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Taking Wittgenstein at His Word is an experiment in reading organized around a central question: What kind of interpretation of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy emerges if we adhere strictly to his claims that he is not in the business of presenting and defending philosophical theses and that his only aim is to expose persistent conceptual misunderstandings that lead to deep philosophical perplexities? Robert Fogelin draws out the therapeutic aspects of Wittgenstein’s later work by closely examining his account of rule-following and how he applies the idea in the philosophy of mathematics.
The first of the book’s two parts focuses on rule-following, Wittgenstein’s “paradox of interpretation,” and his naturalistic response to this paradox, all of which are persistent and crucial features of his later philosophy. Fogelin offers a corrective to the frequent misunderstanding that the paradox of interpretation is a paradox about meaning, and he emphasizes the importance of Wittgenstein’s often undervalued appeals to natural responses. The second half of the book examines how Wittgenstein applies his reflections on rule-following to the status of mathematical propositions, proofs, and objects, leading to remarkable, demystifying results.
Taking Wittgenstein at His Word shows that what Wittgenstein claims to be doing and what he actually does are much closer than is often recognized. In doing so, the book underscores fundamental—but frequently underappreciated—insights about Wittgenstein’s later philosophy.