Monday, October 10, 2011

Secondary literature on Wittgenstein

From time to time someone writes to me to suggest changes to the recommended reading section of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Wittgenstein. I haven't made any changes yet, but I think it's high time I did. Here's what it says currently:
A good rule of thumb for picking secondary material on Wittgenstein is to trust Wittgenstein’s own judgement. He chose G.E.M. Anscombe, Rush Rhees and G.H. von Wright to understand and deal with his unpublished writings after his death. Anything by one of these people should be fairly reliable. More contentiously, I would say that the best people writing on Wittgenstein today are James Conant and Cora Diamond. Other books referred to in the text above or of special note are these:
  • O.K. Bouwsma Wittgenstein: Conversations 1949-1951, edited by J.L. Craft and Ronald E. Hustwit (Hackett, Indianapolis 1986).
    • A seemingly little read slim volume that includes records of Wittgenstein’s comments on such diverse and interesting topics as Descartes, utilitarianism and the word ‘cheeseburger’.
  • Stanley Cavell The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1979).
    • A long, rich, challenging classic.
  • Cora Diamond The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind (MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1991).
    • A collection of essays of varying degrees of accessibility on Frege, Wittgenstein and ethics, united by their Wittgensteinian spirit.
  • M.O’C. Drury The Danger of Words (Thoemmes Press, Bristol, U.K. and Washington, D.C. 1996).
    • A classic, including discussions of issues in psychiatry and religion by a friend of Wittgenstein’s.
  • Paul Engelmann Letters from Wittgenstein with a memoir (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1967).
    • Includes discussions by Wittgenstein and his friend Engelmann on the Tractatus, religion, literature and culture.
  • Saul A. Kripke Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1982).
    • See the section on rules and private language above.
  • Norman Malcolm Wittgenstein: Nothing is Hidden (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1986).
    • One of the best accounts of Wittgenstein’s philosophy from the disreputable point of view that theTractatus advanced theses which are then attacked in the later work.
  • Norman Malcolm Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View?, edited with a response by Peter Winch (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York 1994).
    • Malcolm basically summarizes Wittgenstein’s philosophy, as he understands it, with a special emphasis on religion. Winch then responds, correcting Malcolm’s account where necessary. The result is a highly accessible composite overview of Wittgenstein’s work from the religious point of view, which is how Wittgenstein himself said that he saw every problem.
I think I need to add Mounce on the Tractatus, some Hacker, probably some Baker and Hacker, and more generally some more recent material. I might cut down on the Norman Malcolm material too. Any other suggestions? 


  1. Yes, you have to include some Baker & Hacker - Reagardless of what you think of them, their work is, by all standards, high-quality secondary litterature.

    Also to be included is David Pears' monumental two-volume work, The False Prison: On the Development of Wittgenstein's Philosophy.

    And some John McDowell on rules, god damn it! His 4 articles on this topic (reprinted for instance in Mind, Value & Reality, under the heading of "Issues in Wittgenstein") are all masterpieces. Especially, 'Wittgenstein on Following a Rule'.

    And some Stuart Shanker on W's philosophy of mathematics. For instance his Wittgenstein and the Turing Point in the Philosophy of Mathematics. You might also recommend the 4-volume 'Ludwig Wittgenstein: Critical Assessments' edited by Shanker. The quality in these volumes is mixed, but generally good.

    Also you need to tidy up the litterature sections themselves of the IEP-entry. Drury's "The Danger of Words" is hardly second litterature in a classical sense. And Anscombe's introduction to the Tractatus is hardly a biography.

  2. Also you need to tidy up the litterature sections themselves of the IEP-entry. Drury's "The Danger of Words" is hardly second litterature in a classical sense. And Anscombe's introduction to the Tractatus is hardly a biography.

    Agreed. I really don't know why two books on the Tractatus are in the biography section, and maybe Drury should be dropped. It's been a long time since I read that book, but what you say about it rings a bell and makes me wonder what I was thinking in including it here.

    The secondary literature is almost impossible to navigate unless the names Baker and Hacker mean something to you, I would think, so they need to be included. Pears and McDowell are excellent suggestions too. I'm less sure about Shanker, only because the philosophy of mathematics might be something of a minority interest among readers of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. But I'll think about it. Thanks.

  3. For Hacker and Baker, I'd go for "Insight and Illusion" (though imo the first edition - written by Hacker alone - is better).

    I'd also include "Wittgenstein's Place in 20th Century Analytic Philosophy" by Hacker.

    Pears also has to be in there.

    Although I don't agree with his line, you probably ought to include Fogelin's "Wittgenstein". One to consider.

    And although I like Malcolm, should "From a Religious Point of View" really be there? It's a very idiosyncratic take on W and (frankly) the response by Peter Winch rather wipes the floor with Malcolm's argument.

  4. Mounce on the Tractatus actually is on your list, although, misleadingly, under the heading of biography. In that section I think McGuinness' biography, though never finished, deserves a place.

    "Theology after Wittgenstein" by Fergus Kerr and
    "Wittgenstein and the Possibility of Discourse" by Rush Rhees are both great books.

    I also like Norman Malcolm, and would hate to see him off the list. But I think "From a Religious Point of View" should be replaced by "Wittgensteinian Themes".

    I also think highly of some of Oswald Hanfling's writings. His "Wittgenstein and the Human Form of Life" includes several of his essays.

    Your list includes two introductory books to the Tractatus, but none to the PI:
    "Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations" by William Brenner is good.
    "Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations" by Marie McGinn is also instructive.
    "Wittgenstein, An Introduction" by Joachim Schulte is a good general introduction to W's (mostly later) thinking.
    (And Anthony Kenny's introduction -- as a classic, perhaps?)

    Finally, what about "Wittgenstein At His Word" by Duncan Richter?

  5. Thanks, Philip and vh. I agree with just about everything you say.

    And although I like Malcolm, should "From a Religious Point of View" really be there? It's a very idiosyncratic take on W and (frankly) the response by Peter Winch rather wipes the floor with Malcolm's argument.

    I'm inclined to agree.

    Mounce on the Tractatus actually is on your list, although, misleadingly, under the heading of biography.

    Yes, I noticed that. Odd.

    Finally, what about "Wittgenstein At His Word" by Duncan Richter?


  6. i liked brenner when i was an undergrad, though i haven't really looked at in more than ten years.

    meredith williams' (edited) recent collection of papers seems good / useful.

  7. I second the recommendations of Kerr's Theology After Wittgenstein, Rhees's Wittgenstein and the Possibility of Discourse, and Schulte's introductory book. (I have been intending to read Brenner's for years now, but somehow I've never got around to it.)

    And I certainly wouldn't drop Drury's The Danger of Words. As Monk puts it in his biography: "[T]hough much neglected, it is perhaps, in its tone and in its concerns, the most truly Wittgensteinian work published by any of Wittgenstein's students." The 1996 reprint also includes Drury's notes on his conversations with Wittgenstein, which (Monk continues) "provide - perhaps more than any other secondary source - information on the spiritual and moral attitudes that informed Wittgenstein's life and work. Drury is the first, but by no means the last, disciple to illustrate that there is an important aspect of Wittgenstein's influence that is not, and cannot be, covered in the large body of academic literature which Wittgenstein's work has inspired." Personally I would drop almost anything else before Drury.

    Apart from that, the only recommendation of my own (which I don't really expect you to follow) would be Matthew Ostrow's Wittgenstein's Tractatus: A Dialectical Interpretation. To my intense chagrin, it has received almost no critical attention in the nine years since it was published, although I consider it the best book ever devoted to the Tractatus alone. In fact, it more or less killed my own scholarly interest in the Tractatus for good, as I found that most of the things I had been intending to say about it (in a manuscript I had been working on for some time when the book came out) were already said by Ostrow, only better; and the rest of the things I had been intending to say felt redundant beside his book.

  8. P.S. As far as collections of papers by various hands go, Hans Sluga and David Stern's The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein is truly excellent, and I'd recommend it without hesitation to anyone who asked for one.

  9. i wish someone would steal the drury for the benefit of all the people on the internet. current used price of the reprint on amazon: $224!

  10. I'll keep Drury on then. Maybe I wasn't so stupid when I put the original list together!

    Ostrow should be on there, I think. I liked Denis McManus's book on the Tractatus, too, and other people like Morris a lot (I haven't read it yet). Sluga and Stern is a good idea too.


    And when I win the lottery, j., I'll buy a copy of Drury for you and you can put it on the internet like Robin Hood.

  11. A few years ago, in my student days, I actually wrote to the publishers in the vain hope that they too would interpret the crazy secound hand prices on Drury as a need for a new printing. I'm expecting to hear from them any day now.

  12. The Drury book was last published by Thoemmes, which has been taken over by Continuum (and seems basically to have died), which in turn has been taken over by Bloomsbury Publishers. I wouldn't even know who to write to about this any more. In short, I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for a new printing. Sad.

  13. Damn, I hadn't even realised that the Drury was out of print. I bought my copy new when it came out in 1996 in Thoemmes's larger series of reprints of Wittgensteinian classics - the biggest local bookstore here even had it in stock, I didn't have to special order it. Those were the days.

    Rush Rhees on Religion and Philosophy goes for similarly insane prices (and its unavailability is a comparable cultural scandal). It came out around the same time as the Drury, but I decided to wait for the paperback, which somehow never appeared, and the hardback went out of print in a heartbeat. I had a windfall recently and bought one of the second-hand copies that go for exorbitant prices from time to time on Amazon, and it turned out that the seller had been one of Rhees's last students at Swansea (together with Duncan), left academe and fallen on hard times. So not all of these people are money-grubbing ogres, although some undoubtedly are.

  14. That's very sad to hear. I hope whoever it was isn't too badly off. Many of the graduate students at Swansea were already on hard times when I was there, caring more about being able to do philosophy than making a living. I hope that's the kind of situation you're referring to, but I won't ask you to divulge any more.

  15. I think David Stern's books are very good. In particular, his Wittgenstein on Mind and Language should be included in any list of standard texts.

    Don't know if Glock's Dictionary has been mentioned, but it's very useful.

  16. I was thinking about mentioning Glock's Dictionary as well, but refrained from it, because it's biased towards a strict Hackerite view.

    Incidentally, I agree with much of the Hackerite view (although I have "strong weakness" for Cavell)- so incidentally, I'm very in line with the infamous N.N. - the Godfather of Wittgenstein blogs (and I mean this as a compliment of best non-ironic sort!).

    But I didn't mention Glock's "dictionary", because (1) it doesn't mention it's own Hackerite bias and (2) it suppresses competing views by simply passing them over in silence. And in my view, this makes it unworthy of it's objective-sounding title, a "Dictionary".

    But nevertheless, I actually agree with N.N., it is an extremely useful book and it should be there under 'secondary litterature' - much sooner than some of the odd jobs that have mentioned by some of the other commenters.

  17. Yes, I like David Stern's work too, and I agree that Glock's dictionary is useful. I'll try to include them in the revised version.

    By the way, I didn't mean to ignore your offer to help, Presskorn, but you're helping already. Thanks again.

  18. Actually, I've moved away from Hacker a bit. I still like the essentials of his reading of the later philosophy, but in the light of his exchanges with Conant and Diamond, his reading of the Tractatus strikes me as incoherent. What's more, it seems to me that some of his representations of his own earlier views are dishonest. That is, he tries to deny what he's obviously held by muddying the water at points. This is clearly evident in his "Wittgenstein, Carnap and the New American Wittgensteinians."

    I miss my blogging days, but I get a lot more done now.

  19. I miss my blogging days, but I get a lot more done now.

    I know what you mean. But I miss your blog too.