I studied PPE at Balliol College, Oxford, and the blend of philosophy, politics and economics was perfect for me. I learnt Wittgenstein at the feet of Tony Kenny, Peter Hacker, Gordon Baker and Stephen Mulhall, and took a First. I determined to subject what I had learned (the philosophy of Wittgenstein) to the severest possible challenge, and so I took the rather bold course of turning down a British Academy scholarship and studying for several years at Rutgers University (NJ, USA), where my teachers such as Jerry Fodor and Colin McGinn taught me ‘mainstream’ philosophy of language and mind – but did not sway in the least my conviction that Wittgenstein had revolutionised philosophy, and had in effect pre-emptively dissolved ‘analytical’ philosophy. I pursued and broadened my interest in Wittgenstein by working with James Guetti, Louis Sass, Cora Diamond and others at Rutgers and Princeton, and took my Ph.D in a Wittgensteinian exploration of the relationship between Kripke’s ‘quus’ problem and Nelson Goodman’s ‘grue’ problem. My time in the States also politically radicalised me, as I saw first-hand the dire cultural and ethical consequences of more or less untrammelled capitalism.
I lectured for two years at Manchester, encountering properly for the first time the impressive Wittgenstein-affiliated ethno-methodological critique of sociology. I landed a permanent job at UEA in 1997, where I have stayed for the last decade, working to grow the philosophy post-grad community, the Department as a whole, and the Wittgensteinian side of the Department in particular. All three goals have now been successfully realised. And I have published a very substantial number of books and papers while at UEA, perhaps notably the epoch-marking collection, ‘The New Wittgenstein’.
Key Research Interests
Philosophy of language, Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Philosophy of Literature and Film, Philosophy of Psychology.
Wittgenstein runs throughout my interests and my work. I write and publish exegesis, but principally I apply Wittgenstein’s thought, resolutely interpreted, to diverse subject-matters. A picture of this can be garnered from my new book, ‘Applying Wittgenstein’. I interpret Kuhn and Winch after Wittgenstein, and think accordingly the status of various science and ‘science’ disciplines.
My ‘There is no such thing as social science’ will appear in 2008, and after that my next project in this area is provisionally entitled ‘Wittgenstein among the sciences’: this will take in everything from maths through environmental science to linguistics. As regards philosophy of literature, I am particularly interested by ‘deranged narratives’; my interest in the philosophy of literature intersects with my interest in the philosophy of psychopathology. I am motivated by a desire to understand the roots of philosophical discontent and delusion.
This brings together my interest in Buddhism (particularly Zen), in psychopathology and in ‘the psychopathology of philosophical delusion or illusion’, and in propaganda and the framing of language and of political ideologies. I want to know from whence in our biology, our psychology, our language and our culture philosophical problems come. Wittgenstein has typically been badly misunderstood as saying that these problems come only from our language.
This is a superficial and more or less positivist error or illusion. But there is a profound difficulty in getting clear on the origin of these problems: because this aim can seem to imply the absurd ambition of exiting entirely and permanently from such problems, in order to see how they have clouded our vision.
By contrast, I am interested in exploring the ways (e.g. through desire, fear, and political ideology – thus see especially my ongoing work on ‘The Lord of the Rings’) in which such problems most deeply ensnare us; and how (e.g. through meditation, honesty with oneself, a therapeutic engagement with one’s problems, and a sane society) one/we can most effectively learn from them and change through and beyond them.
I believe that philosophers cannot abdicate the challenge of thinking about how we ought to live, and thinking against the grain of the times to change those times. Now more than ever.
1) Wittgenstein, resolutely interpreted and applied - I regard Wittgenstein (and the Wittgenstein Research Centre at UEA) as the heart of my open-ended research project into philosophy, thought and life. I aim in the next five years to complete at least one and possibly two books joint-authored with Phil Hutchinson, laying out what it really means to think of Wittgenstein as a radically therapeutic thinker, after the fashion of ‘the New Wittgenstein’ and Gordon Baker.I expect also to pursue this project in the intellectual companionship of UEA PHI colleague Eugen Fischer, who nurtures a similar ambition. Along the way, I expect to say quite a lot more than has yet been said about the precise sense in which later Wittgenstein was in his considered prose a thoroughly ‘resolute’ thinker.
2) An ecological alternative to the political philosophy of liberalism -My other key research project for the years ahead is to challenge, chiefly on grounds of the call upon us made by future generations (and by non-humans), the dominant ideology of our times: individualist materialism … and its legitimating ideology in the academy: political liberalism. I am working on a series of papers in which Rawls’s liberalism is put severely to the test by the climate crisis which we are inhabiting, and also by its evisceration of the possibility of a response to that crisis taking seriously the claims of spirituality and religion.
I believe that a true egalitarianism and a sense of the sacred is incompatibly with the political philosophy of liberalism. This project brings together somewhat the philosophical with the other side of my life: my active involvement in ‘Green politics’.
At UEA I am involved in the Wittgenstein Workshop and organize the annual Philosophy Public Lectures and the event Philosophers at the Cinema.
Teaches: Wittgenstein; Philosophy & Literature; Philosophy & film; Theories of Politics and Society; Mental Health and Philosophy; Philosophy of the Sciences; Nietzsche and 20th Century Continental Philosophy.