Wittgenstein's Lasting Significance

Wittgenstein's Lasting Significance

Wittgenstein's Lasting Significance

Wittgenstein's Lasting Significance


Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) has exerted a more powerful influence on contemporary philosophy than any other twentieth-century thinker. But what is the nature of this influence and why has it proved so enduring?In Wittgenstein's Lasting Significance , twelve contemporary philosophers explore the issues surrounding Wittgenstein's importance and relevance to modern thought. Their articles, all of which are published here for the first time, cover the entirety of Wittgenstein's major publications: the Tracatus Logico-Philosophicus , Philosophical Investigations , On Certainty and Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics . They discuss how much originality and continuity can be found in Wittgenstein's thought, how he relates to current traditions and movements within philosophy, and what we can learn from his conceptions of language, knowledge, mathematics and logic.The international set of contributors are renowned for their work in both Wittgenstein studies and other fields of philosophy, making Wittgenstein's Lasting Significance an important collection for anyone interested in contemporary philosophy.


The austere reading of the Tractatus

Meredith Williams

A new approach to Wittgenstein's philosophy, both early and late, is emerging. This approach I shall call "the austere reading" of Wittgenstein, "austere" because its guiding interpretive claim privileges Wittgenstein's metaphilosophical remarks above all others. It is a "reading" because it involves considerable hermeneutic ingenuity to render the whole of Wittgenstein consistent with his explicit metaphilosophical commitments. An esoteric reading of the Tractatus and a quietist reading of the Investigations converge in the austere reading. The esoteric reading resonates to the allure that the mystical had for Wittgenstein as a young man. And the quietist reading harmonizes well Wittgenstein's breaking free of the pull of the mystical to return to the ordinary. An important component of this new reading is its reassessment of the degree of continuity between the early and later Wittgenstein. Goal and method of the early and late periods are held to converge not only nominally but substantively That goal is to establish that language is in order as it is. This goal is achieved by showing that philosophical attempts to ground or justify ordinary language result in the production of nonsense in the strictest sense. If there is a difference, it is that the Tractatus offers an architectonic conception of philosophical theorizing and its deconstruction while the Investigations offers an array of overlapping reminders and arguments directed against specific forms of philosophical theorizing. Importantly on this reading, the Tractatus does not end philosophy by solving the fundamental problem of representationality and the Investigations does not develop any alternative picture of language.

In this paper I shall focus on the austere reading of the Tractatus, a reading that I think is mistaken but nevertheless has very real attractions. It emphasizes, correctly, the importance to Wittgenstein throughout his philosophical life of showing that the philosophical temptation to cosmic exile, to use Quine's phrase, is an illusory quest. The temptation to cosmic exile is the search for a point from which we can view the relation between language (or thought) and the world independently of our own situation in the world. The deep motivation behind philosophical theorizing is the desire to achieve such a god's eye understanding.

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