LINGUIST List 17.2620|
Fri Sep 15 2006
Review: Philosophy of Language: Kenny (2005)
Editor for this issue: Laura Welcher
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The Wittgenstein Reader
Message 1: The Wittgenstein Reader
From: Hendrik Feddes <feddesuni-muenster.de>
Subject: The Wittgenstein Reader
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/16/16-3558.html
EDITOR: Kenny, Anthony
TITLE: The Wittgenstein Reader
SUBTITLE: Second Edition
SERIES: Blackwell Readers
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
Hendrik Feddes, Arbeitsbereich Linguistik, Westfälische
The 'Wittgenstein Reader' is a comprehensive selection of key passages from
Wittgenstein's oeuvre. It is edited by Anthony Kenny, an expert in the
field and also a trustee of Wittgenstein's copyrights and translator of
some of his works. In this review, I will first give a brief description
of the book. I will not, however, summarise its actual content, as it is
not Wittenstein's philosophy that is under review here. I will then
discuss the merits of this reader, which is a highly valuable addition to
the Wittgenstein literature.
The book is divided into sixteen chapters, which are organised by topic.
The first chapter, however, has a special status: it is an abbreviation of
the 'Tracatus Logico-Philosophicus', the only major work that Wittgenstein
published during his lifetime. As the 'Tractatus' is divided into
hierarchically numbered sentences, it is particularly suitable for
abbreviation. Accordingly, Kenny is guided (''though not exclusively'') by
the decimal numbering, leaving out the lower branches, thus reducing the
'Tracatus' by about fifty percent.
The chapter 'The Rejection of Logical Atomism' describes the transience
from the early Wittgenstein of the 'Tracatus' to the later Wittgenstein.
All of the following chapters are drawn from the later work, with passages
from the 'Blue and Brown Books', 'Culture and Value', the 'Big Typescript'
(reviewed in Linguist List, volume 17.1513), 'On Certainty', the
'Philosophical Grammar', the 'Philosophical Investigations', the
'Philosophical Occasions', 'Remarks on the Foundation of Mathematics',
'Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology', and 'Zettel'.
The chapters deal with 'The Nature of Philosophy', 'Intentionality',
'Thinking', 'The Will', 'Aspect and Image', 'The First Person', 'The Inner
and the Outer', 'Necessity', 'Scepticism and Certainty', 'Sense, Nonsense
and Philosophy', and 'Ethics, Life and Faith'. Although all of
Wittgenstein's later philosophy is permeated with reflections on language,
the chapters on 'Meaning and Understanding', 'Following a Rule', and
'Private Language and Private Experience' will probably be of particular
interest for the linguist.
The book has a short bio-bibliographical 'Introduction' of about one page,
a 'Note on Sources' of the same length, and a comprehensive index.
Wittgenstein's oeuvre is extremely scattered. He has published only one
major work during his lifetime, the 'Tractatus logico-philosophicus'. The
'Tractatus' is representative of his early philosophy. Of his later
philosophy, nothing has been published by Wittgenstein himself, with only
the 'Philosophical Investigations', the first part of which he revised
himself, coming close to that status. One revision of a typescript
followed another, with sections re-arranged and cuttings ('Zettel') from
the previous revision pasted in. This is why Wittgenstein's oeuvre is
almost exclusively posthumously edited, each 'text' often being a selection
from numerous typescripts, notebooks, and cuttings from his 'Nachlass'.
The stemmata in the Vienna edition of Wittgenstein's oeuvre (Nedo 1993ff.)
give a vivid impression of that complex process. The definitive text of
most of Wittgenstein's works simply does not exist.
One reason for this is that Wittgenstein had immense problems with
organising his thoughts for publication in the form of a book, and the 'Big
Typescript' is notable for being the only text with a table of contents.
The other texts are a flat stream of paragraphs. It is as if Wittgenstein
tried to cure the trauma of the extremely hierachical 'Tractatus' for the
rest of his life. This makes it difficult to access a text by Wittgenstein
selectively. It has to be read as a whole.
With these characteristics in mind, one can hardly imagine an oeuvre more
suitable to be condensed into a topically organised reader, and one that is
harmed less by such a process, than that of Wittgenstein's, and in this,
the editor has succeeded brilliantly.
A closer look at the sources of two chapters will illustrate the usefulness
of this reader. While fifty percent of the texts in the chapter on
'Private Language and Private Experience' are from the 'Philosophical
Investigations', the standard source on this topic, the other half is from
the lesser known 'Philosophical Occasions', a recent collection of texts
from the 'Nachlass'. Even with a chapter like that on 'Following a Rule',
where almost all of the passages are drawn from one book, namely the
'Philosophical Investigations', the reader profits, as the relevant
paragraphs are scattered all over the 'Investigations', which are a flat
sequence of paragraphs without a table of contents.
The editorial work that has been done for this reader consists of the
selection of the texts and the organisation by topic. (The 'Introduction',
a short bio-bibliographical sketch of about one page, is negligeable.) But
this is not to be read as a critical point, as this is definitely not an
easy task with an oeuvre such as Wittgenstein's, and one from which the
reader profits immensely. What I think is missing, however, and what other
titles in the 'Blackwell's Reader' series feature, is some kind of 'Further
Reading' section, which could supplement each chapter with pointers to
additional texts by Wittgenstein and possibly to important secondary texts,
e.g. at the end of Chapter 9 with references to the 'Private Language'
debate (cf. Kripke 1982).
The chapter on 'Sense, Nonsense and Philosophy' contains passages which are
particularly relevant for the so-called 'New Wittgenstein' debate (cf.
Crary & Read 2000) and has been added for the second edition. It has only
six pages, half of which contain passages which are already included in the
reader elsewhere. This is not to deny the usefulness of this chapter, only
to point out that this alone is hardly a reason for owners of the first
edition to buy the second. However, further changes I noticed are the
addition of the preface of the 'Tracatus' and exact bibliographical notes
in the margins, which make it easy for a reader to locate the passages in
the sources. So it has to be said that the second edition clearly has been
As far as I am in the position to judge, the selection is comprehensive.
The only topic that I found to be missing is a (possibly small) chapter on
'Names', with ß79 from the 'Philosophical Investigations' at its core. If
it is not the size of Wittgenstein's contribution to the naming debate (cf.
Wolf 1993), it is probably its impact that would have made an inclusion
To be sure, anyone acquainted with Wittgenstein's texts will probably miss
particular passages in this selection. For example, in the section on
'Following a rule', I missed paragraphs 83-86 from the 'Philosophical
Investigations', with its deeply intuitive simile ''A rule stands there
like a signpost.'', or ''Und gibt es nicht auch den Fall, wo wir spielen
und -- 'make up the rules as we go along'?'', which is so nicely
self-explanatory when Wittgenstein switches from German to English ''as he
goes along''. But omissions like these are inevitable in a selection of
texts from so complex an oeuvre.
With more than 400 entries, the index is comprehensive. It is worth
pointing out that it lists not only important Wittgensteinian concepts
(family resemblances, language games, etc.) or persons he cites (e.g.
Augustine, Frazer), but also similes and metaphors he uses, for example the
''crystalline purity'' of logic, or the description of the philosopher's
task as having a ''hair on your tongue''. This makes the index particularly
helpful, as the figurative language is characteristic of Wittgenstein's
style, and it is his similes and metaphors that stick to a reader's mind.
Wittgenstein is not an easy read, though. His language is only seemingly
easy, hiding complexity under the hood of a rather simple language --
comparable, perhaps, to Kafka. What is probably most puzzling is his
dialogical style: he constantly argues with an imaginary counterpart or
alter ego (the ''you'', which is not, as he has been misread by some, a
condescension towards the reader), often asking questions and leaving them
unanswered. The passages in the present volume are long enough to leave
this style intact. It is not a 'Wittgenstein light' that is presented,
only a convenient one.
With more and more students resorting to secondary literature and not
consulting the primary sources at all, this reader should be most welcome.
In particular in Linguistics syllabi, where Philosophy of Language and
Wittgenstein often play only a peripheral role, this reader will be useful.
It will enable students, for example, to prepare a seminar presentation on
Wittgenstein's notion of a rule in a reasonable amount of time, yet without
resorting mostly to secondary sources, as it is so often the case.
But it is not only the student, but also the general reader who will profit
from this book, and for the linguist in particular, Wittgenstein is a
constant source of inspiration. He has a bearing not only on pragmatics
(''But if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should
have to say that it was its *use*'', p. 77), but, for example, also on
structuralism (''The sign gets its significance from the system of signs'',
p. 78) and also, in a way, on Sapir-Whorf (''In our language there is an
entire mythology embedded.'', p. 60).
It is the merit of this reader to make Wittgenstein conveniently accessible
to a wider audience and to offer a reduced but not simplified Wittgenstein.
If I close on a seemingly negative note and add another passage that I
missed in this reader -- one of the most beautiful metaphors of language
that I know of -- it is only to entice people to read Wittgenstein:
''Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and
squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various
periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight
regular streets and uniform houses.'' ('Philosophical Investigations', ß18)
Crary, Alice & Rupert Read, eds. (2000) The New Wittgenstein. London:
Kenny, Anthony, ed. (1994) The Wittgenstein Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.
First edition of the book under review.
Kripke, Saul (1982) Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An
Elementary Exposition. Oxford: Blackwell.
Nedo, Michael (1993ff.) Wiener Ausgabe. Wien: Springer.
Wolf, Ursula, ed. (1993) Eigennamen: Dokumentation einer Kontroverse.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Hendrik Feddes works as a researcher at the Arbeitsbereich Linguistik of
the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany, and is working on
his Ph.D. thesis about the alignment of a parallel corpus on the basis of
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