Taking Wittgenstein at His Word: A Textual Study

Taking Wittgenstein at His Word: A Textual Study

Taking Wittgenstein at His Word: A Textual Study

Taking Wittgenstein at His Word: A Textual Study

Synopsis


Taking Wittgenstein at His Word is an experiment in reading organized around a central question: What kind of interpretation of Wittgenstein's later philosophy emerges if we adhere strictly to his claims that he is not in the business of presenting and defending philosophical theses and that his only aim is to expose persistent conceptual misunderstandings that lead to deep philosophical perplexities? Robert Fogelin draws out the therapeutic aspects of Wittgenstein's later work by closely examining his account of rule-following and how he applies the idea in the philosophy of mathematics.


The first of the book's two parts focuses on rule-following, Wittgenstein's "paradox of interpretation," and his naturalistic response to this paradox, all of which are persistent and crucial features of his later philosophy. Fogelin offers a corrective to the frequent misunderstanding that the paradox of interpretation is a paradox about meaning, and he emphasizes the importance of Wittgenstein's often undervalued appeals to natural responses. The second half of the book examines how Wittgenstein applies his reflections on rule-following to the status of mathematical propositions, proofs, and objects, leading to remarkable, demystifying results.



Taking Wittgenstein at His Word shows that what Wittgenstein claims to be doing and what he actually does are much closer than is often recognized. In doing so, the book underscores fundamental--but frequently underappreciated--insights about Wittgenstein's later philosophy.

Excerpt

A few words about the aim of this work may help explain the form it takes. As I will spell out more fully in the Introduction, this work is a textual study organized around a central question: What kind of interpretation emerges if we adhere strictly to Wittgenstein's methodological pronouncements, in particular, his claims that his aim is purely therapeutic and that he is not in the business of presenting and defending philosophical theses? This work is an experiment in reading a selection of central themes in Wittgenstein's later philosophy under the constraints of Wittgenstein's own methodological pronouncements.

Since this is a textual study, I largely let Wittgenstein speak for himself. The task of interpreting Wittgenstein's later writings is not—as with his Tractatus—one of deciphering opaque passages. Sentences in his later writings are usually transparent as they stand. The challenge, where there is one, is to appreciate the philosophical signifcance that Wittgenstein assigns to them. In this regard, Wittgenstein is his own best commentator. His self-commentaries take various forms. Some appear as aphorisms concerning the proper way of approaching philosophical . . .

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