Ludwig Wittgenstein - 20th century philosopher

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Ludwig Wittgenstein - 1889-1951AD


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• Narcissism: Behind the Mask

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• 20 Shades of Narcissism
• Finding Happiness

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Wittgenstein: "Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement."

Wittgenstein was a brilliant 20th century philosopher. His relationship with Bertrand Russell was not dissimilar to the relationship between Plato and his pupil, Aristotle. Wittgenstein attended the University of Cambridge to study under Russell, and later disagreed with some of the philosophical views of his former teacher.

In a heated discussion at a meeting of the Cambridge Moral Science Club in 1946, Wittgenstein is said to have picked up a poker, waved it at the philosopher Karl Popper whilst aggressively making a point, and then walked out. It was indicative of his intense and dominating personality.

"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."1

Wittgenstein's major work of his early life as a philosopher, Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus, was primarily concerned with relationship between language, thought and reality. He said, "The limits of my language means the limits of my world", insisting that the meaning of linguistic expressions must be determined by the nature of the world. He argued that the underlying structure of sentences must exactly mirror or picture the essential structure of the world.

He meant, in what became known as his 'picture theory', sentences are representations, that is pictures, of possible states of affairs. And since logical order is needed for almost anything to make sense, ordinary language could not be logically imperfect as Russell supposed. Wittgenstein said, "What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence".

Wittgenstein believed that he had solved all of the genuine philosophical problems, and promptly gave up philosophy, gave away his inherited fortune and became a teacher, and later a gardener. But he became unhappy with some elements of his work and returned to Cambridge. He developed the idea that the job of philosophy was to clear up the conceptual confusions that arose through our unexamined use of language.

In his major work of his later life, Philosophical Investigations, published two years after his death, he stated that language gains its meaning from the way it is used. He said, "For a large class of cases - though not all - in which we employ the word 'meaning' it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language."

In Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein criticised his own earlier work. He renounced his earlier assertion that meaning is dependent on reality, and also his contention that language is essentially concerned with representation. He recognised that language can have various functions; it is used by as a mechanism for different purposes in different contexts. What a word means can depend on what is being used to do and the context in which it is employed.

Wittgenstein's notion of 'language games' and/or 'language as tool' is a philosophical concept referring to simple examples of language use and the actions into which the language is woven. His intention appeared to be "to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life".

"One of the most misleading representational techniques in our language is the use of the word 'I'."2

Wittgenstein appeared to believe that our identification with our cognitive ego causes a sort of blindness, or an insensitivity to our other levels of consciousness, in particular in our linguistic practices, that is tantamount to a denial of our own nature. This insensitivity to our other levels of consciousness helps explain how the narcissist can use words to assassinate the character of his enemies with no apparent compunction.

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.

1, 2 Wittgenstein