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date: 30 November 2021

Editors' Introduction

Abstract and Keywords

This Introduction starts by stating that Wittgenstein is a contested figure on the philosophical scene. It talks further about Wittgenstein’s philosophy and his relation to, what is now called, analytical philosophy. It then goes on to talk about the various literature that has been generated by the study of Wittgenstein philosophy, stating that Wittgenstein is best known for his work in the philosophy of language, mind, and mathematics. The Introduction also talks about the differences between Wittgenstein’s views and mainstream analytical philosophy. Finally the topics covered in this book are introduced.

Keywords: Wittgenstein, analytical philosophy, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of mathematics, mainstream analytical philosophy

Wittgenstein is a contested figure on the philosophical scene. Having played an important role in the rise and development of not just one but two schools of analytic philosophy – one that emphasizes the use of formal logical tools in philosophical analysis, originating with Bertrand Russell, and one that sticks, more or less, to the use of everyday language in philosophy, connected also with the name of G. E. Moore – he is for good reasons associated with the analytic tradition.1 Nevertheless, Wittgenstein's relation to (what we now call) analytic philosophy tended to be somewhat uneasy. While both Russell and Moore describe the young Wittgenstein as a genius in philosophy and logic, Wittgenstein himself thought they failed to understand his work in certain crucial respects. About the value of Wittgenstein's later philosophy (from the early 1930s onwards), Russell's and Moore's judgements differed greatly. On the one hand, as far as Russell is concerned (judging the matter retrospectively in 1959), these developments testified to Wittgenstein having given up serious philosophy altogether, whereas Moore took the trouble of attending Wittgenstein's lectures in Cambridge over several years, maintaining that ‘he was really succeeding giving what he called a “synoptic” view of things we all know’ (PO, 51; Russell 1959, 161).2 On the other hand, while the later Wittgenstein took great interest in some of Moore's philosophical observations and (p. 4) arguments, subjecting them to sustained discussion in his own writings, at the same time he regarded them as deeply confused. Russell figures almost exclusively as an object of criticism in Wittgenstein's later writings, being discussed especially in connection with the philosophy of mathematics. Wittgenstein also blames Russell for having given rise to a trend of pseudo-exactness in philosophy which, according to Wittgenstein, is the ‘worst enemy of real exactness’ (MS 112, 101v, 102r; MS 153a, 144v, 145r; TS 213/BT, 540; for discussion of Wittgenstein and Moore, see Baldwin's contribution to this volume; for Russell and Wittgenstein, see the chapters by van Gennip, Johnston, Landini, and Proops).

In contemporary analytic philosophy, by contrast to its earlier phases, Wittgenstein tends to play a less central role. There are, of course, figures deeply influenced by Wittgenstein – such as Robert Brandom, Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, John McDowell, Barry Stroud, Charles Travis, and Crispin Wright. Wittgenstein scholarship is also actively pursued in many philosophy departments, resulting in several new books every year.3 Nevertheless, the philosophical climate has clearly changed since the heyday of Wittgenstein's influence. Metaphysics – which Wittgenstein argued to involve a conflation of factual and logical statements – is again regarded as a respectable undertaking among analytic philosophers, and generally current trends favour the idea that philosophy should be understood and pursued as a science – an idea Wittgenstein was highly critical of throughout his career.4 Interestingly, these developments seem describable by reference to the different philosophical approaches just characterized. For it is the Russellian line, which associates philosophy with formal logic and science, that has come to dominate analytic philosophy, in the wake of philosophers such as Rudolf Carnap (himself also heavily influenced by the early Wittgenstein; see Carnap 1963, 25) and W. V. O. Quine. Perhaps this development also reflects more general cultural trends, including the valuation of natural science over humanistic research in academic institutions and by their funders, it being characteristic of the Russellian brand of analytic philosophy to align itself with science and promote what are regarded as scientific ways of thinking. The later Wittgensteinian line, by contrast, as developed, for example, by the so-called ordinary language philosophers, such as Gilbert Ryle, J. L. Austin, and P. F. Strawson, has receded somewhat into the background. Nevertheless, Wittgensteinian philosophy does continue to be practised in this manner, sometimes in direct confrontation with scientifically oriented philosophy, by philosophers such as Peter Hacker, who seek to engage and challenge scientific philosophy through an investigation of its use of concepts (p. 5) in relation to their everyday uses (see Hacker and Bennett 2003). Another recent attempt to challenge mainstream analytic philosophy along the lines of ordinary language philosophy is Baz's discussion of analytic epistemology (see Baz, forthcoming). Wittgensteinian approaches are a live force also at that end of the spectrum where philosophy meets literary theory and film studies, and contemporary moral philosophy has an important strand inspired by the later Wittgenstein (represented by, for example, McDowell, Cavell, Diamond, Alice Crary, Raimond Gaita, Sabina Lovibond, the late Peter Winch, and to an extent by Philippa Foot). Notably, in areas such as the philosophy of mind, and language and epistemology, often regarded as analytic philosophy's core areas, Wittgensteinian approaches continue to be practised in others forms too, besides those connected closely with ordinary language philosophy. Here Wittgensteinian influences are often found blended with others, such as Kantianism, Hegelianism, and pragmatism, and Wittgensteinianism assumes a form that is more sympathetic to systematic philosophical theorizing than Wittgenstein himself, who emphasized the complexities of language and concepts that make them resistant to theoretical generalization and simplification. Despite the domination of the Russellian line, therefore, Wittgensteinian approaches are alive and well, and developed in a variety of ways in contemporary analytic philosophy.

Importantly, the diverse ways in which Wittgenstein influences contemporary philosophy, for example how ordinary language philosophy and Kantian, Hegelian, or pragmatist forms of Wittgensteinianism relate to Wittgenstein's own thought, and the issue of the relation between Wittgensteinian and Russellian approaches, also raise questions about the identity of philosophy and its methods. Can philosophy be practised on the model of science or as a scientific research programme? What forms should philosophical explanations take? What is the role of systematization in philosophy and how well does it serve philosophical clarity? What is the role and relevance of considerations regarding language in philosophy? Do they have general methodological significance for philosophy, and if so, in what way, or should analytic philosophy be regarded as having moved past the so-called linguistic turn of which Wittgenstein was an essential part? Such questions are partly kept alive in contemporary analytic philosophy by the existence of the divide between Russellian and Wittgensteinian approaches, which in this way creates a space for an ongoing debate about fundamental issues in philosophy. Thus the importance of the divide is far greater than any questions about which views dominate discussions on this or that topic, or which school has the upper hand. Relating to this debate, Wittgenstein's position in analytic philosophy also remains open to debate and reassessment.

As regards Wittgenstein's early philosophy, it has generated an extensive secondary literature, and continues to be a topic of immense philosophical interest among Wittgenstein-interpreters, also with respect to the issue of the nature of philosophy. As fate has it, for mainstream analytic philosophy Wittgenstein's early philosophy of logic has come to seem overshadowed by the emergence of the contemporary (or Hilbertian) model theoretical conception of logic in the 1930s, in the development of which, for example, Carnap enthusiastically took part. Among Carnap's reasons for trying to find an alternative to the then influential Wittgensteinian conception of logic was that the Hilbertian (p. 6) account made possible the formulation of statements about logic or syntax in an exact – and therefore in appearance scientific – manner which the Tractatus' conception of logic seemed to exclude (Carnap 1937, 283). About Wittgenstein's apparent denial of statements regarding logic Russell had expressed doubts in his introduction to the Tractatus. The early Wittgenstein was also committed to the idea of there being something like the logic which allows for no alternatives, as if – so it seemed to Carnap and others – we were urged to stick with Euclidean geometry and not consider any non-Euclidean ones. From this ‘Wittgensteinian prison’ Carnap among others wanted to escape, and so he did, whereby the Tractatus' conception of logic came to be seen as essentially superseded.

But arguably matters are more complicated than the received wisdom allows. Firstly, it is far from clear that the account of the Tractatus' philosophy of logic that has become part of the lore of analytic philosophy, related in essentially Carnapian terms, is accurrate. Wittgenstein, for one, disputed it, blaming Carnap, on the one hand, for plagiarism and not having said anything new in his own work, and on the other, for having missed the central point of the Tractatus (GB, letters to Schlick on 6 May 1932 and 8 August 1932; see Kienzler 2008 for discussion). Secondly, at the time when Carnap and others were developing the model theoretic conception, Wittgenstein came to critique the Tractatus' conception of logic himself, developing a novel conception of the status of logical calculi as a means of philosophical clarification and more generally of the status of philosophical statements (definitions, examples, and so on). Interestingly, this novel – although to date largely ignored – conception makes it possible for Wittgenstein to continue to regard formal logic as a useful tool in philosophical clarification (more precisely, a potentially useful tool, depending on the clarificatory task at hand), while maintaining that it is not the only possible, or a privileged method of, clarification. According to his later view, no calculus or philosophical account can be claimed to capture the logic of language. This view, as Wittgenstein develops it, resolves the problem of dogmatism in the Tractatus to which Wittgenstein had succumbed, and helps to resolve important difficulties relating to the notion of logical analysis. Now formal logical methods can also be complemented with other methods of conceptual, grammatical, or logical clarification that take into account other aspects of language besides its rule-governedness, and don't presuppose a conception of language as a calculus according to precise rules. Consequently, from this point of view, the Russellian and ordinary language approaches no longer appear to be in conflict or competition with each other, a perception that the representatives of these approaches have had difficulty avoiding, despite a certain willingness to do so. (See Carnap 1963a; Strawson 1956 and 1963.) Hence, surprisingly enough, the later Wittgenstein, who often is perceived as a partisan of ordinary language philosophy, might in fact be able to help analytic philosophy to discover its underlying unity.5 In so doing he might also enable analytic philosophy to make more self-conscious use of both formal and non-formal methodological resources, avoiding the appearance (p. 7) of the latter as suspicious, due to a perception of their being in conflict with the scientific aspirations of analytic philosophy and as committed to common sense. But regardless of these speculations about how analytic philosophy might further develop and perhaps again learn from Wittgenstein, it seems clear that just as the value of the work of the later Wittgenstein is in continuing need of reassessment, so also is his early work, or the work of Wittgenstein-the-logician in general. (For discussion of the Tractatus' logic and/or the further methodological developments in Wittgenstein's thought, see Conant, Diamond, Johnston, Kienzler, Kuusela, McGinn, and Travis in this volume.)

Besides his contributions to the philosophy of logic and philosophical methodology or ‘metaphilosophy’, Wittgenstein is best known for his work in the philosophy of language, mind, and mathematics.6 Discussions of these topics constitute the bulk of this volume, with separate parts of the book devoted to logic and mathematics (II; including contributions by Moore, Potter, Marion, and Säätelä on Wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics), the philosophy of language (III; with contributions not already mentioned by Minar, Stroud, Cerbone, Stern, and Hertzberg), and the philosophy of mind (IV; including chapters by Child, Hyman, and Witherspoon). The volume also contains a part devoted to epistemology (V), where Wittgenstein's treatment of certainty, causal knowledge, the notion of intuition, and scepticism is discussed (of those not already mentioned is Pritchard). Part VI is devoted to issues relating to methodology or ‘metaphilosophy’ (including a chapter on Wittgenstein's use of examples by Savickey), and VII to religion, aesthetics, and ethics (including contributions by Mulhall and Budd). As this shows, the range of issues Wittgenstein worked on is very broad. We have tried to collect in this volume a representative sample of discussions of such topics by some of the leading scholars in the field. By their nature the chapters are original contributions to relevant discussions and, indeed, several of them seek in different ways to contest existing interpretational orthodoxies and so to break new ground. (Examples of this, not mentioned elsewhere in this introduction, are the chapters by Baz and ter Hark.)

It is notable, however, that from the point of view of the later Wittgenstein any attempts to divide philosophical discussions into separate areas of philosophy, or to regard discussions with different foci as constituting independent philosophical topics, are at best artificial. This is to be understood in light of his resistance to specialization and compartmentalization in philosophy, the main reason for which seems to be his perception of the interconnectedness of philosophical problems. In order to solve one problem one must solve many connected problems that together constitute a highly deceptive and powerful web of confusion. This then also explains the difficulty of philosophy. (See MS 116, 216–18; MS 120, 39v.) But if (p. 8) Wittgenstein is right about this characteristic of philosophical problems, we cannot assume that all such further issues and problems lie conveniently in some particular area of specialization. And even if they do, to reliably establish this seems to require being able to find one's way about in those other areas too. An especially noteworthy ‘area of philosophy’ in this regard is ethics, which one might, from Wittgenstein's point of view, characterize as a dimension of philosophy rather than a separate segment. This view is connected with his conception that philosophical work necessarily involves the examination of one's own preconceptions and any prejudices that might stand in the way of being able to understand whatever one is trying to understand. Even more broadly, philosophy requires one to examine one's inclinations to think about matters in particular ways. This includes the scrutiny of one's philosophical motives (fears, desires, and so on), and the attraction one may feel towards particular views, with the purpose of avoiding blindly following one's philosophical instincts. For we may be quite unclear about the constitution and origin of such instincts they may well have been acquired through a process more akin to enculturation than rational examination. Hence an important part of philosophy for Wittgenstein is a pursuit of self-knowledge, and from his point of view philosophy emerges as a deeply reflective undertaking. (For discussion of these themes, see the chapters by Backström and Christensen.)

Again the differences between Wittgenstein's views and those common in mainstream analytic philosophy that embraces specialization might be helpfully considered in the light of certain historical developments. For the earliest period of the development of analytic philosophy (at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) is also the time of the secularization of the teaching of philosophy in the universities, philosophy's disassociation from theology, as well as its consequent professionalization and allying with science. This is a period when professional journals of philosophy (such as Mind and The Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society) emerged. In other words, it is a time when philosophy largely assumed its current form as a discipline for specialists, whereby a key form of philosophy's dissemination became a relatively short article in scientific style, focused on some specific topic or some aspect of it, and assuming in-depth knowledge of relevant discussions as its background. (See Ryle 1957 for a description of these developments.) But although we may currently be inclined to take this mode of philosophizing for granted (and certainly contemporary academic institutions do), this clearly is a form of philosophy far removed from the discussions of Socrates with his fellow citizens, i.e. his trying to contest their self-understanding, including their conceptual and moral commitments. Given that Wittgenstein's philosophy, with its concern with self-knowledge, may naturally be classified together with the Socratic approach, his thought might then be seen as an important reminder of other possible ways of doing philosophy besides the currently dominating ones, and as pointing to potential resources for philosophical success that the mainstream of analytic philosophy has by and large neglected. (This is not to say that other features of Wittgenstein's approach could not justifiably suggest other classifications, besides the Socratic one.) In particular, provided that the scientific results that everyone can agree upon, promised by the founders of the scientifically oriented analytic philosophy (Russell and, in his wake, Carnap), let us wait for them, (p. 9) and there seems not to be much more agreement on the conceptual mappings of ordinary language philosophers and how they contribute to the solution of philosophical problems, perhaps this Socratic side of the practice of philosophy should be seriously reconsidered for its significance. Notably, Wittgenstein too was keen on the idea of progress in philosophy, and getting matters done and settled (see PO, 185, 195; BT/TS 213, 424, 432). But he thought that progress could only be achieved by means of an approach different from Russell's. Consequently, dropping the assumption that either the scientific approach or the Socratic approach alone should represent the true essence of philosophy, we might do well to keep an open mind about what our methodological commitments should be, and about the possibility that something methodologically important might be found in the Socratic approach. In this manner too we might then come to see Wittgenstein as enriching analytic philosophy, and as challenging us to think harder about our philosophical practice, not as a threat to be quickly argued out of the way, as sometimes has been the case.7

A factor that has undoubtedly contributed to the perception of Wittgenstein's thought as alien to analytic philosophy is his style of writing. His style does not conform to the standard academic style (with the possible exception of two short pieces from 1929, ‘Some Remarks on Logical Form’ and ‘A Lecture on Ethics’; see PO). Rather, it is more readily associated with authors such as Nietzsche who see their writing as an expression of a cultivated philosophical self (again following the footsteps of Socrates), not the presentation of scientific results. Accordingly, although Wittgenstein has, of course, often been read as an academic philosopher and discussed in professional articles (as indeed in this volume), he himself was very suspicious of such prospects and expressed dislike of professional academic philosophy. As he writes in a note (from 1948) for the preface of the Philosophical Investigations: ‘It is not without reluctance that I offer the book to the public. The hands into which it will fall are for the most part not those in which I like to imagine it. May it soon – this is what I wish for it – be completely forgotten by the philosophical journalists & thus perhaps be kept for a more upright kind of reader’ (CV, 75; cf. 69). The point is that rather than dismissing such remarks as mere idiosyncrasies, we might do well to seriously consider them in order to understand Wittgenstein's uneasy relation to analytic philosophy. For what is at stake here is the nature of his philosophical approach, whereby we should not forget that mostly his philosophical inquiries do concern topics discussed by academic philosophers. This means that, unless we are facing here a tension or a conflict in Wittgenstein's thinking that he was unaware of, he really regards it as necessary to approach such philosophical issues in a way that does not conform to the format of professional articles and the mindset of academic philosophizing. (Cf. also CV, 28: ‘I believe I summed up where I stand in relation to philosophy when (p. 10) I said: really one should write philosophy only as one writes a poem.’ For discussion of Wittgenstein' style, see Perloff's chapter.)

More concretely, although there would certainly seem to be grounds for aligning Wittgenstein with analytic philosophy in the sense that we could with apparent naturalness count, for example, his so-called private language argument or his conception of meaning as use among the celebrated results of analytic philosophy, along with, for instance, Russell's theory of definite descriptions and Moore's open question argument, it may also be asked whether the characterization of them as results aptly captures Wittgenstein's achievements and intentions. Perhaps it is not results and conclusions that we are intended to learn from the Investigations, but something different. This could be, for example, methods of philosophical investigation to be made our own in some deeper sense than just learning to imitate the moves of, for instance, the private language argument in order to apply those moves in discussions with fellow analytic philosophers, thus achieving some kind of an analogous extension of the argument. If so, Wittgenstein's goals would indeed seem to differ from those of science and from those of analytic philosophy, insofar as the latter aspires to produce results comparable to scientific ones (as Russell certainly hoped; see Russell 1914/1926). Thus understood, philosophy's goal for Wittgenstein would not be to impart knowledge or true beliefs, i.e. make us believe something, but to teach us how to deal with the philosophical issues we confront ourselves, to teach us to do something (see AWL, 97; LFM, 22, 103). (For discussions of privacy and private language, see Stern, Schulte, and Snowdon in this volume.)

Then again, however, it is perhaps not obvious how the mentioned achievements of Russell and Moore would be best understood, and whether they should not be seen as methodological at their core. Interpreted in this way, Russell's theory, for example, would really give us a particular conception or a picture of logical analysis which we might adopt, though his example of an analysis still leaves it undecided whether this should be understood as anything like the method of philosophical analysis – not to even go into the issue of whether it necessarily commits us to an epistemology of objects of acquaintance. Such interpretational possibilities illustrate difficulties connected with understanding Wittgenstein's relation to or his place in analytic philosophy, but also urge us to address the still unsettled question of how philosophy in the analytic mode would be best pursued.

In this connection it is noteworthy that several contributions to this volume are commissioned from philosophers who do not regard themselves as Wittgenstein specialists or Wittgensteinians, but whose main interests lie within mainstream analytic philosophy. It is on such topics that they write here. The purpose of this is to try to understand the perception of Wittgenstein's work from the point of view of contemporary analytic philosophy, how he might be understood as contributing to discussions in its context, and simply to engage in discussion over dividing lines. Input from Wittgenstein to such discussions may, of course, take various forms, besides being based on painstaking scholarship. Examples are Wittgenstein being an inspiration for views to be developed in a non-Wittgensteinian manner, being the designer of philosophical concepts to be employed in such conversations (for instance, language-game and family-resemblance), or being the originator of (p. 11) certain debates which then take on a life of their own within analytic philosophy. (The last form of his influence is exemplified by the debates on rule-following in the wake of Saul Kripke's interpretation of Wittgenstein.) It would seem narrow-minded to deny the value of such ways of using Wittgenstein merely because on the basis of some interpretation we might consider that some Wittgenstein-inspired view does not conform with the Master's own view. Presumably all agree that the method of arguing by reference to some authority does not belong to philosophy. Yet it also remains a question how patiently we should try to understand Wittgenstein before trying to make use of his ideas, in order to maximally benefit from them – or before launching arguments against them. Ironically enough from the point of view of Wittgenstein's resistance to specialization, Wittgenstein scholars might here also come to the aid of the mainstream analytic philosopher when she is wondering about what he might have thought about a particular topic. Perhaps such collaborations are not as unimaginable as they may seem when Wittgenstein is seen in opposition to discussions in the mainstream. In any case, we presumably have already had enough of Wittgensteinians trying to beat non-Wittgensteinians over the head with the Investigations from their allegedly superior position, which to the mainstreamer seems anything but. For while the mainstream may be inclined to see Wittgenstein as having been superseded by subsequent developments in analytic philosophy, similarly the Wittgensteinians tend to think the mainstream still has to catch up with Wittgenstein. But who is right (if anyone) can only be settled by calm discussion (and not at this level of generality). Perhaps the time is now ripe for this, about sixty years after Wittgenstein's death.

As already suggested, the differences between mainstream analytic philosophy and Wittgenstein could be used by representatives on each side to pose questions to themselves about their own philosophical practice and views. The point is: why not see the difference between Wittgensteinian and mainstream analytic approaches as an opportunity for reflection on how we should proceed, rather than trying to convince the others that they are – obviously – wrong? Indeed, since when, one might ask, did matters in philosophy become so obvious? And if obviousness means the death of (the urge to) philosophical thinking, should we not make sure that matters do not become so obvious to us; that we really ask questions from ourselves rather than merely acting as if we did?


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(1) For discussion of these developments and trends in analytic philosophy, see Rorty ed. 1967 and Beaney ed. 2007. How analytic philosophy should be characterized, and whether it is possible to give an overarching definition of its essential features that captures it in all its forms, is a complicated question that we will not discuss here. Wittgenstein has also been read in the light of and in comparison with the so-called continental philosophy, especially Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Derrida. (See, for example, Glendinning 1998, Staten 1986 and Morris 2007.) This is indicative of the difficulty of placing Wittgenstein within contemporary philosophical traditions, some aspects of which are discussed in this introduction.

(2) By a synoptic view Moore is referring to what Wittgenstein also calls ‘perspicuous (re)presentation’, and characterizes as fundamental to his philosophy (see PI §122). Moore says he took very detailed notes of these lectures, filling almost six notebook volumes (PO, 50). Only Moore's summary of the lectures has been published, while the rest of the material remains in his archives.

(3) A number of Wittgenstein societies also exist that organize conferences and in other ways promote academic work on Wittgenstein, including the Austrian, British, Nordic (Scandinavian), and North American societies.

(4) To conceive of philosophy as a science means, among other things, seeing philosophy as a research programme whose goal is to answer questions, rather than to critically examine them, and in this way dissolve philosophical problems. Another feature is that philosophical questions are not understood in any important sense to be questions that involve the investigator herself in the sense of requiring self-examination. Accordingly, from this perspective the way in which philosophy is written should not be expressive of the person and the character behind it, but neutral and anonymous like scientific prose. See below for discussion of these themes.

(5) It is, of course, not difficult to see why the ordinary language philosophers wanted to claim a powerful mind such as the later Wittgenstein to be on their side – despite the fact that Wittgenstein himself rejected the idea of parties and taking sides in philosophy. (See TS 213/BT, 420.)

(6) Asked in 1944 if he wanted to make any amendments to a biographical sketch by John Wisdom, Wittgenstein added this sentence: ‘Wittgenstein's chief contribution has been in the philosophy of mathematics’ (Monk 2007, 273). Originally he also envisaged the Philosophical Investigations as continuing, after the rule-following discussion, with a discussion of this topic. As is evident, he ultimately decided otherwise, addressing instead issues in the philosophy of mind and language. Mostly mainstream analytic philosophy still seems too scandalized by Wittgenstein's philosophy of mathematics to consider it very seriously, for example by his view that set theory involves conceptual confusions (see PR, 209, 211; PG, 460ff.), and his non-standard views of the philosophical significance of Gödel's incompleteness proof (RFM, 385ff.).

(7) A classic example of such a quick argument to make room for one's own philosophical project is Fodor's discussion of Wittgenstein's private language argument in The Language of Thought (1975). On a very different note, when in troubled economic times fingers point at university philosophy as not in any way obviously good science, a solid understanding of the Socratic inheritance unique to philosophy could help philosophers also to defend their discipline.