Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the twentieth century’s most renowned as well as most difficult philosophers. His fame began with the publication of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921; English translation, 1922), a work that sought to delimit and clarify the relationship between logic, language, and reality. In his posthumously published Philosophische Untersuchungen (1953; Philosophical Investigations, 1953), he shifted his focus from the influence of logic on language to the effects which various “forms of life” have on the creation of certain linguistic usages and practices that he called “language games.” Wittgenstein became convinced that many major philosophical problems and their eventual solutions could be traced to either total ignorance or improper understanding of the particular language games and concomitant forms of life that underlay them. Yet Wittgenstein was not exclusively preoccupied with obtuse and highly technical logical and linguistic issues. Throughout his life, he was also deeply concerned with such basic and, for the nonspecialist, far more interesting questions as the meaning of life and the nature of the good—that is, fundamental questions of existence, ethics, and value. Indeed, it was his abiding concern with these “big questions” that prompted him to make the observations on the course and character of modern civilization that have been published under the English title Culture and Value.

It must be emphasized, however, that this is not an original work. Rather, as is the case with most of the books attributed to him (the two exceptions being the originally authored Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations), it is actually a compilation of miscellaneous remarks culled from Wittgenstein’s unpublished jottings and manuscripts by his literary executors, most of whom were former students or close acquaintances. Thus, it is not known how Wittgenstein himself would have arranged these remarks. The editors have adopted a simple chronological scheme, beginning with the year 1914, then skipping to 1929, finding noteworthy observations in every subsequent year through 1951, the...

(The entire section is 893 words.)