Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies

By P. M. S. Hacker | Go to book overview

1 Wittgenstein—An Overview

1 Background

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) dominates the history of twentieth-century analytic philosophy, somewhat as Picasso dominates the history of twentieth-century art. He did not so much create a 'school', as change the philosophical landscape—not once but twice. And his successors, within the broad stream of analytic philosophy, whether they followed the paths he pioneered or not, had to reorient themselves by reference to new landmarks consequent upon his work. He completed two diametrically opposed philosophical masterpieces, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) and the Philosophical Investigations (1953). Each gave rise to distinct phases in the history of the analytic movement. The Tractatus was a source of Cambridge analysis of the inter-war years, and the main source of the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle. The Investigations was a primary inspiration for the form of analytic philosophy that flourished in the quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War, with its centre at Oxford and its circumference everywhere in the English-speaking world and beyond. He taught at Cambridge from 1930 until his premature retirement in 1947. Many of his pupils became leading figures in the next generation of philosophers, transmitting his ideas to their students. 1

Wittgenstein's central preoccupations at the beginning of his philosophical career were with the nature of thought and linguistic representation, of logic and necessity, and of philosophy itself. These themes continue in his later philosophy, from 1929 onwards, although philosophy of mathematics occupied him intensively until 1944 and philosophy of psychology increasingly dominated his thought from the late 1930s until his death. Having been trained as an engineer, he came to

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