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Your thoughts on Wittgenstein?

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Have any of you heard of or read any of Wittgenstein's works? I am currently conversing with a philosophy student on another board and he subscribes to Wittgenstein's views. I was hoping that some of you had a fair understanding of it and could try to summarize it for me. I am short on time these days, so it will be hard to find time to read his book.

Here's the thread we're on:

www.highintensity.net/Forums/ViewTopic.asp?topic_id=1021&start=0

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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I'm in a philosophy of science course right now, and my professor deals with philosophy of language, and loves Wittgenstein.

From what he told us, Wittgenstein holds that there are words which are so loaded with meanings and connotations that one shouldn't bother to try to define them, and instead rely on a 'family resemblance' to link together the different senses used for the same word. As far as I can tell, he also states that necessary and sufficient conditions for describing a concept (i.e., a definition), is not always possible.

Objectivism, naturally, rejects such a vague theory of language. Frankly, I think Wittgenstein's just lazy. Rand herself mentions in IOE that "Wittgenstein's theory that a concept refers to a conglomeration of things vaguely tied together by a 'family resemblance' is a perfect description of the state of a mind out of focus." (2nd ed, 78)

Edited by Nate T.
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Wittgenstein was a linguist, he, and others like him, thought words were detached from reality essentially and had intrinsic meanings. It's all really quite ludicrous and obnoxious in the extreme, especially when people today look back on him as anything other than a Platonic quack.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Wittgenstein is one of the most respected philosophers of the 20th century. Many regard him as the best philosopher since Kant.

One of my friends, David Egan, wrote a play called "The Fly-Bottle" about Ludwig and Bertrand and Karl at the Cambridge Moral Science club.

We talked a great deal about Objectivism and of Wittgenstein. While Wittgenstein was very well the antithesis of Rand, there seemed to be some interesting parallels between the two--they held similar conclusions, though for very different reasons. Wittgenstein embraced the context of concepts--whereas Bertrand Russell failed in retaining any context. After Wittgenstein point this, among other facts, out Russell's own work seemed to slow considerably (score one!)

Wittgenstein was in with the Ordinary Language school of thought--which advocated a brand of naive realism. I forgot the name of the work, but in it they (Ordinary Language people) used the "pencil in a glass of water" analogy to attest the accuracy of the senses. For Wittgenstein and like thinkers our senses were trustworthy.

I'd draw more parallels, but I'm low on time, hopefully I can add later. For an Objectivist student, reading the Tractatus is not absolutely necessary. But if you really like philosophy, it is worth a read.

Edited by Rainer
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Wittgenstein's outlook is easily summarized:

1. No question worth asking can be dealt with using philosophical analysis

2. Questions that can be dealt with philosophically are purely technical in nature

That is, in his view, philosophy can never give satisfactory answers to questions of ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, theology, etc.

The point of all of Wittgenstein's linguistic analysis, is to lay out in the clearest possible way how language works, and what language is capable of so that it will be obvious to all that no sort of philosophical analysis can ever rigorously resolve meaningful questions.

This is not to say these things cannot be spoken about. He would say that anything you can say about important things will come from people working from artistic inspiration (such as poets). But this is inspiration, not the result of rigorous analysis and proof.

The way he analyzed language changed from is early, middle, and late periods, but the overall program remained as above.

Edited by punk
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[...] I am currently conversing with a philosophy student on another board and he subscribes to Wittgenstein's views. I was hoping that some of you had a fair understanding of it and could try to summarize it for me.[...]

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

I have two general suggestions for such situations:

(1) Practice dialectical skills. Ask the other person questions and evaluate his answers based on what you already know plus your attempt -- aided by further questions -- to integrate his various answers.

For example, an obvious question would be: What were the essential principles of Wittgentein's philosophy? Another one, addressing the same point from a different approach, would be: What branches of philosophy did Wittgenstein cover, and what main conclusion did he draw from each?

(2) Purchase a philosophical dictionary for easy reference. My favorite -- but for my particular purposes -- is W. L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Eastern and Western Thought. For Wittgenstein, DPR offers about one and a quarter pages of information about his life and work, with cross-references to other philosophers and philosophical concepts.

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I forgot this part in my above post, but it is different enough from what was addressed there....

Wittgenstein comes nearest to Rand in his general belief that questions of logic, philosophy, truth, etc. are of a fundamentally ethical nature.

That is to say that the individual should pursue truth (i.e. true beliefs about the world, and acting according to these true beliefs) as a moral imperative, and that evading the truth is fundamentally immoral.

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Does anyone know on what page Rand mentions Wittgenstein? I've tried to find it, but can't. I haven't read the book, so I was just thumbing through randomly.

[bold added for emphasis.]

One of the most important concepts I have learned from Objectivism is that dealing with reality requires having objective methods -- rather than random behavior. (Ayn Rand briefly discusses methods, as a type of concept, in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pp. 35-36, 305-306.)

Did you use the index in your copy of ITOE? It clearly lists Wittgenstein -- one page for Ayn Rand's Introduction and one page for Leonard Peikoff's essay, which appeared together in the first as well as the second edition.

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  • 3 years later...

It should also be noted that what seems like a more substantive criticism of Wittgenstein and pragmatism is in chapter 4 of OPAR, in the section Intricism and Subjectivism as the Two Forms of Rejecting Objectivity. Here Peikoff says that these pragmatists believe there are no clear definitions, but "more-or-less-rough similarities". In my estimate, this sounds most apt for Quine, and only arguably apt for Wittgenstein. For Quine it's questionable whether there can be any genuine disagreement--whether, in any disagreement, one can just explain away contradictions by reinterpretation of the languages. In Wittgenstein, there is an assumption of common language, probably inferred by the behavior of people and their use of language.

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  • 2 months later...
We talked a great deal about Objectivism and of Wittgenstein. While Wittgenstein was very well the antithesis of Rand, there seemed to be some interesting parallels between the two--they held similar conclusions, though for very different reasons. Wittgenstein embraced the context of concepts--whereas Bertrand Russell failed in retaining any context. After Wittgenstein point this, among other facts, out Russell's own work seemed to slow considerably (score one!)

Old thread, but I was reminded when reading this paragraph of Rand's hilarious commentary that Wittgenstein's theory of concepts was a perfect description of a mind out of focus. I need to look at what he said and compare it to Rand's theory again to completely re-grasp the humor here, but I recall a dozen years back that this was pretty solid comedy on Miss Rand's part.

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