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The Fate of Wonder

The Fate of Wonder: Wittgenstein's Critique of Metaphysics and Modernity

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Fate of Wonder
    Book Description:

    Kevin M. Cahill reclaims one of Ludwig Wittgenstein's most passionately pursued endeavors: to reawaken a sense of wonder around human life and language and its mysterious place in the world. Following the philosopher's spiritual and cultural criticism and tying it more tightly to the overall evolution of his thought, Cahill frames an original interpretation of Wittgenstein's engagement with Western metaphysics and modernity, better contextualizing the force of his work.

    Cahill synthesizes several approaches to Wittgenstein's life and thought. He stresses the nontheoretical aspirations of the philosopher's early and later writings, combining key elements from the so-called resolute readings of the Tractatus with the "therapeutic" readings of Philosophical Investigations. Cahill shows how continuity in Wittgenstein's cultural and spiritual concerns informed if not guided his work between these texts, and in his reading of the Tractatus, Cahill identifies surprising affinities with Martin Heidegger's Being and Time -- a text rarely associated with Wittgenstein's early formulations.

    In his effort to recapture wonder, Wittgenstein both avoided and undermined traditional philosophy's reliance on theory. As Cahill relates the steps of this bold endeavor, he forms his own innovative, analytical methods, joining historicist and contextualist approaches to text-based, immanent readings. The result is an original, sustained examination of Wittgenstein's thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52811-5
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-16)

    Stephen Toulmin has described how, as students of Wittgenstein, he and his classmates tended to make a sharp distinction between Wittgenstein the philosopher, who worked on technical problems in logic and language that were central in contemporary British philosophy, and Wittgenstein the man of eccentric cultural and moral views. Toulmin adds, however, “We would have done better to see him as an integral and authentically Viennese genius who exercised his talents and personality on philosophy among other things, and just happened to be living and working in England.”¹ In a related vein, Maurice Drury, another former student as well as...

  5. PART I

      (pp. 19-41)

      In a 1919 letter to Der Brenner’s publisher Ludwig von Ficker, sent in the hopes of getting the Tractatus published, Wittgenstein writes:

      You see, I am quite sure that you won’t get all that much out of reading it. Because you won’t understand it; its subject-matter will seem quite alien to you. But it isn’t really alien to you, because the book’s point [der Sinn des Buches] is an ethical one. I once meant to include in the preface a sentence which is not in fact there now but which I will write out for you here, because it will...

      (pp. 42-87)

      The previous chapter served mainly to set the stage for my remaining discussion. As we saw, on a resolute reading, the ethical aim of the Tractatus is intimately connected to Wittgenstein’s understanding and practice of philosophy as an activity whose goal is clarity rather than the establishment of philosophical truth or the refutation of philosophical theories. Indeed, the idea that Wittgenstein had as little desire to advance any sort of philosophical doctrine in the Tractatus as he did in his more mature philosophy is a point that resolute readers are particularly keen to emphasize as an important part of the...

      (pp. 88-98)

      The previous chapter involved an extensive cross-examination of certain themes in the thought of the early Wittgenstein and the early Heidegger so as to get a better understanding of what the ethical purpose of the Tractatus is and is not. In and of itself, there is nothing novel in comparing the thought of these two philosophers, at least since the last twenty years or so. Such comparisons tend to line up these two thinkers in different temporal directions than I have done in the previous chapter, however. It is more usual, that is, to compare the thought of the Heidegger...

      (pp. 99-104)

      I want to close with a brief discussion of how these issues concern the way we see the Tractatus in relation to Wittgenstein’s later work. First, I want to look at the context of the remark from May 6, 1930 (which I quote on 51–52), where Wittgenstein recalls his momentous feeling at being struck by the thought that there was a way of looking at the world not captured by the law of causality. That remark follows three related observations on the idea of “completed systems.” Wittgenstein first writes,

      Reading Spengler, Decline etc. and finding, despite much that is...

  6. PART II

      (pp. 107-124)

      As a motto for the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein chose to quote a line from Johann Nepomuk Nestroy’s play Der Schützling (The Protégé): “Anyway, the thing about progress is that it always seems greater than it really is” (“Überhaupt hat der Fortschritt das an sich, dass er viel grösser ausschaut, als er wirklich ist”).¹ The structure and content of this chapter reflect how I see the motto of the Investigations orienting the reader toward the remainder of that text, specifically prefiguring how the concept of progress is relevant for our grasping some of its central philosophical objectives. I see the motto...

      (pp. 125-150)

      I begin with two observations, one from a former colleague of Wittgenstein’s, the other from a former student. Each observation records the perception of a difference between Wittgenstein’s later work and that of other ordinary-language philosophers active in Great Britain around the same time. The first comment is by O. K. Bouwsma, who writes in the notes he made of his discussions with Wittgenstein in the late 1940s,

      W. talks about men as serious and deep. Perhaps it’s just that these men strike Miss Anscombe as like magicians who with a certain trickery and sleight of hand expose the poor...

      (pp. 151-170)

      I take it to be a central task of Wittgenstein’s philosophy to undermine certain mythological conceptions of rationality that tend to hold us captive in philosophy, and I have been arguing that one of his primary motivations for attempting this task is his sense of the corrosive effect that such conceptions have on a society uncritically beholden to them.¹ This last chapter explores a related question: how did Wittgenstein understand our relation to the philosophical problems that arise from these mythological conceptions once we have a clearer picture of the connections between the mythology and the problems? More specifically, I...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 171-230)
    (pp. 231-242)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 243-256)