Essays On Wittgenstein And Austrian Philosophy

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889—1951)

Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, and 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 Tractatus 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 Tractatus 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, 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.

Table of Contents

  1. Life
  2. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
  3. Ethics and Religion
  4. Conception of Philosophy
  5. Meaning
  6. Rules and Private Language
  7. Realism and Anti-Realism
  8. Certainty
  9. Continuity
  10. Wittgenstein in History
  11. References and Further Reading
    1. Wittgenstein’s Main Works
    2. Some Biographies of Wittgenstein
    3. Secondary Works

1. Life

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, born on April 26th 1889 in Vienna, Austria, was a charismatic enigma. He has been something of a cult figure but shunned publicity and even built an isolated hut in Norway to live in complete seclusion. His sexuality was ambiguous but he was probably gay; how actively so is still a matter of controversy. His life seems to have been dominated by an obsession with moral and philosophical perfection, summed up in the subtitle of Ray Monk's excellent biography Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius.

His concern with moral perfection led Wittgenstein at one point to insist on confessing to several people various sins, including that of allowing others to underestimate the extent of his 'Jewishness'. His father Karl Wittgenstein's parents were born Jewish but converted to Protestantism and his mother Leopoldine (nee Kalmus) was Catholic, but her father was of Jewish descent. Wittgenstein himself was baptized in a Catholic church and was given a Catholic burial, 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 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus which was eventually published in English in 1922 with Russell's help. This was the only book Wittgenstein published during his lifetime. 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. 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. His last words were, "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."

2. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Wittgenstein told Ludwig von Ficker that the point of the Tractatus was ethical. In the preface to the book he says that its value consists in two things: "that thoughts are expressed in it" and "that it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved." The problems he refers to are the problems of philosophy defined, we may suppose, by the work of Frege and Russell, and perhaps also Schopenhauer. At the end of the book Wittgenstein says "My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical" [emphasis added]. What to make of the Tractatus, its author, and the propositions it contains, then, is no easy matter.

The book certainly does not seem to be about ethics. 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 Tractatus 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 Tractatus 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 Tractatus 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 Tractatus. Unfortunately, this reading leads to serious problems since by its own lights the Tractatus' 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 Tractatus is composed, to the framework supporting the picture theory itself. In this way the Tractatus pulls the rug out from under its own feet.

If the propositions of the Tractatus 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 Tractatus 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 Tractatus presents itself as a key for untying a series of knots both profound and highly technical.

3. Ethics and Religion

Wittgenstein had a lifelong interest in religion and claimed to see every problem from a religious point of view, but never committed himself to any formal religion. His various remarks on ethics also suggest a particular point of view, and Wittgenstein often spoke of ethics and religion together. This point of view or attitude can be seen in the four main themes that run through Wittgenstein's writings on ethics and religion: goodness, value or meaning are not to be found in the world; living the right way involves acceptance of or agreement with the world, or life, or God's will, or fate; one who lives this way will see the world as a miracle; there is no answer to the problem of life--the solution is the disappearance of the problem.

Certainly Wittgenstein worried about being morally good or even perfect, and he had great respect for sincere religious conviction, but he also said, in his 1929 lecture on ethics, that "the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language," i.e. to talk or write nonsense. This gives support to the view that Wittgenstein believed in mystical truths that somehow cannot be expressed meaningfully but that are of the utmost importance. It is hard to conceive, though, what these 'truths' might be.

An alternative view is that Wittgenstein believed that there is really nothing to say about ethics. This would explain why he wrote less and less about ethics as his life wore on. His "accept and endure" attitude and belief in going "the bloody hard way" are evident in all his work, especially after the Tractatus. Wittgenstein wants his reader not to think (too much) but to look at the "language games" (any practices that involve language) that give rise to philosophical (personal, existential, spiritual) problems. His approach to such problems is painstaking, thorough, open-eyed and receptive. His ethical attitude is an integral part of his method and shows itself as such.

But there is little to say about such an attitude short of recommending it. In Culture and Value p.29e Wittgenstein writes:

Rules of life are dressed up in pictures. And these pictures can only serve to describe what we are to do, not justify it. Because they could provide a justification only if they held good in other respects as well. I can say: "Thank these bees for their honey as though they were kind people who have prepared it for you"; that is intelligible and describes how I should like you to conduct yourself. But I cannot say: "Thank them because, look, how kind they are!"--since the next moment they may sting you.

In a world of contingency one cannot prove that a particular attitude is the correct one to take. If this suggests relativism, it should be remembered that it too is just one more attitude or point of view, and one without the rich tradition and accumulated wisdom, philosophical reasoning and personal experience of, say, orthodox Christianity or Judaism. Indeed crude relativism, the universal judgement that one cannot make universal judgements, is self- contradictory. Whether Wittgenstein's views suggest a more sophisticated form of relativism is another matter, but the spirit of relativism seems far from Wittgenstein's conservatism and absolute intolerance of his own moral shortcomings. Compare the tolerance that motivates relativism with Wittgenstein's assertion to Russell that he would prefer "by far" an organization dedicated to war and slavery to one dedicated to peace and freedom. (This assertion, however, should not be taken literally: Wittgenstein was no war-monger and even recommended letting oneself be massacred rather than taking part in hand-to-hand combat. It was apparently the complacency, and perhaps the self-righteousness, of Russell's liberal cause that Wittgenstein objected to.)

With regard to religion, Wittgenstein is often considered a kind of Anti-Realist (see below for more on this). He 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.

4. Conception of Philosophy

Wittgenstein's view of what philosophy is, or should be, changed little over his life. In the Tractatus he says at 4.111 that "philosophy is not one of the natural sciences," and at 4.112 "Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts." Philosophy is not descriptive but elucidatory. Its aim is to clear up muddle and confusion. It follows that philosophers should not concern themselves so much with what is actual, keeping up with the latest popularizations of science, say, which Wittgenstein despised. The philosopher's proper concern is with what is possible, or rather with what is conceivable. This depends on our concepts and the ways they fit together as seen in language. What is conceivable and what is not, what makes sense and what does not, depends on the rules of language, of grammar.

In Philosophical Investigations Sect. 90 Wittgenstein says:

Our investigation is a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away. Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language.

The similarities between the sentences "I'll keep it in mind" and "I'll keep it in this box," for instance, (along with many others) can lead one to think of the mind as a thing something like a box with contents of its own. The nature of this box and its mental contents can then seem very mysterious. Wittgenstein suggests that one way, at least, to deal with such mysteries is to recall the different things one says about minds, memories, thoughts and so on, in a variety of contexts.

What one says, or what people in general say, can change. Ways of life and uses of language change, so meanings change, but not utterly and instantaneously. Things shift and evolve, but rarely if ever so drastically that we lose all grip on meaning. So there is no timeless essence of at least some and perhaps all concepts, but we still understand one another well enough most of the time.

When nonsense is spoken or written, or when something just seems fishy, we can sniff it out. The road out of confusion can be a long and difficult one, hence the need for constant attention to detail and particular examples rather than generalizations, which tend to be vague and therefore potentially misleading. The slower the route, the surer the safety at the end of it. That is why Wittgenstein said that in philosophy the winner is the one who finishes last. But we cannot escape language or the confusions to which it gives rise, except by dying. In the meantime, Wittgenstein offers four main methods to avoid philosophical confusion, as described by Norman Malcolm: describing circumstances in which a seemingly problematic expression might actually be used in everyday life, comparing our use of words with imaginary language games, imagining fictitious natural history, and explaining psychologically the temptation to use a certain expression inappropriately.

The complex, intertwined relationship between a language and the form of life that goes with it means that problems arising from language cannot just be set aside--they infect our lives, making us live in confusion. We might find our way back to the right path, but there is no guarantee that we will never again stray. In this sense there can be no progress in philosophy.

In 1931 Wittgenstein described his task thus:

Language sets everyone the same traps; it is an immense network of easily accessible wrong turnings. And so we watch one man after another walking down the same paths and we know in advance where he will branch off, where walk straight on without noticing the side turning, etc. etc. What I have to do then is erect signposts at all the junctions where there are wrong turnings so as to help people past the danger points.

But such signposts are all that philosophy can offer and there is no certainty that they will be noticed or followed correctly. And we should remember that a signpost belongs in the context of a particular problem area. It might be no help at all elsewhere, and should not be treated as dogma. So philosophy offers no truths, no theories, nothing exciting, but mainly reminders of what we all know. This is not a glamorous role, but it is difficult and important. It requires an almost infinite capacity for taking pains (which is one definition of genius) and could have enormous implications for anyone who is drawn to philosophical contemplation or who is misled by bad philosophical theories. This applies not only to professional philosophers but to any people who stray into philosophical confusion, perhaps not even realizing that their problems are philosophical and not, say, scientific.

5. Meaning

Sect. 43 of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations says that: "For a large class of cases--though not for all--in which we employ the word "meaning" it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language."

It is quite clear that here Wittgenstein is not offering the general theory that "meaning is use," as he is sometimes interpreted as doing. The main rival views that Wittgenstein warns against are that the meaning of a word is some object that it names--in which case the meaning of a word could be destroyed, stolen or locked away, which is nonsense--and that the meaning of a word is some psychological feeling--in which case each user of a word could mean something different by it, having a different feeling, and communication would be difficult if not impossible.

Knowing the meaning of a word can involve knowing many things: to what objects the word refers (if any), whether it is slang or not, what part of speech it is, whether it carries overtones, and if so what kind they are, and so on. To know all this, or to know enough to get by, is to know the use. And generally knowing the use means knowing the meaning. Philosophical questions about consciousness, for example, then, should be responded to by looking at the various uses we make of the word "consciousness." Scientific investigations into the brain are not directly relevant to this inquiry (although they might be indirectly relevant if scientific discoveries led us to change our use of such words). The meaning of any word is a matter of what we do with our language, not something hidden inside anyone's mind or brain. This is not an attack on neuroscience. It is merely distinguishing philosophy (which is properly concerned with linguistic or conceptual analysis) from science (which is concerned with discovering facts).

One exception to the meaning-is-use rule of thumb is given in Philosophical Investigations Sect.561, where Wittgenstein says that "the word "is" is used with two different meanings (as the copula and as the sign of equality)" but that its meaning is not its use. That is to say, "is" has not one complex use (including both "Water is clear" and "Water is H2O") and therefore one complex meaning, but two quite distinct uses and meanings. It is an accident that the same word has these two uses. It is not an accident that we use the word "car" to refer to both Fords and Hondas. But what is accidental and what is essential to a concept depends on us, on how we use it.

This is not completely arbitrary, however. Depending on one's environment, one's physical needs and desires, one's emotions, one's sensory capacities, and so on, different concepts will be more natural or useful to one. This is why "forms of life" are so important to Wittgenstein. What matters to you depends on how you live (and vice versa), and this shapes your experience. So if a lion could speak, Wittgenstein says, we would not be able to understand it. We might realize that "roar" meant zebra, or that "roar, roar" meant lame zebra, but we would not understand lion ethics, politics, aesthetic taste, religion, humor and such like, if lions have these things. We could not honestly say "I know what you mean" to a lion. Understanding another involves empathy, which requires the kind of similarity that we just do not have with lions, and that many people do not have with other human beings.

When a person says something what he or she means depends not only on what is said but also on the context in which it is said. Importance, point, meaning are given by the surroundings. Words, gestures, expressions come alive, as it were, only within a language game, a culture, a form of life. If a picture, say, means something then it means so to somebody. Its meaning is not an objective property of the picture in the way that its size and shape are. The same goes of any mental picture. Hence Wittgenstein's remark that "If God had looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of." Any internal image would need interpretation. If I interpret my thought as one of Hitler and God sees it as Charlie Chaplin, who is right? Which of the two famous contemporaries of Wittgenstein's I mean shows itself in the way I behave, the things I do and say. It is in this that the use, the meaning, of my thought or mental picture lies. "The arrow points only in the application that a living being makes of it."

6. Rules and Private Language

Without sharing certain attitudes towards the things around us, without sharing a sense of relevance and responding in similar ways, communication would be impossible. It is important, for instance, that nearly all of us agree nearly all the time on what colors things are. Such agreement is part of our concept of color, Wittgenstein suggests. Regularity of the use of such concepts and agreement in their application is part of language, not a logically necessary precondition of it. We cannot separate the life in which there is such agreement from our concept of color. Imagine a different form or way of life and you imagine a different language with different concepts, different rules and a different logic.

This raises the question of the relation between language and forms or ways of life. For instance, could just one person have a language of his or her own? To imagine an individual solitary from birth is scarcely to imagine a form of life at all, but more like just imagining a life- form. Moreover, language involves rules establishing certain linguistic practices. Rules of grammar express the fact that it is our practice to say this (e.g. "half past twelve") and not that (e.g. "half to one"). Agreement is essential to such practices. Could a solitary individual, then, engage in any practice, including linguistic ones? With whom could he or she agree? This is a controversial issue in the interpretation of Wittgenstein. Gordon Baker and P.M.S. Hacker hold that such a solitary man could speak his own language, follow his own rules, and so on, agreeing, over time, with himself in his judgements and behavior. Orthodoxy is against this interpretation, however.

Norman Malcolm has written that "If you conceive of an individual who has been in solitude his whole life long, then you have cut away the background of instruction, correction, acceptance--in short, the circumstances in which a rule is given, enforced, and followed." Mere regularity of behavior does not constitute following rules, whether they be rules of grammar or any other kind. A car that never starts in cold weather does not follow the rule "Don't start when it's cold," nor does a songbird follow a rule in singing the same song every day. Whether a solitary-from-birth individual would ever do anything that we would properly call following a rule is at least highly doubtful. How could he or she give himself or herself a rule to follow without language? And how could he or she get a language? Inventing one would involve inventing meaning, as Rush Rhees has argued, and this sounds incoherent. (The most famous debate about this was between Rhees and A.J. Ayer. Unfortunately for Wittgenstein, Ayer is generally considered to have won.) Alternatively, perhaps the Crusoe-like figure just does behave, sound, etc. just like a native speaker of, say, English. But this is to imagine either a freakish automaton, not a human being, or else a miracle. In the case of a miracle, Wittgenstein says, it is significant that we imagine not just the pseudo- Crusoe but also God. In the case of the automatic speaker, we might adopt what Daniel Dennett calls an "intentional stance" towards him, calling what he does "speaking English," but he is obviously not doing what the rest of us English-speakers--who learned the language, rather than being born speaking it, and who influence and are influenced by others in our use of the language--do.

The debate about solitary individuals is sometimes referred to as the debate about "private language." Wittgenstein uses this expression in another context, however, to name a language that refers to private sensations. Such a private language by definition cannot be understood by anyone other than its user (who alone knows the sensations to which it refers). Wittgenstein invites us to imagine a man who decides to write 'S' in his diary whenever he has a certain sensation. This sensation has no natural expression, and 'S' cannot be defined in words. The only judge of whether 'S' is used correctly is the inventor of 'S'. The only criterion of correctness is whether a sensation feels the same to him or her. There are no criteria for its being the same other than its seeming the same. So he writes 'S' when he feels like it. He might as well be doodling. The so-called 'private language' is no language at all. The point of this is not to show that a private language is impossible but to show that certain things one might want to say about language are ultimately incoherent. If we really try to picture a world of private objects (sensations) and inner acts of meaning and so on, we see that what we picture is either regular public language or incomprehensible behavior (the man might as well quack as say or write 'S').

This does not, as has been alleged, make Wittgenstein a behaviorist. He does not deny the existence of sensations or experiences. Pains, tickles, itches, etc. are all part of human life, of course. At Philosophical Investigations Sect. 293 Wittgenstein says that "if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of 'object and designation' the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant." This suggests not that pains and so on are irrelevant but that we should not construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of 'object and designation'. If we want to understand a concept like pain we should not think of a pain as a private object referred to somehow by the public word "pain." A pain is not "a something," just as love, democracy and strength are not things, but it is no more "a nothing" than they are either (see Philosophical Investigations Sect. 304). Saying this is hardly satisfactory, but there is no simple answer to the question "What is pain?" Wittgenstein offers not an answer but a kind of philosophical 'therapy' intended to clear away what can seem so obscure. To judge the value of this therapy, the reader will just have to read Wittgenstein's work for herself.

The best known work on Wittgenstein's writings on this whole topic is Saul A. Kripke's Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Kripke is struck by the idea that anything might count as continuing a series or following a rule in the same way. It all depends on how the rule or series is interpreted. And any rule for interpretation will itself be subject to a variety of interpretations, and so on. What counts as following a rule correctly, then, is not determined somehow by the rule itself but by what the relevant linguistic community accepts as following the rule. So whether two plus two equals four depends not on some abstract, extra-human rule of addition, but on what we, and especially the people we appoint as experts, accept. Truth conditions are replaced by assertability conditions. To put it crudely, what counts is not what is true or right (in some sense independent of the community of language users), but what you can get away with or get others to accept.

Kripke's theory is clear and ingenious, and owes a lot to Wittgenstein, but is doubtful as an interpretation of Wittgenstein. Kripke himself presents the argument not as Wittgenstein's, nor as his own, but as "Wittgenstein's argument as it struck Kripke" (Kripke p.5). That the argument is not Wittgenstein's is suggested by the fact that it is a theory, and Wittgenstein rejected philosophical theories, and by the fact that the argument relies heavily on the first sentence of Philosophical Investigations Sect. 201: "This was our paradox: no course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be made out to accord with the rule." For Kripke's theory as a reading of Wittgenstein, it is not good that the very next paragraph begins, "It can be seen that there is a misunderstanding here..." Still, it is no easy matter to see just where Wittgenstein does diverge from the hybrid person often referred to as 'Kripkenstein'. The key perhaps lies later in the same paragraph, where Wittgenstein writes that "there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation". Many scholars, notably Baker and Hacker, have gone to great lengths to explain why Kripke is mistaken. Since Kripke is so much easier to understand, one of the best ways into Wittgenstein's philosophy is to study Kripke and his Wittgensteinian critics. At the very least, Kripke introduces his readers well to issues that were of great concern to Wittgenstein and shows their importance.

7. Realism and Anti-Realism

Wittgenstein's place in the debate about philosophical Realism and Anti-Realism is an interesting one. His emphasis on language and human behavior, practices, etc. makes him a prime candidate for Anti-Realism in many people's eyes. He has even been accused of linguistic idealism, the idea that language is the ultimate reality. The laws of physics, say, would by this theory just be laws of language, the rules of the language game of physics. Anti-Realist scepticism of this kind has proved quite popular in the philosophy of science and in theology, as well as more generally in metaphysics and ethics.

On the other hand, there is a school of Wittgensteinian Realism, which is less well known. Wittgenstein's views on religion, for instance, are often compared with those of Simone Weil, who was a Platonist of sorts. Sabina Lovibond argues for a kind of Wittgensteinian Realism in ethics in her Realism and Imagination in Ethics and the influence of Wittgenstein is clear in Raimond Gaita's Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception. However, one should not go too far with the idea of Wittgensteinian Realism. Lovibond, for instance, equates objectivity with intersubjectivity (universal agreement), so her Realism is of a controversial kind.

Both Realism and Anti-Realism, though, are theories, or schools of theories, and Wittgenstein explicitly rejects the advocacy of theories in philosophy. This does not prove that he practiced what he preached, but it should give us pause. It is also worth noting that supporters of Wittgenstein often claim that he was neither a Realist nor an Anti-Realist, at least with regard to metaphysics. There is something straightforwardly unWittgensteinian about the Realist's belief that language/thought can be compared with reality and found to 'agree' with it. The Anti-Realist says that we could not get outside our thought or language (or form of life or language games) to compare the two. But Wittgenstein was concerned not with what we can or cannot do, but with what makes sense. If metaphysical Realism is incoherent then so is its opposite. The nonsensical utterance "laubgefraub" is not to be contradicted by saying, "No, it is not the case that laubgefraub," or "Laubgefraub is a logical impossibility." If Realism is truly incoherent, as Wittgenstein would say, then so is Anti-Realism.

8. Certainty

Wittgenstein's last writings were on the subject of certainty. He wrote in response to G.E. Moore's attack on scepticism about the external world. Moore had held up one hand, said "Here is one hand," then held up his other hand and said "and here is another." His point was that things outside the mind really do exist, we know they do, and that no grounds for scepticism could be strong enough to undermine this commonsense knowledge.

Wittgenstein did not defend scepticism, but questioned Moore's claim to know that he had two hands. Such 'knowledge' is not something that one is ever taught, or finds out, or proves. It is more like a background against which we come to know other things. Wittgenstein compares this background to the bed of a river. This river bed provides the support, the context, in which claims to know various things have meaning. The bed itself is not something we can know or doubt. In normal circumstances no sane person doubts how many hands he or she has. But unusual circumstances can occur and what was part of the river bed can shift and become part of the river. I might, for instance, wake up dazed after a terrible accident and wonder whether my hands, which I cannot feel, are still there or not. This is quite different, though, from Descartes's pretended doubt as to whether he has a body at all. Such radical doubt is really not doubt at all, from Wittgenstein's point of view. And so it cannot be dispelled by a proof that the body exists, as Moore tried to do.

9. Continuity

Wittgenstein is generally considered to have changed his thinking considerably over his philosophical career. His early work culminated in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus with its picture theory of language and mysticism, according to this view. Then there came a transitional middle period when he first returned to philosophical work after realizing that he had not solved all the problems of philosophy. This period led to his mature, later period which gave us the Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty.

There certainly are marked changes in Wittgenstein's work, but the differences between his early and late work can be exaggerated. Two central discontinuities in his work are these: whereas the Tractatus is concerned with the general form of the proposition, the general nature of metaphysics, and so on, in his later work Wittgenstein is very critical of "the craving for generality"; and, in the Tractatus Wittgenstein speaks of the central problems of philosophy, whereas the later work treats no problems as central. Another obvious difference is in Wittgenstein's style. The Tractatus is a carefully constructed set of short propositions. The Investigations, though also consisting of numbered sections, is longer, less clearly organized and more rambling, at least in appearance. This reflects Wittgenstein's rejection of the idea that there are just a few central problems in philosophy, and his insistence on paying attention to particular cases, going over the rough ground.

On the other hand, the Tractatus itself says that its propositions are nonsense and thus, in a sense (not easy to understand), rejects itself. The fact that the later work also criticizes the Tractatus is not, therefore, proof of discontinuity in Wittgenstein's work. The main change may have been one of method and style. Problems are investigated one at a time, although many overlap. There is not a full-frontal assault on the problem or problems of philosophy. Otherwise, the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations attack much the same problems; they just do so in different ways.

10. Wittgenstein in History

Wittgenstein's place in the history of philosophy is a peculiar one. His philosophical education was unconventional (going from engineering to working first-hand with one of the greatest philosophers of his day in Bertrand Russell) and he seems never to have felt the need to go back and make a thorough study of the history of philosophy. He was interested in Plato, admired Leibniz, but was most influenced by the work of Schopenhauer, Russell and Frege.

From Schopenhauer (perhaps) Wittgenstein got his interest in solipsism and in the ethical nature of the relation between the will and the world. Schopenhauer's saying that "The world is my idea," (from The World as Will and Idea) is echoed in such remarks as "The world is my world" (from Tractatus 5.62). What Wittgenstein means here, where he also says that what the solipsist means is quite correct, but that it cannot be said, is obscure and controversial. Some have taken him to mean that solipsism is true but for some reason cannot be expressed. H.O. Mounce, in his valuable Wittgenstein's Tractatus: An Introduction, says that this interpretation is surely wrong. Mounce's view is that Wittgenstein holds solipsism itself to be a confusion, but one that sometimes arises when one tries to express the fact that "I have a point of view on the world which is without neighbours." (Mounce p.91) Wittgenstein was not a solipsist but he remained interested in solipsism and related problems of scepticism throughout his life.

Frege was a mathematician as well as a logician. He was interested in questions of truth and falsehood, sense and reference (a distinction he made famous) and in the relation between objects and concepts, propositions and thoughts. But his interest was in logic and mathematics exclusively, not in psychology or ethics. His great contribution to logic was to introduce various mathematical elements into formal logic, including quantification, functions, arguments (in the mathematical sense of something substituted for a variable in a function) and the value of a function. In logic this value, according to Frege, is always either the True or the False, hence the notion of truth-value. Both Frege and Russell wanted to show that mathematics is an extension of logic. Undoubtedly both men influenced Wittgenstein enormously, especially since he worked first-hand with Russell. Some measure of their importance to him can be seen in the preface to the Tractatus, where Wittgenstein says that he is "indebted to Frege's great works and to the writings of my friend Mr Bertrand Russell for much of the stimulation of my thoughts." For some insight into whether Frege or Russell had the greater influence one can consider whether one would rather be recognized for his or her great works or for simply being a friend.

In turn Wittgenstein influenced twentieth century philosophy enormously. The Vienna Circle logical positivists were greatly impressed by what they found in the Tractatus, 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 Tractatus 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.

11. References and Further Reading

A full bibliographical guide to works by and on Wittgenstein would fill a whole book, namely Wittgenstein: A Bibliographical Guide by Guido Frongia and Brian McGuinness (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1990). Obviously this is already out of date. Instead of a complete guide, therefore, what follows is a list of some of Wittgenstein's main works, some of the best secondary material on his work, and a few other works chosen for their accessibility and entertainment value, for want of a better expression.

a. Wittgenstein's Main Works

  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, translated by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1961).
  • The Blue and Brown Books, (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1969).
    • From his middle period, these are preliminary studies for his later work.
  • Philosophical Investigations, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1963).
  • On Certainty, edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, translated by Denis Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1979).
    • Like many of Wittgenstein's works, this was compiled after his death from notes he had made. In this case the notes come from the last year and a half of his life.Works of more general interest by Wittgenstein include these:
  • Culture and Value, translated by Peter Winch (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1980).
    • These are notes from throughout Wittgenstein's life dealing with all kinds of topics hinted at by its title, including music, literature, philosophy, religion and the value of silliness.
  • Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, edited by Cyril Barrett (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1966).
    • For 'psychology' read 'Freud', otherwise the title is explanation enough. Hilary Putnam has recommended the section on religion as a valuable introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy as a whole.

b. Some Biographies of Wittgenstein

  • Ray Monk Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (Jonathan Cape, London 1990).
    • Full of enlightening detail.
  • Norman Malcolm Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1984).
    • Shorter and includes material from G.H. von Wright as well. Two of the best books on the Tractatus are:
  • G.E.M. Anscombe An Introduction to Wittgenstein's Tractatus (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 1971).
    • Emphasizes the importance of Frege and is notoriously difficult
  • H.O. Mounce Wittgenstein's Tractatus: An Introduction (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1981).
    • Lighter but more reader-friendly.

c. Secondary Works

A good rule of thumb for picking secondary material on Wittgenstein is to trust Wittgenstein's own judgement. He chose G.E.M. Anscombe, Rush Rhees and G.H. von Wright to understand and deal with his unpublished writings after his death. Anything by one of these people should be fairly reliable. More contentiously, I would say that the best people writing on Wittgenstein today are James Conant and Cora Diamond. Other books referred to in the text above or of special note are these:

  • O.K. Bouwsma Wittgenstein: Conversations 1949-1951, edited by J.L. Craft and Ronald E. Hustwit (Hackett, Indianapolis 1986).
    • A seemingly little read slim volume that includes records of Wittgenstein's comments on such diverse and interesting topics as Descartes, utilitarianism and the word 'cheeseburger'.
  • Stanley Cavell The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1979).
    • A long, rich, challenging classic.
  • Cora Diamond The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind (MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1991).
    • A collection of essays of varying degrees of accessibility on Frege, Wittgenstein and ethics, united by their Wittgensteinian spirit.
  • M.O'C. Drury The Danger of Words (Thoemmes Press, Bristol, U.K. and Washington, D.C. 1996).
    • A classic, including discussions of issues in psychiatry and religion by a friend of Wittgenstein's.
  • Paul Engelmann Letters from Wittgenstein with a memoir (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1967).
    • Includes discussions by Wittgenstein and his friend Engelmann on the Tractatus, religion, literature and culture.
  • Saul A. Kripke Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1982).
    • See the section on rules and private language above.
  • Norman Malcolm Wittgenstein: Nothing is Hidden (Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1986).
    • One of the best accounts of Wittgenstein's philosophy from the disreputable point of view that the Tractatus advanced theses which are then attacked in the later work.
  • Norman Malcolm Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View?, edited with a response by Peter Winch (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York 1994).
    • Malcolm basically summarizes Wittgenstein's philosophy, as he understands it, with a special emphasis on religion. Winch then responds, correcting Malcolm's account where necessary. The result is a highly accessible composite overview of Wittgenstein's work from the religious point of view, which is how Wittgenstein himself said that he saw every problem.

Author Information

Duncan J. Richter
Virginia Military Institute
U. S. A.

1. Biographical Sketch

Wittgenstein was born on April 26, 1889 in Vienna, Austria, to a wealthy industrial family, well-situated in intellectual and cultural Viennese circles. In 1908 he began his studies in aeronautical engineering at Manchester University where his interest in the philosophy of pure mathematics led him to Frege. Upon Frege’s advice, in 1911 he went to Cambridge to study with Bertrand Russell. Russell wrote, upon meeting Wittgenstein: “An unknown German appeared … obstinate and perverse, but I think not stupid” (quoted by Monk 1990: 38f). Within one year, Russell was committed: “I shall certainly encourage him. Perhaps he will do great things … I love him and feel he will solve the problems I am too old to solve” (quoted by Monk 1990: 41). Russell’s insight was accurate. Wittgenstein was idiosyncratic in his habits and way of life, yet profoundly acute in his philosophical sensitivity.

During his years in Cambridge, from 1911 to 1913, Wittgenstein conducted several conversations on philosophy and the foundations of logic with Russell, with whom he had an emotional and intense relationship, as well as with Moore and Keynes. He retreated to isolation in Norway, for months at a time, in order to ponder these philosophical problems and to work out their solutions. In 1913 he returned to Austria and in 1914, at the start of World War I (1914-1918), joined the Austrian army. He was taken captive in 1918 and spent the remaining months of the war at a prison camp. It was during the war that he wrote the notes and drafts of his first important work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. After the war the book was published in German and translated into English.

In 1920 Wittgenstein, now divorced from philosophy (having, to his mind, solved all philosophical problems in the Tractatus), gave away his part of his family’s fortune and pursued several ‘professions’ (gardener, teacher, architect, etc.) in and around Vienna. It was only in 1929 that he returned to Cambridge to resume his philosophical vocation, after having been exposed to discussions on the philosophy of mathematics and science with members of the Vienna Circle, whose conception of logical empiricism was indebted to his Tractatus account of logic as tautologous, and his philosophy as concerned with logical syntax. During these first years in Cambridge his conception of philosophy and its problems underwent dramatic changes that are recorded in several volumes of conversations, lecture notes, and letters (e.g., Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle, The Blue and Brown Books, Philosophical Grammar). Sometimes termed the ‘middle Wittgenstein’, this period heralds a rejection of dogmatic philosophy, including both traditional works and the Tractatus itself.

In the 1930s and 1940s Wittgenstein conducted seminars at Cambridge, developing most of the ideas that he intended to publish in his second book, Philosophical Investigations. These included the turn from formal logic to ordinary language, novel reflections on psychology and mathematics, and a general skepticism concerning philosophy’s pretensions. In 1945 he prepared the final manuscript of the Philosophical Investigations, but, at the last minute, withdrew it from publication (and only authorized its posthumous publication). For a few more years he continued his philosophical work, but this is marked by a rich development of, rather than a turn away from, his second phase. He traveled during this period to the United States and Ireland, and returned to Cambridge, where he was diagnosed with cancer. Legend has it that, at his death in 1951, his last words were “Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life” (Monk: 579).

2. The Early Wittgenstein

2.1 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was first published in German in 1921 and then translated—by C.K. Ogden, with F. P. Ramsey’s help—and published in English in 1922. It was later re-translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness. Coming out of Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic (1913), “Notes Dictated to G. E. Moore” (1914), his Notebooks, written in 1914-16, and further correspondence with Russell, Moore and Keynes, and showing Schopenhauerian and other cultural influences, it evolved as a continuation of and reaction to Russell and Frege’s conceptions of logic and language. Russell supplied an introduction to the book claiming that it “certainly deserves … to be considered an important event in the philosophical world.” It is fascinating to note that Wittgenstein thought little of Russell’s introduction, claiming that it was riddled with misunderstandings. Later interpretations have attempted to unearth the surprising tensions between the introduction and the rest of the book (or between Russell’s reading of Wittgenstein and Wittgenstein’s own self-assessment)—usually harping on Russell’s appropriation of Wittgenstein for his own agenda.

The Tractatus’s structure purports to be representative of its internal essence. It is constructed around seven basic propositions, numbered by the natural numbers 1-7, with all other paragraphs in the text numbered by decimal expansions so that, e.g., paragraph 1.1 is (supposed to be) a further elaboration on proposition 1, 1.22 is an elaboration of 1.2, and so on.

The seven basic propositions are:

Ogden translationPears/McGuinness translation
1.The world is everything that is the case.The world is all that is the case.
2.What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.What is the case—a fact—is the existence of states of affairs.
3.The logical picture of the facts is the thought.A logical picture of facts is a thought.
4.The thought is the significant proposition.A thought is a proposition with sense.
5.Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions.A proposition is a truth-function of elementary propositions.
(An elementary proposition is a truth function of itself.)(An elementary proposition is a truth function of itself.)
6.The general form of truth-function is \([\bar{p}, \bar{\xi}, N(\bar{\xi})]\).The general form of a truth-function is \([\bar{p}, \bar{\xi}, N(\bar{\xi})]\).
This is the general form of proposition.This is the general form of a proposition.
7.Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

Clearly, the book addresses the central problems of philosophy which deal with the world, thought and language, and presents a ‘solution’ (as Wittgenstein terms it) of these problems that is grounded in logic and in the nature of representation. The world is represented by thought, which is a proposition with sense, since they all—world, thought, and proposition—share the same logical form. Hence, the thought and the proposition can be pictures of the facts.

Starting with a seeming metaphysics, Wittgenstein sees the world as consisting of facts (1), rather than the traditional, atomistic conception of a world made up of objects. Facts are existent states of affairs (2) and states of affairs, in turn, are combinations of objects. “Objects are simple” (TLP 2.02) but objects can fit together in various determinate ways. They may have various properties and may hold diverse relations to one another. Objects combine with one another according to their logical, internal properties. That is to say, an object’s internal properties determine the possibilities of its combination with other objects; this is its logical form. Thus, states of affairs, being comprised of objects in combination, are inherently complex. The states of affairs which do exist could have been otherwise. This means that states of affairs are either actual (existent) or possible. It is the totality of states of affairs—actual and possible—that makes up the whole of reality. The world is precisely those states of affairs which do exist.

The move to thought, and thereafter to language, is perpetrated with the use of Wittgenstein’s famous idea that thoughts, and propositions, are pictures—“the picture is a model of reality” (TLP 2.12). Pictures are made up of elements that together constitute the picture. Each element represents an object, and the combination of elements in the picture represents the combination of objects in a state of affairs. The logical structure of the picture, whether in thought or in language, is isomorphic with the logical structure of the state of affairs which it pictures. More subtle is Wittgenstein’s insight that the possibility of this structure being shared by the picture (the thought, the proposition) and the state of affairs is the pictorial form. “That is how a picture is attached to reality; it reaches right out to it” (TLP 2.1511). This leads to an understanding of what the picture can picture; but also what it cannot—its own pictorial form.

While “the logical picture of the facts is the thought” (3), in the move to language Wittgenstein continues to investigate the possibilities of significance for propositions (4). Logical analysis, in the spirit of Frege and Russell, guides the work, with Wittgenstein using logical calculus to carry out the construction of his system. Explaining that “Only the proposition has sense; only in the context of a proposition has a name meaning” (TLP 3.3), he provides the reader with the two conditions for sensical language. First, the structure of the proposition must conform to the constraints of logical form, and second, the elements of the proposition must have reference (bedeutung). These conditions have far-reaching implications. The analysis must culminate with a name being a primitive symbol for a (simple) object. Moreover, logic itself gives us the structure and limits of what can be said at all.

“The general form of a proposition is: This is how things stand” (TLP 4.5) and every proposition is either true or false. This bi-polarity of propositions enables the composition of more complex propositions from atomic ones by using truth-functional operators (5). Wittgenstein supplies, in the Tractatus, a vivid presentation of Frege’s logic in the form of what has become known as ‘truth-tables’. This provides the means to go back and analyze all propositions into their atomic parts, since “every statement about complexes can be analyzed into a statement about their constituent parts, and into those propositions which completely describe the complexes” (TLP 2.0201). He delves even deeper by then providing the general form of a truth-function (6). This form, \([\bar{p}, \bar{\xi}, N(\bar{\xi})]\), makes use of one formal operation \((N(\bar{\xi}))\) and one propositional variable \((\bar{p})\) to represent Wittgenstein’s claim that any proposition “is the result of successive applications” of logical operations to elementary propositions.

Having developed this analysis of world-thought-language, and relying on the one general form of the proposition, Wittgenstein can now assert that all meaningful propositions are of equal value. Subsequently, he ends the journey with the admonition concerning what can (or cannot) and what should (or should not) be said (7), leaving outside the realm of the sayable propositions of ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics.

2.2 Sense and Nonsense

In the Tractatus Wittgenstein’s logical construction of a philosophical system has a purpose—to find the limits of world, thought and language; in other words, to distinguish between sense and nonsense. “The book will … draw a limit to thinking, or rather—not to thinking, but to the expression of thoughts …. The limit can … only be drawn in language and what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply nonsense” (TLP Preface). The conditions for a proposition’s having sense have been explored and seen to rest on the possibility of representation or picturing. Names must have a bedeutung (reference/meaning), but they can only do so in the context of a proposition which is held together by logical form. It follows that only factual states of affairs which can be pictured can be represented by meaningful propositions. This means that what can be said are only propositions of natural science and leaves out of the realm of sense a daunting number of statements which are made and used in language.

There are, first, the propositions of logic itself. These do not represent states of affairs, and the logical constants do not stand for objects. “My fundamental thought is that the logical constants do not represent. That the logic of the facts cannot be represented” (TLP 4.0312). This is not a happenstance thought; it is fundamental precisely because the limits of sense rest on logic. Tautologies and contradictions, the propositions of logic, are the limits of language and thought, and thereby the limits of the world. Obviously, then, they do not picture anything and do not, therefore, have sense. They are, in Wittgenstein’s terms, senseless (sinnlos). Propositions which do have sense are bipolar; they range within the truth-conditions drawn by the truth-tables. But the propositions of logic themselves are “not pictures of the reality … for the one allows every possible state of affairs, the other none” (TLP 4.462). Indeed, tautologies (and contradictions), being senseless, are recognized as true (or false) “in the symbol alone … and this fact contains in itself the whole philosophy of logic” (TLP 6.113).

The characteristic of being senseless applies not only to the propositions of logic but also to mathematics or the pictorial form itself of the pictures that do represent. These are, like tautologies and contradictions, literally sense-less, they have no sense.

Beyond, or aside from, senseless propositions Wittgenstein identifies another group of statements which cannot carry sense: the nonsensical (unsinnig) propositions. Nonsense, as opposed to senselessness, is encountered when a proposition is even more radically devoid of meaning, when it transcends the bounds of sense. Under the label of unsinnig can be found various propositions: “Socrates is identical”, but also “1 is a number” and “there are objects”. While some nonsensical propositions are blatantly so, others seem to be meaningful—and only analysis carried out in accordance with the picture theory can expose their nonsensicality. Since only what is “in” the world can be described, anything that is “higher” is excluded, including the notion of limit and the limit points themselves. Traditional metaphysics, and the propositions of ethics and aesthetics, which try to capture the world as a whole, are also excluded, as is the truth in solipsism, the very notion of a subject, for it is also not “in” the world but at its limit.

Wittgenstein does not, however, relegate all that is not inside the bounds of sense to oblivion. He makes a distinction between saying and showing which is made to do additional crucial work. “What can be shown cannot be said,” that is, what cannot be formulated in sayable (sensical) propositions can only be shown. This applies, for example, to the logical form of the world, the pictorial form, etc., which show themselves in the form of (contingent) propositions, in the symbolism, and in logical propositions. Even the unsayable (metaphysical, ethical, aesthetic) propositions of philosophy belong in this group—which Wittgenstein finally describes as “things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical” (TLP 6.522).

2.3 The Nature of Philosophy

Accordingly, “the word ‘philosophy’ must mean something which stands above or below, but not beside the natural sciences” (TLP 4.111). Not surprisingly, then, “most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical” (TLP 4.003). Is, then, philosophy doomed to be nonsense (unsinnig), or, at best, senseless (sinnlos) when it does logic, but, in any case, meaningless? What is left for the philosopher to do, if traditional, or even revolutionary, propositions of metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics cannot be formulated in a sensical manner? The reply to these two questions is found in Wittgenstein’s characterization of philosophy: philosophy is not a theory, or a doctrine, but rather an activity. It is an activity of clarification (of thoughts), and more so, of critique (of language). Described by Wittgenstein, it should be the philosopher’s routine activity: to react or respond to the traditional philosophers’ musings by showing them where they go wrong, using the tools provided by logical analysis. In other words, by showing them that (some of) their propositions are nonsense.

“All propositions are of equal value” (TLP 6.4)—that could also be the fundamental thought of the book. For it employs a measure of the value of propositions that is done by logic and the notion of limits. It is here, however, with the constraints on the value of propositions, that the tension in the Tractatus is most strongly felt. It becomes clear that the notions used by the Tractatus—the logical-philosophical notions—do not belong to the world and hence cannot be used to express anything meaningful. Since language, thought and the world, are all isomorphic, any attempt to say in logic (i.e., in language) “this and this there is in the world, that there is not” is doomed to be a failure, since it would mean that logic has got outside the limits of the world, i.e. of itself. That is to say, the Tractatus has gone over its own limits, and stands in danger of being nonsensical.

The “solution” to this tension is found in Wittgenstein’s final remarks, where he uses the metaphor of the ladder to express the function of the Tractatus. It is to be used in order to climb on it, in order to “see the world rightly”; but thereafter it must be recognized as nonsense and be thrown away. Hence: “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (7).

2.4 Interpretative Problems

The Tractatus is notorious for its interpretative difficulties. In the decades that have passed since its publication it has gone through several waves of general interpretations. Beyond exegetical and hermeneutical issues that revolve around particular sections (such as the world/reality distinction, the difference between representing and presenting, the Frege/Russell connection to Wittgenstein, or the influence on Wittgenstein by existentialist philosophy) there are a few fundamental, not unrelated, disagreements that inform the map of interpretation. These revolve around the realism of the Tractatus, the notion of nonsense and its role in reading the Tractatus itself, and the reading of the Tractatus as an ethical tract.

There are interpretations that see the Tractatus as espousing realism, i.e., as positing the independent existence of objects, states of affairs, and facts. That this realism is achieved via a linguistic turn is recognized by all (or most) interpreters, but this linguistic perspective does no damage to the basic realism that is seen to start off the Tractatus (“The world is all that is the case”) and to run throughout the text (“Objects form the substance of the world” (TLP 2.021)). Such realism is also taken to be manifested in the essential bi-polarity of propositions; likewise, a straightforward reading of the picturing relation posits objects there to be represented by signs. As against these readings, more linguistically oriented interpretations give conceptual priority to the symbolism. When “reality is compared with propositions” (TLP 4.05), it is the form of propositions which determines the shape of reality (and not the other way round). In any case, the issue of realism (vs. anti-realism) in the Tractatus must address the question of the limits of language and the more particular question of what there is (or is not) beyond language. Subsequently, interpreters of the Tractatus have moved on to questioning the very presence of metaphysics within the book and the status of the propositions of the book themselves.

‘Nonsense’ became the hinge of Wittgensteinian interpretative discussion during the last decade of the 20th century. Beyond the bounds of language lies nonsense—propositions which cannot picture anything—and Wittgenstein bans traditional metaphysics to that area. The quandary arises concerning the question of what it is that inhabits that realm of nonsense, since Wittgenstein does seem to be saying that there is something there to be shown (rather than said) and does, indeed, characterize it as the ‘mystical’. The traditional readings of the Tractatus accepted, with varying degrees of discomfort, the existence of that which is unsayable, that which cannot be put into words, the nonsensical. More recent readings tend to take nonsense more seriously as exactly that—nonsense. This also entails taking seriously Wittgenstein’s words in 6.54—his famous ladder metaphor—and throwing out the Tractatus itself, including the distinction between what can be said and what can only be shown. The Tractatus, on this stance, does not point at ineffable truths (of, e.g., metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, etc.), but should lead us away from such temptations. An accompanying discussion must then also deal with how this can be recognized, what this can possibly mean, and how it should be used, if at all.

This discussion is closely related to what has come to be called the ethical reading of the Tractatus. Such a reading is based, first, on the supposed discrepancy between Wittgenstein’s construction of a world-language system, which takes up the bulk of the Tractatus, and several comments that are made about this construction in the Preface to the book, in its closing remarks, and in a letter he sent to his publisher, Ludwig von Ficker, before publication. In these places, all of which can be viewed as external to the content of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein preaches silence as regards anything that is of importance, including the ‘internal’ parts of the book which contain, in his own words, “the final solution of the problems [of philosophy].” It is the importance given to the ineffable that can be viewed as an ethical position. “My work consists of two parts, the one presented here plus all that I have not written. And it is precisely this second part that is the important point. For the ethical gets its limit drawn from the inside, as it were, by my book; … I’ve managed in my book to put everything firmly into place by being silent about it …. For now I would recommend you to read the preface and the conclusion, because they contain the most direct expression of the point” (ProtoTractatus, p.16). Obviously, such seemingly contradictory tensions within and about a text—written by its author—give rise to interpretative conundrums.

There is another issue often debated by interpreters of Wittgenstein, which arises out of the questions above. This has to do with the continuity between the thought of the early and later Wittgenstein. Again, the ‘standard’ interpretations were originally united in perceiving a clear break between the two distinct stages of Wittgenstein’s thought, even when ascertaining some developmental continuity between them. And again, the more recent interpretations challenge this standard, emphasizing that the fundamental therapeutic motivation clearly found in the later Wittgenstein should also be attributed to the early.

3. The Later Wittgenstein

3.1 Transition and Critique of Tractatus

The idea that philosophy is not a doctrine, and hence should not be approached dogmatically, is one of the most important insights of the Tractatus. Yet, as early as 1931, Wittgenstein referred to his own early work as dogmatic (“On Dogmatism” inVC, p. 182. Wittgenstein used this term to designate any conception which allows for a gap between question and answer, such that the answer to the question could be found at a later date. The complex edifice of the Tractatus is built on the assumption that the task of logical analysis was to discover the elementary propositions, whose form was not yet known. What marks the transition from early to later Wittgenstein can be summed up as the total rejection of dogmatism, i.e., as the working out of all the consequences of this rejection. The move from the realm of logic to that of ordinary language as the center of the philosopher’s attention; from an emphasis on definition and analysis to ‘family resemblance’ and ‘language-games’; and from systematic philosophical writing to an aphoristic style—all have to do with this transition towards anti-dogmatism in its extreme. It is in the Philosophical Investigations that the working out of the transitions comes to culmination. Other writings of the same period, though, manifest the same anti-dogmatic stance, as it is applied, e.g., to the philosophy of mathematics or to philosophical psychology.

3.2 Philosophical Investigations

Philosophical Investigations was published posthumously in 1953. It was edited by G. E. M. Anscombe and Rush Rhees and translated by Anscombe. It comprised two parts. Part I, consisting of 693 numbered paragraphs, was ready for printing in 1946, but rescinded from the publisher by Wittgenstein. Part II was added on by the editors, trustees of his Nachlass. In 2009 a new edited translation, by P. M. S. Hacker and Joachim Schulte, was published; Part II of the earlier translation was here labeled “Philosophy of Psychology - A Fragment” (PPF).

In the Preface to PI, Wittgenstein states that his new thoughts would be better understood by contrast with and against the background of his old thoughts, those in the Tractatus; and indeed, most of Part I of PI is essentially critical. Its new insights can be understood as primarily exposing fallacies in the traditional way of thinking about language, truth, thought, intentionality, and, perhaps mainly, philosophy. In this sense, it is conceived of as a therapeutic work, viewing philosophy itself as therapy. (Part II (PPF), focusing on philosophical psychology, perception etc., was not as critical. Rather, it pointed to new perspectives (which, undoubtedly, are not disconnected from the earlier critique) in addressing specific philosophical issues. It is, therefore, more easily read alongside Wittgenstein’s other writings of the later period.)

PI begins with a quote from Augustine’s Confessions which “give us a particular picture of the essence of human language,” based on the idea that “the words in language name objects,” and that “sentences are combinations of such names” (PI 1). This picture of language cannot be relied on as a basis for metaphysical, epistemic or linguistic speculation. Despite its plausibility, this reduction of language to representation cannot do justice to the whole of human language; and even if it is to be considered a picture of only the representative function of human language, it is, as such, a poor picture. Furthermore, this picture of language is at the base of the whole of traditional philosophy, but, for Wittgenstein, it is to be shunned in favor of a new way of looking at both language and philosophy. The Philosophical Investigations proceeds to offer the new way of looking at language, which will yield the view of philosophy as therapy.

3.3 Meaning as Use

“For a large class of cases of the employment of the word ‘meaning’—though not for all—this word can be explained in this way: the meaning of a word is its use in the language” (PI 43). This basic statement is what underlies the change of perspective most typical of the later phase of Wittgenstein’s thought: a change from a conception of meaning as representation to a view which looks to use as the crux of the investigation. Traditional theories of meaning in the history of philosophy were intent on pointing to something exterior to the proposition which endows it with sense. This ‘something’ could generally be located either in an objective space, or inside the mind as mental representation. As early as 1933 (The Blue Book) Wittgenstein took pains to challenge these conceptions, arriving at the insight that “if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use” (BB 4). Ascertainment of the use (of a word, of a proposition), however, is not given to any sort of constructive theory building, as in the Tractatus. Rather, when investigating meaning, the philosopher must “look and see” the variety of uses to which the word is put. An analogy with tools sheds light on the nature of words. When we think of tools in a toolbox, we do not fail to see their variety; but the “functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects” (PI 11). We are misled by the uniform appearance of our words into theorizing upon meaning: “Especially when we are doing philosophy!” (PI 12)

So different is this new perspective that Wittgenstein repeats: “Don’t think, but look!” (PI 66); and such looking is done vis a vis particular cases, not generalizations. In giving the meaning of a word, any explanatory generalization should be replaced by a description of use. The traditional idea that a proposition houses a content and has a restricted number of Fregean forces (such as assertion, question and command), gives way to an emphasis on the diversity of uses. In order to address the countless multiplicity of uses, their un-fixedness, and their being part of an activity, Wittgenstein introduces the key concept of ‘language-game’. He never explicitly defines it since, as opposed to the earlier ‘picture’, for instance, this new concept is made to do work for a more fluid, more diversified, and more activity-oriented perspective on language.

3.4 Language-games and Family Resemblance

Throughout the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein returns, again and again, to the concept of language-games to make clear his lines of thought concerning language. Primitive language-games are scrutinized for the insights they afford on this or that characteristic of language. Thus, the builders’ language-game (PI 2), in which a builder and his assistant use exactly four terms (block, pillar, slab, beam), is utilized to illustrate that part of the Augustinian picture of language which might be correct but which is, nevertheless, strictly limited. ‘Regular’ language-games, such as the astonishing list provided in PI 23 (which includes, e.g., reporting an event, speculating about an event, forming and testing a hypothesis, making up a story, reading it, play-acting, singing catches, guessing riddles, making a joke, translating, asking, thanking, and so on), bring out the openness of our possibilities in using language and in describing it.

Language-games are, first, a part of a broader context termed by Wittgenstein a form of life (see below). Secondly, the concept of language-games points at the rule-governed character of language. This does not entail strict and definite systems of rules for each and every language-game, but points to the conventional nature of this sort of human activity. Still, just as we cannot give a final, essential definition of ‘game’, so we cannot find “what is common to all these activities and what makes them into language or parts of language” (PI 65).

It is here that Wittgenstein’s rejection of general explanations, and definitions based on sufficient and necessary conditions, is best pronounced. Instead of these symptoms of the philosopher’s “craving for generality”, he points to ‘family resemblance’ as the more suitable analogy for the means of connecting particular uses of the same word. There is no reason to look, as we have done traditionally—and dogmatically—for one, essential core in which the meaning of a word is located and which is, therefore, common to all uses of that word. We should, instead, travel with the word’s uses through “a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing” (PI 66). Family resemblance also serves to exhibit the lack of boundaries and the distance from exactness that characterize different uses of the same concept. Such boundaries and exactness are the definitive traits of form—be it Platonic form, Aristotelian form, or the general form of a proposition adumbrated in the Tractatus. It is from such forms that applications of concepts can be deduced, but this is precisely what Wittgenstein now eschews in favor of appeal to similarity of a kind with family resemblance.

3.5 Rule-following and Private Language

One of the issues most associated with the later Wittgenstein is that of rule-following. Rising out of the considerations above, it becomes another central point of discussion in the question of what it is that can apply to all the uses of a word. The same dogmatic stance as before has it that a rule is an abstract entity—transcending all of its particular applications; knowing the rule involves grasping that abstract entity and thereby knowing how to use it.

Wittgenstein begins his exposition by introducing an example: “… we get [a] pupil to continue a series (say ‘+ 2’) beyond 1000—and he writes 1000, 1004, 1008, 1012 (PI 185)”. What do we do, and what does it mean, when the student, upon being corrected, answers “But I did go on in the same way”? Wittgenstein proceeds (mainly in PI 185-243, but also elsewhere) to dismantle the cluster of attendant questions: How do we learn rules? How do we follow them? Wherefrom the standards which decide if a rule is followed correctly? Are they in the mind, along with a mental representation of the rule? Do we appeal to intuition in their application? Are they socially and publicly taught and enforced? In typical Wittgensteinian fashion, the answers are not pursued positively; rather, the very formulation of the questions as legitimate questions with coherent content is put to the test. For indeed, it is both the Platonistic and mentalistic pictures which underlie asking questions of this type, and Wittgenstein is intent on freeing us from these assumptions. Such liberation involves elimination of the need to posit any sort of external or internal authority beyond the actual applications of the rule.

These considerations lead to PI 201, often considered the climax of the issue: “This was our paradox: no course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be made out to accord with the rule. The answer was: if everything can be made out to accord with the rule, then it can also be made out to conflict with it. And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here.” Wittgenstein’s formulation of the problem, now at the point of being a “paradox”, has given rise to a wealth of interpretation and debate since it is clear to all that this is the crux of the general issue of meaning, and of understanding and using a language. One of the influential readings of the problem of following a rule (introduced by Fogelin 1976 and Kripke 1982) has been the interpretation, according to which Wittgenstein is here voicing a skeptical paradox and offering a skeptical solution. That is to say, there are no facts that determine what counts as following a rule, no real grounds for saying that someone is indeed following a rule, and Wittgenstein accepts this skeptical challenge (by suggesting other conditions that might warrant our asserting that someone is following a rule). This reading has been challenged, in turn, by several interpretations (such as Baker and Hacker 1984, McGinn1984, and Cavell 1990), while others have provided additional, fresh perspectives (e.g., Diamond, “Rules: Looking in the Right Place” in Phillips and Winch 1989, and several in Miller and Wright 2002).

Directly following the rule-following sections in PI, and therefore easily thought to be the upshot of the discussion, are those sections called by interpreters “the private-language argument”. Whether it be a veritable argument or not (and Wittgenstein never labeled it as such), these sections point out that for an utterance to be meaningful it must be possible in principle to subject it to public standards and criteria of correctness. For this reason, a private-language, in which “words … are to refer to what only the speaker can know—to his immediate private sensations …” (PI 243), is not a genuine, meaningful, rule-governed language. The signs in language can only function when there is a possibility of judging the correctness of their use, “so the use of [a] word stands in need of a justification which everybody understands” (PI 261).

3.6 Grammar and Form of Life

Grammar, usually taken to consist of the rules of correct syntactic and semantic usage, becomes, in Wittgenstein’s hands, the wider—and more elusive—network of rules which determine what linguistic move is allowed as making sense, and what isn’t. This notion replaces the stricter and purer logic, which played such an essential role in the Tractatus in providing a scaffolding for language and the world. Indeed, “Essence is expressed in grammar … Grammar tells what kind of object anything is. (Theology as grammar)” (PI 371, 373). The “rules” of grammar are not mere technical instructions from on-high for correct usage; rather, they express the norms for meaningful language. Contrary to empirical statements, rules of grammar describe how we use words in order to both justify and criticize our particular utterances. But as opposed to grammar-book rules, they are not idealized as an external system to be conformed to. Moreover, they are not appealed to explicitly in any formulation, but are used in cases of philosophical perplexity to clarify where language misleads us into false illusions. Thus, “I can know what someone else is thinking, not what I am thinking. It is correct to say ‘I know what you are thinking’, and wrong to say ‘I know what I am thinking.’ (A whole cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar.)” (Philosophical Investigations 1953, p.222).

Grammar is not abstract, it is situated within the regular activity with which language-games are interwoven: “… the word ‘language-game’ is used here to emphasize the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life” (PI 23). What enables language to function and therefore must be accepted as “given” are precisely forms of life. In Wittgenstein’s terms, “It is not only agreement in definitions but also (odd as it may sound) in judgments that is required” (PI 242), and this is “agreement not in opinions, but rather in form of life” (PI 241). Used by Wittgenstein sparingly—five times in the Investigations—this concept has given rise to interpretative quandaries and subsequent contradictory readings. Forms of life can be understood as changing and contingent, dependent on culture, context, history, etc; this appeal to forms of life grounds a relativistic reading of Wittgenstein. On the other hand, it is the form of life common to humankind, “shared human behavior” which is “the system of reference by means of which we interpret an unknown language” (PI 206). This might be seen as a universalistic turn, recognizing that the use of language is made possible by the human form of life.

3.7 The Nature of Philosophy

In his later writings Wittgenstein holds, as he did in the Tractatus, that philosophers do not—or should not—supply a theory, neither do they provide explanations. “Philosophy just puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything.—Since everything lies open to view there is nothing to explain” (PI 126). The anti-theoretical stance is reminiscent of the early Wittgenstein, but there are manifest differences. Although the Tractatus precludes philosophical theories, it does construct a systematic edifice which results in the general form of the proposition, all the while relying on strict formal logic; the Investigations points out the therapeutic non-dogmatic nature of philosophy, verily instructing philosophers in the ways of therapy. “The work of the philosopher consists in marshalling reminders for a particular purpose” (PI 127). Working with reminders and series of examples, different problems are solved. Unlike the Tractatus which advanced one philosophical method, in the Investigations “there is not a single philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, different therapies, as it were” (PI 133d). This is directly related to Wittgenstein’s eschewal of the logical form or of any a-priori generalization that can be discovered or made in philosophy. Trying to advance such general theses is a temptation which lures philosophers; but the real task of philosophy is both to make us aware of the temptation and to show us how to overcome it. Consequently “a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about.’” (PI 123), and hence the aim of philosophy is “to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle” (PI 309).

The style of the Investigations is strikingly different from that of the Tractatus. Instead of strictly numbered sections which are organized hierarchically in programmatic order, the Investigations fragmentarily voices aphorisms about language-games, family resemblance, forms of life, “sometimes jumping, in a sudden change, from one area to another” (PI Preface). This variation in style is of course essential and is “connected with the very nature of the investigation” (PI Preface). As a matter of fact, Wittgenstein was acutely aware of the contrast between the two stages of his thought, suggesting publication of both texts together in order to make the contrast obvious and clear.

Still, it is precisely via the subject of the nature of philosophy that the fundamental continuity between these two stages, rather than the discrepancy between them, is to be found. In both cases philosophy serves, first, as critique of language. It is through analyzing language’s illusive power that the philosopher can expose the traps of meaningless philosophical formulations. This means that what was formerly thought of as a philosophical problem may now dissolve “and this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear” (PI 133). Two implications of this diagnosis, easily traced back in the Tractatus, are to be recognized. One is the inherent dialogical character of philosophy, which is a responsive activity: difficulties and torments are encountered which are then to be dissipated by philosophical therapy. In the Tractatus, this took the shape of advice: “The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science … and then whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions” (TLP 6.53) The second, more far- reaching, “discovery” in the Investigations “is the one that enables me to break off philosophizing when I want to” (PI 133). This has been taken to revert back to the ladder metaphor and the injunction to silence in the Tractatus.

3.8 After the Investigations

It has been submitted that the writings of the period from 1946 until his death (1951) constitute a distinctive phase of Wittgenstein’s thought. These writings include, in addition to the second part of the first edition of the Philosophical Investigations, texts edited and collected in volumes such as Remarks on Colour, Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, Zettel, On Certainty, and parts of The Foundations of Mathematics. Besides dealing with mathematics and psychology, this is the stage at which Wittgenstein most seriously pursued questions traditionally recognized as epistemological. On Certainty tackles skeptical doubts and foundational solutions but is, in typical Wittgensteinian fashion, a work of therapy which discounts presuppositions common to both. This is intimately related to another of On Certainty’s themes—the primacy of the deed to the word, or, in Wittgenstein’s PI terminology, of form of life to grammar. The general tenor of all the writings of this last period can thence be viewed as, on the one hand, a move away from the critical (some would say destructive) positions of the Investigations to a more positive perspective on the same problems that had been facing him since his early writings; on the other hand, this move does not constitute a break from the later period but is more properly viewed as its continuation, in a new light.


Wittgenstein’s Works

  • The Big Typescript: TS 213, German English Scholars’ Edition, 2005, C. Grant Luckhardt and Maximilian E. Aue (trans.), Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • The Blue and Brown Books (BB), 1958, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Culture and Value, 1980, G. H. von Wright (ed.), P. Winch (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, vol. 1, 1982, vol. 2, 1992, G. H. von Wright and H. Nyman (eds.), trans. C. G. Luckhardt and M. A. E. Aue (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • “A Lecture on Ethics”, 1965, The Philosophical Review, 74: 3-12.
  • Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, 1966, C. Barrett (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Letters to C. K. Ogden with Comments on the English Translation of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1973, G. H. von Wright (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Letters to Russell, Keynes and Moore, 1974, G. H. von Wright and B. F. McGuinness (eds.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: Public and Private Occasions, 2003, J. Klagge and A. Nordmann (eds.), Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversations Recorded by Friedrich Waismann (VC), 1979, B. F. McGuinness (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Notebooks 1914-1916, 1961, G. H. von Wright and G. E. M. Anscombe (eds.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • “Notes Dictated to G. E. Moore”, in Notebooks 1914-1916.
  • “Notes for Lectures on ‘Private Experience’ and ‘Sense Data’”, 1968, Philosophical Review, 77: 275-320.
  • On Certainty, 1969, G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (eds.), G.E.M. Anscombe and D. Paul (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Philosophical Grammar, 1974, R. Rhees (ed.), A. Kenny (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Philosophical Investigations , 1953, G.E.M. Anscombe and R. Rhees (eds.), G.E.M. Anscombe (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Philosophical Investigations (PI), 4th edition, 2009, P.M.S. Hacker and Joachim Schulte (eds. and trans.), Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Philosophical Occasions, 1993, J. Klagge and A. Nordmann (eds.), Indianapolis: Hackett.
  • Philosophical Remarks, 1964, R. Rhees (ed.), R. Hargreaves and R. White (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • ProtoTractatus—An Early Version of Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus, 1971, B. F. McGuinness, T. Nyberg, G. H. von Wright (eds.), D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness (trans.), Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Remarks on Colour, 1977, G. E. M. Anscombe (ed.), L. McAlister and M. Schaettle (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • “Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough”, 1967, R. Rhees (ed.), Synthese, 17: 233-253.
  • Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, 1956, G. H. von Wright, R. Rhees and G. E. M. Anscombe (eds.), G. E. M. Anscombe (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell, revised edition 1978.
  • Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, 1980, vol. 1, G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (eds.), G. E. M. Anscombe (trans.), vol. 2, G. H. von Wright and H. Nyman (eds.), C. G. Luckhardt and M. A. E. Aue (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • “Some Remarks on Logical Form”, 1929, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 9 (Supplemental): 162-171.
  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (TLP), 1922, C. K. Ogden (trans.), London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Originally published as “Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung”, in Annalen der Naturphilosophische, XIV (3/4), 1921.
  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1961, D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness (trans.), New York: Humanities Press.
  • The Voices of Wittgenstein: The Vienna Circle: Ludwig Wittgenstein and Friedrich Waismann, 2003, Gordon Baker (ed.), Gordon Baker, Michael Mackert, John Connolly and Vasilis Politis (trans.), London: Routledge.
  • Wittgenstein: Conversations, 1949-1951, 1986, O. K. Bouwsma; J. L. Kraft and R. H. Hustwit (eds.), Indianapolis: Hackett.
  • Wittgenstein in Cambridge: Letters and Documents 1911-1951, 2008, Brian McGuinness (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Wittgenstein’s Lectures, Cambridge 1930-1932, 1980, D. Lee (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Wittgenstein’s Lectures, Cambridge 1932-1935, 1979, A. Ambrose (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Wittgenstein’s Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics, 1976, C. Diamond (ed.), Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Wittgenstein’s Lectures on Philosophical Psychology 1946- 47, 1988, P. T. Geach (ed.), London: Harvester.
  • Wittgenstein’s Notes on Logic, 2009, Michael Potter (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Zettel, 1967, G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright (eds.), G. E. M. Anscombe (trans.), Oxford: Blackwell.
  • The Collected Manuscripts of Ludwig Wittgenstein on Facsimile CD Rom, 1997, The Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Secondary Sources

Biographies and Historical Background

  • Hacker, P. M. S., 1996, Wittgenstein’s Place in Twentieth-century Analytic Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Janik, Allan, and Stephen Toulmin, 1973, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Klagge, James C., 2001, Wittgenstein: Biography and Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • –––, 2010, Wittgenstein in Exile, Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.
  • Malcolm, N., 1958, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • McGuinness, B., 1988, Wittgenstein, a Life: Young Wittgenstein (1889-1929), Pelican.
  • Monk, Ray, 1990, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, New York: Macmillan.
  • Sterrett, Susan, 2005, Wittgenstein Flies a Kite: A Story of Wings and Models of the World, London: Penguin Books (Pi Press).

Collections of Essays

  • Block, Irving (ed.), 1981, Perspectives on the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Canfield, John V. (ed.), 1986, The Philosophy of Wittgenstein, vols. 1-15, New York: Garland Publishers.
  • Copi, I.M., and R.W. Beard (eds.), 1966, Essays on Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, London: Routledge.
  • Crary, Alice (ed.), 2007, Wittgenstein and the Moral Life, Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.
  • Crary, Alice and Rupert Read (eds.), 2000, The New Wittgenstein, London: Routledge.
  • Gibson, John and Wolfgang Huemer (eds.), 2004, The Literary Wittgenstein, London: Routledge.
  • Griffiths, A. P. (ed.), 1991, Wittgenstein: Centenary Essays, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kahane, Guy, Edward Kanterian , and Oskari Kuusela (eds.), 2007, Wittgenstein and His Interpreters, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Kuusela, Oskari and Marie McGinn (eds), 2011, The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Miller, Alexander, and Crispin Wright (eds.), 2002, Rule-following and Meaning, CITY: Acumen Publishing.
  • Moyal-Sharrock, Danièle (ed.), 2004, The Third Wittgenstein: The Post-Investigations Works, London: Ashgate.
  • Moyal-Sharrock, Danièle, and William H. Brenner (eds.), 2005, Readings of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Phillips, D. Z., and Peter Winch (eds), 1989, Wittgenstein: Attention to Particulars, Houndmills: Macmillan.
  • Pichler, Alois and Simo Säätelä (eds.), 2005, Wittgenstein: The Philosopher and his Works, Publications from the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen.
  • Shanker, S. G., (ed.), 1986, Ludwig Wittgenstein: Critical Assessments, vols.1-5, Beckenham: Croom Helm.
  • Scheman, Naomi, and Peg O’Connor (eds), 2002, Feminist Interpretations of Ludwig Wittgenstein, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Sluga, Hans D., and David G. Stern (eds.), 1996, The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sullivan, Peter, and Michael Potter (eds.), 2013, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: History and Interpretation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Vesey, G., (ed.), 1974, Understanding Wittgenstein, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Introductions and Commentaries

  • Anscombe, G. E. M., 1959, An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, London: Hutchinson.
  • Baker, G. P., 2004, Wittgenstein’s Method: Neglected Aspects, edited and introduced by Katherine J. Morris, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Baker, G. P., and P. M. S. Hacker, 1980, Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning, Volume 1 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell (2nd extensively revised edition 2005).
  • –––, 1984, Scepticism, Rules and Language, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • –––, 1985, Wittgenstein: Rules, Grammar and Necessity, Volume 2 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell (2nd extensively revised edition 2009).
  • Biletzki, Anat, 2003, (Over)Interpreting Wittgenstein, Leiden: Kluwer.
  • Black, Max, 1967, A Companion to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Cavell, S., 1969, Must We Mean What We Say?, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  • –––, 1979, The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality, and Tragedy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • –––, 1990, Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Diamond, C., 1991, The Realistic Spirit, Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Fogelin, R. J., 1976, Wittgenstein, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul (2nd edition 1987).
  • –––, 2009, Taking Wittgenstein at His Word: A Textual Study, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Genova, Judith, 1995, Wittgenstein: A Way of Seeing, New York: Routledge.
  • Glock, Hans-Johann, 1996, A Wittgenstein Dictionary, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Hacker, P. M. S., 1972, Insight and Illusion: Themes in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, , Oxford: Clarendon Press; 2nd revised edition, 1986.
  • –––, 1990, Wittgenstein: Meaning and Mind, Volume 3 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • –––, 1996, Wittgenstein: Mind and Will, Volume 4 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • –––, 2001, Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hintikka, M. B., and J. Hintikka, 1986, Investigating Wittgenstein, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Kenny, A., 1973, Wittgenstein, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Kripke, S., 1982, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language: An Elementary Exposition, Oxford, Blackwell.
  • Kuusela, Oskari, 2008, The Struggle against Dogmatism: Wittgenstein and the Concept of Philosophy, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.
  • Malcolm, N., 1986, Nothing is Hidden, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • McGinn, Colin, 1984, Wittgenstein on Meaning, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • McGinn, Marie, 1997, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations, London: Routledge; 2nd revised edition, 2013.
  • –––, 2009, Elucidating the Tractatus, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • McGuinness, B., 2002, Approaches to Wittgenstein: Collected Papers, London: Routledge.
  • Mounce, H. O., 1981, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Moyal-Sharrock, Danièle, 2007, Understanding Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Pears, David F., 1987, 1988, The False Prison, vols. I and II, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Perloff, Marjorie, 1999, Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Pitkin, Hannah, 1972, Wittgenstein and Justice: On the Significance of Ludwig Wittgenstein for Social and Political Thought, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Stern, David G., 2004, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Stroll, Avrum, 1994, Moore and Wittgenstein on Certainty, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Williams, Meredith, 2002, Wittgenstein, Mind and Meaning: Towards a Social Conception of Mind, London: Routledge.

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