Ludwig Wittgenstein born 26 April 1889 (d. 1951)
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in the foundations of logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. His influence has been wide-ranging and he is generally regarded as one of the twentieth century's most important philosophers.
Before his death at the age of 62, the only book-length work Wittgenstein had published was the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Philosophical Investigations, which Wittgenstein worked on in his later years, was published shortly after he died. Both of these works are regarded as highly influential in analytic philosophy.
Ludwig Wittgenstein was born the youngest of eight children, into one of the most prominent and wealthy families in the Austro-Hungarian empire. His father's parents were born into Jewish families but later converted to Protestantism, and after they moved from Saxony to Vienna in the 1850s, assimilated into the Viennese Protestant professional classes.
Ludwig grew up in a household that provided an exceptionally intense environment for artistic and intellectual achievement. His parents were both very musical and all their children were artistically and intellectually educated. Karl Wittgenstein was a leading patron of the arts, and the Wittgenstein house hosted many figures of high culture — above all, musicians. The family was often visited by musicians such as Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler. Ludwig's older brother Paul Wittgenstein went on to become a world-famous concert pianist, even after losing his right arm in World War I. Ludwig himself had absolute pitch, and his devotion to music remained vitally important to him throughout his life: he made frequent use of musical examples and metaphors in his philosophical writings, and was said to be unusually adept at whistling lengthy and detailed musical passages.
His family also had a history of intense self-criticism, to the point of depression and suicidal tendencies. Three of his brothers committed suicide.
Until 1903, Ludwig was educated at home; after that, he began three years of schooling at the Realschule in Linz, a school emphasising technical topics. Adolf Hitler was a student there at the same time, when both boys were 14 or 15 years old. Wittgenstein was only a few days Hitler's junior but, instructed by private tutors, was two grades ahead of him. It is a matter of controversy whether Hitler and Wittgenstein knew each other personally.
In 1906, Wittgenstein began studying mechanical engineering in Berlin, and in 1908 he went to the Victoria University of Manchester to study for his doctorate in engineering, which led to an interest in pure mathematics and the philosophy of mathematics, and in 1912 he moved to Cambridge to become a pupil of Bertrand Russell.
His work from 1914-18 led to the writing of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which was published in Germany in 1921 and in London in 1922. Wittgenstein served in the Austrian army in World War I and was captured in Italy, and on his release after the war he gave away a considerable fortune he had inherited.
From 1920-26 he went to work as an elementary schoolmaster in Austria, then returned to Cambridge in 1929. During the next few years he came to a new position in philosophy, which was first stated in the Blue and Brown Books, a set of lecture notes from 1933-35 and published posthumously in 1958, and later in his Philosophical Investigations (published 1953). He became Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge in 1939.
In 1947 he resigned to devote himself to research, but his health soon deteriorated and he died of prostate cancer in 1951.
Although Wittgenstein was involved in a relationship with Marguerite Respinger (a young Swiss woman he had met as a friend of the family), his plans to marry her were broken off in 1931 and he never married. Most of his romantic attachments were to young men. There is considerable debate over how active Wittgenstein's homosexual life was, inspired by W. W. Bartley's claim to have found evidence of not only active homosexuality but in particular several casual liaisons with young men in the Wiener Prater park during his time in Vienna. Bartley published his claims in a biography of Wittgenstein in 1973. Wittgenstein's estate and other biographers disputed Bartley's claims and asked him to produce the sources that he claims. What has become clear, at least, is that Wittgenstein had several long-term homoerotic attachments, including an infatuation with his friend David Pinsent - who was killed in a military flying accident in 1918 - and long-term relationships during his years in Cambridge with Francis Skinner and Ben Richards.
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