This page contains a list of the seven best books on or by Wittgenstein. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Wittgenstein” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works by Wittgenstein. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Wittgenstein Here are the best books on or by Wittgenstein in no particular order:
How to Read Wittgenstein – Ray Monk
Publisher description: Approaching the writing of major intellectuals, artists, and philosophers need no longer be daunting. How to Read is a new sort of introduction–a personal master class in reading–that brings you face to face with the work of some of the most influential and challenging writers in history. In lucid, accessible language, these books explain essential topics such as Wittgenstein’s determination to insist on the integrity and the autonomy of nonscientific forms of understanding.
Though Wittgenstein wrote on the same subjects that dominate the work of other analytic philosophers ― the nature of logic, the limits of language, the analysis of meaning ― he did so in a peculiarly poetic style that separates his work sharply from that of his peers and makes the question of how to read him particularly pertinent.
At the root of Wittgenstein’s thought, Monk argues, is a determination to resist the scientism characteristic of our age, a determination to insist on the integrity and the autonomy of non-scientific forms of understanding. The kind of understanding we seek in philosophy, Wittgenstein tried to make clear, is similar to the kind we might seek of a person, a piece of music, or, indeed, of a poem.
Wittgenstein – William Child
Publisher description: Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is considered by most philosophers – even those who do not share his views – to be the most influential philosopher of the 20th century. His contributions to the philosophy of language, mind, meaning and psychology – as well as to logic, mathematics and epistemology – permanently altered the philosophical landscape, and his Tractatus Logico Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations continue to be studied in philosophy departments around in the world. In this superb introduction and overview of Wittgenstein’s life and work, William Child discusses:
- Wittgenstein’s early work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, including his account of language and thought
- Wittgenstein’s subsequent rejection of some of the central doctrines of the Tractatus
- Wittgenstein’s later philosophy
- intentionality and rule-following
- philosophy of mind and psychology in Philosophical Investigations
- knowledge and certainty, and Wittgenstein’s final work
- philosophy of religion
- the legacy and influence of Wittgenstein’s ideas in philosophy, and beyond.
Including a chronology, glossary, and helpful conclusions to each chapter, Wittgenstein is essential reading for anyone coming to Wittgenstein’s philosophy for the first time.
Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius – Ray Monk
Publisher description: Ludwig Wittgenstein possessed one of the most acute philosophical minds of the twentieth century. In this incisive portrait, Ray Monk offers a unique insight into the life and work of a modern genius. Wittgenstein was a tortured man who fought his calling in philosophy and never fully came to terms with his gifts. A reluctant Cambridge don, he was uncomfortable in the university setting and believed that a professor could not be an authentic philosopher. In friendship and in love, he was attracted to gentle, intelligent younger men, yet he was so troubled by his own sensuality that these attachments existed mostly in his imagination. Based on previously unpublished Wittgenstein letters and writings, this richly textured biography reveals the connection between the tormented private man and the genius who, in the epoch-making works ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’ and ‘Philosophical Investigations’, radically redirected philosophical thought in our time.
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Publisher description: “Philosophy is not a theory,” asserted Austro-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), “but an activity.” In this 1921 opus, his only philosophical work published during his lifetime, Wittgenstein defined the object of philosophy as the logical clarification of thoughts and proposed the solution to most philosophic problems by means of a critical method of linguistic analysis. In proclaiming philosophy as a matter of logic rather than of metaphysics, Wittgenstein created a sensation among intellectual circles that influenced the development of logical positivism and changed the direction of 20th-century thought.
Beginning with the principles of symbolism and the necessary relations between words and objects, the author applies his theories to various branches of traditional philosophy, illustrating how mistakes arise from inappropriate use of symbolism and misuses of language. After examining the logical structure of propositions and the nature of logical inference, he discusses the theory of knowledge as well as principles of physics and ethics and aspects of the mystical.
Supervised by the author himself, this translation from the German by C. K. Ogden is regarded as the definitive text. A magisterial introduction by the distinguished philosopher Bertrand Russell hails Wittgenstein’s achievement as extraordinarily important, “one which no serious philosopher can afford to neglect.” Introduction by Bertrand Russell.
Philosophical Investigations – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Publisher description: Incorporating significant editorial changes from earlier editions, the fourth edition of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations is the definitive en face German-English version of the most important work of 20th-century philosophy
- The extensively revised English translation incorporates many hundreds of changes to Anscombe’s original translation
- Footnoted remarks in the earlier editions have now been relocated in the text
- What was previously referred to as ‘Part 2’ is now republished as Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment, and all the remarks in it are numbered for ease of reference
- New detailed editorial end notes explain decisions of translators and identify references and allusions in Wittgenstein’s original text
- Now features new essays on the history of the Philosophical Investigations, and the problems of translating Wittgenstein’s text
On Certainty – Ludwig Wittgenstein
Written over the last 18 months of his life and inspired by his interest in G. E. Moore’s defense of common sense, this much discussed volume collects Wittgenstein’s reflections on knowledge and certainty, on what it is to know a proposition for sure.
The Cambridge Companion to Wittgenstein – Hans Sluga & David G. Stern
Publisher description: Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is one of the most important and influential philosophers in modern times, but he is also one of the least accessible. In this volume, leading experts chart the development of his work and clarify the connections between its different stages. The essays, which are both expository and original, address central themes in Wittgenstein’s writing on a wide range of topics, particularly his thinking about the mind, language, logic, and mathematics. The contributors illuminate the character of the whole body of work by focusing on key topics: the style of the philosophy, the conception of grammar contained in it, rule-following, convention, logical necessity, the self, and what Wittgenstein called, in a famous phrase, ‘forms of life’. This revised edition includes a new introduction, five new essays – on Tractarian ethics, Wittgenstein’s development, aspects, the mind, and time and history – and a fully updated comprehensive bibliography.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Wittgenstein
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Wittgenstein
If you’d like to learn more about Wittgenstein, check out this collection of beginner friendly resources on Wittgenstein.
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