The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein, ed. H. Sluga and D. Stern (Cambridge)
The impact of Wittgenstein may seem to be on the decline among contemporary writers working in the analytical philosophy. Many are beginning to see him as no more than one of the great figures in the past. In view of this, it seems now necessary for us to estimate the importance of his ideas, not only in the analytical tradition, but in the context of the philosophy of this century, or of the entire history of philosophy. We also need to see what kind of far-reaching consequences, if any, his ideas might have. This massive 500 pages Cambridge Companion comprises 14 new essays, and the writers are also relatively new, in the sense that we no longer find the names of such first-generation great scholars as Malcolm, Anscombe, Pears, Hacker or Kenny. And many of the contributors do tackle this task of offering an assessment of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. But the overall impression is that the work has just started, that is, it is still no easy to find the right place for him.
Of course, that is not the only job of this volume. The main purpose is to serve as a guide to Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Writers are generally trying to make themselves comprehensible to non-specialists, which might explain the fact that each essay is rather long. Hence, such an old question as the nature of the object of the Tractatus is taken up by Ricketts, and in the course of his argument for the view that relations are not objects and there are no names for relations, he presents a clear and precise description of the picture theory of the Tractatus. If we turn to his later philosophy, problems concerning rules, which have been the prominent topic in the last decade or more, seem to be still at the centre of the debate, and come to the surface in many of the essays. Specifically, Kripke’s sceptical interpretation of rules is carefully examined by Stroud, and he convincingly defends the irreducibility of intentional statements, that is, statements that describe rules, without succumbing to scepticism. On the other hand, the private language argument receives less attention. It is one of the issues discussed by Sluga, and it also serves as a background for many others, but none of them offers a detailed account of the relevant paragraphs in the Investigations. Thus, it is not the case that all the important themes and texts of Wittgenstein are uniformly reviewed in this volume. Philosophy of mathematics is examined by more than one contributors, and On Certainty is the subject matter of Kober, while the writings of the so-called middle-period Wittgenstein, such as Philosophical Remarks and Philosophical Grammar, remain less touched, and there is no mention at all to the topic of aspect perception.
Turning to the more demanding task of assessing and expanding Wittgenstein’s philosophy, one might first of all be interested in Cavell’s contribution, which is the only material that is reprinted from elsewhere, where he provides us with references to Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger and others. However, it seems unlikely that this work will be favoured by everyone. His critical examination of the opening of the Investigations certainly deserves appreciation. But when it comes to his allusions to the Continental thinkers, it lacks sufficient textual support and one might have the impression that those remarks are rather speculative. Moreover, it is not readily comprehensible to those who are not familiar with Cavell’s writings. One might experience similar uneasiness with Scheman, who ambitiously offers a political reading of Wittgenstein and focuses on the role of a minority in shaping the form of life of a community. Unfortunately, another dimension in which development of Wittgensteinean themes seems promising, namely, philosophy of religion, is not explored by any of the essays.
To take another example, Sluga’s contribution exhibits many of the typical characteristics of this volume. He starts by mentioning the inspiring paragraph 398 of the Investigations, then goes through Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mind in the Tractatus, in the Blue Book and in the Investigations. And then he makes a puzzling remark about the conception of the self, the self as an imaginary construction, which in his view Wittgenstein should have adopted but did not in fact hold. Finally, he compares that conception of the self with that of Foucault and goes back to the paragraph 398. Now, his concise summary of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of mind in both his early and later stages is lucid and helpful, but the contentious part, namely, his account of self-conception, is yet too obscure, and in effect reveals how difficult it is to put Wittgenstein in the context of the tradition of European philosophy.
All in all, this new collection of essays will give one a clear illustration of how writers on Wittgenstein are working, or rather, struggling today. It will encourage one to explore the unknown dimensions to which Wittgenstein’s ideas may be relevant. And certainly this book is particularly suitable for advanced students who have already gone through the primary texts and the most significant of secondary literature.