You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2007.

Want to know what an editor is really thinking when he’s reading that article you submitted?

It’s good that people can’t hear me when I edit their writing. “Blah blah blah.” “Is this a garbled translation from the Cyrolean?” “Did you reread your writing? I’m not your mother.” “Urrrh.” It wouldn’t be polite.I have edited a literary and cultural-studies journal for the past 15 years, and it’s hard not to feel some irritation when it seems I pay more attention to other people’s words than they do.

Of course some academic writing is as elegant as the drape of Armani, and one can’t expect everyone to write as well as Louis Menand. But if you pick up a typical article in an academic journal, what happens? Does it put the ding in plodding? 

Read the entire article here at the Chronicle.



Previously, I posted here the abstract of the conference paper Kai and I will present in Taipei in December. After discussion, we decided not to write this paper. Instead, we have submitted the abstract below.

The Subtle Face: Understanding Without Translation []

Simon van Rysewyk (世新大學語言中心講師賴仕維)

Kai-Yuan Cheng (國立中正大學助理教授鄭凱元)


The human face is recognizably expressive. The expressiveness of the face is the felt quality of the life that impresses itself upon us in human facial expression and which the face thus seems to personify (Wierzbicka, 2000). We are impressed by what the face expresses, we let it impress itself upon us, and we convey this in phrases such as ‘That face has meaning’ or, ‘Now that is significant’ without meaning them as a preface to a ‘namely…’. What a facial expression means is understood by recognizing the expression, so to speak, in the face, not something extraneous to it. This introduces the intransitive concept of expression, developed in philosophy by Wittgenstein (1958, 1966). According to Wittgenstein, a facial expression is typically understood by a spontaneous act of recognition, and does not consist in surmising the state of mind revealed in it (e.g., a translation). On reflection, however, it seems that understanding facial expression is not confined to the intransitive conception (Scruton, 2004). For example, understanding sometimes means “I understand it like this“, with the phrase “like this” representing a translation of what I perceive in the face into a description. Letting a facial expression make an impression on us may therefore consist in a statement about the general state of mind of the impression.


Scruton, R. 2004. “Witgenstein and the Understanding of Music”. British Journal of Aesthetics 44 (1): 1-9.

Wierzbicka, A. 2000. “The semantics of human facial expressions”. Pragmatics and Cognition 8(1): 147-183.

Wittgenstein, L. 1958: Philosophical Investigations, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell.

Wittgenstein, L. 1966: Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Freud and Religious Belief, ed. Cyril Barrett. Oxford: Blackwell.

Brendan Mackie, over at Raise high the roofbeam, Carpenters! continues to delight and amuse with little known and, shall we say, provocative tales from the life of LW. Here is a snippit of one:

“No I won’t! No I won’t! I will never!” Wittgenstein screamed at a fashionable New Year’s Eve party in Berlin, ushering in 1921. The next day found him on a train to Sweden, where he got himself a small room in a boardinghouse. For the next six months, Wittgenstein refused to speak a single word. He communicated in a series of grunts and gestures, spending his days hunched over a desk, writing furiously, tearing out his hair, ripping up pages and pages of manuscripts. Often at dinners, Wittgenstein would frustrate his fellow boarders by trying to participate in their lively conversations about Swedish politics and art – but without words. The great philosopher would get angery that nobody could understand him, often throwing plates against the wall and shaking intractable interlocutors. When summer came, he built a large bonfire in the countryside and burnt all of his past six months’ of work. He wrote a postcard to his sister soon after that said, simply “Life is for reading great works. And writing them. There is nothing else.”

Go here for the rest.

More on this topic here at the Mises Economic Blog: Austrian Economics and Libertarian Political Theory courtesy of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Here is a preview:

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Wieser’s “communist economy” modeled social phenomena as a pure logic constructed by and available to a single mind. Sometimes brilliant mistakes are the very thing which leads to revolutionary advance in social theory. The revolution came with Wittgenstein’s later “private language” argument and Mises’ discovery of the impossibility of economic calculation in a pure socialist system.

Wittgenstein at first imagined that a formal construction of atomic meanings and stipulated logical relations available as a systematic construction to one mind circumscribed all of what was conceivable in thought and language. In effect, a single mind could imagine language and all which could be thought as if it were synoptically viewable from a bird’s eye perspective (as Wittgenstein put it). Wieser similarly thought that he could capture the necessary structure of the economy by imagining the market as a thing replaceable by a communist dictator using only the pure logic of marginal valuation upon all economic goods, including both consumer goods and production goods. The dictator could have a bird’s eye view upon the whole economy, and he could put everything in its place using calculations of utility based on the formal logic of marginal utility theory.

Conrad H. Roth at Varieties of Unreligious Experience laments over the utility of the university in making provision for an intellectual life in the academic humanities.

I commented on the site by way of a provocation that Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophy as an adverbial may suggest a way out if we come to reject the humanities as consisting of discrete subjects.  I hope my comment attracts some interest.

Vexations With Wittgenstein is a new Wittgenstein blog presided over by Megan. Here is a sample from Megan’s latest post on Action and the Will:

Wittgenstein’s discussion of the will is particularly interesting because of the way he addresses the common assumption that willing is a kind of act. I would like to expand upon Wittgenstein’s claim that “‘Willing’ is not the name of an action” (137) and what this statement might mean about language.

As Wittgenstein points out, it simply does not make sense to talk about willing as an action. Perhaps, he says, it is something that I can “bring about” when I jump into water; however, it seems that the only action is jumping into water, and there is nothing separate that we can call “willing”. So is willing simply the completion of other actions, Wittgenstein asks, or is it something else?

My answer to this question is that the will is the manner in which a human being performs actions rather than an action in itself. In other words, the will is more of an adverb than a verb. The way that we use the verb “to will” in English supports this claim. We would never say, “I willed to jump in and then I jumped in,” but we might say, “I willed to jump in but I was unable to jump because my legs were paralyzed.” What these two examples show is that we only say that we willed something when we were unable to do it, so it seems that we use the verb ‘to will’ as a sort of euphemism for failure. As a further illustration of this point, consider the common response to someone who said only, “I willed to jump into the water”: we would ask, “Well, why couldn’t you actually jump?” because it is clear that the speaker must not have succeeded. Clearly we do not use the verb ‘to will’ to describe some sort of action that a human must perform in order to perform any other action.

–Read my comment on Megan’s post here.

Anti-Psychologism in Economics: Wittgenstein and Mises

Roderick T. Long
Department of Philosophy, Auburn University

The Review of Austrian Economics, 17:4, 345–369, 2004.


Ludwig Wittgenstein’s arguments for the conclusion that whatever counts as thought must embody logical principles can likewise be deployed to show that whatever counts as action must embody economic principles, a conclusion which in turn provides the basis for a defense of Ludwig von Mises’ controversial claim that the laws of economics are a priori rather than empirical. The Wittgensteinian approach also points the way toward a transcendence of the intractable disputes among present-day Austrians over formalist versus hermeneutical, analytic versus synthetic, and impositionist versus reflectionist interpretations of economic method.

Key Words: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ludwig von Mises, anti-psychologism, praxeology

The entire article is here

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973)

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973)

In the mid-80s, a cult grew around one of those gray-haired, sensibly shod British ladies who speak with a squeaky voice. Barbara Woodhouse was a dog trainer. She insisted in her books and television series that there were no bad dogs, only bad owners.

By the time I left publishing, in the mid-90s, I had decided there were no bad books, only bad authors.

That, of course, is not true. There are plenty of bad books. But after a dozen years in the industry, the whining and whingeing of authors had worn me down: The conspiracy theories about how a publisher set out to ruin an author’s career by not sending his 15-year-old book to a small regional conference; the notion that a publisher sullied an author’s reputation by giving her a red cover; the complaint that there were not enough ads promoting the book (there were never enough ads); the indignation that we didn’t get the author reviewed in The New York Times, or booked on Oprah.

In general I adored my authors. But there were those few whose behavior suggested to me that flipping burgers or mucking out stalls would have been an easier and more pleasurable career choice. When I was an editorial assistant I watched as one well-regarded author so managed to vex and trouble every single person at the press that by the time his book came out, no one would take his calls. Including his editor.

Read the entire article here at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ralph Blumenau reviews Wittgenstein and Judaism (2005) by Ranjit Chatterjee.

The first quarter of this original and thought-provoking reading of Wittgenstein is not directly concerned with his attitude to Judaism, but is all the same, an essential preliminary to what follows. In these pages Dr Chatterjee establishes three aspects of the general character of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Firstly, he devotes some time to challenging the idea that there were two distinct Wittgenstein philosophies. He is often supposed to have abandoned the philosophy of the Tractatus for that of the Philosophical Investigations. Chatterjee’s contention that the two books really go together is supported by Wittgenstein himself, who expressed the hope that they could be published together in one volume. Secondly, Dr Chatterjee describes Wittgenstein’s method: his lapidary sentences – really “chapter headings” as Wittgenstein himself once described them – leaving the exposition of these headings to the reader. No wonder that many readers are not up to this, or, like the Logical Positivists, drew conclusions from them which Wittgenstein then strongly repudiated. Thirdly, Dr Chatterjee comments on the mystical side of Wittgenstein, famously exemplified by the last sentence of the Tractatus: “What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, coupled as it was with the note to his publisher that what the book did not contain was more important than what it did. Wittgenstein held that not only were ethics and aesthetics more important than the investigation of language; but the investigation of language showed how subjective its usage must be and that it could not solve any philosophical problems.

The entire review is here at Philosophy Now.


Further Reading

Abrahamovitch, H. The Jewish Heritage of Ludwig Wittgenstein: Its Influence on His Life and Work. Transcultural Psychiatry, Vol. 43, No. 4, 533-553. 


This article discusses two aspects of Wittgenstein’s Jewish heritage. First, we try to show that Wittgenstein was acutely aware of his own Jewish heritage and especially concerned about its potential influence on his work. Second, we suggest that the form of his work, specifically, his method of inquiry and the peculiar literary character of his work, bear a striking resemblance to that of Hebrew Talmud. Like other assimilated Jews of Central Europe, Wittgenstein may have been directly or indirectly exposed to Hebraic culture and Talmudic logic. An understanding of Wittgenstein’s Jewish heritage provides an important and neglected perspective on his work.

Klagge, James C., ed. 2001. Wittgenstein: Biography and Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.

Book review here at the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Stern, D. 2000. The Significance of Jewishness For Wittgenstein’s Philosophy. Inquiry, Vol. 43, No. 4, 383-401.


Did Wittgenstein consider himself a Jew? Should we? Wittgenstein repeatedly wrote about Jews and Judaism in the 1930s, and biographical studies make it clear that this writing about Jewishness was a way in which he thought about the kind of person he was and the nature of his philosophical work. Those who have written about Wittgenstein on the Jews have drawn very different conclusions. But much of this debate is confused, because the notion of being a Jew, of Jewishness, is itself ambiguous and problematic. The paper provides a close reading of leading passages in which Wittgenstein discusses Jews and Jewishness, and argues that previous interpreters have been too quick to condemn or defend him. If we consider what it could mean to say that Wittgenstein was, or was not, a Jew, we will see that Wittgenstein’s problems with ‘Jewishness’ arise out of the philosophically problematic nature of the concept, a philosophical problem he was unable to resolve.

Wittgenstein had the rooms at the top of the tower during the 1930s.


G.E. Moore gave a precise description of the location of Wittgenstein’s rooms:

Of the only two sets [of rooms] which are on the top floor of the gate-way from Whewell’s Courts into Sidney Street, they were the set which looks westward over the larger Whewell’s Court, and, being so high up, they had a large view of the sky and also of Cambridge roofs, including the pinnacles of King’s College.

Characteristically, the rooms were sparsely furnished and extremely clean. Former Wittgenstein student H.D.P. Lee recounts:

There was a table and some chairs; a deck chair, or perhaps two deck chairs; and virtually nothing else. No pictures, no curtains and almost no books. His own writing was done in a large, foolscap-size book, bound rather like a ledger.

Lee explains the spartan appearance of the rooms:

The bareness and plainness of his room was of course mainly deliberate. It sprang, I think, from his intense dislike of any affectation or pretentiousness. It may also have been due in part to lack of money; he had given back his share in the family fortune and had, so I understand, virtually no money other than what he earned. It was certainly not due to any indifference in aesthetic matters. He had very strong aesthetic opinions, though as I remember them, they were held mainly about architecture and music (as if his mind were sensitive to form rather than colour).

A view of Wittgenstein’s seminar room at Whewell’s as it appears today. Photos by Jessica Murray.  



Here is a map of Trinity College, Cambridge. 

September 2007
« Aug   Oct »

Blog Stats

  • 332,686 hits