Ludwig Wittgenstein 1889-1951
Austrian-born English philosopher.
Wittgenstein is widely considered to be the most important and influential philosopher of the twentieth century. His works, which are divided into two major periods represented by his early treatise Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the later Philosophical Investigations, spawned two distinct philosophical schools, the second of which is a reversal and sustained criticism of the first. Wittgenstein is the only philosopher known to have developed antithetical but equally respected theories.
Born to a wealthy family in Vienna, Austria, Wittgenstein was educated by private tutors until 1903, when he was sent to a technical school at Linz. He went on to study mechanical engineering in Berlin and in 1908 moved to Manchester, England, to study aeronautics. In 1912 he read Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's Principia Mathematica and applied to Trinity College, Cambridge, where Russell lectured. Wittgenstein studied logic and mathematics at Cambridge until 1914, when, plagued by depression, he left for Norway, where he led an austere and isolated existence that was conducive to the extended contemplation he sought. When World War I broke out later that year, Wittgenstein returned to Austria to enlist in the army. He saw active service and was captured by the Italians and held in a prisoner-of-war camp until the end of the war. While in the service, Wittgenstein kept a notebook of philosophical observations that would later evolve into his first major study, as well as the only work published in his lifetime, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Following the book's publication in 1922, Wittgenstein fell into a near-suicidal depression, abandoning philosophy to teach elementary school in an Austrian village. Influenced by the Gospels and the mystical writings of the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, he renounced his family's fortune and determined to live a simple, rural life. The favorable reception of the Tractatus among his former associates in England and among the Vienna Circle—a group of philosophers who were founding figures in the movement of Logical Positivism—led Witttgenstein back to Cambridge in 1929 to lecture and continue his work in philosophy. There he was granted a Ph.D. and a research fellowship at Trinity. In 1939 Wittgenstein assumed the professorship of philosophy after the retirement of G. E. Moore. At the outbreak of World War II, Wittgenstein, who had become a British subject, interrupted his studies to serve as a medical orderly. After the war, he resumed his teaching but became dissatisfied with academia and resigned his chair in 1947. He subsequently took an extended vacation, traveling in Norway, rural Ireland, and the United States. With the deterioration of his health, Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge and died there in 1951.
Wittgenstein's canon is represented by his two definitive works, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations. In the Tractatus, he developed a linguistic theory whose main postulate is that a distinction exists between what can be said-that is, what language is able to communicate in a rigorously logical sense-and what cannot be said. His concern was ultimately to determine how a statement could be revealed as true or false, meaningful or nonsensical. Wittgenstein also contended that rules of grammar fail to provide the logic necessary to determine whether or not a sentence is meaningful since a fully grammatical sentence may be composed of words that render it nonsensical, as in the sentence, "It is five o'clock on the Sun." Collected from years of notes and published after Wittgenstein's death, Philosophical Investigations is a critique of the system he had set forth in the Tractatus. In the Investigations he rejected the notion that meaning is determined by truth or falsity, positing instead that language achieves meaning only through the way it functions in everyday life. Rather than understanding language through a formal set of rules, he argued that we can only understand it in its natural context.
Critics concur that in making the social function of language—as opposed to the philosophical function—its primary context for analysis, Wittgenstein revolutionized linguistic study. While both of his theoretical positions emphasize the inadequacy of abstract principles to explain the genesis and role of language, many scholars consider the premise he advanced in his later work to have been more influential to the modern study of both linguistics and logic. Commentators write that by abandoning the possibility of finding unequivocal knowledge, Wittgenstein helped legitimize a less structured and more creative philosophical method.
*Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (philosophy) 1922
*Philosophical Investigations (philosophy) 1953
*Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (philosophy) 1956
Preliminary Studies for the "Philosophical Investigations," Generally Known as the Blue and Brown Books (philosophy) 1958
*Notebooks 1914-1916 (philosophy) 1961
Philosophische Bemerkungen [Philosophical Remarks] (philosophy) 1965
Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Beliefs (philosophy) 1966
*Zettel (philosophy) 1967
*On Certainty (philosophy) 1969
Philosophische Grammatik [Philosophical Grammar] (philosophy) 1969
Protractatus: An Early Version of the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" (philosophy) 1971
Philosophical Remarks (philosophy) 1975
Wittgenstein's Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics, Cambridge, 1939 (philosophy) 1976
Remarks on Colour (philosophy) 1977
Vermischte Bemerkungen [Culture and Value] (philosophy) 1977
Remarks on Frazer's "Golden Bough" (criticism) 1979
Remarks on the...
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SOURCE: "Wittgenstein, Nonsense, and Lewis Carroll," in Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy, edited by K. T. Fann, 1967. Reprint by Humanities Press, 1978, pp. 315-35.
[Pitcher is an American author and educator. In the following essay, originally published in 1965, he relates Wittgenstein's writings on linguistic nonsense to Lewis Carroll's use of nonsense language.]
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was always concerned, one way or another, about nonsense; and much more so in his later writings than in the early ones. Nonsense is construed in the Tractatus in a narrow technical way: a combination of words is nonsensical when it cannot possibly be understood, because no sense is or can (except trivially) be accorded it. As an example of a nonsensical question, Wittgenstein gives that of "whether the good is more or less identical than the beautiful." He thinks that "most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical," not even excepting, sadly, those found in the Tractatus itself. One of his main objectives is to devise and justify a method for distinguishing sense from nonsense, so that the latter may be consigned, as it should be, to silence. Nonsense is thus viewed as the major target for the philosopher's destructive weapons.
In the later Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein still finds...
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SOURCE: "Keeping Philosophy Pure: An Essay on Wittgenstein," in Consequences of Pragmatism (Essays: 1972-1980), University of Minnesota Press, 1982, pp. 19-36.
[Rorty is a noted American philosopher. In the following essay, originally published in 1976, he provides an overview of Wittgenstein's influence on later philosophical movements.]
Ever since philosophy became a self-conscious and professionalized discipline, around the time of Kant, philosophers have enjoyed explaining how different their subject is from such merely "first-intentional" matters as science, art, and religion. Philosophers are forever claiming to have discovered methods which are presuppositionless, or perfectly rigorous, or transcendental, or at any rate purer than those of nonphilosophers. (Or, indeed, of any philosophers save themselves and their friends and disciples.) hilosophers who betray this gnostic ideal (Kierkegaard and Dewey, for example) are often discovered not to have been "real philosophers."
Ludwig Wittgenstein began by thinking that he had made philosophy so pure that its problems had only to be stated to be solved or dissolved, and so he thought that philosophy had been brought to an end. The propositions of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus were supposed to be as remote from the world and its works as those of logic itself—propositions which showed what could not be said. Mere...
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SOURCE: "Reflections on Wittgenstein," in Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers: An Evaluation of Western Philosophy, State University of New York Press, 1983, pp. 293-305.
[An American philosopher and writer, Hartshorne is the author of numerous books about philosophy and metaphysics. In the following essay, he discusses Wittgensteinian metaphysics.]
With all famous philosophers, but especially with some of them, what they say or think is one thing and what they somehow cause many others to say or think that they think is another. Some have taken Ludwig Wittgenstein to be an extreme or (in B. F. Skinner's sense) "radical" behaviorist, reducing the mental to the behavioristic or physiological. It is not apparent to me how this interpretation can survive even a casual reading of the Fragments (Zettel). (Note especially Remarks 523, 608f.) In that work the author seems farther from radical behaviorism or sheer materialism than Ryle in his Concept of Mind. He does not, as I read him, reduce mind to matter. What he does is to insist that human experiences (Erlebnisse), a term he uses frequently, are not intelligible in abstraction from bodily and environmental circumstances; and also that what is experienced now gets its meaning from what has been experienced in the more or less near past, and from more or less unconscious dispositions and habits. He tries to communicate his...
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SOURCE: "Ludwig Wittgenstein," in Words in Reflection: Modern Language Theory and Postmodern Fiction, The University of Chicago Press, 1984, pp. 8-34.
[Thiher is an American writer and educator. In the following essay, he suggests that Wittgenstein's intellectual development between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations represents the "transition from modernism to a postmodern style of thought. "]
Wittgenstein's Tractatus, apparently written at least in part while its young Austrian author was in the trenches during World War I, has been one of the most influential philosophical works of the twentieth century. This influence was initially due to the reception given to the work by Austrian and English positivists after the war. Today it is also due to the kind of antilanguage mysticism that, paradoxically enough, many writers have taken from the book. But, perhaps even more paradoxically, the work's influence lies in the fact that one must understand the Tractatus before one can fully understand what Wittgenstein is attacking in his later writings. For Wittgenstein is unique in the history of philosophy in that his later work is a repudiation of his first work. Thus one turns to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus not only for its intrinsic interest as a seminal work in language theory—one that continues to haunt the contemporary mind—but also for a...
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SOURCE: "On Thinking More Crazily Than Philosophers: Wittgenstein, Knowledge and Religious Beliefs," in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 19, No. 3, 1986, pp. 161-75.
[High is an American writer and educator. In the following essay, he comments on issues of certainty and religious belief in the writings of Wittgenstein.]
In what has been posthumously published as Culture and Value Ludwig Wittgenstein provides us with the following aphoristic remark: "It's only by thinking even more crazily than philosophers do that you can solve their problems." I think we can say, in retrospect, that much of the thought of Wittgenstein did just that—think "even more crazily than philosophers do." That is one of the reasons why his work has inspired philosophical innovation, evoked criticism and occasioned various misunderstandings. Wittgenstein did not formulate standard philosophical reflections in either thought or writing style. He was among other things a cultural critic who was intensely sensitive to a wide range of matters, including religious beliefs.
Doubtlessly philosophy for Wittgenstein was "a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence." Indeed, if allowed full impact his remarks contained in On Certainty turn much of our thinking on its head about knowledge, certainty and belief. That volume challenges many well-ingrained and standard habits of...
(The entire section is 7120 words.)
SOURCE: "Wittgenstein's Philosophizing and Literary Theorizing," in New Literary History, Vol. 19, No. 2, Winter 1988, pp. 209-37.
[Quigley is an English-born writer and educator. In the following essay, he questions whether, given Wittgenstein's personal aversion to systems of philosophical analysis, it is possible for literary theorists to employ a truly "Wittgensteinian" method of analysis.]
Among the well-known thinkers whose ideas have achieved prominence in modern literary theory, Wittgenstein strikes many as the most problematic. It is often difficult to get any precise sense of what the fuss is about. Literary theorists with a Wittgensteinian turn of mind seem firmly convinced about their position but betray little of the inclination, so common in literary theory today, to advertise noisily or display graphically the origins of their intellectual labors. Direct recourse to Wittgenstein's writings often seems no more satisfying. His major work, Philosophical Investigations, is a peculiar aggregate of loosely related paragraphs which offers no detailed statement of intended goals, no sustained elaboration of a narrative thread, and no triumphant summary of achieved conclusions. Although the author's preface to this enigmatic work registers his awareness of what might appear to be missing, he seems at best to be only semi-apologetic about it:
It was my...
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SOURCE: "Wittgenstein's 'Wonderful Life,'" in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XLIX, No. 3, 1988, pp. 495-510.
[In the following essay, John discusses the importance of "wonder" in the life and writings of Wittgenstein.]
In The Illusion of Technique William Barrett asserts that the experience referred to in the well-known passage at 6.44 in the Tractatus, "Not how the world is, but that it is is the Mystical," was of life-long significance for Wittgenstein. Its importance for him at the time it was composed is clearly seen in his letter to the publisher Ludwig von Ficker. Barrett claims, however, that the experience to which the words at 6.44 refer is potently present and influential throughout his life. "It circulates from beginning to end through his later Philosophical Investigations, present but not announced—not even by way of a thunderous declaration of silence, as in the earlier work." While Barrett correctly, albeit intuitively, appreciates the importance of this experience for Wittgenstein's life and work, he nevertheless insists that this sense of wonder at the fact that anything at all exists, "is acknowledged explicitly, or almost explicitly, only once …" and "after … momentary contact (in the Tractatus ) seems to drop out of view for Wittgenstein." I have cited Barrett's opinion because, regardless of how bold it may appear, the actual evidence compels...
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SOURCE: "The Mystical," in Wittgenstein's Early Philosophy: Three Sides of the Mirror, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990, pp. 151-61.
[Peterson is a Scottish educator and author. In the following essay, he examines Wittgenstein's notion of the mystical within his Tractarian philosophy.]
In venturing behind the great mirror, the Tractatus acquires a breadth of vision uncommon in the philosophy of language. The first sections of the book concern the reflection of the world in the mirror, the middle sections address the inside of the mirror, and now at the end we find remarks on the 'mystical' domain of what lies behind the mirror and cannot be reflected in it. To this last division Wittgenstein assigns the 'sense of the world', value, ethics, aesthetics, the 'problems of life', the revelation of God, and what is 'higher'. These things—which he tends to group under the title of 'ethics'—are not to be found in the world: they cannot be represented by 'sentences', and the attempt to put them into words results in nonsense.
The discussion of the mystical in the Tractatus is brief, and although the essentials of Wittgenstein's view are given there, useful supplements are provided by the 'Lecture on Ethics' and by Waismann's records of his conversations with Wittgenstein. As Wittgenstein put it in his 'Lecture on Ethics':
Our words used as...
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SOURCE: "Fools and Heretics," in Wittgenstein Centenary Essays, edited by A. Phillips Griffiths, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 239-50.
[In the following essay, which is a revised version of the J R. Jones Memorial Lecture given at the University of Swansea in 1979, Bambrough addresses issues of belief certainty, and adherence to dogma in the works of Wittgenstein.]
'Where two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and a heretic.' This sentence from Wittgenstein's On Certainty is the source of my title. A passage in George Orwell's Shooting an Elephant might have prompted the same choice: 'The Catholic and the Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest and intelligent. Each of them tacitly claims that "the truth" has already been revealed, and that the heretic, if he is not simply a fool, is secretly aware of "the truth" and merely resists it out of selfish motives.'
The word 'heresy' is most at home in religion, where we also find the Psalmist and St Anselm confronting the fool who hath said in his heart that there is no God. The passions of the orthodox and the heterodox may express themselves in physical as well as in logical conflict. Besides religious debates there have been religious wars. T. E. Hulme remarked that the point of all creeds is to draw 'a...
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SOURCE: "'The Darkness of This Time': Wittgenstein and the Modern World," in Wittgenstein Centenary Essays, edited by A. Phillips Griffiths, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 11-39.
[In the following essay, Bouveresse discusses Wittgenstein's philosophy in the context of twentieth-century history and culture, particularly that of Germany.]
In the preface to the Philosophical Investigations, written in 1945, Wittgenstein remarks that: 'It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another—but, of course, it is not likely'. There was quite obviously no question for him of endeavouring to dissipate the darkness of the age itself, but at the most of introducing light into a small number of receptive minds, the existence of which he considered, moreover, as problematical. In a rough draft of the preface to the Philosophical Remarks that he wrote in 1930 he says:
I realize… that the disappearance of a culture does not signify the disappearance of human value, but simply of certain means of expressing this value, yet the fact remains that I have no sympathy for the current of European civilization and do not understand its goals, if it has any. So I am really writing for friends who are scattered throughout the corners of the globe....
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SOURCE: "Toward a Wittgensteinian Poetics," in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 33, No. 2, Summer, 1992, pp. 191-213.
[Perloff is an Austrian-born American critic and educator. In the following essay, she applies Wittgensteinian poetics to the works of several contemporary writers and poets.]
Philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition.
The limit of language is shown by its being impossible to describe the fact which corresponds to (is the translation of) a sentence, without simply repeating the sentence.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value
Wittgenstein's scattered notebook entries on cultural, aesthetic, and humanistic topics, collected by G. H. von Wright in a volume called Vermischte Bemerkungen (1977), appeared in English translation under the title Culture and Value in 1980. The date of publication may be taken as emblematic of the role a Wittgensteinian poetics was to play in the decade when the cult of personality that had dominated American poetry from the confessionalism of the fifties to the "scenic mode" (Charles Altieri's apt phrase) of the seventies began to give way to a resurgence of what was known, in the heyday of the New Criticism, which regarded it with some asperity, as the "poetry of ideas."
But the poetry of ideas...
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SOURCE: "vs. (Wittgenstein, Derrida)," in Wittgenstein and Contemporary Philosophy, edited by Souren Teghrarian and Anthony Serafini, Longwood Academic, 1992, pp. 134-53.
[Margolis is an American author and educator. In the following essay, he discusses Wittgenstein's works in relation to those of the French deconstructionist Jacques Derrida.]
I have for a long time wanted to look at Wittgenstein and Derrida together; but beginnings are difficult. Derrida, of course, solves the problem of how to begin by explaining the sly function of prefaces, that cannot seriously be supposed to introduce innocently what follows and is intact without them [in "Outwork, prefacing," Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson, 1981]. Equally cleverly, Wittgenstein solves the problem of how to begin the Philosophical Investigations—which, after all, borrowing from Derrida's "This (therefore) will not have been a book" by way of a sort of Socratic postcard, was not to be a book—by beginning straight off with a quotation from Augustine's Confessions adumbrating a conventional view of language that he intends to supersede without altogether discarding. Of course, Wittgenstein also says, significantly, in what is collected as his little book On Certainty: "It is so difficult to find the beginning. " (He italicizes the word 'beginning', der Anfang, in what must be a point of serious convergence...
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SOURCE: "Connecting Links," in Wittgenstein: An Introduction, translated by William H. Brenner and John F. Holley, State University of New York Press, 1992, pp. 69-95.
[In the following essay, Schulte examines the relationship between the Tractatus and Wittgenstein's later works.]
Much of what cannot be said but only shown, according to the doctrine of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein attempts to express indirectly. Although meant to cancel themselves in their entirety, the "propositions" of the Tractatus are still supposed to convey a message, if only a negative one. In the years of silence after the publication of his book, little at first seems to change in Wittgenstein's basic ideas. His writings, and the statements of others from the first years after his return to philosophy in 1928/29, are strongly reminiscent of the Tractatus—this despite the fact that he was attempting to slough off what, in the following conversation with Waismann, he termed the "dogmatism" of that work:
First of all, one can criticize a dogmatic presentation for a certain arrogance. But even that's not the worst part. There is another, much more dangerous error, that permeates my entire book—namely, the conception that there are questions for which answers would be discovered at a later date. Although one does not have the answer, one thinks that one has the...
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SOURCE: An introduction to Wittgenstein and the Grammar of Literary Experience, The University of Georgia Press, 1993, pp. 1-28.
[In the following essay, Guetti attempts to determine how Wittgenstein's philosophical principles relating to the nature and function of language may be used in the analysis of "literary experience.']
"When we look into ourselves as we do in philosophy," Wittgenstein says, "we often get to see just such a picture. A full-blown pictorial representation of our grammar. Not facts; but as it were illustrated turns of speech." He was not speaking at that moment, of course, of our "introspections" in literary studies, nor were literary or "aesthetic" matters ever his first concern. But… what we get both from reading literature and from thinking about that reading, no matter how "inwardly" we think, is precisely a perception of "illustrated turns of speech," and it is a perception so powerful that we mistake its object for what we suppose must be more important to us—for "facts," as Wittgenstein suggests, or, as he suggests much more frequently, for meanings. "When we look into ourselves" about our literary experience … what we are looking at is the language in us; our "imaginative life" is inseparably entwined with language and its life, and in our introspections we are focused on and brought up against just what we can say. Why this must be so, and, more...
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Fann, K. T., ed. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1967, 415 p.
Collection of essays on Wittgenstein that includes personal memoirs by Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and John Wisdom.
Malcolm, Norman. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984, 136 p.
Memoir of Wittgenstein that includes Wittgenstein's letters to Malcolm and a biographical sketch by Georg Henrik von Wright.
McGuiness, Brian. Wittgenstein: A Life. Young Ludwig 1889-1921. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co., 1988, 322 p.
Biography of Wittgenstein prior to his writing of the Tractatus.
Monk, Ray. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. London: Jonathan Cape, 1990, 654 p.
Combines discussion of Wittgenstein's life with analysis of his works.
Von Wright, G. H., ed. A Portrait of Wittgenstein as a Young Man. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, 119 p.
Recounts the friendship between Wittgenstein and David Pinsent through Pinsent's diary entries and letters to Wittgenstein.
Ackermann, Robert John. Wittgenstein's City. Amherst, Mass.: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1988, 267 p.
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