Philosophical Investigations

Philosophical Investigations

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Title:Philosophical Investigations
Author:Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Edition Language:English

Philosophical Investigations Reviews

  • Rob

    o my crap, what a tortured soul Ludwig Wittgenstein was. this guy stared into the impenetrable pitch blackness that was the tangled midnight jungle of his own inner existence, sharpened his machete, and plunged in, hacking and flailing and lunging wildly. he wrestles chiefly with the concepts of language, meaning, understanding, and states of consciousness.

    part I consists of 693 short numbered sections (about 4 to a page). this was sent to the publisher but pulled back at the last second five y

    o my crap, what a tortured soul Ludwig Wittgenstein was. this guy stared into the impenetrable pitch blackness that was the tangled midnight jungle of his own inner existence, sharpened his machete, and plunged in, hacking and flailing and lunging wildly. he wrestles chiefly with the concepts of language, meaning, understanding, and states of consciousness.

    part I consists of 693 short numbered sections (about 4 to a page). this was sent to the publisher but pulled back at the last second five years before LW died. after he died, his further writings were scraped together and comprise part II, loosely divided into 13 short sections plus 1 long one. there is no steady development, but sometimes long chains of remarks on one topic, sometimes sudden changes of topic. he often puts statements or questions in quotation marks, as though thrown at him by someone playing devil's advocate. it is all extremely personal, written very much in the first person.

    the first half of this book is soooooo much better than the second half. i looked in my notebook and found that i jotted 111 notes from the first 120 pages, and only 34 from the last 110 pages. by the end, i was quite happy for it to be over. so maybe it doesn't deserve 5 stars. but some of it is quite amazing. he concludes the introduction:

    "It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another -- but of course, it is not likely.

    I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.

    I should have liked to produce a good book. This has not come about, but the time is past in which I could improve it."

    just for that, he gets 5 stars from me.

  • Roy Lotz

    If you read first Wittgenstein’s

    , and then follow it with his

    , you will treat yourself to perhaps the most fascinating intellectual development in the history of philosophy. Wittgenstein has the distinct merit of producing, not one, but two enormously influential systems of philosophy—systems, moreover, that are at loggerheads with one another.

    In fact, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to tackle this work without first reading the

    , as the

    is essentially one long refutation and cri

    If you read first Wittgenstein’s

    , and then follow it with his

    , you will treat yourself to perhaps the most fascinating intellectual development in the history of philosophy. Wittgenstein has the distinct merit of producing, not one, but two enormously influential systems of philosophy—systems, moreover, that are at loggerheads with one another.

    In fact, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to tackle this work without first reading the

    , as the

    is essentially one long refutation and critique of his earlier, more conventional, views. But because I wish to give a short summary of some of Wittgenstein’s later views here, I will first give a little précise of the earlier work.

    In the

    , Wittgenstein argues that language has one primary function: to state facts. Language is a logical picture of the world. A given proposition mirrors a given state of affairs. This leads Wittgenstein to regard a great many types of utterances as strictly nonsense. For example, since ethics is not any given state of affairs, language couldn’t possible picture it; therefore, all propositions in the form of “action X is morally good” are nonsense.

    Wittgenstein honestly believed that this solved all the problems of philosophy. Long-standing problems about causation, truth, the mind, goodness, beauty, etc., were all attempts to use language to picture something which it could not—because beauty, truth, etc., are not states of affairs. Philosophers only need stop the attempt to transcend the limits of language, and the problems would disappear. In his words: “The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem.”

    After publishing this work and taking leave of professional philosophy (as he thought it had been dealt with) Wittgenstein began to have some doubts. Certain everyday uses of language seemed hard to account for if you regarded language as purely a truth-stating tool. These doubts eventually culminated in a return to Cambridge, and to philosophy. His posthumously published

    represents the fullest expression of his later views.

    So what are these views? Well, first let us compare the styles of the two works. The writing in both the

    and the

    is extraordinary. Wittgenstein is one of the very finest writers of philosophy, in a league with Nietzsche and Plato. He uses almost no technical terms, and very simple sentence-structures; yet his phrases can stick in the mind for months, years, after first reading them. Just the other day, I was having a conversation with my German tutor about learning a foreign language. To something I said, she responded, “

    ” (“The limits of my language are the limits of my world”—a quote from the

    )

    Although the writing in both works is equally compelling, the structures are quite different. In the

    , Wittgenstein’s argument is unified, complete; he even numbers his sentences as primary, secondary, and tertiary in terms of their importance to the argument. In that work, we can clearly see the influence of Bertrand Russell’s logicism: language is reduced to logical propositions, and the argument is organized along logical grounds.

    The reader of the

    will encounter something quite different. Wittgenstein writes in similarly terse aphorisms; he even retains a numbering-system for his points—each individual point getting its own numbered paragraph. The numbering of these paragraphs, however, is cumulative, and does not express anything about their significance to his larger design. It is almost as if Wittgenstein wrote down his thoughts on numbered flash cards, and simply constructed the book by moving the flash cards around. Unlike the

    , which resolves itself into a unified whole, the

    is fragmentary.

    I begin with style because the contrast in writing is a clue to the differences in thought between the earlier and later works. Unlike the

    , the

    is rather a collection of observations and ideas. The spirit of Wittgenstein’s later enterprise is anti-systematic, rather than systematic. Wittgenstein aims not at erecting a whole edifice of thought, but at destroying other edifices. Thus, the text jumps from topic to topic, without any explicit connections or transitions, now attacking one common philosophical idea, now another. The experience can often be exasperating, since Wittgenstein is being intentionally oblique rather than direct. In the words of John Searle, reading the

    is “like getting a kit for a model airplane without any explanation for how to put it together.”

    Let me attempt to put some of these pieces together—at least the pieces that were especially useful to me.

    Wittgenstein replaces his old picture metaphor with a new tool metaphor. Instead of a word being meaningful because it pictures a fact, the meaning of a word is—at least most of the time—synonymous with the social use of that word. For example, the word “pizza” does not mean pizza because it names the food; rather, it means pizza because you can use the word to order the food at a restaurant. So instead of the reference to a type of object being primary, the social use is primary.

    This example reveals a general quality of Wittgenstein’s later thought: the replacement of the objective/subjective dichotomy with the notion of public, social behavior.

    Philosophers have traditionally posited theories of meaning that are either internal or external. For example, pizza can mean the particular food either because the word points to the food, or because the word points to our idea, or sensation, of the food. Either language is reporting objective states of affairs, or subjective internal experiences.

    Wittgenstein destroys the external argument with a very simple observation. Take the word “game." If the external theory of meaning is correct, the word game must mean what it does because it points to something essential about games. But what is the essential quality that makes games games? Is there any? Some games are not social (think of solitaire), some games are not trivial (think of the Olympic Games), some games are not consequence-free (think of compulsive gambling), and some games

    social, trivial, and consequence-free. Is a game something that you play? But you also play records and trombones. So what is the essential, single quality of “game” that our word refers to?

    Wittgenstein says there isn’t any. Rather, the word “game” takes on different meanings in different social contexts, or modes of discourse. Wittgenstein calls these different modes of discourse “language games.” Some examples of language games are that of mimicking, of joking, of mourning, of philosophizing, of religious discourse. Every language game has its own rules; therefore, any proposed all-encompassing theory of language (like Wittgenstein’s own

    ) will fail, because it attempts to reduce the irreducible. You cannot reduce chess, soccer, solitaire, black-jack, and tag to one set of rules; the same is true (says Wittgenstein) of language.

    Another popular theory of meaning is the internal theory. This theory holds that propositions mean things by referring to thoughts or sensations. When I refer to pain, I am referring to an internal object; when I refer to a bunny, I am referring to a set of visual sensations that I have learned to call ‘bunny’.

    Wittgenstein makes short work of this argument too. Let’s start with the argument about sensations. Wittgenstein points out that our ‘sensations’ of an object—say, a bunny—are not something that we experience, as it were, purely. Rather, our interpretations alter the sensations themselves. To illustrate this, Wittgenstein uses perhaps the funiest example in all of philosophy, the duck-rabbit:

    As you can see, whether you interpret this conglomeration of shapes, lines, and spaces as a rabbit or a duck depends on your interpretation; and, if you had never seen a duck or a rabbit in your life, the picture would look rather strange. Ernst Gombrich summed up this point quite nicely in his

    : “If we look out of the window we can see the view in a thousand different ways. Which of them is our sense impression?”

    The point of all this is that trying to make propositions about sense-impressions is like trying to hit a moving target—since you only see something a certain way because of certain beliefs or experiences you already hold.

    The argument about inner feelings is equally weak. For example, when we learned the word pain, did someone somehow point to the feeling and name it? Clearly, that’s impossible. What

    happens is that we (or someone else) exhibited normal behavioral manifestations of pain—crying, moaning, tearing, clutching the afflicted area. The word pain then is used (at least originally) to refer to pain-behavior, and we later use the word ‘pain’ as a replacement for our infantile pain-behavior—instead of moaning and clutching our arm, we tell someone we have a pain, and that it’s in our arm. This shows that the internal referent of the word ‘pain’ is not fundamental to its meaning, but is derivative of its more fundamental, public use.

    This may seem trivial, but this line of argument is a powerful attack on the entire Cartesian tradition. Let me give you an example.

    René Descartes famously sat in his room, and then tried to doubt the whole world. He then got down to his own ego, and tried to build the work back up from there. This line of thought places the individual at the center of the epistemological question, and makes all other phenomena derivative of the fundamental, subjective experience of certainty.

    But let us, as Wittgenstein advises, examine the normal use of the word “to know.” You say, “I know Tom,” or “I know American history.” If someone asked you, “What makes you say you know Tom and American history?” you might say something like “I can pick Tom’s face out of a crowd,” or “I could pass a history test.” Already, you are giving social criteria for what it means to know. In fact, the word “to know” presupposes the ability to verify something with something that is not yourself. You would never verify something you remember by pointing to another thing you remember—that would be absurd, since your memory is the thing being tested. Instead, you indicate an independent criterion for determining whether or not you know something. (The social test of knowledge is also explicit in science, since experiments must be repeatable and communicable; if a scientist said “I know this but I my can’t prove it once more,” that would not be science.)

    So because knowing anything apparently requires some kind of social confirmation, the Cartesian project of founding knowledge on subjective experience is doomed from the start. Knowing anything requires at least two people—since you couldn’t know if you were right or wrong without some kind of social confirmation.

    Wittgenstein brings this home with his discussion of private language. Let’s say you had a feeling that nobody has told you how to name. As a result, you suspect that this feeling is unique to yourself, and so you create your own name for it. Every time you have the feeling, you apply this made-up name to it. But how do you know if you’re using the name correctly? How do you know that every time you use your private name you are referring to the same feeling? You can’t check it against your memory, since your memory is the very thing being doubted. You can’t ask somebody else, because nobody else knows this name or has this sensation. Therefore, merely

    you’re using the name consistently and actually

    the name consistently would be indistinguishable experiences. You could never really know.

    Although Wittgenstein’s views changed dramatically from the early to the late phase of his career, you can see some intriguing similarities. One main current of Wittgenstein’s thought is that all philosophical problems result from the misuse of language. Compare this statement from the

    , “All philosophy is ‘Critique of language’,” with this, from the

    : “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” In both works, Wittgenstein is convinced that philosophical problems only arise because of the misuses of language; that philosophers either attempt to say the unsayable, or confuse the rules of one language-game with another—producing nonsense.

    I cannot say I’ve thought-through Wittgenstein’s points fully enough to say whether I agree or disagree with them. But, whether wrong or right, Wittgenstein already has the ultimate merit of any philosopher—provoking thought about fundamental questions. And even if he was wrong about everything, his books would be worth reading for the writing alone. Reading Wittgenstein can be very much like taking straight shots of vodka—it burns on the way down, it addles your brain, it is forceful and overwhelming; but after all the pain and toil, the end-result is pleasant elation.

  • Trevor

    This is the first work by Wittgenstein I’ve ever read. I’ve been terrified of him for years, truth be told. I’ve read a biography by W.W. Bartley III (wouldn’t you love to be ‘the third’? I would stick the three I’s on the end of my name too, if I was, but unfortunately I’m only Trevor the Second…). The main memory I have of that book is of Wittgenstein waiting to be captured in WWI and him humming the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. That has always been one of my all-time favourite piec

    This is the first work by Wittgenstein I’ve ever read. I’ve been terrified of him for years, truth be told. I’ve read a biography by W.W. Bartley III (wouldn’t you love to be ‘the third’? I would stick the three I’s on the end of my name too, if I was, but unfortunately I’m only Trevor the Second…). The main memory I have of that book is of Wittgenstein waiting to be captured in WWI and him humming the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. That has always been one of my all-time favourite pieces of music and if I was ever in a machine-gun nest about to be captured (or potentially killed) by the enemy, I could think of no better piece of music to be humming.

    The fear has come from the fact Wittgenstein is known as being off-the-scale brilliant. And so I just assumed he would also be too hard to read, with him picking out distinctions I wouldn’t be able to see even after he had held them to the light and turned them about.

    This book is, in fact, quite beautifully written. The ideas are complex at times, but he does all he can to make them clear.

    That said, I also know I’ve only skimmed the surface of this one.

    This is a book about meaning – it is a book about how language ‘means’ and therefore the extent to which language allows communication between people. I’m going to jump to my understanding of Wittgenstein’s answer (although, answer isn’t the right word) and that is that language is always socially situated and so you need to understand the situation to make sense of the language.

    A philosophical project prior to this was the idea of trying to create a language that could be unambiguous and purely logical – one that could start from a series of axioms and then go on to recreate the world with each of its statements being verifiably true. This is the sort of idea mentioned in 1984 – that for as long as I can know 2+2=4 then, and so on…

    But then, think of the word March. You can say, “The best time to come to Melbourne is March” or you can say, “The second movement of the Seventh is a slow march”. Clearly, the fact march is a homophone is hardly surprising to anyone – but Wittgenstein asks if even that is really true. Can you say the month in the same way as you say the verb? If you are meaning the month, can you say it as the verb? The point being that you might not be able to hear any difference between the two uses of the word at all, and yet still feel in your bones that it isn’t possible to say exactly the same sound while meaning the other.

    This almost links to something he says comparing language to music – an idea I think about a lot. He says, “Understanding a sentence is much more akin to understanding a theme in music than one might think.” I think one could spend a lifetime considering that idea – and the practical expression of that thought is called poetry, but it is also true of all language, poetry just rubs your nose in it.

    He makes a similar point elsewhere when he says, “one might tell someone: if you want to pronounce the salutation ‘Hail!’ expressively, you had better not think of hailstones as you say it.”

    All of which makes me think of the difference between ‘effect’ and ‘affect’, which I think brings us close to the idea of the socially situated nature of language. I think that, for me anyway, these two words are homophones in English unless I’m using ‘affect’ in the sense of affecting a pose, although the dictionary seems to imply that affect is pronounced in the same way regardless of the meaning. Still, as the dictionary also says ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ are frequently confused. Although, also clearly, they are never confused when we hear them – only when we write them. No one says, “did you hear that – he said ‘effect’ but he obviously meant ‘affect’” – so, why not? Or rather, and more to the point, why do we distinguish in spelling what we don’t seem to distinguish in spoken language? A large part of me believes that this distinction in spelling is about stressing social superiority – that is, it is one more of the endless rules designed to make clear that one has ‘learnt the rules’, that one can display their ‘learning’ and then, presumably, use this display to imply their ‘higher intelligence’. These are things that make no difference to meaning, but only to taste and as displays of social position.

    When people get obsessed with the spellings of ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ this is purely about showing off one’s academic capital – and little else. The fact these three words are homophones proves no one ever confuses their meaning when they are spoken. No one ever says ‘oh, you said you want ‘their’ lunch – I thought you meant ‘they’re lunch’. The smugness you might feel when you see these mistakes in written form has nothing to do with meaning but rather everything to do with social taste and distinction.

    I think this is the idea Wittgenstein is alluding to when he says language is really language games – not in the least that they are trivial, quite the opposite, the only games we can play in this whole meaning business are language games – language derives the most important part of its meaning from the ‘game’ we are playing at the time, from how it is socially situated.

    When I studied philosophy there would always come a time when someone in the class would say, and in all seriousness, ‘you know, what I see as red might not be anything at all like what you see as red – we just don’t know.’ I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that my face has a special twitch that it performs when I hear someone say this. Wittgenstein spends a lot of time talking about pain in this book – how it makes no sense for someone to wonder if they, themselves, are in pain, for instance. But since pain is like the ‘red’ idea above, that is, no one else can really feel my pain and so no one can even know if I’m not ‘faking it’, how can we have ended up having a word for it? Surely the word ‘pain’ has to refer to something and that something has to be a kind of ‘common knowledge’, but since I can only feel my pain, how can I know it is ‘common’? That is, it is as if I have something in a box that you are forbidden to see – and you have something in your box that I am forbidden to see – how can we know if they are the same thing? Wittgenstein does not say it in this way, but I think ultimately these are practical questions, rather than ones that can be solved by logic. ‘How do you know that what you see as red, I don’t see as green?’ Well, the game that we call, driving our cars, pretty well answers that question.

    There is much more to this book than I can cover and much more than I’ve even understood – so much of it reminded me of Saussure, but also Chomsky (he even talks of deep and surface grammar). But this is a book of questions rather than a book of answers.

  • Manny

    I couldn't possibly do

    justice in a review. Even though I've read it several times, I don't understand more than a fraction of it. The unworthy thought does sometimes cross my mind that its author didn't understand it either, but you understand I'm just jealous because I'm not a Great Philosopher. I would so like to be one.

    Assuming you aren't an aspiring Great Philosopher, my advice is not to take this book too seriously... it is very frustrating. Skim it quickly, then

    I couldn't possibly do

    justice in a review. Even though I've read it several times, I don't understand more than a fraction of it. The unworthy thought does sometimes cross my mind that its author didn't understand it either, but you understand I'm just jealous because I'm not a Great Philosopher. I would so like to be one.

    Assuming you aren't an aspiring Great Philosopher, my advice is not to take this book too seriously... it is very frustrating. Skim it quickly, then check out

    and

    , which may help you appreciate the funny side of this unfinished masterpiece.

    ______________________________________

    I had to try it myself. See

    .

    ______________________________________

    I particularly recommend the following passage, from the end of Dr. qFiasco's article:

  • Erik Graff

    This book was assembled posthumously, Wittgenstein having published very little in his lifetime. Although usually coupled with the Tractatus, it is actually more representative of his thought and method.

    The virtue of Wittgenstein may be that with him there is no hint of metaphysical conceit or self-deception, but rather a consistent treatment of reality as, in fact, various "language games" ("language" being understood broadly to include everything from the semiotic to the symbolic,

    This book was assembled posthumously, Wittgenstein having published very little in his lifetime. Although usually coupled with the Tractatus, it is actually more representative of his thought and method.

    The virtue of Wittgenstein may be that with him there is no hint of metaphysical conceit or self-deception, but rather a consistent treatment of reality as, in fact, various "language games" ("language" being understood broadly to include everything from the semiotic to the symbolic, the denotative to the connotative, and "games" being understood to be intersubjective practices). Interestingly, however, behind this reserve runs a strong mystical sense comparable to Kant's attraction/aversion to the Ideas of Reason. While he was, on the one hand, a thoroughgoing critic of sloppy thinking and expression he was also, on the other, prone to the religio-aesthetic flights of the late Heidegger. The study of his biography and jottings presents the image of a man at once piercingly clear and personally enigmatic, at once a dispeller of illusions and a victim of multiple neuroses. While apparently coming across to his redoubtable colleagues, including Bertrand Russell, as a genius, his actual writings are all rather easy-going, suggesting, to me at least, that we're all--or none--of us geniuses.

  • Jon Stout

    This book is too complex to summarize, but here is a nutshell: If you want to know the meaning of a word, consider how the word is used. Words are used in a variety of “language games,” interactions among people, which display “family resemblances.” That is, there is no single model which shows the essence of how words are used, but rather there are many overlapping and differing language games, each of which is a different model.

    Enough summarizing. Now to what I am interested in, wh

    This book is too complex to summarize, but here is a nutshell: If you want to know the meaning of a word, consider how the word is used. Words are used in a variety of “language games,” interactions among people, which display “family resemblances.” That is, there is no single model which shows the essence of how words are used, but rather there are many overlapping and differing language games, each of which is a different model.

    Enough summarizing. Now to what I am interested in, what I called, once before, “Wittgenstein’s behaviorism,” which I didn’t like. After reading the Philosophical Investigations, I have come to the conclusion that Wittgenstein is not nearly as behavioristic as I had thought. In fact, he is the most introspective behaviorist that I could imagine, but he still ends up being more of a behaviorist than I like.

    What do I mean by “behaviorism”? Wittgenstein is a skeptic with regard to meaning, in the sense that he does not think that meaning is something we can look inside of ourselves (introspect) to discover. As I summarized above, Wittgenstein believes that meaning is revealed by the use of a word in social interactions, in other words through language games, the behavior of the people using the word.

    Consider words for what we usually think of as mental phenomena: thinking, believing, remembering, knowing, and the like. How can you tell if someone “knows” that Paris is in France? If you ask him, he gives you the right answer. If he looks inside of his mind, must there be the “knowledge” that Paris is in France? Not necessarily, He might not even be thinking of that, and even if he were subvocalizing “Paris is in France,” is there a mental quality that distinguishes that as knowing? Thus Wittgenstein gives a formidable argument that knowing consists not in any mental phenomenon, but in the behavior of giving the right answer.

    In making this argument, Wittgenstein has not avoided introspection as a technique. On the contrary he has used it extensively. Even when he asks us to imagine a certain language game, we are imagining a behavior, but we are using introspection to do it. Wittgenstein is a master of asking the rhetorical question which reveals how we use a particular word in social interactions, but each rhetorical question requires a looking into ourselves and our experiences.

    Wittgenstein is not ultimately hostile to our looking into ourselves, in fact I think he would regard it as a fruitful part of life. But his basic point is that only when our introspected observations can be validated by being part of our interactions with other people (our language games), only then can the words have consistent and usable meanings.

    My quibble with this is that introspection sometimes yields more results than Wittgenstein is prepared to recognize. As just one example, Wittgenstein asks, how do we judge time? He says that we might sit for a while, and say “About five minutes have passed.” and we may be right. He says that there is no introspectable experience of time passing or of measuring time. But I am not sure if that is right.

    Paul Churchland talks about a pulsing of neuronic signals from the center of the brain to the perimeter and back again. This means that our sensory processing echoes and reverberates with these pulses and gives us a sense of time passing. If we attend to the experience of this, we may be able to discriminate what makes us sensitive to the passage of time, and we may be able to do this in a way which can be validated by other people. If we are able to make these discriminations through introspection before the science is available to explain it, is it still meaningless? That is my rhetorical question.

  • Alexander

    Exasperating, but worth it.

    The syntax of the

    has a jaggedly Asperger’s feel to it. Too often Wittgenstein sounds like a malfunctioning android jabbering its core protocols to itself, pacing in frantic circles, waving its arms in a vexed “Philosophy is the sickness and I’m the cure” manner. The loathsome blend of pedantry and vagueness throughout Part 1 -- hectoring in tone, nebulous in definition -- can be maddening. (As a communicator, Wittgenstein often ranks with Kant or Heidegge

    Exasperating, but worth it.

    The syntax of the

    has a jaggedly Asperger’s feel to it. Too often Wittgenstein sounds like a malfunctioning android jabbering its core protocols to itself, pacing in frantic circles, waving its arms in a vexed “Philosophy is the sickness and I’m the cure” manner. The loathsome blend of pedantry and vagueness throughout Part 1 -- hectoring in tone, nebulous in definition -- can be maddening. (As a communicator, Wittgenstein often ranks with Kant or Heidegger, pitiless kraut magi of galling opacity. Your cognitive muscles will feel the burn.) Part 2 is rather less punishing, with enticing stimulants on nearly every page, while large swaths of Part 1 are a morale-stunting crawl through banks of fog. What’s the deal?

    Keep in mind that

    is a posthumous medley of notes and fragments that never benefitted from a final, rigorous copyedit. I’ve also been told that the recent 2009 translation by Peter Hacker and Joachim Schulte is less stodgy and peeving than the classic Anscombe version. An editor might be tempted to abridge Part 1 to a

    showcase for non-academics, but the moments of profundity strewn throughout that portion (75% of the book) probably require the groundwork of the more wearying fragments to shore up Wittgenstein’s vision.

    So what’s the payoff? Well, a panoptic voyage into speech and semantics that’s both rousing, emancipatory, and at times, painfully obvious. The latter as we’ve washed ashore in a (post)philosophical age that takes so much of Wittgenstein for granted, but also because his expository style can read like an amnesiac head-trauma patient attempting to reconstruct language-use from scratch, poking and prodding at kindergarten-level grammar to explore how situational semantics weaves and bends through our intricately embodied, moment-to-moment actualities -- all tempered by an uneasy nostalgia for positivist puzzles boxed in the attic, radiant antiques that gave so much (faux) luster to our mental lives.

    Wittgenstein wants us to detox, to scrape out the arterial plaque of “false problems.” Fundamental confusions about language-use, he fears, have staggered us into an ersatz-world of epistemic mazes and circular obstacle-courses, a bad Philip K. Dick novel of cloying simulacra.

    aims to unjack us from this Matrix, wrench us back down into our bodies, a homecoming to and abashed rediscovery of the everyday. (Though Darwin is never mentioned in

    , Wittgenstein’s corrosive presence in the philosophical canon is comparable to evolutionary models preempting theological sleight-of-hand. Post-theist armchair philosophy, in Wittgenstein’s eyes, is still beholden to the system-erecting wankfest of priestly theorizing. To reiterate a familiar story, we’ve displaced ancient Platonic illusions into the matrices of “rationalist” projects which refuse to accept that our universe is non-linguistic, and so can never be mirrored or simulated by our anthropic, earthbound syntax. Our lives are short and our knowledge is crimped and narrow. It’s best we have the humility to concede our limits, pending some dubious, self-immolating “transhumanist” upgrade.) As with Kant, wisdom often means knowing what we

    do.

    “426. A picture is conjured up which seems to fix the sense

    . The actual use, compared with that suggested by the picture, seems like something muddied. Here again we get the same thing as in set theory: the form of expression we use seems to have been designed for a god, who knows what we cannot know; he sees the whole of each of those infinite series and he sees into human consciousness. For us, of course, these forms of expression are like pontificals which we may put on, but cannot do much with, since we lack the effective power that would give these vestments meaning and purpose. In the actual use of expressions we make detours, we go by side roads. We see the straight highway before us, but of course we cannot use it, because it is permanently closed.” (pg. 108, Blackwell 2001)

    To prime yourself, download the two-part

    podcast “Wittgenstein on Language”:

    Episode #55 (1:53:07)

    Episode #56 (1:53:01)

    The roundtable discussion throughout is very good. My only niggle pertains to one of the participants bungling the renowned

    anecdote, mistakenly attributing it to G.E. Moore. (The fact that the remaining scholars claim never to have heard of it is equally strange. It’s at least as famous as the Karl Popper

    episode – Wittgenstein even thanks Sraffa in his Preface. Oh well.)

    PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS (translated by G.E.M. Anscombe)

    A+ for substantive vision and historical importance, C- for expository clarity.

    Special bonus track:

    by Paul Horwich (NYU), The Stone,

    Opinionator blog, 3/3/13.

  • Manny

    An offline discussion with Simon Evnine prompted me to reread the first few sections of this book, which I hadn't looked at in ages. They inspired the following short story:

    Wang is a Chinese construction worker who's just arrived in the US. He doesn't know a word of English, but he figures he'll get by. The important thing is that he knows construction work. His English-speaking cousin takes him to a building site and manages to get him hired by Wittgenstein/>Wang's

    An offline discussion with Simon Evnine prompted me to reread the first few sections of this book, which I hadn't looked at in ages. They inspired the following short story:

    Wang is a Chinese construction worker who's just arrived in the US. He doesn't know a word of English, but he figures he'll get by. The important thing is that he knows construction work. His English-speaking cousin takes him to a building site and manages to get him hired by Wittgenstein Construction Inc.

    The foreman is laying slabs. He points to Wang. "Slab!" he says. Wang has no idea what he's talking about. The foreman points to the slabs he's already laid, to the small pile of slabs nearby, and to the large pile of slabs in the corner of the site. "Slab!" he says again. Wang understands the problem. He takes a wheelbarrow and fetches some slabs.

    The foreman is visibly pleased! Evidently Wang's cousin was telling him the truth. This guy is hard-working and learns fast. He points to Wang again. "Cement!" he says. Wang looks at him. The foreman points to the bags of cement in the corner with the slabs. Wang gets his wheelbarrow and comes back with a bag of cement. The foreman is again pleased. He's almost finished laying the slabs Wang brought the first time.

    "Slab!" he says again. Wang understands! (Such a smart guy, the foreman thinks). He goes off for another load. "Cement!" says the foreman. Wang gets that too.

    "Slab!" says the foreman, when Wang's unloaded the new cement. Wang's just about to go off with his wheelbarrow, when the foreman stops him. He points to one slab, then another. "White slab - red slab", he says. "White - red". Wang nods. The foreman points to Wang. "Red slab!" he says. Wang looks at the pile of slabs in the corner. He had noticed that those on one side of the pile were red. He goes and fetches a load of red slabs.

    He comes back and unloads them. "Cement?" he asks. "Cement," agrees the foreman. He's already decided he owes Wang's cousin a beer. This unknown Chinese dude is worth his weight in gold! Wang's back with the cement. "Slab," says the foreman. "Red slab?" asks Wang. "White slab," corrects the foreman.

    Wang goes off to get the white slabs. He's even more pleased than the foreman. He can already see how to structure the next chapter of his dissertation on linguistic philosophy.

  • Scott

    To date the most overrated work of 20th century analytic thought (if one wishes to truly count the later Wittgenstein as an analytic). Written in a fragmentary styled not seen in the traditional philosophical corpus since Spinoza, Wittgenstein often leaves the reader guessing at what he could possibly be referencing. The work starts out quite strong as a critique of Russell and Moore, concerning their conceptions of language and its logic. But as the work progresses, many philosophers mistakenly

    To date the most overrated work of 20th century analytic thought (if one wishes to truly count the later Wittgenstein as an analytic). Written in a fragmentary styled not seen in the traditional philosophical corpus since Spinoza, Wittgenstein often leaves the reader guessing at what he could possibly be referencing. The work starts out quite strong as a critique of Russell and Moore, concerning their conceptions of language and its logic. But as the work progresses, many philosophers mistakenly take the hermeneutical gap between author and reader to be a sign of Wittgenstein's genius; instead of the proper and simpler idea that Wittgenstein himself is working with a fragmentary mind. Indeed, the fragmentary style allows many different thinkers to draw quite disparate conclusions from the same passages. I suspect the real reason everyone loves Wittgenstein is they love that he provides a means by which to buttress one's own theoretical predispositions.

  • Andrew

    As a philosopher, Wittgenstein isn't terribly systematic-- rather shocking for an "analytic" thinker. I would argue that he's an original, using analytic (thought experiments), continental (literary examples), pragmatic (everyday life as a litmus test), and Nietzschean (aphoristic style, attitude problem) elements. Hell, I'm almost loathe to call it philosophy at all. It's more like a gorgeous, dense, glittering puzzle box. I guarantee that when I read it again somewhere down the line, I'll get

    As a philosopher, Wittgenstein isn't terribly systematic-- rather shocking for an "analytic" thinker. I would argue that he's an original, using analytic (thought experiments), continental (literary examples), pragmatic (everyday life as a litmus test), and Nietzschean (aphoristic style, attitude problem) elements. Hell, I'm almost loathe to call it philosophy at all. It's more like a gorgeous, dense, glittering puzzle box. I guarantee that when I read it again somewhere down the line, I'll get something entirely different out of it-- Wittgenstein seems less concerned with presenting a systematic argument than in prodding the reader's mind.

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