Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Wittgenstein double-bind - and its solution


I used to be very interested by Wittgenstein and his ideas

although I now regard both W. and my interest in him as mistaken.

One aspect which I recall was that the only thing which enraged Wittgenstein more than people using his ideas without full attribution, was people using his ideas with full attribution - because they always misunderstood and misrepresented the ideas.

Wittgenstein himself did not publish anything after Tractatus - nothing of his 'late' philosophy; so this meant that there was only one way to know what W. was saying and that was to hear him say it - in his actual presence. And to be allowed to do this, one had to be a disciple.

So W. had disciples whom he controlled, not colleagues; and operated as a holy man or guru, not as an academic. This is, indeed, the basis of his appeal.

It is also a proper way to proceed in education - i.e. apprenticeship. Unfortunately, with his 'late' philosophy, W. did not really have anything worth teaching - as he himself was the first to assert, and was confirmed by W.s main patron and supporter Bertrand Russell.

In consequence, there was a weird cult of nothingness - moralistically critiqueing and denying this, then that, then something else... but from no discernible basis - swirling around the personality of Wittgenstein (and continually riven by accusations of misunderstanding and misrepresentation); and this cult proved extremely enduring: it was certainly still going strong twenty-five years ago (when I last looked).

But the phenomenon is fascinating. Of course Wittgenstein was a compellingly intense and uncompromising character - a one off; but it is remarkable that he became by far the most influential philosopher in the sphere of British philosophy - 'despite' - or was it precisely because - he 1. published nothing and 2. had nothing to say and 3. did his utmost to prevent anybody else from referencing or discussing his work.