Book Tip: Wittgenstein by Hans Sluga

Wittgenstein by Hans Sluga is part of the Blackwell Great Minds series. Sluga writes an excellent introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy, and is committed to a text that is fresh and applicable to contemporary discussions. Whilst there are a plethora of books of its sort, this is by far the first secondary text that I turn to when exploring new ideas and seeking clarity on Wittgensteinian themes presented throughout his career.

The first three chapters of the book effectively present a coherent perspective of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by weaving together historical, personal and textual evidence so the reader can understand the terse text within the context of its creation. However, it is in the latter chapters where I feel the book presents a complex yet unified perspective of Wittgenstein's later work. It is not uncommon for interpreters to point out that Wittgenstein sought to clarify (or to gain a perspicuous view of) the concepts of language, practices and thought. On this theme, Sluga introduces a new concept: the surveyable representation. In short, he cites that Wittgenstein sought to bring unsurveyable wholes (such as language) into better light through the development of surveyable representations of such diverse activities. The representations were not meant to provide definitive interpretation. Rather, the representations sought to illuminate aspects that would otherwise be ignored in the nature of all-inclusive theoretical discourse. As such, I feel that this sheds light on the role of philosophy as activity ... an activity that seeks to clarify though not at the risk of deception. 

However, it is Sluga's commentary of pluralism that I feel has the capacity to open up new directions in Wittgensteinian discussion. In the midst of Sluga's discussion of language games, he explores the vast plethora of language games, belief system, and epistemologies that make up human practice. Sluga is right to state that Wittgenstein never explores the political reality of such pluralism. Wittgenstein is happy to allude to the diversity, though he never grapples with the fact that certain practices, ideologies and discourse practices are more dominant than others in the societal and global contexts. If a language games is sustained in a form of life, then the suppression (or marginalisation) of certain language games can threaten the form of life to which these cultural practices are attached.