Wittgenstein, Ludwig (Josef Johann)
WITTGENSTEIN, LUDWIG (JOSEF JOHANN)
(b. Vienna, Austria, 26 April 1889; d. Cambridge, England, 29 April 1951)
Wittgenstein was one of the most imaginative and original thinkers of the twentieth century, a legend during his lifetime and an enduring influence since. To his numerous admirers and followers, his work marks a decisive turn in the history of philosophy and in all fields of investigation to which philosophical method id pertinent.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, as he always called him self, was the youngest of eight children. His father, an engineer and a successful steel magnate, was a prominent patron of the arts in Vienna. Wittgen stein was never at home in this worldly and sophisticated setting; and his life and work alike show the imprint of a deeply serious temperament, radically at odds with the compromises of bourgeois society.
Educated privately until he was fourteen Wittgenstein spent only three years at school (in Linz)before entering the Technical Institute at Berlin Charlottenburg with a view to becoming an engineer. As a research student at Manchester University (1908–1911) he made original contributions to the design of a jet-reaction propeller for airplanes. His interests having turned to the foundations of mathematics and to logic, in 1911, on the advice of Gottlob Frege, he became a student of Bertrand Russell’ at Cambridge University. In 1913–1914, while living in solitude in Norway, he was already composing the Traqctatus, although it was not published until 1921. During the period 1919–1926 Wittgenstein studied for and obtained a diploma qualifying him for elementary school teaching, and eventually taught in a number of small village schools in Austria. For a while he worked as a gardener’s assistant at a convent near Vienna. He also designed and built, for one of his sisters, a remarkable house that is still standing (at the time this article was written) in the Kundmanngasse (and declared a national monument by the Austrian government). In 1929, Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge, was made a fellow of Trinity College, and began the famous succession of informal classes through which his philosophical views gradually became known. Ten years later he was appointed professor of philosophy in succession to G. E. Moore. He worked in a medical school and a medical his professorship in 1947. He died of cancer four years later.
The last two decades of Wittgenstein’ life were filled with unremitting intellectual work. His many manuscripts include, in addition to his masterpiece, the Philosophical Investigations (which he left almost ready for press), several full-length books, and thousands of pages of additional materials. His last finished piece of work, On Certainty (composed in 1950–1951), shows him in full possession of penetrating powers of insight and expression.
Wittgenstein’s later work stands in sharp contrast with and opposition to the conceptions presented in the Tractatus. That book, written in short, epigrammatic paragraphs carefully arranged in quasi-logical form (with a special system of decimal references marking the relative subordination of successive item), remains cryptic on essential points and lends itself to a variety of different in terpretations. A central theme is the delineation of the essential characteristics that any language or symbol system must manifest. It would therefore not be unfair to call it a “Critique of Pure Language.” Wittgenstein’s celebrted “picture theory of language” insists upon the presence in language, as the root its semantic power, of an isomorphism between sentences and the possible states of affairs to which they ultimately refer. Reality must be composed of “facts” –patterned clusters of ultimate simples or “objects” –each standing in one-one correspondence to the simple names that underlie the superficial complexity of ordinary language. Thus the “logical form” of reality (roughly speaking, the pattern of possible co-occurrence of the simple “objects”) must be reflected in the “logic of language” (the corresponding patterns of cooccurrence of the semantic elements).
It was part of the originality of this version of “logical atomism” to reject any possibility of the representation, from some external standpoint, of the “logical form” itself. The “logic” of reality and its linguistic mirror must “show itself,” through the impossibility of “saying” what cannot be said: the limits of language are the “limits of thought.” What philosophers have tried to say about metaphysics, transcendental ethics and aesthetics, and theology turns out to consist of pseudo propositions that are “nonsense.” The book accordingly ends with the much quoted line, “Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent.” (This article must necessarily omit reference to Wittgenstein’s important technical contributions to the foundations of logic, focusing on the notion of “tautology” ; to probability theory; and the philosophy of science.)
Some hostile critics, such as Karl Popper, have regarded the conclusion of the Tractatus as a self refutation, which reduces the book itself to the sort of “nonsense” that cannot be “said” ; other readers, notably early members of the Vienna Circle, have sought to purge the Tractatus of its allegedly irreleant “mystical” instructions and to quarry from it a positivistic critique of metaphysics. But a more sympathetic reading would treat it as a peculiar sort of demonstration (“showing”) of how a powerful conception of the necessary relations between symbolism and reality, pushed to its logical consequences,results in an impasse, from which there is no escape except through a revolution in perspective and approach. From this standpoint the Tractatus is a prime example of what Wittgenstein later came to call a “metaphysical cramp,” an obsession with a single conception of what the metaphysical situation must be – and the natural springboard for his subsequent revolution in method.
Although there is considerable continuity between the Tractatus and the later masterpiece, the Philosophical Investigations (completed some twenty-five years later), the second work reads at first sight like a wholesale rejection of the earlier methodology. In the Investigations, the earlier interest in the one and only “logical form,” manifested in every adequate linguistic or symbolic system, is rejected as arising from a distorted metaphysical conception. Attention shifts to language as it is used in concrete social practices, constituted partly by rules of syntax and application, but even more importantly by a background “agreement in the form of life” that shows itself in practice but is not reducible to formal principles. The a priori considerations that dominated the Tractatus are replaced by meticulous attention to the “natural history” of language, the complex and various ways in which men actually communicate and express their thoughts. The prime philosophical error is to impose upon this motley of speech practices some a priori model of what language must be like. Witt genstein shows, by detailed discussion of questions that have been the staple of philosophical dispute for two thousand years, how such oversimplified impositions generate insolubilia. He hoped to have shown how such “philosophical sickness” can yield to rational treatment.
Wittgenstein’s later work introduced a number of special notions that continue to be high value, despite their often cryptic and controversial character.Among them are the notions of a “language game” (a deliberately simplified model of speech practice, introduced for the sake of comparison), of a “criterion” of use, and of “family resemblances” (the overlapping pattern of relations that hold together the items referred to by some general term).
Wittgenstein’s later methods of investigation are “dialectical,” in the sense of proceeding repeatedly from the real or fancied philosophical difficulties of an imaginary interlocutor. His writing provide tantalizing glimpses of his incomparable style of face-to-face philosophizing with friends and pupils.
Despite a lifelong interest in science and its relations to philosophy, Wittgenstein did comparatively little work on the philosophy of science (although the Tractatus contains some important on the other hand, he left voluminous manuscripts, still in process of publication and critical evaluation.
It is misleading to assign to Wittgenstein, as is too often done, the stock labels “behaviorist” or “positivist.” His life was devoted, with exemplary single–mindedness, to discovering a radically new way of leading men out of the darkness of conceptual confusion.
I. Original Works. All of Wittgenstein’s works, except the first and third, were published posthumously. Since he composed in German, translations are, at his desire, published with the original German text facing. Exceptions to this are indicated below.
1. Tractatus Logico–Philosophicus, translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, with intro. by Bertrand Russell (London, 1961). The trans. by C. K. Ogden in the original English ed. (London, 1922), although faulty in places, still deserves attention. There also have been translations into Italian, Russian, French, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, and Chinese.
2. The Blue and Brown Books, with a preface by Rush Rhees (Oxford, 1958). Originally dictated in English (1993–1935) for the use of Wittgenstein’s pupils. Although superseded by the Investigations, still the best introduction to the later work.
3. Notebooks 1914–1916, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, edited by Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (Oxford, 1961). Surviving parts of the notebooks used in preparing the Tractatus. An indispensable aid to the study of that work.
4. Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, edited by Anscombe and Rush Rhees (London, 1953). The great masterpiece of Wittgenstein’s later thought.
5. Remarks on the Foundation of mathematics, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford, 1956). Compiled from MSS by the literary executors, G. H. von Wright, Rush Rhees, and G. E. M. Anscombe.
6. Philosophische Bemerkungen (Oxford, 1964). German text only. Composed 1929–1930.
7. Zettel, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford, 1966). Based on notes arranged as for a book.
8. Philosophische Grammatik (oxford, 1969), translated by Anthony Kenny, edited by Rush Rhees, as Philosophical Grammar (Berkeley, Calif., 1974).
9. On Certainty, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe (oxford, 1969). Composed in 1952–1951.
11. Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Phychology and Religious Belief, Barrett, ed. (Oxford, 1966).
Other sets of lecture notes, some of them transcribed verbatim, are in private circulation.
Almost all of Wittgenstein’s voluminous MSS are preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. The entire Nachlass has been microfilmed by Cornell University Library, Ithaca, New York, from which microfilm copies and Xeroxes can be purchased. A detailed guide to the Cornell collection is in G.H. von Wright, “The Wittenstein Papers,” in Philosophical Rerierr,78 (1969), 483–503.
A very full bibliography of primary and secondary writings is in K. T, Fann, Wittgenstein’s Conception of Philosophy (Oxford-Berkeley, 1969), with a supp. by Fann in Revue internationale de philosophie,23 (1969), 363–370.
II. Secondary Literature. For Wittgenstein’s life and teaching, see especially Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, rev. ed. (London, 1966), which also contains a biographical sketch by G. H. von Wright and a photograph. An authorized biography by B.F. McGuinness is in course of preparation.
Among the many commentaries on the Tractatus are G.E.M. Anscombe, An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (London, 1959), the earliest and in some ways the most useful; Max Black, A Companion to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (Cambridge-Ithaca, N.Y., 1964), an elaborate exegesis; J. Griffin, Wittgenstein’s Logical Atomism (London, 1964), which stresses the influence of Heinrich Hertz: and E. Stenius, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (Oxford, 1960), a penetrating but controversial analysis.
For the later work, see especially Norman Malcolm, “Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations,” in Philosophical Review,63 (1954), 530–559; and Peter Winch, ed., Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein (London, 1969). A useful comprehensive authology is K.T. Fann, ed., Ludwig Wittgenstein : The Man and His Philosophy (New York, 1967).
Possible applications to science are well illustrated in W.H. Watson, Understanding Physics Today (Cambridge, 1963).
WITTGENSTEIN, LUDWIG (1889–1951), Austrian-British philosopher who profoundly influenced Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophy through his analysis of language; brother of the musician Paul *Wittgenstein.
Wittgenstein was born in Vienna in 1889, the eighth and youngest child in a well-off and cultured family. He had three Jewish grandparents. As a child he was baptized, but he never was a religious Catholic. After a private education at home, he attended school in Linz, where, coincidentally, Adolf Hitler also was a pupil. He studied engineering in Berlin and then went to Manchester, England, to study aerodynamics. There he read Bertrand Russell's Principles of Mathematics and became interested in logic and the logical basis of mathematics. In 1911 he met Gottlob Frege (1848–1925) who demonstrated that one can derive mathematics from logic, and singled out the problem of the inaccuracy of language. Frege referred him to Russell, whom Wittgenstein visited in the same year, and who stimulated him to be active in philosophy.
What vividly interested him was language. In 1913 and 1914, he worked during long periods in Norway in order to clarify logic. With the outbreak of World War i he became a volunteer in the Austrian army. In 1916 the first version of his famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein's essay on language and logic, was ready. In the same year, he left for the front. In 1918, he was taken prisoner of war in Italy. Upon his return to Vienna, he studied to become a teacher and gave away his personal fortune.
At first, Wittgenstein could not find a publisher for his Tractatus. It was finally published in 1922 in the series Annalen der Naturphilosophie. He worked as a gardener and also as a teacher in several elementary schools. He was successful when teaching superior pupils, but was a failure with other pupils, whom he treated harshly. In 1925 he again visited England where he became an advanced student, and in 1929 received his Ph.D. on the basis of his Tractatus. In 1930 he started teaching in Cambridge. The Tractatus was the only work he published, although he desired also to publish his later work Philosophische Untersuchungen.
Teaching at the university did not prevent Wittgenstein from opposing any form of academic philosophy. He developed a growing resistance toward the mathematical and scientific way of thinking as the only ways of philosophizing. In 1935 he pondered immigrating to Russia. In 1939 he was promoted to the rank of professor.
During the difficult years of the Shoah, the Wittgenstein family in Vienna were considered non-Jewish, thanks to a friend, the Catholic teacher Ludwig Hänsel, who had access to leading political figures of that time. It was probably on instructions of Arthur *Seyss-Inquart, who was responsible for the destruction of Dutch Jewry and who was tried in the Nuremberg trials, that the family was not killed.
For some time, Wittgenstein left his academic position and worked in a London hospital. In 1948 he left for Ireland. In the summer of 1949, he visited America, where he became ill. In 1950 he returned to London, without a job and without money. During the last months of his life he wrote On Certainty. He died in 1951.
Customarily, one distinguishes between Wittgenstein's early work, the Tractatus (1922), and his later work, e.g., the Philosophical Investigations (published posthumously in 1953).
Fortunately, there exists Wittgenstein's voluminous Nachlaß, of which various manuscript were published, as Zettel, On Certainty, Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, Culture and Value, and Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology. There are further the Notebooks 1914–1916 and, finally, the notes made by his students, e.g., The Blue and Brown Books, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, and Psychology and Religious Belief.
The Vienna Circle interpreted his early work in the direction of logical positivism, on the basis of the picture-language discussed in the Tractatus. It is, however, questionable if there is enough supporting evidence for speaking of Wittgenstein i and ii. It is the same person who, during his entire life, developed a critique of language, attacking the picture theory of meaning. In all of his philosophical activities, he waged "the battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language" (ein Kampf gegen die Verhexung unsres Verstandes durch die Mittel unserer Sprache) (Philosophical Investigations, 109) and wanted the reader to take upon himself the task of clarifying his language. The theory developed in the early work was written to be rejected, and the Investigations clarified the questions that were raised in the Tractatus. Wittgenstein wanted the old thoughts and the new ones be published together.
Philosophical problems were for him first of all problems of language. He was convinced that, if one would study the logic of language, one would be able to solve many philosophical problems.
Investigation of the Use of Language
The Tractatus describes the limitations of language. Logic is what is "true." There is the simple tautological equation a = a. Further, there is the formula A is not not-a: I cannot eat and not eat at the same time. Finally there is the dilemma: or a or not-a: or it rains or it doesn't.
Wittgenstein doubts if one really says something with this logic that it is true under all circumstances. Mathematics, too, is logic: it is a priori true, not based upon experiments: 5 and 5, for instance, is 10, and one does not have to verify that. Finally, Wittgenstein maintains in his Tractatus that only scientific utterances give certainty about reality. But scientific utterances are not necessarily true: reality could also be different.
The last sentence of the Tractatus (7) reads: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen). Through this sentence, Wittgenstein makes much of human life unspeakable, at least in the logical picture-language. The entire domain of speaking on ethics and God has to remain separated from the purely descriptive language. Ethical utterances are authoritative, but distinguished from utterances on facts. About God you cannot speak as about things in the world. Aesthetic and ethical judgments cannot be expressed within logical language, they are not facts and cannot be pictured in thought. Real questions, questions of life, are not scientific questions. Picture-language is thus problematical. Wittgenstein therefore found it useful to study ordinary language with its different language games. Philosophy can, accordingly, be a remedy against the bewitchment of thought by language.
the complexity of ordinary language
It was Wittgenstein's life task to understand ordinary language. One may say for instance that one "has" a book, that one "has" children, or that one "has" a headache. All these are different forms of "having" which are not reducible to each other. One cannot solve this complex reality by speaking about the "essence" of having (as did Plato), which would transcend all these forms of "having." Neither can one reduce something to something else, as is frequently done in psychology. All this proves that we are "bewitched" by wrong visions on language.
The word "essentially" was for Wittgenstein a word that one has to avoid. He left out the "eternal" truth beyond or above reality and concentrated upon the detail that always deviates from a preexisting "essence." We should stop using the word "essentially," as if in having a child, a book or a headache the same unchangeable "having" would return. This would come to being guilty of a logical way of speaking (a = a), that says nothing.
Wittgenstein and Judaism
Recent research has investigated Wittgenstein's thought in light of his Jewish background. Rush Rhees has written on Wittgenstein's self-understanding. He notes that, in 1936, Wittgenstein confessed to his friends and family that he was more Jewish than was generally known. In his book on Wittgenstein and Judaism, Ranjit Chatterjee writes that, with this confession, Wittgenstein indicated that in his work, one may find many a Jewish element, and that Wittgenstein developed an intellectual Jewishness and expressed his inner Jewish feeling in a disguised way. Wittgenstein also remarked to his friend M.O'C. Drury that his own thinking is not Greek, but "one hundred percent Hebrew thinking." With his "Hebrew thinking" he wanted to unmask the idolatry of picture language. On the other hand, Steven Schwarzschild saw Wittgenstein as being alienated from his Jewishness, and as suffering from self-hatred.
detailed biographies: b. McGuiness, Wittgenstein: A Life. Young Ludwig 1889–1921 (1988); R. Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Duty of Genius (1990). on wittgenstein: a. Ambrose (ed.), Wittgenstein's Lectures, Cambridge 1932–1935 (1979); G. Anscombe, An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus (1959); C. Barrett, Wittgenstein on Ethics and Religious Belief (1991); O. Bouwsma, in: J.L. Craft and R. Hustwit (eds.), Wittgenstein: Conversations 1949–1951 (1986); R. Chatterjee, Wittgenstein and Judaism. A Triumph of Concealment (Studies in Judaism 1) (2005); T. De Mauro, Ludwig Wittgenstein: His Place in the Development of Semantics (1967); P. Engelmann, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein, with a Memoir (1968); K.T. Fann, Wittgenstein's Conception of Philosophy (1971); H.L. Finch, Wittgenstein: The Later Philosophy (1977); G. Hallett, A Companion to Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations (1977); W.F. Hermans, Wittgenstein (1992); A. Janik and S. Toulmin, Wittgenstein's Vienna (1972); A. Janik, Essays on Wittgenstein and Weininger (1985); S. Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (1982); N. Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein. A Memoir, with Wittgenstein's letters to Malcolm (1984); B. McGuiness, "Wittgenstein and the Idea of Jewishness," in: J.C. Klagge (ed.), Wittgenstein: Biography and Philosophy (2001), 221–36; D. Pears, Wittgenstein (1970); M. Perloff, Wittgenstein's Ladder; Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary (1999); G. Pitcher (ed.), Wittgenstein: The Philosophical Investigations (1966); R. Rhees (ed.), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections (1981); S. Schwarzschild, "Wittgenstein as Alienated Jew," in: Telos, 40 (1979), 160–65; D. Stern, "Was Wittgenstein a Jew?" in: James C. Klagge (ed.), Wittgenstein: Biography and Philosophy (2001), 237–72; B. Szabados, "Was Wittgenstein an Anti-Semite? The Significance of Anti-Semitism for Wittgenstein's Philosophy," in: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 29 (1999), 1–28; C. Wright, Wittgenstein on the Foundations of Mathematics (1980).
[Ephraim Meir (2nd ed.)]
Engineer, architect, and one of the most influential analytic and linguistic philosophers of the twentieth century, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) was born in Vienna, Austria, on April 26 and died a few days after his sixty-second birthday in Cambridge, England, on April 29. Although seldom emphasized in works about the philosopher, Wittgenstein's life was deeply engaged with technology. He studied mechanical engineering in Berlin and aeronautical engineering in Manchester, England, securing the patent for a propeller in 1911. He also conducted combustion chamber research and his ideas were used for helicopter engines after World War II. Even after abandoning his engineering career, Wittgenstein's engineering education continued to exercise an influence on his philosophical work.
Wittgenstein began his career as a philosopher in 1912 after reading Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's Principia Mathematica (Volume I, 1910). The logical foundations of mathematics was one of the most important philosophical issues of the day, and between 1914 and 1918 Wittgenstein wrote one of his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. Its spare hundred pages contain a philosophy of logic, of language and meaning, of science, an ontology, and by implication, ethics. Language is the basis for all thought, so that the first philosophical task must be to understand its relation to the world in order to clarify its meaning. Many philosophical problems rest on confusions about the meaning of language; when these confusions are revealed, the problems vanish. Only scientific problems are real and thus able to be truly solved.
Wittgenstein's work was a fundamental influence on the philosophical program of the logical empiricists of the Vienna Circle, including Otto Neurath (1882–1945), Moritz Schlick (1882–1936), and Rudolf Carnap (1891–1970). This program argued that metaphysics, ethics, and religious beliefs were non-scientific and therefore beyond serious philosophical enquiry. Ethical values themselves were sometimes presented as no more than expressions of personal or social emotions. This positivist interpretation of Wittgenstein's thought remained influential even into the 1980s. In the Tractatus itself, however, Wittgenstein maintained that although only scientific problems are real, what really matters for human beings are unsolvable questions about right and wrong, good and bad, the meaning of life and so on (Wittgenstein classified these as mystical questions). To be unable to give acceptable scientific answers to such questions did not imply their meaninglessness.
After his death the publication of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations revealed a very different Wittgenstein than that associated with the Tractatus. To some extent, Wittgenstein turned away from a logical, scientific clarification of language, because diversity of language uses demonstrates the futility of the effort. Language does not function as a scientific mirror of the world but as a profound social phenomenon, as a practice among people. The meanings of words are found in their uses in different contexts, as they are used in language games, which belong to specific ways of life or forms of life, and mistakes arise when philosophers try to find essential meanings in words, because such meanings do not exist. Language is also a learned technique, and to some extent all techniques, even scientific ones, are similar: They all have a deeply social element. There is no super-game of philosophy or science that could subsume all other games.
Wittgenstein neither considered himself a scientist nor accepted the idea of technological progress, and he departed clearly from the standard interpretations of scientific development as articulated first by the logical empiricists and then in revised form by Karl Popper (1902–1994) and his followers. In scattered remarks, such as those found in Culture and Value (1980), Wittgenstein expressed distrust of modern science and technology and considered them, along with industrialization, as the main causes of war. "Man has to awaken to wonder—and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again," he once wrote (Culture and Value, p. 5e). In his view, science not only fails to deal with the most significant issues but also tends to homogenize the world. The scientific age is associated with a decline in culture, and attempts to popularize science are, according to Wittgenstein, largely mistakes.
Influenced by Viennese cultural and artistic critics such as Karl Kraus (1874–1936), Wittgenstein was sensitive to the negative effects of modern science and technology. Skeptical of progress, he wrote, "It isn't absurd, e.g., to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion" (Culture and Value, p. 56e). The experience of both World Wars and the disappearance of a whole way of life help explain Wittgenstein's critical distrust of scientific and technological development alone as inherently beneficial. In response to the use of the atomic bomb, he actually considered the possibility that modern technology might destroy the whole human race. His pessimism was similar to that of many other intellectuals, including his mentor Bertrand Russell (1872–1970). However, Wittgenstein did not pursue these concerns in any rigorous way.
Many of Wittgenstein's ideas are key features in subsequent criticisms of science and technology. The political theorist Langdon Winner (1986) uses the form of life concept to explain how technology becomes a part of one's humanity, as a kind of second nature. As a consequence, technological artifacts often acquire a political character. From an epistemic point of view, sociologist David Bloor (1983) also draws on Wittgenstein to develop a critical assessment of the social nature of scientific knowledge. The so-called "strong program" of the Edinburgh school in the sociology of scientific knowledge uses Wittgenstein's ideas as a basis for their research. Wittgenstein's influence is pervasive and his thinking leaks out into many different fields, including discussions of values in science and technology. For instance, John Searle used Wittgensteinian techniques to attack claims for artificial intelligence (1986). Wittgenstein's main contribution to science and technology criticism consists of a heightened sensitivity to "bewitchment" (Wittgenstein's term) in technological discourse.
Alonso Puelles, Andoni. (2002). El arte de lo indecible (Wittgenstein y las vanguardias). Cáceres, Spain: Universidad de Extremadura. An examination of mutual influences between Wittgenstein and art.
Glock, Hans-Johann. (1996). A Wittgenstein Dictionary. Oxford: Blackwell. The most useful general reference to the many aspects of Wittgenstein's thought and the controversies it has generated.
Kenney, Anthony. (1988). Wittgenstein. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin. The best English introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy as a whole.
Searle, John R. (1986). Minds, Brains and Science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Winner, Langdon. (1986). The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. C.K. Ogden and F.P. Ramsey. London: Routledge.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (1953). Philosophical Investigations, ed. G.E.M. Anscombe and R. Rhees. Oxford: Blackwell.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (1961). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness. London: Routledge.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (1980). Culture and Value, ed. G.H. von Wright in collaboration with H. Nyman; trans. Peter Winch. Oxford: Blackwell.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. (1993). Philosophical Occasions: 1912–1951, ed. James C. Klagge and Alfred Nordmann. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett. An extensive collection of shorter texts, including "A Lecture on Ethics."
WITTGENSTEIN, LUDWIG (1889–1951), one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. Born of a wealthy family in Vienna, Wittgenstein did most of his philosophical work at Cambridge, England. He became a British subject in 1938 and succeeded G. E. Moore as professor of philosophy at Cambridge in 1939. His two principal works were largely responsible for the "linguistic revolutions" in twentieth-century Anglo-American philosophy. The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (German edition 1921, English translation 1922, second English translation 1961), completed in the Austrian army during World War I, was the only one of Wittgenstein's books published during his lifetime. It inaugurated a logical-structuralist approach to philosophical analysis. The Philosophical Investigations (Oxford, 1953) initiated what came to be called ordinary language philosophy. Some dozen other books of lectures, notes, letters, and various manuscripts and manuscript fragments have been published posthumously; the most important is probably On Certainty (Oxford, 1969). This material, on which Wittgenstein was working at the time of his death, seems to point the way toward still a third period of his philosophy.
Wittgenstein concerned himself primarily with the nature of language, a concern that for him entailed the understanding and clarification of meaning. Thus he believed language to be the proper subject of philosophy, for it is according to the terms of language that the world and human life become comprehensible. The function of philosophy is to see language clearly and thereby dissolve (particularly at certain critical nodes) metaphysical problems and anxieties created by deep misunderstandings about the grammatical possibilities of language. Wittgenstein excelled in the subtle examination of how ordinary words with ordinary uses come to seem fraught with metaphysical complexities.
The spirit in which these profound philosophical (and not merely linguistic) studies were carried out was the very reverse of a positivistic or scientistic one, though some of Wittgenstein's early interpreters, such as Bertrand Russell, misunderstood him on this point. In his notebooks, excerpts from which have been published under the title Culture and Value (1977; Eng. ed., 1980), he declared himself out of sympathy with the scientific and progressivistic spirit of the age. Even in his early letters to Paul Engelmann and Ludwig Flicker, he made it clear that the purpose of the Tractatus was an ethical and not a scientific or positivistic one.
Wittgenstein once told a friend that he could not help seeing everything from a religious point of view. He belonged to no religious group or institution, though his mother was Catholic and he had been baptized a Catholic. (Three of his grandparents are said to have been of Jewish extraction.) During World War I he came under the influence of Tolstoi's writings on the Gospels and adopted a Tolstoyan mode of life, giving away his considerable inheritance and living ascetically as a village schoolteacher in southern Austria. To his friends he expressed admiration for Kierkegaard and Augustine and for some of the writings of George Fox and the prayers of Samuel Johnson. Engelmann reported that Wittgenstein believed in the Last Judgment but could make little out of the biblical doctrine of creation.
Wittgenstein wrote very little specifically on religion; the most important documents in this regard are Lectures on Religious Belief (Oxford, 1966) and Remarks on Frazer's "Golden Bough" (London, 1979). Yet his philosophy is permeated with a religious spirit. It was one of his strongest convictions that religion should be shown and demonstrated in everything rather than talked about as a separate matter. He advised his students that philosophical problems must arise out of a genuine need rather than as an expression of wit and cleverness. The important question about a philosopher, he said, is how much his ideas cost him. Wittgenstein believed that a philosophy is no better than the life out of which it arises and that in order to see things clearly it is necessary, above all, to destroy vanity. Unexamined biases and commitments are a mortgage against clarity.
Wittgenstein's reserve on the subject of religion arose not only from his feeling that it is more important to talk to God than to talk about God, but also from his awareness that in the present age religious expressions are almost certain to be misunderstood. Thus he considered dedicating one of his books, later published after his death as Philosophical Remarks, "To the glory of God," but decided against it.
What is evident from the study of Wittgenstein's life and work is that he was a clear-cut "supernaturalist," in the sense that he sharply separated God from the world. He told a student, Friedrich Waismann, that it is more profound to believe that something is good because God commands it than to believe that God commands it because it is good.
Religion for Wittgenstein was a matter of belief, and such beliefs outranked any explanations, reasons, or logic. Wittgenstein had no patience with either sociological or psychological "explanations" of religion, and even less with scientific attempts to bolster religion or to create religious emotions as responses to scientific wonders. Religion had to do with a different and more important dimension than that of fact: the dimension of how we are to live.
His most important contribution to the philosophy of religion was in his analysis of belief in Lectures on Religious Belief, included in Lectures and Conversations, compiled by Yorick Smythies, Rush Rhees, and James Taylor (Oxford, 1966). Here Wittgenstein examines the role played by religious beliefs in the guidance of life and attempts to disentangle them from all factual matters, including claims about existence. He makes the important point that denying a religious belief or disagreeing with it is not contradicting anything, since the essence of religious belief has nothing to do with whether something is or is not the case, or was or will be the case. Rather, it has to do with how we live and die. When people are willing to suffer and die for their religious beliefs, it is not for some factual proposition that they are willing to suffer and die, though it may appear so. Thus a belief in the Last Judgment should not be taken as an assertion that a certain event is or is not going to take place, but as something like an icon guiding our thoughts and actions, particularly in times of crisis. The attempt to make religious beliefs appear reasonable Wittgenstein regarded as often "ludicrous."
Hacker, P. M. S. Insight and Illusion: Wittgenstein on Philosophy and the Metaphysics of Experience. Oxford, 1972.
Kenny, Anthony. Wittgenstein. London, 1973.
Malcolm, Norman. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir. London, 1958. Includes a biographical sketch by G. H. von Wright.
Rhees, Rush, ed. Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections. Totowa, N. J., 1981.
Henry Le Roy Finch (1987)
Wittgenstein, Ludwig J. J.
Wittgenstein's early philosophical work was influenced by Bertrand Russell's Principles of Mathematics, and its most complete expression was the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, first published in German in 1921 and then in English in 1922. At the core of this work was a view of language and meaning, according to which each sentence is a picture of some possible state of affairs. Sentences are combinations of names, which, in some ultimate analysis, must refer unambiguously to simple objects. For this relationship of picturing between reality, language, and thought to be possible, they must share a common logical form. But this logical form is, of course, not in the world and so cannot itself be pictured in language. Similarly, moral values and the relation of the self to the world are not states of affairs which can be pictured in language. These are metaphysical matters about which nothing meaningful can be said and about which one must be silent. Wittgenstein's early work was often misunderstood as sympathetic to the anti-metaphysical verificationism of the Vienna Circle. However, unlike the adherents of that school, Wittgenstein acknowledged the depth and seriousness of metaphysical questions, whilst denying their answerability.
Wittgenstein's later philosophy emerged piecemeal, in notebooks written during the 1930s and 1940s, and in his lecture-courses at Cambridge during the same period. It took the form of a devastating critique of the very view of language and meaning to which his earlier philosophy had been committed. The major source for this later philosophy is the Philosophical Investigations (published posthumously in 1953).
This work begins with descriptions of a series of imaginary ‘language-games’ in the course of which Wittgenstein tries to dispel the powerful temptation to think that there must be some single underlying essence of all language, that this essence consists in some relation of representation of the world, and that words function primarily or exclusively through naming. As described by Wittgenstein, language-games are rule-governed human practices, in which the meaning of utterances is given by the part they play in the context of the practice. Generally, the meaning of a word or sentence is its use in such a practice, and so meanings can be as diverse as the practices and purposes to which humans may put them. Similarly, the rules governing language use are not somehow fixed for all time by a definition or logical formula, but are established by social practice itself. To give the meaning of a word is to describe the practices in which it is used, to consider how it is learned, and under what circumstances misuse of the word can be corrected.
This, in turn, forms the basis of one of Wittgenstein's most influential and controversial arguments. If meaning depends on use, and use is itself established only in the context of a human practice in which misuse can be detected and corrected, then there can be no such thing as a logically private language. The important consequence of this is that a whole range of pervasive ways of thinking about the language in which we talk about our inner, subjective life have to be rejected. Indeed, widely held images of language itself as an external expression of our inner thoughts are exposed as radically misleading. Wittgenstein insists that if the language in which we talk about our thoughts, dreams, imaginings, sensations, and so on is meaningful at all, then it can only be so in virtue of there being some publicly accessible way of learning how to use it correctly, correct misuses, and so on. As he puts it, an inner process stands in need of an outer ‘criterion’.
Wittgenstein has been widely misrepresented as a kind of behaviourist, but far from denying that we do have an inner life or even that we can meaningfully talk about it, he rather offers a powerful account of what makes it possible for us to do so. The possibility for practices of talking about subjective life to become established, and to be learned by children, is grounded in a repertoire of natural expressions of pain, pleasure, distaste, and so forth, which can reliably and consensually be recognized in the course of living a common ‘form of life’. Here, interpretations of Wittgenstein diverge. Is a shared form of life a common natural history, such as might define and distinguish species (Wittgenstein's writings contain often amusing references to the psychological capacities of dogs, or lions), or does it designate the culture of a people, as in anthropology? The latter interpretation takes some of its followers in the direction of culturally relative views on language, meaning, and rationality. The former interpretation would be consistent with a more naturalistic approach which linked the possibilities of human social and cultural life with certain facts of the natural history of the species.
Wittgenstein's later philosophy has been profoundly influential across the whole spectrum of humanities and social sciences. His account of meaning in terms of rule-governed social practice provided an important means for bringing philosophy and the social sciences back into communication with one another, and offered a powerful challenge to positivistic forms of social science methodology. It is also arguable that in his rejection of essentialism, his displacement of representation as the core image for thinking about linguistic meaning, and in his way of treating human subjectivity, Wittgenstein anticipated some key themes of post-modernism.
For a good short introduction to his work see A. C. Grayling , Wittgenstein (1988
After making important contributions to logic and the foundations of mathematics, the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) moved away from formalism to an investigation of the logic of informal language.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in Vienna on April 26, 1889, the last of eight children in a wealthy and highly cultured family. He was educated at home, particularly in music, which both parents pursued, and raised as a Catholic. At the age of 14, having shown a talent for mechanics, Ludwig was sent to a school in Linz that emphasized mathematics and physical sciences. Three years later he entered the Hochschule in Berlin to pursue a course in mechanical engineering. Becoming dissatisfied, Wittgenstein moved to England, where he did experimental work in aeronautics and eventually registered as a research student in engineering at the University of Manchester.
In 1912 Wittgenstein read Bertrand Russell's Principles of Mathematics and became fascinated with the question of the foundation of mathematics. Immediately he applied to enter Trinity College, Cambridge, where Russell lectured. Wittgenstein made rapid progress in his studies of logic and mathematics at Cambridge, but within two years his restless temperament moved him on again, this time to a solitary life in a primitive hut in Norway. Several times in his life Wittgenstein responded to an underlying passion for a simple and authentic life, what he called "purity," by abandoning academic society for a hermit's existence.
On the outbreak of World War I, Wittgenstein returned to Austria and saw service on the Eastern front and later in the Tirol, where he was taken prisoner by the Italians. From his prison camp he was able to send Russell the draft of the only book published in his lifetime. After years of discussion and disagreement, the work was finally published in 1922 under the title Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. At the time Wittgenstein regarded it as his definitive contribution to philosophy.
After the war, having been profoundly influenced by reading Leo Tolstoy on the Gospels, Wittgenstein gave away his considerable fortune and became a school-teacher in an Austrian village. For years he resisted the overtures of the group of philosophers known as the Vienna Circle, who were excited by his book, and turned down the invitations of Cambridge friends. Finally, in 1929, he returned to Cambridge as a lecturer and resumed his work in philosophy. His classes there were always small seminars of about 20 students who had passed Wittgenstein's stringent requirements of seriousness and dedication. He refused to take part in the social amenities of a don's life.
In the Tractatus Wittgenstein had stated that all positive inquiry falls into the domain of one of the sciences and had relegated philosophy to the clarification of what can meaningfully be said. He believed he had set final limits to the expressible and exposed the remainder as either nonsense or inexpressible. Now he began to doubt the finality of these results. He became more sensitive to the importance of shifting contexts in meaningful expression. He now thought it mistaken to search for invariant forms or rules of expression. Sentences are meaningful within the rules of a particular "language game," but each game is nothing more than a part of language, and the various parts do not share a common essence but only a "family resemblance." In analyses of great subtlety, rich with vivid metaphors and striking examples, Wittgenstein led his students on a search for the implicit rules in various language games, without claiming that everything involved in the communication of meaning can be made explicit—and without claiming that any a priori limits can be set on linguistic inventiveness. Some of this work was published posthumously as Philosophical Investigations (1952), and since then his students have issued a steady stream of selections from his notebooks.
Wittgenstein's teaching was interrupted by World War II, during which he insisted on doing menial work in a hospital laboratory. Thereafter he became increasingly dissatisfied with academic philosophy and in 1947 resigned the chair which he had assumed, after G. E. Moore, in 1940. Again he sought seclusion on the Irish coast and in Norway. He visited his family in Vienna and spent three months in the United States. Meanwhile his health had deteriorated, and it was discovered that he had cancer. He died in the home of his Cambridge physician on April 29, 1951.
Wittgenstein had unusual gifts in architecture, sculpture, and music, besides his talents for engineering and philosophy. He was a charismatic teacher and yet was fearful of making disciples. Although melancholy and depressive all his life, he radiated strength and authority. Always longing for solitude, he had many friends and, like Socrates, influenced most by personal contact. He repudiated academic philosophy, but he remains a decisive force in English and American universities.
A convenient place to begin a study of Wittgenstein is the anthology edited by K. T. Fann, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy (1967). This contains a number of memoirs by his friends, critical essays on his work, and a good bibliography. Two full-length studies of Wittgenstein are Justus Hartnack, Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy (1960; trans. 1965), and George Pitcher, The Philosophy of Wittgenstein (1964). The short biographical essay by a former student, Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (1958), is a moving tribute. A definitive biography is being prepared by B. F. McGuinness. For background information see John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy (1957; rev. ed. 1966).
Ludwig Wittgenstein, personal recollections, Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981.
McGuinness, Brian, Wittgenstein, a life: young Ludwig, 1889-1921, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
Monk, Ray, Ludwig Wittgenstein: the duty of genius, New York: Free Press: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1990.
Austrian philosopher who exerted considerable influence on both logical positivism and linguistic analysis, although he was an adherent of neither; b. Vienna, April 26, 1889; d. Cambridge, England, April 29, 1951.
Life. Wittgenstein's family was rich and cultured, Jewish by descent, Christian by religion. Educated privately and at a Realschule in Linz, he studied engineering at Charlottenburg and aeronautics at Manchester. Becoming interested in the foundations of mathematics, he had discussions with G. Frege and frequent and mutually profitable contact (1912–14) with B. russell. His war service did not interrupt his work, and he completed his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in an Italian prison camp in 1919. Giving away his money, he worked as a gardener, a village schoolmaster, and an architect. Returning to Cambridge in 1929, he soon became the chief philosophical influence there, though he usually repudiated the forms in which his new ideas were propagated. During World War II he did medical work and delayed his assumption of a Cambridge professorship. Ill health forced him to retire early, but he continued his writing. A man of fierce integrity, demanding much from his friends and even more from himself, he did not practice religion but respected it and felt contempt for any facile rejection of it.
Teaching. The Tractatus attempted to solve all the problems of philosophy with the help of logic, which shows the features that language (and hence any describable world) must possess. Propositions are not names for complexes (which would have to exist for the propositions to have sense) but are, like pictures, self-explanatory. The world must therefore consist of atomic states of affairs composed of indestructible elements designated by proper names. Any informative proposition depends for its truth on the truth of elementary propositions consisting of such names. (This was argued a priori: no such propositions could be produced.) Logical propositions, being unconditionally true, are not genuine propositions; nor are ethical or metaphysical propositions, since they are not truth–functions of elementary propositions. Indeed, his own propositions, since they describe the relation of language to the world, are an attempt to say what can only be shown and form some sort of ladder that one must kick down once he has climbed up it. Apart from natural science, all that is left is the inexpressible mystical feeling of the world as a whole, a world that, as it were, expands and contracts for the happy and the unhappy man: this feeling owed much to L. N. tolstoi and A. schopenhauer. Wittgenstein rejected the axiomatic method of the Principia Mathematica: all the propositions of logic are equally self-evident. Any axioms that are not self-evident must be dropped. The theory of types, since it involves attributing a type to symbols, is either a redundant or a nonsensical project.
Wittgenstein's canonization of natural science was welcomed by the Viennese logical positivists, but most of them rejected the book's professed inexpressibility and its mysticism. In later conversations with M. Schlick and F. Watsmann, Wittgenstein formulated the principle that the sense of a proposition was the method of its verification, but he subsequently denied that he had held a general theory of this kind.
In his later work, published posthumously, Wittgenstein saw linguistic activities as essentially part of a way of life. For most purposes the meaning of a word is the role that it plays in life. Being the name of something is only one such role, and a more complicated role than the Tractatus assumed, requiring some background such as a practice of manipulating things when their names are called. To investigate a concept Wittgenstein constructed "language games,"—i.e., fragmentary languages and customs embodying primitive forms of it. Games indeed exhibit an enormous variety (parallel to the multiplicity of operations possible with language): there is no one feature common to them all; at best they have a "family resemblance." The notion of following a rule (as in a game) also fascinated him: nothing dictates the next step of a man following a rule; yet in fact men agree in their interpretations of rules. Hence Wittgenstein's view of mathematics: each step in a calculation or proof involves a fresh decision.
In the philosophy of mind, Wittgenstein rejected the idea that man's sensations are inner objects fully known only to himself. Reports of sensations are not the naming of such objects: their role is more akin to that of spontaneous evincings of sensations. The aim of philosophy is still the dissolution of problems, but Wittgenstein ceased to believe in a permanent exorcism. Some Catholic philosophers, such as A. J. Kenny, have seen his work as a liberation from Cartesian prejudices.
Bibliography: Works. Tractatus logico–philosophicus (New York 1922), Ger. and Eng. (New York 1961), Ger. with new Eng. tr. d. f. pears and b. f. mcguinness; Philosophical Investigations, tr. g. e. m. anscombe (2d ed. Oxford 1958), Ger. and Eng.; Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, ed. g. h. von wright et al., tr. g. e. m. anscombe (New York 1956), Ger. and Eng. Studies. g. p. pitcher, The Philosophy of Wittgenstein (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1964). m. black, A Companion to Wittgenstein's Tractatus (Ithaca, N.Y. 1964). n. malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein, A Memoir (New York 1958), with a biog. sketch by g. h. von wright. a. kenny, "Aquinas and Wittgenstein," Downside Review 77 (1959) 217–235.
[b. f. mcguinness]
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.
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).
Wittgenstein's later philosophy took a different direction from that of the Tractatus, and was critical of it in many respects. But in both cases he was concerned with the relation between language and the world. The Tractatus sees meaningful language as ultimately analysable into basic propositions, which picture the world. Since ethics, aesthetics, and religious language do not picture anything, they are relegated to the realm of the mystical and inexpressible. In his later work, however, Wittgenstein disclaimed any attempt to give a unitary account of the nature of language. Instead, he saw language as composed of many different ‘language-games’, a term used to indicate that uses of language are rule-governed and go with activities and practices; he also compared language to a set of tools, each having its own use.
Wittgenstein wrote little about religion as such, though interesting observations about it are scattered throughout his works. In 1938 he gave some lectures on religious belief, in which he presented the distinctiveness of such beliefs as lying in the ways in which they express certain reactions and regulate our lives.
It is Wittgenstein's later philosophy in general, however, that has had more influence on the philosophy of religion and theology than his few writings on religion as such. Whereas the Logical Positivists (who were much influenced by the Tractatus, though it can be argued that they misunderstood it) dismissed religious language as meaningless because unverifiable in empirical terms, Wittgenstein's later philosophy seemed to offer a more tolerant approach which would permit the inclusion of religious language amongst meaningful uses of language. For religious language-games are just as much parts of human life as other uses of language, and indeed Wittgenstein includes ‘praying’ in his list of common language-games, in Philosophical Investigations § 23; and there is no superior vantage point from which this, or any, language can be assessed.
If this account is correct, the philosophy of religion and much theology should be concerned more with coming to understand the distinctive nature of religious beliefs and practices, through a perspicuous description and analysis of them, than with shoring them up with intellectual defences. We are, however, left with the questions of what kind of truth religion and theology might have, and how it is discerned.