Wittgenstein, Seeing-As, and Novelty

In Michael Beaney, Brendan Harrington & Dominic Shaw (eds.), Aspect Perception After Wittgenstein: Seeing-as and Novelty. New York: Routledge. pp. 29-48 (2015)
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It is natural to say that when we acquire a new concept or concepts, or grasp a new theory, or master a new practice, we come to see things in a new way: we perceive phenomena that we were not previously aware of; we come to see patterns or connections that we did not previously see. That natural idea has been applied in many areas, including the philosophy of science, the philosophy of religion, and the philosophy of language. And, in reflecting on the character of philosophy itself, Wittgenstein himself associates the introduction of a new concept in philosophy with the discovery of a new way of looking at things (PI §401), and says that the point of presenting us with an imagined example may be to change our way of looking at things (PI §144). The paper considers four interrelated questions about this association between seeing-as and change, novelty, or innovation. 1. Is there an important difference between the case where the change in someone’s way of seeing things involves the invention or discovery of a completely new concept, a completely new theory etc., and the case where it involves the person’s coming to understand an existing concept or theory? 2. Is there a special connection between seeing-as and conceptual or theoretical change or creativity: a connection that does not obtain between seeing-as and using or applying a familiar theory or system of concepts? 3. In cases where seeing-as is associated with novelty or creativity, is there any sense in which the fact that someone sees things in a new way can help to explain their conceptual or theoretical creativity? 4. To the extent that there is some association between seeing-as and novelty or creativity, why if at all does it matter that one experiences things in a certain way? Would someone who was aspect-blind be any worse off with respect to creativity or innovation than the rest of us? And if so, why?

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William Child
Oxford University


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