- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Pi Press; 1st edition (November 16, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0131499971
- ISBN-13: 978-0131499973
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,688,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wittgenstein Flies a Kite: A Story of Models of Wings and Models of the World 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
While numerous critical studies have traced Wittgenstein's philosophy of language to his study of mathematics and logic under Bertrand Russell, Sterrett, professor of philosophy at Duke, bases this novel intellectual history on the assiduously researched and surprising idea that Wittgenstein's advances in logic and the philosophy of language were related to another early 20th-century invention: the airplane. Weaving together the history of ideas in fin-de-siècle Austria, Germany, England and the United States, Sterrett deftly demonstrates that Wittgenstein drew the inspiration for his groundbreaking Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1914) from theories of physics and of music. She traces his influences to physicists like Ludwig Boltzmann and Edgar Buckingham, as well as his own study of the gramophone and the sound waves it produced. Sterrett draws on Wittgenstein's early aeronautical research and experiences building kites, asserting that the philosopher of language used models of wings as a model of language. Much like scale models of propellers or other toys, he said, language represents facts as we perceive and imagine them. Although often mired in dense, labyrinthine prose, Sterrett's compelling history of ideas offers a new glimpse of this perennially difficult philosopher and his intellectual milieu. (Dec.)
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Sterrett's research . . . is detailed and thorough; and what she has uncovered . . . is fascinating. Her style can be engaging, especially in the historical sections, and is, I believe, accessible to intelligent lay readers. The book includes an excellent index and, as an appendix, a translation of Boltzmann's 1894 lecture on aeronautics. It should definitely be considered as a text for courses in the history and philosophy of technology or science, and as recommended reading for analytically-oriented students of the early Wittgenstein. -- Journal of the History of Philosophy, October 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
Sterrett does have some interesting things to say about the kinds of aeronautical problems which would have preoccupied Wittgenstein during his studies, and about the role played by leading theoretical physicists, like Ludwig Boltzmann, in exploring the foundations of heavier-than-air flight. She also has some illuminating insights into the parallelism between Wittgenstein's ideas on how language can represent reality and the work of physicists on how the models used in aeronautical experiments can represent the real thing, a flying machine.
Unfortunately, however, the book doesn't much further our understanding of this period in Wittgenstein's life, not least because of its heavy reliance on secondary sources (in particular the biographies by McGuinness and by Monk). It also veers between labouring over some quite obvious points (I lost count of the number of times the reader was reminded that Wittgenstein was born in 1889) and explanations of scientific and engineering concepts that left this philosopher, for one, floundering. If this book was intended for a general readership it seems to have missed its mark.
In the final analysis, however, Sterrett fails to establish her central claim - that the leading idea of the Tractatus was derived from an obscure mathematician called Edgar Buckingham. We're asked to believe that Wittgenstein was influenced by a mathematician he never mentioned in any of his work, published or unpublished, or in conversations with friends and pupils. Yet, if nothing else, Wittgenstein was punctilious in recording his influences, including people who influenced him in surprising ways. Moreover, Buckingham's paper was published in an obscure American journal in mid-1914 when Wittgenstein had already returned to Vienna and was preparing to go to the Russian front. The only person flying a kite, it seems, is Sterrett herself.
Unfortunately, the quality of the editing in these later chapters falls off steeply. The quantity of typos rises beyond a standard level for professional publishing. The explanations becoming increasingly opaque to the lay reader without an engineering background. As an earlier reviewer pointed out, simple, valuable aids to reader comprehension are omitted (e.g. Figure 3 is mentioned many pages before it shows up without any reference to where it will be). I felt like I got a pretty good grasp of what Sterrett was trying to say in these chapters, but it was frustrating and required more effort than it should have.
The book redeems itself towards the end by offering useful insights into Wittgenstein's Tractatus. Although I am no expert on the Tractatus, I feel that Sterrett's book sheds valuable light on Wittgenstein's terse and sometimes inscrutable exposition.
Overall, I think the book was worth reading. I won't recommend it to friends without a philosophy background because it simply gets too dense and confusing in the middle for anyone without drive to understand. I would recommend it to those with a special interest in Wittgenstein's philosophy. What would have made this book brilliant is a good editor. It's probably not Sterrett's fault when her prose is not clear or when the reader aids aren't working. What she needed was for some non-specialists to read through the book and point out every place where things weren't clear. She is obviously capable of writing clearly (she pulls it off in several chapters), but it's hard for a writer to see the confusing points in her writing because she knows exactly what she's writing about. I almost suspect that the editors assumed that the material was over their heads and that the intended audience would get it. I feel like I'm part of the intended audience, and I few added explanatory notes would have made it much clearer.
It's worth giving it a try. The early chapters are great. If you struggle in the middle, you can always skim to the last chapters and catch some interesting takes on Wittgenstein.
The book suffers from the absence of photographs, not a single photo of W. himself. There are also a few basic errors such as using "laying" for " lying" . By a PhD., simply unacceptable. Perhaps I should toss the brick at her editor instead because there are others. Another example is in her inaccurate description of the Gnome aircraft engine. A quick Wiki check would have prevented the blunder. A very important foundation stone in W.'s intellectusal development was his refusal to accept Russell's solution to the famous Russell's Paradox. The author I believe should have spent a few more paragraphs on the Paradox itself to help the reader understand how W. used it as a launching pad for his leap into logical symbolism. For this , however, there already exist better books. But I would have bought the book anyway just to learn about the degrees of inherent stability ( comparing bikes to planes) and to enjoy watching her connect these ideas to W.s thinking on fundammental logic and how the mind functions.This book is an entertaining excercise in making connections that I have never heard of and certainly would never have thought of on my own. Buy the book ! Try it. You'll like it and learn a lot you won't find in any textbook.