Authors: Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Austrian philosopher

Identity: Gay or bisexual

Author Works


“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.{$I[AN]9810000733}{$I[A]Wittgenstein, Ludwig}{$I[geo]AUSTRIA;Wittgenstein, Ludwig}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Wittgenstein, Ludwig}{$I[geo]GAY OR BISEXUAL;Wittgenstein, Ludwig}{$I[tim]1889;Wittgenstein, Ludwig}

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.

BibliographyEdmonds, David, and John Eidenow. Wittgenstein’s Poker. New York: Ecco Press, 2001. Starting with a ten-minute confrontation between Wittgenstein and fellow philosopher Karl Popper in 1946, the authors present a wide-ranging exploration of the philosophies of the two men and the biographical contexts that produced the altercation.Fann, K. T., ed. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy. New York: Dell, 1967. A collection of articles by friends, students, and scholars of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Included are articles on Wittgenstein as a person, a teacher, and a philosopher, and treatments of various aspects of Wittgenstein’s philosophical work.Hacker, P. M. S. Wittgenstein. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Bibliography.Hacker, P. M. S. Wittgenstein’s Place in Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1996. A monumental work by a leading authority of Wittgenstein. This book thoroughly treats philosophical history before, during, and after the time of Wittgenstein.Hallett, Garth L. Essentialism: A Wittgensteinian Critique. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. Strictly speaking, this book is an application of Wittgenstein’s later thought rather than an introduction to it, but Hallett is so faithful to Wittgenstein’s philosophy that the book is in fact a good guide to a correct understanding of it.Hodges, Michael, and John Lachs. Thinking in the Ruins: Wittgenstein and Santayana on Contingency. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2000. A comparison of the two quite different philosophers.Janik, Allan, and Stephen Toulmin. Wittgenstein’s Vienna. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. An illustrated survey showing the many connections between Wittgenstein’s philosophical development and twentieth century movements in architecture, literature, music, psychoanalysis, and other fields, in the setting of late nineteenth century Viennese culture.Klaage, James, ed. Wittgenstein: Philosophy and Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Essays examine the interrelationship between Wittgenstein’s life and his philosophy.McGinn, Marie. Wittgenstein and the “Philosophical Investigations.” New York: Routledge, 1997. A very useful and well-written introductory guide to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.Malcolm, Norman. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. 2d ed. 1984. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. This book, written by Wittgenstein’s most prominent American philosophical student, is a gem. Malcolm allows the reader to see the force of Wittgenstein’s personality as well as his particular way of practicing philosophy. The second edition includes numerous letters that Wittgenstein wrote to Malcolm.Monk, Ray. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. New York: Free Press, 1990. This is the definitive biography of Wittgenstein. It is thorough and detailed, examining Wittgenstein’s private life as well as his philosophy.Pitcher, George, ed. Wittgenstein: The “Philosophical Investigations.” Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966. Although many of the articles in this collection are rather technical, the book’s first article is a general account of the historical context of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. This is followed by several articles that are book reviews of his Philosophical Investigations.Schroeder, Severin. Wittgenstein. Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 2006. A clear, accessible explanation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy and major works incorporating biographical detail. Includes bibliography and index.Sluga, Hans, and David G. Stern, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Some of the articles in this collection are rather narrowly focused, but the first two contain general introductions to Wittgenstein’s life, his work, and his critical approach to philosophy.Stroll, Avrum. Moore and Wittgenstein on Certainty. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. This volume looks at the relationship between these two philosophers, particularly Wittgenstein’s critical stance on G. E. Moore’s views on certainty based on common sense.
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