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Reviewed by:
  • Wittgenstein in Exile by James C. Klagge
  • Rupert Read and Jessica Woolley
James C. Klagge. Wittgenstein in Exile. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011. Pp. ix + 259. Cloth, $37.00.

James Klagge aims to shed light on Wittgenstein’s philosophy by situating it in its biographical–cultural context. While Klagge is not alone in pursuing this aim, his claim to originality lies in his thematic focus on Wittgenstein’s relationship to his time and culture as one of “alienation” (3), expressed by the metaphor of being “in exile” (61). A central concern of Klagge’s is how we, as modern readers living in a “civilized” culture not dissimilar to the one from which Wittgenstein felt himself estranged, can hope to understand the philosophical writings of such a radically distant “other.” Klagge’s suggestion is that through acknowledging and engaging with just how different Wittgenstein was, we can, ironically, draw closer to an authentic understanding and appreciation of his philosophy.

As Klagge observes, there are various ways in which we can think of Wittgenstein as being in exile. Klagge primarily encourages us to think in Spenglerian terms—of Wittgenstein as someone who was at odds with the prevalent spirit of twentieth-century Western civilization, whose temperament and values were “at home” in a past cultural era. Klagge’s project is thus an investigation into the ways in which dissonances between the spirit in which Wittgenstein philosophized, and characteristic tendencies of modern “civilized” thought, can obstruct understanding of his philosophy. These include the expectation that explanations and justifications will go on indefinitely (38–39), the urge to construct increasingly complicated structures (83), the tendency to idolize science and scientific methods (84), and the temptation to adopt mechanistic causal explanations of psychological and biological phenomena (102). The implication is that if we go along with such tendencies, we will be unable to participate in Wittgenstein’s philosophy on its own terms. To understand Wittgenstein thus requires the cultivation of an attitude that runs counter to the spirit of our time, and may require relinquishing ways of expressing ourselves characteristic of the culture to which we have become habituated. In short, we will have to join Wittgenstein “in exile.”

While Klagge’s central idea of approaching Wittgenstein “in exile” is vivid, and his book is a treasure trove of fascinating quotes and anecdata supporting it, Klagge’s philosophical discussions of the material he presents is not always strong. Take, for instance, his discussion of Wittgenstein’s imaginary example of the “two-minute England” (146–47). In Wittgenstein’s example, we are asked to imagine an exact copy of a part of England, including its residents, that exists for only two minutes, and to contemplate the activity of a two-minute man who is doing something that looks like calculating. The question is posed, “Could we . . . not imagine a past and a continuation of these two minutes which would make us call the processes something quite different [from calculating]?” (Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, 336). Klagge presents this as a “version” of Putnam’s “Twin Earth” thought experiment, designed to establish the point that meaning is temporally (as well as spatially) contextual (146). However, this is highly suspect. In assimilating Wittgenstein’s example with Putnam’s thought experiment, Klagge not only disregards Wittgenstein’s crucial distinction between a grammatical and empirical investigation (Philosophical Investigations, §§89–90), including remarks where Wittgenstein explicitly rejects the idea of a “thought-experiment” (Philosophical Grammar, §§67 and 105; Philosophical Remarks, 52; and Last Writings on the [End Page 499] Philosophy of Psychology I, §519), but also fails to acknowledge the fundamental challenge posed by Wittgenstein’s example for Putnam’s procedure.

In Putnam’s thought experiment, the idea of a “Twin Earth,” exactly like ours except for the molecular composition of what Twin Earthians call “water,” is used to support the conclusion that meaning is not “in the head.” Conversely, Wittgenstein’s example of the “two-minute England” raises the question of whether we are licensed in drawing any conclusions from a two-minute observation (or rather imagination) of a person’s activities about what sort of activity they are engaged in. Rather than using an imaginary example...