Sunday, July 22, 2018

Wittgenstein 5: During the War

I've finished Wittgenstein's biography. It will annoy me if I don't finish blogging on it in some way. So here's the first installment, chapters 19-23.


1. Childhood and Engineer
2. Student at Cambridge
3. World War I and Teaching
4. Between the Wars

Chapter 19: Finis Austriae
It was completely predictable at the end of 1937 that Hitler would annex Austria. In December Wittgenstein made a visit in the calm just before the storm. The Jewish population in Vienna was slow to realize or admit to themselves the consequences of annexation. This was true of W's sisters, apparently.

On March 10, 1938, Austria was an independent state. On March 11, it was an independent state under Nazi rule. On March 12 it was part of Nazi Germany. In one day, Wittgenstein had gone from being an Austrian citizen to a German Jew.

W was in Dublin at the time. One of his students, Drury was finishing his work to become a psychiatrist at the time. W had chosen Drury over Francis. In general, W saw love as something dirtied by actual sexual relations.

Another former student, Straffa, helped give W good personal advice in light of the situation. Wittgenstein would secure an academic job at Cambridge and then apply for British citizenship. W asked for Keynes' help, and W was given a lectureship for the following term. It was quite difficult to see Neville Chamberlain return from Germany proclaiming "peace in our time."

As for his family in Vienna, their tactic was to argue that one of their grandfathers had been a bastard rather than a Jew. This would make them of mixed blood. They had some significant assets in Switzerland that the Nazi's wanted. In the end, their grandfather would be declared an Aryan, and even though they were of mixed Jewish blood, the regulations concerning Mischlinge were not applicable to the descendants of Hermann Christian Wittgenstein (the supposed bastard).

In June 1939, Wittgenstein became a British citizen.

Chapter 20: The Reluctant Professor
Wittgenstein found a new generation of disciples. Three of the most important were Rush Rhees, James Taylor, and Yorick Smythies. Repeatedly, W continued to try to talk his students out of becoming professional philosophers.

W didn't want notes taken on his lectures. Thankfully, taken they were. They were posthumously published as Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief. They are a great source for Wittgenstein's Weltanschauung. W does not like theory. "What I do is describe different things..."

Here we find his idea of family resemblances. He also was somewhat enamored with Freud.

In the summer of 1938, W had a typescript of the earliest version of Philosophical Investigations. Rhees worked on the translation. The second half was supposed to be on the philosophy of mathematics (didn't end up being). In the three terms of 1939 he gave lectures on mathematics.

He was particularly critical of Georg Cantor and his sense of infinity. in Easter term of 1939, Alan Turing sat in on many of his lectures. "A proof in mathematics does not establish the truth of a conclusion; it fixes, rather, the meaning of certain signs" (418). The class was basically them discussing. Turing was also teaching a course in the Foundations of Mathematics at the time.

He was taking a different path than logicism, formalism, and intuitionism. He disagreed with the Law of Contradiction. Most of the students didn't really understand what was going on, except for Alister Watson. He tried to convince Norman Malcolm (a Harvard student who had come to study with Moore a little) not to go into philosophy. Then W would go see a Western.

During this time, W's eyes strayed from Francis to Keith Kirk, who had no idea. He would be racked with guilt for the rest of his life after Francis died of polio in October 1941.

Chapter 21: War Work
As with WW1, Wittgenstein found it intolerable to be doing philosophy while a war was being fought. Through Gilbert Ryle (philosopher) at Oxford, he was able to get work at a hospital with John Ryle, a Cambridge Physics professor who worked at Guy's Hospital in London during the war (1942). There was an understanding that no one was to know who he was at the hospital.

He continued his interest in dreams and Freud during this time. During his time at Guy's he filled three notebooks with remarks on mathematics. They were posthumously published as Parts IV, V, VI, VII of Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics. W rejected the idea that a proof in math established the truth of a conclusion. Rather, it is a set of pictures meant to establish the usefulness of a technique.

One friend from this period was Roy Fouracre.

While there, he came across the work of one Basil Reeve, who was investigating shock. Reeve suggested that the very notion of wound shock should be abandoned as unhelpful. W agreed.

W considered Hertz method of approaching force as a model. Instead of asking about force, he tried to describe phenomena without this theoretical construct. This was W's own approach. "In my way of doing philosophy, its whole aim is to give an expression such a form that certain disquietudes disappear" (446).

Let me say this resonates with me as well when it comes to hermeneutics. Discussions are highly confused because they do not get this simple premise--"The meaning of words is always to be found in a context." There are only two basic contexts: the ones in which words were originally uttered and other contexts against which those words are read. I have deeply drunk from W in this assessment but it removes countless confusions.

Wittgenstein moved to Newcastle when Reeve and Grant went. He thought about Bishop Butler's saying as a motto for the Philosophical Investigations: "Everything is what it is, and not another thing." And understanding can consist in seeing connections.

Also during this time he invented a better apparatus for recording pulse pressure.

He felt like his brain was gone (1943). He was about 54. I felt like my brain was gone earlier this year at 51. I can see what's coming. Reeve left in January 1944. W had no friends. In February he returned to Cambridge. There was an expectation of publishing PI with CUP. It didn't happen.

Chapter 22: Swansea
In March 1944, W was given leave of Cambridge to work on his book. Rees found lodging for him in Swansea. After two months his attention turned from the philosophy of mathematics to the philosophy of psychology. So while the second half of PI was originally going to be the philosophy of mathematics, it ended up being the philosophy of psychology.

During the summer of 1944, he formulated his "private language argument," namely, that there never is one. So W extended what used to be the Part I of PI, about double its previous length, with what are considered its central parts on rule following (paragraphs 189-242) and the private language argument (243-421).

The war was winding down. W anticipated that "the peace after this war will be more horrible than the war itself."

Chapter 23: The Darkness of Time
This chapter begins with a discussion of Bertrand Russell. W appreciated his intellect but thought his work should come in two colors, one for his stuff on ethics and politics (which shouldn't be read) and the other his logic (which should be). W didn't like his popular work, like his History of Western Philosophy. Of course Russell also saw no merit in Wittgenstein's later work.

G. E. Moore was in bad health. His wife only let W visit for 1.5 hours. Soon he would pass.

W's aim for philosophy was to "show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle."

W used Augustine to illustrate the confused picture of language, Russell to illustrate confusions in the philosophy of mathematics, and William James to provide similar ones in the philosophy of psychology.

The final stages of WW2 were darkness for W (e.g., the bombing of Dresden). In the Michaelmas and Lent terms of 1945-46, W finished Part I of PI. So this part was created as follows:
  • Paragraphs 1-188 in 1938 in Norway
  • Paragraphs 189-421 in Swansee
  • Paragraphs 422-693 in Cambridge, from notes in manuscripts from 1931-1945
In May 1946, Straffa no longer wished to have conversations with W. I don't know if I've conveyed the repeated sense in the book of how difficult W was as a person.

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