Review of 'Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations' by J.M.F. Hunter
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Canadian Philosophical Reviews, 6:69–71, 1986
Paper - Abstract

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  1. In contrast to Hunter's earlier Essays After Wittgenstein1 (1973), which offers his own development of themes that concerned Wittgenstein2, Understanding Wittgenstein3 focuses in detail on particular passages, and suggests and evaluates various lines of interpretation. Each of the twenty-seven chapters, which range in length from four to twenty pages, deals specifically with a paragraph or a group of paragraphs from the Philosophical Investigations.
  2. Wittgenstein4 said that the work of the philosopher is to assemble reminders for a particular purpose, and much of Hunter's new book consists of just such reminders. Hunter not only cites textual evidence for his interpretations, but also offers a useful array of examples. For example, one may know what water is without knowing the difference between watering horses and watering milk, or between crying and eyes watering. However, Hunter sometimes over-explains his reminders as he does when he gives an elaborate description of differences between 'He understands English' and 'He salutes officers' (157).
  3. The book reads as if an intelligent person sat down to puzzle out the Investigations on his own. Hunter gives no evidence of acquaintance with the controversies attending Wittgenstein5 scholarship; for example, he mentions the so-called private language argument only once, and then only to say that it is not 'the unifying thread in the sections of the Philosophical Investigations dealing with pain' (127).
  4. I have two main criticisms. First, Hunter gives too much attention to obviously obtuse interpretations before finally rejecting them. This flaw is a result, I think, of the way that Hunter aims to lead the reader along, down to the end of the blindest of alleys, in order to share the philosophical discovery. For example, he quotes the famous beetle-in-the-box passage (PI, par. 293) without the crucial last sentence, and proceeds to discuss various interpretations; after the discussion, he brings in the last sentence as if to say, 'Here's something else to consider,' and delivers the interpretation he favors. (98-104).
  5. Second, and more important, many of his interpretations seem somewhat superficial or flatfooted. …
  6. Understanding Wittgenstein6 is not an introduction to Wittgenstein7, but rather a companion to the Investigations, it will be of most use to beginners who find themselves baffled by the Investigations.


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