Wittgenstein Disappointment

Instead of reading David Morey’s novel (which I had with me on our trip to the Gulf Coast over the Thanksgiving holiday) I finished Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” and got about half-way through “Philosophical Investigations”.

The latter so far just seems to continue casting doubt on the science (logic) of natural language, and of course logic is something he already debunked philsophically in the Tractatus – “All philosophy is critique of language” (4.0031) – “All propositions of logic say the same thing. That is nothing” (5.43)

The lingusitic stuff doesn’t so far seem to say much more than I’ve already read in Quine’s “Word and Object” – Gavegai, etc (and in Foucault, Derrida and Dennett ?) but I’m only part-way through.

Tractatus was generally a disappointment, but there were surprises, in that whilst following a very methodical structuring of dependent logical assertions, he was actually undermining the value of logic in real world philosophy, and there are some great one-liner jokes to boot. Methinks he must have had a wicked sense of humour at Russell’s expense.

After several dense pages of formal logical notation in 5.5 he concludes “This shows that there is no such thing as the soul” in 5.5421 – Brilliant.

(He is also obsessed by “colour” – the reality of experiencing it vs “naming” or “describing” it … I note that this is something he has also written on elswehere. A recurring theme in “mind” philosophy generally … “Mary the colour scientist” etc.)

Must write more when I’ve fully digested Wittgenstein. Apart from making reference to his mentor Russell, and thence Frege, Witt doesn’t sully himself with analysing the thinking of others – an arrogance he shares with Pirsig, no ?

[Post Note : Read a fair bit “about” Wittgenstein one way or another, despite only recently reading him in the original. I was browsing his Wikipedia entry, partly because I’m still following the conversion to faith / intellectual elitism angle for some reason I’m not yet quite sure of, and sure enough found that point confirmed for future reference. I wasn’t expecting to find this. Could I really have forgotten ? Yep, sure enough, there it is plenty about this in Edmunds and Eidinow. My copy is full of annotations I’ve never followed-up. When will I ever find the time ?]

16 thoughts on “Wittgenstein Disappointment”

  1. Hmm. How can i resist a comment? may be a quote is to the point: “I really want my copious punctuation marks to slow down the speed of reading. Because I should like to be read slowly.” (Witt in On Certainty)

    Or maybe this one: “the kinds of philosophy that displaced analytic philosophy in its post-war phase manifested the triumph, not of the Tractatus, but of the _spirit_ of the tractatus over the spirit of the investigations”
    (from Hacker, Witt’s place in 20thC Philosophy – where he explicitly describes Quine as an apostate)

    delighted that you’re reading it though 🙂

  2. Hi Sam, I thought that would be a provocative start on your man Witt 🙂

    Noted, and I agree I’m in a hurry, looking for things new to my agenda (no suggestion that Witt was not original in his thinking, just that similar views are now more widely held.) But I will read and reflect more before I move on.

    You could give me pointers to any messages and works I’m missing though, once I’ve completed PI. Hacker is on my must read list; as you say, so many of the philosophical writers I like pay homage to Witt one way or another.

    That primacy of logic and objectivity apparent in the “spirit” of the tractatus, did hide the surprise that his agenda was clearly to target the limits of such analyses of language and philosophy generally, more obvious in PI. I have learned something that you told me 🙂

  3. “I have learned something that you told me :-)”

    he he he he…

    did you read my MA thesis on this? I argue that Wittgenstein’s agenda never changed, just his method of achieving it (ie he was originally a mystic, and he remained one)

    or, put differently, he was always concerned with value – in a sense not that far different to Pirsig

    “Witt doesn’t sully himself with analysing the thinking of others – an arrogance he shares with Pirsig, no?”

    ‘Witt’ did write that he did not wish to judge how far his efforts coincided with other philosophers – but he undoubtedly had a profound grasp of that which had been before and his works stand on their own without the need to be oppositional. That he is indifferent to giving sources is very different to not having those sources and that he does not criticise others by name does not mean that his work isn’t, by its very content, a refutation of others! Wittgenstein built his house upon the rock.

    Pirsig, by contrast, spends much of his books attempting to engage directly with other philosophers, notably the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Logical Positivists, Pierce, James, etc, etc, but, where he disagrees with them, only through horribly simplistic strawmen. He clearly and overtly attempts to analyse the thinking of others.

    The value of the Baggini interview resides partly in the way he exposes Pirsig’s lack of real engagement, or even desire for real engagement with western philosophical traditions. Pirsig attempts that engagement in his books, but then as soon as he is questioned about other philosophers in an interview he gets all shirty, admits ignorance, suggests that this misses the point, then ducks out. The extent of that failure is illustrated perfectly by the fact that his ‘official’ website refuses to even carry the interview. Pirsig built his house upon the sand.

    The former is informed brilliance. The latter, ill-informed arrogance.

  5. Hi Sam, not sure I ever saw your thesis. I read chapters of your draft book, but I don’t recall seeing the thesis. I’d be interested to see it.

    The surprise was as you say that his agenda seems pretty constant even if his method changed drastically, contrary to the apocryphal references to his early and late periods. I still don’t see the “mystical” angle yet, but I’ve not finished.

    Struan, you seem to be in a minority not seeing the parallel with Pirsig 🙂

    Anyway, as you know I’m the first to agree that Pirsig fails to engage with mainstream philosophy even when presented with an opportunity. His heart was never in that quest, despite his efforts to redress the balance in Lila. None of which says anything about Pirsig’s MoQ ideas in themselves, which is kinda his point, whether you approve of it or not.

    All metaphysics is built upon material less substantial than sand. If Pirsig had engaged with Wittgenstein he might have found that confirmed. In fact he did work it out in ZMM – with undefinable quality – he just took a wrong turn, or a turn too far, in Lila.

    Anyway as usual the difference between us is that I’m looking for constructive synthesis, rather than easy targets.

    Struan, we really must find some time to engage on what our apparent differences are so that we can find some common ground, rather than you taking every opportunity to “attack” third parties. As you are fully aware, my “world view” only mirror’s the MoQ coincidentally, pre-existing my later discovery of Pirsig, so your attacks just leave me cold.

  6. Ian – i’ll send you my thesis, for when you have a spare hour or two! (Struan’s welcome to get it as well if he wants) as for engaging with other authors, witt engages quite heavily with William James – he is the main target of the investigations – and with people like augustine. but struan is right to say “That he is indifferent to giving sources is very different to not having those sources and that he does not criticise others by name does not mean that his work isn’t, by its very content, a refutation of others!” I think that’s exactly it.

  7. Sam – I would certainly be interested in your thesis.

    Ian – a minority in the circles you move in, perhaps. 🙂

    Anyway, what you saw as an ‘attack’ was actually a defense of Wittgenstein precipitated by your entirely unfair comparison with Pirsig in the last line of your original post.

    If synthesis is to be worth anything in the context of the moq, it must surely involve bringing together the good, rather than identifying Pirsig’s obvious faults and unfairly imposing them upon great philosophers.


  8. Hi Struan,

    The third-party attack I saw was your introduction of the irrelevant jibe about “the official Pirsig site”. You need to separate issues.

    You’re entitled to your opinion about the relative genius of Wittgenstein and Pirsig. You could even advance an argument as well as an opinion. I see merit in both.

    In the circle of three in which you are currently moving, you are in the mean-spirited minority of one in refusing to entertain the patent parallels between Pirsig and Wittgenstein. It pains you too much, for understandable personal reasons.

    You have my sympathies 🙂


  9. Hi Ian,

    On the particular point about both Wittgenstein and Pirsig “not sullying with analysing the thinking of others”, you are wrong. I don’t ‘refuse to entertain’ other possible parallels between Wittgenstein and Pirsig at all, they are just irrelevant to the particular point I have been making.

    I know this next bit pains *you*, but you know full well that my “official” site comment exposes an important truth.

    The issue we are discussing is Pirsig’s willingness (or otherwise) to engage with the thinking of others. Now, before you say it yourself, this is not a comment on the ideas of the moq themselves, but then, that isn’t what we are discussing. The Archbishop and Pirsig *together* decided that Baginni was too negative and so his interview was erased from history on the site that bears Pirsig’s name. Now if that isn’t a ‘prima facie’ example of refusing to engage with other philosophers, nothing is.

    Ian, I know you are angry about this yourself and so for you to claim that it is an “irrelevant jibe” is just silly. It is empirical evidence which supports the precise point of my argument.

    Let me reiterate that point as it seems to have got lost. Wittgenstein did engage fully with other philosophers. Pirsig does not.

    It is you who needs to separate this issues my friend.

    Finally, and with all good humour, calling me ‘mean spirited’ for doing no more than pointing out an error in your blog is not exactly constructive, is it.


  10. now then children…

    I’ll put the thesis up on-line (probably over the weekend, coz it needs some very minor touching up) and post the link here, so you can enjoy to your heart’s content

    fwiw i agree that pirsig doesn’t engage with other thinkers very well, and as a result he misses some valid criticisms of the moq

    well – i think they’re valid, because they’re my criticisms 😉

  11. Excuse me Sam,

    Struan, I am not at all “angry” that Pirsig fails to engage with other philosophers, even amateur philosophologists like us, it’s a long established and self-declared fact – old dog / new tricks I’ve said umpteen times. I also accept clarification of yours and Sam’s views on Wittgenstein, and move on. My provocation was to elicit such views. Thanks for those.

    Your (I repeat) “mean-spirited” jibe was not about any of that.

    Sam, thanks for putting up the thesis link, I’ll look forward to that (and any other valid criticisms of the MoQ – yours or Struan’s, if he actually has any. I certainly have plenty of my own, not least that it aspires to be a metaphysics.)


  12. Ian,

    Thank you for finally accepting my clarification that Wittgenstein did engage fully with other philosophers. We both agreed all along that Pirsig does not. Whew . . . !

    Once more, I have no interest whtsoever in criticising the ideas of the moq, just as I have no interest whatsoever in criticising the ideas of scientology. Get over it.

    I will ignore your (repeated) personal attack. It deserves no more – but it is the hypocrisy that I don’t understand.


  13. Thanks Sam

    Struan if my pointing out your personal attack, is seen as my personal attack on you, so be it.

    If you have no interest in debating the MoQ, even criticising it, I simply conclude, to paraphrase your choice of words from another mail, that you are personally motivated to ridicule other individuals (and their efforts), rather than engage in argument.

    You can see why I (anyone) would find that tiresome.

    Here’s an opportunity for you … tell me something good that Wittgenstein (or any philosopher of your choice) said about philosophy or language that you might suspect I’ve missed the value of.


  14. I don’t debate whether Noddy really went to Toyland either on the premise that there is little point in debating obvious nonsense. Get over it.

    Aha, an ‘opportunity’ (gosh, thanks for that). How about Nietzsche from Human, All Too Human; ‘The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things that they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the whole’.

    You may still miss the value but it gives a better insight into my motivation than your deliberately offensive use of a tongue in cheek private e-mail as yet another means of attacking me. Nietzsche couldn’t have read your blog or Pirsigs books, but then things don’t change that much.


  15. Struan,
    Miss what value ?

    I recognise Nietzsche’s advice, and am guilty of plundering in a hurry, oft admitted (one of the reasons I do it openly, and invite correction or omission) but what do I confound or revile ?

    Things don’t change that much ? How many times have I said “nothing new under the sun” ?

    (If my paraphrase of your e-mail quote is an issue, I can delete or edit. Just say the words. I could see it was tongue in cheek, but many a true word, etc …)

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