Quora Answer: What are Wittgenstein’s most interesting ideas?

Oct 18 2014

To me the most interesting of Wittgenstein’s books is Philosophical Grammar which is the proto-Philosophical Investigations. This is because I worked to create something called General Schemas Theory which is the next higher discipline beyond Systems Theory. For some reason this as not been created before in our tradition, not sure why. But it turns out that Wittgenstein in Philosophical Grammar he includes ruminations about a lot of different schemas which is very useful.

See From General Systems Theory to General Schemas Theory

See also General Schemas Theory Research

Being a philosopher of the Continental persuasion I have a lot of mixed feelings about Wittgenstein. My first introduction to him was when I was at LSE there was a class I took from Gellner where he spent the whole time making fun of Wittgenstein, so this did not bode well for my relation to the philosopher. First book I read was Tractatus which I felt was manifestly absurd, but now occasionally find useful, and then I read Zetel which is a book of sentences cut out of discarded manuscripts of his own and kept in a box that he liked. When I read Zetel I decided that Wittgenstein was definitely crazy. Later I read Philosophical Investigations and realized that many of the points he was making were the same as Heidegger and so that became useful because one could appeal to Philosophical investigations and those who did not like Continental Philosophy would then agree with you just because Wittgenstein had said it too. It was not until I read the precursor of Philosophical Investigations which was Philosophical Grammar that I found his work genuinely useful because basically what that book can be seen as is an exploration of the use of different schemas in our thinking. I don’t know of any other philosopher who has explored the schemas in this way. For more information about Schemas see Umberto Eco’s Kant and the Platypus.

With respect to Language Philosophy I like Schlick much better. Schlick was the older center of the Vienna Circle who promoted the work of the younger Wittgenstein. But Schlick in his work was attempting to bring the ideas of Hilbert about axioms into Philosophy. I have found his work useful for defining what I call the Axiomatic Platform in my recent dissertation. Seehttp://about.me/emergentdesign. The idea of Schlick is that we need to distinguish percept and concept and relate concepts to each other without the mixture of percepts to create an axiomatic platform for thinking. This is not really a reductionism because what it does is seek a stable basis for thinking. Wittgenstein and the other Language Philosophers following him on the other hand think that all philosophy is just a confusion of language. And if we look carefully at the way we use English language we can purge these confusions from our speech and thus from our thoughts. Thus actually it is an anti-philosophy which attempts to reduce all philosophical questions to gibberish. Of course, you can take anything to be non-sensical if you like. Wittgenstein followed on Moore who tried to make philosophy accessible to everyone by stating it in common vernacular without technical vocabulary and thus simplify it for the understanding of the common man. Basically these various strands of what became Analytical Philosophy was a retrenchment after the age of Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica and Godel’s Proof which dashed the hopes of Hilbert’s programme, which was to axiomize everything in a final conclusive form. Godel showed that this was not possible. So Russell and Whitehead’s attempt of reducing mathematics to set theory and logic was also seen as ultimately futile. So for instance Higher Logical Type theory developed by Russell and productively applied to many topics by Bateson in Steps to an Ecology of the Mind was abandoned. Quine and Putnam went off in a different direction which shaped the course of Analytical Philosophy as a substream of philosophy that became dominant in America and the UK mainly because it was safe during the cold war (You wouldn’t want to refer to Hegel. for instance, because Marxists did that).

This is extremely unfortunate that the course set out by Russell using Higher Logical Type theory to solve paradoxes were not pursued, because what I saw and developed in my first dissertation was the application of Higher Logical Type Theory (cf Copi) to the kinds of Being discovered by the Continentals. Basically the reason that that the idea of there being various kinds of modalities of Being made no sense to the Analytical Philosophers was because they did not have Higher Logical Type Theory to use to understand the nature of Being as Paradox or Absurdity. If you abandon the linguistic ethnocentrism of European Philosophy and realize that only Indo-European languages have Being, and then you realize that Being itself is fundamentally fragmented in its roots in the Indo-European languages and that in point of fact it represents an impossibility or absurdity and therefore an illusion, then suddenly we can apply Higher Logical Type theory to realize the meaning of the different levels of Being discovered by Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Delueze, etc. Basically there are different kinds of being at different meta-levels of the representation of the repetition of Being and at each level there are the same four types (aspects) of Being (identity, presence, reality, truth) that emergently change their meaning at each meta-level of Being. These meta-levels are called Pure, Process, Hyper, Wild and Ultra. Many of the quandaries explored by the later Wittgenstein can be explained by this phenomena, because basically he is realizing the truth of Heidegger’s statement that Language is the House of Being. However, we see Wittgenstein toying with the depths of language rather than coming to grips with the phenomena as a whole as the Continental Philosophers tried to do.

What Wittgenstein discovered is that even after you reduce all philosophical problems to language you then still have language and it  has its own depths when you consider how it is used to connect us to the world in which we live. Wittgenstein’s ultimate idea is that Meaning is Use. But this is merely a reformulation of the idea of Heidegger that there is a ready to hand mode of Being of Language behind the Present at hand mode of Being of Language if we consider Language as a tool. But of course Heidegger thinks that language cannot be considered as a tool and so something much deeper is going on in language that goes beyond our relation to tools. To have a utilitarian view of language and to say that is where meaning comes from is again a reduction. Heidegger’s view is that Language is itself something that uses us to produce the meaning of Being in the world, not the other way around. Heidegger has a non-representable and non-utilitarian view which is the opposite of that of Wittgenstein. Yet they are both coming to very similar conclusions. Stanley Rosen book Nihilism is an excellent study of Heidegger and Wittgenstein as nihilistic opposites.

What is interesting is that later Wittgenstein was considered mystical by even Analytical Philosophers who are the equivalent of Plato’s “men of earth” in Philosophy.  Basically the men of earth are those who only believe in what they can hold in their hands, and thus do not believe in anything invisible. These are distinguished from those initiated into the lesser (those that understand Process Being, i.e. Heraclitus) and the greater (those that understand Pure Being, i.e. Parmenides) Mysteries. And then beyond that there are those who want Change and Changelessness at the same time, i.e. those who want to understand the WorldSoul who are the Heirophant, those who conduct the mysteries and understand what Plato in the Timaeus calls the Third Kind of Being (i.e. Hyper Being or what Derrida calls DifferAnce, and what Heidegger calls -B-e-i-n-g- crossed out). Wittgenstein to his credit began to explore the invisibles in relation to Language beyond the language games and nihilistic arguments of his followers to such an extent that he lost his family resemblance to them and went beyond them so that they could no longer understand him. Basically Wittgenstein with his doctrine of Meaning is Use is his initiation into the lesser mysteries. But also in his exploration of the use of Schemas in Philosophical Grammar and to some extent in Philosophical Investigations he is beginning to explore some of the greater mysteries that Plato alludes to.

Fundamentally, I think Wittgenstein can be blamed for the degeneration of philosophy into the handmaiden of science and the production of an anti-philosophy that was taken for actual philosophy. In this backwater only Kant and Frege were given any status as real philosophers, and the works of Hegel, Husserl, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the French Continental Philosophers such as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Bataille, Derrida, Deleuze and others carrying on the European Philosphical tradition were eschewed as incomprehensible, but of course they pursued triviality and arguments over differences between their language games that seemed to lead no where instead. A grand specialty of philosophy that does not talk about the essential conundrums of life but only the basis for science which reduces all other problems to distortions in our language sprang up which became a trivializing monster whose nihilism is apparent to anyone who has been bored by endless pointless arguments about how many unnecessary distinctions there are on the head of a pin. These arguments have nothing to do with the questions that haunt us about our existence in this postmodern era. They are quintessentially modern, and rooted in Pure Being, and ignorant of any kind of Being beyond that thus missing many of the important dimensions of the actual world in which we find ourselves that Continental Philosophy explores wantonly (eg. Zizek).

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