Wittgenstein: Early and Later

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Ludwig Wittgenstein had two phases. In his early years, he wrote the Tractatus -- which tried to show the strict logical structure of language and its relationship to the world. The Tractatus had a huge influence on Russell's logical atomism and on Ayer's logical positivism.

The later Wittgenstein wrote the Philosophical Investigations -- which attacked the Tractatus and emphasized the fluid nature of language. The Investigations had a huge influence on ordinary language philosophy.

These summaries and problems deal with Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Routledge, London: 1922) and Philosophical Investigations (Macmillan, London: 1953). These exercise materials are copyrighted (c) 1998 by Harry J. Gensler but may be distributed freely.

The Tractatus

Wittgenstein's early work, the Tractatus, tried to show that language and reality had a similar structure. By analyzing statements down to their simplest components, we can in principle arrive at simple statements about simple objects.

A simple statement pictures (or models) a possible situation -- a state of affairs about simple objects. Such a statement is true if the corresponding state of affairs exists. A complex statement claims that some combination of simple statements is true. Complex statements are compounded out of simple ones by using the logical operators "and," "or," and "not."

Statements that don't fit this structure are nonsensical and go beyond what can be said. Wittgenstein claimed that most philosophical views (including his own) are nonsensical. In particular, ethics and religion -- the really important things in life -- go beyond what can be put into words.

Web Resources

Click below for some Web pages on Wittgenstein:

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This set has 31 problems.