Who Was Ludwig Wittgenstein?

When we do philosophy we are like savages, primitive people, who hear the expressions of civilized men, put a false interpretation on them, and then draw the queerest conclusions from it.

- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, work and legacy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. There is little doubt that he was a towering figure of the twentieth century; on his return to Cambridge in 1929 Maynard Keynes wrote, “Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train”. Wittgenstein is credited with being the greatest philosopher of the modern age, a thinker who left not one but two philosophies for his descendents to argue over: The early Wittgenstein said, “the limits of my mind mean the limits of my world”; the later Wittgenstein replied, “If God looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of”. Language was at the heart of both. Wittgenstein stated that his purpose was to finally free humanity from the pointless and neurotic philosophical questing that plagues us all. As he put it, “To show the fly the way out of the fly bottle”.How did he think language could solve all the problems of philosophy? How have his ideas influenced contemporary culture? And could his thought ever achieve the release for us that he hoped it would?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Wittgenstein

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Short Article of the Day

We live out our lives amid a world of language, in which we use words to do things. Ordinarily we don’t notice this; we just get on with it. But the way we use language affects how we live and who we can be. We are as if bewitched by the practices of saying that constitute our ways of going on in the world. If we want to change how things are, then we need to change the way we use words. But can language-games set us free?

It was the maverick philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who coined the term ‘language-game’. He contended that words acquire meaning by their use, and wanted to see how their use was tied up with the social practices of which they are a part...

Continue reading Sandy Grant's article: How playing Wittgensteinian language-games can set us free 

Further Reading

Considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein played a central, if controversial, role in 20th-century analytic philosophy. He continues to influence current philosophical thought in topics as diverse as logic and language, perception and intention, ethics and religion, aesthetics and culture. Originally, there were two commonly recognized stages of Wittgenstein’s thought—the early and the later—both of which were taken to be pivotal in their respective periods. In more recent scholarship, this division has been questioned: some interpreters have claimed a unity between all stages of his thought, while others talk of a more nuanced division, adding stages such as the middle Wittgenstein and the third Wittgenstein. Still, it is commonly acknowledged that the early Wittgenstein is epitomized in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By showing the application of modern logic to metaphysics, via language, he provided new insights into the relations between world, thought and language and thereby into the nature of philosophy. It is the later Wittgenstein, mostly recognized in the Philosophical Investigations, who took the more revolutionary step in critiquing all of traditional philosophy including its climax in his own early work. The nature of his new philosophy is heralded as anti-systematic through and through, yet still conducive to genuine philosophical understanding of traditional problems...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Ludwig Wittgenstein by Biletzki & Matar

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Related Topics

If you’re interested in Wittgenstein, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

 The History of Philosophy | Truth

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