Mathieu Marion: "Reconstructing Wittgenstein's Context. Some Remarks Inspired by Collingwood"

In his contribution to the 1999 Virginia Tech conference, published in "Wittgenstein: Biography & Philosophy", James Conant argued against "reductivism", i.e., the view that the meaning of a philosophical work wholly resides outside it in the philosopher's own biographical circumstances, and "compartimentalism", i.e., the view that it resides instead wholly within the work itself irrespective of biography, and in favour of a view of Wittgenstein as a Socratic philosopher, whose work cannot be understood "apart from an understanding of the sort of life he sought to live". Giving that in Conant's casuistry an understanding of the latter is in the end given in terms of an understanding of the former, I shall argue in this paper that this view of the matter, which thus seeks to use biographical elements merely to justify an already fully-fledged particular "reading" of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as primarily a literary work, shares a well-known fault with many typically "analytical" attempts at interpreting a past philosopher - and Wittgenstein is one such philosopher -, in this that it lacks any historical sense, and ends up reading one's own agenda in the work under interpretation instead of trying truly to understand the work within its own historical context, like one would if one were to understand the point of a move in a chess game by examining its context. (This last remark is inspired by Collingwood, whose work is of great help to any historians of ideas but ignored by Wittgenstein commentators precisely because, along with analytic historians of philosophy, they do not reflect on their own practice as historians of ideas; to my mind, Janik & Toulmin's "Wittgenstein's Vienna" was a very good example of a Collingwoodian approach to these matters, with significant results.) I shall then argue that biographical elements form part of the context of a philosophical work and must be integrated as such in any proper interpretation of it. There are degrees to which these biographical elements may be made to play such a role and the remainder of thispaper will consist of the examination of some cases, taken from von Wright's compilation, "Culture and Value".

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