Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Wittgenstein, Ludwig (Josef Johan) (1889–1951)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (the last name is pronounced starting with a v: 'vɪtgənʃtaɪn), the leading analytical philosopher of the twentieth century, is regarded by some as the most important since Immanuel Kant. His early work was influenced by that of Arthur Schopenhauer and, especially, by his teacher Bertrand Russell and by Gottlob Frege, who became something of a friend.

This work culminated in the Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus, the only philosophy book that Wittgenstein published during his lifetime. It claimed to solve all the major problems of philosophy and was held in especially high esteem by the anti-metaphysical logical positivists. The Tractacus is based on the idea that philosophical problems arise from misunderstandings of the logic of language, and it tries to show what this logic is. Wittgenstein's later work, principally his Philosophical Investigations, which was published two years after his death, shares this concern with logic and language but takes a different, less technical, approach to philosophical problems. This book helped to inspire so-called ordinary language philosophy. This style of doing philosophy has fallen somewhat out of favor, but Wittgenstein's work on rule-following and private language is still considered important, and his later philosophy is influential in a growing number of fields outside philosophy.

The Early Years

His father Karl Wittgenstein's parents were born Jewish but converted to Protestantism. His mother Leopoldine (nee Kalmus) was Catholic, but her father was of Jewish descent. Wittgenstein himself was baptized in a Catholic church, although between baptism and burial he was neither a practicing nor a believing Catholic.

The Wittgenstein family was large and wealthy. Karl Wittgenstein was one of the most successful businessmen in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, leading the iron and steel industry there. The Wittgensteins' home attracted people of culture, especially musicians, including the composer Johannes Brahms, who was a friend of the family. Music remained important to Wittgenstein throughout his life. So did darker matters. Ludwig was the youngest of eight children, and of his four brothers, three committed suicide.

As for his career, Wittgenstein studied mechanical engineering in Berlin and in 1908 went to Manchester, England to do research in aeronautics, experimenting with kites. His interest in engineering led to an interest in mathematics which in turn got him thinking about philosophical questions about the foundations of mathematics. He visited the mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), who recommended that he study with Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) in Cambridge. At Cambridge Wittgenstein greatly impressed Russell and G.E. Moore (1873- 1958), and began work on logic.

When his father died in 1913 Wittgenstein inherited a fortune, which he quickly gave away. When war broke out the next year, he volunteered for the Austrian army. He continued his philosophical work and won several medals for bravery during the war. The result of his thinking on logic was the Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus. Having thus, in his opinion, solved all the problems of philosophy, Wittgenstein became an elementary school teacher in rural Austria, where his approach was strict and unpopular, but apparently effective. He spent 1926-28 meticulously designing and building an austere house in Vienna for his sister Gretl.

In 1929 he returned to Cambridge to teach at Trinity College, recognizing that in fact he had more work to do in philosophy. He became professor of philosophy at Cambridge in 1939. During World War II he worked as a hospital porter in London and as a research technician in Newcastle. After the war he returned to university teaching but resigned his professorship in 1947 to concentrate on writing. Much of this he did in Ireland, preferring isolated rural places for his work. By 1949 he had written all the material that was published after his death as Philosophical Investigations, arguably his most important work.

His Interests

The House in Vienna designed by Wittgenstein and P. Engelmann for Margarethe

An unworldly man, Wittgenstein was the son of a millionaire steel industrialist and the sister of Margaret Stonborough, both individuals of culture and conviction. His sister had helped to arrange Freud’s escape to England in 1938, and his father (Karl) took his violin with him on business trips and counted Brahms, Mahler, and Bruno Walter among his house guests.

Wittgenstein attended Cambridge. While in England for aeronautical research, he designed a jet engine, concentrating on propellers - the mathematics needed for such led him to the foundations of mathematics, followed by his meeting Bertrand Russell. Although it was said that Russell could not make a cup of tea, Wittgenstein could and did build a house. The young Austrian also lived to hear Russell admit that much of his and Alfred North Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica was in error, made so because in Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein in somewhat revolutionary fashion had demonstrated that logical truths are merely tautologous.

His Views

Wittgenstein differed from the other logical positivists that he meet in that he allowed for a metaphysics. Although he did not believe in God or any metaphysical system, he is said by Paul Edwards to have had a strong mystical streak in him, that “Emotionally he was much closer to such gloomy Christian believers as Blaise Pascal and Sören Kierkegaard than to the thinkers of the Enlightenment revered by the Vienna Circle.” His work greatly influenced the Vienna Circle of logical positivists.

“A proposition,” Wittgenstein held, “is a picture of reality. A proposition is a model of reality as we think it to be.” Language, thought, and the world are inter-related. Language can posit things which do not exist (which is where metaphysics comes in). Sentences, which can be formulated to state nonsense, can still result in philosophical insights.

Bertrand Russell thought that Wittgenstein somewhat resembled Pascal, the mathematician of genius who “abandoned mathematics for piety,” and Leo Tolstoy, who “sacrificed his genius as a writer to a kind of bogus humility which made him prefer peasants to educated men and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to all other works of fiction.” Russell admired Tractacus but not his later work, which seemed to involve an abnegation of his own best talent very similar to those of Pascal and Tolstoy. He was aware that Wittgenstein’s followers set forth a number of arguments against his views but remarked,

  • I have been unable, in spite of serious efforts, to see any validity in their criticisms of me.

Further supporting his view, Russell wrote,

  • There had been two views about empirical statements: one, that they were justified by some relation to facts; the other, that they were justified by conformity to syntactical rules. But the adherents of Wittgenstein’s philosophical Investigations do not bother with any kind of justification, and thus secure for language an untrammeled freedom which it has never hitherto enjoyed. The desire to understand the world is, they think, an outdated folly. This is my most fundamental point of disagreement with them.

Wittgenstein and Karl Popper differed greatly in their outlooks. Popper thought scientific theories can be proved false but cannot be proved true, that genuine philosophical problems exist; Wittgenstein, on the other hand, argued that puzzles caused by language’s imprecision exist, not genuine philosophical problems, that the puzzles could be “dissolved” through a better understanding of language.

In 1937 at Cambridge, Wittgenstein succeeded G. E. Moore in the chair of philosophy, retiring in 1947.

A Review of The House of Wittgenstein

Alexander Waugh's The House of Wittgenstein (Doubleday, 2009) was reviewed by Jim Holt, whose history of "the morbid, musical, quarrelsome, brilliant Wittgensteins" includes the following:

“A tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses,” a wag once observed. Well, when it comes to dysfunction, the Wittgensteins of Vienna could give the Oedipuses a run for their money. The tyrannical family patriarch was Karl Wittgenstein (1847-1913), a steel, banking and arms magnate. He and his timorous wife, Leopoldine, brought nine children into the world. Of the five boys, three certainly or probably committed suicide and two were plagued by suicidal impulses throughout their lives. Of the three daughters who survived into adulthood, two got married; both husbands ended up insane and one died by his own hand. Even by the morbid standards of late Hapsburg Vienna these are impressive numbers. But tense and peculiar as the Wittgensteins were, the family also had a strain of genius. Of the two sons who didn’t kill themselves, one, Paul (1887-1961), managed to become an internationally celebrated concert pianist despite the loss of his right arm in World War I. The other, Ludwig (1889-1951), was the greatest philosopher of the 20th century.
Who better to chronicle such a clan than Alexander Waugh, himself the scion of a distinguished and colorful family? In his previous book, Fathers and Sons, Waugh wrote with a fine comic touch about his grandfather Evelyn and his father, Auberon. Here he moves from a farcical to a tragic vein. Yet the Wittgensteins, for all their Sturm und Drang, can be as funny as the Waughs. We are told, for example, that the first spoken word of one of the Wittgenstein boys was “Oedipus.”
It was apparently not enough of a respite for the eldest son, Hans, who fled the household and disappeared into America, where he ended his life under mysterious circumstances, possibly by drowning himself in Lake Okeechobee. Nor was it enough for his brother Rudi, a closeted homo sexual (like Hans), who killed himself by drinking a cyanide-laced glass of milk at a restaurant bar in Berlin. The only Wittgenstein brother who came close to having a sunny disposition, Kurt, shot himself in the head on the battlefield, perhaps to avoid being taken prisoner, while fighting for the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in World War I
That leaves the two youngest sons. Paul, who made his debut as a concert pianist on the eve of the war (the conductor, to be sure, went on to commit suicide), showed great bravery as an Austrian soldier. After a bullet shattered his right elbow, the arm was amputated and he was taken prisoner by the Russians. Yet he was determined to stick with his pianistic career. Confined to the invalid ward of a Siberian P.O.W. camp under the most miserable of conditions, Paul set about solving a puzzle: how could a single hand play both melody and accompaniment? Obsessively tapping out a memorized Chopin piece with his freezing fingers on a wooden box and imagining the music, he began to develop an ingenious bag of tricks that would fool even the sharpest ear. “His most far-reaching innovation,” Waugh writes, “was a combined pedaling and hand-movement technique that allowed him to sound chords that were strictly impossible for a five-fingered pianist to play.”
As for Ludwig, the baby of the family, he seems to have had a sense of his genius from an early age. After finishing high school (where one of his classmates was Adolf Hitler), he decided to find a fellow genius who might serve as his mentor. His first choice was the great physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, but Boltzmann hanged himself before Wittgenstein could meet him. In 1911, Wittgenstein sought out Bertrand Russell in Cambridge. Russell was initially wary of the strange (and startlingly handsome) young Viennese, who would show up in his rooms late at night to stutter out philosophical monologues, pacing “like a caged tiger” and threatening to kill himself if Russell turned him out. Before long, though, the older philosopher succumbed, writing to his mistress, Lady Ottoline Morrell, that Wittgenstein “has pure intellectual passion in the highest degree; it makes me love him.” Returning to Vienna, Wittgenstein volunteered for the Austrian Army in World War I, insisting, out of spiritual motives, that he be assigned to the most dangerous missions. It was during the war that he produced his first philosophical work (the only one to be published in his lifetime), the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which opens with the arresting proposition, “The world is all that is the case.”

Holt's main criticism is "Waugh's glancing treatment of Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophical work. He dismisses it as “incomprehensible” and attributes Wittgenstein’s influence to his “striking looks, manner and extraordinarily persuasive personality.” His view of Wittgenstein is substantially the same as the one taken in Derek Jarman’s 1993 film, “Wittgenstein,” to which Terry Eagleton contributed the script.

Anthony Gottlieb in The New Yorker, describes Waugh's book as helpfully explaining that

. . . the family of Karl Wittgenstein, who was one of Austria’s richest men when he died, in 1913, may deserve some gloomy sort of prize, the Palm of Atreus, perhaps. His youngest child, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, once asked a pupil if he had ever had any tragedies in his life. The pupil, evidently well trained, inquired what he meant by “tragedy.” “I mean suicides, madness, or quarrels,” replied Ludwig, three of whose four brothers committed suicide, two of them (Rudi and Hans) in their early twenties, and the third (Kurt) at the age of forty. Ludwig often thought of doing so, as did his surviving brother, Paul. A budding concert pianist when he lost his right arm to a Russian bullet, in 1914, Paul was imprisoned for a time in the infamous Siberian fortress where Dostoyevsky had set his novel The House of the Dead. Ludwig later claimed to have first entertained thoughts of suicide at around the age of ten, before any of his brothers had died. There were three sisters: Gretl, Helene, and Hermine. Hermine, the eldest child (she was born in 1874; Ludwig, the youngest, arrived fifteen years later), and the guardian of her father’s flame, never married. Helene was highly neurotic, and had a husband who suffered from dementia. Gretl was regarded as irritating by most people, including her unpleasant husband, who committed suicide, as did his father and one of his aunts. Bad temper and extreme nervous tension were endemic in the family. One day, when Paul was practicing at one of the seven grand pianos in their winter home, the Palais Wittgenstein, he leaped up and shouted at his brother Ludwig in the room next door, “I cannot play when you are in the house, as I feel your skepticism seeping towards me from under the door!”
All of this was before the Nazis got to work. The Wittgenstein children were brought up as Christians, but they counted as full Jews under the Nuremberg racial laws because three of their grandparents had been born Jewish and did not convert to Christianity until they reached adulthood. (The fourth, their maternal grandmother, had no Jewish ancestry.) After Germany annexed Austria, in 1938, the family money bought the lives of the three sisters—Paul had escaped, and Ludwig was safe in England—but at the cost of estranging several of the surviving siblings from one another. A few days before the invasion of Poland, in 1939, Hitler found the time to issue an order granting half-breed status to the Wittgenstein children, on the pretext that their paternal grandfather had been the bastard son of a German prince. Nobody believed this tale, but the arrangement enabled the German Reichsbank to claim all the gold and much of the foreign currency and stocks held in Switzerland by a Wittgenstein trust. The negotiations for this exchange seem to have involved a secret pact in which Gretl and Hermine sided with Nazi officials against Paul. After the war, Paul performed with his single hand at a concert in Vienna but did not visit Hermine, who was dying there; Ludwig and Paul had no contact after 1939; nor did Paul and Gretl. This was not a happy family.

The Tractacus

One source, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, describes the Tractacus as not being about ethics.

Rather, it consists of numbered propositions in seven sets. Proposition 1.2 belongs to the first set and is a comment on proposition 1. Proposition 1.21 is about proposition 1.2, and so on. The seventh set contains only one proposition, the famous "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."
Some important and representative propositions from the book are these:
1 The world is all that is the case.
4.01 A proposition is a picture of reality.
4.0312 ...My fundamental idea is that the 'logical constants' are not representatives; that there can be no representatives of the logic of facts.
4.121 ...Propositions show the logical form of reality. They display it.
4.1212 What can be shown, cannot be said.
4.5 ...The general form of a proposition is: This is how things stand.
5.43 ...all the propositions of logic say the same thing, to wit nothing.
5.4711 To give the essence of a proposition means to give the essence of all description, and thus the essence of the world.
5.6 The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
Here and elsewhere in the Tractacus Wittgenstein seems to be saying that the essence of the world and of life is: This is how things are. One is tempted to add " - deal with it." That seems to fit what Cora Diamond has called his "accept and endure" ethics, but he says that the propositions of the Tractacus are meaningless, not profound insights, ethical or otherwise. What are we to make of this?
Many commentators ignore or dismiss what Wittgenstein said about his work and its aims, and instead look for regular philosophical theories in his work. The most famous of these in the Tractacus is the "picture theory" of meaning. According to this theory propositions are meaningful insofar as they picture states of affairs or matters of empirical fact. Anything normative, supernatural or (one might say) metaphysical must, it therefore seems, be nonsense. This has been an influential reading of parts of the Tractacus. Unfortunately, this reading leads to serious problems since by its own lights the Tractacus use of words like "object," "reality" and "world" is illegitimate. These concepts are purely formal or a priori. A statement such as "There are objects in the world" does not picture a state of affairs. Rather it is, as it were, presupposed by the notion of a state of affairs. The "picture theory" therefore denies sense to just the kind of statements of which the Tractacus is composed, to the framework supporting the picture theory itself. In this way the Tractacus pulls the rug out from under its own feet.
If the propositions of the Tractacus are nonsensical then they surely cannot put forward the picture theory of meaning, or any other theory. Nonsense is nonsense. However, this is not to say that the Tractacus itself is without value. Wittgenstein's aim seems to have been to show up as nonsense the things that philosophers (himself included) are tempted to say. Philosophical theories, he suggests, are attempts to answer questions that are not really questions at all (they are nonsense), or to solve problems that are not really problems. He says in proposition 4.003 that:
Most of the propositions and questions of philosophers arise from our failure to understand the logic of our language. (They belong to the same class as the question whether the good is more or less identical than the beautiful.) And it is not surprising that the deepest problems are in fact not problems at all.
Philosophers, then, have the task of presenting the logic of our language clearly. This will not solve important problems but it will show that some things that we take to be important problems are really not problems at all. The gain is not wisdom but an absence of confusion. This is not a rejection of philosophy or logic. Wittgenstein took philosophical puzzlement very seriously indeed, but he thought that it needed dissolving by analysis rather than solving by the production of theories. The Tractacus presents itself as a key for untying a series of knots both profound and highly technical.

Ethics and Religion

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy points out Wittgenstein's being a kind of Anti-Realist, one who

  • opposed interpretations of religion that emphasize doctrine or philosophical arguments intended to prove God's existence, but was greatly drawn to religious rituals and symbols, and considered becoming a priest. He likened the ritual of religion to a great gesture, as when one kisses a photograph. This is not based on the false belief that the person in the photograph will feel the kiss or return it, nor is it based on any other belief. Neither is the kiss just a substitute for a particular phrase, like "I love you." Like the kiss, religious activity does express an attitude, but it is not just the expression of an attitude in the sense that several other forms of expression might do just as well. There might be no substitute that would do. The same might be said of the whole language-game (or games) of religion, but this is a controversial point. If religious utterances, such as "God exists," are treated as gestures of a certain kind then this seems not to be treating them as literal statements. Many religious believers, including Wittgensteinian ones, would object strongly to this. There is room, though, for a good deal of sophisticated disagreement about what it means to take a statement literally. For instance, Charles Taylor's view, roughly, is that the real is whatever will not go away. If we cannot reduce talk about God to anything else, or replace it, or prove it false, then perhaps God is as real as anything else.

That same source surveys Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy, meaning, rules, private language, realism and anti-realism, certainty, and continuity, concluding that his place in history is obvious:

  • Wittgenstein influenced twentieth century philosophy enormously. The Vienna Circle logical positivists were greatly impressed by what they found in the Tractacus, especially the idea that logic and mathematics are analytic, the verifiability principle and the idea that philosophy is an activity aimed at clarification, not the discovery of facts. Wittgenstein, though, said that it was what is not in the Tractacus that matters most.
  • The other group of philosophers most obviously indebted to Wittgenstein is the ordinary language or Oxford school of thought. These thinkers were more interested in Wittgenstein's later work and its attention to grammar.
  • Wittgenstein is thus a doubly key figure in the development and history of analytic philosophy, but he has become rather unfashionable because of his anti-theoretical, anti- scientism stance, because of the difficulty of his work, and perhaps also because he has been little understood. Similarities between Wittgenstein's work and that of Derrida are now generating interest among continental philosophers, and Wittgenstein may yet prove to be a driving force behind the emerging post-analytic school of philosophy.

His Impact

How Wittgenstein influenced and changed the history of philosophy is detailed by P. M. S. Hacker in Wittgenstein’s Place in Twentieth Century Analytic Philosophy (1996). Described are the origins of analytic philosophy, Wittgenstein’s achievements in the Tractacus, the impact of that work on the Vienna Circle, Cambridge, and Oxford during the inter-war years, the achievement of his Philosophical Investigations, his impact on post-war philosophy, post-positivism in the United States, and the decline in analytical philosophy. John Shosky of American University evaluates the Hacker book as being a consummate study of Wittgenstein, one that is better than other similar works by Anscombe, Malcolm, Pitcher, Hintikka, Fogelin, Kripke, Pears, and Genova.

Paul Wijdeveld’s Ludwig Wittgenstein, Architect (1994) describes Kundmanngasse, a house in Vienna which he designed and built for his sister, Margaret, and which now is the Bulgarian Cultural Institute. Though not an architect, Wittgenstein rethought and refined preliminary plans made by Paul Engelman, an architect. “Ludwig,” wrote his sister, “designed every window and door, every window lock and radiator, with as much care and attention to detail as if they were precision instruments.” Critic Adele Freedman has written, “(Wittgenstein) allowed no baseboards, mouldings, exotic woods, carpets, curtains, built-ins, or chandeliers. Walls and ceilings are finished in fine white plaster; floor slabs are of lustrous artificial stone called xylolite; doors and windows are greyish green painted steel; lighting is courtesy of naked lightbulbs. Rhythm and proportion were all, necessitating craftsmanship of the utmost precision. Wittgenstein’s final act before handing the house over for occupancy was to have the ceiling of the salon pulled down and rebuilt three centimetres higher. ‘Nothing was unimportant,’ wrote (his sister) Hermine, ‘except time and money.’ ”

The False Allegation of Wittgenstein's Conversion to Catholicism

C. D. Broad, reviewing Norman Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, wrote in Universities Quarterly about how Georg Henrik von Wright's accompany 22-page sketch in the book is definitive by helping right some of the many wrongs about Wittgenstein. For example, he states that the allegation that Wittgenstein received in articulo mortis into the Roman Catholic Church at the time of his death is entirely false:

  • As there is a legend that Wittgenstein was received in articulo mortis into the Roman Catholic Church, and as that legend is false, I take this opportunity to state, on the authority and with the permission of Dr. Bevan, in whose house Wittgenstein died, the relevant facts. I will premise by saying that, in view of the fact that Wittgenstein came of a family who were converts from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, that he was himself baptized in that religion, and that on more than one occasion he had seriously considered entering a monastic order, there would have been nothing surprising if he had (like Talleyrand) reverted to Roman Catholicism on his death-bed. The actual facts, as stated by Dr. Bevan, are these.
Roman Church. One of them had a friend, a Dominican monk, whom Wittgenstein had known and liked. When Wittgenstein lay dying it was decided, after some discussion among his assembled friends, that this Dominican should say the prayers for the dying in his room. After the death the question arose whether there should be any religious service in connection with the burial in St. Giles' cemetery in Cambridge. One of his friends recalled that Wittgenstein had once told him, with strong expressions of approval, that Tolstoy (though not an orthodox believer) had, on the death of his brother, instructed the village priest to say the usual prayers at the graveside. It was thereupon agreed that the Dominican should be asked to say some prayers at Wittgenstein's funeral, and this was accordingly done. It appears from several statements in the book under review that, although Wittgenstein had a profound admiration for St. Augustine and his works, his own leanings were less towards Catholic orthodoxy than to certain of the more extreme forms of Christian heresy, as expressed, e.g., by Tolstoy and by Kierkegaard.

His Homosexuality

Wittgenstein and Francis Skinner in Cambridge

Upon Wittgenstein’s death in 1951, his executor complained about revealing some aspects of Wittgenstein’s personal life: “There are certain stories which it would be foul to relate or tell about somebody even if they were true.” The executor, however, was unconvincing as to his reasoning, but because of his decision much of the information about Wittgenstein has been successfully kept secret.

In 1973, Stanford scholar W. W. Bartley III published Wittgenstein, which included several pages concerning Wittgenstein’s homosexuality. Many knew that Wittgenstein cruised Vienna looking for “rough young men [who] were ready to cater to him sexually,” that later he lived with a lover in England. But others denied the accusation, and some launched a writing campaign to have Bartley “drummed out” of the international academic community. Francis Skinner is known as one of Wittgenstein's lovers. In 1975, Wittgenstein’s posthumous writings, Philosophical Remarks, were edited by Rush Rhees.

Other of his acquaintances were well aware that Wittgenstein was gay. As described in The Allyson Almanac,

  • In his youth, the handsome Wittgenstein often cruised Vienna for what one biographer calls "rough young men [who] were ready to cater to him sexually"; he later lived with a lover in England. His homosexuality probably had little influence on his philosophical thinking, and his family ad estate did their best to keep it secret. "There are certain stories which it would be foul to relate or tell about somebody even if they were true," complained an executor of his estate after a biographer touched on this aspect of Wittgenstein's life.

Wittgenstein gave away his fortune to his siblings, refused to wear a tie, furnished his rooms with deckchairs, whistled entire concertos, played a clarinet, and wolfed down cream doughnuts while watching John Wayne films, The Economist reported.

Bertrand Russell, who knew Wittgenstein was gay, once hired him as a secretary. Amused by seeing him pace for hours up and down his room in agitated silence, like a wild beast, he asked him, "Are you thinking about logic or your sins?”

“Both,” he replied to Russell, then continued his pacing.

His Last Years

In World War II, he worked in hospitals. He was, however, himself often ill and, upon finding in 1949 that he had cancer, remarked that he was not concerned, that he had “no” wish to live on. Describing his impact, The Economist (17 April 1993) wrote:

  • Monty Python hymned his beer-drinking abilities in a memorable verse. Harper’s & Queen has dubbed him the ‘Elvis of philosophy.’ He has been made the hero of a detective story (‘Philosophical Investigations’) and the subject of many memoirs (including one by the man who delivered peat to his cottage). Poems have been written about him, paintings inspired by him, and, so rumour has it, a West End musical is soon to be devoted to him. Now Derek Jarman has made him the subject of a startlingly cliché-ridden film.

That 1993 movie, Wittgenstein, starred Karl Johnson as Wittgenstein, Michael Gough as Bertrand Russell, John Quentin as John Maynard Keynes, and Tilda Swinton as Lady Ottoline Morrell. In one scene, Jarman has the dying philosopher tell economist John Maynard Keynes (with whom he had once shared a lover), “I’d quite like to have composed a philosophical work that consisted only of jokes.” Asked by Keynes why he had not, Jarman has Wittgenstein reply, in words that define the clever philosopher’s thinking rather than serve as mere fact, “Sadly, I had no sense of humor.”

In 1949, Wittgenstein was diagnosed with cancer. He spent the last two years of his life in Vienna, Oxford, and Cambridge and kept working until he died of prostate cancer in Cambridge in April 1951. His work from these last years has been published as On Certainty. Reportedly, his last words were, "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."


(See Norman Malcolm on Wittgenstein in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 8; and an essay on Wittgenstein by Jules David Law of Northwestern University in The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism [1994])

{CE; EU, Paul Edwards; Lee Eisler, The Quotable Bertrand Russell; Sarah Lyall, The New York Times, 21 March 1998; John Shosky, The Bertrand Russell Society Quarterly, November 1997; TRI; Alexander Waugh's The House of Wittgenstein: A Family of War (2009) tells that three of his eight siblings are thought to have committed suicide and that Ludwig in his journals did fixate on the possibility.}