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Reviewed by:
  • The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein ed. by Hans Sluga, David G. Stern
  • Douglas G. Winblad
Hans Sluga and David G. Stern, editors. The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. ix + 509. Cloth, $59.95. Paper, $18.95.

There is a disconcerting lack of agreement about how to interpret Wittgenstein’s texts. The introduction and fourteen essays in this book are cases in point. Stern claims that the phenomenon is due largely to the fact that Wittgenstein’s writings call for a radical change in philosophical sensibility, a change to which there continues to be considerable resistance. He also notes that most of Wittgenstein’s posthumous publications are the result of massive editorial interventions, and that much of his work remains unpublished. The electronic edition of the entire Nachlass, Stern argues, will reveal that Wittgenstein’s writings as a whole constitute a highly interconnected network of remarks—a hypertext. In a similar vein, Sluga suggests that Wittgenstein’s philosophical trajectory reflects the larger cultural shift in this century from modernism to postmodernism. The postmodern, hypertextual aspect of Wittgenstein’s thinking is nowhere better embodied here than in Cavell’s reflections on the importance of context in deciding whether some behavior counts as language use. Cavell’s remarks reproduce and comment on his own lectures on the opening sections of Philosophical Investigations, sections he reads as a commentary on a passage in Augustine.

A closely related theme in the essays concerns the status of Wittgenstein’s attempt to avoid replacing older philosophical theories with new ones. Garver maintains that Wittgenstein’s notion of grammar provides a powerful rebuke to speculative or scientific metaphysics, but not to descriptive metaphysics. Glock argues in turn that Wittgenstein’s distinction between grammatical and empirical propositions does not fall prey to Quine’s attack on analyticity. One wonders whether this distinction is purely descriptive. And even if one grants Glock’s claim that grammatical rules are unfalsifiable, how does one decide whether a particular remark about these rules is mistaken? We cannot pass judgment on what for Garver is Wittgenstein’s genuinely critical enterprise without addressing these issues.

Doing so also requires us to assess Wittgenstein’s closely related treatment of rule following. Stroud rejects Kripke’s account of this material, claiming that what the relevant passages actually show is that that no explanation of how language in general—and meaning and normativity in particular—is possible. Stroud holds that this conclusion can be felt as dissatisfying. But is it a theoretical conclusion? And why not find it liberating, as Wittgenstein apparently did?

Fogelin also emphasizes Wittgenstein’s antitheoretical animus, taking issue with Dummett’s view that Wittgenstein is advancing a use theory of meaning and an antirealist philosophy of mathematics. Like Fogelin, Gerrard challenges Dummett’s view of Wittgenstein’s treatment of mathematics, insisting that for Wittgenstein, truth is not a matter of human agreement. But Gerrard does not tell us what Wittgenstein believes truth is. The question whether there is anything he thinks it is deserves further attention.

Some contributors impute to the later Wittgenstein what are clearly theoretical [End Page 643] stances. Bloor argues that what he takes to be Wittgenstein’s linguistic idealism arises from certain sociological assumptions. And Kober attributes a “collective-linguistic idealism” to Wittgenstein on the grounds that the latter thinks that the truth conditions of a sentence depend on, or are part of, its utterance conditions. But, as several of the other essays make clear, it is debatable whether Wittgenstein would agree.

A few authors discuss in detail the nature of philosophical theorizing in the early Wittgenstein. Summerfield offers an interpretation of what she takes to be the theory of representation in the Tractatus. She allows, however, that Wittgenstein tells us that one cannot represent the connection between a name and its referent. Ricketts, on the other hand, stresses that the so-called picture theory appears to imply that there can be no such theory. Yet his reading does not abandon the conception of truth as agreement with reality. It is unclear to me that this conception survives the implosion of the text as a whole. Why not kick the entire ladder away...


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