This is an excerpt from a longer paper and I have removed the end in which I suggest that there is something important in Phillips account (as this part does not make much sense without the context of the rest of the paper):
D.Z. Phillips, in Philosophy’s Cool Place, argues that the purely negative account of Wittgenstein’s philosophy is deficient (I will call it ‘cold’ below). Instead, he proposes what he calls ‘contemplative philosophy,’ which he believes is a truly Wittgensteinian conception of philosophy. But, he does not see the negative account as deficient because it fails to advance any positive theses; he is equally opposed to philosophy that seeks to offer substantive solutions to questions in ethics, religion, politics, metaphysics, etc (I will call offering substantive solutions ‘hot’ philosophy- Wittgenstein voices his opposition to this ‘hot’ philosophy in PI 124). Contemplative philosophy somehow sits between these two poles- in a ‘cool’ place. Phillips puts the question that motivates contemplative philosophy as so:
How can philosophy give an account of reality which shows that it is necessary to go beyond simply noting differences between various modes of discourse, without invoking a common measure of ‘the real’ or assuming that all modes of discourse have a common subject, namely, Reality? (Phillips, 1999: 11)
The way in which it does this and sits between the poles of hot and cold is by giving an account of the possibility of discourse as such. This, Philips thinks, is an aspect of Wittgenstein’s philosophy that is disregarded by the cold conception and it is an aspect that ties Wittgenstein’s work with one of the perennial concerns of philosophy (which he thinks is particularly evident in Plato).
According to the cold conception the philosopher is involved in nothing more than perspicuously representing the structure of the relevant language games, and the grammatical differences between them. There is, then, no reason to think that language has a unity as a whole (it is just a collection of independent language-games); the philosopher has no business characterizing that unity. To do so would be to look for the essence of language- which is ruled out by Wittgenstein’s method. If one is confused about the use of a concept and if someone then attempts to clear up that confusion, it will be assumed that one already speaks a language full blown (it is important to note that Wittgenstein has the exact same concern in PI 120). And so, Phillips argues that by refusing to acknowledge that an attempt to characterize the unity or generality of language is intelligible, supporters of the cold conception of philosophy are in fact “occluding a precondition of their own enterprise” (Mulhall, 2007: 17). That is, the unity of language is a precondition of speaking at all. In trying to clear up a confusion about the possibility of discourse there is no way to perspicuously represent language as a whole, additionally, it seems senseless to talk about language as a whole as confused (Phillips 49).
So, Phillips thinks then that there is a positive task for philosophy, namely, contemplating the possibility and reality of discourse. Although contemplative philosophy does not offer any new knowledge of reality, it offers nonetheless some kind of new positive understanding of it. In Philosophy’s Cool Place, unfortunately, it is very hard to see what Phillips’ means by this. As Stephen Mulhall writes, “the most frustrating aspect of this book is that Phillips gives little positive substance to his idea of reality of discourse” and Timo Koistinen shares this sentiment (qtd. in Koistinen 2011: 345). The cold/therapeutic conception of philosophy would see Phillips’ question about the possibility of discourse as one about the concepts ‘language,’ ‘speaking,’ and ‘saying something.’ So, to clarify the concept of language we would simply give perspicuous representation of the way the word ‘language’ is used. Now, here Philips thinks we are presupposing our ability to speak and our ability to use words to say something and yet denying the unity of our discourse which allows us to do these things. However, there is no paradox here; as Wittgenstein writes
One might think: If philosophy speaks of the word ‘philosophy,’ there must be a second-order philosophy. But that’s not the way it is; it is, rather, like the case of orthography, which deals with the word ‘orthography’ among others without then being second-order. (PI 121)
In raising the question ‘how is discourse possible?’ in the first place one assumes one’s mastery of discourse- the very same presupposition informs this question (Mulhall 19). If everyday language is a suitable medium to frame the question about the possibility of discourse and if the our ordinary words ‘language’, ‘speaking’, and ‘discourse’ refer to the phenomena which interests us then why is it not an suitable medium to answer it in? And why is it not suitable to do so by clarifying the grammar of those ordinary words? As Phillips (2004, 44) says about contemplating colour judgements: philosophy’s concern with such thing “is a concern with the sense of those judgements, which includes, of course, the way in which distinctions between truth and falsity are drawn.” To my ears, this sounds exactly like what a grammatical investigation involves. So, is Phillips doing anything different when he discusses the dialogic relations between various language games and broader linguistic practices? Is he not just perspicuously representing aspects, hidden from us by their familiarity, of the grammar of ‘language’? That is, he is looking at the way the concept ‘language’ works in our lives and bringing out an aspect of it that emphasizes the immense interrelatedness of types of discourse.
So, Phillips may have identified a dimension of Wittgenstein that is concerned with perennial philosophical problems that have been around since Plato (i.e. the possibility of discourse), but it seems he has not made a convincing case that its further investigation involves transcending the project of perspicuously representing the grammar of our ordinary words. He has not given a clear account of Wittgenstein’s aim in philosophy beyond the purely negative.