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Western Philosophers
20th-century philosophy
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Name: Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein
Birth: 1889 April 26 (Vienna, Austria)
Death: 1951 April 29 (Cambridge, England)
School/tradition: Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Metaphysics, Epistemology, logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics
Notable ideas
The structure of reality determines the structure of language {early}, Meaning is determined by use, in the context of a "language-game" {later}
Influences Influenced
Kant, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Frege, Russell |
Russell, Anscombe, Kripke

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (April 26, 1889April 29, 1951) was an Austrian philosopher who contributed several ground-breaking works to modern philosophy, primarily on the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. [1]

Although numerous collections from Wittgenstein's notebooks, papers, and lectures have been published since his death, he published only one philosophical book in his lifetime — the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1921. Wittgenstein's early work was deeply influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer, and by the new systems of logic put forward by Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege. When the Tractatus was published, it was taken up as a major influence by the Vienna Circle positivists. However, Wittgenstein did not consider himself part of that school and alleged that logical positivism involved grave misunderstandings of the Tractatus.

With the completion of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein believed he had solved all the problems of philosophy, and he abandoned his studies, working as a schoolteacher, a gardener at a monastery, and an architect, along with Paul Engelmann, on his sister's new house in Vienna. However, in 1929, he returned to Cambridge, was awarded a Ph.D. for the Tractatus, and took a teaching position there. He renounced or revised much of his earlier work, and his development of a new philosophical method and a new understanding of language culminated in his second magnum opus, the Philosophical Investigations, which was published posthumously.

Both his early and later work have been major influences in the development of analytic philosophy. Former students and colleagues who carried on Wittgenstein's methods include Gilbert Ryle, Friedrich Waismann, Norman Malcolm, G. E. M. Anscombe, Rush Rhees, Georg Henrik von Wright, and Peter Geach. Contemporary philosophers heavily influenced by him include Michael Dummett, Peter Hacker, Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, and James F. Conant. With others, the latter three have been associated with an interpretation of Wittgenstein sometimes known as the New Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein took a very jaundiced view of psychology as can be seen by his famous remarks at the close of the Philisophical Investigations when he wrote:

The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a young science ... For in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion



Ludwig Joseph Johann Wittgenstein was born in Vienna on April 26, 1889, to Karl and Leopoldine Wittgenstein. He was the youngest of eight children, 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 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, née Kalmus, was also of Jewish descent on her father's side, but had been brought up as a practising Roman Catholic. Ludwig, like all his brothers and sisters, was baptized as a Roman Catholic and was given a Catholic burial by his friends when he died.

Early life

Ludwig grew up in a household that provided an astonishingly intense environment for artistic and intellectual achievement. His parents were both very musical and all their children were artistically and intellectually gifted. Karl Wittgenstein was a leading patron of the arts, and the Wittgenstein house hosted many figures of high culture — above all, musicians. The family was often visited by artists such as Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler. Ludwig's brother Paul Wittgenstein went on to become a world-famous concert pianist, even after losing his right arm in World War I. Ludwig himself did not have prodigious musical talent, but his devotion to music remained vitally important to him throughout his life — he made frequent use of musical examples and metaphors in his philosophical writings, and was said to be unusually adept at whistling lengthy and detailed musical passages. A less fortunate family trait was a tendency to intense self-criticism, to the point of depression and suicidal tendencies. Three of his four brothers committed suicide.

Until 1903, Ludwig was educated at home; after that, he began three years of schooling at the Realschule in Linz, a school emphasizing technical topics. Adolf Hitler was a student there at the same time, and the two of them, both 14 or 15 years old, can be seen together in a school photograph with about 40 other students.1 Ludwig was interested in physics and wanted to study with Ludwig Boltzmann, whose collection of popular writings, including an inspiring essay about the hero and genius who would solve the problem of heavier-than-air flight ("On Aeronautics") was published during this time (1905). (Sterrett (2005), 75) Boltzmann committed suicide in 1906, however.

In 1906, Wittgenstein began studying mechanical engineering in Berlin, and in 1908 he went to the Victoria University of Manchester to study for his doctorate in engineering, full of plans for aeronautical projects. He registered as a research student in an engineering laboratory, where he conducted research on the behaviour of kites in the upper atmosphere, and worked on the design of a propeller with small jet engines on the end of its blades. During his research in Manchester, he became interested in the foundations of mathematics, particularly after reading Bertrand Russell's Principles of Mathematics and Gottlob Frege's Grundgesetze. In the summer of 1911, Wittgenstein visited Frege, after having corresponded with him for some time, and Frege advised him to go to the University of Cambridge to study under Russell.

In October 1911, Wittgenstein arrived unannounced at Russell's rooms in Trinity College, and was soon attending his lectures and discussing philosophy with him at great length. He made a great impression on Russell and G. E. Moore and started to work on the foundations of logic and mathematical logic. Russell was increasingly tired of philosophy, and saw Wittgenstein as a successor who would carry on his work. During this period, Wittgenstein's other major interests were music and travelling, often in the company of David Pinsent, an undergraduate who became a firm friend. He was also invited to join the elite secret society, the Cambridge Apostles, which Russell and Moore had both belonged to as students.

In 1913, Wittgenstein inherited a great fortune when his father died. He donated some of it, initially anonymously, to Austrian artists and writers, including Rainer Maria Rilke and Georg Trakl. In 1914 he went to visit Trakl when the latter wanted to meet his benefactor, but Trakl killed himself days before Wittgenstein arrived.

Although he was invigorated by his study in Cambridge and his conversations with Russell, Wittgenstein came to feel that he could not get to the heart of his most fundamental questions while surrounded by other academics. In 1913, he retreated to the solitude of a remote mountain cabin in Skjolden, Norway, which could only be reached on horseback. The isolation allowed him to devote himself entirely to his work, and he later saw this period as one of the most passionate and productive times of his life. While there, he wrote a ground-breaking work in the foundations of logic, a book entitled Logik, which was the immediate predecessor and source of much of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

World War I

The outbreak of World War I in the next year took him completely by surprise, as he was living a secluded life at the time. He volunteered for the Austro-Hungarian army as a private soldier, first serving on a ship and then in an artillery workshop. In 1916, he was sent as a member of a howitzer regiment to the Russian front where he won several medals for bravery. The diary entries of this time reflect his contempt for the baseness, as he saw it, of his fellow soldiers. Throughout the war, Wittgenstein kept notebooks in which he frequently wrote philosophical and religious reflections alongside personal remarks. The notebooks reflect a profound change in his religious life: a militant atheist during his stint at Cambridge (Monk [1990] 44), Wittgenstein discovered Leo Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief at a bookshop in Galicia. He devoured Tolstoy's commentary and became an evangelist of sorts; he carried the book everywhere he went and recommended it to anyone in distress (to the point that he became known to his fellow soldiers as "the man with the gospels") (Monk [1990] 116). "The Gospel in Brief" is philosophical and practical, rather than theological or spiritual in its intention. Although Monk notes that Wittgenstein began to doubt by at least 1937 (Monk [1990] 382-384), and that by the end of his life he said he could not believe Christian doctrines (although religious belief remained an important preoccupation), this is not contrary to the influence that Tolstoy had on his philosophy.

Developing the Tractatus

Wittgenstein's work on Logik began to take on an ethical and religious significance. With this new concern with the ethical, combined with his earlier interest in logical analysis, and with key insights developed during the war (such as the so-called "picture theory" of propositions), Wittgenstein's work from Cambridge and Norway was transfigured into the material that eventually became the Tractatus. In 1918, toward the end of the war, Wittgenstein was promoted to reserve officer (Lieutenant) and sent to north Italy as part of an artillery regiment. On leave in the summer of 1918, he received a letter from David Pinsent's mother telling Wittgenstein that her son had been killed in an airplane accident. Suicidal, Wittgenstein went to stay with his uncle Paul, and completed the Tractatus, which was dedicated to Pinsent. In a letter to Mrs Pinsent, Wittgenstein said "only in him did I find a real friend". The book was sent to publishers at this time, without success.

In October, Wittgenstein returned to Italy and was captured by the Italians. Through the intervention of his Cambridge friends (Russell, Keynes and Pinsent had corresponded with him throughout the war, via Switzerland), Wittgenstein managed to get access to books, prepare his manuscript, and send it back to England. Russell recognized it as a work of supreme philosophical importance, and after Wittgenstein's release in 1919, he worked with Wittgenstein to get it published. An English translation was prepared, first by Frank P. Ramsey and then by C. K. Ogden, with Wittgenstein's involvement. After some discussion of how best to translate the title, G. E. Moore suggested Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in an allusion to Baruch Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Russell wrote an introduction, lending the book his reputation as one of the foremost philosophers in the world.

However, difficulties remained. Wittgenstein had become personally disaffected with Russell, and he was displeased with Russell's introduction, which he thought evinced fundamental misunderstandings of the Tractatus. Wittgenstein grew frustrated as interested publishers proved difficult to find. To add insult to injury, those publishers who were interested proved to be mainly interested in the book because of Russell's introduction. At last, Wittgenstein found a publisher in Wilhelm Ostwald's journal Annalen der Naturphilosophie, which printed a German edition in 1921, and in Routledge Kegan Paul, which printed a bilingual edition with Russell's introduction and the Ramsey-Ogden translation in 1922.

The "lost years": life after the Tractatus

At the same time, Wittgenstein was a profoundly changed man: he had embraced the Christianity which previously he had opposed, faced harrowing combat in World War I, and succeeded in crystallizing the upheavals in his intellectual and emotional life with the exhausting composition of the Tractatus. It was a work which transfigured all of his past work on logic into a radically new framework that he believed offered a definitive solution to all the problems of philosophy. These changes in Wittgenstein's inner and outer life left him both haunted and yet invigorated to follow a new, ascetic life. One of the most dramatic expressions of this change was his decision in 1919 to give away his portion of the family fortune that he had inherited when his father had died. The money was divided between his sisters Helene and Hermine and his brother Paul, and Wittgenstein insisted that they promise never to give it back. He felt that giving money to the poor could only corrupt them further; the rich would not be harmed by it.

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. He was educated in the methods of the Austrian School Reform Movement which advocated the stimulation of the natural curiosity of children and their development as independent thinkers, instead of just letting them memorize facts. Wittgenstein was enthusiastic about these ideas but ran into problems when he was appointed as an elementary teacher in the rural Austrian villages of Trattenbach, Puchberg-am-Schneeberg, and Otterthal. During his time as a schoolteacher, Wittgenstein wrote a pronunciation and spelling dictionary for his use in teaching students; it was published and well-received by his colleagues. This would be the only book besides the Tractatus that Wittgenstein published in his lifetime.

Wittgenstein had unrealistic expectations of the rural children he taught, and his teaching methods were intense and exacting - he had little patience with those children who had no aptitude for mathematics. However, he achieved good results with children attuned to his interests and style of teaching, especially boys. His severe disciplinary methods (often involving corporal punishment) — as well as a general suspicion amongst the villagers that he was somewhat mad — led to a long series of bitter disagreements with some of his students' parents, and eventually culminated in April 1926 in the collapse of an eleven year old boy whom Wittgenstein had struck on the head. The boy's father attempted to have Wittgenstein arrested, and despite being cleared of misconduct 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. He considered becoming a monk, and went so far as to inquire about the requirements for joining an order. However, at the interview he was advised that he could not find in monastic life what he sought.

Two major developments helped to save Wittgenstein from this despairing state. The first was an invitation from his sister Margaret ("Gretl") Stonborough (who was painted by Gustav Klimt in 1905) to work on the design and construction of her new house. He worked with the architect, Paul Engelmann (who had become a close friend of Wittgenstein's during the war), and the two designed a spare modernist house after the style of Adolf Loos (whom they both greatly admired). Wittgenstein found the work intellectually absorbing, and exhausting — he poured himself into the design in painstaking detail, including even small aspects such as doorknobs and radiators (which had to be exactly positioned to maintain the symmetry of the rooms). As a work of modernist architecture the house evoked some high praise; G. H. von Wright said that it possessed the same "static beauty" as the Tractatus. The effort of totally involving himself in intellectual work once again did much to restore Wittgenstein's spirits.

Secondly, toward the end of his work on the house, Wittgenstein was contacted by Moritz Schlick, one of the leading figures of the newly formed Vienna Circle. The Tractatus had been tremendously influential to the development of the Vienna positivism, and although Schlick never succeeded in drawing Wittgenstein into the discussions of the Vienna Circle itself, he and some of his fellow circle members (especially Friedrich Waismann) met occasionally with Wittgenstein to discuss philosophical topics. Wittgenstein was frequently frustrated by these meetings — he believed that Schlick and his colleagues had fundamentally misunderstood the Tractatus, and at times would refuse to talk about it at all. (Much of the disagreements concerned the importance of religious life and the mystical; Wittgenstein considered these matters of a sort of wordless faith, whereas the positivists disdained them as useless. In one meeting, Wittgenstein refused to discuss the Tractatus at all, and sat with his back to his guests while he read aloud from the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore.) Nevertheless, the contact with the Vienna Circle stimulated Wittgenstein intellectually and revived his interest in philosophy. He also met with Frank P. Ramsey, a young philosopher of mathematics who travelled several times from Cambridge to Austria to meet with Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle. In the course of his conversations with the Vienna Circle and with Ramsey, Wittgenstein began to think that there might be some "grave mistakes" in his work as presented in the Tractatus — marking the beginning of a second career of ground-breaking philosophical work, which would occupy him for the rest of his life.

Returning to Cambridge

In 1929 he decided, at the urging of Ramsey and others, to return to Cambridge. He was met at the train station by a crowd of England's greatest intellectuals, discovering rather to his horror that he was one of the most famed philosophers in the world. In a letter to his wife, Lydia Lopokova, Lord Keynes wrote: "Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train."

Despite this fame, he could not initially work at Cambridge, as he did not have a degree, so he applied as an advanced undergraduate. Russell noted that his previous residency was in fact sufficient for a doctoral degree, and urged him to offer the Tractatus as a doctoral thesis, which he did in 1929. It was examined by Russell and Moore; at the end of the thesis defence, Wittgenstein clapped the two examiners on the shoulder and said, "Don't worry, I know you'll never understand it." Moore commented in the examiner's report to the effect that: "In my opinion this is a work of genius; it is, in any case, up to the standards of a degree from Cambridge." Wittgenstein was appointed as a lecturer and was made a fellow of Trinity College.

Although Wittgenstein was involved in a relationship with Marguerite Respinger (a young Swiss woman whom he had met as a friend of the family), his plans to marry Marguerite were broken off in 1931, and Wittgenstein never married. Most of his romantic attachments were to young men. There is considerable debate over how active Wittgenstein's homosexual life was--inspired by W. W. Bartley's claim to have found evidence of several casual liaisons during Wittgenstein's time in Vienna. What is clear, in any case, is that Wittgenstein had several long-term homoerotic attachments, including an infatuation with his friend David Pinsent and long-term relationships during his years in Cambridge with Francis Skinner and possibly Ben Richards.

Wittgenstein's political sympathies lay on the left, and while he was opposed to Marxist theory, he described himself as a "communist at heart" and romanticized the life of labourers. In 1934, attracted by Keynes' description of Soviet life in Short View of Russia, he conceived the idea of emigrating to the Soviet Union with Skinner. They took lessons in Russian and in 1935 Wittgenstein travelled to Leningrad and Moscow in an attempt to secure employment. He was offered teaching positions but preferred manual work and returned three weeks later.

From 1936 to 1937, Wittgenstein lived again in Norway, leaving Skinner behind. He worked on the Philosophical Investigations. In the winter of 1936/37, he delivered a series of "confessions" to close friends, most of them about minor infractions, in an effort to cleanse himself. In 1938 he travelled to Ireland to visit Maurice Drury, a friend who was training as a doctor, and considered such training himself, with the intention of abandoning philosophy for psychiatry.

While in Ireland, the Anschluss took place. Wittgenstein was now technically a German citizen, and a Jew under the German racial laws. While he found this intolerable, and started to investigate the possibilities of acquiring British or Irish citizenship (with the help of Keynes), it put his siblings Hermine, Helene and Paul (all still residing in Austria) in considerable danger. Wittgenstein's first thought was to travel to Vienna, but he was dissuaded by friends. Had the Wittgensteins been classified as Jews, their fate would have been no different from that of any other Austrian Jews (of approximately 600 in Linz at the end of the 1930s, for example, only 26 survived the war[2]). Their only hope was to be classified as Mischlinge – officially, Aryan/Jewish mongrels, whose treatment, while harsh, was less brutal than that reserved for Jews. This reclassification was known as a "Befreiung". The successful conclusion of these negotiations required the personal approval of Adolf Hitler. "The figures show how difficult it was to gain a Befreiung. In 1939 there were 2,100 applications for a different racial classification: the Führer allowed only twelve." (Edmonds and Eidinow, p. 105).

Gretl (an American citizen by marriage) started negotiations with the Nazi authorities over the racial status of their grandfather Hermann, claiming that he was the illegitimate son of an "Aryan". Since the Reichsbank was keen to get its hands on the large amounts of foreign currency owned by the Wittgenstein family, this was used as a bargaining tool. Paul, who had escaped to Switzerland and then the United States in July 1938, disagreed with the family's stance. After G. E. Moore's resignation in 1939, Wittgenstein, who was by then considered a philosophical genius, was appointed to the chair in Philosophy at Cambridge. He acquired British citizenship soon afterwards, and in July 1939 he travelled to Vienna to assist Gretl and his other sisters, visiting Berlin for one day to meet with an official of the Reichsbank. After this, he travelled to New York to persuade Paul (whose agreement was required) to back the scheme. The required Befreiung was granted in August 1939. The amount signed over to the Nazis by Paul Wittgenstein, a week or so before the outbreak of war, was 1.7 tonnes of gold, 2% of the Austrian national gold reserves.

After exhausting philosophical work, Wittgenstein would often relax by watching an American western or reading detective stories. These tastes are in stark contrast to his preferences in music, where he rejected anything after Brahms as a symptom of the decay of society.

By this time, Wittgenstein's view on the foundations of mathematics had changed considerably. Earlier, he had thought that logic could provide a solid foundation, and he had even considered updating Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica. Now he denied that there were any mathematical facts to be discovered and he denied that mathematical statements were "true" in any real sense: they simply expressed the conventional established meanings of certain symbols. He also denied that a contradiction should count as a fatal flaw of a mathematical system. He gave a series of lectures which were attended by Alan Turing and in which the two argued vigorously about these matters.

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. This was arranged by his friend John Ryle, a brother of the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, who was then working at the hospital. After the war, Wittgenstein returned to teach at Cambridge, but he found teaching an increasing burden: he had never liked the intellectual atmosphere at Cambridge, and in fact encouraged several of his students to find work outside of academic philosophy. (There are stories, perhaps apocryphal, that if any of his philosophy students expressed an interest in pursuing the subject, he would ban them from attending any more of his classes.)

Final Years

Wittgenstein's grave lies in the chapel for Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge.

Wittgenstein resigned his position at Cambridge in 1947, in order to concentrate on his writing. He was succeeded as professor by his friend Georg Henrik von Wright. Much of his later work was done in the rural isolation that he preferred, on the west coast of Ireland. By 1949, when he was diagnosed as having prostate cancer, he had written most of the material that would be published after his death as Philosophische Untersuchungen (Philosophical Investigations), which arguably contains his most important work. He spent the last two years of his life working in Vienna, the United States, Oxford, and Cambridge. He worked continuously on new material, inspired by the conversations that he had had with his friend and former student Norman Malcolm, during a long vacation at the Malcolms' house in the United States. Malcolm had been wrestling with G.E. Moore's common sense response to external world skepticism ("Here is one hand, and here is another; therefore I know at least two external things exist"). Wittgenstein began to work on another series of remarks inspired by his conversations, which he continued to work on until two days before his death; the remarks would be collected and published posthumously as On Certainty.

The only known fragment of music composed by Wittgenstein was premiered in November 2003. It is a powerful passage of music that lasts less than half a minute. Wittgenstein died from prostate cancer at his doctor's home in Cambridge in 1951; just a few days before his friends arrived to pay their last respects, his last words were "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."


The Tractatus

Main article: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

In rough order, the first half of the book sets forth the following theses:

  • the world consists of independent atomic facts — existing states of affairs — out of which larger facts are built.
  • Language consists of atomic, and then larger-scale propositions that correspond to these facts by sharing the same "logical form."
  • Thought, expressed in language, "pictures" these facts.
  • We can analyse our thoughts and sentences to express ('express' as in show, not say) their true logical form.
  • Those we cannot so analyse cannot be meaningfully discussed.
  • Philosophy consists of no more than this form of analysis: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen" — whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Some commentators [How to reference and link to summary or text] believe that, although no other type of discourse is, properly speaking, philosophy, Wittgenstein does imply that those things to be passed over "in silence" may be important or useful, according to some of his more cryptic propositions in the last sections of the Tractatus: indeed, may be the most important and most useful. Other commentators [How to reference and link to summary or text] point out that the sentences of the Tractatus would not qualify as meaningful according to its own rigid criteria, and that Wittgenstein's method in the book does not follow its own demands regarding the only strictly correct philosophical method. These commentators believe that the book is deeply ironical, and that it demonstrates the ultimate nonsensicality of any sentence attempting to say something philosophical, something about those fixations of philosophers, about those things that must be passed over in silence, and about logic.

Intermediary works

Wittgenstein wrote copiously after his return to Cambridge, and arranged much of his writing into an array of incomplete manuscripts. Some thirty thousand pages existed at the time of his death. Much, but by no means all, of this has been sorted and released in several volumes. During his "middle work" in the 1920s and 1930s, much of his work involved attacks from various angles on the sort of philosophical perfectionism embodied in the Tractatus. Of this work, Wittgenstein published only a single paper, "Remarks on Logical Form," which was submitted to be read for the Aristotelian Society and published in their proceedings. By the time of the conference, however, Wittgenstein had repudiated the essay as worthless, and gave a talk on the concept of infinity instead. Wittgenstein was increasingly frustrated to find that, although he was not yet ready to publish his work, some other philosophers were beginning to publish essays containing inaccurate presentations of his own views based on their conversations with him. As a result, he published a very brief letter to the journal Mind, taking a recent article by R. B. Braithwaite as a case in point, and asked philosophers to hold off writing about his views until he was himself ready to publish them. Although unpublished, the Blue Book, a set of notes dictated to his class at Cambridge in 1933–1934 contains seeds of Wittgenstein's later thoughts on language (later developed in the Investigations), and is widely read today as a turning point in his philosophy of language.

The Philosophical Investigations

Main article: Philosophical Investigations

Although the Tractatus is a major work of philosophy, it is for the Philosophical Investigations (known as Philosophische Untersuchungen in German) that Wittgenstein is best known today. Published posthumously in 1953, Philosophical Investigations comprises two parts. Part I, consisting of 693 numbered paragraphs, which was ready for printing in 1946 but was withdrawn from the publisher by Wittgenstein, and Part II which was added on by the editors, trustees of his estate.

It is notoriously difficult to find consensus among interpreters of Wittgenstein's work, and this is particularly true concerning Philosophical Investigations. What follows, then, is but one of many readings to be found. In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein presents an analysis of our use of language which he sees as crucial to the carrying out of philosophical research. In brief, Wittgenstein describes language as a set of language-games within which the words of our language function and receive their meaning. This view of meaning as use represents a break from the classical view, also presented by Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, of meaning as representation.

One of the most radical characteristics of "later" Wittgenstein is his view of the task of philosophy. The "conventional" view of philosophy, accepted by almost every Western philosopher since Plato, is that the philosopher's task was to solve a number of seemingly intractable problems using logical analysis (for example, the problem of "free will", the relationship between "mind" and "matter", what is "the good" or "the beautiful" and so on). However, Wittgenstein argued in Philosophical Investigations that these "problems" were in fact pseudo-problems that arose from philosophers' misuse of language.

The point can be made as follows: Language has evolved as a way to cope with everyday problems, and it functions well within the context in which it has arisen, but when everyday language is made to accomodate something beyond the domain of the everyday, we can expect problems to arise. To take a simple example, if someone on the street asks "What time is it?" there is usually a straightforward answer, but if a person were to ask "What is time?" the situation would be quite different. The bottom line in this case is that, while "What is time?" might be a valid question in the context of traditional metaphysics, it is effectively a question to which there is no answer — since language is seen on this view as determinative of the possibilities of thought — and thus, Wittgenstein would say, it is not, properly speaking, a question at all (at the very least, it is not a question which philosophers ought to be trying to answer).

Wittgenstein's new philosophical methodology was to continually remind his readers of certain aspects of linguistic usage that had been forgotten in the search for metaphysical truths — the primary aspect among these being that everyday language functions for the most part unproblematically and does not require correction by philosophers. In this manner, he aimed to demonstrate that the great questions posed by philosophers had arisen because they were operating on a mistaken view of language and its relation to reality. Philosophers in the Western tradition were not "wiser" than anyone else, as had been assumed — they were simply ordinary men and women more likely to get caught up in linguistic confusion by taking language beyond the context it was meant to deal with. Thus, the task of the true philosopher (i.e. Wittgenstein) was to "show the fly out of the fly bottle": to show that the problems with which philosophers tormented themselves were in fact not really problems at all, but rather were examples of "language gone on holiday," as he put it. So the true philosopher becomes more like a therapist removing distress and confusion than someone who creates or discusses philosophical theories or positions.

Later work

  • On Certainty — A collection of aphorisms discussing the relation between knowledge and certainty, extremely influential in the philosophy of action.
  • Remarks on Colour — Remarks on Goethe's Theory of Colours.
  • Culture and Value — A collection of personal remarks about various cultural issues, such as religion and music, as well as critique of Søren Kierkegaard's philosophy.

Important publications

(major works in bold)

  • Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, Annalen der Naturphilosophie, 14 (1921)
  • Philosophische Untersuchungen (1953)
  • Bemerkungen über die Grundlagen der Mathematik, ed. by G.H. von Wright, R. Rhees, and G.E.M. Anscombe (1956) (a selection from his writings on the philosophy of logic and mathematics between 1937 and 1944)
    • Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, trans. by G.E.M. Anscombe, rev. ed. (1978)
  • The Blue and Brown Books (1958) (Notes dictated in English to Cambridge students in 1933-35)
  • Philosophische Bemerkungen, ed. by Rush Rhees (1964)
    • Philosophical Remarks (1975)

Works Online

  • Review of P. Coffey's Science of Logic (1913): a polemical book review, written in 1912 for the March 1913 issue of the The Cambridge Review when Wittgenstein was an undergraduate studying with Russell. The review is the earliest public record of Wittgenstein's philosophical views.
  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922/1923), German text and Ogden-Ramsey translation

See also


  1. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical Investigations. (G.E.M. Anscombe, Ed & Trans). Oxford:Blackwell.

Further reading

  • Richard R. Brockhaus: Pulling Up the Ladder: The Metaphysical Roots of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1990. Explores the continental influences on Wittgenstein, often overlooked by more traditional analytic works. ISBN 0812691261
  • Maurice O'Connor Drury: The Danger of Words and Writings on Wittgenstein, 1973. A collection of Drury's writings concerning Wittgenstein, edited and introduced by David Berman, Michael Fitzgerald and John Hayes. ISBN 1855064901
  • David Edmonds and John Eidinow: Wittgenstein's Poker: The Story of a Ten-Minute Argument Between Two Great Philosophers, 2001. Short biographies of Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, and the social and philosophical issues which led to a famous 10-minute confrontation in Cambridge in 1946. ISBN 0066212448
  • Hans-Johann Glock: A Wittgenstein Dictionary, 1996. ISBN 0631181121
  • A. C. Grayling: Wittgenstein, A Very Short Introduction, 2001. An introduction aimed at the non-specialist reader. ISBN 0192854119
  • Rom Harré, Michael A. Tissaw (2005) Wittgenstein and psychology: a practical guide. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., ISBN: 075465253X, ISBN: 9780754652533
  • Gavin Kitching: "Wittgenstein and Society: Essays in Conceptual Puzzlement" 2003. ISBN 075463342X
  • Norman Malcolm: Ludwig Wittgenstein, A Memoir, 1958. A portrait by someone who knew Wittgenstein well. ISBN 0199247595
  • Brian McGuinness: Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein's Life 1889-1921, 1988. ISBN 0199279942
  • Ray Monk: Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Duty of Genius, 1990. A biography that also attempts to explain his philosophy. ISBN 0140159959
  • Ray Monk: How To Read Wittgenstein, 2005. Using key texts from Wittgenstein’s writings the author gives insight into how his philosophy can be interpreted. ISBN 186207724X
  • Joachim Schulte: Wittgenstein, An Introduction, 1992. A concise introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy illuminated with passages from his work. ISBN 079141082X
  • Susan G. Sterrett: Wittgenstein Flies A Kite: A Story of Models of Wings and Models of the World, 2005. Accessible study of early years up to writing of Tractatus, interweaving history of flight, science and technology with logic and philosophy. ISBN 0131499971

Works about Wittgenstein

  • The Jew of Linz, by Kimberley Cornish, puts forward the controversial thesis that Hitler's antisemitism arose from his dislike of Wittgenstein, and that Wittgenstein was a Soviet agent who recruited the "Cambridge Five".
  • E. L. Doctorow imagines a rivalry between Wittgenstein and Einstein in sections of his novel City of God, narrated as Wittgenstein.
  • Avant-garde filmmaker Derek Jarman directed Wittgenstein.

External links

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1. It is a matter of controversy whether Hitler and Wittgenstein knew each other personally, and if so whether either had any memory of the other. Some school records have been posted on the University of Passau website [3]. These include references to the texts studied by Wittgenstein as a student. Kimberley Cornish's The Jew of Linz explores the thesis that the two figures had a deeper and lifelong significance to each other (beyond their obvious knowledge of public figures).
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