The importance of the book lies in the fact that it clarifies Wisdom’s position in relation to the current attempts to define philosophy as some form of linguistic analysis. Although Wisdom was strongly influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein, he did not believe, as Wittgenstein and many of the logical positivists did, that metaphysics is nonsense of some sort that becomes evident when its statements are properly analyzed; nor did he believe that metaphysical statements are merely linguistic and that all difficulties can be eliminated by substituting clear words for vague ones and precise grammatical constructions for ambiguous ones; nor did he follow the Oxford School in stressing either the “ordinary language” of the person in the street or his or her beliefs on certain philosophical matters as the final court of appeal for settling all philosophical disputes. He examines these views, as well as others that associate philosophical problems with their mode of expression, and endeavors to state his own view in contrast to them.
Philosophers pose questions such as “Can we really know what is going on in someone else’s mind?,” “Can we really know the causes of our sensations?,” and “What is a chair?” The reader’s task is to determine what philosophers seek when they ask such questions, and what they mean when they reply, “We can never really know what is going on in someone else’s mind,” “A chair is nothing but our sensations,” or “A chair is something over and above our sensations.”
In a sense, Wisdom says, philosophy gives rise to verbal disputes. To state that one cannot know what is going on in someone else’s mind is to utter something that is obviously untrue unless one adopts an unusual meaning for the word “know.” It might be said that one who makes a statement of this kind is uttering nonsense. Suppose that a philosopher asks whether two plus three can ever equal six? Again, the question becomes nonsense unless one adopts...
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