March 19, 2012
Ludwig Wittgenstein is considered by many to be one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, particularly in the philosophy of logic and language. His philosophical career is divided into 2 distinct eras: the early and the later Wittgenstein, where he wrote his 2 most influential works, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations respectively. Born in Vienna, Austria into a wealthy industrial family, Wittgenstein desired to become an aeronaut. In 1908 he began his studies at Manchester University in the United Kingdom, but his courses in the pure philosophy of mathematics sparked an interest in him for philosophy, which in turn lead him to Gottlob Frege. Gottlob Frege, considered to be one of the founders of modern logic, was a German mathematician and philosopher who worked in the area of analytic philosophy, particularly the philosophy of language and mathematics. He encouraged Wittgenstein to attend Cambridge and study under Bertrand Russell. Wittgenstein entered Trinity College, Cambridge on February 1, 1912 as an undergraduate student; however, by June the degree committee recommended him as an advanced student and asked Bertrand Russell to supervise his studies. He studied logic and the philosophy of numbers under Russell and G. E. Moore, who both later commented that getting to know Wittgenstein was one of the most exciting and intellectual adventures of their lives. The story is told that Russell asked Moore if he thought Wittgenstein to be a genius or a crank, to which he replied; “A genius. Russell asked why…. Moore replied: ‘Because he’s the only man who looks puzzled at my lectures!’” Wittgenstein developed a very close relationship with Russell and, before long, was discussing philosophy with him, Moore and John Maynard Keynes as equals. At the end of his first semester, Russell felt he had taught him all he had to teach, and stated; “I love him [and] feel he will solve the problems I am too old to solve …. He is the young man one hopes for.” For several months in 1913, Wittgenstein traveled to Norway in seclusion in order to contemplate the philosophical problems he had been studying, afterward returning to Austria. In 1914, the beginning of World War I, he joined the Austrian army where he was decorated on a number of occasions for bravery, before being captured and imprisoned in Italy. During his military service, he continued to record his thoughts in a notebook, which would become the foundation for his first publication, Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, published in 1922 with the English translation as Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. After publishing this book, Wittgenstein, believing he had solved all philosophical problems, retreated from philosophy. He spent the next decade pursuing gardening, architecture, and teaching (high school), among other things, until 1929 when he returned to Trinity College, Cambridge. There he remained, having been elected to a fellowship, developing ideas for a second book, Philosophical Investigations, until his death in 1951.
Early Thought: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
“What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.” This sentence in the “Preface” of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (hereafter, TLP), is what Wittgenstein states is the whole sense of the book summed up. Falling in line with Wittgenstein’s idiosyncratic personality, TLP was not written as other books using chapters, but as a series of numbered propositions and sub-propositions. In addition, Wittgenstein stated from the outset that he would not be referring to other philosophers, remarking: Indeed, what I have written here makes no claim to novelty in detail, and the reason why I give no sources is that it is a matter of indifference to me whether the thoughts that I have had...