Notes on: Ludwig Wittgenstein

Overview:

Ludwig Wittgenstein was the most influential contributor to the development of analytic philosophy in the 20th Century. These notes serve primarily to position Factasia in relation to his legacy.
Introduction
An attempt to explain how and why I dare publish these views on a foundation of such palpable ignorance. My very own assessment of the most important elements of Wittgenstein's legacy.
The Tractatus
A contribution to the extension of the new logical methods to applications beyond mathematics, but a regression in standards of presentation and discussion of ideas and a harbinger of worse to come.
Logical Positivism
For all its defects (particularly its excess of empiricist zeal and its slow recognition of the significance of Gödel's results) Logical Positivism was a major advance in analytic philosophy.
The Investigations
Enormously and disasterously (almost terminally) influential on the course of analytic philosophy. A serious attempt to ignore modern logic and talk analytic philosophy into its grave.

Introduction:

An attempt to explain how and why I dare publish these views on a foundation of such palpable ignorance. My very own assessment of the most important elements of Wittgenstein's legacy.
Hacker's Scholarship
An exemplary model of Wittgensteinian scholarship must surely be P.M.S.Hacker, whose four volume analytical commentary on Philosophical Investigations was written over a period of 20 years and then capped by another voluminous tome ([Hacker96b]) assessing Wittgenstein's place in 20th Century Analytic Philosophy. Hacker's assessment, naturally, is positive. No-one who did not think Wittgenstein's philosophy (or possibly its refutation) to be of the very greatest importance would devote 20 years of his life to it. (this observation is not intended to diminish the achievement)
Gellner's Anti-Scholarship?
For the greatest imaginable contrast [Hacker96b] should be read alongside Gellner's Words and Things ([Gellner59]), regrettably now out of print. [Hacker96b], seventeen years after first publication of Words and Things, dismisses it in one paragraph in which he describes it as "a polemical book directed indiscriminately against much of post-Russelian modern analytic philosophy" (which it is) and observes that it is "a very bad book" (but well worth reading).
Academic Standards
In the course of trying to make excuses for myself while beginning this page I started to write about academic standards. Since it didn't really belong here I turned it into another page.
My Credentials
Few can have written on Wittgenstein with such slender credentials as mine. I have read The Tractatus twice. I am now struggling to complete my second reading of Philosophical Investigations and beginning to read [Hacker96b]. I have written no books on any topic, and have published no papers on analytic philosophy. My assessment, for what it is worth, of the contribution of Wittgenstein to analytic philosophy is negative, but I do not fear that his negative influence will prevent substantial progress in the future (as I believe it once did). My view of Wittgenstein's importance for the future does not urge me to overcome the difficulties I perceive in coming to a better understanding of his writings. His dominant position in 20th Century analytic philosophy has prompted me in this attempt to make as clear as I can my position in relation to his (should anyone be interested).
an aspiration
If these notes help to persuade any of that small band of non-professionals who have an interest in analytic philosophy that a second reading of the Philosophical Investigations may not be necessary to their project then I shall feel the time spent on it to have been worthwhile. Even more valuable would be to persuade students of philosophy that, whatever other merits there may be in it, a reading of The Tractatus is not a good way to obtain an understanding of modern logic.
Overall Assessment
Wittgenstein began his philosophical work at a time when a revolution in logic had recently taken place and had been shown to work in that paradigm deductive science, mathematics. Bertrand Russell, regarding philosophy as a rational a priori science, like mathematics, quote looked forward to the establishment of scientific methods in philosophy.

Wittgenstein's Tractatus may be seen as a contribution to that goal, but what it gives with one hand it takes away the other, repudiating itself in anticipation of Wittgenstein's later philosophy.

By the time Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge from his period in Vienna, his influence on the Vienna Circle had already set rolling the Logical Positivist movement, a second important stage in the evolution of philosophy to incorporate the power of the new logical methods. But Wittgenstein was now to set his face in another direction, driving too large a part of philosophy down a barren cul-de-sac for half a century.

The Detail
Well, of course, there isn't much. Not a single erudite tome. However I do plan to lay bare (threadbare perhaps) the basis for my assessment of Wittgenstein, by selecting and discussing those features of Wittgenstein's legacy which have contributed most to it. And, en passant to relate these topics to my own work in Factasia. I shall be taking pains to point out all that I find valuable in Wittgenstein's work, though I make no pretense to exhaustiveness in this (or any other) matter.

The writing of these notes is proceding in parallel with my reading (and my notes upon) [Hacker96b] and Words and Things ([Gellner59]. Presumably some enlightenment will flow from this exercise and result in adjustments to my premature overall assessment.

The Tractatus:

A contribution to the extension of the new logical methods to applications beyond mathematics, but a regression in standards of presentation and discussion of ideas and a harbinger of worse to come.
The Good
Scope and Concision
The Tractatus, in the space of less than a hundred pages runs from metaphysics, through logic, mathematics and science to ethics. I approve of this kind of project, which academic specialisation has discouraged.
Semantics of Logic
Putting aside the application of Wittgenstein's account to languages in general, his account relates closely to the subsequently established standard account of the semantics of first order logic (usually attributed to Tarski).
Metaphysics
If you ask the question "What must the world be like for it to be possible to talk about it using first order logic?" then the resulting metaphysic would be very close to that of the tractatus.
The Bad
Cryptic
Wittgenstein begins as he intends to continue, philosophising by cryptic oracular pronouncements.

Logical Positivism:

For all its defects (particularly its excess of empiricist zeal and its slow recognition of the significance of Gödel's results) Logical Positivism was a major advance in analytic philosophy.
Poor Information
I don't have much information on which to assess Wittgenstein's contribution to Logical Positivism. Clearly the Tractatus was influential, but Wittgenstein was present in Vienna and talking to some members of the Vienna circle for about five years from 1927 through 1932, at a time when both his and their ideas were rapidly evolving. So, for example, I believe there is some doubt about whether the verification principle had any basis in Wittgenstein's thought, even though there is no sign of it in the Tractatus (though the interpretation of atomic propositions in terms of sense data appears in Russell's lectures on logical atomism).

The Investigations:

Enormously and disasterously (almost terminally) influential on the course of analytic philosophy. A serious attempt to ignore modern logic and talk analytic philosophy into its grave.
Some Good?
Paying Attention
If philosophers want to talk about ordinary language then they need to pay some attention to how it is used rather than inferring prescriptions from philosophical theories. Wittgenstein certainly looked closer.
Happy Families
Wittgenstein's observations about family resemblances draw out some of the ways in which ordinary language is not how a philosopher might like it to be.
Cryptic and Trivialising
Cryptic
Like the Tractatus before it The Investigations is very hard to understand, and I certainly don't get the impression that this is because what Wittgenstein has to say is very difficult to communicate clearly. I get the impression that he prefers to keep us guessing, this is part and parcel of sustaining an oracular status.
Trivialising
Wittgenstein's view of the purpose and methods of philosophy is trivialising and his practice is not consistent with these views.
False Doctrines
No Doctrines
Of course, part of the obfuscation is that there are no doctrines, since the purpose of philosophy is simply to dispell the present confusions which have arisen from philosophical errors.
The Falsehoods
But still he does make very definite dogmatic false statements. I shall be producing a sampling of these in the future. In reading the Investigations I have the impression that almost everything he writes is either incomprehensible, unsurprising or false. Presumably all the enlightenment which I don't find resides in my first category.


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