Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), born in Austria and educated at Cambridge under the tutelage of Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore, is one of the most important philosophers in the tradition of analytical philosophy. His best-known works are Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations, which represent the "early" and "late" periods of his philosophy. Wittgenstein is especially well-known for the view found in the Tractatus, similar to that held by the logical positivists, but that much of philosophy is talk about that which is ineffable, and the view found in the Philosophical Investigations that many ordinary words like "game" are not susceptible to analysis or definition.
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was born on April 26, 1889, in Vienna, Austria. His father was Karl Wittgenstein, who was Austria's leading steel manufacturer.
Wittgenstein went to the Berlin-Charlottenburg Technische Hochschule. In 1908, he was matriculated to the University of Manchester where he focused on aeronautics. While there he developed a design for a jet-turbine engine, but engineering was never his passion. He found more fondness for the mathematics required for the field, and, then, more passionately about philosophy of mathematics. Following this, he contacted Frege and Bertrand Russell regarding philosophical studies.
In 1912, he abandoned his engineering studies to pursue philosophy with Russell at Cambridge University. Russell, who by this point had completed his Principia Mathematica and was moving away from logical analysis, considered Wittgenstein to be his intellectual heir in the area of logic. In the spring of 1914, he moved to Skjolden, Norway, to pursue logic in isolation.
He returned to Vienna in the summer of 1914, coincidentally in time for the First World War. Wittgenstein volunteered for the Austrian Army. He for most of the war served in a transportation assignment. At one point, once the army had become aware of his engineering background, temporarily wore an officer's rank. Wittgenstein, though, longed for a combat assignment for which he felt would test his mettle. In 1918, he was transferred to the Italian front and was captured late in the war. Throughout the four years of the war, he continued to write philosophy, using his period as a prisoner of war to complete the manuscript which became the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
Following the war, Wittgenstein renounced all of the comforts that he had known prior to the war: his wealth and his career in philosophy. He took a position as a rural school teacher in the Austrian countryside. He circulated the manuscript to his friends in both Cambridge and Vienna philosophy circles, both of which eventually found publishers for an English and German language versions of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Wittgenstein, as a schoolteacher, was an impatient and frustrated master, often using corporal punishment as a learning incentive. His abuses went too far in 1926 where he was dismissed and criminally tried for striking a pupil. He left school teaching and returned to Vienna where he designed a home for his sister and thought much about becoming an architect (although nothing more came of this).
While in Vienna, he began communicating more with philosophers Moritz Schlick and Friedrich Waismen, and through them (although it does not appear the Wittgenstein had much interaction with them), Rudolph Carnap and Herbert Feigl, the philosophers that would become the core of the Vienna Circle. It was these discussions that led Wittgenstein back into philosophy. Conversations with Schlick and Waisman prompted Wittgenstein to assess and become explicit about the shortcomings he saw in the TLP. It was clear, also, that the more Wittgenstein reflected upon the TLP the further he diverted from its implications towards logical positivism. Wittgenstein wrote to his friends at Cambridge, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and Frank Ramsey about his return.
He was welcomed back to Cambridge in 1929 and submitted the TLP as his doctoral dissertation in 1930, Russell and Moore serving as dissertation readers. In the fall, he was granted a senior research fellowship of Trinity College. He held the fellowship until 1936. While at Cambridge he was active in the Moral Science Club. Wittgenstein always had difficulty writing, preferring to dictate his books and then edit. His Blue and Brown books were created in this way.
Following the Nazi takeover of Austria in February and March of 1938, Wittgenstein (who often identified himself as Jewish) could not return to Vienna or his home. He sought British citizenship and a professorship at Cambridge. In 1939, he was awarded G. E. Moore's chair, Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University.
During World War Two, Wittgenstein was a hospital orderly at Guy's Hospital and as a Newcastle laboratory assistant studying shell shock.
Following the war, he returned to Cambridge but resigned in 1947. He traveled and had extended stays in the U.S. especially at Cornell University. He lived in Ireland in 1948 and 1949. He died in Cambridge on April 29, 1951.