Who influenced Ludwig Wittgenstein?

philosophyFather of the language-critical turn

Perhaps the most famous quote by a 20th century philosopher comes from Ludwig Wittgenstein:

"Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must be silent."

The sentence sounds as categorical and absolute as it has been for the whole life of this thinker.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, born on April 26, 1889 in Vienna, came from a Jewish-Austrian family of steel industrialists who were among the most respected in Viennese society. Thanks to the musically oriented mother, famous artists such as Clara Schumann, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss frequented the Wittgenstein house.

Meanwhile, Ludwig Wittgenstein chose the technical subject. In 1908 he graduated as a mechanical engineer in Berlin. In the same year he went to England, where he worked in Manchester as part of aeronautical research with the construction of an aircraft engine and aircraft propellers. Wittgenstein's abrupt turn to philosophy, presumably at the suggestion of the mathematician and logician Gottlob Frege, led him between 1911 and 1913 to Trinity College in Cambridge, where the philosopher Bertrand Russell worked. He initially met the ingenious but insecure young man with skepticism:

"He was a strange person whose ideas struck me as cranky, so that for a whole trimester it was not clear to me whether he was a genius or just an eccentric."

Inclination towards the mystical

Of course, Russell soon recognized Wittgenstein's extraordinary intellectual potential and gave him any kind of support. The famous economist John Maynard Keynes, also frequenting Cambridge, saw in Wittgenstein's early philosophical exercises a way of thinking that reduces the world to the coldness of pure logic. Contrary to this, or perhaps complementary, the philosopher, influenced by Tolstoy and Kierkegaard, developed a pronounced inclination towards the mystical.

After stays in Norway and Austria and military service in World War I, Wittgenstein published his "Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung", better known under the Latin title "Tractatus logico-philosophicus" - his only book publication during his lifetime.

It fits in with Wittgenstein's image, with his inclination towards the ascetic and monastic, that he gave away his not inconsiderable inheritance and worked as a village school teacher in Austria before he finally returned to Cambridge at the end of the 1920s to devote himself entirely to philosophy.
Wittgenstein is considered to be the father of the so-called linguistic turn, the "language-critical turn" in 20th century philosophy. In the "Tractatus" it says laconic as well as authoritarian:

"All philosophy is 'language criticism'."


"The sentence is a picture of reality."

In the later phase he moves away from radical positions

The aim of the philosophical analysis, which proves to be a kind of image theory of language, is to distinguish between meaningful and nonsensical sentences by clarifying how language works. According to Wittgenstein, most statements about philosophical questions are not wrong, but simply nonsensical.

In the later phase of his thinking, the philosopher, who died in Cambridge in 1951, moved more and more away from this radical position. It can be described as a pragmatic turn in his philosophy of language when he replaces the strict "logic" with the "grammar" of language. In the Philosophical Investigations, which were only published posthumously, he writes:

"The meaning of a word is its use in language."

That means: The meaning of sentences shows itself in the context of life forms and the so-called language games practiced in them. The latter do not work according to logical criteria, but rather according to situational coherence and appropriateness. Wittgenstein is concerned here with what we call normal or everyday language.

His philosophy of language is still relevant to contemporary philosophy. The philosopher Dieter Birnbacher on the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein:

"It falls out of the ordinary. It is much more interesting than scholarly treatises that were written around the same time - already because of its very poetic style, but above all they are a treasure trove for a wealth of substantive insights into the structure of ours Understanding of the world and the basics of, to speak with Wittgenstein, language games that we play in a wide variety of areas. "