Wittgenstein's Critique of Freud and the Confusion between Reasons and Causes

In some of his later writings and lectures Ludwig Wittgenstein makes several critiques of Freud and his theories.  These critiques are mainly concerned with conceptual confusions in psychoanalysis.  For Freud, the purpose of psychoanalysis is finding out the unconscious causes of certain neuroses in his patients.  In other words, Freud makes causal claims in order to reach a solution to his patient's problems.  Wittgenstein used psychoanalysis as an example of problems concerning a broader discussion of philosophy, such as the difference between reasons and causes, aesthetic explanations and causal explanations, and the nature of language (Bouveresse,1995: 1)This is not to say that Wittgenstein did not appreciate the works of Freud, but rather that he finds problems with the "grammar" that Freud uses to make claims about the unconscious and psychoanalysis. Wittgenstein criticizes Freud for making these scientific causal claims within psychoanalysis.  He believes what Freud considers to be scientific is merely "speculation" (Bouveresse, 1995: 4). For Wittgenstein, Freud has discovered the reasons for certain neurosis, but he cannot claim to have found a cause.  With psychoanalysis, Freud claims that he can discover the unconscious feelings present in an individual that cause certain physical states.  Freud also claims that once he has discovered these causes, he can bring these feelings to the surface, trace them back to their historical origins, show how they have changed with time, and tell the individual how to deal with these problems.  Wittgenstein believes that this method is useful in helping people, however he also believes that Freud has labeled the connections causal when they are, in fact reasons.  The key to Wittgenstein's critique is the distinction that he makes between reasons and causes.  For Wittgenstein, causal claims are hypotheses that are confirmed or denied through a number of agreeing scientific experiments.  Reasons are characterized by their ability to be recognized by the agent as the actual reason for the action.  In response to Wittgenstein's criticisms, Donald Davidson's account of reasons and causes is useful. In his essay Actions, Reasons, and Causes, Davidson defends the idea that some explanations of reasons must also be causall.  In this essay, I will discuss Freud's theory of the psyche and psychoanalysis.  I will then present Wittgenstein's criticisms of Freud.  In response to these criticisms, I will present Davidson's arguments.  Finally, I will argue that, reguardless of how successful Freud’s methods may be, he has not found a cause for his patients problems, but he has found a reason. 

           I.                Freud's General Theory of the Unconscious

In order to understand Wittgenstein's criticisms, it is important to understand Freudian thought and psychoanalysis. It is helpful here to use Henery Gleitman’s textbook examples in order to explain.  The basic principles of Freudian psychoanalytic thought are considered Hobbesian in some respects.  Hobbes thought that human beings, at base level, were "savage brutes" and if their natural instincts were left untouched, they would naturally "murder, rape and pillage" (Glietman, 1999: 714).  According to Hobbes, these natural instincts are suppressed in the distant past by human being's subordination to a greater social structure, such as the state.  Freud also believed that human's basic instincts were raw, pleasure-seeking, and blind to the consequences of instant gratification.  For Freud however, these instincts were not curbed by one event in the distant past.  Freud believed that the obstruction of these natural instincts occurred in every lifetime and "the social contract is renewed in the childhood of every generation" (Glietman, 1999: 714).  Freud and Hobbes also differ in the way in which they believe the baser instincts to be suppressed.  Freud believes that the first constrains on this basic behavior come from fear of direct social consequences, like physical punishment.  This  view is somewhat similar to Hobbes, but Freud asserts that eventually children begin to recognize their wrong doings as bad and they abandon them for this reason rather than simply out of fear (Gleitman, 1999: 714). 

            What psychoanalysis studies is the suppression of these basic instincts.  This suppression, for Freud, is constant and ongoing.  According to Freud, the prohibited impulses can never be entirely put out of existence.  They may be hidden or denied for lengths of time, but eventually they reassert themselves in different ways.  For Freud, this suppression results in "constant conflict between the demands of instinct and the demands of society" (Gleitman, 1999: 715).  Now, the unconscious comes into play.  This conflict takes place within the human being's unconscious, most of the time, without them knowing.  Because the inner conflict is unknown, it expresses itself in "thoughts and deeds that appear irrational" (Gleitman, 1999: 715). 

            When Freud began to practice medicine, he found that many of his patients suffered from a disorder that he called hysteria.  The manifestation of hysteria included an array of different mental and physical symptoms such as convulsions, constant shaking, partial blindness and deafness, and paralysis of parts of the body (Gleitman, 1999: 715).  Patients with hysteria had no other problems that could explain these symptoms.  They were not insane, and they did not need to be put in hospitals.  This phenomena led Freud to believe that these symptoms were psychogenic, "the result of some unknown psychological cause rather than the product of organic damage to the nervous system" (Gleitman, 1999: 715).  Freud came to this conclusion due to a specific symptom that he called glove anesthesia.  In this case, patients suffered from anesthesia in the hand, but they still maintained perfect sensation in the connecting wrist.  This evidence suggested that the symptoms had a psychological basis (Gleitman, 1999: 715).  From here, Freud concluded that symptoms of hysteria were disguised methods of repressing "certain emotionally charged memories" (Gleitman, 1999: 715). 

            To help his patients uncover these "hidden memories," Freud and his colleague first tried hypnosis.  This method did not prove to be completely successful because some patients were not easily hypnotized (Gleitman, 1999: 715).  Their next method of uncovering these memories was called free association.  Freud would ask the patient to say anything that came to her mind, no matter how embarrassed she may feel or how meaningless she thought it was.  He believed that "all ideas were linked by association" and through free association, "forgotten" memories would be evoked (Gleitman, 1999: 715).  This method also seemed to have its difficulties in the beginning.  Patients were not fully cooperating with Freud's wishes.  They displayed a resistance that they were often unaware of (Gleitman, 1999: 716).  For Freud, this resistance proved to be very helpful in the recovery of these repressed, emotionally charged memories.  He found that when patients would struggle with changing the topic or struggle with focusing on a certain train of thought, it was usually an indication that they were close to recovering a memory (Gleitman, 1999: 716).  "Freud concluded that the resistance was the overt manifestation of some powerful force that opposed the bringing of the critical memories into consciousness (Gleitman, 1999: 716).  He believed that these memories were never eliminated from the unconscious and that they struggled to reemerge.  This struggle created anxiety in the individual, which encouraged them the push these memories further out of consciousness.  The product was a constant, never-ending conflict in the unconscious.  With psychoanalysis, Freud's task is to analyze these conflicts within the unconscious, discover their origins, discover their present effects, and discover how to alleviate the conflict (Gleitman, 1999: 716).

            Psychoanalysis makes two basic assumptions about what we know of our psyche.  The first is that we know the bodily organ of our psychee.  We know about our brain and the nervous system.  The second is that we know our acts of consciousness (Freud, 1949:1-2).  All that lies between, including any direct relation between the two, is unknown to us.  Because this kind of relation is unknown, the conflicts that Freud sought to alleviate were much harder to discern than the conflicts that we witness everyday.  The conflictts exists in the unconscious and it is unclear which forces are at battle with one another.  This  unclearity provided Freud with a new task.  In order to identify the participants in the inner conflict, Freud devised a classification of "conflicting tendencies within the individual" (Gleitman, 1999: 717). 

            Freud calls the first part of psyche the id.  Freud says:

It contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, that is laid down in the constitution—above all, therefore, the instincts, which originate from the somatic organization and which find a first psychical expression here in forms unknown to us. (Freud, 1949: 2)

The id is the most basic part of the psyche and its urges are very primitive.  It is made up of all the basic biological urges such as hunger, thirst, and sex.  The id blindly seeks pleasure regardless of the circumstance or the consequences, and it operates on the pleasure principle, which means that it seeks instant gratification (Gleitman, 1999: 717).  It also does not have the ability to "…distinguish between self and world, fantasy and reality, wishing and having" (Gleitman, 1999: 717).

            The next portion of the psyche can be considered the middleman between the id and the external world and is called the ego.  When a person is born, she is only id, but soon reality must come into play and gratification is not always instant.  The meeting of "hot desires" and "cold reality" leads to a new set of reactions (Gleitman, 1999: 717).  These reactions are supposed to reconcile the desires and reality.  For example, a baby desires food after it is born.  It is instantly given food.  As time passes, the baby realizes that it is hungry and not instantly being fed.  In order to receive food when it is desired, the baby must react somehow, by crying.  "These various reactions become organized into a new subsystem of the personality," which is the ego (Gleitman, 1999: 717).  The ego is developed from the id and it seeks to satisfy the id, but the ego does so in a practical manner.  Freud says that the ego "performs task[s] by gaining control over the demands of the instincts" (Freud, 1949: 3).  It decides whether or not satisfaction is appropriate and when it is favorable with the outside world.  Eventually the ego is capable of looking at itself and deserves the name "self" (Gleitman, 1999: 718).

            The third portion of the psyche can be seen as another guiding force for the ego and is called the super-ego.  The super-ego develops with maturity and its relation to the ego can be traced back to the attitude of the person's parents.  Freud says:

This parental influence of course includes in its operation not only the personalities of the actual parents but also the family, racial and national traditions handed on through them, as well as the demands of the immediate social milieu which they represent. (Freud, 1949: 3)

The super-ego has the job of deeming the person's actions good or bad.  This newly developed, second master of the ego comes about because the child starts to think and act like the parent or person that has given them love and praise.  If one of the super-ego's rules is broken, it punishes just as a parent would (Gleitman, 1999: 718).  Since the super-ego is developed within the first three years of the child's life, they still do not have formal operations.  At this young age children can only see black and white and right and wrong.  All of the rules issued by the super-ego, therefore, are absolute imparities.  Hence, the super-ego is essentially irrational.

            Freud's division of the psyche illustrates how he believes that our thoughts and actions are determined.  It is the interplay of the three forces and experiences in childhood that shapes the inner conflict.  The conflict occurs without the individual's awareness (Gleitman, 1999: 718).  It begins when the urges of the id are "pushed out of consciousness" (Gleitman, 1999: 718).  These urges refuse to be repressed and therefore they find outlets, which produce additional, undesired defenses.                     

                                                            i.  Examples of the causal claims involved

In his work An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud sets out to explain how a patient's neuroses come about and how psychoanalysis can help the patient to deal with these neuroses.  He also lays out the technique of psychoanalysis and explains exactly what he believes to be happening during the process.  As mentioned earlier, the id, the ego, and the super-ego have conflicting interests.  Freud says:

We may suspect that, in the economic conflicts which arise at this point, the id and the super-ego often make common cause against the hard-pressed ego which tries to cling to reality in order to retain its normal state.  If the other two become too strong, they succeed in loosening and altering the ego's organization, so that its proper relation to reality is disturbed or even brought to an end. (Freud, 1969: 30)

This manifests itself in psychosis and neuroses, such as dreams, uncontrollable twitching, mental stress, etc.  Furthermore, Freud says that "neuroses have specific characteristics, they are miseries of a certain kind.  So we must after all expect to find particular causes for them" (Freud, 1969: 41).  Upon discovering this problem, the analyst must go to the aid of the ego as an outside source.  Freud describes the process as follows:

The analytic physician and the patient's weakened ego, basing themselves on the real external world, have to band themselves together into a party against the enemies, the instinctual demands of the id and the conscientious demands of the super-ego. (Freud, 1969: 30)

With the patient in an unconscious or hypnotic state, the analyst hopes to bring the inner conflict, determining the cause of the neurosis, and thus the cure.

            In one of Freud's most famous works Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, he displays the practical implication of psychoanalysis and dream interpretation.  In this work, Freud presents fragments of the case study of a teenage girl that he calls Dora.  This study vividly exhibits Freud's methods of interpretation and his tendency to make causal connections between motives in the unconscious and physical symptoms.  For example, Dora suffered from dyspnoea or violent choking.  Freud finds, through his analysis, that her father's close friend, Herr K., has made several sexual advances toward her.  From this evidence, Freud concludes that Dora's choking is caused by the displaced disgust that she feels for Herr K.  Freud also claims that Dora's hysteria was caused by her repression of sexual desires. 

            The Dora case was instrumental to the career of Freud because he realized the strengths and weaknesses of his method.  He was not, however, correct about many of his interpretations.  He did not evaluate Dora within the social, economic, and historical context that she lived.  He was also uncharitable to her accounts of dreams.  Nevertheless, this is a perfect example of the way in which Freud causally connected the factors of the unconscious to symptoms of hysteria.  Freud posited his own interpretation of the accounts given to him by Dora.  From this he formulated his own theory (usually involving sex) of how factors in Dora's live caused her symptoms of hysteria.  

             II.               Wittgenstein

When looking at Wittgenstein's first published work the Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus in relation to Wittgenstein's next work Philosophical Investigations, it seems like more of an exercise.  I say that the Tractatus was an exercise because upon completing it, Wittgenstein realized that his system did not show how language is being used in everyday life.  He constructed the picture theory of meaning and it claimed that propositions are a form of picture of the world. These propositions are made up of names placed in determinate relation to one another.  Propositions represent a possible state of affairs as long as the names in the proposition stand for objects and the relationship of the names in the proposition represent a possible arrangement of the objects for which the names stand.  His system however, did not offer an explanation of how our everyday language functions.

With the publication of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein moved away from this strict system of language and introduced the concept of "language games" to show how language functions in the active practical lives of people.  In section 7 of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein introduces language games.  He explains them as follows:

In the practice of the use of language one party calls out the words, the other acts on them.  In instruction in the language the following process will occur: the learner names the objects; that is, he utters the word when the teacher points to the stone. —And there will be this still simpler exercise: the pupil repeats the words after the teacher --- both of these being processes resembling language. We can also think of the whole process of using words in as one of those games by means of which children learn their native language.  I will call these games "language-games" and will sometimes speak of a primitive language as a language-game.  And the process of naming the stones and of repeating the words after someone might also be called language-games.  Think of much of the use of words in games like ring-a-ring-a- roses.  I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, the "language-game". (Wittgenstein,1953: 5)      

Wittgenstein realized in his strive to strictly explain language and how words represent certain objects, he removed language from the context that we use it everyday.  If language is abstracted from the natural way that it is being used, (for the purpose of analysis and explanation) it looses its ability to represent (McGinn, 1997: 44).  Instead of attempting to set up a theory to explain language, Wittgenstein wants to examine it in its spatial and temporal use (McGinn, 1997: 45).  The meaning of all words are found in how they are being used and words are used in all different ways.

            In order to show what he means by "language-game," Wittgenstein begins the Philosophical Investigations with a quote from AugustineFrom this quote, Wittgenstein hopes to show the reader a particular mistaken picture of language.  This picture is that, "every word has a meaning.  This meaning is correlated with the word.  It is the object for which the word stands" (Wittgenstein, 1953: 1).  The problem with this picture, as Wittgenstein points out, is that it leaves no place for words like "the" and "five."  These words do not have a concrete meaning, but rather their meaning lies in how they are being used.  How these words are being used are their language games.  For example, the language game of reasons is dialogical, whereas the language game of causes is empirical.    

               III.              Wittgenstein's critique of Freud based on the notion that the language game of reasons is different than the language game of causes

Wittgenstein's criticisms are concerned Freud's confusion of the grammar of causes and the grammar of reasons.  In The Blue Book, Wittgenstein explains the difference between reasons and causes.  Wittgenstein says:

Suppose I pointed to a piece of paper and said to someone: "this color I call 'red'".  Afterwards I give him the order: "now paint me a red patch".  I then ask him: "why, in carrying out my order, did you paint just this color?"  His answer could then be: "This color (pointing to the sample which I have given him) was called red; and the patch I have painted has, as you see, the color of the sample".  He has now given me a reason for carrying out the order in the way he did. (Wittgenstein, 1969: 14)

In this example, the person gives their reason for doing the action by "showing a way which lead[s] to this action (Wittgenstein, 1969: 14).  By showing a "way," the person is giving some of the considerations that one would go through when acting. Whereas reasons are known for Wittgenstein, causes can only be conjectured (Bouveresse,1995: 72).  Let us say for example that the end of the chain of reasons has been reached and the question 'why' remains.  The only answers (answers that are not a part of the chain of reasons) that can be given are hypotheses.  Wittgenstein uses the following example:

If, to the question, "why did you paint just this color when I told you to paint a red patch?" you give the answer: "I have been shown a sample of this color and the word 'red' was pronounced to me at the same time; and therefore this color now always comes to my mind when I hear the word 'red'" you have given a cause for your action and not a reason. (Wittgenstein, 1969: 15)

When providing reasons, "no number of agreeing experience in necessary, and the statement of your reason is not a hypothesis" (Wittgenstein, 1969: 15).

            Giving a reason can be done in several different ways.  From the previous example, the man could describe the way he actually came to this specific color (by copying the example) or he could say that he had a "memory image" of the color from a color chart (Wittgenstein, 1969: 14).  Furthermore, if the order in the example could not have been obeyed or understood without "previous teaching," the teaching could be considered the reason for the action.  If the order is understood and obeyed, there is an assumed reason for this (Wittgenstein, 1969: 14).  It is important to keep in mind that when one is giving reasons, he is giving justifications. 

            The language-game of reasons is different from that of causes because the language-game of causes is empirical.  Since a cause is a hypothesis that is confirmed or denied through a number of experiences, the word cause is part of the scientific language-game (in other words, cause is used in the context of science).  In order to illustrate the difference in the grammar of reasons and causes, Wittgenstein uses the following example:

The difference between the grammars of "reason" and "cause" is quite similar to that between the grammars of "motive" and "cause".  Of the cause one can say that one can't know it but can only conjecture it.  On the other hand one often says: "Surely I must know why I did it" talking of the motive. (Wittgenstein, 1969: 15)

Here, the double use of the word "why" leads us to confusion.  When I ask "why," I am asking for justification or a cause (this is assuming that I did not specify if I wanted one or the other).  The question that I am asking depends on whether I want to know what the person knows about herself or what she conjectures about a certain instance.  One readily assumes that they know the motives of their actions.  This is how reasons can be confused with causes (Wittgenstein, 1969: 15).

            Wittgenstein specifically addresses this issue in Wittgenstein Lectures, Cambridge, 1932-1935.  This text comes from the notes of Alice Ambrose and Margaret Macdonald (it is not written by Wittgenstein himself).  In these lectures, Wittgenstein addresses the connection that Freud makes with the nature of a joke and laughing.  Wittgenstein says:

Freud thinks it is part of the essential mechanism of a joke to conceal something, say, a desire to slander someone, and thereby to make it possible for the subconscious to express itself… When we laugh without knowing why, Freud claims that by psychoanalysis we can find out.  I see a muddle here between a cause and a reason.  Being clear why you laugh is not being clear about a cause" (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 39).

The problem here is the hypothetical use of the unconscious (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 39).  If this were a causal connection, then the unconscious would be the hypothesized cause for the laughter.  It would be impossible however, to confirm or deny the hypothesis.  Wittgenstein says:

A cause is found experimentally… The difference between a reason and a cause is brought out as follows: the investigation of a reason entails as an essential part one's own agreement with it, whereas the investigation of a cause is carried out experimentally. (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 39)

In this example, Wittgenstein points out that the language of causes involves experiments and the language of reasons involves agreement.

            Furthermore, Wittgenstein claims that the connection that Freud is making is more of an aesthetic connection and the psychoanalytic investigation is "analogous to an aesthetic investigation" (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 40).  Wittgenstein explains, "For the correctness of an aesthetic analysis must be agreement of the person to whom the analysis is given" (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 40).  With psychoanalysis, the correctness in determined by the same kind of agreementOnce again, we are now back in the language-game of reasons. 

            Freud is operating within the discipline of psychology, but with psychoanalysis, he branches off in a way that cannot be considered scientific.  Wittgenstein says, "What Freud says about the subconscious sounds like a science, but in fact it is just a means of representation" (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 40).  All of the theories that are at the base of psychoanalysis, such as the three different, conflicting parts of the psyche and the subconscious itself have never been proven.  As Wittgenstein puts it, "New regions of the soul have not been discovered, as his [Freud] writings suggest" (Ambrose,ed., Macdonald, 1979: 40). 

                IV.              A Possible Response to Wittgenstein's Argument Using the Argument of Donald Davidson

In 1963, Donald Davidson published his best know essay "Actions, Reasons, and Causes."  In this essay, his argument presents a possible response to Wittgenstein's criticisms of Freud.  Davidson's goal is to "defend the ancient—and common-sense—position that rationalization is a species of ordinary causal explanation" (Davidson, 1997: 27).  For Davidson, a rationalization is an explanation of "the relation between a reason and an action when the reason explains the action by giving the agent's reason for doing what he did" (Davidson, 1997: 27).  A statement of reason cannot be considered a rationalization if it simply states that the action "appealed" to the agent (Davidson, 1997: 27).   Since there is a distinction between different kinds of reasons, Davidson puts forth the following two conditions:

Whenever someone does something for a reason, therefore, he can be characterized as (a) having some sort of pro attitude toward actions of a certain kind, and (b) believing (or knowing, perceiving, noticing, remembering) that his action is of this kind (Davidson, 1997, 27).

The pro attitude that Davidson is talking about here can be "desires, urges, promptings, …moral views, aesthetic principles, economic principles, social conventions, and public and private goals and values…" (Davidson, 1997: 27-28).  This is Davidson's notion of 'primary reason'.  It is Davidson's intention here to "draw attention to the difference between something's being a reason for an action, and something's being the reason why one performs an action" (Evnine, 1991: 44).  A primary reason, therefore, is the union of the pro attitude and the related belief when explaining the action.  For example, let's take the action of me turning on my blinker.  This action can be explained by me having the desire to indicate that I will be turning and the belief that my blinker will indicate that I will be turning (this is my primary reason). 

            Having established his idea of primary reason, Davidson states the following:

1.    For us to understand how a reason of any kind rationalizes an action it is necessary and sufficient that we see, at least in essential outline, how to construct a primary reason.

2.    The primary reason for an action is its cause (Davidson, 1997: 28).

In order for an explanation to be a reason that an action is performed, there must only exist "the relation between propositional attitudes and the description of an action…" (Evnine, 1991: 44).  In other words, a reason is simply the belief and desire pair that rationalizes the action.  This idea shows that there are different kinds of reason statements.  Davidson says:

A person can have a reason for an action, and perform the action, and yet this reason not be the reason why he did it.  Central to the relation between a reason and an action it explains is the idea that the agent performed the action because he had a reason." (Davidson, 1997: 33)

In order, however, for the explanation to be the reason why the agent performed the action, the "condition must hold… that the reason must cause the action" or, there must be an element of intentionally (Evnine, 1991: 44).

            At this point we can begin to apply Davidson's argument to the views of Wittgenstein.  To restate, Wittgenstein's believes that when we describe an action by giving a reason, we are redescribing the action.  In redescribing the action, we put it into a pattern or a context that allows us to understand the action.  Once the action is put into this pattern, it is explained.  We now understand the action in terms of its reason and this is not a causal relation 

            Davidson explains how he takes Wittgenstein's argument as follows; "When we ask why someone acted as he did, we want to be provided with an interpretation" (Davidson, 1997: 33).  For example, when we see someone behaving strange or "out of character," when we are given a reason for their behavior, "we have an interpretation, a new description of what he did which fits into a familiar picture" or familiar context (Davidson, 1997: 33).  The redescription of the action, given by the reason, puts it a context, a context from which we can better understand the action.  Once we learn the reason of an action, we can "grasp the point of the action in its setting of rules, practices, conventions, and expectations" (Davidson, 1997: 33).  Davidson does not deny the fact that "when we explain an action, by giving the reason, we do redescribe the action; redescribing the action gives that action a place and a pattern, and in this way the action is explained" (Davidson, 1997: 33).

            Davidson however, believes that Wittgenstein draws two conclusions from his theory that do not follow.  Of the first conclusion, Davidson says, "We can't infer, from the fact that giving reasons merely redescribes the action and that the causes are separate from effects, that therefore reasons are not causes" (Davidson, 1997: 33).  What this means is that we cannot say that reasons are not causes simply because the grammar of reasons is different than the grammar of causes.  In other words, we cannot rule out the possibility that the relation may be causal simply because of the difference in grammar. 

            Of the second conclusion, Davidson thinks that the Wittgensteinians have made a mistake by thinking that putting an action into a certain pattern rules out it's ability to be causal.  Davidson says, "It is an error to think that, because placing the action in a larger pattern explains it, therefore we now understand the sort of explanation involved" (Davidson, 1997: 33).  For Davidson, it is not enough to simply put the action into a pattern in order to understand it.  You cannot conclude that the relationship is not causal by putting into context.

              V.               A Possible Wittgensteinian Response

Wittgenstein might respond to Davidson by saying that the relation that he says is causal is just a redescription of a reason and therefore, not a cause.  Of reason connections, Davidson thinks that something essential has been left out.  For example, Davidson says:

A person can have a reason for an action, and perform the action, and yet this reason not be the reason why he did it.  Central to the relation between a reason and an action it explains is the idea that the agent performed the action because he had a reason" (Davidson, 1997: 33).

Therefore the reason has to be a cause if it is to be a reason.  Here he is claiming that the because essentially implies a causal relation.  The answer to the question 'why' is an interpretation, but by Davidson does not prove that this interpretation is essentially causal.  He simply states that it is.  Davidson claims that the only explanation of a primary reason has to be a causal explanation.  It is not clear, however, why the explanation has to be causal.  The because in the proposition could be a different way of describing the action and therefore, it could just be a different type of reason. 

            In order to distinguish a reason from the reason without appealing to a cause, all one would have to do is engage in dialog.  Davidson's quest for a cause is simply a quest for deeper meaning.  Wittgenstein suggests that deeper meaning can be reached through dialogue and that you do not necessarily have to have a causal explanation.  If I asked you "why you hung up the phone on me," it would be inappropriate for you to answer me with theories and hypotheses.  I am asking for an explanation of justification.

            Wittgenstein understands the meaning of language by placing it in its everyday use.  Davidson claims that this is not sufficient.  But, as we see, this method is sufficient.  For example, let us say that Sally suddenly decides to terminate a long friendship with Jill.  To understand this, Jill asks the question 'why'.  If Sally were to simply say that she did this because her feelings were hurt, it would not get to the heart of the answer.  Therefore, Jill would ask 'why were your feelings hurt'.  To this question, Sally could answer by saying that her feelings were hurt because Jill had been very rude to her last week.  A pattern is starting to form here.  In this way, Jill can certainly get to the bottom of the question.  If she does not understand Sally's answers, she can simply ask another question until she gains understanding of Sally's actions.  This method of understanding works, in that Jill can eventually gain knowledge of the reason why Sally acted as she did.  This explanation, in no way had to be essentially causal.  Now that this is shown, Davidson's argument seems to be flawed due to the fact that it is possible to explain the because in terms of reasons.    

                VI.              Conclusion

In his argument, Davidson seems to be falling into the same trap that Wittgenstein accuses Freud of.  Freud says that certain behaviors are caused by different factors in the unconscious.  For example, Dora's hysteria was caused by her self-repression of her sexual desires.  This explanation should not be disregarded, but should not be automatically labeled as a cause.  In a way, Wittgenstein's criticisms are simply a demand for Freud to 'call it what it is'.  The relationship between actions and their reasons does not have to be causal for one to understand the connection.  The goal of asking questions is understanding an action or a certain state of affairs.  It is not necessary to have some specific causal connection to understand.  We have language in order to communicate; therefore when it is viewed in the context of its everyday use, it serves it purpose.

Works Cited

Ambrose, Alice and Macdonald, Margaret.  1979.  Wittgenstein’s Lectures, Cambridge, 

1932-1935.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bouveresse, Jacques.  1995.  Wittgenstein Reads Freud; The Myth of the Unconscious

            New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Davidson, Donald.  1997.  Actions, Reasons, and Causes.  In The Philosophy of

            Action.  Oxford University Press.  Alfred R. Mele, ed.  Pp 27-41.

Evnine, Simon.  1991.  Donald Davidson.  Stanford University Press: California.

Freud, Sigmund.  1949.  An Outline of Psycho-Analysis.  New York: W. W. Norton


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