“Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung,” 1921 (best known by the bilingual German and English edition title of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922, 1961)
Philosophische Untersuchungen/Philosophical Investigations, 1953 (bilingual German and English edition)
Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, 1956 (bilingual German and English edition)
The Blue and Brown Books, 1958
Philosophische Bemerkungen, 1964 (Philosophical Remarks, 1975)
Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief, 1966
Zettel, 1967 (bilingual German and English edition)
Philosophische Grammatik, 1969 (Philosophical Grammar, 1974)
Über Gewißheit/On Certainty, 1969 (bilingual German and English edition)
Vermischte Bemerkungen, 1977 (Culture and Value, 1980)
Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, 1980
Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, 1982-1992 (2 volumes; bilingual German and English edition)
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (VIHT-guhn-stin) has been a controversial figure in philosophy, but he is second only to Bertrand Russell among philosophers of the twentieth century. Though his academic career was spent largely in England, he was born in Vienna to a wealthy and talented family, originally Jewish but for two generations Christian. He was at first educated by tutors but in 1903 was sent to a Realschule, or technical school, at Linz. The choice of a nonclassical school indicates that his father considered his son suited to a career such as engineering; in fact, he did study engineering in Berlin and, after 1908, in Manchester, where he also interested himself in aeronautics. (He was to put his technical knowledge to good use during World War I and later practiced briefly as an architect.) His interests, however, shifted to mathematics and philosophy, and on the advice of the distinguished philosopher Gottlob Frege, a professor at the University of Jena, he went to the University of Cambridge to study under Bertrand Russell. Russell was at first puzzled by the young man but before long thought that he should abandon the field of logic to Wittgenstein, who combined abject feelings of unworthiness with an arrogant aggressiveness on professional subjects.
In early 1914 Wittgenstein was staying in an isolated hut in Norway, but when World War I broke out he returned to Austria and immediately volunteered for active service. He proved to be a loyal, brave, and capable soldier and officer, who ended the war in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp. His period of active service was far from being an intellectual vacuum. In part as a result of reading such authors as Leo Tolstoy, he developed a mystical bent that annoyed Russell when they were reunited. Throughout the war he carried with him notebooks in which he recorded his philosophical reflections; these eventually became his first major work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which was published in 1922.
There followed a fallow period in Wittgenstein’s career. His feelings of unworthiness (verging on the suicidal) led him to consider a religious life; eventually he chose instead to become an elementary schoolteacher in rural Austria. It was at this time, too, that he renounced his claims to his inheritance from his father and gave away much of what he did inherit. Wittgenstein pursued his teaching with great dedication, but ultimately he was drawn back to philosophy. In the late 1920’s he was associated with the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle, a group with which he has sometimes been mistakenly identified. In 1929 he returned to the University of Cambridge and was, on the basis of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, granted a Ph.D. and elected to a research fellowship at Trinity College.
At this point began the most fruitful period of Wittgenstein’s life. His brilliant if eccentric teaching soon made him famous. Furthermore, he began multiplying the manuscripts that would be published after his death. In 1939 he was elected to the professorship of philosophy at Cambridge upon the retirement of G. E. Moore. When World War II broke out, Wittgenstein, who had by then become a British subject, faithfully served in the war as a medical orderly. After the war he returned to his professorship but resigned in 1947. After a retreat in rural Ireland and a pleasant trip to the United States, where he stayed with a former student, Norman Malcolm, he fell ill with cancer and died on April 29, 1951.
Given his complexity, his obscurity, and his frequent changes of opinion, it is no simple matter to give a short summary of Wittgenstein’s doctrine. Some critics have seen a paradoxical combination of change and continuity in Wittgenstein, a contrast and yet a resemblance between the doctrine of his early work and his more mature work of the 1930’s; the link is a preoccupation with language. In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, under the influence of Frege and Russell, Wittgenstein dreamed of a rigorously logical system of propositions that would picture in their logical structure the structure of the world; his aim was to eliminate from the language any logical flaws that would interfere with the picture. In his later work language has a different, one might say a social, function; it is a tool that human beings use in their “language games,” which obey rules as various and flexible as those of athletic games. The meaning of a word is defined not by its correspondence to something outside itself but by its “use” in the game. Of course this theory would sound more convincing if expounded with Wittgenstein’s overwhelming personality in his barren upstairs rooms at Cambridge.