Ludwig Wittgenstein

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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Selected full-text books and articles

Wittgenstein: An Introduction By Joachim Schulte; William H. Brenner; John F. Holley State University of New York Press, 1992
Wittgenstein By William Child Routledge, 2011
Wittgenstein: Key Concepts By Kelly Dean Jolley Routledge, 2014
Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Mind By Jonathan Ellis; Daniel Guevara Oxford University Press, 2012
Wittgenstein on Mind and Language By David G. Stern Oxford University Press, 1995
Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy By Justus Hartnack; Maurice Cranston University of Notre Dame Press, 1986 (2nd edition)
Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Religion By Robert L. Arrington; Mark Addis Routledge, 2001
Wittgenstein: Philosophy, Postmodernism, Pedagogy By Michael Peters; James Marshall Bergin & Garvey, 1999
Wittgenstein, Empiricism, and Language By John W. Cook Oxford University Press, 2000
Essays in the Unknown Wittgenstein By Morris Lazerowitz; Alice Ambrose Prometheus Books, 1984
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