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Ludwig Wittgenstein


Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in the fields of epistemology, logic, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He is considered by many to be the most prominent philosopher of the XX century.

Born in Vienna as an Austrian citizen, he moved to Cambridge as an adult and later was forced to acquire British citizenship after Anschluss and rise of Nazi movement in Austria.


Ethnicity: According to Wittginstein himself, three of his grandparent were Jewish. In exchange for the gold, foreign currency, and stocks held in Switzerland by a Wittgenstein trust, Hitler granted Wittgenstein family "Mischling" status, which saved Ludwig's siblings left in Germany from concentration camps.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, Austria, into one of Europe's richest families.

Ludwig's father Karl Otto Clemens Wittgenstein became an industrial tycoon, and by the late 1880s was one of the richest men in Europe, with an effective monopoly on Austria's steel cartel. Thanks to Karl, family became the second wealthiest family in Austria-Hungary, behind only the Rothschilds. Both his paternal parents were Jewish.

Wittgenstein's mother was Leopoldine Maria Josefa Kalmus, known among friends as Poldi. Her father was a Bohemian Jew and her mother was Austrian-Slovene Catholic - she was Wittgenstein's only non-Jewish grandparent.

Wittgenstein was born at 8:30 pm on 26 April 1889 at Alleegasse 16, near the Karlskirche. Karl and Poldi had nine children in all. There were four girls: Hermine, Margaret, Helene, and a fourth daughter Dora who died as a baby; and five boys: Johannes, Kurt, Rudolf, Paul and Ludwig, who was the youngest of the family.

The children were baptized as Catholics, received formal Catholic instruction, and raised in an exceptionally intense environment.


Wittgenstein was taught by private tutors at home until he was fourteen years old. Subsequently, for three years, he attended a school. In 1903 he began his three years of formal schooling in Linz. Ironically, during that time Adolf Hitler was also visiting this school.

He began his studies in mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Berlin, on 23 October 1906. He attended for three semesters, and was awarded a diploma on 5 May 1908. During his time at the Institute Wittgenstein developed an interest in aeronautics.

Some time after he also became interested in the foundations of mathematics after reading Bertrand Russell's and Gottlob Frege's works.

Wittgenstein wanted to study with Frege, but Frege suggested he attend the University of Cambridge to study under Russell.

Ludwig Wittgenstein used his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus as a thesis to obtain PhD in Cambridge in 1929.


Upon finnishing the Technical University of Berlin in 1908, Wittgenstein planned to work as engineer and airplane designer until he found himself deeply interested in philosophical matters.

His philosophical researches however were interupted by World War 1 which he joined as a volunteer of Austrian army. During periods of truce in war, Wittgenstein managed to complete his first major work "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus", which was published shortly after the war.

After the war Wittgenstein felt himself empty and too exhausted to do philosophy. Instead, in 1919 he finnished Lehrerbildungsanstalt (teacher training college) to become a village teacher.

The following years he was working as a teacher, gardener, architect, completely suppressing any attempts to draw himself into philosophy.

He returned to philosophy in the late 1920s during the time when he was helping to design a house for his sister in Vienna. In 1928 he attended a lecture by Brouwer (on Mathematics, Science and Language). He joined discussions of the Vienna Circle. In 1929 he went back to Cambridge, where he was awarded a PhD for the Tractatus and where he began the teaching which was to have an enormous influence on philosophy during and after the rest of his life.


  • Wittgenstein is widely considered as the most influential twentieth-century philosopher in the world.

    Wittgenstein's writings, in terms of the volume of commentary on them, have had an immense influence. Peter Hacker argues that Wittgenstein's influence on 20th-century analytical philosophy can be attributed to his early influence on the Vienna Circle and later influence on the Oxford "ordinary language" school and Cambridge philosophers.

    Some strands in his later thought appealed to writers associated with postmodernism: metaphysical explanation and justification were abolished, to be replaced only by a clear view of how things are. how language is used, how culture and society operate.



Wittgenstein was raised as Christian but decided he had lost his faith in God during his studies at Realschule.

The idea of God nevertheless played an important role in his later life, but, much like with philosophy, Wittgenstein often critisized certain religious thoughts as shallow or vague.

It is possible to describe Wittgenstein as willing to believe Ignostic.


Although some have described him as conservative, Wittgenstein's critical assessment of the role of science, and, by extension, bureaucracy suggest the non-conservative character of his philosophy, and, by implication, the non-conservatism of his impact on theorizing politics.

It would be safe to say, however, that Wittgenstein was largely apolitical throughout his life, preocupying himself with more abstract philosophical matters.


Wittgenstein was preoccupied for many years with themes like ethics, aesthetics, mathematics, the nature and ingredients of a proposition, its relation to objects, logical truth. There was also a concern with the will, the self and the place of value which Wittgenstein may have brought from his early reading of Schopenhauer.

Upon finishing The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Wittgenstein described it as a "work [that] consists of two parts: of the one presented here, plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part that is the important one. My book draws limits to the sphere of the ethical from the inside as it were".

In his early period, during the writing of Tractatus, Wittgenstein believed that value stood outside what he thought of as "the world": "If there is any value that does have value, it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case". He needed to fit together "what happens and is the case" with what can be said about it, and to set that apart from what cannot be said – about the sense of the world, "the will in so far as it is the subject of ethical attributes". Saying is possible. Saying – language – consists of "the totality of propositions". And "only propositions have sense". But: "If the world had no substance, then whether a proposition had sense would depend on whether another proposition was true. In that case we could not sketch out any picture of the world (true or false)". But since we actually can do this - so the world does have a substance. The argument is a Kantian, transcendental one, leading to a world of objects, pictured in language. "A proposition is a picture of reality" and "The totality of true propositions is the whole of natural science".

Wittgenstein relied on strong dichotomy: on one side was language consisting of articulated propositions, in which everything sayable depended on (without necessarily being reducible to) the fact that elementary propositions can picture states of affairs; on the other side were the realms of the will, ethics and the mystical. Here, nothing could be said, though something might be shown. Logic and mathematics, which could not be seen as presenting facts about the world, were diagnosed as tautologies – the limiting case of the combination of signs. They were not – like attempts to.vavsomething about value or ethics – nonsensical (unsinnig). But they were empty of sense (sirmlos) because they said nothing. The contrast was between what was said and what was shown: "Logical socalled propositions show [the] logical properties of language and therefore of [the] Universe, but say nothing". Logic was "not a body of doctrine but a mirror-image of the world". These views embodied radical implications for philosophy. It could not be a "body of doctrine" or aim at "philosophical propositions". It could be an activity of elucidation – "the logical clarification of thoughts". And what was written in the Tractatus might well be elucidatory, but would have to be recognized as nonsensical itself: purporting to say what could only be shown. "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence".

Wittgenstein was never a logical positivist. But the frequent misidentification of the "objects" in the Tractatus with items of elementary experience may have led his thoughts towards the connections between linguistic sense and the empiricist notion of "inner" mental experiences. This theme was central to much of his subsequent work. A less evident but equally significant breaking-point came in his early view of necessity as tautological. Further thought on this in the 1930s led to a new understanding of modality. A view of meaning was needed in Wittgenstein's early thinking to sustain his view of what was unsayable. In his middle and later years meaning moved to the centre of his interests in its own right. The Blue Book opened with the question "What is the meaning of a word?" In the Tractatus he had written: "A name means an object. The object is its meaning". This single, direct, essentialist link between language and reality was denied later, or diminished to a special case. His interest in meaning in social contexts has often been seen as a form of holism – sense would be determined by an indefinitely wide range of linguistic, social and cultural conditions.

The whole view of language as a "vehicle of thought" changed radically. So did central elements in any philosophical psychology, such as the self and the will. The denial of clear foundations for meaning in the form of determinate links between language and reality could be widened from language to social or religious practice. A search for justifications in terms of objective, factual truth might be replaced by legitimation in terms of social or cultural use. Wittgenstein himself was extremely averse to any form of. This applied equally in philosophy, although it is undeniable that he did present his own aetiology, diagnosis and prescription for philosophical problems. It should be enough to describe the actual use of language ("Philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday"). Like Kant, he believed that people have tendencies to think or speak in ways which lead to erroneous, illusory or misleading questions. The answer, he believed, was to see the normal uses of language perspicuously, to get a clear oversight (Übersicht). The aim was "complete clarity. But this means that the philosophical problems completely disappear".

Wittgenstein's final period, in the Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty and in his lectures of the 1940s. showed a new balance among his interests. His dislike of philosophical theory and his views on the philosophy of mind focused into a dislike of "scientific" psychology. He had said earlier that "What we are supplying are really remarks on the natural history of human beings".

On Certainty applied this in the theory of knowledge. Epistemological certainty could have its origins neither in theoretical foundations (as in classical empiricism) nor in unsupported, intuitive common sense. Instead, doubt, certainty, justification, evidence, knowledge and so on were associated with actual social practice, and that appeared to provide some kind of legitimation: "Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it".

Wittgenstein regarded his later philosophy as intrinsically unsystematic. His philosophical style was highly individual: aphoristic, full of questions, suggestions, jokes, snatches of dialogue, arguments with himself.


Ludwig Wittgenstein had a complex personality. People often saw him as sensitive, nervous, harsh and intolerant. Despite that he was also profound, passionate and sincere, his whole personality was very charismatic, and as such had a big influence on his friends and students.

Wittgenstein often suffer from depressions and had suicidal thoughts, yet his last words upon passing away were "Tell them I've had a wonderful life".

  • “Bertrand Russell described Wittgenstein as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating."”


  • Philosophers & Thinkers

    Boltzmann, Hertz, Schopenhauer, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler, Sraffa, Brouwer.

  • Other Interests

    Language, philosophy of mind, logic, philosophy of mathematics, nature of philosophy.


The Wittgenstein family was one of the richest, most talented and most eccentric in Europe. Ludwig was the youngest of 8 siblings, 3 of whom would later commit suicide.

Friedrich von Hayek
Friedrich von Hayek - cousin of Ludwig Wittgenstein

Second most important economist of the early XX's century.

John Maynard Keynes

The most important economist of the early XX's century.

Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell - teacher of Ludwig Wittgenstein

British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic and political activist.

Frank Ramsey
Frank Ramsey - friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein

Prodigious British philosopher, mathematician and economist.