Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A first attempt on Wittgenstein

I was asked by a student yesterday what to suggest he read given the first inklings of an interest in Wittgenstein. What to suggest by way of a short manageable set of readings?

Here’s my initial idea (but I would welcome suggestions emailed to me).

Wittgenstein’s texts

I suggest three texts are key. (And for a first approach, I would ignore the Tractatus and the resolute reading, therefore.)

Wittgenstein, L. (1958) The Blue and Brown Books, Oxford: Blackwell.
- Just the Blue Book, read all the way through, with some pause for thought, obviously. This gives both a clear sense of Wittgenstein’s approach to philosophy but also a sense of the key issue - it seems to me - of the relation of thought and the world.
Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell.
- Obviously the key text. But I would not suggest anyone read it without guidance. So I suggest a project of working through it with a good secondary text alongside it. I will list such texts below.
Wittgenstein, L. (1969) On Certainty, Oxford: Blackwell
- A less key text but the same rule applies as for the Investigations.

A small number of key papers all about rule following in the Investigations

Obviously, the discussion in the Investigations, goes criss cross in every direction. But a key theme is how thought can stand in a relation to the world. I think that Wittgenstein’s key insight is that this relationship is normative and that accounting for that prompts confusion.

Arrington, R.L. (1991) ‘Making contact in language: the harmony between thought and reality’ in Arrington, R.L. and Glock, H-J. (eds) (1991) Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, London: Routledge
- to be read alongside the relevant paragraphs from the Investigations. A good if not finally satisfactory discussion of LW’s account of the relation of thought and world in the §§400s.

Kripke, S. (1982) Wittgenstein on rules and private language, Oxford: Blackwell chapter 2.
- brilliantly wrong about rule following and meaning (ie §§139-239). A key text in its own right.

Lear, J. (1986) ‘Transcendental anthropology’ in Pettit, P. and McDowell, J. (eds) (1986) Subject Thought and Context, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- quirky! How can we cope with both the critique of a platonistic foundation for rules and meaning whilst respecting - contra Kripke - its genuine normativity?

McDowell, J. (1984b) ‘Wittgenstein on following a rule’ Synthese 58.
- the perfect antidote to Kripke and so helpful in reading the Investigations more generally. McDowell provides the best account of rule following which respects Wittgenstein’s therapeutic injunction to leave everything as it is.

Wright, C. (1991) ‘Wittgenstein’s later philosophy of mind: sensation, privacy and intention’ in Puhl, K. (ed) (1991) Meaning Scepticism, Berlin: de Gruyter.
- helpful to understand what (seems to me to) a wrong but still deep response to the Investigations. If so, the antidote is:
McDowell, J. (1991) ‘Intentionality and interiority in Wittgenstein’ in Puhl, K. (ed) (1991) Meaning Scepticism, Berlin: de Gruyter

Secondary texts

On the Investigations:
McGinn, M. (1997) Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations, London: Routledge.

On On Certainty:
McGinn, M. (1989) Sense and Certainty, Oxford: Blackwell.
Moyal-Sharrock, D (2007) Understanding Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

More general resources:
Glock, H-J. (1996b) A Wittgenstein dictionary, Oxford: Blackwell.
 - a dictionary of Wittgensteinian terms and ideas.

Baker, G.P. and Hacker, P.M.S. (1980) Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning, Oxford: Blackwell.
Baker, G.P. and Hacker, P.M.S. (1983) Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell.
Baker, G.P. and Hacker, P.M.S. (1985) Wittgenstein: Rules, Grammar and Necessity, Oxford: Blackwell.
Hacker, P.M.S. (1990) Wittgenstein: Meaning and Mind, Oxford: Blackwell.
Hacker, P.M.S. (1996) Wittgenstein: Mind and Will, Oxford: Blackwell.
- taken together, an amazingly thorough account of the Investigations paragraph by paragraph


Monk, R. (1991) Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, London: Vintage
- a decent biography.
Duffy. B. (1987) The World as I Found It, New York: Ticknor & Fields
- an odd but enjoyable novelisation of LW’s life.
Bernhardt, T. (2003) Correction, London: Vintage
-bloody brilliant. Wittgenstein with the volume turned to 11.