The grammar of subjecthood: Wittgenstein, deconstruction and Dennett's intentional stance

Wendy Lynne Lee-Lampshire, Marquette University


The problem that this essay will address is that of devising a viable use for psychological and intentional terms, in short, discourse concerning what-it-is-to-be-a-subject or "subjecthood" in light of, first, Derrida's deconstruction of the transcendental subject and, second, the materialist claim that recent advances in science effectively antiquate any viable role in empirical psychology for the use of terms traditionally associated with mind. I will argue that Wittgenstein's remarks concerning, among other things, the use of psychological terms, private mental objects and the application of psychological terms to non-humans not only provides a clear and important connection between Derrida and contemporary materialism but that, supplemented by Daniel Dennett's intentional stance, offers an alternative model for the use of such terms in empirical psychological investigation. I will call this model a 'grammar of subjecthood'. Central to my argument is the claim that, as opposed to being conceived as names for mental objects or states, psychological terms are best understood as descriptive metaphors for the relationship between an organism and its bio/socio/historical context. That is, the Wittgensteinian notion of subjecthood describes a heuristic that, applied to behavior, provides information to empirical psychologists unavailable on a materialist model of explanation. A grammar of subjecthood, then, is both openly anthropomorphic, yet consistently naturalist, enlisting Dennett's intentional stance as an expansion of Wittgenstein's basic strategy. The success of such a strategy cannot be measured by showing in what way human beings are to be essentially distinguished from other organisms, but by how much more sense can be made out of something's behavior by speaking of it in terms of, for example, beliefs and intentions. Anything could be treated as a subject; the issue here is to what it is useful to apply such attributes.

Recommended Citation

Lee-Lampshire, Wendy Lynne, "The grammar of subjecthood: Wittgenstein, deconstruction and Dennett's intentional stance" (1992). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9227126.