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New Left Review I/135, September-October 1982

Terry Eagleton

Wittgenstein’s Friends

Searching for an epigraph to his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein considered using a quotation from King Lear: ‘I’ll teach you differences’. ‘Hegel’, he once told a friend, ‘always seems to me to be wanting to say that things which look different are really the same. Whereas my interest is in shewing that things which look the same are really different’. [1] Quoted in Rush Rhees (ed.), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections, Oxford 1981, p. 171. Perhaps one should not invest too much in this remark. One way in which Wittgenstein kept his distance from classical philosophy was by not reading it: as Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge he had not read a word of Aristotle; and as far as Hegel goes, he was once told by a professor in Russia that he ought to read more of him. [2] Ibid, p. 231. Yet it is surely remarkable that Wittgenstein should consider choosing as a way of summarizing the project of the Investigations the term which more than any has become hallmark and totem of contemporary post-structuralism. Remarkable in one way, maybe, but not in another: the influence of Wittgenstein’s work on Anglo-Saxon linguistic philosophy has served partly to obscure its deep-seated affinities with a body of thought which has also shaped post-structuralism, that of Martin Heidegger. [3] The comparison has been noted before. See Karl Otto Apel, ‘Wittgenstein und Heidegger’, Philosophisches Jahrbuch 75 (1967), pp. 56–94; and Hans-Georg Gadamer, ‘The Phenomenological Movement’, in Essays in Philosophical Hermeneutics, Berkeley 1976, pp. 130–181. See also Fergus Kerr, ‘Language as Hermeneutic in the later Wittgenstein’, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 27 (1965), pp. 491–520. The Wittgenstein of Geach and Strawson seems largely to have lost that distinctively European timbre, that dimension of sheer strangeness and intractability, as one might claim that the Derrida of some Anglo-American deconstructionists has forfeited a certain rigorous circumspection and political resonance notable in the work of the master.

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