Bertrand Russell was given Wittgenstein's initial draft of The Logico Philosophicus Tractatus (Wittgenstein was Russell's student at Cambridge at the time). Russell read it, realised that it was ground breaking but could hardly make head nor tail of it. Wittgenstein looked at Russell and said, "Worry not, Professor Russell. You'll NEVER understand it!"
"When I came home I expected a surprise," the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once remarked, "and there was no surprise, so, of course, I was surprised..."
The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, a former engineering student, attempted to apply rigorous mathematical logic to the vagaries of language. His Tractatus Logico-philosophicus (1922) was intended to be the final word on philosophy.
Each left-hand page of the work appears in German, facing its English translation on the right. Sentences are numbered, as in a formal proof. The book begins: "1. The world is everything that is the case." (In German, this forms a rhyming couplet: Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.) And it ends: "7.Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."
The Tractatus was eminiently logical - with the shocking exception of its next-to-final proposition: "6.54. My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly."
Even Wittgenstein seems to have been confused by this. When he returned to philosophy in 1929, he declared that the rigorous methods of pure logic could get no "grip" on problems of philosophy: "We have got on to slippery ice," he remarked, "where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!"
The philosopher Daniel Dennett once compared Wittgenstein with his Cambridge contemporary, the brilliant young mathematician Alan Turing, famed for his invention of the so-called Universal Turing Machine - a purely conceptual device which provided the logical basis for the digital computer: "Turing comes off as somewhat flatfooted and naive, but he left us the computer, while Wittgenstein left us... Wittgenstein."]
Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein
One day in 1993, a group of undergraduates (this writer among them) attended a screening of Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein, an offbeat dramatization, in modern theatrical style, of the life and thought of the Viennese-born, Cambridge-educated philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose principal interest was the nature and limits of language. Jarman's focus on Wittgenstein's homosexuality and his insertion of silly sequences (Wittgenstein and his lover cuddling in a cinema, Wittgenstein conversing with a green Alf-like alien) between scenes of the philosopher trying to explain his theories were met with some hostility. Indeed, the undergraduates were later amused to find a one word review of Jarman's film in the university newspaper: "Shitgenstein."
Editorial: a collection of Wittgenstein jokes submitted by Simon Marshall and result of Internet browsing.
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