My icon of Philosophical Investigations is an antique, green glass fly bottle that hangs on my back porch. Morning and evening most days, as I sit outside with my dogs, I eventually find myself staring at it and thinking yet again about philosophical problems, self-entrapment and freedom. The last few days, my thinking as been preoccupied by Paul Horwich’s preoccupation with the fly bottle in his Wittgenstein’s Metaphilosophy. I am now at work on a new paper on Wittgenstein (for a collection on metaphilosophy) and in that paper I spend some time on Horwich’s book. Having more or less sorted what I want to say about it, I began at last to look to see what others had said, and found a nice NDPR review of the book by a philosopher I much respect, Arthur Collins. In the review is the following sober and sobering passage,
Like any other fan I enjoy this fly-in-a-bottle image. It is valid if it is itself not over-generalized. It says what happens to some philosophical problems according to some passages. It is not presented by Wittgenstein as the overall story for philosophy. Wittgenstein does not think that philosophy is an activity that always has the same formulaic structure, or that philosophy might close up shop one day. We should bear in mind that, the fly-bottle boast notwithstanding, Wittgenstein returns again and again to the same philosophical problems providing ever-new comparisons, examples, and insights. For instance, he had a life-long desire to deliver us from the idea of inner mental processes or entities that we can describe and report and that are somehow constitutive of our perceptual experience, sensation, remembering, believing, meaning, understanding, intending, and so on; constitutive, that is, of our conscious mental life. His work is full of brilliant passages that offer help in this project, but no completion of it is suggested. He did his brilliant and profound best. No one has matched his success. He did not think he had done anything like enough, and he was right.
And so is Collins.