WAB: "Fragments" | The following contribution is an excerpt from Lars Hertzberg: "Trying to keep philosophy honest", in: Alois Pichler and Simo Säätelä (eds.): Wittgenstein: The philosopher and his works, Working Papers from the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen no. 17, Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (WAB) 2005, pp. 74-89. Publication on WAB's website with kind permission from the author and the editors (2005.4.7).

Lars Hertzberg: Trying to keep philosophy honest

The marginalization of Wittgenstein’s philosophy

Ludwig Wittgenstein was once a towering figure in the philosophy of our time. For non-professionals with an intererest in philosophy, this is still true. Among professional philosophers, however, his stature today seems radically diminished. Even though a great deal of what would appear to be original work is carried out along lines inspired by him, it is hardly noted by philosophers of a different bent of mind. Indeed one can speak of a marginalization of his influence in philosophy. I am thinking in particular of the situation in the English-speaking world and in Scandinavia, which is where Wittgenstein’s thought was previously at its most influential.

One may feel inclined to seek for an explanation of this change; however, it would be hard to do so without indulging in idle speculation or venting one’s prejudices. What I should like to try to do, rather, is to formulate what it is that the analytical world will be losing if it persists in turning its back on the approaches he advocated. In doing so, I shall inevitably be expressing my own (not necessarily original) understanding of what is distinctive and worthwhile about Wittgenstein’s contribution to philosophy.


Work on oneself

Why would it be a bad thing for analytical philosophy to disinherit itself from the Wittgensteinian influence? The suggestion I wish to make is contained in the title of this essay. Let it be noted that the word “trying” is all-important. I do not mean to suggest that philosophers working in a Wittgensteinian vein are more honest than others. That would give the claim an unwelcome moralistic slant – a pretension that would probably have struck Wittgenstein himself as abhorrent. The point is that for Wittgenstein honesty was an issue in philosophy. Wittgenstein’s conception of the difficulties of philosophy differed from that of most philosophers before him because he saw the struggle to maintain one’s intellectual honesty as internal to the difficulties of philosophy.

This aspect is made explicit in some of the manuscripts preparatory for Philosophical Investigations more clearly than it is in the Investigations themselves.1 In Culture and Value we read the oft-quoted remark (CV p. 24, from 1931):

Work on philosophy – like work in architecture in many respects – is really more [rather] work on oneself. On one’s own conception. On how one sees things. (And what one expects from them.)
And in 1947 Wittgenstein wrote (CV p. 68):

In fact it is already a seed of good originality not to want to be what you are not.
In the Big Typescript from the early 30’s, there is the following chapter heading:

What makes the difficulties of philosophy so intractable, Wittgenstein thought, is the fact that in grappling with them we must constantly struggle against our intellectual temptations. I shall try to bring out the nature of this concern by focusing on certain themes in Wittgenstein’s later thought. What I shall have to say has the form of a meditation on three remarks by Wittgenstein. My comments on them can be seen as an attempt to come at the same theme from three slightly different directions.

1Why is that the case? Presumably because Wittgenstein was trying to downplay the sloganeering element in his work; the effort at honesty should show itself rather than be explicitly articulated; in fact, this could be considered integral to the striving for honesty. On this, cf. the sketch for a preface to Philosophische Bemerkungen, Culture and Value, 2nd edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 10 f.
2"Philosophy". In J. Klagge and A. Nordmann (eds.), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Occasions 1912-1951 (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), p. 161.