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A Continental Reads Wittgenstein (Part 1)

As previously hinted in my post on the Analytic/Continental divide, it has been my recent hope to do some open-minded work examining Analytic philosophy–particularly its crowning figure Ludwig Wittgenstein–from a Continental perspective.  Towards this end, I have recently obtained a copy of Wittgenstein’s Major Works (Harper) which includes the Tractuse Logico-Philosophicus, The Blue and Brown Books, and On Certainty, and have begun the task of working through its content.  As my familiarity with Analytic thought is rudimentary at best, it is my hope that I can make a few connections and open up some dialogue–or at least broaden my own horizons.

Tractatuse Logico-Philosophicus (Preface – 2.225)

At first read, the Tractatus appears to have arisen out of distinctly Kantian motives.  In his description of these intentions, Wittgenstein writes (in words that could just as easily find themselves in the Preface to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason):

“The book will, therefore, draw a limit to thinking, or rather–not to thinking, but to the expression of thoughts.” (emphasis added)

Similar Kantian influences appear throughout the opening section, including Wittgenstein’s formal notions of Space and Time and his determination of the fixity of the world as a by-product of “objects” (2.026) [Which bears a notable similarity to Kant’s “Refutation of Idealism”].  But I digress…

By Wittgenstein’s second thesis “the world is a totality of facts, not of things” (1.1) the refutations of Continental thinkers can already be predicted.  And yet, is this notion of the “atomic fact” not precisely what Husserl advocated under the title of “states of affairs?”  In fact, many of Wittgenstein’s notions of the “picture” appear, in a meaningful sense,  phenomenological.  Most importantly, in 2.171-2.173, Wittgenstein recognizes the inability of the picture to be given in the same “representational form” as the object.  In this way, he has recognized one of the fundamental phenomenological facts by which phenomenology rejects “absolute idealism”;  thoughts (which Wittgenstein will later associate with “pictures” in 3)  are not “given” in the same way as external facts.

Considering Wittgenstein’s metaphysical conception of reality, it is difficult to classify him.  On the one hand, his reliance upon “facts” over “things” seems to indicate a relational metaphysic.  Similarly, in 2.0121, he argues that objects can only be thought in “connexion [sic, British spelling] with other things.” On the other hand, his reduction of all facts to determinate objects, objects which are “fixed” (2.0271) appears to indicate a non-relational, atomistic core to reality.

As a final thought, I must question his correlational understanding of the relationship between pictures (thoughts) and reality.  In 2.222 he writes:

“It the agreement or disagreement of its (a pictures) sense with reality, its truth or falsity consists. “

Yet, if every thought is a “logical picture” (3), then it must be asked, where can the empirically verified (2.223) correlation between reality and thought be undertaken?

Hopefully, this will be the commencement of a helpful look at Wittgenstein’s dense, though profoundly insightful philosophy.

The “Divide”: Continental and Analytic Philosophy

In the New York Times, Gary Gutting provides this interesting analysis of the Continental/Analytic divide.

While substantially interesting, the end of his analysis begins trend towards the perpetuation of stereotypes which may not be helpful to the conversation, particularly the idea that Continental philosophy could “learn from” Analytic philosophy’s clarity.  While it is certainly true that many Continental authors tend to drift towards the obscure (I’m looking at you Derrida and Deleuze!), it should also be noted that Analytic philosophy relies upon a jargon which is absolutely impenetrable to the uninitiated. In the end, it seems that both branches of philosophy are working to answer questions which simply cannot be answered without the development of unique linguistic tools and shorthand.

Is it possible to consider the “divide” without relying upon these unhelpful stereotypes (i.e. Continental is obscurantist and Analytic is boring)? Toward this end, I hope to soon (perhaps after I finish my work with the Theses on Feuerbach) begin some work with Wittgenstein from a Continental perspective.