Wittgenstein's Hermeneutics

Topics: Philosophy, Philosophical Investigations, Martin Heidegger Pages: 7 (2600 words) Published: October 9, 2013
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was born into one of the wealthiest families of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. His father, owner of much of Austria’s iron and steel industry, encouraged him to study engineering in Berlin and Manchester but, during his studies, Wittgenstein wrestled with Philosophical questions and soon sought out Bertrand Russell, who was lecturing in Philosophy at Cambridge University. Wittgenstein quickly became Russell’s favourite pupil; in fact he was considered by Russell to be more of a contemporary Philosopher than a student. But within two years he had left his tutelage to live in seclusion in Norway in order to focus his thinking in the field of logic. Wittgenstein left Norway and returned home to Austria on the eve of the First World War and was taken prisoner by the Italians while serving in the Austrian army. By the end of the war he had finished his first (and only complete) book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, published in 1921. Tractatus, for Wittgenstein, brought all philosophical pursuits to an end; for him Tractatus was the last word. Having solved the problem of Philosophical problems he became, for a short unsuccessful and miserable time, a kindergarten teacher and then architect before returning to Cambridge to take up Philosophy again , in 1929. He had come to the realisation that the “Tractatus did not, after all, provide the final solution to all the problems of philosophy.”1 Between the years of 1929 to 1951, Wittgenstein crafted a unique approach to Philosophy which built on his earlier work in Tractatus; his belief was that philosophy should not be engaged with as a science or in any way similar to science. Philosophy, for Wittgenstein, was not a body of codes and rules but an activity; Philosophy, for Wittgenstein, was the process of clarifying the confusion created by language.2 Wittgenstein begins Philosophical Investigations (PI) with one of many metaphors employed in the book. He says that language does not possess such mathematical unity as he had reasoned in Tractatus but our language is like a city, “Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.”3 In the preface to PI, Wittgenstein concedes that mistakes were made, in Tractatus, in his attempt to reduce language to a mathematical formula, “For since beginning to occupy myself with philosophy again, sixteen years ago, I have been forced to recognize grave mistakes in what I wrote in that first book.”4 Yet there is continuity in his thinking; the new way of thinking must be seen in the light of the old way. He stops reducing language to a mathematical formula or metalanguage and starts to focus on colloquial language. Western Philosophy from Plato through to Descartes had tried to reduce everything down to its essence: Words were seen as mere signs which expressed thoughts which existed “pre-linguistically” in a system of thought- language dualism in which language correlated to thoughts in “linguistic occasionalism”. The tendency to manifest this idea is “logical positivism” where language is extraneous to thought.5 Linge describes his earlier reasoning, “In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein could contend that meaning arose when the logical simples of language were combined in such fashion as to correspond to (“picture”) nonverbal facts. One understands sentence when one understands its consistent parts”.6 Wittgenstein reacts against this and switches his attention from sign-object relationship to one which relates words and context. In his later reasoning, a word gets its meaning from its context, therefore a word is not a sign independent of its context.7 As Linge says, “In contrast to the transcendental grammar of the positivists, Wittgenstein contends that the uses that specify the meanings of words in common...

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