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Open Access Publications from the University of California


  • Author(s): Sorrell, Brian
  • Advisor(s): Wright, Larry
  • et al.

In this dissertation, I describe and develop an investigative method inspired by Wittgenstein's works. Wittgenstein employs a "method of examples"; he makes philosophical points by demonstrating how philosophical puzzles arise from our normal uses of so-called ordinary language. His examples are usually simple ones: builders issue commands, people compare shades of colors, objects are given names, etc. Whereas many philosophers investigate abstract problems and puzzles through analysis of exotic counter-examples, Wittgenstein employs tangible cases in order to examine how problems arise in the first place. In the broadest of terms, this is his philosophical problem-solving method. Similarly, rather than treat a general, abstract problem from the start, I address questions that arise from real world situations. I show how understanding larger philosophical problems as collections of simple questions helps to contextualize and consequently better address and understand a more complex problem at hand.

The text itself demonstrates the method, and in this sense, is an argument in favor of using it on appropriate investigative occasions. Its unconventional structure demonstrates a way that seems useful to me for developing our understanding of philosophical problems. The book introduces certain key ideas in the first half, gradually using certain words in a more and more regimented fashion. Then, in the second half, I make use of these preliminary discussions in order to talk about the same ideas more technically. Throughout, my aim is to keep my philosophical motivations on the text's surface; keeping in mind how philosophical problems arise is one way to do this, and I keep such things in mind by exercising familiar examples throughout the text. By doing this, I am able to examine insights into some subtle issues in philosophy of language and philosophy of mind, such as meaning, intention, and thinking.

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