An examination of the 'seeing-as' discussion in "Philosophical Investigations" Part II

John Ross, Fordham University


The "seeing-as" discussion in Philosophical Investigations Part II is typical of Wittgenstein's later work. This material focuses on psychological concepts, but the point and source of the discussion is not immediately obvious. The relationship of this material to Part I is also unclear. Some authors have suggested that Wittgenstein was moving in new directions; others have suggested a continuity between the two parts. In Part I, Wittgenstein develops his analysis of the meaning of "concept". We acquire concepts by learning a language, and so having a concept requires the mastery of a technique. The concept is a medium through which we, e.g., understand and communicate. This analysis differs from that of most of the modern tradition. For modern thinkers, especially empiricists subscribing to a representationalist theory of ideas, the idea or concept is not a medium for understanding, but that which is understood. This creates a subject/object dichotomy and therefore, skeptical and sophistic problems. Wittgenstein's analysis of concepts circumvents these difficulties by deconstructing the representationalist model. In the "seeing-as" discussion, Wittgenstein applies his analysis of "concept" to concepts of perceptual experience. Wittgenstein's concern with the concept of "seeing-as" is long-standing, but in Part II he focuses on specific concepts drawn from Gestalt psychology. For these thinkers, seeing an arrangement of dots on a page as a cross, for example, is the result of our brains creating an organized "visual impression" out of the raw material of perception. Thus we experience the visual impression, not the dots on the page. This creates the same skeptical difficulties found in representationalism for similar reasons: Gestalt concepts of perceptions treat experience as an "inner object", a creation of our sensory apparatus. As with representationalism, Wittgenstein shows that these concepts do not work in the way supposed by Gestalt. In sum, the "seeing-as" discussion shows Wittgenstein as applying the analysis developed in Part I to the problems generated by modern concepts of perceptual experience.

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Recommended Citation

Ross, John, "An examination of the 'seeing-as' discussion in "Philosophical Investigations" Part II" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9313769.