Sunday, 10 August 2014

'Wittgenstein,Tolstoy and the Folly of Logical Positivism' Stuart Greenstreet

'Wittgenstein,Tolstoy and the Folly of Logical Positivism' by Stuart Greenstreet in Philosophy Now July/Aug 2014 (thanks to Carl Elliott @FearLoathingBTX for sharing on twitter)

"Stuart Greenstreet explains how analytical philosophy got into a mess:

Austrian artillery unit, Eastern Front 1915
This year’s centenary of the First World War coincides with Ludwig Wittgenstein beginning writing his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Latin for ‘Logical-Philosophical Treatise’), the only book the Austrian philosopher published in his lifetime. Not the least astonishing fact about it is that, as we shall see, most of it was written between 1914 and 1918 by a brave young soldier fighting at the front line.

In July 1914, when the whole of Europe suddenly found itself at war, Ludwig Wittgenstein, a son of one of the richest men in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was twenty-five years old. He had spent the previous two years (1911-13) at the University of Cambridge, studying philosophy with Bertrand Russell, who was a lecturer there. But he happened to be at home in Vienna on 28th July 1914, when his country declared war on Serbia. A week later, the day after Austria had declared war against Russia as well, Wittgenstein volunteered to join the Austrian army as an ordinary soldier, even though he was exempted from compulsory service by poor health."

"Tolstoy had distilled the four biblical accounts of Christ’s life and teaching into a compelling story. Wittgenstein was so profoundly moved by it that he doubted whether the actual Gospels could possibly be better than Tolstoy’s synthesis. “If you are not acquainted with it,” he told his friend Ludwig von Ficker, “then you cannot imagine what effect it can have on a person.” It implanted a Christian faith in Wittgenstein. Before going on night-duty at the observation post, he wrote: “Perhaps the nearness of death will bring me the light of life. May God enlighten me. Through God I will become a man. God be with me. Amen.”"

"Wittgenstein’s leading idea in the Tractatus was that propositions – that is, statements asserting facts, such as ‘it is raining’ – are a picture of what they describe. This is Wittgenstein’s ‘Picture Theory of Language’, or as he himself called it, his ‘Theory of Logical Portrayal’:
“We can say straight away: Instead of: this proposition has such and such a sense: this proposition represents such and such a situation. It portrays it logically. Only in this way can the proposition be true or false: It can only agree or disagree with reality by being a picture of a situation” (Notebooks p.8).
He added later:
“The great problem round which everything I write turns is: Is there an order in the world a priori, and if so what does it consist in?” (Notebooks p.53) ..."
"To the question ‘What is your aim in philosophy?’, Wittgenstein replied, “To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.”"

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