Friday, June 22, 2018

Wittgenstein 4: Between the Wars

I'm continuing to read Wittgenstein's biography. My first two posts are

1. Childhood and Engineer
2. Student at Cambridge
3. World War I and Teaching

I'm on course to finish this 580 page biography by the end of next week. Don't feel like going into great detail but here are some highlights of chapters 10-18.

Chapter 10: Out of the Wilderness
Wittgenstein had failed as a teacher. On June 3, 1926, his mother died. This produced a profound change in his attitude toward his family. From now to the Anschluss of 1938, he would spend Christmas with them. At first he returned to gardening with the monks in Huttledorf.

Then his sister Gretl had him design a house for her. So he became an architect for a time. He sounds horrible. For example, made them raise a ceiling three inches after it was done. She moved in in 1928. Then there was the market crash. Then she moved to New York after the Anschluss. It is currently used by the Bulgarian Embassy.

He fell in love during this time with one Marguerite Respinger. He must have been horrible because he believed that physical contact destroyed love. He did kiss her though. He would have been a horrible husband, he was so Sheldon-esk.

In this time period he began a good friendship with Moritz Schlick, the key member of what would become the Vienna Circle. This group, for example, discussed a paper by Frank Ramsey trying to restore the credibility of Russell and Frege's sense that mathematics could be reduced to logic. The Vienna Circle, by the way, was surprised to find that Wittgenstein did not fully agree with them, even though he had greatly stimulated their ideas.

A counter proposal we might call "intuitionism" was advocated by Brouwser in Holland. Brouwser did not believe mathematics needed to be grounded in logic. Wittgenstein did not fully agree with Brouwser, but it may have suggested to him that there was more work to do in philosophy. During this time also Wittgenstein developed a desire to go work in manual labor in Soviet Russia. He wasn't a Marxist. He just admired what he thought the way of life was.

Part III: 1929-41 Chapter 11: The Second Coming
Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge in 1929 to work with Ramsey. Keynes was instrumental in getting him to come back. He was still not on good terms with Russell. He visited the Bloomsbury group in London. He was not pleasant because of his argumentative style. W's official status was that of an advanced student reading for a PhD.

A key moment was when an economist friend, Piero Sraffa, made a rude Italian gesture and asked W to picture it (a la his picture theory of language). This moment began to break Wittgenstein of the notion that a proposition and what it describes must have the same logical form. Sraffa would lead W to look at philosophical problems from a more "anthropological" perspective.

Wittgenstein's relationship with G. E. Moore was resumed. It had broken after a rude letter W had sent from Norway.

At this time began W's first real student circle of influence. Maurice Drury would become a doctor rather than a priest because of W. A close foolish friend of W's was Gilbert Patterson--the two would write nonsense back and forth to each other. The word "bloody" was sure to be in almost every letter.

Having given away all his money. He needed some. He ended up applying for a grant. He was awarded a PhD for the Tractatus. Russell came up to be his external examiner. They hadn't seen each other for 7 years. In November 1929 he gave the only popular lecture of his life, on ethics.

Chapter 12: The Verificationist Phase
Christmas 1929 Wittgenstein began to realize that Marguerite did not want to marry him. W met with the Vienna circle. One of them Waismann was going to write a book on the Tractatus. Unfortunately, W was a perfectionist and was quickly abandoning some of his earlier ideas. Also, he believed that many of its key ideas needed to be shown and couldn't be told. The book would never be published.

During this time, though, W did come up with a principle of verification. If a proposition is to have a meaning, we must have some idea of what would be the case if it were true. "The sense of a proposition its means of verification." Funny that W would inspire these logical positivists even though he didn't agree with where they took the concept at all. In any case, his thinking would quickly move on.

In 1930 he returned to Cambridge, and Frank Ramsey died. The following day, W gave his first lecture. His courses were usually titled simply, "Philosophy." At the end of term, W needed funds again. He asked for Russell to look at a manuscript and vouch to Cambridge that his work was worthy of support. These notes would become Philosophical Remarks, his most verificationist work and most phenomenological (published after his death).

Chapter 13: The Fog Clears
In 1930, he came to the crucial conclusion that a philosopher has nothing to say but instead something to show.

He received a five year fellowship on the basis of the work he showed Russell.

He rejected Hilbert's metamathematics. Anticipating post-modernism, he suggested that Hibert's language was not an explanation but "another calculus just like any other one" (307). "You cannot gain a fundamental understanding of mathematics by waiting for a theory." The connection between a word and its meaning is not in a theory but in a practice, namely, in the use of the word.

Chapter 14: A New Beginning
We hear the end of some of the threads I've already mentioned. The end of his relationship with Marquerite. The end of his collaboration with Waismann.

"What replaces theory is grammar" (322). In 1932, he has collected notes that would be posthumously published as Philosophical Grammar. Wittgenstein tries to undermine the logicist school of the philosophy of mathematics (Russell, Frege), the formalist group (Hilbert), and the intuitionist group (Brouwer). To him, math does not need foundations at all. The search for such foundations is the cause of confusion.

Chapter 15: Francis
In my opinion, W would ruin the life of one Francis Skinner. Skinner was utterly infatuated homosexually by W. He could have been a mathematician but ended up working on a factory because W did not think the academy was healthy. There is no air. You can't breathe. But he manufactured his own air.

They tried to go to Russia together to work at a factory. W even went to Russia to explore. Once he had seen it, he never tried again.

Chapter 16: Language Games: The Blue and Brown Books
In the term of 1933-34, Wittgenstein's lectures on the Philosophy of Mathematics garnered to many students, maybe 30-40. So he proposed to dictate lectures to five students who would write up the notes and distribute them to the others. The result was the first publication in any form of W's new method of philosophy, published as the Blue Book.

In it, he develops his notorious sense of the language game. And he replaces the notion of essence of things to that of family resemblances. These are the most important ideas for me in all of W's work. They have fundamentally formed my hermeneutic and epistemology.

From 1934-35, the Brown Book was produced. W dictated it to Skinner and Alice Ambrose. It is divided into method and application. Part I introduces language games. Alice presented the ideas in an article in Mind, much to W's wrath. The Brown Book wouldn't be published until after W's death.

Chapter 17: Joining the Ranks
This chapter talks about W's attempt to go to Russia. The previous chapter mentions that he did not believe in Marxism in theory, only in practice (343). They might have given him a lectureship in philosophy, but he lost interest in moving there.

W began to debate what to do next as his fellowship came to an end in 1936. Should he become a doctor? It was at this time that Moritz Schlick was murdered outside Vienna University. W decided to go to Norway for a year again. Francis did not go with him, which tormented Francis horribly.

Chapter 18: Confessions
In Norway, W formulated what would become the first 188 paragraphs of Philosophical Investigations, his most important work, also published posthumously. He also stupidly forced his key friends to listen to a confession he made. It seems horribly neurotic. Rather than simply pray or go to a priest. He made his friends squirm as he told them uncomfortable and generally insignificant sins of his life.

The most important was when he went back to Austria and asked forgiveness for the girl he hit so hard in the head that she bled. He told about having sex with a woman as a young man. He confessed that three of his grandparents were Jews and thus that, according to the Nuremberg laws, he was a Jew.

Despite his confessions, he still ended up inviting Francis to Norway, where they had a trist.

In the second half of his time in Norway, he wrote Part I what would later be published as Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. The criteria for correct or incorrect reasoning are not provided by some external realm of Platonic truths but by "a convention, or a use" (381).

No comments: