Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most influential names in philosophy. In fact, most people consider him to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. He was one of the founders of the controversial analytic philosophy alongside Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. Wittgenstein charted and developed new concepts in the philosophy of mind, logic, philosophy of language and philosophy of mathematics. His work Philosophical Investigations which was published posthumously is regarded as one of the most important philosophical writings in the history of philosophy. In this article, we shall present to you a historical overview of Ludwig Wittgenstein:
Ludwig Josef Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, Austria on April 26, 1889, to one of the richest families in Austria. His father Karl was an industrialist tycoon whose business empire spanned Europe. Ludwig was baptized as a Catholic and received formal instructions in Catholic doctrines. All the Wittgenstein’s kids were homeschooled, and Ludwig was no different. He was taught by private tutors until he was 14 years old. After the suicidal deaths of his brothers, Hans and Rudi, his father relented and allowed him to attend a formal school named Realschule.
In 1906, Wittgenstein enrolled at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin to study mechanical engineering. He attended class for three semesters and was awarded a certificate of diploma on May 5, 1908. In 1908, he proceeded to the University of Manchester to acquire a doctorate in aeronautical engineering. While studying engineering, he soon became obsessed with the foundations of mathematics. In 1911, he visited the renowned philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege to discuss further on the concepts of mathematics. Gottlob urged him to go to Cambridge University to study under Bertrand Russell who wrote the Principles of Mathematics. It was at Cambridge he began his work on logic.
In 1913, his father died leaving Wittgenstein a massive fortune. He returned to Austria and promptly gave all of his inheritance away. In 1914, when World War One began, Wittgenstein volunteered for the Austrian army. He was however captured and spent the remaining months of the war as a prisoner. It was during his time in captivity he wrote his first work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In his mind, he saw the book as the solution to every problem in philosophy. When the war ended, his friend Bertrand Russell helped him publish the book in England.
Since he had now solved all the problems in philosophy, he left the University to become an elementary school teacher. He also took on other occupations such as gardener and architect. But at the urgings of his friends, he returned to Cambridge in 1929 to continue teaching philosophy. In 1939, he was made a professor of philosophy at Cambridge. However, his tenure was interrupted by the Second World War. Wittgenstein left his position as a teacher to work as a research technician in Newcastle and as a hospital porter in London. He returned to the University after the war ended in 1945.
In 1947, he resigned from his position to focus on his works. He relocated to Ireland where he did a majority of his writings and completed most of them by 1949. Wittgenstein spent the last years of his life shuttling between Oxford, Vienna, Cambridge, and London. In April 1951, he died of prostate cancer in Cambridge.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was a charismatic enigma who was described as a genius by his peers. He gave new insights into the relations between language, thought, and the world. Till today, he still inspires a cult following in the world of academics and pop culture.
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