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It is hard for me to imagine anything more presumptuous than my doing a review of LW’s Philosophical Investigations. As a general reader who lacks the background in Russell/Frege/Moore, et al. to contextualize LW’s thought, I can hopefully speak for the interested amateurs out there who are considering buying the book.

First, this is a scholarly edition. It presents the German text and the English translation on facing pages. The copy text, if you will, for the translation is that of G.E.M. Anscombe, but it is revised by P.M.S. Hacker and Joachim Schulte. Wittgensteinians study LW’s writings word by word, and some of the translation choices have been disputed. The book also contains endnotes and a substantial index. Considering the accumulated elements of apparatus and the density of the text, the price is a bargain. This is, after all, one of the most important books of 20thc philosophy.

It is, of course, quite skeptical of the philosophic enterprise. LW believed that the ‘problems’ of philosophy were essentially self-created and result from the constraints posed by language. That which we cannot speak of, LW argued, was what was truly important. The rest was a series of muddles. The book consists of two parts, the second renamed “Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment.” The first consists (crudely speaking) of an extensive set of observations on language and communication, the second on perception and behavior. These observations are stated with great lucidity though we can feel the weight of reflection that stands behind them. We can also feel the weight of previous philosophic opinion, though LW is very sparing in his mention of other philosophers. His immediate predecessors are mentioned and he cites both Plato and Augustine (quoting the latter in Latin). He mentions William James, but on his predecessors he tends to remain silent. When he reflects on causality, e.g., he does not engage directly with Hume, though it is clear that Hume is in his thoughts. He anticipates much contemporary neuroscience, in, e.g., his discussion of the problems of ‘consciousness’, but he does not provide extensive references.

At a number of points (a very small number of points) he states his aims and his conclusions with great specificity:

“Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by the resources of our language” (#109).

“What I want to teach is: to pass from unobvious nonsense to obvious nonsense” (#464).

“A whole cloud of philosophy condenses into a drop of grammar” (#315).

And quintessentially:

“What is your aim in philosophy? – To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle” (#309).

He is (expectedly) hard on psychology:

“The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by its being a ‘young science’; its state is not comparable with that of physics, for instance, in its beginnings . . . . For in psychology, there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion. . . . The existence of the experimental method makes us think that we have the means of getting rid of the problems which trouble us; but problem and method pass one another by” (II, #371).

There are other memorable passages which I will allow the reader to discover for him- or herself.

I would describe this book as a necessary read for anyone interested in the history of philosophy and the course of modern thought. Even if one is not prepared to dissect it in detail, it is a pleasure to watch a brilliant mind at work, tracing an outline of thought that has been immensely influential.
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on July 29, 2012
It's more than a little presumptuous to attempt a short review of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. After all, it's one of the few most important philosophical works of the twentieth century. This edition is sorely awaited by some, after years of close examination and criticism of the Anscombe translation.

First, the geeky stuff on the translation and editing. Like the Anscombe translation, this one with Hacker and Schulte joining their efforts to Anscombe's, presents the original German and the English translation on facing pages. As a reader with a spotty knowledge of German, this gives me the opportunity to refer to the original where the English seems obscure, ambiguous, or just plain impenetrable. If you're a student of Wittgenstein, Hacker and Schulte have helpfully addressed numerous, controversial aspects of Anscombe's translation -- many of these, such as the difficulty with the German "Satz" (translated relative to context by "sentence" or "proposition", two very different English words) and "Seele" ("soul" sometimes but "mind" others by context in English), are discussed in their Preface.

If you are a quasi-casual reader, many of these points of translation are probably less important than overall readability. And I think Hacker and Schulte have improved readability, updating the feel of Wittgenstein's writing, which is often colloquial, to something more modern.

They've also added over 20 pages of sometimes helpful footnotes, where additional information about the translation or about Wittgenstein's thoughts are enlightening. And they've recast "Part II" of the Investigations itself as "Philosophy of Psychology -- A Fragment" -- their reasoning for that is given in their Preface.

Like most great philosophical texts, no matter how many times I read the Investigations, it's different each time, and I feel foolish for having understood so little the previous time. The new translation offers a great excuse to give it another read.

There are many themes to pick up, including the great variety of linguistic behavior (as contrasted with naive views of language as representing or naming, or with Wittgenstein's own view in the Tractatus), the illusions of distinctive mental activities (such as "meaning" a word while uttering it, or translating the inner to the outer or public), and the general theme of philosophical problems arising when "language goes on holiday".

It's the last that continues to grab my attention, persistently through readings, with different remarks jumping out of the text each time. The simple view is that Wittgenstein thinks ordinary language (what we all say and do in practical contexts every day) is fine as it is, but that it's when we detach ordinary language from those practical contexts that we get in trouble. We fall into perplexing philosophical quandaries, supposing ourselves to really wonder whether the external world or other minds exist, or whether objects are material or ideal.

But philosophical exercises of language are exercises of language, after all. It's not as though we can simply say, "Don't do that" when philosophers speak, and point out that they've left the "ordinary" behind. It's not a simple mistake, and the line between the "ordinary" and the "philosophical" is crossed sometimes without special notice. And it's not even the exclusive province of professional philosophers (amateurs seem even more impressed than the professionals sometimes by their own metaphysical musings).

Certainly, there is more to say about the mistake that philosophers, amateur and professional, make. In particular, there is Wittgenstein's distinction between empirical remarks (remarks about facts in the world) and grammatical remarks (by contrast, remarks about how we speak or are to speak about those facts in the world). The philosopher mistakes the one for the other, thinking that, for example, by adopting what we call an idealist grammatical position (when we talk of objects in the world, we are really talking of mental or ideal objects) we have really discovered something about the objects and not just made a statement about how we should speak of them. Much more to say on this, of course -- which is why a short review is so presumptuous. In fact, it's Wittgenstein's thoughts on why we fall victim to such a misunderstanding that I puzzle most about.
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on February 9, 2013
"I believe Mr. Wittgenstein's Tractatus to be one of the great works of contemporary philosophy; that being said, it is certainly well up to the standard required for the Cambridge Phd." (Apocryphal statement by G.E. Moore on being asked to review the TLP for Cambridge so as to grant Wittgenstein the degree).

To which the PI is certainly its equal or superior. It is hard to think of anyone else with as much courage as Wittgenstein, to essentially destroy his entire previous philosophy -- so beautiful, so completely crystalline -- in favour of a new one (or, if you like, supercede it). Mostly, in life, it is someone else who comes along to beat up on you: to do it to yourself so thoroughly is the mark of a true genius. Whatever you think of either philosophy, it is admirable.

This edition is a fine updated translation. My only tiny quibble is that they should have had an appendix with the earlier and changed page numbers, especially for the now renamed "Part II". It's a bit of a pain (the earlier numbers are actually inserted in the text, but still.....)
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on March 31, 2014
The five stars are not because, in the words of Amazon, "I love it", but because this is one of those seriously important books. If you are really interested in philosophy you need to get to know this book. I am just reading it for the second time and the percentage I actually understand is pretty low. But I am reassured by recalling that Avicenna, the great medieval Islamic philosopher, said that he had read Aristotle's Metaphysics forty times before he began to understand it.
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on February 2, 2015
I'm reading through this one with a group of undergrad humanities majors at my college, and the translation has been readable, even as it retains the grand challenge of Wittgenstein's thought-experiments. The book itself is a great introduction to philosophical inquiry, presenting everyday language as an object of examination and pushing readers both away from the simplistic urge to posit universal "rules" and the likewise simplistic urge to say that there are no "rules" at all.

I really do love this book.
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on June 16, 2016
well, if you like wittgenstein this is probably worth getting as there's been a fair amount of attention to translation issues and there is some commentary. I guess since my copy of the PI was purchased in the 1960s or 1970s for maybe 5 bucks i could afford to splurge on a new one. the importance of the work is hard to deny, so, why not?
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on September 21, 2013
The best translating of PI you can get in the world today! For people who study German but are not able yet to read the book direct from it, this is a opportunity to practise. I mean, the language used by Wittgenstein during his explanations is already very easy to reach, so it helps us a lot to identify the words and the grammar structures of the sentences in German, which are really well preserved in the translation too.
And, of course, just the fact that this translation is originaly made by Anscombe, friend of Wittgenstein, one of which was given the responsability of publishing his work in case that he died, that just makes the book trustrable. So, after the sequel of
revisions, we have now this one, the best improved of all.
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on November 17, 2009
Even though Wittgenstein's German is nothing like Kant's, providing a good translation of his work is a challenge given all that one must bring into consideration. Anscombe's original translation had its merits, but it also had a number of frustrating flaws.

One of the many problems with Anscombe's translation of PI is her translation of both "hinweisende Erklärung" and "hinweisende Definition" as "ostensive definition," where the former is more literally read as "ostensive explanation" and the latter as "ostensive definition." See, e.g., §§27 and 28 of an earlier edition. And as one can see from Wittgenstein's discussion, there are times when he uses "hinweisende Erklärung" to mean "ostensive explanation" as opposed to actually ostensively defining a word, e.g., §31. And sometimes he uses them together almost interchangeably, e.g., the last two lines of §28. One of the most glaring cases of Anscombe ignoring the distinction is in §6 where the German reads, "Dies will ich nicht `hinweisende Erklärung', oder `Definition', nennen...." and the English translation reads simply "I do not want to call this `ostensive definition'...."
One way this difference, and Anscombe's failure to track it, is important is that giving an explanation is a much more open ended activity than giving a definition in a somewhat similar way as the German word for "game," "das Spiel," is more open than the English word, since "das Spiel" can also mean the more open concept of play.

One small "problem" presented by the updated translation is that the changes make past expressions no longer so apt, e.g., talk of a "no stage-setting" interpretation of the failure of the private ostensive definition in §258, based on the remarks about stage-setting in §257, is now problematic, since the new translation does not make use of the expression "stage-setting." This is a small problem, however.

While I respect Hacker's work, I do not agree with how easily he attributes substantive views to Wittgenstein; so I worry about how Hacker's methodological assumptions about Wittgenstein influence his input on the revisions. Nevertheless, I do not have a similar worry about Schulte, and I know that both Hacker and Schulte took into consideration the suggestions of other Wittgenstein scholars when making the revisions.

It is too soon to tell now, but I am excited to see what kind of an effect this new edition has on Wittgenstein studies.
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on March 18, 2011
This new edition of the classic posthumous work of Wittgenstein is worth it even for those who have known and worked with the book for years in its earlier incarnations. For non-German speakers, it presents a very carefully and responsibly rethought translation, addressing everything from minor bits of orthography (the archaic anglicism 'shew' in the older editions, for instance) to fairly serious conceptual rethinking ('ostensive definition' becomes now, and correctly, 'ostensive explanation'). The index has been revamped, and a series of helpful notes added connecting the pieces here to elements of LW's mss. and other works. Already famously, part II has been integrated into the text, quite genially and reasonably in my estimation.

This is editorial practice at a very high and commendable level, and will prove invaluable to students of this work old and new. Enthusiastically endorsed!

MW Morse
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on January 3, 2013
Being fluent in German and English, I can compare different translations, and would certainly prefer this to Anscombe's classic rendition. Two professors specializing in W that I took courses from preferred this editiion too.
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