Giving Hostages to Irrationality? Winch on the Philosopher as Judge of Human Thought

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Lars Hertzberg


Peter Winch, following Wittgenstein, was critical of the notion that philosophy could pass judgment on matters like the sense of words, the rationality of actions, or the validity of arguments. His critique had both what we might call a local strand – the insight that criteria of thought and action are not universal but vary between cultures and between practices – and a personal strand – the insight that those local criteria are ultimately given shape through the particular applications made of them by individuals. These strands are prominent, for instance, in Winch’s discussion of cross-cultural understanding as well as his treatment of the distinction between valid reasoning and illicit persuasion.

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