Ludwig Wittgenstein Research Paper

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1.    Life

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was born in Vienna on April 26, 1889 as the youngest of eight children of Karl and Leopoldine  (nee Kalmus)  Wittgenstein.  His father was a protestant, his mother a catholic, and the children  were brought up in catholic  faith.  Wittgenstein  was  of  partly  ‘Jewish’ descent  (three-quarters according  to Nuremberg laws), and  he accepted  this classification to the point of self-attributing character traits  that  counted  as Jewish in the Habsburg monarchy   of   the   turn   of   the   century.   (Weininger’s Geschlecht und Charakter impressed him deeply.) The family  had   become  one  of  the  wealthiest   of  the Habsburg Empire  in the iron and steel business, and young  Ludwig  got  his early  schooling  from  private teachers  until  his father  decided  to  send him to  the Realschule (technical gymnasium) at Linz in 1903, no doubt  hoping  him to become  an engineer,  where he passed his ‘Matura’ in 1906.

The Wittgenstein  home  in Vienna  was very fin de siecle. On  the  positive  side, the  house  was open  to artists and composers,  the family exercising generous Maecenatism; Ludwig  read  intensively in his youth, and   there   is  documented  influence  from   Goethe, Schopenhauer, Heinrich Hertz, Karl Kraus, Wolfgang Kohler,  and others. On the negative side, the children were attended more by staff than by their parents, and the sons had definitely self-destructive tendencies. At least two of Ludwig’s brothers, possibly a third  one, committed  suicide, a tendency  which Ludwig had  to combat  himself for most of his life. Looking  back at his childhood,  he considered it to have been unhappy.

Having    graduated   from   the   Linz   Realschule, Ludwig    went    to    the    Technische     Hochschule Charlottenburg (now Technische  Universitat  Berlin) where  he  studied  mechanical   engineering  and  was awarded his ‘Diplom’ in 1908. He went to Manchester in  the  same  year  to  do  research   in  aeronautics; however,  he began  to  develop  a growing  interest  in pure  mathematics and  read  Bertrand Russell’s Principles of  Mathematics  of  1903 and  Gottlob  Frege’s Grundgesetze der Arithmetik  of 1893. Fascinated  by these books’ enterprise  of deriving mathematics from logic, he visited Frege in Jena in 1911 who encouraged him to  study  with  Russell  in Cambridge.  He  was a student in Cambridge from 1911 to 1914, but although attending  some  classes in philosophy  (notably  with George Edward Moore), his work had more or less the character   of  an  extended  dialogue  with  Russell  on questions of logic and the foundations of mathematics.

During  his Cambridge  time,  Wittgenstein  experienced   the   first   of  a  number   of  deep   emotional friendships with young men. Although he was homosexual,  the  relation   with  David   Pinsent   probably remained  platonic  until  it was ended  by the  latter’s death  in World  War  I.  One  love relationship,  with Francis  Skinner in Cambridge  in the 1930s, is known to   have   been   fulfilled   sexually,   but   Wittgenstein broke  it off, just as if unfit  for happiness  in human bonds,   and   in  addition,  deeply   ashamed   of   his disposition.

He volunteered  for the Austrian  army in 1914 and served, with distinction, throughout the war; extant diaries testify to ongoing work that was to lead up to his only philosophical book published during lifetime, the  Logisch-Philosophische  Abhandlung,  which  was actually  finished in summer  1918 and  first appeared, very poorly  edited,  in Ostwald’s  Annalen der Naturphilosophie for 1921. The book  became famous  only after an English translation, under the title Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,  had   been  published   in  1922 when  Wittgenstein,   after  having  trained   as  an  elementary school teacher, was teaching children in villages in Niederosterreich—evidently in order to live a morally meritorious life. However, he had to resign in 1926 because of punishing a schoolboy too severely, and he would probably  have given way to despair had not his sister, Margarete Stonborough, asked him to build her new Vienna house together  with his friend, the  architect   Paul  Engelmann.   (The  building  now houses the Bulgarian  embassy.)

Philosophical contact  with  Cambridge  had  never been cut off completely. Back in Vienna, Wittgenstein had some philosophical conversations with members of  the  ‘Vienna  Circle,’ notably  Moritz  Schlick  and Friedrich   Waismann.  Thus,  although  a  lecture  by L. E. J. Brouwer is said to have given the last push, it was not completely out of the blue that  Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge in 1928. Having given away his inherited  fortune  to his brothers  and sisters after the war, he had to apply for a fellowship (submitting  the now famous Tractatus as a doctoral dissertation). This was his way of earning his living until his death, except for holding  a chair in Cambridge  from 1939 to 1947 and living on savings now and then. He held regular classes in Trinity  College,  laconically  entitled  ‘Philosophy’ or ‘Philosophy  for Mathematicians.’ A difficult   person   and   not   popular  with   most   of   his colleagues, his teaching success with a small number of students was enormous and accounted for his burgeoning philosophical ideas to be spread  far ahead  of the posthumous publication of  his constantly   rewritten notebooks and typescripts.

Except during wartime, Wittgenstein regularly went to  Vienna  in summer  and  for  Christmas  to  see his family. Also, he several times went to Skjolden on the Sognefjord   in  Norway   where  he  had  had  a  little solitary house built before World War I. In 1939, with the assistance of John Maynard Keynes, he succeeded in applying for British citizenship which allowed him to  travel  in  ‘Großdeutschland’  even  as  an  Austrian ‘Jew’ and  to  arrange   for  two  of  his  sisters  to  be declared  ‘Aryan’  in  exchange  for  transferring  large valuta  parts  of  the  family  money  to  the  German Reichsbank. During World War II, he served different jobs outside  the  university  that  he considered  more important than doing philosophy.

Wittgenstein’s second book, the Philosophical Investigations, was more or less finished in 1946—finished in the sense of Wittgenstein  himself considering  it as printable. But a general mood of dissatisfaction with philosophical results seems to have got an increasing grip on him. Even though  he continued  writing  and discussing philosophical questions,  he was suspicious of finished answers. Asking the proper questions was, in his view, the important thing—an attitude  which he had  developed  in the 1930s and  which he expressed more  and  more  sharply.  In this mood,  Wittgenstein did  not  press  for  publication. Living  outside  Cambridge for much of his remaining time, he alternately sought   company   and  solitude   until  cancer  of  the prostate, diagnosed  late  in  1949,  had  worsened  so much that traveling became impossible. He died in Cambridge  on April 29, 1951.

2.    Philosophical Work

Wittgenstein’s early (Tractatus) philosophy can be regarded usefully as an attempt at answering two questions:  Why are logical truths  true? How  can we recognize  that  they  are? He  did  this  by inventing  a theory  of meaning  which,  in turn,  was based  on an ontological   theory  of  the  most  general  features  of reality.  Starting   from  the  observation  that   logical truths, as he had come to know them from the work of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell, are always syntactically   complex,  Wittgenstein   first  stipulated that  there  is but  one  way  of  constructing  complex sentences  from  components, viz., by combining  the components in a complex which is a ‘truth function’ of the components (if every single component is either true or false, this is sufficient for the complex sentence to be definitely true or definitely false). The components may be complex themselves; but according to a second  stipulation, the  combinatory process  originally  starts  from  components that  are  elementary sentences,  i.e.,  sentences  which  are  not  truth-functional   complexes  of  anything   else.  If  a  complex sentence  has  been  constructed  from  n  elementary sentences, there are 2n different combinations of each of them being either true or false; this is the postulate of mutual  independence  of the elementary  sentences which is characteristic of ‘Logical Atomism.’  If the complex  sentence  comes  out  as  true  in  every  such combination, then  it  is logically  true  (e.g.,  ‘If it  is neither  raining  nor snowing, then it is not raining’ is true,  no  matter   whether   or  not  it  is  raining   and whether  or  not  it  is snowing).  This  is manifest  for anybody who understands the complex sentence; thus logical truth  ‘shows itself,’ and both  questions  above are answered if every elementary sentence is either true or  false.  Here  a  third  stipulation comes  in:  Every elementary  sentence  is a  ‘picture’  of  an  elementary ‘state of affairs’ which either exists, in which case the elementary sentence is true, or does not exist, in which case the  corresponding elementary  sentence  is false. Existing  elementary   states  of  affairs  make  up  the ‘world’ as it is. By a picture,  Wittgenstein  means an isomorphic  correlation of the simple signs (which he called  ‘names’)  whose  concatenations form  the  elementary sentences and of simple ‘objects’ which make up  the  elementary  states  of  affairs.  Given  a  set  of elementary  states  of affairs  and  a set of elementary sentences, normally there will exist several possibilities to  correlate   simple  signs  and  simple  objects  while preserving isomorphy;  the actual correlation, according to a further  stipulation, is chosen by the speaker who  correlates   sentences  with  states  of  affairs  by thinking  a state of affairs as a sentence’s sense. Since ‘names’ occur in many different sentences, this thinking of the senses of whole sentences reduces the alternative  correlations and  thus  determines  certain objects  as  the  meanings  of  given names  which  can form  other  sentences;  so the  understanding of  new sentences can be explained.

So far, Wittgenstein’s stipulations add up to a referential and speaker-oriented theory of the meaning of sentences that  explains logical truth.  However,  he added  restrictions   two  of  the  most  provocative   of which are the following: First, the states of affairs that make up the world and are necessary for language to be meaningful are all natural ones; there are no moral or  aesthetic  states  of affairs.  Evaluative  pronouncements are, therefore, nonsensical. Second, the fact that a state  of affairs  is correlated  with a sentence as the latter’s sense, or the fact that a speaker correlates sentences with states  of affairs  (and  in consequence, names with objects) by this or that ‘projection rule’ is not itself a state of affairs, which means that any description  of this correlation is nonsensical  too. Wittgenstein  accepted  this consequence  by declaring all Tractatus sentences nonsensical,  even if helpful, in the book’s last propositions. On which Frank P. Ramsey is said to have commented  ‘What you cannot say you cannot  say, and you cannot  whistle it either’ (an allusion to Wittgenstein’s popular gift of whistling entire  pieces of  classical  music).  A third  restriction often goes unnoticed,  viz. that the Tractatus theory of meaning   is  restricted   to  declarative   sentences,  excluding questions, imperatives, optatives, and interjections. Wittgenstein hoped these might be incorporated into his framework by proper analysis, without, however, attempting to do so; the same holds for his failure to even look  for real examples of elementary sentences.

In a period of hard work from 1929 until about 1936 which it has become customary  to call ‘intermediate,’ Wittgenstein renounced Logical Atomism, i.e., the supposition that  elementary  sentences  are  mutually independent; all candidates  (e.g., simple color  statements) proved to exhibit meaning relations with other ones of the same kin (what is green is not red). So the idea  of  systematic  dependency  being  co-responsible for meaning  emerged.  This fell in line with the new idea of devising a nonrepresentational (nonsymbolic) conception of meaning: pieces in chess have a meaning (a  role),  without   representing   anything,   simply  in virtue  of  their  place  in  the  rules  of  the  game.  If linguistic elements played a role in a system of rules for their use in social interaction, this might well suffice for their meaningfulness. However, the appeal to rules implied a problem of its own. If rules are identified by means  of their  linguistic  expressions,  there  must  be meaningful  expressions  for there  to  be meaning  (an obvious interpretation regress), and if rules have to be agreed upon there must be rules to confer validity on the agreement  procedures  (an obvious  ruling  regress known  from  constitutional and  international  law). Sticking to the idea of meaning to be found in systems of rules, Wittgenstein invented one of his most famous tools, the ‘language-game,’ which he elaborated in the posthumous masterpiece  of his ‘late philosophy,’  the Philosophical Investigations. A language game may be understood as  a  set  of  regularities  in  behavior,  involving  several  people,   where  the  use  of  certain elements (to be identified as linguistic on further inspection) on the one hand depends on what has been done and what the other circumstances are, and on the other  hand  is relevant  for further  things  to be done subsequently, either by the ‘speaker,’ ‘audience,’ or by third parties. These regularities in behavior have to be rich enough to differentiate, e.g., statements  from commands;  thus ‘The window is open,’ if playing the role of a command, will evoke responses different from when it is used as an answer to a question.

Commands do not qualify as such simply by being followed  by  someone  else’s doing  something.  They occur only where the speaker has the required kind of authority,  and  the  addressee,   rather   than   actually doing something, has to do it. (This is why utterances with  given  meanings  are  possible  only  in  a  social setting that  provides  for the characteristic rights and duties—languages  are  embedded  in ‘forms  of  life.’) Both  facts can,  in the  event,  be analyzed  as certain rules being followed by the people concerned, and it is here that Wittgenstein’s solution to the double-regress problem about rules sets in. Rather than asking how to identify  or  how  to  establish   rules,  he  asked  how behavior  looks like if it is rule-following behavior.  If behavior  is rule-following,  the rule it follows can be extracted  from  it  in  the  following  way.  There  is a description  of the behavior  that makes use of the rule although the people who follow the rule do not make any use of the rule themselves. With Wittgenstein,  a behavior  B follows the rule R if B conforms to R, if it is  learnable   and  if  it  goes  without   saying,  i.e.,  is mutually  expected among the people concerned. This is not new to present-day  sociology, of course, but it served Wittgenstein  to cut off both regresses sketched above. Nobody  among the people who follow the rule need be able to identify it, and it need not be enacted, or agreed upon.

Anchoring  linguistic meaning  in practices  that  are complex in such a way that they can truly be described as rule-following has the consequence that there is no linguistic meaning outside a community.  Whether  or not an utterance  is a command  depends on others  to expect a certain person now to do something.  Unless they expect the person  to do so, the speaker  has not uttered a command. Meaning an utterance in a certain way is not something a speakers achieve by exhausting their  very own mental  resources  and  capacities  (it is not due to their capacity of ‘intending’ in a traditional sense).  Saying   something   meaningful,   as  well  as meaning something, depend on others to be prepared to understand the speaker in a given way. This implies one  of Wittgenstein’s  most  famous  theses,  viz. that there cannot be a language private to one speaker, i.e., a language whose signs have their meanings no matter whether  or  not  others  understand them  or  react  to them. However, Wittgenstein argued his critique independently, thus providing indirect evidence for his social account.  The only rule available  to a ‘private meaner’ would stipulate  something like: ‘S means x if and only if I remember S to have meant x in the past’; since what is to be explained, viz. ‘S means x,’ occurs in the explanation, the only available rule turns out to be void.

Whereas  this famous  ‘private  language  argument’ has attracted much philosophical debate, a side effect has proved to be more fruitful.  Wittgenstein  used the language of sensations as his example and so proved, by implication, that it is not possible to report on one’s own sensations by way of privileged inner observation. (For  in  an  unproblematic situation  of  observation, using  the  right  words  is  a  test  of  the  observer’s linguistic  competence;  if others  cannot  interfere,  reports on one’s own sensations would have private meanings  in the sense defined above.)  The idea that there is privileged knowledge of one’s own sensations (and other ‘conscious’ psychological states like moods, emotions,  impressions,  and the like) originates  in the fact  that   speakers  have  a  special  authority in  expressing them,  and  Wittgenstein  took  two ingenious steps. First, he pointed out that the speaker’s privilege is just  one  case  among  others  of  utterances   (often prefaced by ‘I know’ as in ‘I myself know best what is good for me’) which are privileged according  to our social rules rather than epistemically. Second, he interpreted them,  rather   than  as  reports,   as  being meaningful  in the same way as nonverbal  expressive behavior is, viz. in virtue of playing a recognizable role in a behavioral  pattern. Thus, ‘Ouch’ or ‘I am in pain’ are  meaningful  insofar  as they  occupy  the  place  of crying in the series injury / crying / winning attention (a series that exhibits nicely the structure,  which is characteristic  of  commands,   of  authority/imperative / expected  behavior,  or  the  structure  of  precondition / utterance / expected reaction  that characterizes meaningful  utterances  in general).

By parity of reasoning,  the symmetry of verbal and nonverbal expressive behavior implies a last important result. Just as verbal utterances  owe their meanings to others’  reactions,   so  nonverbal   behavior   expresses what  it does in virtue  of others’  socially established response. Now if one cannot  make head or tail of the notion of an inexpressible psychological state (as Wittgenstein argued at length), a person’s psychological  state  is what  he or  she could  express at  the moment,  and then what that  person is feeling, thinking, wishing, etc. is co-defined  by how others  would react should he or she exhibit expressive behavior. Wittgenstein  is, thus,  the  first  philosopher to  have touched the topic of what has come to be called ‘Social Anti-individualism.’ In  an  unduly  neglected  paper, Fleming (1978) has likened Wittgenstein’s view of the interpretation  of  expressive  behavior   to  the  interpretation of pictures.  Pictures owe their content  to a civilization’s   way   of   seeing  them.   Their   content is manifest because it is defined by established interpretation.  Just   so,   established    responses   to other  persons’ behavior  are operative  in determining their  psychological  situation.  This is what  distances Wittgenstein  from Logical Behaviorism.  Rather  than being inferred from behavior,  psychological  facts are directly observable;  and  rather  than  just being ascertained by observation, they are dependent on external interpretation.

Although Wittgenstein  developed  his ‘middle’ and later philosophy in opposition to and correction  of his Tractatus ideas, there is considerable  continuity  both as  regards  content   and  methodology.  In  point   of content, Wittgenstein is sure to be the first philosopher in history who developed his philosophical ideas from thoughts about how it is that the elements of language have meaning. In this respect, our linguistic competence plays a role, with Wittgenstein, not unlike that of our epistemic abilities in Kant’s far-reaching deductions outside epistemology.  As regards methodology, Wittgenstein  insisted,  both  in  the  Tractatus  and  in later  writings  including  the  Philosophical Investigations, that  good  philosophy  has a peculiar  task,  i.e., that  of clarifying obscurities  that  have been and  are constantly  being produced, either when scientists misunderstand what they are doing or when scientific or everyday questions and experiences are misunderstood  and  linguistically  distorted  by bad  philosophy. This continuity  has often been stressed, but for at least two reasons  it should  not be over-estimated. First,  the task of clarifying was all that  was left over for  philosophy  in  the  Tractatus  since its  theory  of meaning  reserved  all meaningful  statements  for  the natural sciences. Second, the assignment was a piece of explicit methodology which Wittgenstein did not obey in practice.  In contrast, Wittgenstein’s  later  conception  of  meaning  admits  to  philosophy  every useful language-game (e.g., that of describing language games), the assignment  of the task of clarifying being motivated  by his experience of how much  linguistic distortion his own early philosophy had suffered from; and clarification  meant method rather  than methodology—there is sure to exist no other corpus of philosophical writing so densely packed with repeated demonstrations of how translating philosophical questions  and  theses  into  everyday  language   provides clarity. As an original  contribution to our picture  of what philosophy  can achieve, Wittgenstein  developed this clarificatory  way of handling philosophical thinking into intellectual  therapy.  The real aim is achieved when  the  philosopher, by way of rectifying  his distorted  use of language, has come to see that there has never been any philosophical problem  except for the riddles  he got  entangled  with by falling prey to  the temptation of highbrow  speaking.  Wittgenstein  went so far as to say that  after such therapy,  there was no place   in   philosophy    for   controversial  theses   or theories.   Whereas   many   take   these   declarations at  face  value,  others  have  argued  that  in  view  of the    substantial   and    controversial   achievements of  his  later  philosophy,   the  declarations should  be either  interpreted in  a  restrictive  way  or  taken  as overstating an otherwise valuable methodological warning.

3.    Impact

Wittgenstein’s influence on the intellectual  life of the twentieth  century  has not been uniform  or coherent; early and late philosophy,  written work and teaching contact,   work   and   personality   have   appealed   to different interests. The general public has been and still is mostly interested  in his disconsolate  life; following the arbitrary turns of fashion,  he has been canonized in  a  way  that   would,   to  his  utter   disgust,   have nowadays  turned  him into an unwilling victim of talk shows.  Furthermore, Wittgenstein’s  prose  style  has been all the rage since the Tractatus  was published, and  whereas  every Tom,  Dick,  and  Harry  arranged their  texts in decimal  notation before  1953, quoting aphorisms  from  the  Philosophical Investigations  became  imperative  for  feuilletonists  in Anglo-Saxonia from that  date,  and in the German  speech area after 1960 when Suhrkamp had  timidly  published  a joint edition  of  both  of  Wittgenstein’s  masterpieces  (together with a ‘Beiheft’ in order to secure respectability for an unknown  Austrian–British philosopher by documenting the interest of poets like Ingeborg Bachmann).

As  regards  more  serious  questions,  research  has been affected differently by the Tractatus and by subsequent work, and by the latter differently depending on whether people were confronted with Wittgenstein’s teaching in Cambridge  or with his writing. The Tractatus  gained  a  great  popularity soon  after  the publication of  the  bilingual  edition  in  1922, and  it exerted considerable influence on some of the members of  the  ‘Vienna  Circle’  who  had   gathered   around Moritz  Schlick and were striving for a really scientific philosophy.  The most  enduring  effect was to be the ‘verification theory of meaning’ which, as stated in the Tractatus,  identified  any proposition’s meaning  with the  set  of  distributions  of  ‘true’  and  ‘false’ to  its elementary sentences which make the proposition true; elaborated by  the  circle’s most  influential  member, Rudolf   Carnap, it  made  its  way  into  logic,  philosophical semantics (the present-day truth-condition semantics),  and  is even influential  in linguistic  semantics.  Karl  Raimund Popper’s  disclaimers  notwithstanding,  the Tractatus  theory  that  only those sentences have sense which risk to wreck on experience is  a  clear  forerunner of  his  falsifiability  theory  of cognitive significance, influential in sociology and psychology since the 1940s.

In his philosophizing  since 1929, Wittgenstein influenced  some  bright  Cambridge  students  who  learnt, from his live example,  that  being sober,  honest,  and clear  was  more   important  than,   and   at  least  as attractive as, producing high-faluting and sloppy nonsense. Following the advice to rephrase any philosophical sentence in everyday idiom, they began to form a veritable movement, Ordinary Language Philosophy,  which had its high tide in the 1950s and early  1960s. The  most  famous  and  most  important representative was Gilbert Ryle, Oxford based but on friendly terms with Wittgenstein,  whose seminal Concept of Mind of 1949 inaugurated Logical Behaviorism, to be superseded  by Functionalism; so it is a safe guess that without Wittgenstein,  present-day research   on   the   mind-body   problem   would   look entirely  different.  Further effects  resulted  from  the publication of the Philosophical Investigations, jointly in German  and English, in 1953; the impact in philosophy was heavy, but surprisingly small in linguistics (the reason being, perhaps, that John L. Austin’s speech act theory  won the day). At present, the most interesting  developments,  in the behavioral sciences outside  philosophy,  seem to be going on in Cognitive Science and in Ethnomethodology. In Cognitve Science, Hubert Dreyfus and others have argued forcefully that intelligent achievements cannot be accounted for by supposing that subjects are following explicit rules but have to follow them implicitly in Wittgenstein’s sense. This has been condensed into the prediction  that the architecture of the brain’s working is to be regarded  as connectionist rather  than computational. In Ethnomethodology, Peter Winch and others have suggested that  without  a Wittgensteinian conception of forms of life, an adequate understanding of alien societies cannot  be attained.

On the whole, however, Wittgenstein’s influence, on the behavioral sciences, has remained marginal outside philosophy.  In particular, social anti-individualism is still awaiting  proper  conversion  into  research  strategies, just as is an adequate  use of Wittgenstein’s conception of language games in linguistic pragmatics.

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