Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 W - Wittgenstein, Ludwig


Wittgenstein, Ludwig: 1889-1951: Austrian-British philosopher, who is famous for creating two philosophies, in two books, the first based on his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and the second based on his Philosophical Investigations.

Apart from these two books, of which the second was published after his death, Wittgenstein himself did not publish anything (except for one small essay). After his death some ten more books were published, that were compiled from his papers.

My own opinion of Wittgenstein, whose Tractatus I first read when I was 17, has gone down further and further ever since I was 19, and knew more logic, more philosophy of science, more mathematics and more science.
As it is now, when I am past 60, and while I know most academic philosophers consider him the greatest philosophical genius of the 20th century, and also know he was admired, at least for the Tractatus, by Bertrand Russell and Frank Ramsey, I do not consider him a genius at all, indeed certainly not when compared to Russell or Ramsey.

The main reasons he is considered a great man are that he behaved like one, and wrote a quite obscure though artistic prose, and had very great pretensions. My own assessment of him - and I have read most but not all of his books - is that his Tractatus was original in correctly suggesting that logic consists of tautologies, but was not, as it was, fit to get a Ph.D. in philosophy on, especially because it is very hard to understand and contains many things that were due to others, without being attributed to them; that he did not understand much about logic or mathematics, as one may understand from comparing the Tractatus to (e.g.) First Order Logic by Raymond Smullyan, that is truly clear; and that - and here I agree with Russell and Gellner - his Philosophical Investigations are mostly nonsense. Also, I think psychologically he was a very conflicted person, and indeed also quite clever and individual - but not a real genius (like Frank Ramsey).

However, I guess he will be fairly well-known for some time to come, though I am quite confident no great philosopher will build on his works, for these are too unclear and vague, and indeed no one but second and third rate academic philosophers were inspired by him, that is, apart from Russell and Ramsey (who unfortunately died at 26)


See also: Logic

Literature: Tractatus, Philosophical Investigations, Words and Things

 Original: Jan 3, 2014                                                Last edited: Feb 2, 2016.   Top