Wittgenstein and Approaches To ClarityReview - Wittgenstein and Approaches To Clarity
by Newton Garver
Humanity Books, 2006
Review by Edmund Dain, Ph.D.
Aug 1st 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 31)

Newton Garver's latest book brings together a number of different essays, each of them previously published and each, too, revised to a greater or lesser extent for this edition, and between them covering a variety of different topics. In some ways the collection is a motley one, spanning over forty years and a range of issues in the interpretation of Wittgenstein's thought, including a chapter on 'violence, justice and politics', themes which Wittgenstein was, notoriously, largely silent about. Moreover, it includes papers originally written for non-philosophical audiences alongside others first published in journals such as Mind and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. In another way, however, and as Garver's introductory chapter strives to make clear, the various chapters of the book are all united in engaging in some way with the Wittgensteinian search for clarity. However, the nature of this engagement is discernible in a number of different ways, most notably either as attempts to shed light on some aspect of Wittgenstein's thought, or, for instance, in manifesting Garver's departure from Wittgenstein in putting that search for clarity into the service of other ends.

The book itself is divided into three parts. The first of these, 'Traditional Clarity', consists of two chapters, both of which were originally published in the 1960's. The first, 'Persuading', is firmly cast in the ordinary language philosophy mould, and it provides a detailed account of the different functions of the word 'persuasion' in the service of clarifying what precisely is at stake between emotivist theories of ethical discourse and their cognitivist opponents. Chapter Two takes the use/mention distinction as its subject and compellingly argues against certain misunderstandings of that distinction, showing how a failure to account for the varieties of both 'use' and 'mention' undermines certain of Russell's criticisms of Frege's conception of meaning and denotation.

Part Two, 'Contestable Clarity', begins with a chapter on 'Violence, Justice and Politics', which combines four different essays from three different decades, followed by Garver's preface to David Allison's (1973) English translation of Jacques Derrida's Speech and Phenomena. The latter connects themes in Derrida's thought with a number current in 20th century analytical philosophy of language, in particular with respect to the work of Wittgenstein, and it remains a valuable contribution to the literature connecting the two great traditions of contemporary philosophy. Chapters Five, Six and Seven then turn to exegesis of Wittgenstein's work, beginning with an overview of Brian McGuinness's work on the Tractatus. These chapters usefully attempt to draw out the unity of McGuinness's thought on that work. Chapter Six discusses Wittgenstein's thought about necessity and how that links with his thought about morality, concluding with some criticisms of Wittgenstein's account. Chapter Seven then addresses the question of what significance might lie behind Wittgenstein's almost total silence on political matters, drawing a comparison with Karl Kraus whom Wittgenstein once cited as having influenced him.

Part Three, 'Wittgenstein’s Clarity', continues with the exegesis of Wittgenstein’s work, with chapters focussing on, for instance, vagueness and analysis, language-games and Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy as grammar. One theme of several of these chapters is Wittgenstein's inheritance of a kind of Aristotelian naturalism, and the differences between Aristotle, Wittgenstein and Kant. The final chapter here, Chapter Fourteen, turns to Wittgenstein's admiration for George Fox and for Fox's Journal, as reported by Norman Malcolm. It explores what might have provoked such admiration, using that to illustrate what Wittgenstein might have meant in saying that he [Wittgenstein] could not help seeing every problem from a religious point of view. To many, however, the parallels drawn here between Fox and Wittgenstein will seem thin: for instance, their shared '[r]espect for silence, prominent in Quaker practice and at the end of the Tractatus' (p.255) seems to be part of such different endeavours that it leaves the comparison looking somewhat meaningless.

The collection as a whole no doubt bears witness to the range of Garver's thinking on Wittgenstein, but it is an eclectic collection nevertheless. Perhaps most interesting about the work, alongside its careful comparison of Aristotle's naturalism with certain currents in Wittgenstein's later philosophy, is the way it presents the clash between Garver's own commitment to clarity in the service of various ends, with Wittgenstein's ideal of 'pure clarity' or as Garver calls it, clarity for clarity's sake.




2006 Edmund Dain


Edmund Dain, Ph.D. recently successfully defended his dissertation at Cardiff University, on the interpretation of Wittgenstein's work.


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