Book Tip: Taking Wittgenstein at His Word

A Textual Study by Robert J. Fogelin

Taking Wittgenstein at His Word closely examines three concepts in Wittgenstein's philosophy: rule-following, private language and the philosophy of mathematics. The book is divided into two sections: rule-following and private language are examined in Part One, and the philosophy of mathematics is examined in Part Two. In particular, Fogelin stipulates that he is conducting a close textual reading, and - therefore - chooses not to engage at length with the vast secondary literature. The result is a book that asks, "what does Wittgenstein actually say on these topics?"

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Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent

From "Is silence golden?" By Antonia Macaro and Julian Baggini in the Financial Times Magazine (18 Jan 2013)


"Is Wittgenstein’s famous aphorism, 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent' a profound truth? Or is it a banal truism, along the lines of 'That which you cannot move, you must leave where it is'? It may sound platitudinous, but if you think about what exactly lies beyond the limits of language, matters soon become much more opaque.

"Consider all those occasions when words are simply not enough, such as when we try to express some of our deepest emotions. Phrases such as “I’m sorry for your loss”, “I love you” and “that’s awful” can all be true yet sound pathetically inadequate compared to the intensity of our feelings or the enormity of what has happened. Perhaps that is why the tradition of a minute’s silence for the dead is so powerful: it is not so much a mark of respect as an acknowledgment that nothing we can say or do is up to the task of capturing what has been lost."