[Biografia de la Enciclopedia Británica]
(b. April 26, 1889, Vienna--d. April 29, 1951, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng.), Austrian-born English philosopher, who was one of the most influential figures in British philosophy during the second quarter of the 20th century and who produced two original and influential systems of philosophical thought--his logical theories and later his philosophy of language.
Early life through World War I.
Wittgenstein, the son of a leading Austrian steelmaker, was the youngest of eight children, all of whom were generously endowed with artistic and intellectual talent. Both parents were musically gifted, and their home was a centre of musical life. Educated at home until the age of 14, Wittgenstein then studied for three years in an Austrian school, where the emphasis was on mathematical and natural sciences, after which he studied mechanical engineering for two years in Berlin. In 1908 he engaged in aeronautical research in England, experimenting with kites at an upper atmosphere station. His interest soon turned toward developing an engine that would propel an airplane. Working in an engineering laboratory of the University of Manchester, where he was registered as a research student, he conceived the idea of placing a reaction jet at the tip of each blade of a propeller. He designed an experimental engine, supervised its construction, and tested it successfully. Problems relating to the design of a propeller aroused his interest in mathematics, and this soon produced a desire to understand the foundations of mathematics. Bertrand Russell's book The Principles of Mathematics (1903) had a decisive influence on him. Abandoning his engineering studies at Manchester in 1911, he went to Cambridge to study with Russell. He progressed rapidly in mathematical logic; according to Russell, he "soon knew all that I had to teach." Russell remarked that getting to know Wittgenstein was "one of the most exciting intellectual adventures" of his life. Wittgenstein, he said, had "fire and penetration and intellectual purity to a quite extraordinary degree."
Wittgenstein remained at Cambridge through most of 1913, working with unrelenting intensity at problems in and about logic and engaging in prolonged discussions with Russell. He then went to Skjolden, Nor., where he lived in seclusion, working hard at logic. Upon the outbreak of World War I, Wittgenstein enlisted in the Austrian army, serving first on a river vessel and later in an artillery workshop. In 1916 he served in a howitzer regiment on the Russian front as an artillery observer, winning several decorations for bravery. He was then sent to be trained as an artillery officer, was commissioned, and continued to serve on the eastern front until 1918, when he was transferred to a mountain artillery regiment on the Italian front.
Period of the "Tractatus." Throughout the war, Wittgenstein worked on problems of logic and philosophy, writing his thoughts in notebooks that he carried in his rucksack. When he became a prisoner of the Italians at the end of the war, he had a completed manuscript, which he sent to Russell in England. After his release, Wittgenstein tried in vain to find a publisher for his book. Its eventual publication, due to Russell's influence, occurred in 1921 under the title Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922). The Tractatus is universally accepted as novel, profound, and influential. The book is a series of remarks, carefully ordered and numbered in a decimal notation. Although only 75 pages, it sweeps over a vast range of topics: the nature of language; the limits of what can be said; logic, ethics, and philosophy; causality and induction; the self and the will; death and the mystical; good and evil. The central question of the Tractatus is: How is language possible? How can a man, by uttering a sequence of words, say something? And how can another person understand him? Wittgenstein was struck by the fact that a man can understand sentences that he has never previously encountered. The solution that burst upon him was that a sentence that says something (a proposition) must be "a picture of reality." "A proposition shows its sense," he wrote; it shows a situation in the world. His picture theory seemed to explain the "connection between the signs on paper and a situation outside in the world." Not realizing that propositions are pictures comes from failing to consider them in their "completely analyzed" form, in which they are arrangements of simple signs that are correlated with simple elements of reality so that "the picture touches reality." (see also Index: meaning, analytic proposition )
One of the most striking features of the Tractatus is its conception of the limits of language. Not only must a propositional picture contain exactly as many elements as does the situation that it represents but, furthermore, all pictures and all possible situations in the world must share the same logical form, which is at once "the form of representation" and "the form of reality." But this form that is common to language and reality cannot itself be represented. "Propositions can represent the whole of reality," he wrote, "but they cannot represent what they must have in common with reality in order to be able to represent it--logical form." "What can be said can only be said by means of a proposition, and so nothing that is necessary for the understanding of all propositions can be said."
There are other things that cannot be represented ("said"): the necessary existence of simple elements of reality; the existence of a thinking, willing self; and the existence of absolute value. These things are also unthinkable, since the limits of language are the limits of thought. Thus Wittgenstein's remark, "Unsayable things do indeed exist," is itself something that cannot be said or thought; it may give insight, but it is actually nonsensical and eventually must be "thrown away." The final sentence of the book ("Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent") is no truism. It is a highly metaphysical remark that attempts to convey the unsayable, unthinkable doctrine that there is a realm about which one can say nothing.
Upon returning to civilian life in 1919, Wittgenstein gave away the large fortune inherited from his father. He once said that he had done this to avoid having friends for the sake of his money, but it is also true that he disliked ease and luxury. His mode of life came to be characterized by extreme simplicity and frugality.
Feeling that the Tractatus had exhausted his contributions to philosophy, Wittgenstein sought some other vocation. He became an elementary school teacher and beginning in 1920 taught in various tiny villages in Lower Austria. During this period he was severely unhappy and frequently thought of suicide. He was helped, however, by his relationship with his young pupils. Painful frictions eventually developed between Wittgenstein and some of the other teachers and villagers, and in 1925 he abandoned his career as a school teacher. For a few months he served as a gardener's assistant in a monastery near Vienna. When he was invited to undertake the building of a mansion in Vienna for one of his sisters, he accepted the task. This project, which occupied his time for two years, was carried through with typical concentration and originality.
Wittgenstein's musical gifts were considerable. He played the clarinet when a young man, and throughout his life he had the rare ability to whistle difficult classical music, sometimes whistling long passages from memory. Wittgenstein's musical sophistication as well as the peculiar authority of his intelligence and personality are reflected in an incident that occurred when a well-known string quartet was rehearsing in a home where Wittgenstein was one of a small group of listeners. Extremely reserved at first, he offered a few modest remarks about the interpretation of the music; but eventually, according to the account of a witness, "he was carried away by passion and intervened in the rehearsal." The musicians reacted with polite disdain, but at a later rehearsal, the account continues, "Wittgenstein, now completely accepted by the four musicians, did most of the talking, and his objections and advice were heard as deferentially as if Gustav Mahler himself had interrupted their rehearsal."
For a decade after World War I, Wittgenstein did not engage in philosophical studies. He did, however, occasionally meet with other philosophers: the brilliant young philosopher Frank Ramsey and a few members of the so-called Vienna Circle, which gave birth to Logical Positivism.
Period of the "Philosophical Investigations." Suddenly Wittgenstein felt that once again he could do creative work in philosophy. He returned to Cambridge early in 1929, where he was made a fellow of Trinity College. Through his lectures and the wide circulation of notes taken by his students, he gradually came to exert a powerful influence on philosophical thought throughout the English-speaking world. Those who attended his discussions were impressed by the force of his intellect, his passionate seriousness, and the novelty of his ideas and methods. Through these lectures, which were extemporaneous, often taking the form of responses to his own questions, he was creating a new philosophical outlook.
From his return to Cambridge in 1929 until his death 23 years later, Wittgenstein wrote prodigiously. A large number of his notebooks, manuscripts, and typescripts have been preserved. The crown of this work was the Philosophische Untersuchungen (1953; Philosophical Investigations), which, in accordance with his wishes, was published only after his death. Subsequently, a number of related writings have been edited and published.
The thinking that began afresh in 1929 gradually arrived at a very different outlook from that of the Tractatus. Wittgenstein came to reject such former conceptions as that a proposition has one and only one complete analysis; that every proposition has a definite sense; that reality and language are each composed of simple elements; that there is an essence of language, of propositions, of thought; that there is an a priori order of the world. With the rejection of the assumption that all representations must share a common logical form, the conception of the unsayable disappeared. (see also Index: Analytic philosophy, a priori knowledge)
In the Tractatus Wittgenstein had believed that the endless variety of kinds of uses of language is misleading--hidden beneath this diversity there must be a unifying essence to which a philosopher tries to penetrate. In the Investigations he held that this belief is an illusion. There is no unity hidden in the diversity. The perplexities that the philosopher feels about the nature of memory, of thinking, of understanding a word, or of following a rule and his insistence on asking "What is knowledge?" "What is an intention?" "What is an assertion?" are eased, or quieted, by descriptions, or reminders, of what lies open to view, namely the ranges of differing cases in which one applies these words as he uses language, or works with it, in the daily traffic of speech and communication. These descriptions break the hold of the preconceptions that falsify philosophical thinking; they destroy the obsessive belief that there must be an essence of knowledge, of intention, of assertion.
Wittgenstein employed the example of games and tried to get his reader to rid himself of the assumption that there is a common nature of games. Some but not all games are amusing or involve competition or winning and losing; there is only a network of "overlapping and criss-crossing" similarities between games, not some common feature running through all games. Wittgenstein used the term "family resemblance"; he held that just as the word "game" is applied to a range of cases that have only a family resemblance, so it is with the words that loom so large in philosophy: "knowledge," "proposition," "memory," "intention," "thought," "rule," and "belief." Something is called a belief, for example, perhaps because it has similarities with some of the things that were previously called beliefs. The application of a term is extended from previous cases to new cases "as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres. (see also Index: language game, universal)
An outstanding feature of Wittgenstein's second philosophical position is his concern to show how concepts are linked to actions and reactions, to the expression of the concepts in human life. "What we are supplying," he wrote, "are really remarks on the natural history of human beings." The perplexity that a man feels about the meaning of a form of words may be relieved if he asks himself, "On what occasion, for what purpose, do we say this? What kind of actions accompany these words? (Think of a greeting.) In what scenes will they be used; and what for?" Wittgenstein's aim was to display the function and significance of concepts as due not to an intangible realm of mind but to the human forms of life in which they are embedded.
Whereas the Tractatus is regarded with universal admiration, the reception of the Investigations has been mixed. Some students of philosophy are perplexed by the enigmatic style and the seeming lack of organization. Some think it is inferior to the Tractatus in both precision and seriousness, but for others it has radically transformed and enriched philosophy.
In 1939 Wittgenstein was appointed to the chair in philosophy at Cambridge University previously held by that master of philosophical analysis G.E. Moore. During World War II he left Cambridge to serve as a porter in Guy's Hospital in London and later worked as a laboratory assistant in the Royal Victoria Infirmary. As in his previous war service, he continued to think and write on philosophical problems. In the autumn of 1944 he returned to Cambridge to resume his lectures and discussions. He grew more and more restive, however, as a professor of philosophy, and at the end of 1947 he resigned his chair. He wanted to devote his time and strength to completing the Investigations, and also he felt a need for "thinking alone, without having to talk to anybody." He stayed in a cottage on the west coast of Ireland until his health would no longer permit it. Thereafter he lived most of the time with various friends in the United States and England. He was frequently ill, and in the autumn of 1949 he was found to have cancer--a discovery that did not disturb him since he had "no wish to live on." He continued to do intensive work, however, until his death two years later.
It is not easy to characterize Wittgenstein's attitude toward his own philosophical creation. He regarded the Philosophical Investigations as imperfect; he tried with fierce energy and concentration to perfect it, yet despaired of success. He was inclined to be pessimistic about the fate of his work. "It is not impossible," he wrote, "that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another--but, of course, it is not likely." He regarded his own thinking as being alien to the scientific and mathematical spirit of the age in which he lived. He felt as if he were writing for people who belonged to a different culture.
It cannot be doubted that Wittgenstein has made philosophy more self-conscious and has introduced a new conception of its nature. In his view a philosophical problem is not something for which a solution must be sought: no theorem is to be proved nor any hypothesis tested. Instead, the problem is a confusion, an entanglement of one's own thoughts. "Why is philosophy so complicated?" he wrote. "It ought to be entirely simple.--Philosophy unties the knots in our thinking that we have, in a senseless way, put there. To do this it must make movements that are just as complicated as these knots. Although the result of philosophy is simple, its method cannot be if it is to succeed. The complexity of philosophy is not a complexity of its subject matter, but of our knotted understanding." The result of philosophical thinking of the right kind is not a truth discovered but a confusion dissolved. In all of his conceptual studies, Wittgenstein was searching for das erlösende Wort, the word that unties one's knotted understanding. ( N.A.M./Ed.)
MAJOR WORKS. Important works by Wittgenstein include Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung (1921; Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. by C.K. Ogden, 1922, reissued 1983; trans. by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness, 1961); Philosophische Bemerkungen, ed. by Rush Rhees (1964; Philosophical Remarks, 1975, reissued 1980); Preliminary Studies for the "Philosophical Investigations": Generally Known as "The Blue and Brown Books" (1958, reissued 1972), notes dictated in English to Cambridge students in 1933-35; Bemerkungen über die Grundlagen der Mathematik, ed. by G.H. von Wright, R. Rhees, and G.E.M. Anscombe (1956; Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, trans. by G.E.M. Anscombe, rev. ed., 1978, reprinted 1983), a selection from his writings on the philosophy of logic and mathematics between 1937 and 1944; Philosophische Untersuchungen (1953; Philosophical Investigations, trans. by G.E.M. Anscombe, 1953, reissued 1984).
Biographical works and studies of his writings include Anthony Kenny, Wittgenstein (1973, reissued 1976), an overview of his thought and works; K.T. Fann, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy (1967, reissued 1978), an anthology of memoirs and essays; Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, 2nd ed. (1984), recollections of Wittgenstein from 1938 to 1951, with a biographical sketch by G.H. von Wright; Brian McGuinness, Wittgenstein: A Life: Young Ludwig, 1889-1921 (1988), based on all known existing documents; Peter Winch (ed.), Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein (1969), a collection of essays on both the earlier and later philosophy; Gerd Brand, The Essential Wittgenstein (1979), an attempt to demonstrate the unity in Wittgenstein's thought; Irving Block (ed.), Perspectives on the Philosophy of Wittgenstein (1981, reprinted 1983); Derek Bolton, An Approach to Wittgenstein's Philosophy (1979); Max Black, A Companion to Wittgenstein's "Tractatus" (1964), an informative commentary; Irving M. Copi and Robert W. Beard (eds.), Essays on Wittgenstein's "Tractatus" (1966); H.O. Mounce, Wittgenstein's "Tractatus" (1981); J.F.M. Hunter, Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of "Philosophical Investigations" (1985); Anthony Kenny, The Legacy of Wittgenstein (1984, reprinted 1987); and Stuart Shanker (ed.), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Critical Assessments, 4 vol. (1986). Further research information may be found in François H. Lapointe, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Comprehensive Bibliography (1980).
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