Each month, we ask a different member of our department to select a book on philosophy that has had a lasting impact on them and to share their thoughts and reflections on why it's such an important read.
April Pick | Selected by Prof. Paul O'Grady
I first encountered Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as an undergraduate and was fascinated by it. While the style of writing was unusual, the topics seemed really central to mainstream analytic philosophy. There was a mystique around the figure of Wittgenstein and very odd references to mysticism and God that didn’t seem to fit with its status as a supposed founding text of Logical Positivism.
I struggled to understand it and ended up writing a thesis about its philosophy of logic, focussing on the debate with Frege and Russell on sense and reference. I subsequently grew impatient with the showing/saying distinction and the status of nonsense and grew even more impatient with later Wittgensteinian therapeutic approaches to philosophy and the industry of Wittgenstein interpretation, moving on to what I saw as more fruitful figures and other problems.
Nevertheless, coming back to teach it again after a long gap, I’m still struck by its beauty and stimulated by the mix of philosophy of language, philosophy of logic, metaphysics and the metaphilosophical mix of material about mysticism, the meaning of life and the place of ethics. Finding a book still stimulating and exciting after several decades of contact with it is, I think, a good test of a classic.