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Wittgenstein, Ludwig


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 (191214) 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 truthfunctions 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 logicophilosophicus (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) 217235.

[b. f. mcguinness]

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