Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (26 April 188929 April 1951) was an Austrian-born philosopher who spent much of his life in England.

Quotes[edit]

My work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written. And precisely this second part is the important one.
A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.
I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.
Tell them I've had a wonderful life.
Don't get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem...
My difficulty is only an — enormous — difficulty of expression.
It is one of the chief skills of the philosopher not to occupy himself with questions which do not concern him.
What do I know about God and the purpose of life?
I know that this world exists.
The World and Life are one. ... Ethics and Aesthetics are one.
  • It seems to me as good as certain that we cannot get the upper hand against England. The English — the best race in the world — cannot lose! We, however, can lose and shall lose, if not this year then next year. The thought that our race is going to be beaten depresses me terribly, because I am completely German.
    • Writing about the eventual outcome of World War I, in which he was a volunteer in the Austro-Hungarian army (25 October 1914), as quoted in The First World War (2004) by Martin Gilbert, p. 104
  • You won't — I really believe — get too much out of reading it. Because you won't understand it; the content will seem strange to you. In reality, it isn't strange to you, for the point is ethical. I once wanted to give a few words in the foreword which now actually are not in it, which, however, I'll write to you now because they might be a key for you: I wanted to write that my work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written. And precisely this second part is the important one.
    • On his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, in a letter to Ludwig von Ficker (1919), published in Wittgenstein : Sources and Perspectives (1979) by C. Grant Luckhard
  • "It is necessary to be given the prop that all elementary props are given." This is not necessary because it is even impossible. There is no such prop! That all elementary props are given is SHOWN by there being none having an elementary sense which is not given.
    • Notes of 1919, as quoted in Ludwig Wittgenstein : The Duty of Genius (1990) by Ray Monk
  • A proposition is completely logically analyzed if its grammar is made completely clear: no matter what idiom it may be written or expressed in...
    • Philosophical Remarks (1930), Part I (1)
  • The meaning of a question is the method of answering it: then what is the meaning of 'Do two men really mean the same by the word "white"?' Tell me how you are searching, and I will tell you what you are searching for.
    • Philosophical Remarks (1991), Part III (27), pp.66-67
  • What I give is the morphology of the use of an expression. I show that it has kinds of uses of which you had not dreamed. In philosophy one feels forced to look at a concept in a certain way. What I do is suggest, or even invent, other ways of looking at it. I suggest possibilities of which you had not previously thought. You thought that there was one possibility, or only two at most. But I made you think of others. Furthermore, I made you see that it was absurd to expect the concept to conform to those narrow possibilities. Thus your mental cramp is relieved, and you are free to look around the field of use of the expression and to describe the different kinds of uses of it.
    • Lectures of 1946 - 1947, as quoted in Ludwig Wittgenstein : A Memoir (1966) by Norman Malcolm, p. 43
  • Tell them I've had a wonderful life.
    • Last words, to his doctor's wife (28 April 1951)–as quoted in Ludwig Wittgenstein : A Memoir (1966) by Norman Malcolm, p. 100
  • What is troubling us is the tendency to believe that the mind is like a little man within.
    • Remarks to John Wisdom, quoted in Zen and the Work of WIttgenstein by Paul Weinpaul in The Chicago Review Vol. 12, (1958), p. 70
  • Make sure that your religion is a matter between you and God only.
    • Comment to Maurice O'Connor Drury, as quoted in Wittgenstein Reads Freud : The Myth of the Unconscious (1996) by Jacques Bouveresse, as translated by Carol Cosman, p. 14
  • Why in the world shouldn't they have regarded with awe and reverence that act by which the human race is perpetuated. Not every religion has to have St. Augustine's attitude to sex. Why even in our culture marriages are celebrated in a church, everyone present knows what is going to happen that night, but that doesn't prevent it being a religious ceremony.
    • In reaction to statements by Maurice O'Connor Drury who expressed disapproval of depictions of an ancient Egyption god with an erect phallus, in "Conversations with Wittgenstein" as quoted in Leading a Human Life: Wittgenstein, Intentionality, and Romanticism (1997) by Richard Thomas Eldridge, p. 130
  • A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.
    • As quoted in "A View from the Asylum" in Philosophical Investigations from the Sanctity of the Press (2004), by Henry Dribble, p. 87
  • I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.
    • As quoted in The Beginning of the End (2004) by Peter Hershey, p. 109
  • A good guide will take you through the more important streets more often than he takes you down side streets; a bad guide will do the opposite. In philosophy I'm a rather bad guide.
    • As quoted in Wittgenstein and the Philosophy of Information (2008) edited by Alois Pichler and Herbert Hrachovec, p. 140

Notebooks 1914-1916[edit]

As translated by Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, first edition (1961), Second edition (1984)
  • One often makes a remark and only later sees how true it is.
    • Journal entry (11 October 1914), p. 10e
  • Logic takes care of itself; all we have to do is to look and see how it does it.
  • Don't get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.
    • Journal entry (1 November 1914)
  • My difficulty is only an — enormous — difficulty of expression.
    • Journal entry (8 March 1915) p. 40
  • I cannot get from the nature of the proposition to the individual logical operations!!!
    That is, I cannot bring out how far the proposition is the picture of the situation. I am almost inclined to give up all my efforts. ——
    • Journal entries (12 March 1915 and 15 March 1915) p. 41e
  • It is one of the chief skills of the philosopher not to occupy himself with questions which do not concern him.
    • Journal entry (1 May 1915)
  • Language is a part of our organism and no less complicated than it.
    • Journal entry (14 May 1915), p. 48
  • One of the most difficult of the philosopher's tasks is to find out where the shoe pinches.
    • p. 61
  • Certainly it is correct to say: Conscience is the voice of God.
    • p. 75
  • What do I know about God and the purpose of life?
    I know that this world exists.

    That I am placed in it like my eye in its visual field.
    That something about it is problematic, which we call its meaning.
    This meaning does not lie in it but outside of it.
    That life is the world.
    That my will penetrates the world.
    That my will is good or evil.
    Therefore that good and evil are somehow connected with the meaning of the world.
    The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God.
    And connect with this the comparison of God to a father.
    To pray is to think about the meaning of life.
    • Journal entry (11 June 1916), p. 72e and 73e
  • To believe in a God means to understand the question about the meaning of life.
    To believe in a God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.
    To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.
    • Journal entry (8 July 1916), p. 74e
  • There are two godheads: the world and my independent I.
    I am either happy or unhappy, that is all. It can be said: good or evil do not exist.
    A man who is happy must have no fear. Not even in the face of death.
    Only a man who lives not in time but in the present is happy.
    • Journal entry (8 July 1916), p. 74e
  • The World and Life are one. Physiological life is of course not "Life". And neither is psychological life. Life is the world.
    Ethics does not treat of the world. Ethics must be a condition of the world, like logic.
    Ethics and Aesthetics are one.
    • Journal entry (24 July 1916), p. 77e
  • It is true: Man is the microcosm:
    I am my world.
    • Journal entry (12 October 1916), p. 84e
  • What cannot be imagined cannot even be talked about.
    • Journal entry (12 October 1916), p. 84e
  • It is clear that the causal nexus is not a nexus at all.
    • Journal entry (12 October 1916), p. 84e

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922)[edit]

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus online at Wikisource
What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.
Certain, possible, impossible: here we have the first indication of the scale that we need in the theory of probability.
Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.
My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them... He must so to speak throw away the ladder...
  • The aim of the book is to set a limit to thought, or rather — not to thought, but to the expression of thoughts: for in order to be able to set a limit to thought, we should have to find both sides of the limit thinkable (i.e. we should have to be able to think what cannot be thought).
    It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be set, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense.
    • Preface
  • The whole sense of the book might be summed up the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.
    • Introduction
  • The world is all that is the case. (1)
  • The world is the totality of facts, not things. (1.1)
  • What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts. (2)
  • The logical picture of the facts is the thought. (3)
  • Though a state of affairs that would contravene the laws of physics can be represented by us spatially, one that would contravene the laws of geometry cannot. (3.0321)
  • The thought is the significant proposition. (4)
  • Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. Philosophy does not result in 'philosophical propositions', but rather in the clarification of propositions. Without philosophy thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and to give them sharp boundaries. (4.112)
    • Variant translation: Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result of philosophy is not a number of "philosophical propositions." but to make propositions clear.
  • It is quite impossible for a proposition to state that it itself is true. (4.442)
  • A tautology's truth is certain, a proposition's possible, a contradiction's impossible. (Certain, possible, impossible: here we have the first indication of the scale that we need in the theory of probability.) (4.464)
  • Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions. (An elementary proposition is a truth-function of itself.) (5)
  • If I cannot say a priori what elementary propositions there are, then the attempt to do so must lead to obvious nonsense. (5.5571)
  • The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. (5.6)
    • Variant translations:
    • The limits of my language stand for the limits of my world.
    • The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.
    • Original German: Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.
  • Logic pervades the world: the limits of the world are also its limits. So we cannot say in logic, "The world has this in it, and this, but not that." For that would appear to presuppose that we were excluding certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic should go beyond the limits of the world; for only in that way could it view those limits from the other side as well. We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either. (5.61)
  • This remark provides the key to the problem, how much truth there is in solipsism. For what the solipsist means is quite correct; only it cannot be said, but makes itself manifest. The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world. (5.62)
  • The world and life are one. (5.621)
    • Original German: Die Welt und das Leben sind Eins.
  • I am my world. (The microcosm.) (5.63)
  • The subject does not belong to the world, but it is a limit of the world. (5.632)
  • The world of the happy is quite different from the world of the unhappy. (6.43)
  • Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits. (6.4311)
  • It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists. (6.44)
    • Variant translation: The mystical is not how the world is, but that it is.
    • Original German: Nicht wie die Welt ist, ist das Mystische, sondern dass sie ist.
  • Scepticism is not irrefutable, but obviously nonsensical, when it tries to raise doubts where no questions can be asked.
    For doubt can exist only where a question exists, a question only where an answer exists, and an answer only where something can be said. (6.51)
  • There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical. (6.522)
  • My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) (6.54)
  • Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.
    • Translated: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. (7)
    • Also: About what one can not speak, one must remain silent. (7)

The Blue Book (c. 1931–1935; published 1965)[edit]

The difficulty in philosophy is to say no more than we know.
  • The idea that in order to get clear about the meaning of a general term one had to find the common element in all its applications has shackled philosophical investigation; for it has not only led to no result, but also made the philosopher dismiss as irrelevant the concrete cases, which alone could have helped him understand the usage of the general term.
    • p. 19
  • For remember that in general we don't use language according to strict rules — it hasn't been taught us by means of strict rules, either.
    • p. 25
  • What should we gain by a definition, as it can only lead us to other undefined terms?
    • p. 26
  • But ordinary language is all right.
    • p. 28
  • The difficulty in philosophy is to say no more than we know.
    • p. 45

Philosophical Occasions 1912-1951 (1993)[edit]

Edited by James Carl Klagge and Alfred Nordmann
Frazer's account of the magical and religious views of mankind is unsatisfactory; it makes these views look like errors.
Every explanation is after all an hypothesis.
What has to be overcome is not difficulty of the intellect but of the will.
Philosophical problems can be compared to locks on safes, which can be opened by dialing a certain word or number, so that no force can open the door until just this word has been hit upon, and once it is hit upon any child can open it.
  • To convince someone of the truth, it is not enough to state it, but rather one must find the path from error to truth.
  • I must plunge into the water of doubt again and again.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 119
  • Frazer's account of the magical and religious views of mankind is unsatisfactory; it makes these views look like errors.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 119
  • Every explanation is after all an hypothesis.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 123
  • A religious symbol does not rest on any opinion. And error belongs only with opinion. One would like to say: This is what took place here; laugh, if you can.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 123
  • Burning in effigy. Kissing the picture of one's beloved... it aims at nothing at all; we just behave this way and then we feel satisfied.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 123
  • The ceremonial (hot or cold) as opposed to the haphazard (lukewarm) characterizes piety.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough,p. 127
  • We must plow through the whole of language.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 131
  • Frazer is much more savage than most of his savages, for they are not as far removed from the understanding of spiritual matter as a twentieth-century Englishman. His explanations of primitive practices are much cruder than the meaning of these practices themselves.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 131
  • When I am furious about something, I sometimes beat the ground or a tree with my walking stick. But I certainly do not believe that the ground is to blame or that my beating can help anything... And all rites are of this kind.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 131
  • An entire mythology is stored within our language.
    • Ch. 7 : Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, p. 133
    • What makes a subject difficult to understand — if it is significant, important — is not that some special instruction about abstruse things is necessary to understand it. Rather it is the contrast between the understanding of the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things that are most obvious can become the most difficult to understand. What has to be overcome is not difficulty of the intellect but of the will. [Nicht eine Schwierigkeit des Verstandes, sondern des Willens ist zu überwinden.]
    • Ch. 9 : Philosophy (chapters 86–93 of the so called Big Typescript), p. 161
    • Corresponding to TS 213, Kapitel 86
  • Philosophieren ist: falsche Argumente zurückweisen.
    • Philosophizing is: rejecting false arguments.
      The philosopher strives to find the liberating word, that is, the word that finally permits us to grasp what up to now has intangibly weighed down upon our consciousness.
    • Ch. 9 : Philosophy, p. 165
    • Corresponding to TS 213, Kapitel 87, 409
  • The problems are dissolved in the actual sense of the word — like a lump of sugar in water.
    • Ch. 9 : Philosophy, p. 183
  • Philosophical problems can be compared to locks on safes, which can be opened by dialing a certain word or number, so that no force can open the door until just this word has been hit upon, and once it is hit upon any child can open it.
    • Ch. 9 : Philosophy, p. 175
    • Variant: Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open.
      • Conversation of 1930, in Personal Recollections (1981) by Rush Rhees, Ch. 6
  • Philosophy unravels the knots in our thinking; hence its results must be simple, but its activity is as complicated as the knots that it unravels.
    • Ch. 9 : Philosophy, p. 183
  • People are deeply imbedded in philosophical, i.e., grammatical confusions. And to free them presupposes pulling them out of the immensely manifold connections they are caught up in.
    • Ch. 9 : Philosophy, p. 185
  • The aim of philosophy is to erect a wall at the point where language stops anyway.
    • Ch. 9 : Philosophy, p. 187
  • Philosophers are often like little children, who first scribble random lines on a piece of paper with their pencils, and now ask an adult "What is that?"
    • Ch. 9 : Philosophy, p. 193

Philosophical Investigations (1953)[edit]

Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.
If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.
  • Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.
    • § 6
  • For a large class of cases — though not for all — in which we employ the word meaning it can be explained thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language.
    • § 43, this has often been quoted as simply: The meaning of a word is its use in the language.
  • Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language.
    • § 109
  • Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.
    • § 112
  • What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.
    • § 116
  • What we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stood.
    • § 118
  • Your questions refer to words; so I have to talk about words.
    You say : The point isn't the word, but its meaning, and you think of the meaning as a thing of the same kind as the word, though also different from the word. Here the word, there the meaning.
    • § 120
  • Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it.
    • § 124
  • The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something — because it is always before one's eyes.) The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. — And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.
    • § 129
  • The real discovery is the one which enables me to stop doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question.
    • § 133
  • To obey a rule, to make a report, to give an order, to play a game of chess, are customs (uses, institutions)
    • § 199
  • If I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: "This is simply what I do."
    • § 217
  • When I obey a rule, I do not choose.
    I obey the rule blindly.
    • § 219
  • "Everything is already there in...." How does it come about that [an] arrow points? Doesn't it seem to carry in it something besides itself? — "No, not the dead line on paper; only the psychical thing, the meaning, can do that." — That is both true and false. The arrow points only in the application that a living being makes of it.
    • § 454
  • My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.
    • § 464
  • But if you say: "How am I to know what he means, when I see nothing but the signs he gives?" then I say: "How is he to know what he means, when he has nothing but the signs either?"
    • § 504
  • Does man think because he has found that thinking pays?
    Does he bring his children up because he has found it pays?
    • § 467
  • So we do sometimes think because it has been found to pay.
    • § 470
  • One can mistrust one's own senses, but not one's own belief.
    If there were a verb meaning "to believe falsely," it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.
    • Pt II, p. 162
  • The human body is the best picture of the human soul.
    • Pt II, p. 178
  • A man's thinking goes on within his consciousness in a seclusion in comparison with which any physical seclusion is an exhibition to public view.
    • Pt II, p. 189
  • If God had looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of.
    • Pt II, p. 217
  • If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.
    • Pt II, p. 223 of the 1968 English edition
  • What has to be accepted, the given, is — so one could say — forms of life.
    • Pt II, p. 226 of the 1968 English edition

On Certainty (1969)[edit]

On Certainty (Über Gewissheit), J. & J. Harper Editions, New York, 1969
If you do know that here is one hand, we'll grant you all the rest.
What I hold fast to is not one proposition but a nest of propositions.
Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement.
  • 1. If you do know that here is one hand, we'll grant you all the rest.
  • 94. I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.
  • 105. All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments; no it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which our arguments have their life.
  • 144. The child learns to believe a host of things. I.e. it learns to act according to these beliefs. Bit by bit there forms a system of what is believed, and in that system some things stand unshakeably fast and some are more or less liable to shift. What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies around it.
  • 205. If the true is what is grounded, then the ground is not true, nor yet false.
  • 206. If someone asked us 'but is that true?' we might say "yes" to him; and if he demanded grounds we might say "I can't give you any grounds, but if you learn more you too will think the same."
  • 225. What I hold fast to is not one proposition but a nest of propositions.
  • 253. At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.
  • 310. A pupil and a teacher. The pupil will not let anything be explained to him, for he continually interrupts with doubts, for instance as to the existence of things, the meaning for words, etc. The teacher says "Stop interrupting me and do as I tell you. So far your doubts don't make sense at all."
  • 370. But more correctly: The fact that I use the word "hand" and all the other words in my sentence without a second thought, indeed that I should stand before the abyss if I wanted so much as to try doubting their meanings — shows that absence of doubt belongs to the essence of the language-game, that the question "How do I know..." drags out the language-game, or else does away with it.
  • 378. Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement.
  • 387. [I believe it might interest a philosopher, one who can think himself, to read my notes. For even if I have hit the mark only rarely, he would recognize what targets I had been ceaselessly aiming at.]
  • 467. I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again "I know that that's a tree", pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell them: "This fellow isn't insane. We are only doing philosophy."
  • 612. At the end of reasons comes persuasion.

Culture and Value (1980)[edit]

Vermischte Bemerkungen (1977), as translated by Peter Winch
You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.
Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.
Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.
A miracle must be, as it were, a sacred gesture.
The way you use the word "God" does not show whom you mean — but, rather, what you mean.
Don't for heaven's sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.
  • You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.
    • 1929, p. 1
  • A new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion.
    • p. 2e
  • Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
    • p. 5e
  • If someone is merely ahead of his time, it will catch up to him one day.
    • p. 8e
  • Reading the Socratic dialogues one has the feeling: what a frightful waste of time! What's the point of these arguments that prove nothing and clarify nothing?
    • p. 14e
  • I read: "philosophers are no nearer to the meaning of 'Reality' than Plato got,...". What a strange situation. How extraordinary that Plato could have got even as far as he did! Or that we could not get any further! Was it because Plato was so extremely clever?
    • p. 15e
  • Philosophers often behave like little children who scribble some marks on a piece of paper at random and then ask the grown-up "What's that?" — It happened like this: the grown-up had drawn pictures for the child several times and said "this is a man," "this is a house," etc. And then the child makes some marks too and asks: what's this then?
    • p. 17e
  • A confession has to be part of your new life.
    • p. 18e
  • If you use a trick in logic, whom can you be tricking other than yourself?
    • p. 24e
  • Kierkegaard writes: If Christianity were so easy and cozy, why should God in his Scriptures have set Heaven and Earth in motion and threatened eternal punishments? — Question: But then in that case why is this Scriptures so unclear?
    • p. 31e
  • I squander untold effort making an arrangement of my thoughts that may have no value whatever.
    • p. 33e
  • Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.
    • p. 34e
  • Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when you are walking in the snow. You doze off and die in your sleep.
    • p. 35e
  • I sit astride life like a bad rider on a horse. I only owe it to the horse's good nature that I am not thrown off at this very moment.
    • p. 36e
  • People nowadays think that scientists exist to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc. to give them pleasure. The idea that these have something to teach them — that does not occur to them.
    • p. 36e
  • Man könnte sagen: „Genie ist Mut im Talent.”
  • Aim at being loved without being admired.
    • p. 38e
  • Our greatest stupidities may be very wise.
    • p. 39e
  • Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.
    • p. 39e
  • In Rennen der Philosophie gewinnt, wer am langsamsten laufen kann. Oder: der, der das Ziel zuletzt erreicht.
    • In philosophy the race is to the one who can run slowest—the one who crosses the finish line last.
    • p. 40e
  • There is no more light in a genius than in any other honest man—but he has a particular kind of lens to concentrate this light into a burning point.
    • p. 41e
  • The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it; not by someone who still lives in untruthfulness, and does no more than reach out towards it from within untruthfulness.
    • p. 41e
  • A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that's unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push it.
    • p. 42e
  • A teacher who can show good, or indeed astounding results while he is teaching, is still not on that account a good teacher, for it may be that, while his pupils are under his immediate influence, he raises them to a level which is not natural to them, without developing their own capacities for work at this level, so that they immediately decline again once the teacher leaves the schoolroom.
    • p. 43e
  • Courage, not cleverness; not even inspiration, is the grain of mustard that grows up to be a great tree.
    • p. 44e
  • It is not by recognizing the want of courage in someone else that you acquire courage yourself..
    • p. 44e
  • You can’t be reluctant to give up your lie and still tell the truth.
    • p. 44e
  • Worte sind Taten.
    • Words are deeds.
    • p. 50e

1946

  • If you want to go down deep you do not need to travel far; indeed, you don't have to leave your most immediate and familiar surroundings.
    • p. 50e
  • If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.
    • Variant: If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.
    • p. 50e
  • The purely corporeal can be uncanny. Compare the way angels and devils are portrayed. So-called "miracles" must be connected with this. A miracle must be, as it were, a sacred gesture.
    • p. 50e
  • The way you use the word "God" does not show whom you mean — but, rather, what you mean.
    • p. 50e
  • A hero looks death in the face, real death, not just the image of death. Behaving honourably in a crisis doesn't mean being able to act the part of a hero well, as in the theatre, it means being able to look death itself in the eye.
    For an actor may play lots of different roles, but at the end of it all he himself, the human being, is the one who has to die.
    • p. 50e
  • The less somebody knows and understand himself the less great he is, however great may be his talent. For this reason our scientists are not great.
    • p. 51e
  • "Fare well!"
    "A whole world of pain is contained in these words." How can it be contained in them? — It is bound up in them. The words are like an acorn from which an oak tree can grow.
    • p. 52e
  • You could attach prices to thoughts. Some cost a lot, some a little. And how does one pay for thoughts? The answer, I think, is: with courage.
    • p. 52e
  • If life becomes hard to bear we think of a change in our circumstances. But the most important and effective change, a change in our own attitude, hardly even occurs to us, and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult for us.
    • p. 53e
  • I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.)
    • p. 53e
  • Wisdom is passionless. But faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.
    • p. 53e
  • Religion is, as it were, the calm bottom of the sea at its deepest point, which remains calm however high the waves on the surface may be.
    • p. 53e
  • "I never believed in God before." — that I understand. But not: "I never really believed in Him before."
    • p. 53e
  • Freud's fanciful pseudo-explanations (precisely because they are brilliant) perform a disservice.
    (Now any ass has these pictures available to use in "explaining" symptoms of an illness.
    • p. 55e
  • I am showing my pupils details of an immense landscape which they cannot possibly know their way around.
    • p. 56e

1947

  • Don't for heaven's sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.
    • p. 56e
  • One might say: art shows us the miracles of nature. It is based on the concept of the miracles of nature.
  • You could attach prices to ideas. Some cost a lot some little. ... And how do you pay for ideas? I believe: with courage.
    • p. 60e
  • If life becomes hard to bear we think of improvements. But the most important and effective improvement, in our own attitude, hardly occurs to us, and we can decide on this only with the utmost difficulty.
    • p. 60e
  • Someone who knows too much finds it hard not to lie.
    • p. 64e
  • Animals come when their names are called. Just like human beings.
    • p. 67e
  • Is it just I who cannot found a school, or can a philosopher never do so?
    • p. 69e
  • Schiller writes in a letter [to Goethe, 17 December 1795] of a ‘poetic mood’. I think I know what he means, I think I am familiar with it myself. It is the mood of receptivity to nature and one in which one’s thoughts seem as vivid as nature itself.
    • p. 75e
  • It's only by thinking even more crazily than philosophers do that you can solve their problems.
    • p. 75e
  • Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.
    • p. 76e
  • Ambition is the death of thought.
    • p. 77e
  • I would really like to slow down the speed of reading with continual punctuation marks. For I would like to be read slowly. (As I myself read.)
    • p. 77e
  • Nothing is more important than the formation of fictional concepts, which teach us at last to understand our own.
    • p. 85e
  • If a false thought is so much as expressed boldly and clearly, a great deal has already been gained.
    • p. 86e
  • Human beings have a physical need to tell themselves when at work: “Let’s have done with it now,” and it’s having constantly to go on thinking in the face of this need when philosophizing that makes this work so strenuous.
    • p. 86e
  • The Sabbath is not simply a time to rest, to recuperate. We should look at our work from the outside, not just from within.
    • p. 91e
  • One age misunderstands another; and a petty age misunderstands all the others in its own ugly way.
    • p. 98e
  • Philosophy hasn’t made any progress?—If someone scratches where it itches, do we have to see progress? Is it not genuine scratching otherwise, or genuine itching?
    • p. 98e

Personal Recollections (1981)[edit]

Quotes of Wittgenstein found in Personal Recollections (1981) by Rush Rhees, Ch. 6
It is so characteristic, that just when the mechanics of reproduction are so vastly improved, there are fewer and fewer people who know how the music should be played.
  • Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open.
    • Conversation of 1930
    • Similar to Wittgenstein's written notes of the "Big Typescript" published in Philosophical Occasions 1912-1951 (1993) edited by James Carl Klagge and Alfred Nordmann, p. 175: Philosophical problems can be compared to locks on safes, which can be opened by dialing a certain word or number, so that no force can open the door until just this word has been hit upon, and once it is hit upon any child can open it.
  • A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.
    • Conversation of 1930
  • If a person tells me he has been to the worst places I have no reason to judge him; but if he tells me it was his superior wisdom that enabled him to go there, then I know he is a fraud.
    • Conversation of 1930
  • It seems to me that, in every culture, I come across a chapter headed Wisdom. And then I know exactly what is going to follow: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
    • Conversation of 1934
  • You must always be puzzled by mental illness. The thing I would dread most, if I became mentally ill, would be your adopting a common sense attitude; that you could take it for granted that I was deluded.
    • Conversation of 1947 or 1948
  • It is so characteristic, that just when the mechanics of reproduction are so vastly improved, there are fewer and fewer people who know how the music should be played.
    • p. 96


Disputed[edit]

  • The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.
    • Though this has been quoted extensively as if it were a statement of Wittgenstein, it was apparently first published in A Brief History of Time (1988) by Stephen Hawking, p. 175, where it is presented in quotation marks and thus easily interpreted to be a quotation, but could conceivably be Hawking paraphrasing or giving his own particular summation of Wittgenstein's ideas, as there seem to be no published sources of such a statement prior to this one. The full remark by Hawking reads:
Philosophers reduced the scope of their inquiries so much that Wittgenstein, the most famous philosopher of this century, said, “The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.” What a comedown from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Kant!


Misattributed[edit]

  • If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.
    • This actually first appears in Recent Experiments in Psychology (1950) by Leland Whitney Crafts, Théodore Christian Schneirla, and Elsa Elizabeth Robinson, where it is expressed:
If we used a different vocabulary or if we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.
  • Randy Allen Harris, in Rhetoric and Incommensurability (2005), p. 35, and an endnote on p. 138 indicates the misattribution seems to have originated in a misreading of quotes in Patterns Of Discovery: An Inquiry Into The Conceptual Foundations of Science (1958) by Norwood Russell Hanson, where an actual quotation of WIttgenstein on p. 184 is followed by one from the book on psychology.

Quotes about Wittgenstein[edit]

He was the kind of man who would never have noticed such small matters as bursting shells when he was thinking about logic. ~ Bertrand Russell
  • When I met Wittgenstein, I saw that Schlick's warnings were fully justified. But his behavior was not caused by any arrogance. In general, he was of a sympathetic temperament and very kind; but he was hypersensitive and easily irritated. Whatever he said was always interesting and stimulating and the way in which he expressed it was often fascinating. His point of view and his attitude toward people and problems, even theoretical problems, were much more similar to those of a creative artist than to those of a scientist; one might almost say, similar to those of a religious prophet or a seer. When he started to formulate his view on some specific problem, we often felt the internal struggle that occurred in him at that very moment, a struggle by which he tried to penetrate from darkness to light under an intense and painful strain, which was even visible on his most expressive face. When finally, sometimes after a prolonged arduous effort, his answers came forth, his statement stood before us like a newly created piece of art or a divine revelation. Not that he asserted his views dogmatically ... But the impression he made on us was as if insight came to him as through divine inspiration, so that we could not help feeling that any sober rational comment of analysis of it would be a profanation.
    • Rudolf Carnap, as quoted in The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap (1963) by Paul Arthur Schilpp, p. 25, and in Ludwig Wittgenstein : The Duty of Genius (1991) by Ray Monk, p. 244
  • Dr J. O. Wisdom once observed to me that he knew people who thought there was no philosophy after Hegel, and others who thought there was none before Wittgenstein; and he saw no reason for excluding the possibility that both were right.
  • He was like an atomic bomb, a tornado — people don't appreciate that.
    • W. A. Hijab, a student of Wittgenstein, as quoted in Autism and Creativity : Is there a link between autism in men and exceptional ability? (2004) by Michael Fitzgerald, p. 93
  • Well, God has arrived. I met him on the 5:15 train. He has a plan to stay in Cambridge permanently.
  • My wife gave him some Swiss cheese and rye bread for lunch, which he greatly liked. Thereafter he more or less insisted on eating bread and cheese at all meals, largely ignoring the various dishes that my wife prepared. Wittgenstein declared that it did not much matter to him what he ate, so long as it always remained the same. When a dish that looked especially appetizing was brought to the table, I sometimes exclaimed "Hot Ziggety!" — a slang phrase that I learned as a boy in Kansas. Wittgenstein picked up this expression from me. It was inconceivably droll to hear him exclaim "Hot Ziggety!" when my wife put the bread and cheese before him.
  • Consider Wittgenstein's paradigmatic question about defining "game." The problem is that there is no property common to all games, so that the most usual kinds of definition fail. Not every game has a ball, nor two competing teams; even, sometimes, there is no notion of "winning." In my view, the explanation is that a word like "game" points to a somewhat diffuse "system" of prototype frames, among which some frame-shifts are easy, but others involve more strain.
  • I got a letter from him written from Monte Cassino, saying that a few days after the Armistice, he had been taken prisoner by the Italians, but fortunately with his manuscript. It appears he had written a book in the trenches, and wished me to read it. He was the kind of man who would never have noticed such small matters as bursting shells when he was thinking about logic. ... It was the book which was subsequently published under the title Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
    • Bertrand Russell in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1968) Ch. 9 : Russia, p. 330
  • Just about at the time of the Armistice his father had died, and Wittgenstein inherited the bulk of his fortune. He came to the conclusion, however, that money is a nuisance to a philosopher, so he gave every penny of it to his brother and sisters. Consequently he was unable to pay the fare from Vienna to the Hague, and was far too proud to accept it from me. ... He must have suffered during this time hunger and considerable privation, though it was very seldom that he could be induced to say anything about it, as he had the pride of Lucifer. At last his sister decided to build a house, and employed him as an architect. This gave him enough to eat for several years, at the end of which he returned to Cambridge as a don...
    • Bertrand Russell in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (1968) Ch. 9 : Russia, p. 331
  • W. is very excitable: he has more passion about philosophy than I have; his avalanches make mine seem mere snowballs. He has the pure intellectual passion in the highest degree; it makes me love him. His disposition is that of an artist, intuitive and moody. He says every morning he begins his work with hope, and every evening he ends in despair — he has just the sort of rage when he can't understand things as I have.
    • Bertrand Russell, as quoted in Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein's life, 1889-1921 (1988) by Brian McGuinness, p. 100
  • The later Wittgenstein, on the contrary, seems to have grown tired of serious thinking and to have invented a doctrine which would make such an activity unnecessary. I do not for one moment believe that the doctrine which has these lazy consequences is true. I realize, however, that I have an overpoweringly strong bias against it, for, if it is true, philosophy is, at best, a slight help to lexicographers, and at worst, an idle tea-table amusement.
  • There are two great men in history with whom he [Wittgenstein] somewhat resembles. One was Pascal, other was Tolstoy. Pascal was a mathematician of genius, but abandoned mathematics for piety. Tolstoy sacrificed his genius as a writer to a kind of bogus humility which made him prefer peasants to educated men and Uncle Tom's Cabin to all other works of fiction. Wittgenstein, who could play with metaphysical intricacies as cleverly as Pascal with Hexagons or Tolstoy with emperors, threw away this talent and debased himself before the peasants — in each case from an impulse of pride. I admired Wittgenstein's Tractus but not his later work, which seemed to me to me to involve an abnegation of his own best talent very similar to those of Pascal and Tolstoy.... [M]ental torments which made him and Pascal and Tolstoy pardonable in spite of their treachery to their own greatness.
  • The philosophical tradition that goes from Descartes to Husserl, and indeed a large part of the philosophical tradition that goes back to Plato, involves a search for foundations: metaphysically certain foundations of knowledge, foundations of language and meaning, foundations of mathematics, foundations of morality, etc. […] Now, in the twentieth century, mostly under the influence of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, we have come to believe that this general search for these sorts of foundations is misguided.
    • John Searle, “The Word Turned Upside Down,” The New York Review of Books, 27 October 1983
  • Wittgenstein was basically unscientific. He knew that science was partly driven by a desire to generalize, and he rejected generalization. Scientific questions were of no great interest to him; they merely addressed the working of the natural world. Wittgenstein spent much of his later life examining the way in which language may shape our reality. This is not a subject that is irrelevant to science.
    • Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)
  • [He was] a magician and had qualities of magic in his relations with people.
    • Sir Colin St John Wilson, as quoted in Autism and Creativity : Is there a link between autism in men and exceptional ability? (2004) by Michael Fitzgerald, p. 93

External links[edit]

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