Ludwig Wittgenstein

We found an old documentary on the life and work of Wittgenstein and especially how he explained faith, so we decided to update our post. It is in two YouTube videos below. – Deskarati

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-born philosopher who held the professorship in philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1939 until 1947.

Described by Bertrand Russell as “the most perfect example I have known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating,” Wittgenstein inspired two of the century’s principal philosophical movements, logical positivism and ordinary language philosophy, though in his lifetime he published just one book review, one article, a children’s dictionary, and the 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921)—25,000 words of philosophical writing published when he was alive, and three million unpublished. Professional philosophers have ranked his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953) as the most important book of 20th-century philosophy.

The Wittgenstein family, circa Summer 1917, Vienna, Ludwig at far right

Born into one of Austria-Hungary’s wealthiest families in Vienna at the turn of the century—a city and time that also produced Sigmund Freud, Karl Kraus, Erwin Schrödinger, Karl Popper, Theodor Herzl, and Adolf Hitler—he gave away his massive inheritance, and subsequently worked as a teacher and gardener, serving on the front-lines during the First World War and being commended by the Austrian army for his courage and sang-froid. He was homosexual, as was at least one of his brothers, three of whom committed suicide, with Wittgenstein and the remaining brother contemplating it too. Those who knew him described him as tortured and domineering: Richard Rorty writes that he took out his intense self-loathing on everyone he met. He grew angry when any of his students wanted to pursue philosophy, and famously embraced the wife of philosopher G.E. Moore when he learned she was working in a jam factory—doing something useful, in Wittgenstein’s eyes.

His work is usually divided between his early period, exemplified by the Tractatus, and his later period, articulated in the Investigations. The early Wittgenstein was concerned with the relationship between propositions and the world, and saw the aim of philosophy as correcting misconceptions about language through logical abstraction. The later Wittgenstein rejected many of the conclusions of theTractatus, and provided a detailed account of the many possible uses of ordinary language, calling language a series of interchangeable language-games in which the meaning of words is derived from their public use. Despite these differences, similarities between the early and later periods include a conception of philosophy as a kind of therapy, a concern for ethical and religious issues, and a literary style often described as poetic. Terry Eagleton called him the philosopher of poets and composers, playwrights and novelists.

Final Days

He was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer of the prostate which spread to his bone marrow. On  the day after his 62nd birthday, he went for a walk and became very ill that evening; when his doctor told him he might live only a few days, he reportedly replied, “Good!”. Just before losing consciousness for the last time on 28 April, he said: “Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life.” Norman Malcolm writes that this was a strangely moving utterance, given how unhappy his life seems to have been.Four of his former students arrived at his bedside—Ben Richards, Elizabeth Anscombe, Yorick Smythies, and Maurice O’Connor Drury. Anscombe and Smythies were Catholics, and at the latter’s request, a Dominican monk, Father Conrad Pepler, also attended. They were at first unsure what Wittgenstein would have wanted, but then remembered he had said he hoped his Catholic friends would pray for him, so they did, and he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

He was given a Catholic burial at St. Giles’s Church, Cambridge. Drury later said he had been troubled ever since about whether that was the right thing to do.

Read the whole fascinating story here wikipedia

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7 Responses to Ludwig Wittgenstein

  1. Phil Krause says:

    His other brother that didn’t commit suicide, lost an arm and went on to becoming a one arm pianist.

    • Phil Krause says:

      He was also extremely clever and a self opinionated queer Jew, known to be at the same school at the same time as Adolf Hitler. It may have been him that started Hitler’s hatred of Jew’s.

  2. alfy says:

    Do we know what has become of the logical positivist school engendered by Wittgenstein? In the forties and fifties we were subjected to the thoughts of the dreadful Freddy Ayer who seemed to be its main proponent until he sank without trace. Are there any modern proponents of this school of thought?

  3. Deskarati says:

    A most unusual family, and that’s putting it mildly!

  4. alfy says:

    Having had a conversation with an academic philosopher recently he confirmed my impression that the early Wittgenstein logical positivism has largely disappeared from the philosophy schools in the UK and abroad. The later, “more reasonable” philosophy has some adherents. Do look at “Alfred Jules Ayer From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia” if for nothing more than the interaction between Freddie Ayer and Mike Tyson, that famous two-fisted philosopher.

  5. Deskarati says:

    Thanks Alfy, just found the Ayer piece you mention:

    ‘At a party that same year held by fashion designer Fernando Sanchez, Ayer, then 77, confronted Mike Tyson who was forcing himself upon the (then little-known) model Naomi Campbell. When Ayer demanded that Tyson stop, the boxer said: “Do you know who the fuck I am? I’m the heavyweight champion of the world,” to which Ayer replied: “And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic. We are both pre-eminent in our field. I suggest that we talk about this like rational men”. Ayer and Tyson then began to talk, while Naomi Campbell slipped out’


  6. alfy says:

    Had a conversation with another person who has also studied philosophy at an academic level, who also confirms the disappearance of the logical positivist school. Moreover, he mentioned that Wittgenstein became interested in mysticism near the end of his life, and made a statement along the lines, “Of that which we know not, we are unable to comment rationally.” Perhaps someone can find the accurate version of W’s words.
    One of the other well-known exponents of logical positivism was Bertrand Russell, a regular celebrity on the radio and TV in the fifties and sixties. He was apparently shot down in flames during a radio debate on logical positivism. I shall follow this up and post something in a few days.
    I do hope that Phil Krause is keeping up with all the deskerati posts and not just wasting time on holiday, eating, drinking, losing his luggage and getting hung up at airports.

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