“After all, he seems to have a lot to say about what can’t be said.” Bertrand Russell.
Ludwig Wittgenstein came from a very wealthy family of Vienna, in the time before WW I, a family of musicians, professors, and suicides. He went to the same grammar school as Adolf Hitler. His sister was painted by Gustav Klimt, and helped Sigmund Freud escape the Nazis. He fought in WWI, reading Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief, while voluntarily manning the point, the most dangerous position, on the front. Beethoven was his hero. He was precocious in math, and obsessed by logic.
He would scrutinize his own thinking to find the hidden assumptions that underlie all thinking and the subtle ways that logic fails to be logical. He would puzzle over the use of words in speech – what is subconscious to most of us – and search for hidden patterns. He wanted to know how we know, what we know, what can be known.
“Sometimes my ideas come so quickly that I feel as if my pen is being guided.”
He was perplexed by the riddles of self reference in logic, the great stumbling block in Bertrand Russell’s attempt, in Principia Mathematica, to derive all knowledge from first principles of logic. Is the set of all sets that don’t include themselves, also a set?
He became anti-philosophical, convinced that philosophical questions were merely linguistic puzzles, and that language, with all of its mixing up of perceptions and conceptions, hopelessly impaired thought. Truth can only be known by experience, not with thinking, and only shown, with art perhaps, but not with words. Thought and speech are mere ‘social games’ for living a social human life (something, sadly, he himself was not much able to do).
“Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must remain silent”.
With his spooky certitude, and mesmerizing stare, he was considered brilliant. For a time, he was thought to have eclipsed all of conventional philosophy. He was lionized.
John Maynard Keynes: “I have met God, he arrived on the 4:30 train.”
He lived an eccentric, solitary life, much of his time in a remote cabin in Norway. At one point he gave away all of his enormous wealth, and lived thereafter in near poverty. He feared going mad, that he might commit suicide. Three brothers did.
He suffered a constant solipsism, an oppressive self consciousness, haunted by a loss of self connection. Is my thinking about myself also my self?
He was a disorder of self reference, like the paradoxes of logic that so obsessed him.
Insanity and genius are not the same thing.
“He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn’t agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking.” Bertrand Russell.
“Peace in thinking is the wished-for aim of those who philosophize.”
He was trying to think himself out of thinking too much. He didn’t succeed.