Saturday, December 27, 2008

Book Review

[Please note that whatever claims to fact I might make in this review, I am merely citing the book, which is fiction. So there is no need to correct any 'factual errors' I might produce, because this is all fiction with the occasional truth. Thank you for your understanding.]

Over the holiday weekend (that is, for me, Wednesday and Thursday), I finished the book I mentioned previously, "The World As I Found It", by Bruce Duffy. The book is a novelization of the lives of three great men that were the core members of the analytic philosophy movement: Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I'm obsessed with the latter.

The story is broken into four books: The Foreworld, The World As I Found It, The World Revisited, and The World After.

In The Foreworld, the story begins with Wittgenstein as a young student at Cambridge University, where he gains the attention of the then famous mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell. Through their personal and philosophical developments, the two geniuses change roles; Wittgenstein becomes the 'teacher' and Russell becomes the 'student'. Duffy is clear to note that this is purely a fictional account of their lives, but he used general information to lay its foundations. However, the characters drawn of these men are extremely sensational. Wittgenstein is depicted, (probably) very accurately so, as a madman, but a genius one at that. Russell would get 'calls' at 3 in the morning and let Wittgenstein come over to go on a philosophical purge of everything running through his insatiable mind. As Wittgenstein's ideas begin to triumph over Russell's, Russell engages in redacting or re-questioning his own philosophy. Much, if not all, of book I is devoted to the development of these complex relationships between men of dignity.

In The World As I Found it, the story shifts to how their lives (dramatically) change due to the onset of World War I. Relations between Moore, Russell, and Wittgenstein had strained, and so they all went their separate ways. Moore remained in a professorship at Cambridge, Russell traveled to America to be a guest lecturer at Harvard, and Wittgenstein traveled to Norway to live a simple life. At the outbreak of the war, Wittgenstein felt it was his duty to enlist in the Austrian army to fight, and fight he did. He was a sergeant, and had a miserable life during that time. However, it was during the war that he wrote his famous treatise on logic and philosophy: the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The publication of which, after the war, led Wittgenstein to believe that he solved all the problems of philosophy, and he "retired" from university level academics, and went on to be a kindergarten teacher; he gained a reputation for disciplining his students by whacking them with a cane (or, outright hitting them in the face).
The way [he] figured he solved all the problems of philosophy were as such: There are no problems of philosophical importance. The only problem is that language is limited, and hence, "the limits of my language mean the limits of my world". And, "whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent". That is to say, the question of ethics and metaphysics is nonsense, because there is no possible way (logically speaking) to give an accurate (valid) account of those subjects. Of course, there is much more to it than that, but if you'd like to try and figure out his philosophy, I encourage you to do so. (Note: Wittgenstein told Russell and Moore that they would never understand his Tractatus).

In The World Revisited, Wittgenstein has returned from the war, and has published the Tractatus. Many years have passed since its publication, and he has drastically changed his former stance on philosophy. This is the period that most historians refer to as the "later Wittgenstein". He wants to return to university academics, but he does not have a doctorate, and cannot, therefore, teach. Russell and Moore implore him to submit the Tractatus as his thesis, and they both volunteer to administer the oral defense portion of his thesis. There is so much more happening in this section; Russell and his third wife are running a school off in rural Britain, and Russell has sexual needs that are quite insatiable. In his lifetime, Russell had several love affairs, and many wives. Moore is married and very old and dreary. That's about as simple as one can be when describing this part of the story. The climax comes during Wittgenstein's oral examination of his thesis. This leads into the fourth book.

In The World After, the story winds down rather quickly (since there are only about 50 pages left in the book at that point), and mere ties up some loose ends with regards to the end of Wittgenstein's life. His best friend (and perhaps lover) joined the Nazi army; his sisters were forced to flee Austria due to their Jewish lineage; and Wittgenstein gets prostate cancer that ultimately brings about his death, and the loss of a great philosopher of the twentieth century.

If you're lucky enough to find a copy of this book at a used bookstore, read it. It's a notable book of historical fiction about three of philosophy's greatest contributors. Well, G.E. Moore was not that great, but he did have significant influence in the history of philosophy.

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