Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies

Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies

Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies

Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies


Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies consists of thirteen thematically linked essays on different aspects of the philosophy of Wittgenstein, by one of the leading commentators on his work. After an opening overview of Wittgenstein's philosophy the following essays fall into two classes:those that investigate connections between the philosophy of Wittgenstein and other philosophers and philosophical trends, and those which enter into some of the controversies that, over the last two decades, have raged over the interpretation of one aspect or another of Wittgenstein's writings. The connections that are explored include the relationship between Wittgenstein's philosophy and the humanistic and hermeneutic traditions in European philosophy, Wittgenstein's response to Frazer's Golden Bough and the interpretation of ritual actions, his attitude towards and criticisms of Frege(both in the Tractatus and in the later philosophy), the relationship between his ideas and those of members of the Vienna Circle on the matter of ostensive definition, and a comparison of Carnap's conception of the elimination of metaphysics and of Strawson's rehabilitation of metaphysics withWittgenstein's later criticisms of metaphysics. The controversies into which Hacker enters include the Diamond-Conant interpretation of the Tractatus (which is shown to be inconsistent with the text of the Tractatus and with Wittgenstein's explanations of and comments on his book), Winch's interpretation of the Tractatus conception of names,Kripke's interpretation of Wittgenstein's discussion of following a rule (which is demonstrated to be remote from Wittgenstein's intentions), and Malcolm's defence of the idea that Wittgenstein claimed that mastery of a language logically requires that the language be shared with other speakers. These far-ranging essays, several of them previously unpublished or difficult to find, shed much light upon different aspects of Wittgenstein's thought, and upon the controversies which it has stimulated.


The interpretation of the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein has occupied many philosophers for some decades and will doubtless occupy many more for further decades. This is in part due to the fecundity of his thought, to its ability to shed light on so many problems of philosophy and on different aspects of particular problems. But there are other reasons too.

First, while his style, both in the Tractatus and in his quite different later writings, is simple and powerful, it makes scant concessions to his readers. As he remarked in the Preface to the Investigations, it was not part of his purpose 'to spare other people the trouble of thinking'. He had a craving for the erlösende Wort, the redeeming word that would unlock a philosophical problem, go to the heart of a conceptual difficulty, and show how the knotted threads of our understanding are to be disentangled. Having found a form of expression that achieves that, he was loath to spell out the detailed implications that ensue—preferring to retain the power of concisely expressed insight rather than to water it down with what evidently appeared to him pedestrain elaboration. This makes formidable demands upon his readers. That is one reason why the surviving Nachlass is an indispensable tool for the interpretation of his thought. For there one can often find the dozens of pages of struggle that lead up to, and shed light on, the one or two sentences constituting the remark that is the final expression of his thought on the matter.

Secondly, Wittgenstein is unique in the history of philosophy in having produced two powerful complete philosophical world-pictures crystallized respectively in the Tractatus and the Investigations. How precisely these stand to each other, how much continuity and how much change there are between the two philosophies, will very likely be a perennial source of controversy, as one reader observing, as it were, the bridges between two land masses will note the connections between them, while another will be overwhelmingly impressed by the gulf that separates them.

Thirdly, each of his great masterpieces presents profound difficulties of interpretation quite apart from their forms of expression and compression. The Tractatus cannot be understood without familiarity with the works of Frege and Russell, to which it is a critical, and indeed . . .

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