What are some good books to read along with Wittgenstein's PI?
June 21, 2009 7:35 AM   Subscribe

What are some good books to read (for context, interpretation, or guidance) along with Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations?

I'm especially interested in picking up the background that W and his audience would have taken for granted.  I've got an undergrad degree in philosophy, but a lot of the relevant stuff from the early 20th century was just historical footnotes. (And Wittgenstein himself? Especially the late stuff? Forget about it. You may as well have told people you were interested in phrenology or dowsing.)

I'm also interested in learning more about the different ways people have interpreted PI, but I'd prefer a general teach-the-controversy overview to axe-grinding in support of a single reading. So for instance I'm familiar with Kripke's Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, and I figure I'll have to get into it sooner or later, but right now I'm not looking for more books like it.

History and biography are cool but not really what I'm looking for right now.
posted by nebulawindphone to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Rush Rhees, Discussions of Wittgenstein
Ernst Gellner, Words and Things, A Critical Account of Linguistic Philosophy
Fergus Kerr, "Work on Oneself": Wittgenstein's Philosophical Psychology
Cora Diamond, The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind
J. N. Findlay, Wittgenstein: A Critique
David Stern, Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations: An Introduction

See also the bibliography on this page
posted by ornate insect at 9:06 AM on June 21, 2009


probably obvious but you didn't mention it: you need to be familiar with his earlier project Tractatus Logico Philosophicus in order to get where he had been/was coming from when he was working on the Investigations... ("Back to the rough ground!")

you'd probably find interesting Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle by Friedrich Waismann - it's a collection of recorded conversations between Wittgenstein, Waismann and other brainy types on the philosophy of language and mathematics

duckrabbit!
posted by jammy at 9:20 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm especially interested in picking up the background that W and his audience would have taken for granted. I've got an undergrad degree in philosophy, but a lot of the relevant stuff from the early 20th century was just historical footnotes.

Wittgenstein's pretty famous for not being that interested in/ familiar with the history of philosophy - he references some Augustine, and it's assumed he read other stuff, but he wrote the Tractatus at a young age and then rejected the whole idea of philosophy for years, and most of his books after that were notes or lectures that got published by someone else. He hung out with Russell and met plenty of other famous thinkers (like Sraffa, Popper, etc) but it's not clear exactly what he studied... It's more like he inspired other people, in logic and in ordinary language philosophy.

Cavell's Claim to Reason will take you into the "new wittgenstein" interpretation, but it's an enjoyable read.
posted by mdn at 9:32 AM on June 21, 2009


Stanley Cavell's "The Availability of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy" outlines a rather flat early reading of PI then comes back with a much richer reading that brings out what's lacking in the earlier interpretation. His "Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy" (in the same book as the first essay) puts together Wittgenstein, Kant, and Hume in talking about, you guessed it, aesthetic problems of modern philosophy. A couple of other Cavell pieces you might find interesting are "The Investigations' Everyday Aesthetics of Itself" (the epilogue to the Cavell Reader) and "Declining decline: Wittgenstein as a philosopher of culture". The Claim of Reason is also very helpful but perhaps a bit too long for the kind of secondary sources investment you were considering. (I read a ton of Cavell before I ever came to Wittgenstein, and he's helped keep me from ever feeling completely lost.)

In general you might just want to read a bunch of short pieces—for example, after reading Kripke on rule-following, you could read John McDowell's "Wittgenstein on Following a Rule" in his Mind, Value, and Reality. I've found all four of the Wittgenstein essays in that book helpful, so it might be worth getting. They also engage with Crispin Wright and Richard Rorty, in all cases polemically but fairly enough to be useful to you.

My advisor has also recommended this P.F. Strawson article to me, which I've yet to read. I trust her judgment, though. It discusses Wittgenstein's ideas about imagination along with Kant and Hume's—perhaps this would be helpful to orienting your thinking if that's where your education lies.

However, I don't know how helpful mucking about in early twentieth century stuff will be. Maybe if you were working on the Tractatus, but to my reading, Philosophical Investigations has Kant and Hegel as ancestors more than it does, say, Russell and Frege. I find Wittgenstein immensely helpful in thinking about what came after him in twentieth century philosophy, particularly strands in aesthetic philosophy—though more because that's what I work on than because that's where he's most important. I've never found his immediate predecessors all that important except in occasionally making sure of what the most recent stakes are, and to some extent he takes care of this himself, however cryptically, in the many opposing voices in the Investigations.
posted by felix grundy at 9:34 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm especially interested in picking up the background that W and his audience would have taken for granted. I've got an undergrad degree in philosophy, but a lot of the relevant stuff from the early 20th century was just historical footnotes.

I would go with the relevant volumes from Frederick Copleston's, A History of Philosophy, about which Wikipedia says: "Copleston's Roman Catholic (Thomist) point of view is never hidden. All the same, it seems generally accepted that Copleston's treatment is fair and complete, even for philosophical positions that he does not support. Copleston's work has arguably come to represent the finest and most complete summary of Western philosophy now available."

History and biography are cool but not really what I'm looking for right now.

Here is very cool audio (and transcript) interviewing the author of a bio about W.
posted by keith0718 at 9:51 AM on June 21, 2009


I don't think Cavell is the best way into Wittgenstein or the P.I. at all.

You'll profit much more from reading works about Wittgenstein's thought by the circle of philosophers who actually studied with him (as a group, they are far more interesting and idiosyncratic than to be just acolytes, btw):

in particular, Rush Rhees, G.E.M. Anscombe, Georg Henrik von Wright, O.K. Bouwsma, Norman Malcolm, etc.
posted by ornate insect at 10:13 AM on June 21, 2009


If you want the background, read ,a href="http://www.amazon.com/Ludwig-Wittgenstein-Genius-Ray-Monk/dp/0140159959/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245605027&sr=8-1">Monk's biography of Wittgenstein. It is good to read alongside PI, because it is very fun and easy to read, and provides a nice break from Wittgenstein's writing. It also does a good job of explaining the biographical position of PI in Wittgenstein's life and thought, and should give you some idea of where PI stood relative to earlier philosophy.
posted by voltairemodern at 10:28 AM on June 21, 2009


Woops. Ray Monk's biography of Wittgenstein.
posted by voltairemodern at 10:29 AM on June 21, 2009


I like Grayling's Very Short Introduction to Wittgenstein because it both concisely presents W's own ideas and criticizes them. Grayling makes a convincing argument that W's philosophy wasn't very successful (either on its own merits or as an attempt to change how philosophers think). As mentioned above, it's important to understand W's earlier theory, and the Very Short Introduction is an efficient way to quickly get that background as well. (I was in exactly your situation when I read this book: had a philosophy degree but felt like I should have some knowledge of Wittgenstein since my program didn't cover him.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2009


voltairemodern is right that the Monk biography is quite good for historical context.

Also, a very clear but not at all dumbed-down reading is Marie McGinn's book in the red Routledge series. I mention it because it's quite a neutral overview of PI, and where it isn't, it explains controversies (i.e. about Kripke). It also has theme-specific bibliographies for further reading.

And I strongly second felix grundy: "you could read John McDowell's "Wittgenstein on Following a Rule" in his Mind, Value, and Reality. I've found all four of the Wittgenstein essays in that book helpful." In particular, the essay felix names.

(Finally, on Cavell: if you haven't read Cavell before, keep in mind that felix's experience--that Cavell helped illuminate Wittgenstein--is not universal. I find Wittgenstein easier reading than Cavell.)
posted by Beardman at 2:16 PM on June 21, 2009


I mention it because it's quite a neutral overview of PI, and where it isn't, it explains controversies (i.e. about Kripke).

I mean to specify that it explains those controversies in which it takes a side.
posted by Beardman at 2:17 PM on June 21, 2009


Anthony Kenny's essays on Wittgenstein are excellent. It's slow going, you won't read him much faster than Wittgenstein himself, but he's definitely worth your time.
posted by BigSky at 2:52 PM on June 22, 2009


Thanks all! Marking best answers seems like missing the point — especially before I've actually done any of the reading — but I appreciate all the suggestions.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:53 AM on June 23, 2009


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