Wittgenstein, Ludwig (Josef Johann)

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (Josef Johann)

(born April 26, 1889, Vienna—died April 29, 1951, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng.) Austrian-born English philosopher, regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. He was born into an immensely wealthy and cultivated family. In 1908 he went to Manchester, Eng., to study aeronautics. He soon developed an obsessive interest in the philosophy of logic and mathematics, and in 1911 he went to Cambridge to study logic with Bertrand Russell. Within a year he had learned all Russell had to teach; he then went to Norway, where he worked on logic in isolation in a wooden hut he built by the side of a fjord. There he developed in embryo what became known as the “picture theory” of meaning, a central tenet of which is that a proposition can express a fact by virtue of sharing with it a common structure, or “logical form.” When World War I broke out he joined the Austrian army, winning several decorations for bravery while serving on the Russian front. During the war he worked on a manuscript that was later published as Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922). Believing that he had solved all the major problems of philosophy, he abandoned the subject after the war and spent the next 10 years as a schoolteacher and doing other odd jobs in a remote Austrian village. Meanwhile, the Tractatus had attracted the attention of philosophers in Cambridge and Vienna, including those of the Vienna Circle of logical positivists (see logical positivism), some of whose meetings Wittgenstein was persuaded to join. He returned to Cambridge in 1929. During the early 1930s his ideas changed rapidly, and he gradually abandoned the doctrines of the Tractatus; indeed, he began to conceive of philosophy in radically different terms, as not the construction of theories designed to answer philosophical questions but as the activity of clearing up conceptual confusions arising from inattention to or misunderstandings of ordinary uses of language. What became known as the works of the “later Wittgenstein”—including Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (1956), Philosophical Grammar (1974), Philosophical Remarks (1975), and especially Philosophical Investigations (1953)—can be considered attempts to refine and definitively express this new approach. Though he worked with fierce energy and wrote prodigiously, he would allow none of his work from this period to be published in his lifetime. In 1939 he was appointed to the chair in philosophy at Cambridge previously held by G.E. Moore. Disliking professional philosophy, he resigned the post in 1947 to live in seclusion in Ireland and then with various friends. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1949, he continued working intensively until two days before his death. Seealso analytic philosophy.

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Karl Wittgenstein (b. April 8, 1847 in Gohlis near Leipzig; d. January 20, 1913 in Vienna) was an entrepreneur.


The grandfather of Karl Wittgenstein, estate manager Moses Meyer, came from Laasphe in the former Wittgenstein kreis (county). He moved to Korbach before 1802, where he opened a dry goods store.

The Napoleonic effort of equality before the law for all Jews in the kingdom of Westphalia in 1808 decreed that all people should take a surname within three months. Moses Meyer took the name of his birthplace and thereafter was known as Moses Meyer-Wittgenstein.

Meyer-Wittgenstein's store became the biggest enterprise in the city of Korbach, but also shortly thereafter began to decline. He had a son, Hermann Christian (b. September 12, 1802 in Korbach; d. 1878 in Vienna) who moved the business to Gohlis at the end of the 1830s.

After Heinrich Christian converted to Protestantism he married Fanny Figdor in 1839. She came from one of the most important business families in Vienna.

Karl, born in 1847, was the sixth of eleven children of Heinrich and Fanny. Three years later the family moved to Vösendorf (Mödling district) in Austria, where his four younger siblings were born.

The family then moved in 1860 to Vienna, where Hermann Christian was involved in the furniture business. In 1865 Karl secretly left home and sought his fortune in the U.S., a violin was his only possession. There he earned a living as a musician and a waiter in bars. In 1867 he moved back home with a great deal of self confidence.

In Vienna he studied at the technical university and became a draftsman and engineer. He began at the mill in Teplitz, where he eventually became director in 1877 and then a few years later principal shareholder.

Karl married his wife, Leopoldine Kallmus, in 1873. They moved for one year to Teplitz in northern Bohemia, then they moved to a villa in the Vienna district of Meidling.

They had the following children:

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