Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wittgenstein: summary

The IEP's guidelines for authors say that:
Preceding the table of contents, the beginning of each article should contain a summary of the article in 200 to 500 words. The purpose of the summary is to give readers a quick overview of your topic. See the article on Descartes as an example. You have three goals to achieve simultaneously: (1) to convey some understanding of your topic to those readers who will read the summary with no intention of reading the entire article, (2) to say something intriguing that will make readers want to continue reading beyond the summary, and (3) to give readers who do intend to read the full article some idea of the territory ahead. Think of the opening summary as functioning as a brief entry that might appear in a philosophy dictionary.
Here is what not to do in the opening summary. Do not focus primarily on saying your topic or your philosopher is influential and important. Instead add more information about what philosophical contributions are made and how. Put yourself in the shoes of a reader who probably will not be reading your full article but only its opening summary and who wants to learn something about what issues are covered and in what manner. For articles on an individual philosopher, focus on what theses the philosopher defended, and what style of doing philosophy were represented. It would be preferable not to include quotations and citations but to make your points in your own words. The more detailed quotations and citations can be included later in your article.
And here is a draft of the summary I am working on with that in mind:
Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, and regarded by some as the most important since Immanuel Kant. His early work was influenced by that of Arthur Schopenhauer and, especially, by his teacher Bertrand Russell and by Gottlob Frege, who became something of a friend. This work culminated in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the only philosophy book that Wittgenstein published during his lifetime. It claimed to solve all the major problems of philosophy and was held in especially high esteem by the anti-metaphysical logical positivists. The Tractatus is based on the idea that philosophical problems arise from misunderstandings of the logic of language, and it tries to show what this logic is. Wittgenstein’s later work, principally his Philosophical Investigations, shares this concern with language, but takes a different, less technical, approach to philosophical problems. This book helped to inspire so-called ordinary language philosophy. This style of doing philosophy has fallen somewhat out of favor, but Wittgenstein’s work on rule-following and private language is still considered important, and his later philosophy is influential in a growing number of fields outside philosophy. His focus on language is regarded by some people as a distraction from real problems, and mainstream philosophy of language and mind is today influenced largely indirectly, if at all, by his work. On the other hand, in his personal life Wittgenstein took ethics, religion, and the arts extremely seriously, and although he wrote very little on these subjects, perhaps his main influence today is on theology and the arts.  


  1. How was Frege ever a friend of LW? My recollection was that Witters visited him once and maybe they exchanged a couple of letters and that was it.

  2. If anything, it was Russell who was "something of a friend" to Witters, certainly more of one than Frege ever was.

  3. Thanks, MKR. You might be right about Frege (and Russell). I'll have to check the biographies. I'm pretty sure that I had some reason for writing this originally (I should hope so anyway!), but I might have been exaggerating, and should check it in any case.

  4. Here's Juliet Floyd on the correspondence between Frege and Wittgenstein: "What immediately strikes a reader of this correspondence is its tone of personal and intellectual closeness; a tone unique within Frege’s published academic correspondence and something of a surprise for Wittgenstein scholars, who may not have known of the extent of this dimension of their relationship until the letters were published. Clearly this was a singular meeting of souls who shared mutual respect for one another’s intellectual tenacity and sensibility, hope for collaboration, and philosophical values and interests (in clarity and intellectual honesty, in the importance of the new mathematical logic, in the nature and importance of logic to philosophy)."

    Source: this essay. Maybe "was something of a kindred spirit" would be better than "became something of a friend."