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Two compelling artistic renditions of TLP 5.6 by Tom Phillips: Wittgenstein’s Dilemma, Inverted, 1999; Wittgenstein’s Trap, 1999.

See caption below

 See caption below

John Pull writes of these cubes: 

Both cubes find their structure in words. The calligraphy, fissures of  curve and isoscelean angles that grew from the wire sculptures of 1997, spell out Wittgenstein’s provocative assertion, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

The phrase, spelled out twice on each side of the cubes, manage to simultaneously concur with and refute the statement. The words create the structure, and yet to read them through to the other side, especially in the case of Wittgenstein’s Dilemma Inverted, where they’re printed in reverse, thus requiring the viewer to read through the center of the solid lucite and the infinite shifting reflections therein, the words embody limitlessness.

The two-dimensional letters fuse together to create a three-dimensional structure, which then suggest further dimensions. Are not those further dimensions often painted with the colors of music?


Review (New York Times) of the exhibition at David Zwirner that takes its title from Wittgenstein’s TLP, 2.0131. My post on this exhibition is here. The Art in Review article is here. Here is a gallery view of the exhibition.  


This issue of Philosophical Investigations honors the philosopher D.Z. Phillips (1934-2006). Here are two abstracts from this issue. 

In the Temple of the Passions: D. Z. Phillips and the Possibility of Philosophical Contemplation

Richard Amesbury (Claremont School of Theology)

D. Z. Phillips’work in philosophy was animated by his interest in the diversity and heterogeneity of moral and religious perspectives and his antipathy towards philosophical theories that afford this variety little or no conceptual space. In contrast to what he perceived as essentialist efforts to promote certain viewpoints and to disparage others, Phillips championed a “contemplative conception” of philosophy, according to which the philosopher’s aim is neither to underwrite nor to undermine but to understand. This paper argues that philosophy, while disinterested in its aims, nevertheless derives its elucidatory force from the normative contexts within which it is practised and read.

D. Z. Phillips and Wittgenstein’s On Certainty

Guy Stock (University of Dundee)

I start from Phillips’ discussion of Rhees’s dissatisfaction with the idea of a language-game. Then, from a rereading of Moore, I go on to exemplify interconnected uses of the expressions “language-game,” “recurrent procedure,” “world-picture,” “formal procedure,” “agreement in judgment,” “genre picture” and “form of life.” The discussion is related to sense perception, our knowledge of time and space, and the picture-theory. These topics connect with Wittgenstein’s earlier treatment of the will – which changed markedly later. The subtext (in footnotes) confronts (i) the sceptical methods of Descartes and Hume with the grammatical methods of Leibniz, Kant and Wittgenstein, and (ii) the realism of Leibniz and the Tractatus with the transcendental idealism of Kant. My conclusion is that, although the method of Wittgenstein’s later work remains in a sense grammatical, (i) in its new form it can free us from the conviction that the intellect can and must resolve one way or the other the conflicts that arise in the course of the latter confrontation, and that (ii), although release from such a conviction is to be seen as the aim of philosophical discourse in general, it allows philosophy to retain its overriding significance. A positive element in that lies in the respect the method demands for that in a human life which is transcendental to the activity of scientific theorising: respect, therefore, for the unique perspective of the individual historical agent.

15. When I arrived in Taiwan in 2001, I visited the famous Longshan Temple in Taipei City. My friend and I observed an old Taiwanese woman casting divination blocks in the main temple courtyard (a common practice in Taiwan). She turned to me and said, “I could never believe that!”. A quite natural thing for a foreign visitor to say! But also misleading, I think. For it compels the idea that people must satisfy themselves of the correctness of something before doing it (e.g., casting divination blocks). Did the old woman first verify claims about the existence of gods before casting her first block?

In my view, the important thing is that casting divination blocks is continuous with a way of life, custom or religious practice. One might have a logical argument against the claim that God is omnipotent. But what difference does it make to the Muslim who has prayed five times a day since childhood, and whose belief in the omnipotence of God is interwoven into the inexorable regularity of this practice?

If, as in philosophy, we disengage religious belief from its lived context and set it under the microscope, we are guilty of divesting it of the regular activities which make it meaningful, day in day out. The whole venture seems misinformed.  

16.The cynic is primarily a spectator. Confined to life’s periphery, and held there by an all-consuming pessimism, he exists only for the surface of things, unable to penetrate beyond his own enduring sense of hopelessness.

17. Does science diminish value? (e.g., love as  chemistry) Science may refresh human importances. I think it is often forgotten that gravitation applies not merely to this world, but to every other world we discover beyond the fringes of our solar system. The discovery of intelligent life in the universe will change human value forever, and science will take us there.

Here is a draft proposal of my PhD on Wittgenstein and human facial expression. Here is the bibliography. Comments and interest in this project are very welcome.

The final scene from Jarman’s Wittgenstein (1993) depicting Wittgenstein on his death-bed attended by Maynard Keynes and the Martian. The script features a narrative inspired by PI 107. Watch here.

A snapshot of Wittgenstein’s stay in Dublin from November 1948 to June 1949 by Conor McCabe. Wittgenstein stayed at the Ross Hotel (now the Aisling Hotel), and spent time thinking at the Botanic Gardens.

McCabe retraces Wittgenstein’s steps from the Botanic Gardens to the Aisling Hotel, and is given to ruminations on aesthetics and mysticism inspired by the Tractatus. Follow his journey here.

This plaque at the Aisling memorialises Wittgenstein’s stay: 


July 2007
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