|Author||William J. DeAngelis|
– A CULTURAL POINT OF VIEW
In the preface to his Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein expresses
pessimism about the culture of his time and doubts as to whether his ideas would
be understood in such a time: “I make them public with doubtful feelings. It is
not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the
darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another – but, of course, it is
In this book William James DeAngelis develops a deeper understanding of
Wittgenstein’s remark and argues that it is an expression of a significant cultural
component in Wittgenstein’s later thought which, while latent, is very much intended.
DeAngelis focuses on the fascinating connection between Wittgenstein and Oswald
Spengler and in particular the acknowledged influence of Spengler’s Decline of the
West. His book shows in meticulous detail how Spengler’s dark conception of an
ongoing cultural decline resonated deeply for Wittgenstein and influenced his later
work. In so doing, the work takes into account discussions of these matters by major
commentators such as Malcolm, Von Wright, Cavell, Winch, and Clack among
others. A noteworthy feature of this book is its attempt to link Wittgenstein’s cultural
concerns with his views on religion and religious language. DeAngelis offers a fresh
and original interpretation of the latter.
ASHGATE WITTGENSTEINIAN STUDIES
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Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century,
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influence on contemporary philosophy. As well as exploring the more familiar
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philosophy of the mind. Wittgenstein’s philosophy has proved extremely fruitful
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Wittgenstein’s work, but also work on philosophers and philosophical topics inspired
by Wittgensteinian perspectives.
– A Cultural Point of View
Philosophy in the Darkness of this Time
WILLIAM JAMES DEANGELIS
Northeastern University, Boston, USA
© William James DeAngelis 2007
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
DeAngelis, William James
Ludwig Wittgenstein - a cultural point of view : philosophy
in the darkness of this time. - (Ashgate Wittgensteinian
1. Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1889-1951 2. Spengler, Oswald,
1880-1936 - Influence 3. Regression (Civilization)
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
DeAngelis, William James, 1943Ludwig Wittgenstein-- a cultural point of view : philosophy in the darkness of this time
/ William James DeAngelis.
p. cm. -- (Ashgate Wittgensteinian studies)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-7546-6000-2 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 18891951. I. Title.
Printed and bound in Great Britain by TJ International Ltd, Padstow, Cornwall.
Dedicated to the memory of Norman Malcolm,
inspirational teacher and philosophical role model
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Introduction – Wittgenstein and “The Darkness of this Time”
1 Spengler’s Influence on Wittgenstein: A First Approximation
II. Spengler in Overview
i. The Comparative Morphology of Cultures
ii. A Principle of Cultural Insularity
iii. An Assessment of Contemporary Civilization
III. The Nature of the Influence: Examining Some Suggestions
i. Von Wright and Family Resemblances
ii. Von Wright: A Disease of Culture
iii. Cavell and the Natural Decline of Culture
IV. The Nature of Spengler’s Influence on Wittgenstein:
Possibilities and Caveats
i. Wittgenstein’s Rejection of “the Comparative Morphology
ii. An Indirect Influence: More on Family Resemblance
iii. Another Indirect Influence: Metaphysics as Misconstrued
V. A Direct Spenglerian Influence?: Meaning and Context
VI. Final Remarks and a Glimpse Ahead
2 Wittgenstein’s Spenglerian Assessment of his Time
II. Remarks on Remarks
i. The Prefatory Remarks for Philosophical Remarks
ii. The Prefatory Remarks: A Spenglerian Account of Cultural Decline
iii. The Prefatory Remarks: Beyond Cultural Decline to Civilization
III. The Investigations and “The Darkness of this Time”:
A Continuation of Spenglerian Attitudes?
i. The Question of Continuity
ii. The Investigations and the Darkness of this Time
iii. Preserving the Investigations for a Better Sort of Reader
iv. The Investigations’ Opposition to its Time – Hope for the
Ludwig Wittgenstein – A Cultural Point of View
v. Civilization and Culture: Again
vi. A Negative Picture of Civilization
vii. A Tangent: Wittgenstein’s Uses of First-person Plural
Pronouns in the Investigations
viii. A Fragment on Art and Technology
IV. Concluding Remarks
3 Philosophy for a Time of Civilization: Spengler’s Desiderata and
II. Spengler’s Prescription for a Philosophy of Civilization
III. Spengler’s Prescription and Wittgenstein’s Practice: A Striking
IV. Afterword: On What Has Not Yet Been Shown
4 The Investigations as a Philosophy of Culture
II. The Investigations as a Spenglerian Portrayal of Cultural
Decline: Cavell’s Interpretation
i. Departures – Philosophical and Cultural
ii. Departures from Home: A Loss of Home
iv. Repudiations of Community and Inheritance
v. 1) and 2) as Homologous Forms
vi. Combating Cultural Decline
III. The Investigations as a Philosophy of Culture: More
Evocations of Cultural Decline
i. Wittgenstein’s Builders: A Question and a Controversy – Rhees
ii. Wittgenstein’s Builders: A Cultural Analogy?
iii. Private Language: A Philosophical Concern
iv. Private Language: A Locus of Cultural Concern?
5 Religious Inexpressibility: Continuity and Change from
Wittgenstein’s Early to Late Views
II. Religious Inexpressibility in Wittgenstein’s Early Thought
i. Religious Inexpressibility in the Tractatus
ii. Religious Inexpressibility in “A Lecture on Ethics”: The
Impossibility of Expressing Ultimate Values
iii. Case Studies in Inexpressibility of Absolute Value in
“A Lecture on Ethics”
iv. The Transition from Ethical Inexpressibility to Religious
Inexpressibility in “Lecture”
III. The Problem of Religious Expression in the Later Work
i. A Weakening of the Earlier View of Religious Expression:
A Lesser Form of Pessimism?
ii. Two Divergent Tendencies in Wittgenstein’s Later Remarks
iii. A Connection with Wittgenstein’s Later Contextualism
iv. A New Sort of Pessimism: A Spenglerian View of
v. Further Support for a Spenglerian Interpretation
6 A Religious Viewpoint in Wittgenstein’s Later Writings?
Norman Malcolm’s Four Analogies
II. Malcolm – A Problem and his Approach
III. Malcolm on Wittgenstein’s Religious Life
IV. Malcolm’s Four Analogies
i. The First Analogy
ii. The Second Analogy
iii. The Third Analogy
iv. The Fourth Analogy
V. Winch’s Response: A Fundamental Criticism of Malcolm’s View
VI. Winch’s Response: Rebutting Malcolm’s Analogies
i. A Basic Strategy
ii. Rebutting the First Analogy
iii. Rebutting the Second Analogy
iv. Rebutting the Fourth Analogy
VII. Defending Malcolm’s Third Analogy
i. Winch’s Criticism
ii. Engelmann on Wittgenstein’s Early Religious Point of View
iii. Life’s Problems and Philosophy’s Problems: Wittgenstein’s
Approach to Philosophical Problems in the Investigations
iv. Malcolm’s Third Analogy and a Contrary Claim in Winch
7 Was Wittgenstein a Spenglerian Atheist?
I. Wittgenstein as a Spenglerian Atheist – Clack’s Position in Outline
II. A Critique of Clack’s Position
i. Clack on Wittgenstein’s View of Religious Language and Religion
ii. Did Wittgenstein Reject Religion Per Se?
iii. Did Wittgenstein Accept Spenglerian Atheism?
iv. Did Wittgenstein Accept Spengler’s Ideal of Religion?
v. Why the Term “Atheist”?
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It is both my hope and belief that this book constitutes a modest breakthrough. It
contains the fullest treatment of its daunting subject to date. It is, I think, correct
in most of its conclusions, if not in every detail of their elaboration. At the least,
I believe it can be said to be a book that points its reader in the right direction
regarding the interconnected subjects of Wittgenstein’s cultural concerns, Spengler’s
influence on Wittgenstein’s view of culture and philosophy, and the manner in which
Wittgenstein’s lifelong qualms about the expressibility of religion emerge in his later
I began the work that has led to the completion of this book more than a decade
ago. The first tangible result of that work was the publication in Dialogue of
“Wittgenstein and Spengler” in 1994.1 That article presented some of the ideas that
receive much fuller articulation and, more important, far more careful support in the
earlier chapters of this book. The hard thinking that went into the extended critical
discussion of Norman Malcolm’s last philosophical work, Wittgenstein – A Religious
Point of View?, published in the same journal three years later, helped clarify for me
some of the connections between Wittgenstein’s cultural and religious concerns.2
Perhaps equally important, the very fact that a philosopher of Malcolm’s stature and
seriousness of purpose was motivated enough by the possibility of an unstated point
of view in Wittgenstein’s later philosophical work to devote an entire book to the
subject encouraged me to pursue a book-length project of my own. Ideas expressed
in my original discussion of his book are more fully and carefully expressed and
defended in this book – in part owing to further thoughts inspired by discussions
and criticisms, both published and unpublished, of my original work by others. In
this connection, I should offer thanks to the editor of Dialogue for allowing me to
use some of the material from those writings – albeit reworked and, I hope, much
improved – in this book.
I have received a great deal of help in the slow process that has resulted in the
completion of this book. My Northeastern University colleagues, Steve Nathanson,
Mike Meyer and Ronald Sandler read early drafts of its chapters, asked good
questions and made helpful criticisms. Equally important, they have offered
encouragement whenever my spirits or resolve have flagged. The same can be said
for my friend, and one of the most acute and profound of Wittgenstein’s interpreters,
John V. Canfield of the University of Toronto. Jack and I have spent countless hours
discussing and corresponding in our attempts to improve our understanding of this
1 William James DeAngelis, “Wittgenstein and Spengler”, Dialogue, vol. xxxiii, 1994.
2 William James DeAngelis, “Ludwig Wittgenstein – A Religious Point of View?:
Thoughts On Norman Malcolm’s Last Philosophical Project”, Dialogue, vol. xxxvi, 1997.
Ludwig Wittgenstein – A Cultural Point of View
or that aspect of Wittgenstein’s thought. We regularly read and comment on one
another’s works-in-progress, and Jack has read carefully and commented helpfully
on at least one draft of every chapter of this book. He has taught me more about
Wittgenstein than anyone. More important, he is a steadfast friend. Mikael Karlsson,
a former Northeastern colleague who now does his philosophizing at the University
of Iceland, has remained a good friend. An ocean lies between us, but has not come
between us in any important way. Mike is an excellent philosophical critic. He has
commented helpfully on much of what I have previously written about the subjects
taken up in this book and on earlier drafts of some of its chapters. Finally, I must
acknowledge the interest and encouragement offered by Stanley Cavell during a
stimulating conversation about some of the ideas I express in this book. His seminal
work dealing with the very difficult task of finding, in his words, a “Spenglerian
valence” in Wittgenstein’s later work has been both helpful and even inspirational
to me. One of my aims in this book is to explain, defend and expand upon the views
he expresses there. Some of my own ideas were stimulated by the substance and
approach of Cavell’s work.
Northeastern University, my long-time academic home, has provided me, over
the last few years, an increasingly hospitable environment in which to pursue my
philosophical interests and work. More specifically, and very important, it has made
possible the completion of this project by providing me with a sabbatical leave for
the fall 2004 semester. For all of this I am grateful.
My wife, Susan, and my children, Gabriel and Abby, have made their own
unique contributions. Their shining presence from the very beginning has anchored
me personally and afforded me distractions when needed. Without them in my life, I
suspect this book may well have been completed sooner – although I doubt it would
have been any better. Wittgenstein has emphasized that philosophy’s progress is
necessarily slow, that philosophers should take their time. On the other hand, he
sought an unencumbered life that would not distract him from his philosophical
tasks. I can say at least that my commitments to my family and to other concerns, my
many encumbrances, have resulted in my not publishing too soon.
One of those concerns led me to take on the Academic Directorship of the W. E.
B. DuBois Program in the Humanities, a worthy experiment in adult education for
deserving people in Boston who would not otherwise have experienced college-level
instruction in the humanities. Committed to the goals of this program, I helped steer
it through its initiation during the 2002–2003 academic year. I greatly underestimated
the requirements on my time of directing such a program and, in consequence, nearly
all work on this book ceased during that period and the months preceding it. Still, I
do not regret having taken on that task. Indeed, the people I met while directing the
DuBois Program – especially the many bright, energetic, determined, and personally
delightful students who willingly endured hardships and complications in order to
take advantage of a useful educational opportunity – renewed me both personally
and as a philosopher. They helped teach me something about commitment to a task.
I have dedicated this book to my late teacher and philosophical role model,
Norman Malcolm. He was, without either of us realizing it at the time, my most
influential teacher during my graduate education at Cornell University. His influence
endures. He has taught me more about philosophical determination and honesty than
anyone. His relentless pursuit of truth, his determination to give the best and clearest
possible expression to his good ideas, and his admirable willingness to abandon the
others stands for me as an ideal.
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“The Darkness of this Time”
Readers of Wittgenstein are familiar with a remark from the preface to the
Philosophical Investigations which expresses a remarkable attitude toward the
publication of his ideas:
I make them public with doubtful feelings. It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot
of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or
another – but, of course, it is not likely.1
What is one to make of such an assertion? It explicitly expresses the author’s doubts
that his work will be understood and, significantly, cites “the darkness of this time”
as one of the impediments to understanding. This is an extraordinary and puzzling
remark. One might be inclined to read it as an expression of a passing mood or, perhaps,
of a more general and enduring pessimistic predisposition. In fact, I will argue, it is
much more. In a sense, my book is an attempt to come to a deeper understanding of
Wittgenstein’s remark. It seeks to establish that Wittgenstein, in writing these words,
was giving partial expression to a viewpoint on the civilization of his time that had
occupied his thoughts for decades – a viewpoint that Wittgenstein, for the most part,
decided on principle to keep to himself. Still, clear and compelling evidence of its
existence and nature and can be gleaned from a careful, attentive investigation of the
more esoteric expressions of his thought.
As it turns out, the book I have written is only occasionally concerned with the
directly expressed content of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. Instead, it seeks to
make sense out of a number of indications Wittgenstein gave, starting in the 1930s
and continuing unabated until his death, about some of his unstated philosophical
purposes – what he sometimes referred to as the spirit of his philosophical writings.
First, he insisted that his philosophy was written in a spirit that was opposed to
the tendencies of its time. Second, he suggested on a number of occasions that
an appreciation of this opposition was needed in order to understand his work.
Finally, the remark cited above from the preface of the Investigations is only one of
Wittgenstein’s characteristic expressions of persistent doubts that his work would
be understood. Other such expressions, like that one, indicate that the character
of the time would militate against an understanding of his work. This book is an
extended attempt to understand the viewpoint from which Wittgenstein made these
remarks. In putting the pieces together, one can establish that there is a body of
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Macmillan, 1953, p. ixe.
Ludwig Wittgenstein – A Cultural Point of View
Wittgensteinian expression – a series of more or less consistent remarks – into which
his remark about “the darkness of this time” from the Investigations has a natural
place. Thus, the project undertaken by this book is the attempt to come to terms
with Wittgenstein’s assessment of his time, some of the unexpressed, underlying
purposes of his philosophical writings, and the connections between them.
There are a number of keys to understanding these matters. The most important
is the undeniable influence of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West on
Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein explicitly acknowledged Spengler as an important
influence on his view of his time. Some of his esoteric writings very explicitly and
dramatically show the extent of that influence. This influence was at its peak in the
early thirties, but Wittgenstein’s assessment of his time continued to bear the stamp
of Spengler’s dark conception of an ongoing cultural decline for the rest of his life.
Spengler’s influence did not end there. While his conception of cultural decline
resonated deeply for Wittgenstein, it is equally important that his explicit notions
of what limitations such a time imposes on what a philosopher can and ought to
do can be shown to have had a striking influence upon the overall character of
Wittgenstein’s work. Spengler’s prescriptions for philosophy in a time of cultural
decline jibe remarkably well with Wittgenstein’s later philosophical practices.
Indeed, the most idiosyncratic and unique features of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy
are deeply Spenglerian features.
The Spenglerian influence is mostly a matter of Wittgenstein’s unstated purposes,
but this is not exclusively so. The shape and character of his overall conclusions,
his rejection of philosophy as usually practiced, aspects of his unique approach to
philosophical problems, and even, in some instances, the explicit philosophical
content of the later work are strikingly Spenglerian. I seek, in what follows, to show
this in a manner that is both clear and complete. One of the most difficult undertakings
of the project of this book is to make some sense of Wittgenstein’s claim that his
philosophy is opposed to “the darkness” of his time, to cultural decline. After all,
Wittgenstein, in the Investigations, never so much as mentions the nature of his
civilization or cultural decline. How then is this opposition manifested in the work?
These concerns, it will be shown, lead naturally to the subject of religion,
Wittgenstein’s attitudes toward religion and religious expression, and the question
of whether Wittgenstein, in some way or other, employed a religious viewpoint in
his later philosophy. Wittgenstein’s early work was preoccupied with the religious,
the mystical, and “that which is higher”, but his early doctrines notoriously denied
the expressibility of such things. It was not, of course, that Wittgenstein thought
that religious concerns were empty; rather, while taking them seriously, he was
committed to doing so “wordlessly”. The Tractatus certainly may be said to have
had a religious viewpoint – but one which, by its own tenets, could not be expressed
in words; at least not in a direct manner. The inexpressibility of the religious was
a centerpiece of Wittgenstein’s early philosophy. The later philosophical work, in
contrast, has virtually nothing whatsoever to say on this subject. This is certainly
true of the Investigations. It offers no direct assertions, no suggestive “elucidations”,
of a religious nature. Why? Was Wittgenstein no longer interested in religion? Or,
does a religious viewpoint emerge again, as it were, wordlessly? Norman Malcolm,
in his last published philosophical work, Wittgenstein – A Religious Point of View?,
pondered these and related questions and concluded that something like a religious
viewpoint can be attributed to the Investigations.
As it turns out, Spengler’s views on cultural decline were internally connected to
his views on religious decline. Could Spengler’s attitude toward religion, as Brian
R. Clack has suggested, have influenced that of the later Wittgenstein? If so, how?
Understanding the nature of Spengler’s influence on Wittgenstein does, I think, clarify
the question of Wittgenstein’s mature attitude toward religion. I have endeavored in
this book to illuminate this central point of interpretation in an original way. I seek
to show the source of Wittgenstein’s later doubts about religious expression. I argue
that it is very different from that of the Tractatus and connect it with Spenglerian
The plan of this book is straightforward. In Chapter 1, I discuss Wittgenstein’s
frank indication that Spengler had been an influence on him and, beyond this, that
many of his own ideas had been re-workings of some of Spengler’s seminal insights.
Toward this end I offer a preliminary overview of Spengler’s main theses. I discuss
a number of conjectures that have been made by prominent philosophers as to what
aspects of Wittgenstein’s explicit later philosophical thought were influenced by
Spengler. Finally, I offer an original conjecture of my own.
In Chapter 2, I discuss Spengler’s overall view of culture and cultural decline.
I show that, during the early thirties, Wittgenstein was clearly and very strongly
influenced by these views and that he incorporated them into prefatory remarks
intended for his transitional philosophical work, Philosophical Remarks. There,
Wittgenstein not only accepts many specific aspects of Spengler’s vision, but
explicitly expresses that the spirit of Remarks was intended to oppose a cultural
decline that he believed to be pervasive in Western Civilization. The similarities
between passages from Spengler’s Decline and Wittgenstein’s prefatory remarks for
Philosophical Remarks are striking, even astonishing, in their basic themes, their
tone of dark negativism, and even, most pointedly, in their vocabulary. There is not
the slightest doubt that Wittgenstein took on a Spenglerian outlook and saw his own
philosophical efforts to be an expression of that outlook, at least in the early 1930s.
Wittgenstein, however, even when most influenced by Spengler, was never
uncritical of his work. He sought to identify significant conceptual confusions in
Decline. These significant caveats are discussed at some length in Chapter 1, as
are some other early criticisms of aspects of Spengler’s work. Could these critical
insights, and perhaps later ones, have eventually weakened the esteem in which he
held Spengler’s work to the point where it was no longer much of an influence?
The best evidence suggests that this is not so. On the contrary, I try to show, in
Chapter 2, that, in the decades subsequent to Wittgenstein’s initial acceptance of
basic Spenglerian conclusions, very similar thoughts continued to occupy and
shape his view of his time, and the relationship between his work and that time.
There are many indications that this is so, and I try to both identify and interpret
a large number of esoteric sources which show that to be the case. In doing so, I
believe, I have remedied one of the weaknesses of my 1994 article, “Wittgenstein
and Spengler” – an article which painstakingly documents the original influence,
but does not sufficiently deal with the questions of whether, or for how long, that
Ludwig Wittgenstein – A Cultural Point of View
In Chapter 3, I take up the all-important subject of Spengler’s prescription for
philosophy in a time of cultural decline. Spengler’s remarks are striking and describe
a philosophical program so antithetical to traditional philosophy that it seems scarcely
to amount to philosophy at all. Yet, it is remarkably clear that Wittgenstein’s later
philosophical practice seems, quite uniquely, to fit Spengler’s blueprint. The details
of this are fascinating. I strive to bring them out as clearly and persuasively as I can.
Although this is the book’s shortest chapter, it is, in one respect, the most complete.
The case I make is, I think, unassailable and correct. As we shall see in Chapter
7, Brian R. Clack says in his recent Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of
Religion (roughly five years after I made virtually the same claim), “Wittgenstein’s
philosophical project meets the restrictions laid down by Spengler concerning what
is and is not possible in an age of decline.” Chapter 3 not only makes this claim, but
also presents in detail the overwhelmingly strong reasons for thinking that it is so.
Chapter 4, the book’s longest, engages perhaps the most daunting aspect of its
project. Having shown both that Wittgenstein embraced Spengler’s view of cultural
decline and also that he intended for his philosophy to oppose that decline, I take
up the question of how Wittgenstein’s later work can be interpreted as doing so.
How can Wittgenstein’s various remarks on language, reference, thought, intention,
family resemblances, the privacy of experience, and the rest – devoid as it is of any
explicit mention of Spengler, culture, civilization, or cultural decline – be a work that
in any way engages these subjects? I discuss in careful detail, and, for the most part,
accept Stanley Cavell’s attempt to begin to answer this question and to find what
he calls the “Spenglerian valence” of the Investigations. I hope, for some readers,
my account of Cavell might serve as a demystification of his elegant, insightful, but
sometimes daunting expression of seminal insights. In addition, I offer a number of
original thoughts of my own on this difficult subject.
Chapter 5 takes up Wittgenstein’s view of religious expression. I attempt to
outline and contrast Wittgenstein’s early and later views on the subject. The former
are, by now, reasonably well understood. The latter, I argue, show both interesting
similarities and even more interesting differences with the former. I seek to show
that, while Wittgenstein always had doubts about religious expression, his later
doubts were grounded in a very different conception of expressibility itself than
the earlier. Further, the later view is, in important respects, Spenglerian in some of
its basic conceptions – not only about religion, but about the connection between
cultural surroundings and meaning.
Chapter 6 goes on to ponder the question of whether Wittgenstein’s later
philosophy may have been pursued from not only a cultural, but a religious perspective.
In it I examine in detail the views of Norman Malcolm in his posthumously published
Wittgenstein – A Religious Point of View? It is noteworthy that Malcolm takes very
seriously Wittgenstein’s various indications – many of them central to positions I
argue for in this book – that he did not expect his philosophy to be understood.
Malcolm took these as evidence that Wittgenstein’s philosophy presupposes a
religious point of view that was incommensurate with the underlying assumptions of
his time. I take up in detail both Malcolm’s views and the criticisms of them offered
by Peter Winch, and conclude that Malcolm does indeed succeed in highlighting at
least one aspect of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy which, by Wittgenstein’s own
lights, qualifies as religious.
In this book’s final chapter, I discuss the view of one of the few philosophers writing
today who has argued that Spengler’s influence on Wittgenstein is both pervasive and
influenced his view of religion. Brian R. Clack, in his fine book, An Introduction to
Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Religion, argues that the later Wittgenstein, influenced
by Spengler’s pessimism about religion in a time of cultural decline, became a kind
of “atheist”. While heartened that another writer has taken the Spenglerian influence
on Wittgenstein as seriously as I have, I must, with some regret, reject Clack’s
conclusion. His view, I will argue, incorrectly assesses Spengler’s view of religion in
his time and overestimates its influence on Wittgenstein’s view. Clack’s interesting
claim does not stand up to close scrutiny.
Many of my friends and colleagues who have read all or part of the writings that
have slowly evolved into this book have asked me my own view of Wittgenstein’s
extreme cultural pessimism. What do I make of Wittgenstein’s apparent belief
that the twentieth century was a time of cultural decline in which art, religion, and
philosophy were, if not dead, then at least seriously endangered and on the verge of
extinction? What of his oft-stated sense that the human spirit and the dominant forms
of human interaction in his time had deteriorated? The sobering truth is that, having
spent a decade coming to understand a good deal about Wittgenstein’s views on these
subjects, I find it difficult to sympathize with many of them. Indeed, I must confess
that I am sometimes amazed that Wittgenstein, a great critical thinker, would find
so many of the more extravagant views of a thinker such as Spengler so congenial
and could so enthusiastically have endorsed them, his caveats notwithstanding.
Significantly, I find that Wittgenstein’s cultural observations are most penetrating
when they explicitly depart from those of Spengler.
I am inclined to think that many of the views shared by Wittgenstein and Spengler
on these subjects amount to not much more than an intellectualized historical
pessimism that each of them supported in his own informed, but idiosyncratic and
selective manner. Each expresses, I think, the attitude of a man so taken with the
great works and triumphs of past times that he became impatient, even disgusted,
with what he saw as unworthy, even obscene, departures from them in his own
time. One can certainly tolerate and even respect such concerns. Indeed, some of
their shared criticisms of twentieth-century artistic, religious, and social forms
are, for all their vitriol, interesting and insightful. They express concerns about
the misuses of technology, the politics of globalization, the corruption of religion,
social fragmentation, and personal alienation, which, at least in outline, seem even
to have been prophetic. However, their shared vision encompassed much more –
applied, as it was, virtually without restriction, to their entire civilization. Spengler
and Wittgenstein believed that the Renaissance in Western Europe was the zenith
of Western culture. In contrast, they viewed their own time as the sorry result of
centuries of decline from that high point. They appear to have simply overlooked
that the Renaissance was a time of rich, meaningful fulfillment for, at most, only a
fragment of the most privileged people of that time and one of relative misery for
almost everyone else. It seems a mistake to idealize any such social form. Further,
Author William J. DeAngelis Isbn 9780754660002 File size 2.15MB Year 2007 Pages 204 Language English File format PDF Category Philosophy Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare In the preface to his Philosophical Investigations Ludwig Wittgenstein expresses pessimism about the culture of his time and doubts as to whether his ideas would be understood in such a time: ‘I make them public with doubtful feelings. It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another – but, of course, it is not likely’. In this book William James DeAngelis develops a deeper understanding of Wittgenstein’s remark and argues that it is an expression of a significant cultural component in Wittgenstein’s later thought which, while latent, is very much intended. DeAngelis focuses on the fascinating connection between Wittgenstein and Oswald Spengler and in particular the acknowledged influence of Spengler’s Decline of the West. His book shows in meticulous detail how Spengler’s dark conception of an ongoing cultural decline resonated deeply for Wittgenstein and influenced his later work. In so doing, the work takes into account discussions of these matters by major commentators such as Malcolm, Von Wright, Cavell, Winch, and Clack among others. A noteworthy feature of this book is its attempt to link Wittgenstein’s cultural concerns with his views on religion and religious language. DeAngelis offers a fresh and original interpretation of the latter. Download (2.15MB) Rules, Magic and Instrumental Reason Process Philosophy: A Survey of Basic Issues Wittgenstein Among The Sciences: Wittgensteinian Investigations Into The scientific Method Wittgensteins Form of Life Religion as a Philosophical Matter Load more posts