Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
Save to active project

Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (loŏt´vĬkh yō´zĕf yō´hän vĬt´gənshtīn), 1889–1951, Austrian philosopher, b. Vienna.


Originally trained as an engineer, Wittgenstein turned to philosophy, went to Cambridge, where he studied (1912–13) with Bertrand Russell, and further developed his philosophy through solitary study in Norway (1913–14). After serving in the Austrian army in World War I, he taught elementary school (1920–26) in Lower Austria and was an architect in Vienna (1926–28). The Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, one of his major works, appeared in 1921 but initially attracted little attention. During the 1920s Wittgenstein came in contact with the so-called Vienna Circle of logical positivists, who were profoundly influenced by the Tractatus (see logical positivism). Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge in 1929, received his doctorate, and began lecturing in 1930; in 1937 he succeeded G. E. Moore in the chair of philosophy. Retiring in 1947, he worked in seclusion until his death.


The Tractatus

Wittgenstein's philosophical thought is unified by a constant concern with the relationship between language, mind, and reality; but it divides into two importantly different phases. The first phase, expressed in the Tractatus, posits a close, formal relationship between language, thought, and the world; there is a direct logical correspondence between the configurations of simple objects in the world, thoughts in the mind, and words in language. Thus the shape of ideas in the mind and the relationship of words in a sentence are identical in form with the structure of reality or "state of affairs" they represent. Language and thought work literally like a picture of the real, and to conceive or speak of any state of affairs is to be able to form a "picture" of it.

To understand any sentence one must grasp the reference of its constituents, both to each other and to the real. Meaning in thought and language requires a direct reference to the real. The Tractatus, however, made a distinction between what language could say and what it might show. The structures of language and thought could indicate, but not represent, their very correspondence to reality; unsayable things thus exist, and sentences whose structures of meaning amount strictly to nonsense can result in philosophical insight. Thus the Tractatus did not, like the logical positivists, reject the metaphysical; rather, it denied the possibility of stating the metaphysical: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Philosophical Investigations and Later Works

The second phase of Wittgenstein's philosophy commenced with his return to Cambridge in 1929 and continued until his death in 1951; his major work of that period is the Philosophical Investigations (1953). In this period he revised his own thought in the Tractatus, stressing the conventional nature of language. Its meaning was influenced not only by the formal resemblance of its constituents to reality but by the situation, the "language game," in which it was used. Wittgenstein's work greatly influenced, and indeed in a sense occasioned, what has come to be called ordinary language philosophy, that is, the position that maintains that all philosophical problems arise from the illusions created by the ambiguities of language. Philosophy, therefore, must be chiefly concerned with the analysis and proper use of language. This outlook still forms a powerful trend in Great Britain and the United States.

Other of Wittgenstein's posthumous works are Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (1956), The Blue and Brown Books: Preliminary Studies for the Philosophical Investigations (1958), and Notebooks 1914–16 (1961).


See D. Pears, Wittgenstein (1970); W. W. Bartley, Wittgenstein (1973); A. J. P. Kenny, Wittgenstein (1973); G. P. Baker and P. M. S. Hacker, Wittgenstein (2 vol., 1980); D. Bloor, Wittgenstein (1983); R. Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1990); A. P. Griffiths, ed., Wittgenstein Centenary Essays (1991), E. Gellner, Language and Solitude (1999); A. Waugh, The House of Wittgenstein (2009).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?