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Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951)

Ludwig Wittgenstein had a decisive impact on the trajectory of Vienna Circle logicism and British ‘ordinary language’ philosophy. Considered by some to be the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century, Wittgenstein had an influence that transcended its origins, affecting numerous fields, including, in the French context, the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and the later ethical writings of Jean-François Lyotard. Born in Vienna to a wealthy, industrialist family, Wittgenstein displayed an early talent for music and first sought his education in engineering. Upon discovering Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica, along with the works of Frege, Wittgenstein’s interest turned to the problem of the logical foundations of mathematics. At Frege’s suggestion, in 1911 he left Manchester, where he had been studying engineering, and travelled to Cambridge, where he arrived unannounced and quickly made a strong impression on Russell. Wittgenstein’s critical work was interrupted by the First World War (during which Wittgenstein served on the side of his native Austria-Hungary). At the war’s conclusion, Wittgenstein distilled his research and experiences into the sole major work of philosophy to be published in his lifetime, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

Convinced that he had solved the perennial problems of philosophy with this work, Wittgenstein spent the 1920s in locales throughout Europe, working in various capacities, from a school teacher to a gardener. When, seeking a return to philosophy, he returned to Cambridge in 1929 he was greeted as a celebrity. The Tractatus was allowed to serve as a doctoral thesis, and Wittgenstein became a Professor at Cambridge, where he would remain until his death. Over these years, he produced what would be posthumously published as the Philosophical Investigations. This work took leave of the austere style of the Tractatus and argued that many of the problems of philosophy arose when language departed from its practical roots in our engagement in the world. Wittgenstein’s conception of language as a ‘language game’ is also evident in his assessment of mathematics. The final article of the final issue of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse is a piece by Jacques Bouveresse introducing Wittgenstein’s Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, wherein the utility of mathematics as a set of practical tools is privileged over ‘misguided’ investigations into its ontological roots or import.

In the Cahiers pour l’Analyse

Jacques Bouveresse, ‘Philosophie des mathématiques et thérapeutique d’une maladie philosophique: Wittgenstein et la critique de l’apparence “ontologique” dans les mathématiques’, CpA 10.9 [HTML] [PDF] [SYN]

Select bibliography

  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), trans. D.F. Pears and B.M. McGuinness. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • Philosophical Investigations, eds. G.E.M. Anscombe and R. Rhees, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell, 1953.
  • Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (1956), eds. G.H. von Wright, R. Rhees, G.E.M. Anscombe, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell, 1978.
  • The Blue and Brown Books. Oxford: Blackwell, 1958.
  • Major Works: Selected Philosophical Writings. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009.