I was told about this book when I mentioned in a LinkedIn discussion group that I suspect Wittgenstein of being a deliberate political obstruction to philosophical progress, whose philosophy is completely bogus, a form of cryptic communication based on Egyptian hieroglyphs. Let me go on, this is not a crank review.
Wittgenstein's philosophy is a cryptic method of communication modeled on the ancient Egyptian method of writing, and I doubt whether his philosophy was ever anything more than this. The Egyptians wrote using pictures for what sounded like what they meant to say, not according to the literal significance of the signs they used. Egyptian written language worked like the children's game in which you spell sentences like "I can see you" by having a picture of an eye, a picture of a tin can, a picture of some sea waves, and a picture of a female sheep. Thus, something like "I can see you" was indicated by something like "Eye can sea ewe." Now, ALL OF WITTGENSTEIN'S PHILOSOPHY IS REALLY ONLY ABOUT ASKING WHICH FORM MAKES SENSE. And trust me, it's not about Eye Can Sea Ewe - Wittgenstein even told us so. Wittgenstein wanted his recruits (more about that in a moment) to be receptive to this sort of communication, which could then be rendered anywhere and not even known to be a form of communication. I have actually gotten confirmation of some of this from this book, so Kimberley Cornish has helped me in my task of collecting a very different set of examples about what the "picture theory of meaning" really is. That's right, the "pictures" are hieroglyphs, and Wittgenstein is only about cipher. The "Beetle In a Box" is obviously a scarab on a tomb. One possible backstory meaning to that whole "philosophical problem" is about whether the beetle is a picture on the tomb, or in the tomb. Perhaps this is even a joke about what is "cryptic."
The Tractatus was written to be understood bilingually. Item 5.6331 does not mean "The field of sight has not a form like this: [picture of an "eye"]." Read in German you are supposed to realize that, indeed, it is NOT about what is written there, which is clearly NOT the shape of an eye: but it is instead about the word suggested by the shape, which is that of an egg. The WORD "augen" is wrong, the PICTURE is right. You see, "egg" in German is "Ei," pronounced as the English word "Eye." To say it more briefly, the message could be stated: "Look for correspondences between languages that are false cognates and use these to communicate." Wittgenstein really meant that the purview in question is not about "augen." It is about "Ei=eye." And oh it's not insignificant that the Egyptian hieroglyphic eye is a key icon. So the Egyptian clues are as obvious as he could make them. Wittgenstein is speaking in neon signs with the shapes of "betray your country which I hate," and you are wondering whether "green" is "green" under all circumstances. Sucker. Wittgenstein's most philosophical act was his decision to betray both the country of his birth and his adopted land of England, as a Russian spy.
Ah, I somehow intuit that many of my readers are not yet convinced about the "picture" of the egg in the Tractatus's Paragraph 5.6331. Try this then: the graphic in 6.1203 is a scarab's pincer. All the verbal description is rubbish, sheer garbage. It is in no wise "philosophy." Wittgenstein is teaching people how to talk about what they're not talking about, specifically in order that they can carry on a conversation from which the uninitiated are excluded. It is not "reverse solipsism." It is "reverse parable."
The whole point is to get the picture to trump the words.
People have been diverted from the language cipher by thinking it is about some kind of "philosophy of perception." This is crazy. They are Wittgenstein's dupes. I hope you appreciate that I have demolished Wittgenstein's philosophy in three paragraphs. As they say at the sewage plant, it's all over except the cleanup. One irony is that Wittgenstein wanted people to believe he was in fact doing just this sort of thing, cleaning the swamp of bad philosophers. I didn't say he was stupid. Some of his plaintext is on the same topic as his deception.
About this book, then: never have I read a book with more widely diverging uses, quality, and orientation of research.
The first section of the book proves pretty conclusively that Wittgenstein was a spy working for the Soviet Comintern, and was the actual recruiter for the Cambridge spy ring of whom Kim Philby is the most infamous. I had already concluded something along these lines - all by myself, mind you - on the basis of Wittgenstein's philosophy and personality alone, so, I think Cornish sorts through political probabilities and plausibilities well. Cornish has a well-prepared good moment when he writes "Does the reader still doubt? The cure for such doubt is simply to... complete the sentence 'Wittgenstein was offered the Chair in Philosophy at Lenin's university in 1935 because...'" He marshals the data about the spies, including Wittgenstein, pretty well, for example showing that people whom other scholars doubt ever knew each other in fact lived within a few paces of one another - Cornish just checked the records. In one case, four traitors who are doubted to have been together lived within half a block of each other. Unfortunately, Cornish is not so discriminating or objective about the philosophy, and he does not plumb very deep to figure out whether it is good for the mind. He is instead "trying to prove something," the way perhaps you think I was with the Egyptian bit just now.
It is no secret that Hitler and Wittgenstein were schoolmates at the Linz Realschule. The inclusion of a photo of them together is not necessary but adds some zip to the book. Skeptics who want to believe that in a school of only 300 boys Hitler and Wittgenstein were never in contact are being unreasonable, with or without the photograph. And I think Cornish is correct that the references in Mein Kampf to a Jewish schoolmate who presented himself as Catholic do in fact refer to Wittgenstein. I well remember reading Hitler that it seemed to me he had something particular in mind. That H and W knew each other is no leap, since if you came from a town of 80,000 and went to a small school in which one of your classmates was a Rockefeller whose older brother had committed suicide not long before, you would probably hear lots of gossip about him, focus on him, and remember him. And for Hitler this acquaintance would be natural to focus on later, since it was Ludwig's father Karl Wittgenstein who was high on the list of those blamed (by lots of Austrians) for the Austrian defeat in WWI, due to the fact that Karl had invested in American steel and came out of the war richer. This was prudent but, as Cornish notes, not very patriotic. If you went to school with a boy whose dad you later learned became rich investing in Soviet weapons you would not unreasonably wonder at this. Cornish provides salient information about the German composer Richard Wagner's wife Cosima, who was torn from her mother by her father's mistress, an echt Wittgenstein, who had employer and cultural connections with the Jewish Wittgensteins, who named themselves after the family they worked for. Later, as is well known, the whole Wagner/Brahms controversy developed. Cornish brings us in on how this involved the Jewish Wittgensteins and their musical friends such as Brahms and the violinist Joachim, who were frequent guests, and in whose palatial home some of Brahms's music was first presented. So the German echt Wittgensteins line up on the other side from understandably unhappy Wagners, and this carried over to the Jewish Wittgensteins. So far, this is all pretty familiar types of enmity between people.
There are many problems with Cornish's philosophical "working out," beginning from the bizarre assumption that because Wittgenstein was fighting Hitler his spying is just all right, and he blithely and exhaustively examines Wittenstein's philosophy for all the really great things it can do for the fight that he thinks it's all right for Wittgenstein to have conducted his own way, without regard for how MI5 - the loyal parts of it anyway - might have thought about things. It doesn't cross Cornish's mind that Wittgenstein's philosophy was itself lethal to those who believed it, that it isn't at all about what he thinks it's about, and was itself an intelligence device of an agent in place, a cipher system written as a book of philosophy which the Italian soldiers would not confiscate from its author - it passed the test. Cornish seems to have no data about what Wittgenstein actually did, besides recruit - but he repeatedly claims that he succeeded greatly to get Hitler to shoot himself using his philosophy. Since it was Hitler whom Cornish assumes Wittgenstein was most concerned about, it must be just all right that he was a traitor to his adopted land. I just don't understand how Cornish can list Wittgenstein with the obvious points of being a former armed enemy of Britain, a Stalinist who intended to settle in the USSR, the only non-Briton suspect for the Comintern recruitership, whose brother was maimed and nation destroyed by the Allies, and who had no love nor reason to love Britain, and still think that his philosophy must be hunky dory. Cornish faces the wrong direction to prove he is in the light. Just because Hitler hated someone doesn't make them good. Just because Hitler hated a supposed Jewish philosophy of denial of the individual doesn't mean the philosophy is good. This is the crudest sort of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" sort of television ethics, which you had better pray never makes it into your nation's government, least of all their military or intelligence. A more reasonable reading of the factual part of Cornish's book is as details about how two enemies of the Allies were fighting each other.
The claim that Wittgenstein's philosophy really helped to defeat the Nazis is more unsupported presumption. If his activities helped defeat Hitler it would far more have been his spy activity, which is under a cloud since he was a spy, and certainly until we know more about what he did besides sodomize undergraduates and get them to give up philosophy. If I were a patriotic Brit I would wonder at Cornish's enthusiasm for Wittgenstein's philosophy. That his and Hitler's "philosophies" were proper and perverse versions of one and the same philosophy is not the best case made in the book, which has many poorly argued cases, and I strongly doubt that the "no-ownership" theory of the mind, a crazy theory at best, is what Hitler is talking about when he says at school he realized the truth about the meaning of history. I think Hitler is talking about something else, entirely unrelated to the material Cornish covers. When Cornish finally brings in some writers who speak against his so-called "no-ownership" theory of mind, he doesn't understand them well and dismisses what he does understand. Strawson tried to tell him "It's just false," but Cornish thinks the truth is under a different nutshell. I have never found myself so well in step with Thomas Aquinas as with his criticism of the sources of the so-called "no-ownership" theory of mind.
Cornish does not mention A.J. Ayer, who made one of the only really honest remarks about the whole business that began with Wittgenstein, continued with the leftists in the Vienna Circle, had - and still has - such a deleterious effect on genuine philosophy everywhere, and still takes tons of work to correct even a few insane notions at a time. Remarking years later about the problems in the movement, Ayer said "Well I suppose that the most important of the defects was that nearly all of it was false." At last, clarity and utility from a language philosopher.
First uploaded at Amazon February 29, 2012. This slightly edited version uploaded March 5, 2012. "Most philosophical act" added January 10, 2014.