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Volume 48 • Number 2

April 2011



Master and Novice in the Later Wittgenstein

by Meredith Williams

The terms “master” and “novice” are not to be found in Wittgenstein’s writings, though the expressions “child,” “pupil,” “instruction,” “learning,” and “mastery” are scattered throughout the later writings. I introduce the terms “novice” and “master” to keep track of certain important methodological and explanatory ideas to be found in the later work, especially in Philosophical Investigations (hereafter PI), but also in Remarks on the Foundation of Mathematics (hereafter RFM) and On Certainty (hereafter OC). I use these terms to refer to the initiate learning relation between the child and the adult or the pupil and his teacher. These are situations in which the child or pupil does not have the cognitive competence required to exercise the skill that is the object of learning. There is an asymmetric dependence of the novice on the master, a dependence that is not epistemic but linguistic and causal. In the PI, Wittgenstein introduces each great philosophical problem and argument he addresses with the learning situation, importantly that of learning a first language or learning the natural number sequence.

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ISSN: 2152-1123