Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy: A Review

JUSTUS HARTNACK, Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy (trans: Maurice Cranston, New York: Anchor Books, 1965) pp. (x+142). Paper. The book Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy, written by Professor Justus Hartnack, was first published in Danish. Later this book was translated to English by Maurice Cranston who was the author of Freedom, What are Human Rights? , Jean-Paul Sartre and the standard biography of John Locke. Hartnack is also famous for his book Philosophical Problems. The book Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy deals with the philosophy of the most famous contemporary philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

This book covers over one hundred and forty two pages. It begins with a preface by the author. This book, having five chapters, is the interpretation of Wittgenstein’s philosophical works. The first chapter, under the title ‘Biographical Introduction’, dealt with the life history of Ludwig Wittgenstein—the most renowned figure of the time. He was a great philosopher who dedicated himself to the growth of philosophy. “…philosophy was his life” (p. 3). Though he made lectures on British universities, he was not at all English, but an Austrian Jew, living and working in England.

He was born in Vienna in 1889, the son of a rich engineer. Initially he had a taste to engineering; but later, it transformed to mathematics and he became a disciple of Bertrand Russell in Cambridge University. At the outbreak of the First World War, he contributed a few years in the Austrian army. His first and the most famous book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was published in 1922. Indeed the language of the book is elusive, “it has had an enormous influence among philosophers” (p. 6). Its influence was particularly marked in the logical positivism that became so fashionable in the years between the wars.

But the later teachings of Wittgenstein were contrasting to the former teachings. His The Philosophical Investigations (1953), which published only after his death marked a new beginning in the world of philosophy. Besides the above books, he was also the author of the book, The Blue and Brown Books (1958). His writings paved a place for Wittgenstein in the history of philosophy. The second chapter named ‘The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’ gives out a brief summary of Wittgenstein’s eighty pages book—Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

The author begins with the traditional notion of language—“consists of words and each word possesses meaning insofar as it stands for something” (p. 13). It is the search for the problem of philosophical assertions that brings out the serious errors in using the language. So, Russell in his Principia Mathematica comes up with the need of constructing a new language preserving the logical form. It was the beginning of symbolic logic. But Wittgenstein was not satisfied with this new language because “he did not think there was any need to construct a new language because he held that there is only one language” (p. 6). His book Tractatus shares this idea. The author expresses the content of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus in nine parts in this chapter. The world, thought and propositions nave the same logical form—world is represented by thought and it is expressed in words as propositions. So, according to Wittgenstein, “the world is the totality of facts, not of things” (p. 18). A thing is not itself a fact even the thing is bound up with the notion of a fact. The author uses the example: “It is a fact that my watch is lying on the table, but neither the watch nor the table is a fact” (p. 25).

The thought and propositions serve as pictures of facts. This is known as ‘Picture Theory of Language’—language is a picture or model of facts. Pictures are models of reality and these are made up of elements that represent objects. The combination of objects in the picture represents the combination of objects in reality. So the function of the language is to represent the state of affairs in the world. But the proposition does not give a spatial representation of the fact; it is only a logical picture of the state of affairs. Then, Hartnack points out Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘mystical’.

There are some facts “that would be nonsensical to discuss, describe or even to think, because language cannot logically be employed about it” (p. 40). He included all the ethical and spiritual values in the realm of mystical. It is something that is transcendental. The third chapter ‘The Tractatus and Logical Positivism’ says about the influence of Tractatus over logical positivism. The author divided this chapter into four parts. The first part comments on logical positivist’s conception of philosophy. For them, “the task of philosophy …is simply to clarify the meaning of such [philosophical] problems and propositions” (p. 6). It has nothing to do in providing information about reality. A better understanding of the meaning of propositions can be ascertained through ‘verification principle’—one understands the meaning of a proposition only of one knows how it could be verified. For example, the statement ‘It is raining’ can be verified. But there are some other propositions that can’t be verified and it is called as ‘pseudo propositions’ similar to Wittgenstein’s ‘mystical’. In the following parts of the third chapter, the author discusses how the logical positivism differs from the ideas of Wittgenstein.

It is believed by the positivist that Wittgenstein was the first one who had proposed the verification principle. Wittgenstein accepted the mystical propositions as genuine along with the empirical propositions. But positivists denied the assumption that mystical propositions are genuine for they cannot accept anything other than that is empirical. “…what cannot be said, and therefore cannot be thought, is not an expression of the limits of language. The reason for being silent is that there is nothing to speak about” (p. 55). The fourth chapter holds the same title, ‘The Philosophical Investigations’, of his second known book.

This chapter speaks on the summary of Wittgenstein’s Investigations. This book is not a continuation of his own ‘Tractatus’; rather it is the repudiation of his views in ‘Tractatus’. The author explains its importance as: What gives the importance is that it contains the mature philosophy of Wittgenstein. It introduces a new chapter in the history of philosophy. It is not just a continuation or development of the thought of others. It is something wholly original (p. 62-63). The Investigations had a reference to St. Augustine’s Confessions. “St.

Augustine fancied, according to Wittgenstein, that he had discovered what was essential to all languages, namely that all words should have a meaning and that the meaning of each was what it stood for” (p. 65). Augustine conceived of it as a ‘naming-game’, that is, as a language mastered by learning the names of different things. But Wittgenstein couldn’t approve this ‘naming-game’ and with a slight difference he introduced ‘language-game’ which had its foundation on the sense that the meaning of a word is its use in the language. He thought that in language we are playing with words.

As we can’t find any resemblance in different games though they possess some similarities and relationships, we can’t find resemblance in our multiple ways of language use. Hartnack discusses: Language, no longer a picture of reality, is now seen as a tool…with variety of uses. Different words are like different tools in the toolbox. And just as there is no one use which is the essential use of all tools, there is no one essential use for words and sentences. (p. 75) Different language-games show a family resemblance as like the members of a family share many similar features, such as eye colour, hair, facial structure, etc,.

However, there will be no one particular feature that they all share in common. So the different language-games are related to one another in many different ways. In Investigations, Wittgenstein made a gradual transition on the aim of philosophy. With a new view, philosophy aims at complete clarity. “[And] this complete clarity does not lead to the solution of problem, but to its disappearance” (p. 82). Why is to say that the problem disappear? It is because the origin of the philosophical perplexity is an error, or rather a misunderstanding—a misunderstanding of the logical grammar of the sentences concerned.

When it has been healed, the source of the problem has not been ‘solved’, it has vanished. The role of philosophy is to show the path of liberation to the fly trapped in the fly bottle. In the last chapter ‘Contemporary Philosophical Investigations’, Hartnack says something about the philosophers who were very much influenced by Wittgenstein. He also tried to give a brief note on the papers and books published by those philosophers. Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind is the first book to be dealt with.

It was published in 1949, four years before the Investigations, and it is not Wittgenstein in style, although there is no conflict on essential points; “but it is typically Wittgensteinian in that it treats philosophical problems as the consequence of the misunderstanding of the logic of concepts” (p. 119). Besides giving a short description, the author has not tried to go deep into the text. Following Ryle’s The Concept of Mind, Hartnack makes a brief study on Peter Strawson’s paper ‘On Referring’, where Strawson is attacking what he believes to be a mistaken conception of meaning. Strawson’s paper is Wittgensteinian in the sense that it argues that the meaning of a sentence is not what it refers to, but the rules for its correct use” (p. 121). He rejected Russell’s claim that every sentence must be true or false or meaningless. For Strawson, “a sentence is meaningful if there are rules for its use as an assertion” (p. 126). In the following two parts of the last chapter, author summarises ‘The Ascription of Responsibility and Rights’, the defense paper of Professor H. L. A. Hart and ‘On Grading’, the paper presented by the Oxford philosopher J.

O. Urmson. The former is dealt with morality and jurisprudence. Here Hart made some similarities of the problems in philosophy and legal concepts. The latter studies the use of sentences that function as evaluations. Urmson works from the simple and homely example of grading apples. An apple can be graded either as good or as bad, based on its empirical properties. But “the logical structure of the sentence ‘This is good’ is quite distinct from any question about the validity or relevance of any criterion that may be invoked in support of it” (p. 42). The validity of the statement is not proved in this kind of evaluations. The book Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy is really an excellent interpretation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophical works—Tractatus and Investigations. Hartnack had made a genuine effort to make this book marvelous. Though this book contributes nothing new to the world of philosophy, it shows a great honour to Wittgenstein. Hartnack was successful in giving appropriate footnotes in places where the reader needs clarifications.

But it is sorry to say that this book lacks index and the last chapter of this book is so vague. The author would have to pay a little more attention to these drawbacks. Excluding these drawbacks, this book is an awesome work. This book will be very useful to the philosophy students especially those who are making study exclusively on Wittgenstein. Even the translator re-produced the book in a simple and eloquent language. This book review will be incomplete unless I mention that the author showed justice to the works of Wittgenstein and even to the readers.

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