Sunday, May 22, 2016


It is important to understand the background of Wittgenstein's works in order to better understand his thinking. I am not going to be able to give those of you who are interested a complete background of what was going on in philosophy at the time, vis-a-vis Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead, and Gottlob Frege. I will only give you bits and pieces, and hopefully this will inspire you to do your own thinking, and come to your own conclusions about the nature of Wittgenstein's work; and not only the nature of his work, but to come to understand how his thinking should influence the way we think about language, and in particular - propositions.

As much as I enjoy Wittgenstein's philosophy, and thinking about what he said concerning the nature of a proposition, it is important to understand that no philosopher no matter how brilliant - is without flaws. Hence, we have to be careful about getting tunnel vision, and we have to be careful about being to dogmatic about a certain philosopher, philosophy, or theory. That said, we can learn much about some of the problems of philosophy by spending some time trying to understand Wittgenstein's methods, and how these methods apply to philosophical thinking concerning the proposition. After all, propositions to philosophers, are like the hammer, saw, and nails to a carpenter.

I have come to the conclusion after reading several biographies and studying Wittgenstein on my own, that in the 20th century Wittgenstein is to philosophy, what Einstein is to physics; and just as a physicist would not neglect Einstein's theories, I think philosophers should also not neglect the study of Wittgenstein's methods. His writings are some of the most original in all of philosophy, and the power of his intellect is demonstrated not only in his philosophy, but in other areas of his life.

Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, and he was the youngest of eight children. He came from a very cultured and rich industrialist family. In fact Johannes Brahms would come to the Wittgenstein home and play his music. Ludwig was educated at home until the age of 14, when his parents decided to send the young Wittgenstein to Linz to prepare him in mathematics and the physical sciences. It seems that the young Wittgenstein wanted to study with the physicist Boltzmann, however Boltzmann died in 1906. After being educated in Linz for three years, he then went to Berlin to study mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochscule at Charlottenburg. After two years in Berlin he went to England where he became a research student of engineering at the University of Manchester. During this time he engaged in aeronautical research, and went from experimenting with kites, to the construction of a jet reaction propeller for aircraft. The design of the propeller was a mathematical endeavor, which eventually led the young Wittgenstein into pure mathematics, and then, to the foundation of mathematics. Apparently his interest in the foundation of mathematics led him to Russell and Whitehead's work, called the Principles of Mathematics. The Principles of Mathematics greatly affected the young Wittgenstein, and this interest led him to the works of Frege who was the founder of modern mathematical logic; so it was through Russell, Whitehead, and Frege's works that Wittgenstein entered into the study of philosophy.

According to G. H. Von Wright, Wittgenstein read Schopenhauer's Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, and this brought him face-to-face with Schopenhauer's idealism. Later Wittgenstein apparently abandoned his Schopenharuerian idealistic views in favor of Frege's conceptual realism; and it seems that after a talk with Frege, Wittgenstein decided to go to Cambridge and study philosophy with Russell (G. H. Von Wright, A Biographical Sketch, p. 6).