Another excerpt from Juliet Floyd’s “Recent Themes in the History of Early Analytic Philosophy”

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[Posted by BR]

I’ve now had a chance to read Juliet Floyd’s survey of “Recent Themes in the History of Early Analytic Philosophy” (which I posted about a few days ago), and I want to quote a few paragraphs from the middle of it — from a section that focuses on recent trends in the study of Wittgenstein — that I think will make clear the relevance of Floyd’s piece for readers of this blog (even those who have had no prior interest in the history of early analytic philosophy). I’ve chosen the paragraphs I quote below because they provide, in effect, a partial sketch of the very intellectual history that gave rise to the particular way of approaching the relationship between “philosophy and literature” that is this blog’s raison d’etre, tracing out a post-Wittgensteinian genealogy, in the writings of Cavell, Diamond, and others, of what many of us now try to do in our own work. Though, at first glance, the general topic of Floyd’s essay might seem rather dry, it is in fact a very exciting work of scholarly synthesis, which makes impressively good sense of a stunning array of philosophical positions and materials. Furthermore, its copious footnotes are an absolute goldmine, especially for non-specialists (like me), who are Floyd’s primary intended audience.

Here is the excerpt:

In his later work, Baker appears to have been attracted toward the so-called “New” reading of Wittgenstein, a development that gained attention over the last decade, though not the approval of Hacker (and many others). The phrase alludes to a cluster of post-2000 writings on Wittgenstein, some of which were collected in the influential anthology The New Wittgenstein, a title that was initially conceived—at least by me, a contributor to the volume—as marking writings with a series of agendas for a new generation of scholars, rather than an effort to erect a new orthodoxy in reading Wittgenstein.

A great deal of the “New Wittgenstein” literature aims to defend Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy—early and later—from charges of quietism, irrationalism, and/or inconsistency by showing how a Wittgensteinian conception of philosophy as an elucidatory activity grows naturally and coherently out of consideration of fundamental philosophical questions about the nature of logic and the nature of meaning inherited from Kant and Frege. In the work of Diamond and Conant, the topic of ineffability and nonsense was made central to the interpretation of the early Wittgenstein, and Conant in particular stressed the Kantian background. There have been criticisms of the approach, and a variety of lessons drawn. “New” readings of Wittgenstein really form a cluster of literature growing in several different dimensions. Stimulated initially by interpretations of Wittgenstein’s philosophy offered by Cavell, Diamond, and McDowell, “New” readers have tended to depart from the idea (urged by the early Baker and Hacker) that Wittgenstein subscribed to a rule- or grammar-constitutional view of meaning. They also tend to depart from interpretations (such as Fogelin’s, Wright’s, and Kripke’s) that attribute to Wittgenstein, via the rule-following considerations, non-factualism or assertion-conditional views of meaning, and/or a strict non-cognitivism about philosophy. Their readings of Wittgenstein have stretched across philosophy and literature, ethics, and philosophy of logic and mathematics. Wittgenstein’s conception of logic as non-representing—what Schlick called a “turning point” in modern philosophy—has remained at the center of discussion, but it is now treated in terms markedly distinct from the perspective of the logical empiricists (or the theory of analyticity conceived in terms of meaning). The whole idea of Wittgenstein’s distinctive conception of logic has been the focus of a wholly new kind of approach to his work. This has led to a reevaluation of Wittgenstein’s early and later work; and it is remarkable that since the 1980s the Tractatus has enjoyed an intensity of interpretative scrutiny and reevaluation not seen since the era of the Vienna Circle.

The seeds of the “New Wittgenstein” were planted in the late 1950s, when Cavell rejected the attribution to the later Wittgenstein of a vision of language everywhere governed by rules or conventions. Cavell stressed Wittgenstein’s anti-empiricism, connecting it with an earlier aesthetic tradition stemming from Kant’s third Critique, which emphasizes the need for judgment, a faculty not reducible to rules or mechanisms yet intrinsically valuational. (During the 1980s a sub-literature emerged tracing out this theme of the legacy of the third Critique within the terms of the later Wittgenstein’s remarks on rule-following.) Beginning in the 1970s, Diamond’s work on Frege, Wittgenstein, and moral philosophy explicitly connected this cluster of issues with a critique of Dummett’s reading of the later Wittgenstein as a radical conventionalist and anti-realist (in Dummett’s special sense). The publication, in 1991, of Diamond’s collected papers spanning the years 1966 to the early 1990s, Realism and the Realistic Spirit, was an important event in the recent emergence of the field of early analytic philosophy, for this book encompassed a broad range of topics and sought to find unities in Wittgenstein’s thought through attention to his reactions to Frege. While keeping an understanding of Frege’s impact on Wittgenstein close to the forefront of discussion, Diamond continued Cavell’s and Rorty’s efforts (which had also been furthered by Wiggins and McDowell) at keeping Wittgenstein’s philosophy alive, not only in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, but in ethics, epistemology, and philosophy of religion and literature as well. Thus continued the tradition, begun in work by Cavell and Rorty, of using Wittgenstein to urge a bridging of the gaps between analytic and continental philosophy, and between philosophy and literature—but now with a historical approach to the evolution of early analytic philosophy.

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