Erik Graff's Reviews > The Blue and Brown Books

The Blue and Brown Books by Ludwig Wittgenstein
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Jun 07, 2012

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bookshelves: philosophy
Recommended to Erik by: Bill Ellos
Recommended for: Wittgenstein scholars
Read in November, 1981 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Unlike most graduate students I maintained a four year teaching assistantship inclusive of summers, most of it with one fellow, Bill Ellos. Although I occasionally worked for others in the philosophy and linguistics departments, these were usually part-time, supplements to my association with Bill. Heck, I may have worked for or with him even during months when not formally assigned. I certainly worked far more hours for and with him than were mandated--not that I knew anything of any time limit until towards the end of those four years.

Bill was a Jesuit who never wore the garb, who didn't want to be identified as a priest. His primary interests in coming to Loyola University Chicago were Wittgenstein, the subject of his dissertation, and medical ethics. Other than editing some of his writing, most of what he had me do was read. Thanks to him I read all of Darwin's major works, Wallace's two most remembered books, a bunch of Scottish philosophers of the 18th century, some sociobiology and most of Wittgenstein. Although he had me take notes on topics of ostensible interest to him, I suspect a lot of this was constructive make-work. In any case, I enjoyed most of the work and was turned on to topics and persons I probably would not otherwise have so thoroughly studied.

This "book" is really just a bunch of class notes, substantially recorded by others, relevant to what came to be known as the Philosophical Investigations. Important to any Wittgenstein scholar, they are certainly not something to recommend to the general reader. For that, go to the texts the author intended for publication. (A number of philosophers have made their careers out of producing books based on such notes, on scribblings, on purported utterances of the great man--frankly, I never understood why he should have been taken so seriously except, of course, by way of self-interest and because he's pretty easy to follow.)

Ironically, although never greatly impressed by Wittgenstein, my only conference publication in a philosophy journal was about the development of his thinking, the result of Bill Ellos encouraging me to sign up for a conference and even helping me to find funding for the trip. Indeed, throughout my first four years at Loyola Bill was the one and only professor who took any substantial interest in promoting my career and for that I am ever grateful.
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