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Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations

  1. Apr 5, 2003 #1
    Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations.

    Marie McGinn

    Publisher: Routledge

    ISBN 0-415-11191-9

    Introduction: Pleasantly impenetrable, endearingly unbalanced, the pin up of choice for all respectable first year philosophy students, and he who said he would remain an engineer if he was an idiot but would become a philosopher if he was not. Ludwig Wittgenstein was all of these, as well as one of, if not the most important philosopher of the twentieth century. Now he's got your interest. He's important, he's relatively modern, reading his work offers a justifiably greater cachet than spouting all of Derrida's unfunniest of puns (none of them making much sense translated into english anyway), you want to read some! Oh! Sweet merciful Lord in Heaven how you want to read some! You want to read some right now, I can see it in your eyes you filthy little monkey, and head straight down to the nearest independently owned coffee shop to charm some bongo weilding, besweatered boho pixies with your knowledge.

    Of course you do.

    But where to start! You've just picked up the Tractatus and feel compelled to cry out "What knavery is this?" at being confronted with the almost haiku-esque content. You pick up the Philosophical Investigations only to be yet more confused. Is that the head of a duck or a rabbit? And furthermore, why is it in this book? And why is he seemingly refuting everything he wrote in that mental Tractatus thing? Settle petal. Help is at hand in the form of this handy guide!

    Audience: Philosophy students still afraid that the ghost of Wittgenstein is on its way from the underworld to do them a mischief with his infamous poker for misinterpreting his work. Students of all flavours who enjoy tilting their heads to one side and nodding their heads sagely over an afternoon's mug of piping hot coffee.

    Pros: Very clearly written. Although concentrating on the Philosophical Investigations, McGinn rarely neglects the man behind the thoughts, including his previous work, in her writing. Indeed, this book could be seen as a discussion both of Wittgenstein's conclusions and his philosophical method, and goes a long way to accomplishing the considerable task of rendering his thoughts into a coherent narrative that is occassionally lacking from the source material. Also, it is worth noting that this particular guide is far more immediately accessable than many others which are available on Wittgenstein (many coming close to perhaps being even more complex and wearing than the works they claim to be a guide to).

    On a more superficial note, the book has an absolutely gorgeous cover. Friends and well-wishers who see this on your coffee table will ask "Hm, what ultra-modern piece of fiction is this then? I wager it provocatively juxtaposes the mundanity and faceless brutality of 21st century living with a seedy and vivid portrayal of modern decadence involving shedloads of drugs and a skinhead called 'Zammo' who turns out to be a crazy shemale who wont stop quoting Voltaire or something.", then, when they pick it up, fooled by it's cover, you can gleefully scream "I am considerably better than you!" directly into their faces until you pass out and they flee the scene in tears.

    Cons: As with many books of this nature, potential cons exist not so much as in the way they are used. Taking any one guide to a work of such considerable influence as the Philosophical Investigations as a definitive interpretation is never wise, and it is not the purpose of such books to offer counter-arguments to the ideas they analyse and explain. As such, it is important to warn against the beguiling temptation to read it and then saunter about the place stroking your chin and proclaiming "ah! But I believe Wittgenstein would have seen this as primarily a problem of..." as you will inevitably meet someone who knows a great deal more about it than you. They will metaphorically knock you on your backside, and all the beautiful girls/handsome men will point and laugh before speeding off in your adversary's car for some eye-popping triple x hardcore action.

    Conclusion: A fantastic book with which to introduce yourself to the work of the face slappingly wealthy industrialist's son who challenged the approach of analytical philosophy and just so happened to change the world of philosophy whilst he was at it. As can only be expected, it is not a definitive guide, and any serious study should involve reading numerous such books (picking up the Investigations and the Tractatus once or twice would be kind of nice as well), but it does offer the clearest and most enjoyable to read insight into Wittgenstein's writings that I've seen.
  2. jcsd
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