Analytic philosophers were given the prospect of their salvation and sentenced to interminable torment with the appearance of a single figure: the neurotic child-beater and logical genius Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein set out to represent the world with flawless logic; he wanted... [more]
Analytic philosophers were given the prospect of their salvation and sentenced to interminable torment with the appearance of a single figure: the neurotic child-beater and logical genius Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein set out to represent the world with flawless logic; he wanted to create a picture that would correspond precisely to reality and exclude all metaphysical, aesthetic, and ethical absurdities. He was quite convinced that he'd done so when he'd finished his famous 'Tractatus' -- that is, until he realized he was wrong.
The rest of his life he spent doing 'therapeutic' philosophy: he wanted to cure himself of the disease that had caused him to write the 'Tractatus.' This self-help process yielded his unfinished 'Philosophical Investigations,' but if the world of analytic philosophy had hoped for a solution to his problematic first work, they were definitely disappointed. Far from creating a universal language of logic, the "Investigations" insists on a multiplicity of individual language games, each of which is inseparable from a particular context.
The argument shoots down the possibility of logically representing the world with language. It also analyzes how language itself seduces us into thinking that such a representation is possible. It insists that our understanding of the world comes not from an ideal logical language, but from ordinary syntax constructed with variable, contextual rules. Universal logic does not represent the possibility for truth -- as the Pragmatists would subsequently say, agreement provides all the necessary grounds. And agreement is always a question of context.
This poses formidable problems for philosophers. The fact that words take on different meanings depending on where and when they're said renders the formal, static models of Analytic philosophy impotent. A different approach appears necessary, an approach flexible enough to deal with the problems of ordinary language.
Still, philosophers stick to their logic. Some still struggle to patch up the 'Tractatus.' Others consent to Wittgenstein's conviction that the entire project was ill-conceived. Now the Analytic tradition finds itself straddled across this divide: Noam Chomsky, A.J. Ayer, and Gilbert Ryle have all reckoned with the logical mess left in the wake of the nefarious Wittgenstein. [show less]