NDPR Review: Anat Biletzki on Robert Fogelin’s “Taking Wittgenstein at His Word”

NDPR has just published a review — written by Anat Biletzki (Philosophy, Tel Aviv University) — of Robert Fogelin’s Taking Wittgenstein at His Word: A Textual Study (Princeton UP, 2009). To read the whole review, please click here.

Here is how it begins:

This is a superb book. It takes Wittgenstein at his word, seriously acknowledging that his strictures on how to do philosophy cohere with how he did philosophy. If, as is usually adumbrated, Wittgenstein enjoined us, as philosophers, not to formulate philosophical theses but rather to unearth the linguistic misunderstandings that give rise to philosophical troubles, then consistency demands that his own philosophical writings were not a roster of theses — with attendant explanations, arguments, justifications, and elaborations — but a working out of that same methodologically constrained program. Fogelin, accordingly, identifies the essential elements of such philosophical manners and illustrates their application in a textual reading of Wittgenstein’s words on two quintessential Wittgensteinian issues: rule-following/private language and the philosophy of mathematics.

It seems that we are constantly inundated with Wittgensteinian interpretation. Every year tens of books are published on Wittgenstein or on ascribable Wittgensteinian themes. However, one can distinguish between publications that use Wittgenstein to further philosophical agendas beyond pure interpretation and those that focus on interpretation alone. That is to say, Wittgenstein and Wittgensteinianism are seen — legitimately, though sometimes exceedingly — as offering an intellectual perspective that can provide interesting or novel insights into linguistic, aesthetic, cultural, moral, and even political questions. These works do, indeed must, rely on particular interpretations of Wittgenstein’s texts, but their objective is not the interpretation of Wittgenstein per se. That endeavor, of achieving an understanding of Wittgenstein through an exclusively interpretative enterprise, is the one that is at the fore of our current interest. Here we are witness to a diverse panoply of interpretative policies and strategies. Some are very text-oriented; others address Wittgenstein through contextual frameworks. Some alight on one of several (the Early, Late, Middle, Third) Wittgensteins; others prefer a more general, or, at the least, developmental object of interpretation. Some engage with the diverse interpretative community; others insist on independent readings. Some attempt to unearth the secrets and mysteries hiding behind Wittgenstein’s formulations; others are more explicitly literal. Some have an ideology, a not-so-hidden agenda of changing the landscape of interpretation (see “The New Wittgenstein”); others continue the “standard,” perhaps no less ideological, traditional project of Wittgensteinian interpretation. And some take Wittgenstein at his word.

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