Wittgenstein Miscellany

Ludwig Wittgenstein
born Vienna 1889
died Cambridge 1951

Major works published during his lifetime:
Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung.

Major works not published during his lifetime:
approximately 30,000 pages of scribbled notes and journal entries.

Influences on the early Wittgenstein

Gottlob Frege. The philosopher whose style Wittgenstein most admired. "I wish I could write like that," he once said. *

Bertrand Russell; getting to know Wittgenstein changed his life. "We expect the next great advance in philosophy to come from Wittgenstein," he wrote. But Wittgenstein later said of Russell that he was "glib and superficial, though, as always, astonishingly quick." [Letter to G.E. Moore, 3.12.46],

William James. Wittgenstein read his Varieties of Religious Experience -- emphasis on variety. He later thought of giving the following motto to his unfinished work, Philosophical Investigations: I will teach you differences.

Leo Tolstoi. Wittgenstein read his Gospels in Brief while fighting in the trenches on the Eastern Front in World War I. "It virtually kept me alive," Wittgenstein wrote.

Otto Weininger. Austria's second greatest crank. Wittgenstein read his Sex and Character, the thesis of which is that homosexuals are failed men and women are failed human beings. Wittgenstein said you could put a not-sign in front of it.

Karl Kraus: "I cannot get myself to believe that half a man can utter a whole sentence." Wittgenstein's journals reflect his life-long doubt whether he could utter a whole sentence.

Arthur Schopenhauer. Wittgenstein read his The World As Will and Representation "with relish" * at age 16; the Tractatus shows the influences of it. Later, Wittgenstein said he found Schopenhauer shallow.

Gottfried Keller. Wittgenstein read his The Last Laugh in which a character says "I have no religion, except perhaps this: that when things go well for me, I tell myself they don't have to." Wittgenstein later said to his friend Drury that people in the modern age "must learn to live without the consolation of churches."

Heinrich Hertz. German physicist and engineer, did seminal work on electromagnetism and light, proving they were two forms of the same fundamental energy. His theory that mathematical equations modelled physical reality influenced Wittgenstein's so-called picture-theory of language.

Ludwig Boltzmann. Austrian physicist, did seminal work on atomic theory. Wittgenstein intended to study with him, but Boltzmann's untimely death in 1906 prevented it.

Wittgenstein's work

The house that Wittgenstein built, 1926-8, for his sister, Margarete Stonborough-Wittgenstein: Kundmanngasse, Vienna. He found architecture more intellectually challenging than philosophy. The outside looks like a bunker, but the inside is highly original. Wittgenstein designed everything down to the doorknobs and hinges. Like the Tractatus, it shows a lack of ornamentation, providing a 'logical space' for whatever contents the owner might wish to place there.

bottom foto copyright Bernhard Leitner

Wittgenstein carved a bust of his cousin in a style similar to that of Michael Drobil, whom he met in prison camp in Italy after WWI.

RKP edition

When Wittgenstein's work was first published in German in 1921, probably only three people in the world were capable of understanding it: Frege, Russell, and Frank Ramsey. Apparently, neither Russell nor Frege did, however. Ramsey met Wittgenstein, and he and Ogden translated the work. Correspondence survives attesting that the proofs of the translation were carefully revised by Wittgenstein. The translation appeared in English in 1922. The latin title was G.E. Moore's idea, based on its apparent similarity to Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. It is probably the shortest major work in the history of philosophy. The academic philosophical community generally received it with a mixture of awe and miscomprehension.

Wittgenstein later said that "the Tractatus is like a clock which doesn't tell the right time." *

Macmillan edition

Wittgenstein's later work, published posthumously, consisted of dozens of scrapbooks containing numbered "remarks" which he cut and pasted together in different arrangements, again and again. His literary executors sorted, translated, and published them. The most significant, and most polished, is the Philosophical Investigations. In the Preface he wrote "I had occasion to re-read [the Tractatus] and to explain its ideas to someone. It suddenly seemed to me that I should publish these old thoughts and the new ones together: that the latter could be seen in the right light only by contrast with and against the background of my old way of thinking. For ... I have been forced to recognize grave mistakes in what I wrote in that first book." Much of the Investigations is a thorough, if not sytematic, attempt to expose not only the "grave mistakes" of the Tractatus, but also assumptions behind it.

RKP edition

Translations. The Ogden/Ramsey translation of the Tractatus was corrected by Wittgenstein himself and renders the tone and feel of it very well. Later, Pears & McGuinness re-translated it, correcting a few grammatical mistakes. In several passages, they differed from Odgen/Ramsey 'simply to differ.' In translating the Investigations, Anscombe consulted native Viennese speakers cotemporary with Wittgenstein; she did not try to render the beauty of Wittgenstein's prose, but only its sense. She worked hardest on, and was more satisfied with, her translation of On Certainty. The translation she most respected was Roger White's (Philosophical Remarks). #

Whewell's Court

Wittgenstein's rooms (formerly G.E. Moore's rooms) on the top floor in Trinity, Whewell's Ct.

Ludwig's sister, Margarete Stonborough-Wittgenstein, posed for Gustav Klimt, 1905. The work was commissioned by her father, Karl Wittgenstein, as a wedding portrait.

Wittgenstein on himself & others

"Am I the only one who cannot found a school, or can a philosopher never do this? I cannot found a school because I do not really want to be imitated. Not at any rate by those who publish articles in philosophical journals. ... I am by no means sure that I would prefer a continuation of my work by others, to a change in the way people live [sic--not 'think'] which would make all these questions superfluous. (For this reason I could never found a school.)" [Culture & Value, p. 61, 1947]

"Philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition." [Culture & Value, p.24, 1933-4] The German is: "Philosophie duerfte man eigentlich nur dichten." 'Dichten' can mean compose (as in poetry), but also compress. Wittgenstein often used words in this way, to mean both things. So the passage may be rendered: "Philosophy ought really to be written only as poetic compression."

"You have to accept the faults in your own style. Almost like the blemishes in your own face." [Culture & Value, p.76, 1948] "My style is like bad musical composition." [Culture & Value, p.39, 1941]

"... The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to.-- The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question. --Instead we now demonstrate a method, by examples; and the series of examples can be broken off.-- Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem...." [Philosophical Investigations #133]
When Anscombe came to translate the above passage, she noticed that Wittgenstein had put a question-mark in the margin. He expressed doubts to her about this passage. Rhees also reports that Wittgenstein said to him, referring to this passage, "That's a lie." Drury, in Conversations With Wittgenstein (Note 9), elaborates: "You know, I said that I can stop doing philosophy when I like. That's a lie! I can't."

"Kant doesn't have a bad style, but a mad style." *

"Kafka gives himself a lot of trouble not writing what troubles him." *

"Essence is expressed by grammar." [PI 371] Anscombe once asked Wittgenstein what he meant by "grammar"; he answered "school book grammer".* Wittgenstein had been a school teacher in Trattenbach, Austria, and had written a grammar book for school children. He meant by "grammar" what a school teacher means by grammar, not anything `technical' or peculiarly philosophical.

*    These quotes from Wittgenstein were told to the author by Prof. Anscombe.
#    From conversations with Prof. Anscombe, 1980-1983.

qFiasco on Wittgenstein

The Tractatus is a momument to Asperger Syndrome.

'I could not found a school'--neither could any other philosopher since pre-socratic times. You're living in the wrong millennium if you think philosophy is about founding schools.

not the Tractatus

not the Philosophical Investigations either

Quotable Quotes