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Different ways of seeing: the language games of mothering

By Elizabeth Gay Mitchell


My thesis is original in placing together Wittgenstein's ideas of how language works, and arguments for the philosophical significance of the embodied and relational figure of the mother. I both use and resist a Wittgensteinian therapy to overcome the problem of the forgetting of the mother in philosophy. \ud I begin with the problem of essentialism, important to Wittgenstein and to feminist philosophy. My reading of Wittgenstein finds an ignored lacuna between language and (female) experience. I add in to the debate the type specimen approach from botany. Adopting this approach enables me to avoid a classification which requires a true inner essence to mothering, and provides a way for me to denote the significant place of the language games of mothering in language games about women. \ud I argue for a different symbol of the mother. I agree with Wittgenstein's account of language, but add to it. I show the importance of Wittgenstein's insight that although meaning is not fixed independently of use, use does not fix meaning in that I create new meanings for the figure of the mother. I argue, through an exploration of Wittgenstein's concept of `├╝bersichtlichen Darstellung ; that Wittgenstein can help us to see the phenomena of our life differently, in a way that makes space for understanding female difference. His concept of a form of life provides such openings. \ud As the Wittgensteinian agent seems distinctly un-female, I bring in the philosophy of Kierkegaard in my argument for a different relational self as mother. I argue for a Kierkegaardian flexible maternal self with mobile edges. I insert the language games of the mother into Kierkegaard's writing on women. My aim is a more adequate representation of a (true) reality.\ud I use the work of John Wisdom to make a bridge between Wittgenstein and the narrative form, which I use throughout. Wisdom's strategy is to engage in unconventional reflection in looking for new ways of telling philosophical stories, and in finding new patterns of meaning in the familiar. I claim that the narrative form enables me to express the shifting essence of the mother and the diversity of mothers; and to acknowledge the silences which are part of the mother's story.\ud My aim in this thesis is creative. I use Wittgenstein to create a new kind of relation to philosophy. I do not offer a correct reading of Wittgenstein or Kierkegaard. Instead, aided by the insights provided by feminist philosophy, I write in the language games of the mother to their ideas. Thus, I bring into existence through utterance a different, feminist philosophical symbol of the mother

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