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History
IN OUR TIME'S GREATEST PHILOSOPHER VOTE
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GREATEST PHILOSOPHER

 
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
advocated by Dr Jonathan Sacks

 Listen to Jonathan Sachs say why you should vote for Ludwig Wittgenstein

'I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.'

Ludwig Wittgenstein. When Ludwig Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge University in 1929 John Maynard Keynes declared, "Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train".

Certainly Wittgenstein is a towering figure in 20th century thought but he had problems with the whole idea of philosophy.

At one point he decided that Philosophy cannot answer any of the questions it sets itself and so gave the whole thing up to teach in his native Austria and take up gardening.

In his Blue Book (1958) he referred to his own work as "one of the heirs of the subject that used to be called philosophy".

Wittgenstein felt that previous philosophers had tied themselves in knots by asking the wrong sorts of questions. They thought philosophical problems were to do with understanding the nature of the world but Wittgenstein thought they were all problems of language. Sort language out and you could knock philosophy on the head.

Wittgenstein thus pondered how language related to the world, what the limits of language were and what this all meant for the philosopher.

He came to two different conclusions; firstly, as outlined in The Tractatus, that language had a logical structure that accurately reflected the structure of reality; secondly, as outlined in the later Philosophical Investigations, that language was a game - full of tricks, jokes and subtleties - the meaning of which was derived from social context as much as logical analysis.

Ultimately, however, Wittgenstein wasn't sure that anything could be said about how language related to the world because that was necessarily beyond the scope and meaning of language itself.

Thus he concluded that some things remain unsayable and declared "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent".

Works by Ludwig Wittgenstein on Project Gutenberg: Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Read about Ludwig Wittgenstein on Wikipedia

Read about Ludwig Wittgenstein on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Read about Ludwig Wittgenstein on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Please note: the BBC accepts no responsibility for the content of external websites.

 Listen to Jonathan Sachs say why you should vote for Ludwig Wittgenstein

Dr Jonathan Sacks

Dr Jonathan Sacks has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth since September 1991. He was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he obtained first class honours in philosophy and pursued postgraduate studies at New College, Oxford and King's College London. He is currently Visiting Professor of Theology at King's College London and is the author of thirteen books. He is fifty-five years old and London-born, and has been married to Elaine for over 30 years. They have three children.

 
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