Wittgenstein's Vienna by Allan Janik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It is somewhat of a surprise to me, but this may be one of my favorite works of philosophy. The reason why is simple: Wittgenstein's Vienna studies the thought of a particular individual not just on its apparent ground, but also, and possibly more fundamentally, within the context of the culture and history in which it arose. This is something that should be done with many of the thinkers and artists of days past, but Wittgenstein in particular almost demands this treatment.
The proof of this is given in how much he has been misunderstood.
Let me give an example:
"A whole generation of disciples was able to take Wittgenstein as a positivist, because he has something of enormous importance in common with the positivists: he draws the line between what we can speak about and what we must remain silent about just as they do. The difference is only that they have nothing to be silent about. Positivism holds--and this is the essence--that what we can speak about is all that matters in life. Wittgenstein passionately believes that all that really matters in human life is precisely what, in his view, we must remain silent about!" - Paul Engelmann.
I think it has more to do with my stance than some great intellect or anything that my initial reading of the Tractatus -- which in detail I barely understood upon first reading -- is in fact what Wittgenstein had intended, and precisely what many smarter and more famous individuals than myself had completely misunderstood. The last section of the book, which people like Russell though was a sort of throwaway addendum, is in fact the very heart of the matter. And W's later work (touched on in the posthumous Discourses) is not so much a departure from his earlier thought as a clarification about language, which does throw a serious curve ball in regard to the demarcation between that-which-can-be-spoken and that-which-must-be-passed-over-in-silence.
The Tractutus, in other words, is essentially not a work on logic and language, but rather a work on ethics/value/meaning. This thesis is presented very well in Janik and Toulmin's book, and their methodology is such that it wound up being one of the central books in our first investigation of myth, "The Immanence of Myth." (Weaponized.)
View all my reviews