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Religion, Grammar and Style: Wittgenstein and Hamann

  • Maya Halpern (a1)

In this article, I claim that Wittgenstein was familiar with Hamann’s work, particularly with two of the latter’s original contributions: (a) the idea of transforming Luther’s concept of grammar into a critical philosophical and linguistic tool; and (b) Hamann’s use of a kenotic, impure style as a means to attain the humility his religious stance demands. I suggest that an understanding of Hamann’s style as a tool to achieve humility sheds light on Wittgenstein’s later refutation of the purity of the Tractarian style. As reflected in remarks published in collections such as Culture and Value and Public and Private Occasions, Wittgenstein – like Hamann – aspired to modesty not only in his private life, but also in his philosophical work, attributing it a religious significance. In this context, his later style of philosophizing, characterized by the use of everyday rather than metaphysical terms, the inclusion of impure concepts and humble examples, dialogue and fragmentariness, is a means to ‘dismantle one’s pride’, in the practice of philosophy conceived as ‘working on oneself’.

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1. Wittgenstein, L. (1980) Culture and Value, edited by G.H. von Wright in collaboration with Heikki Nyman, Translated by Peter Winch (Oxford: Basil Blackwell), p. 26e.
2. Wittgenstein, L. (1975) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, translated by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness (London: Routledge), Preface, p. 4.
3. von Wright, G.H. (2001) Biographical sketch. In: N. Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 15.
4. Janik, A. and Toulmin, S. (1973) Wittgenstein’s Vienna (New York: Simon and Schuster).
5. Cavell, S. (1976) The availability of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. In: Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 70.
6. Smith, R.G. (Ed.) (1960) J.G. Hamann, A Study in Christian Existence (London: Collins).
7. Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations, English translation G.E.M. (Anscombe: Blackwell).
8. Letter to Ludwig Hänsel, 10 March 1937 in L. Wittgenstein (2003) Public and Private Occasions, edited by J. Klagge and A. Nordmann (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield), p. 301.
9. Malcolm, N. (2002) Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View? Edited with a response by Peter Winch (Routledge, Kindle Edition).
10. Monk, R. (1990) Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Duty of Genius (New York: Penguin), p. 366.
11. Hamann, J.G. (1760) Miscellaneous notes on word order in the French language. In: E. Haynes (Ed.) (2007) Writings on Philosophy and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
12. Hamann, J.G. (1784) Metacritique on the purism of reason. In: E. Haynes (Ed.) (2007) Writings on Philosophy and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 211.
13. Tuska, B. (2008) In Babel’s Shadow Language, Philology, and the Nation in Nineteen Century Germany (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press), Introduction, p. 9.
14. Hamann, J.G. (1960) Cloverleaf of Hellenistic letters, in the translation of Ronald Gregor Smith. In: R.G. Smith (Ed.), J.G. Hamann, A Study in Christian Existence (London: Collins), p. 75.
15. Backer, G.P. and Hacker, P.M.S. (2005) Understanding and Meaning (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 226.
16. Haynes, E. (Ed.) (2007) Writings on Philosophy and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), Introduction, p. xiii.
17. Hamann, J.G. (1960) Fragments. In: A Study in Christian Existence (London: Collins), p. 166.
18. Austin, J.L. (1962) Sense and Sensibilia (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 8: but does the ordinary man believe that what he perceives is (always) something like furniture, or like these other ‘familiar objects’ – moderate-sized specimens of dry goods.
19. Thomas, S. (2008) Romanticism and Visuality, Fragments, History, Spectacle (New York: Routledge).
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European Review
  • ISSN: 1062-7987
  • EISSN: 1474-0575
  • URL: /core/journals/european-review
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