on 12 September 2008
This book is one of a rare kind: Although dense in it's content it is relatively easy to read and does not sacrifice detail or accuracy to accomplish this. Ray Monk is widely known for his excellent biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein and has spent a great deal of his academic career working on his writings. I bought the book because I really liked the biography in both style and content and was wondering how Ray Monk would manage to fit so much content on so few pages. Wittgenstein is exceptionally hard to read. This is not because his style is complicated - quite the contrary: he mostly uses short and clear sentences - but because WHAT he wants to say is so hard to say. Therefore, writing an "How to read" guide in this case is quite some undertaking.
In my view, the particular strengths of the text are:
- CLARITY. Monk is very precise in his wording and yet easy to follow. Great caution is taken to not lead the reader down the track of common misunderstandings.
- COMPLETENESS OF COVERAGE. Starting with Wittgenstein's earliest writings, all main phases of his work are introduced and discussed. I find the choice of texts balanced and wise. This is all the more notable since it is hard to find prototypical passages in his vast and partly unorganized oevre.
- CONTEXT. Disagreeing with another review of the book, I find the discussion of how Wittgenstein's views relate to the intellectual framework he was in far from incomplete. Clearly, Russel's and Frege's Positions are explained in due course. Frank Ramsey's criticism of the Tractatus is oulined; Paul Engelmann's correspondence and memoir is cited as well as Maurice Drury's writings. Many connections and contrasts to classical philosophical standpoints are given (just take look at the index of the book...). As far as alternative views and current discussions go, Ray Monk can not reasonably be accused of not delivering. Just to give two examples, alternative and modern interpretations of the Tractatus (James Conant and Cora Diamond) as well as Saul Kripke's view of the Private Language Argument are presented and discussed. It should be kept in mind that this book is not intended to be a commentary but an introductory guide.
In Summa: In my opinion this is one of the very best introductions to Wittgenstein's writing. I have read many and was absolutely taken by this book. I read it twice within the first week and still go back to it often - particularly when I am looking for a short summary of a particular point. It costs next to nothing so I suggest you take my word for it and give it a try. You will definitely gain insight worth your time and money - even if you are familiar with the subject.
on 26 June 2011
I highly recommend this, by and large, very enjoyable and lucid book on Wittgenstein to all non-philosophers who are interested in the thought of this great man of wisdom.I have been interested in him for many,many years without much intellectually explicit understanding that I could think about and put into words;in other words it was more of an intuitive sense of attachment,or being drawn, something momentous being expressed in his works, that exercises an irresistable pull, so that you keep going back again and again to them, despite his forbidding and difficult style( I experienced something similar in attempting to read and understand some zen masters). This book has helped me take a giant step toward a more explicit understanding, although there is a long way to go; and, probably,many aspects will always remain beyond words. As his famous saying puts it:" Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent".
So if you have had the slightest interest in this sage's work but found him difficult to read AND have found other authors trying to explicate his philosophy even less inviting or encouraging or even palatable(many of them are like a maze you wished you had never bought a ticket to),then THIS is the book to read and reread.
on 8 September 2006
A "reader" differs from an introduction or a beginner's guide. A reader selects key passages from an author, and "brings the reader face-to-face with the writing itself in the company of an expert guide". Thus Ray Monk elucidates key passages of Wittgenstein.
It would seem that the Wittgenstein passages are well chosen, and well explained. As far as the "How to Read" books go, this one strikes a good balance of explanatory power and simplicity of style, and further points out some common mistakes in understanding Wittgenstein. A further strength is its plain explanation of the shift from the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus to the Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations.
Monk expresses some strong views about Wittgenstein, and it would seem hard to tell whether he loves him or hates him. He quotes Wittgenstein's patron, Bertrand Russell, who considered that "the later Wittgenstein seems to have grown tired of serious thinking." This, he considers, may be "precisely right".
A major weakness of the book, I felt, was that Monk did too little to give one a sense of the wider significance of Wittgenstein's views -- or of their wider intent, if Monk should think that Wittgenstein had any. It is one thing to explain a passage in simple terms, another to explain its significance. So, for instance, Monk gives one little idea of the wider place of language games or of private language in the wider scheme of things.
on 20 July 2012
1. The world is everything that is the case.
7. What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence.
Ray Monk's clearly written book explains how you get from the first proposition of Ludo W's Tractatus via logical steps to the seventh and final proposition. He discusses the mystical aspects of this baffling work and how it might apply to ethics. Anybody who, like me, has struggled with the Tractatus to see in it anything more than a massively overcomplicated set of tautologies whose message (if there is one) is that there is stuff that language can cope with and stuff that it cannot cope with (well duh!) will find this helpful.
Monk also deals with Philosophical Investigations and some other of Wiggy's arcane musings. As I'm about to embark on Philosophical Investigations, I need all the help I can get. An essential introduction.
on 19 July 2013
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was a comet among philosophers. Indeed, by some standard measures he hardly qualified as a philosopher at all, publishing a grand total of one book, one article, and one book review - although he left a substantial heritage of assorted papers when he died. The precocious son of a wealthy Austrian industrialist, he dabbled in mechanical engineering and aeronautics before becoming interested in mathematics. Typically, he plunged into Bertrand Russell's recently-published "Principles of Mathematics" and Gottlob Frege's "Grundgesetze der Arithmetik" - hardly entry-level material. Stimulated and intrigued, he pitched up at Russell's rooms in Cambridge in October 1911, and impressed him so much that Russell started thinking that Wittgenstein might be the man to carry his own ideas forward. There ensued an amazing arrangement whereby Wittgenstein, who (according to Monk) was almost completely ignorant of the work of any philosophers other than Frege and Russell, became an undergraduate while devoting himself entirely to original research and behaving very much like a professor. At this stage he fervently believed that the work on mathematical logic being done by Russell, Frege, and others represented a huge advance over the traditional Aristotelian logic, "comparable only to that which made Astronomy out of Astrology, and Chemistry out of Alchemy". In other words, he felt that mathematical treatments of logic, and the resulting logical analysis of language, could haul philosophy out of the dark ages and - very likely - demonstrate that many of its prized "problems" were in fact nothing more than verbal confusion (technically, "nonsense").
The book which most lay people probably identify with Wittgenstein, "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus", is a condensation of his thoughts in the years 1911-1918. As he wrote in the preface, "The book will, therefore, draw a limit to thinking, or rather - not to thinking, but to the expression of thoughts; for, in order to draw a limit to thinking we should have to be able to think both sides of this limit (we should therefore have to be able to think what cannot be thought)". It's almost impossible to appreciate the sheer ambition of the young Wittgenstein's program: in a sense he was setting out to cleanse the Augean stables of human thought, including everything that past ages had considered their finest achievements.
By 1939, when he became professor of philosophy at Cambridge (succeeding G.E. Moore), Wittgenstein's views had changed radically - one is tempted to say they had matured. Gone was the arrogant belief that everything meaningful can be expressed in terms of mathematical logic, although he never ceased to question the validity and even sense of many traditional philosophical concerns. Monk gives a good and balanced account of Wittgenstein's later writings, as published posthumously - notably "Philosophical Investigations". He also brings out the - perhaps surprising - extent to which Wittgenstein was interested in ethics, religion and culture, and strongly opposed to the growing worship of science. His favourite novel was Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov", and he loved music. So although Wittgenstein spent most of his life wrestling with the questions of what comprised meaningful linguistic propositions, he was by no means a reductionist. Quite the contrary.
This review is already getting too long. It's almost impossible, once you have fallen under Wittgenstein's spell, to stop reading and thinking about his fascinating life, his ideas, and his remarkable pronouncements. At one moment, it seems that it is a story of heroic failure; then, that the apparent failure was merely the way things inevitably looked to people who didn't manage to "get inside" Wittgenstein's ways of thinking. As he wrote in the preface to "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus", "This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it - or similar thoughts". All things considered, Ray Monk has accomplished a remarkable feat by summarizing this amazing man's life and contribution to knowledge in just over 100 very readable, and enjoyable pages.
on 6 January 2012
This introductory guide is only okay. It provides a sufficicent introduction to his early philosopgy, but I found it lacking for his latter. I have a particularly hard time understanding the 'private language argument' that Wittgenstein presents. Therefore turning to this guide I hoped for a clear and understandable elucidation of it. Unfortunately Ray Monk simply prints off Wittgensteins own formulation of it and then gives a sort of biographical sketch of why Wittgenstein came up with this argument and not distill what Wittgenstein is saying to the layman. This is of no use! If I could understand Wittgenstein's argument I wouldn't have bought this book in the first place.
So in this respect the book does not serve it's purpose of telling me 'How to read Wittgenstein'. His thought still eludes me.