June 13, 2010 10:33 PM   Subscribe

What are the best works critical of Wittgenstein's later philosophy? Of his method as a whole? Of "the linguistic turn"?
posted by phrontist to Religion & Philosophy (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Descartes, Discourse on Method

Chomsky, Knowledge of Language

Fodor, Concepts: Where Cognitive Science Went Wrong
People sometimes used to say that exist must be ambiguous because look at the difference between 'chairs exist' and 'numbers exist'. A familiar reply goes: the difference between the existence of chairs and the existence of numbers seems, on reflection, strikingly like the difference between numbers and chairs. Since you have the latter to explain the former, you don't also need 'exist' to be polysemic.
Wiggins, Sameness and Substance Renewed:
"Let us forget once and for all the very idea of some knowledge of language or meaning that is not knowledge of the world itself."
posted by ageispolis at 12:32 AM on June 14, 2010

ageispolis, I don't know those books by Fodor and Wiggins, but I don't really see how those quotes are critiques of late Wittgenstein at all. Do Fodor and Wiggins specifically say that they're critiquing late Wittgenstein?
posted by creasy boy at 1:02 AM on June 14, 2010

It is hard to see how Descartes can be viewed as a critical response to Wittgenstein, since he lived and worked 300 years earlier.
posted by yclipse at 4:15 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

A.C. Grayling's Very Short Introduction to Wittgenstein.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:17 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

It isn't really a critique in the strict sense (although it is critical), but there's an awesome article about the influence of Skepticism on Wittgenstein which takes a more holistic view of his philosophy than most treatments generally do:
Bob Plant, "The End(s) of Philosophy: Rhetoric,Therapy and Wittgenstein’s Pyrrhonism," Philosophical Investigations 27, no. 3 (July 2004), 222-257.
posted by nasreddin at 4:56 AM on June 14, 2010

I've been thinking about your question and couldn't come up with anything. I think one issue is that I've been studying Wittgenstein for a few years now and I have no idea what his "method as a whole" would be. There are lots of articles from people who find particular arguments in the Investigations unconvincing or confused; for example, a lot of people don't like his argument against private language. If there did exist a book criticizing his "method as a whole" I would expect it to be terrible, probably something that just reads Wittgenstein as a relativist or a behaviorist or something and so attacks a position he didn't hold. Just uncovering a general method in his late philosophy (except in very vague terms like "a dialogical method") would be quite an achievement, never mind critiquing it. And "the linguistic turn" is a whole different subject.
posted by creasy boy at 6:54 AM on June 14, 2010

ageispolis, I don't know those books by Fodor and Wiggins, but I don't really see how those quotes are critiques of late Wittgenstein at all. Do Fodor and Wiggins specifically say that they're critiquing late Wittgenstein?

One of the implications of Wittgenstein's later philosophy is a pluralistic approach to ontology. What countenances as an object is a matter of what a group of people come to agree upon and adapt into their (optional) language. (C.f. Eli Hirsch.) Putnam is probably the most popular proponent of the view, and he explicitly attributes central aspects of it to Wittgenstein's Investigations. Hirsch calls it 'quantifier variance' — the existential quantifier has a variety of uses, none of which is metaphysically privileged. Here's Hirsch:
What must be given up is a picture of language in which the characters at the level of sentences are generated by some underlying referential mechanisms at the level of words. This “bottom-up” picture is misguided because the references of words depend upon the characters of sentences.
By 'characters of sentences' he means the ways in which sentences are used, i.e., in the varying contexts of language games.

The two quotes that I mentioned above and the two philosophers espousing them are saying that the 'linguistic turn' is pointed in the wrong direction. I think the common sentiment towards Wittgenstein's Investigations today is that the arguments of which other philosophers (e.g. Kripke) pulled out of the work were too radical and strong, and that Wittgenstein's implicit behaviorism was presumptuous. Of course, as creasy boy mentioned, these kinds of readings of Wittgenstein and Kripkenstein are themselves too radical and strong.

It is hard to see how Descartes can be viewed as a critical response to Wittgenstein, since he lived and worked 300 years earlier.

It is precisely those who are critical of Wittgenstein's Investigations who can accept arguments written 300 years before.

Also: Timothy Williamson "The Philosophy of Philosophy"
posted by ageispolis at 10:04 AM on June 14, 2010

If you're looking for more exegetical works, David Pears new book Paradox and Platitude in Wittgenstein looks to be easier to get now than his 1971 work, which was highly regarded at the time. I've heard good things about Stephen Mulhall's Wittgenstein's Private Language, but haven't read it yet.

Three major works that you really should consider are Kripke's Wittgenstein On Rules and Private Language, Crispin Wright's Rails To Infinity: Essays on Themes from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Invesitgations and McDowell's "Wittgenstein on Following a Rule." Kripke takes Wittgenstein to be a skeptic about meaning (there just are no facts about what words mean), Wright asserts that there are facts but not objective facts (only social conventions and regularities in usage) and McDowell argues against both, emphasizing that Wittgenstein's work suggests a conception of rule-following that is not bound by the parameters of either of those positions. Robert Brandom's normative pragmatism (Articulating Reasons) owes a great deal to one interpretation of the later Wittgenstein, though both the reading and what he does with it are controversial.

If you're looking for someone arguing strongly against the later Wittgenstein, Chomsky and Fodor are good choices. You could take a look at a couple of the essays in Chomsky's Rules and Representations and the chapter entitled "Why There Has to Be and How There Could Be a Private Language" in Fodor's The Language of Thought (pp. 55-78). I think Fodor and Chomsky are on the wane a bit these days, but that's a larger set of issues.

And since I'm a huge MeFi-etiquette-violating douchebag, here are two self-links that include some detail on the later Wittgenstein. [1][2]
posted by el_lupino at 11:07 AM on June 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Hmmm...well, it is difficult to be 'critical' of Wittgenstein, per se, especially of his later work. There's a lot of discourse and there's a lot of dismissal, but not tons of critique, in the sense that, say, Kierkegaard is a critique of Hegel or something.

I recommend something like the Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein. For starters. You might then try scrolling through pages like this, but you're going to end up reading a lot of academic drivel that takes issue with some pedantic Wittgensteinian point and thereby totally misses the whole thing.

In any case, there's also something to be said for all of the philosophy that critiques Wittgenstein by omission.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:10 AM on June 14, 2010

Welp, as long as we're allowed to recommend people who lived and died before Wittgenstein...

posted by edguardo at 2:25 PM on June 14, 2010

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