University philosophy departments have hitherto regarded Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) along with Bertrand Russell as the...



University philosophy departments have hitherto regarded Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) along with Bertrand Russell as the father of logical positivism and linguistic analysis, citing his seminal work, the aphoristic Tractus, as an ""empiricist bible."" Odd then, that Wittgenstein himself always claimed he was misunderstood; that ethics, and nco-Kantian ethics at that, was his overriding concern, linguistic analysis only a means to that end. Odd, that is, until you approach Wittgenstein as Janik and Toulmin have done, from the vantage point of fin de siecle Vienna in the last luminescent years of the Habsburg Empire. That Vienna, along with Paris, was a major center of pre-World War I intellectual life we have long known; it was after all the city which nurtured Freud and Adler, Schonberg and Mahler, Klimt and Bruckner, Schnitzler and Hugo yon Hofmannsthal and a score of other modernists. By placing Wittgenstein within this very special cultural milieu Janik and Toulmin have succeeded in showing the interdependence of his philosophical preoccupations with the breakaway departures of his contemporaries in art, music, literature and architectural design; more remarkably still the authors have correlated the origins of the Tractus with the social and political temper of Habsburg Austria on the eve of its disintegration. Like his friend the architect Loos, like Karl Kraus the famed Viennese polemicist he so admired, like Schnitzler and the rest, Wittgenstein saw the urgent need to rescue Viennese intellectual life from the decadent formalism and artifice, from the grandiose abstractions of Volk and Geist, which held the bourgeoisie enthralled. Janik and Toulmin argue that the central problem of Viennese culture at this time had thus become ""the nature and limits of language, expression and communication"" -- for beneath this rigidly convention-bound society with its charming cafes, its aestheticism and its pomp, the vanguard intelligentsia discerned a ""cultural chaos"" that would soon overwhelm the doomed, melancholic life of the Empire. By applying a historical perspective -- so rare among academic philosophers -- Janik and Toulmin have produced a radical reassessment of Wittgenstein's work and contributed a fascinating chapter to the intellectual history of Europe.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1972


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1972