John Cook claims that his book presents a completely new reading of Wittgenstein's central ideas. He takes issue with the conventional position that after 1930 Wittgenstein repudiated the philosophy of the Tractatus and developed an entirely novel conception of philosophy. Cook traces the progress of Wittgenstein's ideas and claims that they are neither as unique nor as abstruse as is often presumed. His main contention is that Wittgenstein was basically an empiricist equipped with a theory of meaning and that the difference between his early and later views lies mainly in the fact that after 1930 he replaced his former account of reductionism with another.
Cook argues that many myths have dominated renderings of Wittgenstein.
1. The most important and basic myth is that in the Tractatus Wittgenstein was not much concerned with epistemology. The correct surmise is that he was extremely interested in epistemology and his linguistic tenets were intended to defer to his epistemological beliefs. Wittgenstein had very firm notions about the epistemological role of the Tractarian objects. He thought that something must be given in immediate experience in order for it to be regarded as a Tractarian object. However, Gordon Baker's and Peter Hacker's position that the concept of a Tractarian object is covered in unclarity (Wittgenstein: Meaning and Understanding, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980, p.27) is a very strong counter to Cook's view.
2. Wittgenstein's central opinions, namely his advocacy of neutral monism, barely altered after 1916. It is not the case that in 1929 he evolved a philosophy that is separate from and repudiates the crucial notions of the Tractatus. The empiricist conceptions that dominate the Tractatus and importantly shape its explication of language operate in the same way in the Investigations. A significant question for Wittgenstein in both works was that of what elucidation of meaning (or grammar) can conciliate empiricism and ordinary language. A different answer is given in each book (after 1929 he methodically appealed to the "use" theory of meaning to achieve this) but that is a relatively insignificant issue. Cook's view of how the slogan about meaning as use is employed is implausible Wittgenstein: Meaning and Understanding, pp. 368f). Another difficulty is that it is hard to understand why empiricism and ordinary language are in conflict. A general objection to Cook's assertions is that there are differences between Wittgenstein's earlier and later philosophy (Wittgenstein: Meaning and Understanding, passim.), such as the rejection of a priori ways of dealing with language, which cannot be dismissed in this way.
3. Wittgenstein was never a proponent of ordinary language philosophy. He carried his philosophical biases to his engagement with language and therefore embraced a theory of meaning to indicate how his empiricism could be in accordance with how ordinary people talk. When ordinary discourse contradicted these biases Wittgenstein maintained that here ordinary language is deceptive. The problem is that Cook does not attempt to justify this position.
4. Wittgenstein was not a singular philosopher who was devoid of antecedents. His key opinions were mostly appropriated from earlier empiricists and his later claims about language and philosophy come to insignificantly more than a generalisation of Berkeley's account. The latter held that although the grammar of ordinary language is in various ways beguiling, this is no drawback as ordinary people do not mean that which the grammar suggests because grammar is arbitrary and the ordinary person's meaning is settled by how words are used in everyday life. However, Jonathan Bennett's arguments for the views that Berkeley was an idealist and did not adhere to the sort of theory of language which Cook attributes to him (Locke, Berkeley, Hume: Central Themes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 197 1, passim. provide a powerful rebuttal to Cook's assertions.
Cook applies the above ideas to a wide variety of topics including the issues of solipsism, phenomenalism, behaviourism, causation, induction, logical possibilities, memory and the past, mental states, rule following and private language. He disagrees on many points with the vast majority of Wittgenstein scholars. The book cannot be recommended as a commentary upon Wittgenstein.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1996|
|Previous Article:||"Responsibility as a condition for desert."(response to Saul Smilansky, this issue, p. 157)|
|Next Article:||Evidence and Inquiry: Toward Reconstruction in Epistemology.|