Key Research Interests and Expertise

Philosophical methodology, the philosophy of logic and language, moral philosophy, and the history of analytic philosophy, especially Wittgenstein.


A key research interest for me is questions relating to the nature of philosophy. That is, how to understand the status or role of philosophical statements and what the most fruitful way to approach philosophical questions would be? I’ve pursued these issues, for example, in the context of my work on Wittgenstein whom I take to identify in philosophy a certain kind of problematic ascetic tendency connected with how philosophers understand the role of philosophical statements. I interpret Wittgenstein’s later conception of the status of philosophical statements as a response to this problem, and it arguably leads to an increase in the flexibility of philosophical thought, without a loss in its rigour. I’ve discussed related matters also in connection with Kant and transcendental arguments. Similarly, my interest in Heidegger has to do with him paying a great deal of attention to questions about the nature of philosophy.
Another interest is the nature of morality and moral deliberation. In the context of my work on these issues I’m trying to make use of certain methodological ides of Wittgenstein’s, and not simply to develop yet another theory of moral thinking. Partly my research on these issues is motivated by what appears to be philosophy’s almost total irrelevance when it comes to addressing actual moral questions. It seems that pretty much the last thing people consult when trying to deal with moral issues in their life is a philosophy book – which suggests that somehow philosophy doesn’t strike people as practically relevant. But surely this isn’t how things were originally thought to be by philosophers or how things should be. So, rethinking seems required.
Relating to questions about the nature of philosophical statements various issues relating to modal notions arise. They constitute a further focus of research interest for me, though I haven’t yet published anything on this beyond the context of my work on Wittgenstein.

Research foci:

1) Wittgenstein

My entry point to Wittgenstein’s philosophy is his conception and methods of philosophy, and my research comprises both his early and later work. A central question here is what Wittgenstein means by not having theses or theories in philosophy, for example: what distinguishes his so-called grammatical statements from philosophical theses about necessities pertaining to language use? I seek to explicate the later Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophical statements by reference to his notion of an object of comparison which I take to be designed to keep distinct the often assimilated notions of generality and necessity. This assimilation gives rise to the problem of dogmatism in philosophy which I understand the later Wittgenstein as responding to. But his conception of philosophical statements has other far reaching consequences too, such as the dissolution of philosophical hierarchies of more and less fundamental concepts. Applied in the context of the interpretation of Wittgenstein’s remarks on meaning and language these methodological ideas explain, for example, why it is not correct to interpret his conception of meaning as use and his rule-following considerations as constituting a foundation of his philosophy.

2) Ethics and philosophy’s practical relevance

In my work in ethics I’ve been developing a particular conception of moral judgments and moral evaluation which is intended to solve a number of meta-ethical problems relating to the nature of moral thinking. (Not that morality and moral deliberation would be exhausted by judgment making.) This conception of moral evaluation – according to which we determine the moral value of, for instance, an action by establishing what kind of an action someone’s doing such and such in certain circumstance constitutes, and what concepts would be appropriately applied to the action to describe it – is also intended to form the basis for an alternative to the prevailing, theory-based way of understanding philosophy’s practical role and relevance. The hope or hypothesis is that in this way we would be able to do better justice to the actual complexity of moral thinking and the life it concerns. Accordingly, this approach might help to resolve problems relating to the apparent practical irrelevance of philosophy, which seem to arise from certain simplistic tendencies of philosophical thinking dressed up in the gown of methodological rigour.

3) Philosophical methodology and the philosophy of logic

Questions about philosophical methodology, when pursued in the context of analytical philosophy, lead to questions about the nature of logic as a tool of philosophy. Were one to accept a conception of philosophy as some kind of a conceptual or logical investigation – in the wake of Russell, Wittgenstein and Carnap or along the lines of the so-called ordinary language philosophy – what exactly would that commit one to? And would it really be possible to find a way out of philosophy’s eternal disputes and a path to progress by employing such methods, as the just mentioned philosophers thought? These are some questions I pursue in my recent research both from a historical and systematic angle, arguing that – unbelievable as it may seem – it may indeed be possible to overcome philosophical disagreements, if we understand the status of philosophical statements in a particular way, distinct from true/false factual statements. This can also help us to understand the plurality of philosophical positions and methods, without any kind of relativistic implications regarding truth.

4) The foundations of cognitive science

A research project that is dormant at the moment but which I plan to take up again in the future concerns the foundations of cognitive science. Here one aspiration is to show that the dispute between the so-called folk psychologists, eliminativists, and so on, about the foundation of this discipline is based on certain shared problematic assumptions relating to psychological concepts such as belief and the notion of a mental state or process. By questioning these assumptions I hope to contribute to the articulation of an alternative way of understanding the foundations of this discipline, i.e. the science of the mind.

I am a founding member of the Nordic Network for Wittgenstein Research.

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