Wittgensteinian Method of Language-games and the Bystander Effect

  • Lumberto G. Mendoza University of the Philippines Diliman


The paper is a conceptual inquiry on the later Wittgenstein’s approach to ethics through an account of how the method of language-games applies to research on the bystander effect. Using the Kitty Genovese murder and the Wang Yue hit-and-run as sample cases, I cite findings on how the bystander effect involves confusion on action due to the ambiguity of the situation. I argue that the presence of this ambiguity is consistent with Wittgenstein’s view on the indeterminacy of language and that the method of language-games offers a solution via an approach of engaged reflection rather than abstract deliberation. The method of language-games deters the bystander effect by establishing a sensitivity that puts us in a better position to clarify and take the perspective of others. Emphasis on acquiring this sensitivity is significantly similar to how closeness and social learning facilitate social courage. I conclude by explaining how the method of language-games leads to a critical conception of agency that is fundamentally connected to a sense of the other and how closeness and social learning serve as concrete illustrations of how Wittgenstein’s method of language-games becomes applicable in practical ethics.

Author Biography

Lumberto G. Mendoza, University of the Philippines Diliman
Lumberto G. Mendoza teaches in the Department of Philosophy in UP Diliman, where he also earned his BA and MA in Philosophy. He teaches introductory courses on philosophy, logic, and ethics, and his main area of research is Wittgensteinian ethics.


Wittgensteinian ethics, method of language-games, bystander effect, social inhibition, plurality of ignorance, diffusion of responsibility, social courage