Graham McFee

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More on the 'Third Wittgenstein' Idea

More on the ‘Third Wittgenstein’ Idea


In my book How to do Philosophy (McFee, 2015), when considering the thesis of a ‘third Wittgenstein’ (from Daniele Moyal-Sharrock, 2004a) to augment the traditional picture of a Wittgenstein of the Tractatus and that of Philosophical Investigations, I presented that idea as though it amounted to a characterization based on Wittgenstein’s ‘last writings’ (OC, ROC, LWPP 2), with a special emphasis on On Certainty (OC). And, given that she had elsewhere stressed the importance of OC (Moyal-Sharrock, 2004b), this did not (and does not) strike me as an unreasonable mode of presentation, especially in the light both the earlier discussions in my text, and of her characterization of the distinctiveness of the contribution of “… the masterpiece that is On Certainty” (Moyal-Sharrock, 2009 p. 558) to our understanding of Wittgenstein’s projects in, as she puts it, “the post-PI Part One corpus”. But, as that expression indicates, this emphasis on just the ‘last writings’ does not capture her position at all exactly. In her efforts to explore her “… conviction that there was … a Wittgenstein who went beyond what he had achieved in the Investigations” (Moyal-Sharrock, 2004a p. 9), she does indeed want to ‘draw the line’ between Wittgenstein’s Two and Three so as to take:\

… the third Wittgenstein corpus as essentially consisting of all his writings from approximately 1946 … [it therefore] includes On Certainty, Remarks on Colour, Zettel, and all the writings on philosophical psychology, including Part II of Philosophical Investigations” (Moyal-Sharrock, 2004a p. 2)

Why did I do it? Surely I must have noticed this wider thesis, especially when I quote the remark about the “post-PI … corpus” (McFee, 2015 p. 134 [charitably mis-quoting it as “post-PI Part Two])? The key point is that I was not aiming to discuss Moyal-Sharrock’s own thesis directly. Rather, I was just deploying her position stregegically, drawing on what I took myself to have achieved in the previous chapter; namely, the need to maintain the connection in practice between PI Part One and PI Part Two [now PPF]. Hence, for me, some of the ‘texts’ Moyal-Sharrock mentions (such as Z, RPP1, LWPP 1) had already been excluded: I was merely adapting her conjectures to my purposes.

In doing so, I was building on other principles of mine: in particular, I was drawing on biographical information to justify retaining some such c onnection between PI Part One and PPF (PI Part Two), beginning with the following claim by Anscombe:

My contribution to the belief that Wittgenstein “would have inserted this, with further material, into the alas considerably expurgated last 30 pages or so of the Investigations[”], was based purely on what he said to me when I visited him in Dublin … (Letter to Von Wright, 15th April 1991: quoted Erbacher, 2015 p. 171)

Similarly, Rhees reports that, when he visited Wittgenstein in Dublin, over Christmas 1948/1949, Wittgenstein “…did not explain just which parts of the ‘Part I’ manuscript they [the Part Two remarks] were to replace” (Letter to Von Wright, 10th August 1972: quoted Erbacher, 2015 p. 171); but with the clear implication that they would replace some of them — and hence were part of the same project! This resulted in my following Monk (1990 p. 543: see McFee, 2015 pp. 91-92) in regarding Wittgenstein’s departure from Ireland in June 1949 as “… not only winding up his affairs in Dublin, but also bringing to a close his entire contribution to philosophy”. So that, for me, this would be the key date because, after some brief time in Cambridge, Wittgenstein sailed to the USA on 20th July, 1949. I conjecture that Wittgenstein took with him the typescript that became PI Part Two (Ts 234), and Von Wright agrees (see McFee, 2015 p. 105); or, at least, he took the manuscript from which that typescript derived (Ms 144). Moreover, I accept that this text was “his final selection of the remarks written over the last three years” (Monk, 1990 p. 544) — although again my reasons for my conjecture are primarily biographical, rather than “… a question of their internal relations” (Letter to Von Wright, 2nd March 1952: quoted Erbacher, 2015 p. 172): that Wittgenstein was going to visit Norman Malcolm, and wished to show him this work.

         But if these conjectures are granted, it identifies this is one plausible stopping-place for that ‘projected work’ (see below) that we have as Philosophical Investigations; and it gives guarded support to the practice of retaining PI Part One and PPF (PI Part Two) within one binding, as at present. Of course, it is not without its difficulties when one looks to other late-authored (but pre-1949) texts: it would render most of them useful only to augment PPF, as well as making nonsense of the claim of LWPP 1 to be “Last Writings” on the topic, since its manuscript sources (Mss 137-138) clearly pre-date PFF — but that anomaly will exist anyway!

         How plausible are other stopping places? Clearly, there is a sense in which Wittgenstein’s (roughly) post-Tractatus writings are all Nachlass, ‘Legacy’ left unpublished at his death. Equally clearly, he had for some time been hoping to produce something more-or-less definitive, his “book” as offered a number of times to Cambridge University Press. Since he did not do so, there can only be conjecture. Yet we do know that he reported that “… I have not been able to do any sustained work since the beginning of March 1949” (McGuinness, 2012 p. 462; letter 422); and in December 1949 he wrote that “… I can’t imagine that I’ll ever work again” and that his plan was to “… just do nothing” (McGuinness, 2012 p. 452; letter 412). It seems consonant with my conjecture, then, that at this time he “… had been absolutely certain that I’d never be able to do … [philosophy] again” (McGuinness, 2012 p. 479; letter 438). By contrast, he reports in the same letter that “[a]bout a month ago I suddenly found myself in exactly the right frame of mind for doing philosophy”: that, at least, includes the productive period when much of what became OC was drafted. Of course, even if this supports some stopping place around 1949, it does not preclude another in 1946.

         Are there other reasons to adopt my suggestion? One mentioned below is that it might suggest a way towards a more informative presentation of some of Wittgenstein’s writings. By contrast, while the version I extract from Moyal-Sharrock’s considerations might be helpful in assigning a clear place to at least some of the Zettel — most of its remarks do date from 1945 or later (see Maury, 1981) — it does not really suggest a fruitful pattern of re-publication.

         Of course, my comments in McFee (2015), and here, suggest that, at the very least, Part Two [PPF] does not belong with these other (genuinely late) writings: OC, RC, LPP 2. Further, since these originate chiefly from the same set of manuscripts, they are an obvious unity of some kind. Hence, granting that idea while sharply dividing Part One from Part Two would offer good evidence for those inclined to ‘multiply’ Wittgensteins – it would give us at least four! And that seems at least unhelpful (see below).

         Moreover, we must turn to the texts if we want a more substantial basis for selecting 1949 as one (temporary) ‘cut-off’ point (hence granting, roughly, the unity of PI with PPF), and thus treating later works as embracing the same broad picture, if with new nuances. My thought, though, was that if it could be shown — or at least made plausible — that there was no significant break between PI (even Part One) and a ‘text’ acknowledged on all sides to be late writing (namely, OC), there would be no case to be answered by a ‘third Wittgenstein’ disputer, such as me. For we would have no basis for making the break; and, although we would have additional material supplemental to PI (roughly, as we do anyway, with RFM), there would be no reason to postulate another ‘projected work’, even an unfinished one, if one’s concerns were primarily methodological. At best, this would be a further set of examples of the ‘method’ from PI in practice, no doubt introducing more complexities for anyone who hoped to characterize Wittgenstein’s work both completely and exactly. But I had given reasons to reject such expectations, as incompatible with Wittgenstein’s own views. So I did not need to address directly the scope of what the corpus of the ‘third Wittgenstein’ should include, nor should I worry whether the biographical basis for selecting 1949 to draw the line under the PI project was sustainable.

One of my interpretive tools here was the idea of “projected works” (McGuinness, 2002 p. 285: see McFee, 2015 pp. 12-13) — the sorts of texts that Wittgenstein prepared with a view to eventual publication, even if none were ultimately completed (with PI Part One coming the closest). And then we can see that many manuscripts and typescripts are at best steps towards PPF (formerly PI Part Two): for instance, Wittgenstein’s dismissal of what became RPP 1 as “… mostly bad, but I’ve got to have it in a handy form … because it may possibly give rise to better thoughts when I read it” (McGuinness, 2012 p. 418: letter 376) sketches its character — as early draft material to be the basis for later writing. Like Moyal-Sharrock, I regard PFF as superseding all other post-PI Part One writings, up until ROC, OC, and (most of) LWPP 2. Hence there cannot be an uncompleted “projected work” that do not include it, until we approach those late works. So, it seems helpful to retain PPF with PI Part One, as the nearest Wittgenstein came to completing one of these “projected works” And if I can show that the late works (ROC, OC, LWPP 2) cannot be seen as parts of, or as instantiating, another “projected work”, that would strongly suggest that they do not, after all, constitute a sufficient break with PI to warrant (say) identifying another ‘Wittgenstein’. That was my target (McFee, 2015 pp. 140-155, esp. pp. 148-153).

         Clearly, there are many interpretive stances one might take here, and all involve weighing various considerations concerning how best to do justice to Wittgenstein’s thought: I prefer to start from the published texts that we presently have (which constitute “Wittgenstein” for most readers), and to imagine a limited re-publication combined with more extensive editorial commentary on the state of the texts. In particular, I would welcome the deletion of RPP 2, or at least its down-grading to just a collection of remarks to be re-organized (since it does little more than reprint the underlying manuscript), as well as the construction of a single ‘Last Writings’ volume comprised of OC, ROC and LPP 2, perhaps slightly augmented. Others, such a David Stern, prefer to wait for a wider accessibility for the whole Nachlass, since only that constitutes Wittgenstein’s own writing here: in this way, “… all of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass should be included in this oeuvre” (Stern, 1996 p. 462). And there are many positions in between. With Oskari Kuusela (2008 p. 14), one might use the Nachlass as “… only an aid to the interpretation of Philosophical Investigations …the most polished and authoritative presentation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy”: yet this seems to separate PI from the rest of the Nachlass. Or perhaps, with Nuno Venturinha (2010 pp. 151), we should take “… Wittgenstein’s second book project … [to] only be criss-crossed in all its multiplicity in the entire post-1929 Nachlass”. Either way, I do not think that:

… our understanding of what Wittgenstein had in mind will remain incomplete until we find out why Ts 232 begins on page 600 – with Ts 229 ending on page 457 – and how the original project of Zettel fits into the planned book (Venturinha, 2010 pp. 151)

And nor do I find good reason to imagine, if one’s aim is to understand what Wittgenstein thought (or wrote), that urging a break sufficient to justify the title “third Wittgenstein” will prove a fruitful mode of enquiry.

         Of course, as above, one might still combine what I urged as the “third Wittgenstein” thesis (namely, that it commence after PPF) with Moyal-Sharrock’s actual claim, as above, to produce a third Wittgenstein of the post-PI (Part One) material and a fourth Wittgenstein from the material I originally ascribed to the third: ROC, OC, and some of LWPP 2. But now one must ask about the integrity of such a division, given that only the transition from Wittgenstein-one (TLP-Wittgenstein) to Wittgenstein-two (PI-Wittgenstein) can be justified as a radical change of mind: the considerations that I used (see McFee, 2015 pp. 132-155) to suggest that this last group was not sufficiently differentiated from Wittgenstein’s previous work to constitute a new ‘Wittgenstein’ — or, at least, to do so profitably, as a clarification of patterns within Wittgenstein’s thinking — would then operate to dispute both the usefulness of introducing a ‘Wittgenstein two-to-three’ transition and the corresponding transition from ‘Wittgenstein three-to four’!



Erbacher, Christian (2015) “Editorial Approaches to Wittgenstein’s Nachlass: Towards a Historical Appreciation”, Philosophical Investigations Vol. 28 No. 3: pp. 165-198.

Kuusela, Oskari (2008) The Struggle against Dogmatism: Wittgenstein and the Concept of Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McFee, Graham (2015) How to Do Philosophy: A Wittgensteinian Reading of Wittgenstein. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars.

McGuinness, Brian (2002) Approaches to Wittgenstein: Collected Papers. London: Routledge.

———— (2012) (ed.) Wittgenstein in Cambridge: Letters and Documents 1911-1951. Oxford: Blackwell.

Maury, André (1981) “Sources of Remarks in Wittgenstein’s Zettel”, Philosophical Investigations, Vol. 4, pp. 57-74.

Monk, Ray (1990) Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Duty of Genius. London: Jonathan Cape.

Moyal-Sharrock, Daniele (2004a) “The Idea of a Third Wittgenstein”, in Daniele Moyal-Sharrock (ed.) The Third Wittgenstein. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 1-11

———— (2004b) Understanding Wittgenstein’s On Certainty. Aldershott: Ashgate.

———— (2009) “Introduction” [to special issue: “The Third Wittgenstein Conference”] Philosophia, Vol. 37, pp. 557-562.

Stern, David G. (1996) “The Availability of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy”, in Hans Sluga & David G. Stern (eds) The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 442-476.

Venturinha, Nuno (2010) “A Re-Examination of the Philosophical Investigations”, in Nuno Venturinha (ed.) Wittgenstein After His Nachlass. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave/Macmillan, pp. 143-156.





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