Notes on Wittgenstein
Posted by Jerry on January 4, 2007
I’ve just started reading Ray Monk’s biography of Wittgenstein titled Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius.
I’ve also read other works on Wittgenstein, such as the Philosophy Now edition dedicated to briefly exploring his life and works, The Essential Wittgenstein, Incompleteness, and Wittgenstein’s Poker. In all my readings of him, the man has come out to be far short of a genius; in fact, much worse, the man comes off being terribly confused, paranoid, self-loathing, and often, a charlatan disguised as a philosophizer.
The man’s deep-seated psychological confusion was apparent even from his younger years. According to Monk, Wittgenstein was ashamed of the fact that he had not killed himself–that he was not daring enough to commit suicide. Monk says that this feeling of shame and self-loathing lasted for nine years!
Well, Wittgenstein did achieve a different kind of suicide–a philosophical one. He set out to burn down entire philosophical edifices, reduce everything to mere linguistic dilemmas; and in so doing, he was–insofar as he regarded himself as a philosopher–engaging in self-immolation.
From his childhood, Wittgenstein suffered from an inadequacy of being. He never was quite comfortable with who he was–for example, he was eager to deny his Jewish heritage while his brother refused to do the same. He consciously made the effort to “[say] what was untrue because I was afraid of the bad opinion of those around me.”
Monk relates that Wittgenstein was a fairly poor student through most of his schooling. He was weakest in the “scientific and technical subjects,” which makes the extent of the man’s dishonesty even more persuasive because–in his later years as a philosophizer–he engaged in aggressive, vociferous, and adamant argumentation against Kurt Godel’s discoveries in technical and theoretical Mathematics only to be proved logically and irrevocably wrong.
All of this notwithstanding, I have found great amusement in reading about Wittgenstein and his cultish, adulating disciples from the Vienna Circle. This is the way I see it: sometimes, even a fool’s imagination can be very captivating. And admittedly, Wittgenstein had one very active imagination! Of course, I’m open to being proved wrong about the shallowness of Wittgenstein’s main ideas, and I am eager to read more from his sympathizers. As I move along in the book, I expect to resurrect this post with periodic updates on my thoughts.
“Given Wittgenstein’s theory of sense and nonsense, that very theory turns out to be meaningless! This is not an unforeseen consequence of Wittgenstein’s theory, something he realized at a later date. By the time we get to the end of the Tractatus it appears that Wittgenstein intended all along to show that what he had written is nonsense.”
— Mark Jago looks at Wittgenstein’s first theory of language, in the Tractatus. One of the conclusions of this theory is that the theory in the Tractatus is nonsense. [From Philosophy Now, Issue 58]
Added: As I read further into Wittgenstein’s biography, it becomes increasingly apparent that the man had a severely fractured soul. His life–at least as far as I have read–is so filled with internal and emotional turmoil, intellectual doubt, low self-esteem, and spiritual self-loathing. So intense is the depressive and melancholic mood that emanates from the biography that at one point I simply wanted to quit reading the book; it was ruining my own mood.
I will not quit the book, however. There is very little, almost nothing at all, about the Wittgenstein that I have read thus far that strikes me as evidence of an unusually intelligent or brilliant mind. Indeed, what is revealed is a man who is a chronic misanthrope, who exhibited extreme violence against some of his female pupils, was often dishonest—in short, a man of very weak character.