of moral epistemology through philosophically aware social inquiry, intimating to us that philosophy asks the question about the condition of intelligibility in general and what differences this makes to our lives. Indeed, Winch opens the book with emphasizing that to be clear about the nature of philosophy and to be clear about the nature of the social studies amount to the same thing. For any worthwhile study of society must be philosophical in character and any worthwhile philosophy must be concerned with the nature of society. (ISS 3)


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And after mentioning Ibsen’s modern tragedies The Ghosts and The Wild Duck as illustrations of how self-understanding and knowledge can bear on individuals’ lives in radically different ways, he continues to state what makes philosophy and social inquiry worthwhile for us: Now the interest of the epistemologist in such situations will be to throw light on why such an understanding should have this importance in a man’s life by showing what is involved in having it. To use a Kantian phrase, his interest will be in the question: How is such an understanding (or indeed any understanding) possible? To answer this question it is necessary to show the central role which the concept of understanding plays in the activities which are characteristic of human societies. In this way the discussion of what an understanding of reality consists in merges into the discussion of the difference the possession of such an understanding may be expected to make to the life of man; and this again involves a consideration of the general nature of a human society, an analysis, that is, of the concept of a human society. (ISS 22–3)

For Winch, then, worthwhile philosophical investigation, and thus worthwhile social inquiry, must have an ethical character, meet something like the following moral relevance criterion, as “an enquiry into the nature of man’s knowledge of reality and into the difference which the possibility of such knowledge makes to human life” (ISS 24), and to meet this criterion it must refer to the concrete and actual social conditions in which we live our lives. This might then exclude certain generalizing explanations and conceptualizations of social life as irrelevant for worthwhile social philosophical inquiry, as they might make us look in the wrong direction, away from the particularities of our practices that make the most meaningful difference to us, both epistemologically and morally. The book thus gives an argument for what philosophy and social inquiry ought to be if they are to be worthwhile of pursuit, and this is only the case if they improve our self-understanding and clarify the living options for us to pursue, options that avoid abstract epistemic interests divorced from our lived social experience. Winch thus advocates the opposite of cultural relativism and conservation about social change by basically arguing that uncommitted social inquiry that claims to be wholly normatively irresponsive to the ethically and politically significant features of social life is impossible and that to imagine that it is possible leads one to non-­ sensical claims.16 Winch is not simply arguing here against the so-called value free ideal as unattainable for social inquiry, rather, he argues that we as living social beings that strive to grasp our social condition would not know what it could possibly mean to strive for such an ideal. This is not to say that we cannot strive for reasoned neutrality, limit our biases, be intellectually modest, or acquire the intellectual virtues conducive of truth tracking practices that allow scientific practices to thrive. Rather, it is to say that the irreducible, almost minimal, normative requirement in his account for worthwhile philosophy and social inquiry as having to pertain to us and to others in

 For a clear elaboration of this point see Winch’s lectures notes on social science from the King’s College, specifically Durkheim’s definition of suicide for the explicit invocation of nonsense for the abstract epistemic requirement of social inquiry (Winch, 1991-1994).


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a meaningful way is bound up with a receptivity to ethical considerations about ourselves and others  making a claim on us. He aims to remind us that the only proper orientation of philosophy and social inquiry is one that recognizes our lived experiences as both constitutive of and constituted by the social normative order we are responsive to as ethical beings. When social inquiry steps beyond its limits without a proper justification it risks misrecognizing the social life it claims to produce knowledge about and thus risks colonizing and destroying the very lives it often claims to protect and improve. Social inquiry should avoid giving accounts of people’s social conditions in terms of generalizing explanations that divorce us from the initial recognition that we are trying to understand living beings and that instead end up alienating us from their lived experiences. It is not inconceivable for Winch that economics, psychology or sociology might come up with general theories of specific social phenomena, as long as they recognize the actual social realities they are about, social realities in which particular ways of doing things matter tremendously to those involved and should thus not be left hanging without careful attention and simply qualified as just another version of behavior of type X.17 Social inquiry, according to Winch, whatever methods it uses and concepts it introduces, ought to make visible that which so many critics say Winch cannot deliver, a view of our social lives that allows for a recognition of its limits and living (future) possibilities. Winch thus does offer us a framework for social critique and for thinking about social change, one that remains grounded in the recognition of actual living practices, forms of life, and through this very recognition establishes a justification of any such critique, aiming to show what difference it makes to the lives of those involved. This is why Winch mentions the Ibsen plays and cites Lessing in the epigraph. These illustrate how inquiry into our social conditions makes visible the complex moral and social-political landscape that shape our self-understanding, our commitments to ourselves and others, thus opening up to concrete possibilities of social change and moral improvement. Winch’s conception of the relation between philosophy and social inquiry does not close off and limit our conception of social life, as if he were simply accepting that our given social condition has full and final authority over us. Rather, it opens up concrete possibilities; ideally showing them to be worthwhile of pursuit in the ways that they relate and make a difference to our ongoing life projects. Both Winch’s earlier and later writing support this reading of ISS. Consider his short essay “The Universities and the State” (Winch 1957), where he takes a stand against the instrumentalization of university education, arguing for the moral and political importance of the non-instrumental value of education, pointing to the internal relation between the character and quality of a society and the plurality of the sorts of practices it sustains. Consider such essays as “Nature and Convention” (Winch 1959), “Human Nature” (Winch 1971) and “Eine Einstellung zur Seele” (Winch 1981) that all investigate the social condition under which notions such as


 This is the point elaborated in “Understanding a Primitive Society” (Winch 1964).


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truth, integrity, and human nature play their moral and political roles in our lives.18 Or consider how his later, seemingly epistemological writings “The Expression of Belief” (1996) and “Can We understand Ourselves” (1997) each in their own way excavate the entwinement of moral and epistemic commitments that come with the having of beliefs. And of course, we must not forget Winch’s work on Simone Weil, on her struggle to understand the relations between knowledge, morality and politics (Winch 1989). All this is to say that anyone familiar with Peter Winch’s corpus cannot but read ISS as a very original philosophical critical theory that affects how we think about moral, social and political inquiry, rather than a work in the philosophy of social science offering (value-free) epistemological or ontological foundations for social scientific knowledge production. Winch thus complained that many interpreters of ISS (and UPS) completely misunderstood the point of his argument, a complaint that turned bitter at points when he perceived an unwillingness of some to even properly engage with his earlier and later writings that contextualize his work. (See Bohman 1993; Winch 1996.) We can now read the text anew and see that the epistemological and ontological readings miss the mark. Despite the moments where he appears to intellectualize social life he quite clearly defuses linguistic idealism early on in the book. There is no reason to think that Winch’s arguments entail that we are closed off to something like an independent reality, as if we were all living in our conceptual bubbles insulated from any external critique, incapable of social change. The demand to contextualize our philosophical and social scientific pretension by (in the first instance) considering the concepts we use in the kinds of lives we live is not an argument against empirical science, but merely a reminder not to let the sciences overstep their bounds and claim to be fully authoritative of our reality (ISS 2). Winch does not want to impose a restrictive epistemology on how to understand the social world, and insofar as social inquiry makes use of empirical methods he is not aiming to curtail them on general or abstract epistemological grounds. If anything, his epistemological outlook endorses a form of empirical social inquiry that recognized the way we actually do things as forms of meaningful behavior that includes language. All he wanted to argue is that any type of social inquiry already takes on a certain normative orientation that makes us see certain things certain ways. Any intellectual investigation into our social conditions is already ethically comprised by presupposing certain conceptions of the world, the social, the human, agency, meaning, language, norms, and so on. Hence, Winch wants to remind us, we better think through these assumed conceptions philosophically, in terms of their use for us and others, their limits of applicability as relevant to our lives and aspirations, so that we are not easily seduced by social scientific theories that blind us to what matters most to us in our attempt to understand our social reality.

 See Hertzberg (2009) for a discussion of some of these essays in relation to Winch’s moral and social philosophy.


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As the main source of the ontological reading is Winch’s conception of social rules, one could now simply attend to the various qualifying remarks in the text that emphasize their character as ongoing practical achievements, not as static ‘given’ building blocks of the social realm (ISS 1.8). Or one could consider the range of cases he mentions in elucidating meaningful human behavior discussing a diversity of rules, ranging from more to less explicitly expressible rules, more or less rigid in setting norms for behavior, and more or less permissive of exceptions (or mistakes), and as more or less easily recognizable in the social community in which they operate (ISS 2.2–2.5). This is to say that rules aren’t a homogeneous class of ontological entities that fix social life as ready for interpretation, rather they are varied, multifaceted, contingently or necessarily indeterminate, subject to change and thus as pluriform and dynamic as we expect social life to be. Winch doesn’t at all paint a picture of a rule constituted social life that leaves us behind as acritical judgmental dopes. What Winch’s rule-following analysis of meaningful social behavior is merely reminding us of, is exactly that: that we are looking at meaningful behavior. Talk of rules here allows us merely to reflect on the kind of relationship we have to ourselves, others and the world, our commitments and entitlements to each other and the world. There is of course also the new introduction to ISS, which has been ignored by many readers, that explicitly nuances some of his statements further undermining grounds for the ontological reading (ISS ix-xvii). Overwhelming further evidence can be found in his lecture notes for his courses on social science that expand the themes of ISS, not retracting any of its main claims but nuancing the strategy for arguing for these claims, qualifying his treatments of social rules, even suggesting that talk of rules might be disregarded altogether as it ended up just distracting us from ISS’s main argument (Winch 1991–1994). Specifically, he discusses the complex possible relationships between rules as guiding human agency, the different sorts of logic rules display in different practices and our varied reactions to different types of rules, in other words, all the fine shades of behavior and improvisations that make up our social interactions with others, social institutions and the world, the patterns of agreement and disagreement that constitute, sustain or erode our normative commitments to one another. Let me end this section with one paragraph from his notes where he explicitly argues against the ontological interpretation of rules to the degree of making them irrelevant to his argument entirely: You remember I had looked to the notion of a rule as a sort of substitute for that of a natural law. It was to supply a form of regularity and intelligibility different from that which is based on the observation of empirical regularities. But the point is, really, that there is nothing that "supplies" anything of this sort. These are notions which have their sense within human practices; human practices are, we may say, their source. We cannot legislate in advance what people are going to find intelligible and what they are not. We may be in for surprises. Think of developments in music and art. But there are also developments in other forms of human life. Think how incomprehensible the life of modern America would have been to, say, St. Francis. (Winch 1991–94)


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16.5  The Visionary Idea Let us briefly begin the work of elaborating ISS’s contemporary relevance for philosophy of social science and critical social theory as a reminder of the commitments any worthwhile social inquiry ought to respect, allowing a pluralistic view of modes of social inquiry as long as they are sensitive to both the occasion on and context in which a request for understanding our social condition is made that determines what stands in need of what sort of explanation. As much of contemporary philosophy of social science allows for an explanatory pluralism that incorporates interpretative methods and has a much more sophisticated view on the roles of values in science than 60 years ago, ISS at first glance appears to have not much current relevance (Turner and Roth 2003; Roth 2011; Longino 1990; Douglas 2009). But this should strike us now as getting things the wrong way around. Winch can certainly be viewed as a pluralist about explanation avant la lettre that pays special attention to the non-epistemic relevance conditions, aims  and interests of explanation relative to a particular context and occasion  of inquiry.19 Also, many of these current philosophies of social science still present the issues too abstractly, looking for general differences between forms of explanations across contexts and for a general set of rules to adjudicate the role of epistemic and non-epistemic interests of different types inquiry that often misunderstands the dependence of such judgments on supposed morally non-neutral pragmatic factors.20Although the discussion around social scientific explanation and the roles of values therein has become much more sophisticated since 1958, the resources are there in ISS, together with his earlier and later writing, to attempt the same sort of intervention in philosophy today by prioritizing our attention to the normative presuppositions of our modes of inquiry and how they connect with the social normative orders of those whose lives are being ‘explained’ or intervened with. In relation to critical social theory, it appeared as if ISS lacks the resources to formulate critique that can serve the emancipatory interests of critical social theory However, in fact, Winch only reminded us of the fact that critique has no justified traction if it doesn’t connect to those who it purports to be about. Winch at various points in his career engages critical social science and theory to make this point. Winch’s “Popper and Scientific Method in the Social Sciences” (1974) argues against Popper’s skepticism about the possibility of rational intervention in institutional life beyond interventions motivated by either personal values or an overarching humanitarian aim. Winch argues here that Popper’s methodological individualism impoverishes his account of the critical potential of social inquiry. For Popper, institutions are only a collection of individuals, implying that there are no institutional values worth pursuing beyond the individual’s personal value. In so far as there is an overarching aim that may motivate social intervention, it should serve a humanitarian goal external to the aims and values internal to specific types of institutional life. 19 20

 See (Risjord 2000) for a Neo-Winchean account along these lines.  See my (Theunissen 2014) and chap. 5 of (Theunissen 2017).

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Winch thinks Popper thus renders social critique empty and intervention impracticable. A clear indication that Winch thinks of social critique as something that should be possible and meaningfully effective. For Winch there are nothing but living social institutions and there are no aims and values properly external to such institutional forms of life. Social reality is made up of a multiplicity of (interconnected) institutional life forms in which the relevant values and aims that ground and motivate any social critique and intervention are given shape (1974 900–1). Winch is adamant to argue that his account is not based on an institutional historicism of morality and critique, hence should not lead us into relativism or conservatism in the guise of traditionalism. Rather, he argues for the indispensability of our attentions to institutions, traditions and forms of life, internal to which we can have societal critique and social change. We can find here the seeds of a conception of immanent critique as understood by Winch, that deserves further exploration. A beginning of this is made in Peter Lassman’s “Politics and ‘the fragility of the ethico-cultural’”. It finds in Winch a type of immanent critique grounded in the fragility of our forms of life, institutions and traditions. It offers a tragic conception of social life reminiscent of Winch’s discussion of Ibsen in ISS that brings into view the inadequacies of the institutional life that we depended on to become who we are. Indeed, this view is reinforced in Winch’s response to Popper just discussed, where he argues that some forms of human suffering are only accessible within the relevant institutions under critical consideration. Further support for Winch staging a form of immanent critique is provided by the exchange between Winch and Karl Otto-Apel. In “Types of Social Science in the Light of Human Cognitive Interests” (1979a, 1979b), Apel argues for a transcendental pragmatics grounded in our shared agreement on the different interests of social inquiry forming the backbone of a rational division of labor for the social sciences and critical social theory. What we find here is a Kantian characterization of the interests of Reason paired with a defense of the rational institutional structures underlying our social life that can sustain our supposedly shared agreement about our epistemic and emancipatory interests under conditions of modern life. Winch’s reply, “Transcendental Pragmatics” (1979), does not take issue so much with Apel’s account of critical social inquiry in relation to its different interests, about which they to some extent agree. Rather, Winch is skeptical about the transcendental account of the supposed necessary agreement that is supposed to ground the basic conceptual apparatus that makes the pursuit of the central interests of social inquiry possible. He thinks Apel’s account obscures the enormous variety of possible interests of social inquiry as they come up in different forms of social life. Moreover, Winch wants to make room for disagreement as also constitutive of cognitive and moral experiences that can by themselves inform our interests in types of social inquiry and their limits. Similar to his critique of Popper, Winch emphasizes how our interests in inquiry are internal to particular forms of institutional life, but he also emphasizes that there is no nice hierarchy of institutionalized practices that allow for a clean division of labor between a set of interests. Nowhere does this come out better according to Winch than in the moral disagreements that result in


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the acknowledgment of unbridgeable interests as well as different conceptions of the interests of emancipation. This brings us back to some of the central insights of ISS in relation to its remarks on Ibsen. Certainly more investigation is called for to assess the value of Winch’s works for current conceptions of immanent critique in the context of a more pluralistic and complex understanding of modern institutional life.21 This essay hopes to have been a short prolegomenon for the work of retrieving the current relevance of what Winch asks us to do when we engage in social inquiry and finds that his account always had and still has the potential to produce more insightful, ethically responsive, and therefore truly critical, social-philosophical investigations.

References Bernstein, R. (1976). The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Bohman, J. (1993). New Philosophy of Social Science: Problems of Indeterminacy. Cambridge: MIT Press. Crary, A. (2000). Wittgenstein’s philosophy in relation to political thought. In A. Crary & R. Read (Eds.), The New Wittgenstein (pp. 118–145). London: Routledge. Crary, A. (2019). Wittgenstein does critical theory. In R. Amesbury, H. von Sass, & C. Ammann (Eds.), Doing Ethics With Wittgenstein. London: Bloomsbury. Douglas, H. (2009). Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. Fay, B. (2000). Winch’s philosophical bearings. History of the Human Sciences (special issue on Winch’s Conception of Philosophy), 13(1), 50–62. Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Cambridge: Prentice-Hall. Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Gellner, E. (1960). The Idea of a Social Science by Peter Winch. British Journal of Philosophy, 11, 170–172. Habermas, J. (1988 (1967)). On the Logic of the Social Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press. Hertzberg, L. (1980). Winch on social interpretation. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 10, 151–171. Hertzberg, L. (2009). Peter Winch: Philosophy as the art of disagreement. In J.  Edelman (Ed.), Sense and Reality: Essays out of Swansea (pp. 23–48). Ontos: Verlag. Horton, R. (1976). Professor Winch on safari. European Journal of Sociology, 17(1), 157–180. Hutchinson, P., Read, R., & Sharrock, W. (2008). There is No Such Thing As a Social Science: In Defence of Peter Winch. Hampshire: Ashgate. Jaeggi, R. (2013). Kritik von Lebensformen. Berlin: Suhrkamp. Jarvie, I. C. (1970a). Explaining cargo cults. In B. Wilson (Ed.), Rationality (pp. 50–61). Oxford: Blackwell.

 A relatively current work in Critical Theory that might align well with Winch is Rahel Jaeggi’s Critique of Forms of Life (Jaeggi 2013). The question here is whether her account of ‘forms of life’ as instances of problem solving that ground and enact critique and social change are still not too formalistic and reductive for Winch’s conception of the ‘fragility of the ethico-cultural.’ Also see Alice Crary’s recent “Wittgenstein Does Critical Theory” on Winch and its relevance for current Critical Theory (Crary 2019).


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Jarvie, I.  C. (1970b). Understanding and explanation in sociology and social anthropology. In R.  Borger & F.  Cioffi (Eds.), Explanation in the Behavioural Sciences (pp.  231–248). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jarvie, I. C. (1970c). Reply to Peter Winch. In R. Borger & F. Cioffi (Eds.), Explanation in the Behavioural Sciences (pp. 260–270). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jarvie, I. C. (2011). Philosophical problems of the social sciences: Paradigms, methodology and ontology. In I. C. Jarvie & J. Zamora-Bonilla (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of the Philosophy of Social Sciences (pp. 1–36). London: Sage Publications. Lassman, P. (2000). Politics and the fragility of the ethico-cultural. History of the Human Sciences (special issue on Winch’s Conception of Philosophy), 13(1), 125–139. Longino, H. (1990). Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Louch, A. R. (1963). The very idea of a social science. Inquiry, 6(1–4), 273–286. Louch, A. R. (1965). On Misunderstanding Mr. Winch. Inquiry, 8(1–4), 212–216. Lyas, C. (1999). Peter Winch. Teddington: Acumen. Lynch, M. (2000). A new disease of the intellect? Some reflections on the therapeutic value of Peter Winch’s philosophy for social and cultural studies of science. History of the Human Sciences (special issue on Winch’s Conception of Philosophy), 13(1), 140–156. MacIntyre, A. (1967). Symposium: The idea of a social science. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 41(suppl. vol.), 95–132. Otto-Apel, K. (1979a). Types of social science in the light of human cognitive interests. In S.  C. Brown (Ed.), Philosophical Disputes in the Social Sciences (pp.  3–50). Brighton: Harvester and Humanities Press. Otto-Apel, K. (1979b). Reply to Winch. In S. C. Brown (Ed.), Philosophical Disputes in the Social Sciences (pp. 74–86). Brighton: Harvester and Humanities Press. Palmer, A. (1997, June 3). Obituary. Retrieved from news/people/obituary-professor-peter-winch-1253947.html. Pettit, P. (2000). Winch’s double-edged idea of a social science. History of the Human Sciences, 13(1), 63–77. Pleasants, N. (1999). Wittgenstein and the Idea of a Critical Social Theory: A Critique of Giddens, Habermas and Bhaskar. London: Routledge. Pleasants, N. (2000). Winch, Wittgenstein and the idea of a critical social theory. History of the Human Sciences (special issue on Winch’s Conception of Philosophy), 13(1), 78–91. Rawls, A. W. (2011). Wittgenstein, Durkheim, Garfinkel and Winch: Constitutive orders of sense making. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 41(4), 396–418. Risjord, M. W. (2000). Woodcutters and Witchcraft: Rationality and Interpretive Change in the Social Sciences. New York: State University of New York Press. Roth, P. A. (2003). Mistakes. Synthese, 136(3), 389–408. Roth, P.  A. (2011). The philosophy of social science in the twentieth century. In I.  C. Jarvie & J.  Zamora-Bonilla (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of the Philosophy of Social Sciences (pp. 103–117). London: SAGE Publications. Theunissen, M. (2014). The idea of philosophy and its relation to social science. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 44(2), 151–178. Theunissen, M. (2017, June 15). Rationality, Naturalism, and Critique in the Philosophy of Social Science. New York: Dissertation. Turner, S.  P. (1994). The Social Theory of Practices: Tradition, Tacit Knowledge, and Presuppositions. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Turner, S. P., & Roth, P. A. (2003). Introduction. Ghost and the machine: Issues of agency, rationality and scientific methodology in contemporary philosophy of social science. In S. P. Turner & P. A. Roth (Eds.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of the Social Sciences (pp. 1–17). Oxford: Blackwell.


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Williams, B. (1974). Wittgenstein and Idealism. In G.  Vesey (Ed.), Understanding Wittgenstein (Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures) (Vol. 7, pp. 76–95). London: Macmillan. Winch, P. (1953). Necessary and contingent truths. Analysis, 13(3), 52–60. Winch, P. (1957). The universities and the state. University Quaterly, XII, 14–23. Winch, P. (1959/1972). Nature and convention. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 60, 231–252. Reprinted in Ethics and Action (pp. 50–72). London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1964/1972). Understanding a primitive society. American Philosophical Quarterly, 1(4), 307–324. Reprinted in Ethics and Action (pp. 8-49). London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1970). Comment on Jarvie, understanding and explanation in sociology. In R. Borger & F.  Cioffi (Eds.), Explanation in the Behavioural Sciences (pp.  249–259). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Winch, P. (1971). Human nature. In G. N. A. Vesey (Ed.), The Proper Study, Macmillan. [Royal Institute of philosophy lecture in 1969]. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, 73–89. Winch, P. (1974). Popper and scientific method in the social sciences. In P. A. Schilpp (Ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Book II (pp. 889–903). LaSalle, IL: Open Court. Winch, P. (1979). Apel’s transcendental pragmatics. In S. C. Brown (Ed.), Philosophical Disputes in the Social Sciences (pp. 51–73). Brighton: Harvester and Humanities Press. Winch, Peter. (1981/1987). Eine Einstellung zur Seele (presidential address). Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 81, 1–15. Reprinted in P. Winch (1987). Trying to Make Sense (pp. 140–153). Oxford: Blackwell. Winch, P. (1989). Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Oxford: Blackwell. Winch, P. (1990/1958). The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy.  2nd ed. London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1991–94). Social Science 375 [Lectures notes]. Peter Winch Archives (GB 0100 KCLCA K/PP171, Box 19). London: King's College. Winch, P. (1995). Review of New Philosophy of Social Science: Problems of Indeterminacy. By James Bohman. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 55(2), 472–475. Winch, P. (1996). The expression of belief. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 70(2), 7–23. Winch, P. (1997). Can we understand ourselves? Philosophical Investigations, 20(3), 193–204. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell. Mark Theunissen  works in history and philosophy of social science, ethics, and philosophy of design and technology. He has a Philosophy PhD from The New School for Social Research where he wrote his dissertation on the appropriation of the thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Peter Winch. He also has obtained a MSc in mathematics from the University of Amsterdam.

Chapter 17

Winch and Animal Minds Craig Taylor

I want to explore a tension, as it see it, between Peter Winch’s thoughts on animal minds in his early work The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (Winch 1958/1990), hereafter ISS, and work that he produced much later. Now in the later works to which I will refer Winch does not expressly discuss the question of animal minds that interests me, but what he says there I will suggest nevertheless bears on his earlier claims about animal minds and renders them problematic within the framework of his own thought, and in particular in relation to the way that thought was influenced by Wittgenstein. The crux here stated very crudely depends on the way in which we are to interpret Wittgenstein famous remark in his Philosophical Investigations, a remark so important for Winch, that ‘My attitude to him is an attitude towards a soul’ (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, II, iv). To begin, in discussing the distinction between rules and habits in ISS, Winch argues as follows: … it matters that the pupil [in following a rule] should react to his teacher’s example in one way rather than another. He has to acquire not merely the habit of following his teacher’s example but also the realization that some ways are permissible and others are not. That is to say, he has to acquire the ability to apply a criterion; he has to learn not merely to do things in the same way as his teacher, but also what counts as the same way. … There is a sense in which to acquire a habit is to acquire a propensity to go on doing the same kind of thing; there is another sense in which this is true of learning a rule. These senses are different and a great deal hangs on the difference. Let us consider the case of an animal forming a habit; here there can be no question of ‘the reflective application of a criterion.’ Suppose that N teaches his dog to balance a lump of sugar on its nose and to refrain from eating it until N utters a word of command. The dog acquires a propensity to respond in a certain way to N’s actions; we have here a type of case which fits reasonably well into the behaviourist’s cherished category of stimulus and response. N, however, being C. Taylor (*) Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia e-mail: [email protected] © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



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a simple dog-lover rather than a scientist, no doubt speaks differently: he says that the dog has learned a trick. …He can now say that the dog has done the trick ‘correctly’ or ‘incorrectly.’ But it is important to notice that that this is an anthropocentric way of speaking; it requires reference to human activities, and norms which are here applied analogically to animals. It is only the dog’s relation to human beings which makes it intelligible to speak of his having mastered a trick; what this way of speaking amounts to could not be elucidated by any description, however detailed, of canine behaviour in complete isolation from human beings. The same point is involved in pointing out that what counts as ‘always doing the same kind of thing when the word of command is uttered’ is decided by N rather than by the dog. (Winch 1958/1990, 59–61)

I think that different ideas are, unhelpfully, being run together in the foregoing discussion. On the one hand I do not want to deny that in Winch’s example as far as the dog goes ‘there can be no question of the “reflective application of a criterion”.’ But on the other hand, I want to ask whether in this kind of case, and in a great many of our relations with certain animals, there is any question of our ‘reflective application of a criterion.’ To put the point slightly differently, and thinking of the final remark from Winch: is what counts as ‘always doing the same kind of thing when the word of command is uttered’ really decided at all, decided (to anticipate my argument) in advance, by either party in this shared activity? The reference to a shared activity is important here. For the way in Winch makes his point throws into doubt any idea that there is in a case like this (with an animal) any such thing as a shared activity. It is important for example that Winch describes the dog as responding to N’s actions as opposed to N’s command, since it is not at all clear in what sense on Winch’s account a dog might response to that. It may seem odd to think of an animal, a dog say, as following a rule. (Though do we really want to rule this out? On what grounds do we wish to do that? Relatedly, does it make sense to talk here of a definition of rule following that would suit our purpose?1) But think instead of sharing in a game with a dog. The activity that Winch describes is an example here, but there are countless others—fetch for instance. One thing I would want to say about such games is that insofar as the activity is characterised as rule governed by us we participate in that with animals. One might admit that their participation does not involve reflection; but then, so often, neither does ours. But it does not follow from this that the activity does not involve, as I would want to put it, a meeting of minds in which there is such a thing as playing the game correctly or incorrectly. Here I think it is useful to cite Winch against Winch, specifically his discussion of Wittgenstein’s remark in the Investigations ‘Eine Einstellung zur Seele’ in his paper of the same name (Winch 1981/1987). Here is the remark from Part II of Wittgenstein’s Investigations that Winch quotes in full.

1  One can imagine grounds, of course, if say one had a particular determinate conception of what constitutes following a rule, a conception that is not founded in what (as I will suggest) we make of certain shared patterns of action and response but on the possession of a language shared with other participants in the relevant rule following. My argument in this paper though is this way of putting the matter goes very much against the grain of Wittgenstein’s account of following a rule.

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‘I believe that he is suffering’ – Do I also believe that he isn’t an automaton? It would go against the grain to use the word in both connexions. (Or is it like this: I believe that he is suffering, but I am certain he is not an automaton? Nonsense!) Suppose I say of a friend: ‘He isn’t an automaton.’ What information is conveyed by this, and to whom would it be informative? To a human being who meets him in ordinary circumstances? What information could it give him? (At the very most that this man always behaves like a human being, and not occasionally like a machine.) ‘I believe he is not an automaton,’ just like that, so far makes no sense. ‘My attitude toward him is an attitude towards a soul [eine Einstellung zur Seele]. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul. (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, II, iv)

As Winch goes on to say, Wittgenstein should not be read as claiming that the distinction between an automaton and a conscious human being is not a factual one at all but merely a matter of different attitudes taken towards the same thing. As Winch also says, elsewhere in the Investigations Wittgenstein characterises belief itself (along with disbelief and suspicion) as an attitude (eine Einstellung). So, in trying to further clarify the point Winch quotes the following passage from Part I of the Investigations, where Wittgenstein attempts to dispel the idea that he is really at bottom a behaviourist. I tell someone I am in pain. His attitude to me will then be that of belief; disbelief; suspicion; and so on. Let us assume he says: ‘It’s not so bad.’ – Doesn’t that prove that he believes in something behind the outward expression of pain? – His attitude is a proof of his attitude. Imagine not merely the words ‘I am in pain’ but also the answer ‘It’s not so bad’ replaced by instinctive noises and gestures. (Wittgenstein 1953/1967, §310)

I want to consider for a moment the last sentence of this passage. As Winch goes on to say, specifically referring to this, His point, I take it, is to urge that we if we want to be clear what a belief (for instance) that someone is in pain come to, we should not be hypnotized by the verbal expression (‘He is in pain’), but should look at the whole range of behaviour, demeanour, facial expression, etc. in which such verbal expressions are embedded, and with which they are continuous, which give the words their particular sense and by some of which indeed the words may be replaced. The purpose of such an enquiry is not to show that what we are dealing with here is not ‘really’ a case of belief at all, but something else. That would quite misleadingly imply that we have a secure paradigm of what it is to believe something which does not draw its sustenance from the expressive behaviour in which it is embedded. (Winch 1981/1987, 142)

I cannot in this paper do justice to all that is contained in the remark from Wittgenstein that I started with or even with Winch’s explication of it. What concerns me here is just the implications for what Winch says here to his earlier remarks about animal minds. So in the later piece Winch is highlighting the way in which behaviour, including instinctive behaviour, is continuous with the verbal expression of belief, and how our account of what it is to believe at all “draws its sustenance from the expressive behaviour in which it is embedded”. But now my question is this: If, as Wittgenstein says, and as Winch seems to endorse, the words “I am in pain” and “It’s not so bad” can be replaced by “instinctive noises and gestures”, if


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that is to say such behaviour can be expressive behaviour, what are the grounds, or what is our basis, for claiming that animals are not capable of such behaviour also? That question becomes even more pressing when Winch goes on to invite us to consider, with Wittgenstein, what “His attitude is a proof of his attitude” means. As Winch says, what Wittgenstein is inviting us to consider is this. Just stop and look at what his attitude does actually consist in, perhaps you will be surprised at the subtleties and complexities involved; and when you have noticed them perhaps you will be less inclined to suppose that their significance must depend on something below the surface of which they are merely symptoms. (Winch 1981/1987, 142)

So now I want to ask, in a similar spirit: “Just stop and look at the range of behaviour in our commerce with certain animals”,2 here too there are subtleties and complexities that one may miss, here too once we notice them we may be less inclined to say that to attribute certain mental capacities to animals depends on something below the surface. For here it seems that for Winch this behaviour is not enough, that something else is required if we are to attribute certain mental capacities to animals. The way Winch speaks in connection with our relations with animals it looks as though there must after all be something below the surface of the pattern of our and their shard responsiveness to each other, something that is going to mandate the claim that animals can indeed go on correctly and incorrectly in certain games. But what could that be, what could satisfy Winch that animals do have such mental capacities? Here it appears that, thinking of what this thing below the surface is which renders behaviour a mere symptom or perhaps evidence of the relevant mental life, the natural thing to suggest, the thing indeed that Winch has highlighted in his earlier discussion of animal minds, is language. For animal behaviour to have the kind of meaning that is required here, for an animal to play a game in which it makes sense to say of the animal that there are correct and incorrect ways of them going on, it seems that the animal would have to have the resources of a natural language. That, as I take it, is what Winch is really suggesting here. In defence of Winch one might reply that he is not suggesting that in relations to animals and rule following there must be something below the surface that will mandate the claim of following a rule, but that there is something lacking in the activity that surrounds the animal’s behaviour, and that this surrounding activity which involves our life with language - is necessary if we are to engage with other beings in practices of rule following.3 Nevertheless it seems to me that Winch, in this early work, is too quick to judge the ways in which it makes sense to say we might engage with animals, and that he does so on the basis of what amounts to a general belief about the requirement of language for rule following. Must we judge that it is anthropocentric to say in Winch’s example that the dog has learnt a trick? 2  If one asks, “which animals?” then the first case to focus on I would suggest is domestic pets and working animals, particularly dogs. Such animals stand out, I think, since to some extent we have co-evolved with them in ways that, as with our interactions with other human beings, undercut the temptation to look below the surface of our shared inter-responsiveness with animals to what (we may suppose) justifies it. 3  I thank David Cockburn for bring this point to my attention.

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Can’t we (don’t we) engage with certain animals in ways that make sense of and sustain such talk? That is the question Winch should have asked, and it is telling that he does not. There is, then, at least the implicit idea here that there is some basis, some criteria, according to which we can rule in advance, in advance of our life with animals and how we do in fact engage with them, whether an animal is capable of going on in the same way. Let me stress here that I am not denying that some mental contents do depend on language, I am rather highlighting, really following both Winch and Wittgenstein, the way in which instinctive noises and gestures are continuous with more complicated verbal expressions of such things as belief, disbelief and so on. Another way of putting the point here is that we should not think of mindedness in the relevant sense as an all or nothing affair.4 Granting that our natural, perhaps originally instinctive, ways of reacting to each other—what I have called following Winch our primitive responses to each other—really sustain the verbal expression through which we record our commerce with other minds,5 when we stop and consider in the same way our commerce with certain animals in our lives we might be in a better position to consider what mental contents the primitive responses (on both sides) involved in our lives with them might sustain. Concerning the very general point about the mental concepts we might apply to animals, Raimond Gaita has a made a similar point thinking about his dog Gypsy, indeed citing the very passage from Wittgenstein I have been discussing. As Gaita says, Wittgenstein’s remarks are about the responses of human beings to one another, but there is every reason to believe that exactly the same point applies to the responses of human beings to animals and (to a limited extent) their responses to us. There is no reason to think we form the concept of intention, for example, first in its application to human behaviour and that we then apply it to animals, when, for example, we see a dog running after a cat. That is what is assumed when people speak of anthropomorphism – that we illegitimately apply to animals concepts of conscious states that we have legitimately developed in relation to human beings. But such concepts, I have suggested, are formed in responses to animals and to human beings together. That is the deepest reason why it is not anthropomorphic to say that Gypsy intend this, or that believes or hopes that. (Gaita 2002, 60)

In order to illustrate what it might mean to say that “such concepts… are formed in responses to animals and human beings together”, I want to now turn to such responsiveness in the case of the relations between animals and children.

4  For a related discussion, and indeed one that has influenced this paper, see Crary 2012. Crary there examines criticisms of the conceptualist position defended by John McDowell to the effect that it denies that animals have minds. Crary there argues that McDowell’s position need not lead to this conclusion. Her specific strategy is to defend “a notion of a concept flexible enough to apply to the lives of some animals” (Crary 2012, 215), and in particular, in her discussion, the lives of dogs. More generally, my thoughts here are greatly influenced by several papers by Cora Diamond on our moral relations with animals. 5  For an extended discussion of what I am calling “primitive responses”, see my Taylor 2002.


C. Taylor

17.1  Animals and Children Before I consider the relations between animals and children, consider again Winch’s example of a pupil learning a rule. Of course it is true, as Winch says, in many cases that a pupil learning a rule needs to recognise that some ways of going on are permissible while others are not. But consider now Wittgenstein’s account of what it is to follow a rule. Consider in particular the following passage from Wittgenstein’s Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, I can train someone in a uniform activity. E.g. in drawing a line like this with a pencil on paper. — · · — · · — · · — · · — · · — · · — · · Now I ask myself, what is it that I want him to do, then? The answer is: he is always to go on in the same way as I have shewn him. And what do I really mean by: he is always to go in that way? The best answer to this that I can give myself, is an example like the one I have just given. I would use this example to shew him but also to shew myself, what I mean by uniform. We talk and act. That is already presupposed in everything I am saying. (Wittgenstein 1956/1978, 320–321)

To concede that a pupil might make a mistake in following a rule, be corrected by their teacher and come to accept that correction, is not to think that when we teach someone how to go in the same kind of way there is, as Cora Diamond says in discussing the above passage, ‘some philosophical account of what I mean [that can] make clear how it is fixed, out of all the possible continuations out of some real semantic space, which I mean” (Diamond 1991, 69). So when we consider what we mean by going on in the same way, there can be no account of that which will fulfil this demand. Whatever example we give of what we mean by going on in the same way does not fix out of all possible continuations which I mean, so the idea that we really mean one (which one?) out of all those possibilities simply idles. Thus we are forced back to our ordinary practices of correcting and being corrected, accepting those corrections – or not. So there will be cases in which a pupil may go on that strike us as correct though we did not anticipate them. In such cases, unless we cling to the fantasy of meaning just described, we cannot say that we did not mean that that is a going on in the same way. Of course, in this case we are thinking of goings on in the same way that depend on a shared language. But to return to the case of games that do not involve that kind of background of shared language – including games that we share with animals – the same kind of point I think applies; there can be new moves in a game, new moves that we have not anticipated and of which we can say neither that we meant them nor that we meant to rule them out. So consider a game of fetch with a dog. You throw a stick and the dog fetches it, dropping it at your feet. Now suppose that you throw the stick again, but this time the dog does not drop it at your feet but instead requires you to wrest it from their mouth. There are two possibilities here. First one could say that the dog has not been sufficiently trained, or as Winch’s simple dog lover might say that they had not mastered the trick. But second one might simply say, again as Winch’s simple dog lover, that the dog has introduced a new element into this game of fetch. If that

17  Winch and Animal Minds


seems strange consider the remarks above from Diamond; specifically, can we really say that we had meant to rule out this response from the dog? In an actual game of fetch with a dog these questions of course would not really arise: we throw the stick, the dog responds by fetching the stick in the first way described, then in the second, then perhaps by making as if to drop the stick and running away quickly only to return with it, and all this will be accommodated into the game. What I particularly want to draw attention to here is the seamlessness of the series of primitive, in the sense of unreflective, actions and responses that constitute this shared game of fetch, a game where any question of the application of a criterion does not arise. Which is not to say that anything the dog might do here will count as going on in the same way. There is of course room for correcting the dog here, that really is my point; for it is against the background of the kind of shared activity I have just described, where that question does not arise, that we can say, that it makes sense to say, that another dog does not (yet) understand what it is to go on in the same kind of way, that this dog continues to make mistakes. So now to children and animals, or more specifically the games they play together. But why children and animals? Partly because in the case of children as opposed to adults we are less inclined to think that they reflect on the activities they are involved in as “following a rule”, but also and connected to this, because I think it makes less sense to suppose that they really decide what it is to go on in the same way. So if one considers the games children play with the family dog one thing that is striking—and distinct from the way in which adults engage with the same dog— is that children are as likely to be led in how to go on in the game by the dog as the other way about. Consider then the example of my partner as a child and her dog Patch. Fetch was a game they played together in various different contexts, but here is one. The family home was on a steep incline with steps half way up the back yard giving way to trees and garden beds. My partner would stand at the bottom of the steps and hit a tennis ball to the top of the garden. Patch would then fetch the ball, but rather than run down to my partner Patch would stop at the top of the steps and nudge the ball down the steps. If the ball got stuck before the bottom of the steps she would run down and nudge it forwards again. In different contexts they played fetch in the more usual way, but this particular variant of the game, my partner assures me, was Patch’s innovation.6 Now I can see no reason, short of course of a commitment to the very thesis I am questioning, not to take this account at face value and simply say that Patch taught my partner another way to play fetch.

6  I am not suggesting that all our activities with dogs and other animals are shared in the kind of way I am suggesting. A sniffer dog is not engaged in the same activity its customs official handlers for example are engaged in. Nor will I attempt to provide, indeed it would go against the grain of this paper to do so, a set of conditions or principles in virtue of which one might identify what is going to count as a shared activity in the sense that concerns me. Once again, the injunction is simply to look and see what concepts certain shared activities, forms of shared inter-responsiveness, will sustain.


C. Taylor

Winch’s point, following Wittgenstein, is that it is not as if it  is—absent very special circumstances7—ever open to doubt that other human beings have a mind, but that seems to be precisely what he does seem to think in the case of animals. What underlies this doubt, against what Winch says in “Eine Einstellung zur Seele”, must be something like a hypothesis about what it is to be minded in the relevant sense. That hypothesis being that to have a mind in the sense that one can say that one can go on in the same way, so to be capable of being mistaken about what it is to go on in the same way, one must have language. This strikes me as straightforwardly an attempt to provide grounds, in terms of a specific and general belief about what it is to be minded in the relevant sense (one that draws on the possession of specific mental/conceptual capacities), for the very possibility of following a rule. Whereas one of the central messages of the Investigations, as I understand it, is a sustained attempt to show how any attempt at providing such an underlying structure, and thus grounds, for our attribution of mental contents, is misguided. This, I take it, is what lies behind Wittgenstein’s attempt to show that as far as mental items go (pain is an important example) any attempt to provide a definitive picture of what counts as inner (the pain) and outer here (pain behaviour) is doomed to fail. Which is not to say that there cannot be pictures here that have application in a range of cases, but to remind us of their role as pictures; pictures, if you like, of the grammar of our talk about pain, not pictures, as one might have hoped, of the pain itself.8

Bibliography Crary, A. (2012). Dogs and concepts. Philosophy, 87, 215–237. Diamond, C. (1991). The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Gaita, R. (2002). The Philosopher’s Dog. Melbourne: Text Publishing Company. Taylor, C. (2002). Sympathy: A Philosophical Analysis. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Winch, P. (1958/1990). The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. Winch, P. (1981/1987). Eine Einstellung zur Seele. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 81, 1-15. Reprinted in Trying to Make Sense (pp. 140–153). Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1953/1967). Philosophical Investigations (3rd ed. G.  E. M.  Anscombe & G. H. Von Wright Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1956/1978). Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (3d ed., rev. ed., G. H. von Wright, R. Rhees & G. E. M. Anscombe Eds., G. E. M. Anscombe Trans.). Oxford: Blackwell.

7  For example, where someone is in a persistent vegetative state or suffers an extreme mental disorder. 8  I would like to thank Michael Campbell for his helpful suggestions on this chapter.

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Craig Taylor  is Associate Professor in Philosophy at Flinders University of South Australia and has published broadly in the area of moral philosophy. He is the author of Sympathy: A Philosophical Analysis, Moralism: A Study of a Vice and numerous scholarly articles. He is a co-editor of Hume and The Enlightenment, A Sense for Humanity: The Ethical Thought of Raimond Gaita  and Morality in a Realistic Spirit: Essays for Cora Diamond.

Peter Winch’s Complete Bibliography

Compiled by Lynette Reid

Papers and Books 1. Winch, P. (1953). Necessary and contingent truths. Analysis 13(3), 52–60. 2. Winch, P. (1953). The notion of “suggestion” in Thomas Reid’s theory of perception. The Philosophical Quarterly 3(13), 327–241. 3. Winch, P. (1955–56). Contemporary British philosophy and its critics. Higher Education Quarterly 10(1), 24–37. 4. Winch, P. (1956) Social science. British Journal of Sociology 7(1), 18–33. 5. Winch, Peter. (1957). The universities and the state. Higher Education Quarterly 12(1), 14–23. 6. Winch, P. (1958). The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy. London: RKP. 7. Peters, R. S., P. Winch, and A. E. Duncan-Jones. (1958). Symposium: Authority. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 32, 207–260. Reprinted (Peters & Winch) in A. Quinton (ed.), Political Philosophy. Oxford Readings in Philosophy, pp. 97–111. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 8. Winch, P. (1959–60). Nature and convention. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 60, 231–252. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 50–72. 9. Winch, P. (1964). Understanding a primitive society. American Philosophical Quarterly 1(4), 307–324. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 8–49. 10. Winch, P. (1964). Mr. Louch’s idea of a social science. Inquiry 8, 202–208. 11. Winch, P. (1965). The universalizability of moral judgments. Monist 49(2), 196–214. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 151–170. 12. Winch, P. (1965–6). Can a good man be harmed? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 66, 55–70. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 193–209. © Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020 M. Campbell, L. Reid (eds.), Ethics, Society and Politics: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Winch, Nordic Wittgenstein Studies 6,



Peter Winch’s Complete Bibliography

13. Winch, P. (1968). Wittgenstein’s treatment of the will. Ratio X, 38–53. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 110–129. 14. Winch, P. (1968). Moral integrity. Inaugural Lecture, Kings College. Oxford: Blackwell. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 171–192. 15. Winch, P. (1969). The unity of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. In P.  Winch (ed.), Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, pp.  1–19. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 16. Winch, P. (1970). Ethical Reward and Punishment. The Human World 1, 34–49. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 210–228. 17. Winch, P. (1970). Comment on Jarvie, Understanding and explanation in sociology. In R. Borger & F. Cioffi (eds.), Explanation in the behavioural sciences, pp. 249–259. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 18. Winch, P. (1970). Human Nature. Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures 4, 1–13. Reprinted (1971) in Human Nature. In G. N. A. Vesey (ed.), The Proper Study. Macmillan. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 73–89. 19. Heath, P. & Winch, P. (1971). Trying and attempting. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 45, 193–227. Adapted and published as “Trying” in Ethics and Action, pp. 130–150. 20. Winch, P. (1971). Man and society in Hobbes and Rousseau. In M. Cranston & R.  Peters (Eds.) Hobbes and Rousseau: A Collection of Critical Essays. New York: Doubleday. Reprinted in Ethics and Action, pp. 90–109. 21. Winch, P. (1971). Title unknown. In BBC, ed. Morals and medicine: discussions from the BBC Third Programme. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 22. WInch, P. 1972. “Comments on Mr Daly’s ‘Doing Good and Suffering Evil’. In Wolfe Mays & S.C.  Brown, Eds., Linguistic Analysis and Phenomenology, pp. 219–28. London: Macmillan. 23. Winch, P. (1972). Authority and rationality. The Human World 8, 11–21. 24. Winch, P. (1972). Ethics and Action. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 25. Winch, P. (1974). Concepts and actions. In P. L. Gardiner (Ed.), The Philosophy of History, pp. 41–50. Oxford University Press. 26. Winch, P. (1974) Popper and scientific method in the social sciences. In P.  A. Schilpp (Ed.) The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Book II, pp.  889–903. LaSalle, IL: Open Court. 27. Winch, P. (1976). Language, belief, and relativism. In H.  D. Lewis (Ed.), Contemporary British Philosophy, Fourth Series, pp.  322–337. Allen and Unwin. Reprinted in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 194–207. 28. Winch, P. (1976). Darwin, Genesis and contradiction. Open University Course, Thought and Reality: Central Themes in Wittgenstein. BBC Radio 3. Published in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 132–139. 29. Winch, P. (1976). Causation and action. In J. Manninen & R. Tuomela (Eds.), Essays on Explanation and Understanding, pp. 123–133. Dordrecht: Reidel. 30. Winch, P. (1977). Meaning and religious language. In S.  C. Brown (Ed.), Reason and Religion, pp. 193–221. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Read in 1975, Royal Institute of Philosophy Symposium. Reprinted in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 107–131.

Peter Winch’s Complete Bibliography


31. Winch, P. (1979). “Apel’s ‘Transcendental Pragmatics’.” In S. C. Brown (Ed.), Philosophical Disputes in the Social Sciences, pp.  51–73. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press. 32. Winch, P. (1981). Eine Einstellung zur Seele (presidential address). Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 81, 1–15. Reprinted in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 140–153. 33. Winch, P. (1981 [1976]). Im Anfang war die Tat. In I. Block (Ed.), Perspectives on the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, pp. 33–53. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 159–178. Reprinted in Trying to Make Sense. 34. Winch, P. (1982). Text and context. Philosophical Investigations 5(1), 42–56. Reprinted in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 18–32. 35. Winch, P. (1982). Ceasing to exist. Proceedings of the British Academy 68, 329–353. Reprinted in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 81–106. 36. Winch, P. (1982). Ethical relativism. Conference of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen. Published in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 181–193. 37. Winch. P. (1983). Review: Facts and superfacts. The Philosophical Quarterly 33(133), 398–404. Reprinted as Facts and superfacts in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 54–63. 38. Winch. P. (1983). Particularity and morals. Lecture at the University of Vienna. Published in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 167–180. 39. Winch, P. (1986). Who is my neighbour? Inaugural address, University of Illinois. Published in Trying to Make Sense, pp. 154–166. 40. Winch, P. (1987). Language, thought and world in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. In Trying to Make Sense, pp. 3–17. 41. Winch, P. (1987). Wittgenstein: picture and representation. Tijdskrift Filofisk 29, 3–20. Reprinted in Trying to Make Sense, pp 64–80. 42. Winch, P. (1987). Trying to Make Sense. Oxford: Blackwell. 43. Winch, Peter. (1988). True or false? Inquiry 31(3), 265–276. 44. Winch, Peter. (1989). “He’s to blame!” In D. Z. Philips and P. Winch (Eds.), Wittgenstein: Attention to Particulars: Essays in Honour of Rush Rhees, pp. 151–64. UK: Palgrave Macmillan; New York: St. Martin’s Press. 45. Winch, P. (1989). Simone Weil: The Just Balance. 46. Winch, P. (1990). Introduction. In I.  Maclean, A.  Montefiore and P.  Winch (Eds.), The Political Responsibility of Intellectuals, pp.  1–16.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 47. Winch, P. (1990). Preface to the Second Edition. In P. Winch, The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy, 2nd ed., pp. ix–xviii. London: RKP. 48. Winch, P. (1990). Certainty and authority. Philosophy 28 (Supplement), 223–237. Reprinted in A. Phillips Griffiths (Ed.) (1991), Wittgenstein Centenary Essays, pp. 223–238. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 49. Winch, P. (1990). Einheit und Vielheit. In O. Marquard, P. Probst, and F. J. Wetz (Eds.), Einheit Und Vielheit. XlV Deutscher Kongreß Für Philosophie, pp. 94–100.


Peter Winch’s Complete Bibliography

50. Winch, Peter. (1992). Persuasion. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 17(1), 123–137. 51. Winch, P. (1992). Norman Malcolm. Philosophical Investigations 15(3), 223–226. 52. Winch, P. (1995). Mind, body & ethics in Spinoza. Philosophical Investigations 18(3), 216–234. 53. Winch, P. (1995). Asking too many questions. In T. Tessin & M. Von der Ruhr (Eds.), Philosophy and the Grammar of Religious Belief, pp.  200–214. Houndmills: Macmillan Press; New York: St. Martin’s Press. 54. Winch, P. (1995). Discussion of Malcolm’s essay. In P. Winch (Ed.), N. Malcolm, Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View? Cornell: Cornell University Press, pp. 95–136. 55. Winch, P. (1996). The Expression of belief. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 70(2), 7–23. Reprinted (2001) in T. McCarthy & S. Stidd (Eds.) Wittgenstein in America, pp. 195–214. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 56. Winch, P. (1996). Doing justice or giving the devil his due. In D. Z. Phillips (Ed.), Can Religion be Explained Away? Claremont Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, pp. 161–174. Palgrave Macmillan. 57. Winch, P. (1997). Can we understand ourselves? Philosophical Investigations 20(3), 193–204. Presented at hermeneutics conference, Fremdheit und Vertrautheit: Hermeneutik im europäischen Kontext. Martin Luther-Universität, Halle-­Wittenberg, Sept. 1994. 58. Winch, P. (1997). Professor Anscombe’s moral philosophy. In L.  Alanen, S. Heinämaa, & T. Wallgren (Eds.), Commonality and Particularity in Ethics, Swansea Studies in Philosophy, pp. 177–196. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 59. Winch, P. (1998). Judgement: propositions and practices. Philosophical Investigations 21(3), 189–202. 60. Winch, P. (1998). Lessing und der Auferstehung. Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 46(5), 731–751. Published in English (2002) as Lessing and the resurrection, in J. H. Whittaker (Ed.), The Possibilities of Sense, pp. 182–203. Basingstoke: Palgrave. 61. Winch, P. (2001). XIII. In D. Z. Phillips (Ed.), On Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations 24(2), 180–184. 62. Winch, P. (2001). What has philosophy to say to religion? (D.Z. Phillips, Ed.). Faith and Philosophy 18(4), 416–430. 63. Winch, P. (2002). How is political authority possible? (D.  Z. Phillips, Ed.). Philosophical Investigations 25(1), 20–32.

Peter Winch’s Complete Bibliography


Translations 1. Wittgenstein, L. (1976). Cause and Effect: Intuitive Awareness. (P.  Winch, Trans.). Philosophia 6(3), 409–425. Reprinted in  J.  Klagge & A.  Nordmann (Eds.). Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Occasions. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993. 2. Weil, S. (1987). The legitimacy of the provisional government. (P.  Winch, Trans.). Philosophical Investigations 10(2), 87–98. 3. Wittgenstein, L. (1989). Culture and Value. (G. H. von Wright and H. Nyman, Eds. P. Winch, Trans.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989. 4. Henry-Hermann, G. (1991). Conquering chance: Critical reflections on Leonard Nelson’s establishment of ethics as a science. (P. Winch, Trans.). Philosophical Investigations 14(1), 1–80.

Book Reviews 1. Winch, P. (1957). Kant. By S. Körner. Mind 66(261), 111–112. 2. Winch, P. (1958). Reason and Experience in Ethics. By Morris Ginsburg. Philosophy 33(124), 81–83. 3. Winch, P. (1959). German Sociology. By Raymond Aron. Translated by Mary Bottomore and Thomas Bottomore. Philosophy 34(128), 84–85. 4. Winch, P. (1960). David Hume. By A. H. Basson. Philosophy 35(134), 274–275. 5. Winch, P. (1962). Sociology of Religion. By Georg Simmel, translated by Curt Rosenthal. Philosophy 37(139), 76–77. 6. Winch, P. (1961–2). The Logic of Social Enquiry. By Q. Gibson. History and Theory 2(1), 74–78. 7. Winch, P. (1963). From History to Sociology, The Transition in German Historical Thinking. By C. Antonio with a foreword by B. Croce, translated by H. V. White. Philosophical Books 4(1), 2. 8. Winch, P. (1967). On Existence and the Human World. By G. A. de Laguna. The Philosophical Quarterly 17(68), 277–278. 9. Winch, P. (1972). First and Last Notebooks. By Simone Weil; R. Rees (trans.). Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 3(2), 201–203. 10. Winch, P. (1972). Without Answers. By Rush Rhees. Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy 14, 87–95. 11. Winch, P. (1973). Explanation and Understanding. By G.  H. von Wright. Metaphilosophy 4(1), 63–75. 12. Winch, P. (1974). Analogy and philosophical language. By D. Burrell. Religious Studies 10(3), 371–373. 13. Winch, P. (1974). A Critique of Max Weber’s Philosophy of Social Science. By W. G. Runciman. The Philosophical Review 83(2), 263–266.


Peter Winch’s Complete Bibliography

14. Winch, P. (1975). Wisdom: Twelve Essays. Renford Bambrough (ed.). Philosophy 50(192), 239–244. 15. Winch, P. (1978). Wittgenstein. By R. J. Fogelin. Mind 87(347), 443–445. 16. Winch, P. (1985). Without Proof or Evidence. By O. K. Bouwsma; J. L. Craft and R. E. Hustwit (eds.). Religious Studies 21(2), 260–263. 17. Winch, P. (1986). A Study of Spinoza’s Ethics. By Jonathan Bennett. Philosophical Investigations 9(2), 140–152. 18. Winch, P. (1988). Formative Writings 1929–1941. By Simone Weil; D. T. McFarland and W. Van Ness (eds.). Philosophical Investigations 11(3), 255–257. 19. Winch, P. (1991). A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism. By L. A. Blum. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51(3), 728–731. 20. Winch, P. (1992). Whose Justice, Which Rationality? By A.  MacIntyre. Philosophical Investigations 15(3), 285–290. 21. Winch, P. (1995). New Philosophy of Social Science: Problems of Indeterminacy. By James Bohman. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 55(2), 472–475. 22. Winch, P. (1997). Wittgensteinian Themes. By N. Malcolm; G. H. von Wright (ed.). Philosophical Investigations 20(1), 51–64.

Reviews in Non-academic Press 1. Winch, P. & MacIntyre, A. (1968, April 11). The entry of the philosophers [letter]. The Times Literary Supplement, 373. 2. Winch, P. (1977, August 19). Causes and their credentials: Review of Philosophical Foundations of the Three Sociologies by Ted Benton. The Times Literary Supplement, 3936, 995. 3. Winch, P. (1977, October 28). Acting reasonably: Review of Models of Man by Martin Hollis. The Times Literary Supplement, 3944, 1255. 4. Winch, P. (1981, January 30). Wittgenstein on Frazer. The Literary Review, 33, 33–34. 5. Winch, P. (1982, March 12). Life and Thought. Simone Weil: interpretations of a life by George Abbott White. The Times Higher Education Supplement, 17. 6. Winch, P. (1983, March 18). Other points of view: Review of Culture and Morality by Elvin Hatch. The Times Literary Supplement, 4172, 277. 7. Winch, P. (1987, March 20). Inattentive readings: Review of The Scapegoat by René Girard and The Anthropology of Violence by David Riches (ed.). The Times Literary Supplement, 4381, 290. 8. Winch, P. (1985, October 4). Flight of the night-travellers: Review of Dreamtime by Hans Peter Duerr. The Times Literary Supplement, 4305, 1119. 9. Winch, P. (1989, October 13). In and out of the cave: Review of Höhlenausgänge by Hans Blumenberg. The Times Literary Supplement, 4515, 1127.