PHH 4930  Wittgenstein  Spring 2014  First Paper Topics

     Copyright 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli

 The first paper for this course should be a “critical exposition” of an important element of Wittgenstein’s views and theories in his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus.  You may choose one of the following assigned topics or you may seek my permission to write on another one (you must get permission before writing on another topic, and I will require some sort of written topic statement before providing such permission).  Such critical expositions try to both clarify the theory or view in question and consider its adequacy, sense, utility, etc.  The interpretation of Wittgenstein’s theories is not an easy job, and I have recommended a number of secondary sources many of the topics.  A perfectly appropriate “strategy” for papers here is to examine another individual’s exposition: clarify Wittgenstein’s view, and what this interpretation attributes to Wittgenstein, and then critically consider whether you feel it “fits the text,” and whether its critical perspective on the original text is appropriate or correct.  In writing such a paper you must not only clarify the views of the author(s) in question, but you must also offer your own critical assessment of whether we should accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position. 

      One of my purposes in having you write these papers is to offer you the opportunity to perfect your ability to describe carefully a complex position and argument to others.  Toward that end, I require that you consider your intended audience for these papers to be other philosophy students who have not read exactly the material you have read or heard exactly the lectures which you have heard.  They can not be expected to immediately know the intricacies of the positions you are discussing, and must first have the central aspects of the position which are relevant to your paper clarified to them.  They must also be presented with carefully elaborated arguments for and against the position, view, or exposition if they are to be able to follow your critical assessment of it. 

      Another of my purposes here is to provide you with the opportunity to push beyond the level of reading and mastering the required material for the course.  Here my goal is to provide you with an opportunity to engage in critical reflection upon the readings (or upon related readings and issues), and to provide you with feedback on your critical scrutinies.  In my supplement Writing Philosophy Papers (available on the course web-site), I discuss a number of other points regarding composition and grader’s marks.  The detailed characterization of such papers in that supplement should help you understand my expectations (those desiring high grades will endeavor to approach the highest ideal, while those who are not so motivated may choose to set their sights somewhat lower). 

      Your papers should

address an assigned topic in a manner that clearly displays its purpose, thesis, or controlling idea,

clarify the relevant elements of the philosopher’s theory so that they can be understood by other students taking such philosophy courses,

support the thesis with adequate reasons and evidence,

show sustained analysis and critical thought,

be organized clearly and logically, and

show knowledge of conventions of standard written English. 

Topics:

1. In the Tractatus, “simples” play a fundamental role.  In his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein offers a criticism of the notion of simples (cf., Part I, sections 47-49 and 60).  What is his view of simples in the Tractatus, how important are the simples to his overall project, what is his criticism of this notion in the Investigations, and how telling is this self-critique? 

 2. In the Tractatus, “analysis” plays a fundamental role.  In his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein offers a criticism of the notion of analysis (cf., Part I, sections 60 and 63-64).  What is his view of analysis in the Tractatus, how important is this notion of analysis to his overall project, what is his criticism of this notion in the Investigations, and how telling is this self-critique? 

 3. In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein offers a view of what he takes the “essence of language” to be.  While you need not utilize the symbolism of symbolic logic, clarify what he takes the “essence” of language to be.  In the Philosophical Investigations he offers a critique of the notion of the “essence of language” (cf., Part I sections 65-66).  What is his criticism of the notion of such an essence, and how telling is this self-critique? 

4. In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein suggests that there is a fundamental element of truth to solipsism.  Critically assess the extent to which he is (and is not) a solipsist.  You may find some or all of the following helpful here:

Chapter 5 of John Cook’s Wittgenstein’s Metaphysics (it is on reserve in the Green Library [B 3376  W 564  C 66  1994]),

Peter Winch’s “Wittgenstein Treatment of the Will,” which is available in The Philosophy of Wittgenstein v. 3 [My World and Its Value], ed. John V. Canfield which is available on reserve in the Green Library] B 3376  W 564  P 47  v. 3 1986] (pp. 56-75);

David Pears’ “Wittgenstein’s Treatment of Solipsism in the Tractatus,” which is available in The Philosophy of Wittgenstein v. 3 [My World and Its Value], ed. John V. Canfield which is available on reserve in the Green Library [B 3376  W 564  P 47  v. 3 1986] (pp. 183-206), and/or Chapter 7 of David Pears’ The False Prison, v. 1, which is available on reserve in the Green Library [B 3373  W 564 P35 1987];

Bernard William’s “Wittgenstein and Idealism” in The Philosophy of Wittgenstein v. 8 ed. John Canfield which is available on reserve in the Green Library B 3376  W 564  v. 8 1986 [Knowing, Naming, Certainty, and Idealism] (pp. 318-337). 

5. Critically consider the central argument offered by Carl Ginet in his “An Incoherence in the Tractatus (or by P.M.S. Hacker in his “The Rise and Fall of the Picture Theory”).  What in the Tractatus is being criticized, and how telling is the critique?  These articles may be found in The Philosophy of Wittgenstein v. 1 [The Early Philosophy—Language As Picture], ed. John V. Canfield which is available on Reserve in the Green Library [B 3376  W 564  P 47  1986 v. 1]. 

 6. Explain his “picture theory”—tell me why some things can only, according to him, be shown—not said.  Critically consider his view that this theory can only be shown.  Doesn’t he, after all, seem to say the things that he says can only be shown?  Why does he believe he can not “say” these things, and why do you think he is right or wrong here? 

7. In the first two chapters of his Wittgenstein’s Metaphysics (pp. 3-30), John Cook offers an interesting interpretation of the early Wittgenstein’s “world”—one that has him offering a view (termed “neutral monism”) that constitutes an alternative to dualism, idealism, and materialism.  Clarify and critically consider Cook’s interpretation of Wittgenstein—it is on Reserve in the Green Library [B 3376  W 564  C 66  1994]. 

8. What is the role of philosophy for the early Wittgenstein, and how do his metaphysical views fit with his conception of philosophy? 

 9. What does Wittgenstein mean by “the mystical?”  Here you may find Eddy Zemach’s “Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of the Mystical” helpful—it is available in The Philosophy of Wittgenstein v. 3 [My World and Its Value], ed. John V. Canfield which is available on reserve in the Green Library [B 3376  W 564  P 47  v. 3 1986] (pp. 294-313). 

10. What sort of “value” does Wittgenstein attribute to “the world.”  Here you may find Robert Fogelin’s “My World and Its Value” helpful—it is available in The Philosophy of Wittgenstein v. 3 [My World and Its Value], ed. John V. Canfield which is available on reserve in the Green Library [B 3376  W 564  P 47  v. 3 1986] (pp. 154-158). 

 11. Critically consider the similarities of Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer regarding “the will.”  Here you may find A. Phillips Griffiths’ “Wittgenstein and the Four-Fold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason” helpful—it is available in The Philosophy of Wittgenstein v. 3 [My World and Its Value], ed. John V. Canfield which is available on reserve in the Green Library [B 3376  W 564  P 47  v. 3 1986] (pp. 77-96). 

 Students wanting to write on another topic (including articles I have not included from the Canfield collection) need to get their topic cleared by me in advance. 

Your papers should be approximately 2000 words long (equivalent to eight double-spaced typewritten pages of 250 words per page).  This indication of length is meant as a guide to the student—papers much shorter than the indicated length are unlikely to have adequately addressed one of the assigned topics (see syllabus, however, for explanation of the need for students to fulfill the Gordon Rule requirement in their papers).  Papers may, of course, be longer than the indicated length.  I will be happy to read rough drafts and to discuss your ideas for your papers with you (of course I can not be much help to you in this manner if you don’t allow sufficient time, and so I will not read any rough drafts submitted after 4:00 on Friday, February 28).  The papers should be typed and are due in my office by 4:15 P.M. on Monday, March 3.  If you plan to wait till the last moment to write your paper, I recommend you review the Course Syllabus regarding penalties for late papers.  Please review my policy on extensions, late papers, and plagiarism (contained in the course syllabus).  Please also review my supplement Guide to Writing Philosophy Papers—available on the class web-site. 

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Last revised: 02/12/2014