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Customer Review

50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars top of the heap, March 29, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Philosophical Investigations (3rd Edition) (Paperback)
This book inspires heartfelt testimony. My own experience is that it liberates. Wittgenstein introduces a method that's fitted to the questions he treats, so that anyone who is bothered by the same questions can finally get a decent grip on them. The questions I mean are the usual philosophical ones: what is value? what is a fact? what is logic? what makes a thing what it is? what is essence? what is explanation? what is thinking? and so on. But (and this is a clue to his method) the basic question among all of these is about meaning: what is it, what conditions it, and what is the relationship between meaning and world (it turns out to be intimate).
A couple of "warnings": Wittgenstein is not a philosopher who likes jargon, in fact the tendency to jargon cuts directly against his philosophical point that language is just fine the way it is. But he can be weirdly hard to read anyway and very smart people walk away from him bewildered all the time. Mostly (I think) that's because the questions are uniquely "close to us" and Wittgenstein's approach is totally unlike familiar approaches to problem-solving (in science, math, politics, car mechanics, etc.) It's as though we are used to inspecting things at arm's length but what's at issue in these questions changes at arm's length, the problem is only right at our noses. So he takes another approach which you'll have to see first-hand - what he himself called his "new method". Now every rule must have an exception, and that brings me to the second point. Actually Wittgenstein does rely on some technical vocabulary - nothing far-out, but it can present an obstacle to deeper reading. Words like "sense", "reference", "assertion", "truth-value", "concept", and "object" stem from logic and the theory of meaning as Frege developed them. To go more deeply into PI, a person would have to read - or somehow be comfortable with ideas from - at least two of Frege's articles: "On Sense and Reference" and "On Concept and Object" [collected in The Frege Reader, Beaney ed.]. These articles are practically the fountainhead of analytic philosophy and also clear, precisely written, and intensely brilliant. More to the point, they contain many of Wittgenstein's insights in germinal form, and many of Wittgenstein's most significant moves are implicit or explicit criticisms of Frege. So to really get to the bottom of PI you'll probably need to read Frege.
Anyway, the bottom line is: if you've come this far, it's for you.
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