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Wittgenstein’s neurophenomenology
  1. J Cole
  1. Correspondence to:
 J Cole
 Clinical Neurophysiology, Poole Hospital, Longfleet Road, Poole, BH15 2JB, UK; jonathan{at}


Wittgenstein, despite being considered an analytical philosopher, has been quoted extensively by neurologists like Oliver Sacks. This paper explores how Wittgenstein, despite suggesting that science was antithetical to philosophy, made observations relevant to cognitive neuroscience.

His work on the inner and the outer, the relation between language and sensation or perception, and on the embodied nature of emotion and its communication, is important for an understanding of neurological impairment beyond our experience. In some of his enigmatic short writing his insights are pertinent to patients’ experience, say of pain, Capgras’ Syndrome and spinal cord injury. He also made observations on movement sense, will and action.

He did not engage in empirical science, nor obtain data in any conventional sense. But his genius was not confined to abstract philosophy. His powers of observation and introspection led him to explore lived experience in new ways, some of which are only now being approached empirically. The method of science, he once wrote, leads philosophy into complete darkness. Had he lived today, one hopes that even he might have changed his mind.

  • Wittgenstein
  • philosophy
  • phenomenology
  • neurology
  • cognitive neuroscience

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  • i I take this to mean that the job of a philosopher is to find the truth in statements and to clarify, just like a doctor’s job is to diagnose illness and treat.

  • ii In the classic James–Lange theories of embodied emotions, I feel happy because I smile rather than the reverse.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

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