WITTGENSTEIN ON MIND AND LANGUAGE.
This book deals with some large tracts of Wittgenstein's writings concerning representation and the mental. Its defining characteristic, and one of its main strengths, is an extensive use of material in the background of Wittgenstein's Tractatus and Investigations. Stern quotes from and discusses remarks from unpublished manuscripts, including the Big Typescript, little-studied published writings such as the Tractatus notebooks, "Some Remarks on Logical Form," Philosophical Remarks, Philosophical Grammar, as well as lecture notes by Moore, King and Lee, and others. How much of these writings the book reproduces is suggested by the fact that its appendix, giving the original German of the previously unpublished matter translated in the main text, is eleven small-print pages long; and there are far more quotations from the published part of the corpus. The result is a work in which, for a run of pages, the ratio of quoted material to comment can be as high as one to one (84, 85, 106-9, for example); and in which most pages contain a significant amount of indented quotation. The main justification offered for the wholesale inclusion of this material is that it provides a context that can help determine what problem Wittgenstein was addressing in a given passage from his two main works (6). Stern's mastery of that material is impressive, as shown for example in his pellucid outline of Wittgenstein's philosophical development after 1920 (91-98).
Since Stern traces a rather wide range of issues through the whole of Wittgenstein's philosophical career (with special emphasis on the transitional writings) there is not much space left for considering particular exegetical issues in depth. Some points touched upon necessarily get short shrift; and inevitably the reader will at times be left with the feeling that it doesn't help in understanding Wittgenstein's puzzling ideas to be presented with equally opaque claims from the Nachlass. The Investigations passage in which Wittgenstein speaks of "the importance of finding and inventing intermediate cases" ([sections] 122) provides an example of how Stern can seem to understand things too quickly. The italicized phrase is highly puzzling. What did Wittgenstein have in mind? Stern passes the issue by, merely quoting an early version of Wittgenstein's remark from the Big Typescript and commenting briefly on it (28). The book often stays too close to Wittgenstein's own vocabulary and remarks to be able to offer satisfactory exegesis. On the other hand the author should not be seen as venturing analysis in depth of a series of linked exegetical problems. Rather, in his many relevant citations from the Nachlass, and his elucidatory comments on them, he provides a useful tour of the book's subject themes. A passage along the extended surface he provides, an expanse often both novel and fascinating, has its own distinct value.
The first half of the book deals with issues from the early philosophy. Stern accepts the traditional interpretation of the picture theory: an elementary proposition portrays reality by having its simple names related in the same way as the simple objects in the referred to atomic fact (39). Adopting Anscombe's example, by placing one name above another we could claim that the corresponding objects stand in the same relationship. The trouble with that interpretation, as Carl Ginet has pointed out, is that immediately the elementary propositions cease to be logically independent.(1) A fuller presentation than Stern gives would have to address that problem. I found Stern's account of the famous proof of objects (Tractatus 2.0211, 2.0212) unconvincing (56-60). In explaining why, according to Wittgenstein, some proposition would have to be true, if there were no simple objects, and thus why, unacceptably, sense would be dependent on truth, he argues that without simple objects an endless chain of further propositions would have to supply the sense of the original proposition; but that result does not yet make sense dependent on truth. Stern's discussion of the metaphysical self and related issues in section 3.4 is rich and informative. In addition, he is certainly right in claiming that Wittgenstein eschewed the task of saying what simple objects are, and right as well in emphasizing Wittgenstein's concern at that period, and in his transitional stage as well, with the notion of immediate experience.
The second half of the book deals with the post-Tractatus Wittgenstein. Chapter 4 considers a number of differences between the early and later thought, and chapter 5 attempts to say how those changes came about. Chapter 6 contains, among other things, two brief discussions of private language, and an interesting consideration of the theme "All is in flux."
The transitional Wittgenstein postulated a primary language dealing with immediate experience, and a secondary language--our ordinary one--for speaking of things in space and time. The second language must be cashed out in terms of the first. In the Tractatus this distinction is perhaps implicit in the idea that sentences in ordinary language are understood by projecting them onto their fully analyzed forms, and thus in effect onto a phenomenal language. Stern makes clear how significant the idea of a phenomenal language was for Wittgenstein. In particular he establishes the importance of Wittgenstein's investigation of the possibility of a completely nonhypothetical phenomenological language. Stern's elucidates two puzzling points in Wittgenstein's writings, one concerning the analogy of film strip and projected picture, the other a strange crank-turned machine Wittgenstein imagined, capable of representing the content of a stretch of immediate experience, or the remembrance of such. These deliberations show Stern at his quite striking best. On the other hand I remained puzzled about several issues, such as why Wittgenstein wanted a nonhypothetical primary language, what this "nonhypothetical" means, and how these ideas play out in the Investigations. If here and elsewhere the book fails to explain Wittgenstein fully, this is compensated for by its success in forging connections across the whole of the Nachlass, and especially by its insightful comment on rewarding material from the unpublished writings or under-studied works like the Philosophical Remarks.
(1) Carl Ginet, "An Incoherence in the Tractatus," Canadian Journal of Philosophy 3 (1973): 143-51.
JOHN V. CANFIELD University of Toronto
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|Author:||CANFIELD, JOHN V.|
|Publication:||The Philosophical Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2000|
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