November 26, 2010


ME + me:  About and around Wittgenstein

I continue being not well, and otherwise also as before, so I cannot do much. Also, I fear I have done too much forcing myself to get the heavy gruntwork finished, so today just a few remarks

1. Wittgenstein - five references
2. ME + me and Wittgenstein
3. Wittgenstein’s Viva

In case you don't care for Wittgenstein, item 3 at least has the merit of being funny and of not being reverential or devotional about the man who is "Considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century", as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article about him starts with saying.

I don't think so, and Wittgenstein’s Viva shews some reasons why. And since I am speaking of philosophers in this text, I note that the philosophers' names linked below all link to the Wikipedia-entry under that name.

1. Wittgenstein - five references

What's now on the site in the Wittgenstein section is better than there was before, but certainly not finished. (I'll say something about why I nevertheless have uploaded in the next section.)

Meanwhile, I have found that the edition and English translation I have used has been superseded by a better one in the Project Gutenberg

This is the Ogden translation, assisted by Ramsey, and I think that for historical and personal reasons I will prefer to use that one, which - then - I have to work into my edition with my comments.

The above links to a fine pdf file with that translation, followed by the original German version, which for this reader of German is nice to have.

There are many books and papers about Wittgenstein and his two philosophies, that of the Tractatus and that of the later, posthumously published, Philosophical Investigations. It is hard to believe anyone has read most of them. As it happens, I have read almost everything published under Wittgenstein's name, and I owe these books also in editions of the 1960ies and 1970ies, and have read a fair amount of secondary literature.

The above is a fairly good article on Wittgenstein, with a list of his works, and some  secondary literature, most of which I have not read. Indeed, the secondary literature on Wittgenstein that I have read was almost all published before 1980, and is no longer in print nor in present academic fashion, it would seem.

In any case, two works about Wittgenstein's philosophies I found useful are not listed in the Stanford EoP article

This is quite good for several reasons, two of which are that Findlay knew Wittgenstein personally and followed some of his lectures, and that he is very well read in other Austrian philosophers of language, such as Fritz Mauthner and Alexis Meinong, whose ideas were similar to Wittgenstein's, but predate him, and are in various ways also more sensible.

In any case, Findlay's book is the best single volume I have read about Wittgenstein's philosophy: It is clear, informed and sensible - and it should be remarked as an aside that rather a lot of the literature about Wittgenstein's philosophies, and indeed also about his person, has a devotional taste I don't like. (And see Wittgenstein’s Viva below).

Here is a work that certainly does not suffer from a devotional attitude to Wittgenstein:

This is a critique - is, I suppose, the fashionable correct term - of Wittgenstein's philosophy of the Philosophical Investigations, which it effectively demolishes, and rightly so, I think, though this does not mean I agree with all Gellner argues.

My copy is from 1970, published in Penguin, with a foreword by Bertrand Russell, who also did not approve at all of Wittgenstein's later philosophy.

Finally, since I realize that the Tractatus is about logic, about which most readers of the Tractatus do not know as much as they should, here is a useful reference if you want to know more about logic, in the style  Wittgenstein knew from the Principia Mathematica:

  • Rudolf Carnap: "Introduction to Symbolic Logic and its Applications"

As an introduction to modern mathematical logic this is outdated, but then it does not present itself as such, and is rather an introduction to logic for philosophers and non-mathematicians, and introuces the subject quite well, also because the last part consists of quite a number of commented and explained axiom systems for various subjects, and because Carnap does explain the foundations of formal logic, including the symbolism used in Principia Mathematica, well (and much better than Wittgenstein).

2. ME + me and Wittenstein

As I wrote in October

I first read the Tractatus in 1967 when I was 17. I had three reasons for doing this: First, I was interested in philosophy and logic, since I was 14 or 15, and had decided that what interested me most was human reasoning (in all its aspects, not just the logical ones); second, being the son of a well-known Amsterdam communist house-painter, strikeleader, and member of the communist resistance against the Nazi-occupation, I had not been allowed to go to a good grammar-school, and went instead to a bad highschool, were I was mostly bored, and could find nothing about the things that really interested me, nor any teacher who knew anything about the subjects that interested me; and third, always reading a lot ever since I could read, I read in 1967 an essay by the Dutch writer Willem Frederik Hermans on Wittgenstein, that much interested me, because it considered some questions of logic I had been thinking about myself, without finding anyone who could help me with logic, and because it seemed an interesting approach to philosophy, that was quite unknown to me then, although I did then already know, because of my father's background and indeed his then being the Dutch CP's Amsterdam instructor of marxist philosophy, rather a lot of marxist philosophy.

For me Wittgenstein is mostly interesting because he was the first logical and analytical philosopher I read, but as soon as I knew more about logic and analytical philosophy - indeed before - I arrived at quite different ideas about these subjects than Wittgenstein, and also came to hold others, such as Peirce, James, Russell, Broad, W.E. Johnson, and Ramsey, Carnap, Lesniewski, Tarski, and Smullyan, for example, to be better philosophers and/or logicians. (If you are interested in Wittgenstein, and did not read the authors I just mentioned, you should.)

Meanwhile, I had written rather a lot of comments on the Tractatus, mostly between 1968 and 1973, in various typescripts, with some additions and alterations made later, and a selection from these I put on my site between 1996 and 1998 in my Wittgenstein section, in part with my own translation of the Tractatus, because I could not find any translation on line and because I was not happy with the English translation I have, by Pears and McGuiness.

Twelve years ago I hoped I could translate all of it and comment all of it "real soon now", if only I got a bit healthier or got a bit of help with my invalidity, but as I neither got healthier nor got any help, all I had done till recently was make some additions to what was there and reformat it repeatedly.

Now I am trying to get a decent edition on line with my comments, also having found complete translations on line.

Since my health is no good at all, this is far from easy - which also is the reason I do not wait until I have finished all of a first version, since that may take a long time: If I want to write something fairly long, I must do it in parts, and at such moments I have sufficient health to do it, or not do it at all.

It would be far better and far more pleasant if I could do it otherwise, but I can't, and that's why it gets on line in bits and pieces, as a work in progress.

And meanwhile, the program is as outlined two days ago:

  • insert the comments to the theses that have no comments, where useful

  • run through it all as a general check

  • insert some additional material + comments, such as Wittgenstein's foreword; Russell's introduction; and perhaps some other things

  • insert some additional comments and summaries

  • decide whether I want to use the Ogden-translation, and if so work it in

  • make a summary of my own comments

  • make an edition in 7 files, supplementing the present one in over 500.

This depends on my health - I am doing what I can, not as I want.

3. Wittgenstein’s Viva

I remarked above that "rather a lot of the literature about Wittgenstein's philosophies, and indeed also about his person, has a devotional taste I don't like" - and found today a clever, well written and highly informed piece one should read if interested in Wittgenstein:

It is what the title says: an imaginary 'recreation' of how Wittgenstein's viva examination by Russell and Moore in 1929 might have gone, if Russell and Moore had been less impressed and more argumentative. Indeed, Goldstein ends his quite funny exchange thus:

[Wittgenstein leaves]
Russell: Well, we have examined him on the central doctrines of his book and found that he is able to supply no adequate defence of them. [Moore stops writing] I mentioned Bolzano, but I could easily have mentioned others from whom he has derived ideas without any acknowledgment, and I regard that as a serious matter. He certainly would not appreciate others plagiarizing from him. You have to present our report, what on earth are you going to say?
Moore: I’ve written it already. [Reads from his piece of paper]
‘Some people think that Mr. Wittgenstein’s thesis is a work of genius: but, be that as it may, it is certainly not up to the standard required for the Cambridge degree of Doctor of Philosophy’.

In fact, this is a precise quotation from Moore but for "not" - but Goldstein makes his case, which is, in his words

It is my serious contention that, had Wittgenstein’s contemporaries not been so overawed by his personality, and had the dissertation been judged by normal standards of originality and quality of philosophical argumentation, it would have failed. Wittgenstein was, in his twenties [and] philosophically wet behind the ears (although he had produced some interesting ideas in logic)’

 quite well, and does it in more detail here:

This is also well done and well worth reading... except that its ending is

The view I have been defending in this paper is that, early on, Wittgenstein was a derivative thinker, that the confession he made about his own lack of originality was well founded. The Tractatus is an important work, but it is the fruit of seeds sown in Wittgenstein’s soil by Frege, Russell and many others. Then a wonderful transformation occurred both in his character and in his philosophy, when Wittgenstein discovered his unique philosophical voice. Wittgenstein admitted the limitations of his talent, but he drove himself hard, was remorselessly self-critical, and became both a better man and a more original philosopher. The footnote from WPhD [i.e. the above linked Viva - MM] already quoted continues:

Subsequently, after many years of struggle against his personal vices and against the naive preconceptions that informed the Tractatus, he went on to produce truly great and highly original thought. I concur with Michael Dummett in his judgment that ‘No one capable of recognizing profound philosophy can open the Philosophical Investigations without perceiving that it is a work of genius’.

Well, if this is not tongue in cheek and Dummett is a great and profound philosopher, I am not "capable of recognizing profound philosophy". But then so are Russell, Broad, Findlay, Gellner and others, not well known for stupidity, I am happy to note. (*)

(*) And besides, I have read Dummett, and was not impressed.

P.S. That came out longer than I thought, but then I only discovered the above mentioned Goldstein articles today.

P.P.S. It may be I have to stop Nederlog for a while. The reason is that I am physically not well at all. I don't know yet, but if there is no Nederlog, now you know the reason.

As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):

1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

6. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7. Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)

Short descriptions:

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:
   "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon
     insufficient evidence
7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.

    "Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, forever!
     - (Shelley, "Prometheus Unbound") 

    "It was from this time that I developed my way of judging the Chinese by dividing them into two kinds: one humane and one not. "
     - (Jung Chang)


See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources

Maarten Maartensz

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