Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Wittgenstein and Academic Disagreement

I had a further reflection – 7 years on - on my experience of studying Wittgenstein for my masters: It was very hard to find people who could present a constructive argument against his philosophy.

There were people who argued about his philosophy in an exegetical sense.  People argued amongst each other on traditional and ‘resolute’ readings of Wittgenstein. People argued about how he used the Context Principle; or whether ‘meaning is used’ is per se a definition of meaning.

There were also arguments in a more philosophical sense between his earlier and later works – defending one against the other.

However, in terms of: Wittgenstein said x and it is wrong because y – there was an awful lot less than what you would expect of an influential philosopher. People might dismiss his whole enterprise but do not engage with individual ideas and arguments

There are the non-critical admirers, and then again, a larger amount in philosophy at large that pretty much ignore him altogether and carry on metaphysical arguments as if 1) they are sensible arguments to have, and 2) do not even have to ‘face down’ the Wittgensteinian challenge.

On the one hand this is fine, I am much more interested in what Isaiah Berlin might call the ‘history of ideas’.  I quite enjoy the history of philosophy, doing philosophical exegesis and trying to provide a charitable and compelling view of a philosopher’s project in the context in which it was written.

On the other, it makes it harder than most to write a critical philosophical essay (to amongst other things, gain good marks) when the literature doesn’t lend itself to it.

Why has this happened that there is such little critical literature?

1. The cryptic style, early and late, lends itself to arguments about what he really meant

2. The nature of philosophy for Wittgenstein, again both early and late, is that philosophy should not ultimately teach you something ‘new’ as such – at least not in the sense of a discovery of true proposition

Is there something positive (philosophically) to say about this or the literature of little import than other than a historical curiosity?  I tend towards the former but as ever, I am torn

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