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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) was a German Austrian-British philosopher of language. Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself. My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.

Ludwig Wittgenstein baby

Ludwig Wittgenstein when a baby

Wittgenstein and Hitler

Wittgenstein and Hitler in Linz Realschool class portrait

Ludwig Wittgenstein teacher

Ludwig Wittgenstein, teacher

Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein, philosopher

Quotations of Wittgenstein sourced from: WikiQuotes, EGS, Goodreads, Bio, Stanford YouTube

The world is everything that is the case.

Whereof we cannot speak reasonably, we must pass over in silence.

The limits of your language are the limits of your world.

Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity.

Philosophy’s task is to make thoughts clear and to give them definite boundaries.

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.

There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.

Philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry.

I know that this world exists.

I am my world.

It’s not how the world is, but that it exists, that is cause for astonishment.

The philosophical I is not the man, not the human body or the human soul of which psychology treats, but the metaphysical subject, the limit -not a part of the world. …
If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.

Only a man who lives not in time but in the present is happy.

The world of the happy is quite another than that of the unhappy.

I am either happy or unhappy, that is all.

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

That life is the world.

That my will penetrates the world.

There are no subjects in the world. A subject is a limitation of the world.

In the world everything is as it is and happens as it does happen. In it, there is no value, – and if there were, it would be of no value.

There are two godheads: the world and my independent I.

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.

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.

That it doesn’t strike us at all when we look around us, move about in space, feel our own bodies, etc. etc., shows how natural these things are to us. We do not notice that we see space perspectively or that our visual field is in some sense blurred towards the edges. It doesn’t strike us and never can strike us because it is the way we perceive. We never give it a thought and it’s impossible we should, since there is nothing that contrasts with the form of our world.What I wanted to say is it’s strange that those who ascribe reality only to things and not to our ideas move about so unquestioningly in the world as idea and never long to escape from it.

For that would apparently presuppose that we exclude certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case since otherwise logic must get outside the limits of the world: that is, if it could consider these limits from the other side also.

Just be independent of the external world, so you don’t have to fear for what’s in it.

Someone who knows too much finds it hard not to lie.

A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.

Nothing is more important than the formation of fictional concepts, which teach us at last to understand our own.

If a false thought is so much as expressed boldly and clearly, a great deal has already been gained.

If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.

Don’t for heaven’s sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.

Avoid the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.

Courage, not cleverness; not even inspiration, is the grain of mustard that grows up to be a great tree.

One might say: Genius is talent exercised with courage.

It is not by recognizing the want of courage in someone else that you acquire courage yourself.

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.

It’s only by thinking even more crazily than philosophers do that you can solve their problems.

Hell isn’t other people. Hell is yourself.

The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have known since long.

If you and I are to live religious lives, it mustn’t be that we talk a lot about religion, but that our manner of life is different. It is my belief that only if you try to be helpful to other people will you in the end find your way to God.

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 the way in which our visual field has no limits.

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

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.

I act with complete certainty. But this certainty is my own.

My day passes between logic, whistling, going for walks, and being depressed. I wish to God that I were more intelligent and everything would finally become clear to me – or else that I needn’t live much longer.

To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.

Make sure that your religion is a matter between you and God only.

To imagine a language is to imagine a form of life.

If anyone is unwilling to descend into himself, because this is too painful, he will remain superficial in his writing. . . If I perform to myself, then it’s this that the style expresses. And then the style cannot be my own. If you are unwilling to know what you are, your writing is a form of deceit.

In philosophy it is always good to put a question instead of an answer to a question. For an answer to the philosophical question may easily be unfair; disposing of it by means of another question is not.

Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical.

The primary question about life after death is not whether it is a fact, but even if it is, what problems that really solves.

The face is the soul of the body.

One often makes a remark and only later sees how true it is.

If there were a verb meaning “to believe falsely,” it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.

A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.

Logic takes care of itself; all we have to do is to look and see how it does it.

Hegel seems to me to be always wanting to say that things which look different are really the same. Whereas my interest is in showing that things which look the same are really different. I was thinking of using as a motto for my book a quotation from King Lear: ‘I’ll teach you differences’.

‘You’d be surprised’ wouldn’t be a bad motto either.

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.

Language disguises the thought; so that from the external form of the clothes one cannot infer the form of the thought they clothe, because the external form of the clothes is constructed with quite another object than to let the form of the body be recognized.

Language is a part of our organism and no less complicated than it.

You sometimes see in a wind a piece of paper blowing about anyhow. Suppose the piece of paper could make the decision: ‘Now I want to go this way.’ I say: ‘Queer, this paper always decides where it is to go, and all the time it is the wind that blows it. I know it is the wind that blows it.’ That same force which moves it also in a different way moves its decisions.

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.

Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement.

The eternal life is given to those who live in the present.

Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly.

When we can’t think for ourselves, we can always quote

A tautology’s truth is certain, a proposition’s possible, a contradiction’s impossible.

You can’t be reluctant to give up your lie and still tell the truth.

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

Suppose someone were to say: ‘Imagine this butterfly exactly as it is, but ugly instead of beautiful’?!

When you are philosophizing you have to descend into primeval chaos and feel at home there.

It’s impossible for me to say one word about all that music has meant to me in my life. How, then, can I hope to be understood?

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 my will is good or evil.

If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

I give no sources, because it is indifferent to me
whether what I have thought has already been
thought before me by another.

Philosophy hasn’t made any progress? – If somebody scratches the spot where he has an itch, do we have to see some progress? Isn’t genuine scratching otherwise, or genuine itching itching? And can’t this reaction to an irritation continue in the same way for a long time before a cure for the itching is discovered?

This is how philosophers should salute each other: ‘Take your time.

There is a truth in Schopenhauer’s view that philosophy is an organism, and that a book on philosophy, with a beginning and end, is a sort of contradiction. … In philosophy matters are not simple enough for us to say ‘Let’s get a rough idea’, for we do not know the country except by knowing the connections between the roads.

Death is not an event of life. Death is not lived through.
If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.
Our life is endless in the way that our visual field is without limit.

I think one of the things you and I have to learn is that we have to live without the consolation of belonging to a Church….

Of one thing I am certain. The religion of the future will have to be extremely ascetic, and by that I don’t mean just going without food and drink.

You can’t think decently if you’re not willing to hurt yourself

The philosopher is not a citizen of any community of ideas, that is what makes him a philosopher.

Concerning that which cannot be talked about, we should not say anything.

I think I summed up my attitude to philosophy when I said: philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition.

Nothing is more important for teaching us to understand the concepts we have than to construct fictitious ones.

We regard the photograph, the picture on our wall, as the object itself (the man, landscape, and so on) depicted there. This need not have been so. We could easily imagine people who did not have this relation to such pictures. Who, for example, would be repelled by photographs, because a face without color and even perhaps a face in reduced proportions struck them as inhuman.

It is not humanly possible to gather immediately from it what the logic of language is. Language disguises thought.

Our life is endless in the way that our visual field is without limit.

What can be said at all can be said clearly; and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.
[His famous summary on his ‘Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus’.]

Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.

The human body is the best picture of the human soul.

If, for example, you were to think more deeply about death, then it would be truly strange if, in doing so, you did not encounter new images, new linguistic fields.

hell is not other people, hell is yourself”

Belief in the causal nexus is superstition.

There can never be surprises in logic.

Where two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and a heretic

Our greatest stupidities may be very wise.

I am not interested in constructing a building, so much as in having a perspicuous view of the foundations of possible buildings.

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for.

Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be put into words can be put clearly.

Think, for example, of the words which you perhaps utter in this space of time. They are no longer part of this language. And in different surroundings the institution of money doesn’t exist either.

Our investigation is a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away. Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language.

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.

My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.

What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies around it.

Remember that we sometimes demand explanations for the sake not of their content, but of their form. Our requirement is an architectural one; the explanation a kind of sham corbel that supports nothing.”

What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.

The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.

Language disguises thought.
We are engaged in a struggle with language.

The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts.

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.

Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts which otherwise are, as it were, opaque and blurred.”

Philosophy, as we use the word, is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert upon us.

Man feels the urge to run up against the limits of language. Think for example of the astonishment that anything at all exists. This astonishment cannot be expressed in the form of a question, and there is also no answer whatsoever. Anything we might say is a priori bound to be nonsense. Nevertheless we do run up against the limits of language. Kierkegaard too saw that there is this running up against something, and he referred to it in a fairly similar way (as running up against paradox). This running up against the limits of language is ethics.

It is so characteristic, that just when the mechanics of reproduction are so vastly improved, there are fewer and fewer people who know how music should be played.

But some of the greatest achievements in philosophy could only be compared with taking up some books which seemed to belong together, and putting them on different shelves; nothing more being final about their positions than that they no longer lie side by side. The onlooker who doesn’t know the difficulty of the task might well think in such a case that nothing at all had been achieved.

Our craving for generality has [as one] source … our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness. I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is “purely descriptive.

[Philosophy] must set limits to what can be thought; and, in doing so, to what cannot be thought. It must set limits to what cannot be thought by working outwards through what can be thought.

I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.

As there is only a logical necessity, so there is only a logical
impossibility.

The agreement or disagreement or its sense with reality constitutes its truth or falsity.

Tell me,” Wittgenstein’s asked a friend, “why do people always say, it was natural for man to assume that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth was rotating?” His friend replied, “Well, obviously because it just looks as though the Sun is going round the Earth.” Wittgenstein replied, “Well, what would it have looked like if it had looked as though the Earth was rotating?

If a blind man were to ask me “Have you got two hands?” I should not make sure by looking. If I were to have any doubt of it, then I don’t know why I should trust my eyes. For why shouldn’t I test my eyes by looking to find out whether I see my two hands? What is to be tested by what?

I want to say: We use judgments as principles of judgment.

A logical picture of facts is a thought.

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.

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.

It is one of the chief skills of the philosopher not to occupy himself with questions which do not concern him.

The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.

What cannot be imagined cannot even be talked about.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

What should we gain by a definition, as it can only lead us to other undefined terms?

Every explanation is after all an hypothesis.

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.

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.

Philosophizing is: rejecting false arguments.

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.

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.

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.

What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies around it.

What I hold fast to is not one proposition but a nest of propositions.

At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.

If someone is merely ahead of his time, it will catch up to him one day

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?

If you use a trick in logic, whom can you be tricking other than yourself?

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.


COMMENTS

The quote I like best from Ludwig Wittgenstein was Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.  It seems every one of us carries a bundle of self delusion which we hold because it prevents us from seeing the ultimate meaningless of our existence. Of course we do feel that our lives have meaning, but it is usually generated by external people trying to sell us something to get our money or our labor.

There is a category of meaning, that is what is generated out of our own thoughtful efforts to create meaning, but until this self-generated meaning confronts the Universe we are immersed within perceptually, the values will be skewed. Wittgenstein seems to recognize this problem and claims to bring it to his followers’ attention.  My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense. He doesn’t say it directly, at least in the quotes, but the implication is that patent nonsense is so stupid that an honest person will quickly drop it from his baggage of self deception. Of course therein lies the problem — is it possible for humans to be honest on vital issues when nonsense is ubiquitous? It wouldn’t seem to be much of a challenge to find examples of nonsense, and yet he doesn’t seem to expend much effort, in print, directly exposing examples of nonsense. He leaves that to the individual. Perhaps Wittgenstein feels that ultimately everything is nonsense, if you pursue a subject to its bitter roots.

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. A theory gives comprehensible sense to a collection of observations; then with things clearly defined it becomes possible to expose the places where it doesn’t fit, but then of course the exposure itself has its flaws which must in turn be exposed ad infinitum. Of course it’s turtles lying on turtles all the way down; lying turtles lying on other lying turtles.

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.  It is the right alignment of tumblers that permits the combination lock to be opened, just like the right arrangement of words opens the doors of perception to a whole new world of reality to be explored. It isn’t a single word that opens a question up, it is the right arrangement of words.

One of Wittgenstein’s key points is, Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. or alternately What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence. The world of the common man is awash in words spoken by people who know only a little of what they say, and philosophers will not change them by telling them to be more precise in their language, or convince them to be better by providing them with good examples of – silence.

Someone who knows too much finds it hard not to lie. Any subject worth discussing is ultimately so complex that a problem of distorting the truth arises for an honest person who is thoroughly informed on the subject. To mention one aspect of a subject means to ignore some other aspects, and ultimately there is an infinity of aspects and thus it is impossible not to lie.

To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning. The key concept here is belief, and the problem is that belief means accepting something as being absolutely true without any evidence that it is even partially true.

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. This makes more sense if what is beyond description using words isn’t labeled non-sense, but non-words, or trans-words, or trans-linguistic. Words themselves only make “sense” in the context of a “sentence.” Many visual, musical, flavorful, touchable, smellable things make sense to us and they are totally outside of words and sentences, but they still make nonverbal sense. Master cooks will insist there is a syntax of eating where different food flavors are like words that must be arranged in a proper sequence to make sense.

What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence. Syntactical use of words is what makes humans human, but we are still inhabitants of a living body and in most of our lives that body takes precedence over the ramblings of our wordy mind.


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