Ray Monk: “Wittgenstein”

There’s not much left for me now to “get” Wittgenstein beyond, er, reading and thinking about his actual philosophical writings. Monk’s reassuring biography comprehensively tells the/a story of his life, and famously-well weaves in the outlines of the philosophy as he goes. I didn’t get all of it, partly because Monk assumed greater familiarity with technical terms (e.g. phenomenological) than I have, and partly because, hey, it’s Wittgenstein.

Overall it’s interesting and a little concerning that such world-changing philosophy came from such a tortured and misfitting man; the feeling is that this is necessary, that only the unusual can think freely enough to jump-start us out of torpitude. Like poets perhaps, and that’s something I didn’t expect, the way W. leads the way from narrow Enlightenment “logic” to a strongly anti-scientific, anti-philosophical, humanities-based common-sense approach to life, reality and ethics. Rather like [phone rang; lost train of thought]…

Something I need to think about is of W. as an anti-Socrates figure (W. used the quotation from Lear about “teaching differences”); going round on a mission to show that philosophers use words in many different ways, rather than showing that ordinary people don’t know the single true meaning of a word. And much else, including his emphasis on Goethe’s analysis through comparisons, metaphors, similes – something Saussurean about this insistence on relationships between concepts. Much to think about.

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4 Responses to Ray Monk: “Wittgenstein”

  1. Justin says:

    Wittgenstein as the anti-Socrates is a compelling perspective. If words are tools for crafting our experiences with each other, perhaps Wittgenstein’s own use of those tools served to make us more generous in how we use them.

    • Houyhnhnm says:

      Thanks – do you mean that Socrates’ use of words makes us less generous in how we use them (as he undermines our sense that we know what they mean?)?

      • Justin says:

        Yes, or how we allow them to be used with us. For Socrates, language seems essentially competitive – even if it isn’t the speakers competing with one another, it’s usages of words fighting one another toward some imagined perfection. For Wittgenstein, the emphasis seems to be on language as cooperation – and perhaps in reading Wittgenstein we become more generous in how we interpret one another.

        But I haven’t read the Dialogues in a while, and may not know what I’m talking about!

  2. Houyhnhnm says:

    Interesting: the competitive idea certainly sounds like Socrates’ society, and the dialogues too. It’s a thought I’ll bear in mind a lot – thanks.

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