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A New Resource for Students of Philosophy?

Here's a very interesting site which offers a synopsis of the views of a wide range of philosophers through the ages. In the link provided below, Wittgenstein's early and late thinking is summarized in some detail:


In general, I think this has been done quite well (though there are some unfortunate typos in the text). This material, both the immediate section linked to on Wittgenstein as well as some of the other sections (I haven't yet read them all), looks to be a great resource. I especially found the remarks on Wittgenstein's Tractarian thinking and some of the commentary on his later work elucidating and thought-provoking.

I come to learn how to use psychological words correctly in the context of a 'public' language-game. For example, it was when I hurt myself as a child that I first learned from others how to use the sentence 'I am in pain'. Indeed, according to Wittgenstein, this can be seen as an aspect of pain behaviour. I do not have to appeal to any private state of being in pain. Moreover, the sentence 'I know I am in pain' makes no sense at all. I can know that others are in pain by observing their behaviour or because they tell me they are. But clearly I do not ask myself whether I am in pain. Already in the 1930s [Lectures] Wittgenstein had distinguished between different usages of 'I'. The pronoun has different functions in 'I have a toothache' and 'I have a bad tooth'. In the latter it can be replaced by 'my body', but in the latter [sic] case the 'I' has no reference — it does not denote a possessor or 'Ego' [d]. As for proper names, Wittgenstein now thinks of them as being defined in terms of a loose association with various descriptions — their sense changing accordingly [e]: a name is thus used without a fixed meaning [PI 79]. By the time he had written the Investigations Wittgenstein had also altered his view of the necessity of the propositions of mathematics and logic. These are now seen to be necessary in virtue of the (non-compulsory) acceptance of rules embedded in the relevant language 'game' [f]. It follows that because we set our own standards of consistency we can change the rules if we so wish — provided we are willing to accept the possibly chaotic consequences for our mathematical discourse as a whole.
In his last years Wittgenstein made some important contributions to epistemology. [See On Certainty.] His central thesis is that scepticism, doubting makes sense only in the context of the foundational 'inherited background' which constitutes our 'world-picture' and against which we distinguish between true and false [OC 94, 411] [g]. This picture, articulated in our language-games, includes such propositions as 'I know I have a brain' [4], 'The earth has existed for many years past' [411], and 'I know I am in pain' [504]. This last means nothing; certainly there is no inner state to which one can appeal [356]. Such propositions constitute a total system in which all testing, confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place: "The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life" [105]. Wittgenstein allows that a proposition such as 'This is a chair' has the same epistemological status as '2 x 2 = 4', but again he says it is senseless to talk of knowing them if they are taken out of context and if per contra it is possible to doubt them [455, 651]. The only special status they can be accorded is as being part of the 'background'. We cannot appeal to empirical propositions to prove the existence of the external world [h]. The existence of the earth, he says [209] is part of the whole picture which forms the starting-point of belief for him.
For Wittgenstein in his Tractatus period 'metaphysical' and ethical propositions, and indeed all 'non-scientific' propositions can have no sense. (In his later Philosophische Bermerkungen, he said that "the sense of a question is the mode of its answering" [66-7].) According to him most philosophical problems arise only because we insist on regarding such propositions as factual. Strictly speaking, they are not propositions at all. He says we do not understand the logic of our language [4.003]. As a result we sometimes attempt to transcend the boundaries of language (as when we try to talk about the relation between language and the world). Or we do not recognise that the grammatical form of our propositions often fails to reflect their logical form. The apparent logical form of a proposition need not be its real one. All philosophy is a 'critique of language' [4.0031]. However, it is not a systematic 'science' [4.111] [a]. Its task is to make our thoughts clear [4.112]. Yet, in its assumptions, stance, and content the Tractatus is in its own way a 'metaphysical' text — perhaps in the way that Kant's first Critique is. Essentially it is about the nature and limits of language and the relationship between thought and the world. Its metaphysics is thus implicit in and coextensive with his logical atomism. What 'traditional' metaphysics is supposedly 'about', however, lies beyond language and the world [5.633]. Moreover, because everything in the world is accidental, there can be no value in it; a thing's value would have to be necessary. Both the subject or 'ego', in relation to which good and evil exist, and the realm of value are said to be 'transcendental'. The subject, Wittgenstein says, is a 'limit' of the world [5.632] [b]. All these things which we can say nothing about may be supposed to exist. We still think about their possibility when we contemplate the world itself as existing and as a limited whole. This Wittgenstein calls 'the mystical' [6.45]. But even to say that such things exist is a nonsensical proposition; and this must be "thrown away" like a ladder once one has climbed to the top [6.54]. If we cannot speak about it, we must be silent.
In his later philosophy the problem has shifted. We are no longer concerned with the world as a limited whole beyond which there is a realm of the unsayable. What we may say now is relative to the language game we are playing. Perhaps there are 'metaphysical', ethical, aesthetic, religious language games, with their own rules and criteria for use. (Arguably implicit here is also the requirement that a clear demarcation be made between the methods of the natural sciences and those appropriate to the social sciences — a view which was developed by 'neo-Wittgensteinian' philosophers.) Wittgenstein in fact talks of different 'forms of life' [PI I, 23]. But what can their purpose be? What can they tell us? To suppose metaphysical or ethical words, for example, are scientific would be to pull them out of their proper context — to misapply the appropriate rules. If we did this we would be moving beyond the 'limits' of the language game [c]. If you want to play your own game, so be it: but what you are doing can be properly understood only from within by the players themselves. They cannot be judged by criteria appropriate to a different game. Thus, although Wittgenstein could not empathize with people who engaged in metaphysical speculation or participated in religious forms of life, it would seem that, as in his Tractatus period, he wished to protect those realms — including perhaps speculative philosophy itself, from the predations of positivistically minded philosophers and scientists.

The author concludes:

. . . it is important to appreciate the continuities as well as the differences between his positions. In both periods he was concerned with the nature and function of language, and with the nature, origin, and elimination of philosophical puzzles. In both periods too he was interested in 'boundaries', though in the Tractatus his concern was with the boundary between language in general and the 'world', whereas in his later work the boundaries lie between different modes of discourse. The possibility of a variety of modes of discourse grounded in different 'forms of life' does of course give rise to critical issues concerning an alleged 'relativism' in his philosophy, which does not allow for any absolute standpoint for judging, or for a 'pragmatism' according to which any mode of discourse may be introduced if deemed to be in some sense 'useful'.

A good site, on my view, worth looking at some more.

References (1)

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    "Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in Vienna the youngest child of a large family. His father, an industrialist, was a Lutheran, but Ludwig was brought up in his mother's Roman Catholicism (though he was to disassociate himself from the Church as an adult). The family home was a centre of musical life (his brother Paul was the famous pianist). He was educated firstly at home and then in Linz before studying mechanical engineering . . ."

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