Wittgenstein’s Vienna [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 27 (3):612-613 (1974)

Ludwig Wittgenstein concludes his Tractatus with the injunction, "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." As the concluding proposition of a tersely written, tightly organized work, the reader would expect it to have a strong bite. Yet the statement has been variously ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood, interpreted as the inspired words of a mystic or as the final banishing of metaphysics from philosophical discourse. It is with the help of Janik and Toulmin’s work that it becomes clear how the proposition serves as the crown to a book which Wittgenstein maintained was primarily an ethical work. In presenting the Viennese Weltanshauung [[sic]] of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, there emerges the picture of a society where appearances ruled in all areas of cultural life, in the government, and in the arts. Viennese society was characterized by a vast impotent bureaucracy, the Strauss waltz, and the feutillion. The leader in the inevitable reaction was Karl Kraus. He instigated a critique of Viennese society through an ingenious and refined use of cultural modes of expression. Along with him, leaders emerged for each of the special arts, language, music, architecture, painting, sculpture, who, in their own particular role, tried to restore truth and responsibility to the affairs of men. The development of the characters and the issues involved make this book important. Of lesser value, unfortunately, are the chapters dealing specifically with the work of Wittgenstein, who is represented as one of the emergent leaders. Although we are rhetorically persuaded that his talk of "simples," "representation," "depicting," or "language games" is tied up with the critique of a fundamentally sophistical intellectualism, we are not led on to seeing how the critique was carried out.—W. A. F.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph197427325
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