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Ludwig Wittgenstein (Ludwig Joseph Johann Wittgenstein) Biography

(1889–1951), (Ludwig Joseph Johann Wittgenstein), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, a priori, Tractatus, Philosophical Investigations

meaning theory philosophy language

Austrian (later British) philosopher, born in Vienna; he studied engineering at Linz, Berlin, and Manchester. After becoming interested in mathematical theory he studied under Bertrand Russell at Cambridge where he later became professor of philosophy (193947). His first major work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), was the only book published in his lifetime and set the terms of reference for his huge influence on twentieth-century philosophy. Wittgenstein was concerned with the significance and compass of language, and saw the philosopher's task as lying in the analysis of the meaningful limits of everyday usage. By introducing the ‘picture theory of meaning’ Wittgenstein clarified the nature of meaning, but simultaneously denied the claims to veracity and, in advance of the Logical Positivists, produced an austere version of the principle of verifiability. To some extent, this position replaced most of the accumulated wisdom of nineteenth-century philosophy with a logical clarity comparable with the contemporary work of Bertrand Russell and A. N. Whitehead in the field of mathematics. Wittgenstein was aware that his own statements of principle or axioms were meaningless, and concluded his book with the famous statement ‘what we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence’. Silence followed for some time while Wittgenstein developed a second theory of meaning. More recent publication of Wittgenstein's notebooks and lecture notes shows a gradual shift of emphasis from the a priori formulations of the Tractatus to the subsequent empirical curiosity into the actual workings of language. In his later work, Philosophical Investigations (1953), he declared that ‘the meaning of the word is its use in the language’ whereby meaning becomes a function of its roles in a diversity of linguistic contexts. The famous example he takes is the word ‘game’, for which a single meaning cannot be found. Language is thus no longer thought of as a clear ‘picture’, but as a ‘tool’ or ‘game’ capable of infinite variety and constant renewal according to changes in circumstances. This change in emphasis removes the interiority of the ‘picture’ analogy, and introduces a social, public dimension; the relation between the private and the public became the theme of Wittgenstein's later work. Among many of his fragments and notes to appear in print are Remarks on the Foundation of Mathematics (1956), The Blue and Brown Books (1958), Notebooks 1914–1916 (1961), Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief (1966), On Certainty (1969), and Philosophical Remarks (1975). See also seven pillars of wisdom.

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