Sunday, August 8, 2010


I've been reading Ray Monk's Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The main strength of this biography is that it was written by someone who studied philosophy at York and Oxford and is currently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton (where, by the way, there are several specialists in Wittgenstein). So the author approaches Wittgenstein's life from a philosophical perspective, which makes the book appealing to those interested in the latter's thought. I'm enjoying it very much as I enjoyed reading a French translation of Norman Malcolm's excellent memoir while I was living in Fribourg eight years ago (I remember borrowing the book from a Swiss philosophy student that lived on the same floor).

Someone recommended me Monk's book last year in the UK and I decided to buy it because I had always been kind of puzzled and fascinated by what I knew about Wittgenstein's life and personality. It seems to me that he's an excellent example of how one's philosophical work may be intimately related to one's life. It reminds me that I decided to study philosophy when I was at high school because I was impressed by Camus' "existentialist" literature (as some of you may know, Camus had a degree in philosophy). But it also reminds me of the gap that exists between my academic work and the questions and problems that interest and puzzle me the most. I know that my interest in skepticism is due to my own Weltaunschauung, so to speak, which is characterized by a state of deep ignorance and puzzlement. Still, my work on skepticism does not reflect this, except for a couple of paragraphs here and there. Unfortunately, I only discuss some of those issues when I come accross certain people at conferences or talks. I remember that last year, in Durham, I had an interesting conversation late at night at a pub with a couple of guys after delivering a paper on the Modes of Agrippa. One of them was an Italian graduate history student and the other had studied philosophy at Oxford in the eighties and was deeply influenced by Wittgenstein and (to a lesser degree) by Michael Frede's "urbane" interpretation of Sextus' Pyrrhonism. I suppose we are taught to separate the two things, and I don't think this is something that happens only to those of us who work primarily on the history of philosophy, but also to e.g. present-day epistemologists: we do our job and usually this has little (or nothing) to do with our own philosophical outlook.

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