Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Cultural Point of View: Philosophy in the Darkness of this Time (Ashgatge Wittgensteinian Studies). By William James DeAngelis
Wittgenstein and the End of Philosophy: Neither Theory nor Therapy (2nd ed.). By Daniel D. Hutto


Pp. ix, 189 , Aldershot, Hampshire , Ashgate , 2007 , $99.95.

Pp. viii, 278 , Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire , Palgrave Macmillan , 2006 , $39.95.

Wittgenstein had wanted the Tractatus and the Investigations to be published in a single volume with the epigraph, ‘It's generally the way with progress that it looks much greater than it really is.’ The result would have emphasized the two works' continuity. That didn't happen, and the first generation of scholars who took up the work of the Cambridge philosopher tended to divide between those who saw the Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus (1921) as the ultimate propaedeutic for a philosophy of science and those who viewed it as largely repudiated with the posthumous publication of Wittgenstein's notes that became the Philosophical Investigations (1963).

One weakness in the reading of empirically inclined adherents of the Tractatus was a tendency to approach the apodictic work with a rather unquestioning reverence towards its origins, seeing it as a singular work of a solitary genius whose main inspiration was to redress the philosophical errors of his Cambridge mentor, Bertrand Russell. Of course adherents of the Investigations would have insisted that context was everything, but, with engagement between the two camps at a premium, the ‘solitary genius’ approach seemed the most appropriate ingress into understanding the Tractatus.

Two recent works, one new and the other a second edition, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Cultural Point of View and Wittgenstein and the End of Philosophy: Neither Theory nor Therapy are important contributions to understanding Wittgenstein. The first helps to dispel the notion of the Tractatus as philosophically without precedent or progenitor while the second argues that a quite consistent spirit, or philosophical attitude, animates both works.

As DeAngelis readily admits, few today read Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West (1918), a two volume, sprawling work of history, written when the science still sought to discover overarching, Hegelian-like forces in order to explain historical progress and decline. ‘Spengler held that history, properly practiced, is concerned with cultures. It reveals that cultures develop, mature, decline, and die out in discernibly similar stages. The unfolding of cultures, on his view, constitutes the entire content of history' (p. 8).

Wittgenstein is known to have read and cited Spengler. DeAngelis seeks to show that the Investigations are imbued with a core insight of the historian, that cultures pass through invariant stages, and that corresponding forms of intellectual life are configured, not by individuals or aberrant events but, through inviolable conditions determined by stages of development or decline. When cultures collapse, they turn into what Spengler termed civilizations, which have distinctive characteristics: ‘the ascendancy of science, technology, industry, and a new all-consuming focus on economic and political power on the global scale.’ And, directly to the issue at hand in reading Wittgenstein, ‘It must also be emphasized that the most important feature of the transition from culture to civilization, for Spengler, is the diminution of religion as an active force, a movement towards irreligiousness' (p. 12). Cultures are essentially religious, but in civilizations the religious force is spent, its only movement, from decline to inertia.

Chapter 4, ‘The Investigations as a Philosophy of Culture’, the book's longest, depicts Wittgenstein's later philosophy as seeking to respond to the decline he was convinced that Spengler had identified. For DeAngelis ‘the Spenglerian influence is mostly a matter of Wittgenstein's unstated purposes, but this is not exclusively so. The shape and character of his overall conclusions, his rejection of philosophy as usually practiced, aspects of his unique approach to philosophical problems, and even, in some instances, the explicit philosophical content of the later work are strikingly Spenglerian' (p. 2), and this despite, as DeAngelis admits, the Investigations‘never explicitly mentions cultures, civilizations, or its own time in the main body of the work' (p. 65).

Following a lead of Stanley Cavell, DeAngelis argues that Wittgenstein saw his philosophy as limited in scope because it addressed a declining civilization. It sought not to advance new theories or insights, but merely to eliminate conceptual difficulties due to the misuse of language. Wittgenstein addressed those who could not hope to build grand metaphysical edifices, who were indeed, because of the times in which they found themselves, essentially ‘homeless’.

In both his periods, he expressed doubts about the meaningfulness of religious language. DeAngelis argues that the early Wittgenstein's view nevertheless underwent development, leaving him with a different, post-Tractarian reticence about religious discourse. In the Tractatus the question was, of course, what possible referents religious terms might have. Religion appears to ‘run against the boundaries of language.’ And Wittgenstein added, ‘This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless’ (p. 102). The later Wittgenstein viewed religious discourse as yet another victim of ‘the darkness of this time’.

DeAngelis writes that ‘he believed that surroundings quite different from his own, and more notably, past epochs of the culture from which his civilization proceeded, provided settings against which religious expression is not only possible, but entirely natural. This conception is, of course, Spenglerian and may well have ben influenced by Spengler. This later view on religious expression reflected both an important change in his view of language and an intensifying of his deeply pessimistic attitudes toward his own time as one of cultural decline’ (p. 102).

If DeAngelis is correct in his ably argued work, the seemingly anti-religious discourse that many have found in Wittgenstein would, at least in his later years, be due to cultural context, not anti-metaphysical animus. Whether one finds oneself in agreement with DeAngelis' detailed and well executed presentation, the author has provided an invaluable service in pulling our ‘picture’ of Wittgenstein away from that of the solitary genius whose only contact with modern culture preoccupations was American Westerns. DeAngelis gives us a highly spiritual, if dispirited Wittgenstein, one who expected faith to find no home in his times, but who nonetheless sought to steer us, if not in the right way, at least away from paths that only enervate and confuse.

In the first edition of Wittgenstein and the End of Philosophy: Neither Theory nor Therapy, Daniel D. Hutto suggested that an essential consistency between the Tractatus and the Investigations was an attitude toward the philosophical enterprise itself. This involved him in arguing that the Tractatus should not be seen as advancing new philosophical theories, as it was initially read, nor simply engaging in philosophical therapy, enunciating propositions which, by its own reasoning could not be enunciated, the resulting nonsense being a sort of therapy for those whose metaphysical leanings bewitched them. The latter view is often held by those who want to read the Tractatus in a post-Investigations light.

The great strength of Hutto's work is that he reads the Tractatus closely, and his reading of other interpreters of Wittgenstein is likewise careful and penetrating. The problem with seeing the Tractatus as advancing theory is that it ends with metaphysical statements about how things must be in the world, when the theory it advances is that such statements are impossible, since the purpose of propositions in the work is merely to mirror how things contingently stand within the world.

On the other hand, those who read Wittgenstein's Tractatus therapeutically bid us ‘not only to recognize that his self-avowed method of clarification applies not only to topics discussed within the work but to the work itself and its mode of expression’ (p. 91). Hutto sees both a logical and an exegetical problem with this approach. Logically, ‘given that it is integral to this reading that we cannot distinguish between classes of nonsense, its supporters are faced with the awkward question how the Tractatus manages to get any ‘message’ across, therapeutic or otherwise’ (p. 91). The logical problem flows into the exegetical. How is the reader to know which ‘nonsense’ counts, that is, which of two seemingly contradictory statements is meant to cancel the other?

The work includes a highly useful critique of Daniel Dennett's use of Wittgenstein on the question of consciousness as well as a postscript for the second edition in which Hutto responds to those who don't think he successfully produces a reading that is neither theory nor therapy. For Hutto, that evaluation hinges upon seeing the young Wittgenstein as ultimately mistaken. ‘By my lights, Wittgenstein was committed to the existence of objects about which we cannot speak, and of which there could be no general science’ (p. 225). Here he was simply wrong, though the search for what stood beyond language proved ever so fruitful. ‘Wittgenstein eventually came to see that the ‘objects’ of the Tractatus were not just indiscernible to the intellect they were in fact superfluous impositions of his own thinking. They are the ultimate ontological danglers – mere creatures of philosophical fantasy, in this case, Wittgenstein's’ (p. 227). In other words, Wittgenstein's was wrong in theory, but the mistake proved quite therapeutic for philosophy.