Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1910
Full name Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Analytic philosophy, Post-Analytic Philosophy
Main interests Metaphysics, Epistemology, Logic, Philosophy of language, Philosophy of mathematics, Philosophy of mind
Notable ideas For a large class of cases, the meaning of a word is its use in the language; the idea of a logically private language is incoherent; philosophical problems arise due to misuse of language.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein ([luːtvɪç ˈjoːzɛf ˈjoːhan ˈvɪtgənʃtaɪn] in German) (April 26, 1889 – April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher. He worked mainly in the basics of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.[1] He is regarded as one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century.

Before his death at the age of 62,[2] the only book Wittgenstein had published was the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. His second book Philosophical Investigations was published shortly after he died. Both of these works are regarded as very important for analytic philosophy.[3]

Life[change | change source]

Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in Vienna on 26 April 1889, to Karl and Leopoldine Wittgenstein. He was the youngest of eight children and was born into one of the most prominent and wealthy families in the Austro-Hungarian empire. His father's parents, Hermann Christian and Fanny Wittgenstein, were born into Jewish families but later converted to Protestantism, and after they moved from Saxony to Vienna in the 1850s, assimilated themselves into the Viennese Protestant professional classes. Ludwig's father, Karl Wittgenstein, became an industrialist and went on to make a fortune in iron and steel. Ludwig's mother Leopoldine, born Kalmus, was an aunt of the Nobel Prize laureate Friedrich von Hayek. Despite Karl's Protestantism, and the fact that Leopoldine's father was Jewish, the Wittgenstein children were baptized as Roman Catholics — the faith of their maternal grandmother — and Ludwig was given a Roman Catholic burial upon his death.[4] Wittgenstein was homosexual.[5]

Wittgenstein began studying mechanical engineering. During his research he became interested in the foundations of mathematics, particularly after reading Bertrand Russell's Principles of Mathematics and Gottlob Frege's Grundgesetze. In 1911 Wittgenstein visited Frege and Russell and discussed philosophy with them at great length. He made a great impression on Russell and started to work on the foundations of logic and mathematical logic. Russell saw Wittgenstein as a successor who would carry on his work.[6]

The Tractatus[change | change source]

Hochreit 1920. Wittgenstein is seated between his sister Helene Salzer and his friend, Arvid Sjögren.

During the First World War Wittgenstein served in the army and developed his logic. He included ethical aspects. In the summer of 1918 he learned that his friend David Pinsent had been killed in an airplane accident. Wittgenstein became depressed and thought of suicide. He went to stay with his uncle Paul where he was able to complete the Tractatus. No publisher accepted it, but Russell realised it was a philosophically important work and wrote an introduction.[7] Wittgenstein did not like it because he thought that Russel had not understood the book. In the end Wilhelm Ostwald's journal Annalen der Naturphilosophie printed a German edition in 1921, and Routledge's Kegan Paul printed a bilingual edition with Russell's introduction in 1922.

The years after the Tractatus[change | change source]

Since Wittgenstein thought that the Tractatus had solved all the problems of philosophy, he left philosophy and returned to Austria to train as a primary school teacher.[8] Wittgenstein had unrealistic expectations of the rural children he taught, and had little patience with those children who had no gift for mathematics. But he had good results with children that were interested, especially boys. His severe disciplinary methods led to disagreement with some of his students' parents, and eventually he resigned his position and returned to Vienna, feeling that he had failed as a school teacher.

After abandoning his work as a school teacher, Wittgenstein worked as a gardener's assistant in a monastery near Vienna and then he worked with the architect, Paul Engelmann. This intellectual work did much to restore Wittgenstein's spirits.

Toward the end of this work, Wittgenstein was contacted by Moritz Schlick, one of the leading figures of the newly formed Vienna Circle. This contact stimulated Wittgenstein intellectually and revived his interest in philosophy.

Return to Cambridge[change | change source]

In 1929 he decided to return to Cambridge. He was met at the railway station by a crowd of England's greatest intellectuals. He found out to his horror that he was one of the most famous philosophers in the world now.[9] In 1939 Wittgenstein was appointed to the chair in Philosophy at Cambridge.

During World War II he left Cambridge and volunteered as a hospital porter in Guy's Hospital in London and as a laboratory assistant in Newcastle upon Tyne's Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Final years[change | change source]

"Today there were 18 1p coins on the grave of Ludwig Wittgenstein at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge. Originally — some days ago — there were four, spread about; and then five in a little pile to one side. This morning there were 15 neatly underlining his name. Now there are three more, still neatly lined up. Over the years numerous small objects have been placed on the grave including a lemon, a pork pie, a Mr Kipling cupcake and a Buddhist prayer wheel. It is all very intriguing."[10]

Wittgenstein resigned his position at Cambridge in 1947 to concentrate on his writing. When in 1949, he found out that he had prostate cancer, he had written most of the material that would be published after his death as Philosophische Untersuchungen (Philosophical Investigations), which might be his most important work. He died of prostate cancer in Cambridge.

Notes and references[change | change source]

  1. "Time 100: Scientists and Thinkers". Time Magazine Online. http://www.time.com/time/time100/scientist/. Retrieved April 29, 2006.
  2. Give Him Genius or Give Him Death. Article by Anthony Kenny, New York Times
  3. Wittgenstein’s Significance, article by Mark J. Cain, Philosophy Now 2001
  4. Ludwig Wittgenstein at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  5. A nervous splendor
  6. Russell and Wittgenstein: A Study in Civility and Arrogance, article by Justin Leiber
  7. Introduction by Bertrand Russell
  8. "A dwelling for the gods". Guardian Unlimited. 2002-01-05. http://www.guardian.co.uk/saturday_review/story/0,,627726,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-19.
  9. In a letter to his wife, Lydia Lopokova, John Maynard Keynes wrote: "Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train."
  10. Letter to the editor from Nick Ingham, The Times, September 3, 2001

Bibliography[change | change source]

Works[change | change source]

Important publications[change | change source]

  • Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, Annalen der Naturphilosophie, 14 (1921)
  • Philosophische Untersuchungen (1953)
    • Philosophical Investigations, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe (1953)

Works about Wittgenstein[change | change source]

  • Wittgenstein, a film by the avant-garde filmmaker Derek Jarman (1993). The script and the original treatment by Terry Eagleton have been published as a book by the British Film Institute.
  • The World as I Found It by Bruce Duffy, a recreation of the life of Wittgenstein (1987).
  • Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers, by David Edmonds and John Eidenow (2002), describes the famous 10 minute meeting between Wittgenstein and Karl Popper which was on October 25, 1946. ISBN 0-06-093664-9.
  • Oppression and Responsibility by Peg O'Connor, a Wittgensteinian approach to social practice and moral theory.

Other websites[change | change source]