Biographies and other Works on the Life of Wittgenstein

Monk,Ray, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Penguin, 1991.

Book Information:
Paperback: 672 pages
ISBN-10: 0140159959
ISBN-13: 978-0140159950

Brief Discussion
This biography of Wittgenstein is one of the 'definitive' biographies, investigating the whole of Wittgenstein's life. In his introduction, Monk states that his goal was to produce a biography which would show the unity between the thought of the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and his life. He has managed to do just that.

McGuinness,Brian, Young Ludwig: Wittgenstein's Life, 1889-1921, Oxford University Press, 2005.

Book information:
Paperback: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 0199279942
ISBN-13: 978-0199279944

Brief Discussion
This is a detailed investigation of the life and family circumstances of the 'Young Ludwig'. Written in the tradition of a 'philosophical biography', it provides insights into the formative influences that shaped Wittgenstein's thought, as well as into the culture of pre-First World War Vienna. The biography ends in 1921, one year before the first publication of the English translation of the Tractatus.

Stroll, Avrum, Wittgenstein, One World, 2002.

Book information:
Paperback, 162 pages
ISBN: 1-85168-293-7

Brief Discussion
This highly readable introduction to Wittgenstein outlines the substance of his philosophical ideas on the backdrop of his life. It is one of the rare, if not the only, introduction that gives equal weight and space to what it calls Wittgenstein's 'three great ideas': the Tractatus, Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty.

Goldstein, Laurence, Clear and Queer Thinking: Wittgenstein’s Development and his Relevance to Modern Thought, Duckworth, 1999.

Book Information:
In hardback and paperback, 244 pp. + xii

ISBN 0-7156-2819-4
ISBN-10: 0847695468
ISBN-13: 978-0847695461

Brief Discussion
This is a study of the development of Wittgenstein's views on Mind, Meaning, Mathematics, Method. The book traces the development of Wittgenstein's ideas on these topics and shows the bearing of his mature views on some current philosophical discussions and also on work in other disciplines. It also attempt to use biography as an interpretative tool. The text pays special attention to Wittgenstein’s neglected writings on mathematics and to his ‘late, late’ period. This book has been criticized, but praised in equal measure, for its vulgar and casual style of writing and for taking seriously the hypothesis that contact between Hitler and Wittgenstein at high school in Linz was to have a profound and lasting effect on both. The review in Mind (2001) concludes ‘… there is much to admire and much to learn about Wittgenstein from Goldstein’s commentary’.

Goldstein, Laurence, 'Wittgenstein as Soil', in M. Kölbel and B. Weiss (eds), Wittgenstein’s Lasting Significance (London, Routledge, 2004), pp.148-178.

Brief Discussion
In his notebooks, Wittgenstein nominates eight individuals as being highly original thinkers — Schopenhauer, Boltzmann, Hertz, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler and Sraffa. By contrast, he sees himself as a soil in which the seeds sown by genuinely creative thinkers grow in a distinctive way. The influence of these authors is discussed and his own modest self-evaluation of his own originality is shown to be justified — apart from the little matter putting a kink in the history of Western philosophy.

Goldstein, Laurence, 'The Later Wittgenstein', Nursing Philosophy, 2/1, March 2001, pp.87-89.

Brief Discussion
This short biography provides information on the life, beliefs and motivations of Ludwig Wittgenstein. It discusses his lack of interest in the academic life and his antipathy for the pretensions of intellectuals of his day.

Goldstein, Laurence, 'Wittgenstein’s Ph.D. Viva – A Re-Creation', Philosophy 74 (1999), pp.499-513.

Brief Discussion
This is a play that had its first (very amateur) performance at one of the annual Wittgenstein symposia at Kirchberg. The play takes us back to a Cambridge college in 1929, where the examiners, Russell and Moore, are conducting a viva in which Wittgenstein is defending his doctoral dissertation. That dissertation was actually the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that had been published seven years earlier and had been widely acclaimed as a masterpiece; so the real viva was short, and was not taken seriously, because the outcome was in absolutely no doubt. By contrast, in the fictional viva created here, Russell and Moore give Wittgenstein a thorough grilling on the text; they highlight implausible claims, demand to hear supporting arguments and expose some of the sources that Wittgenstein had not bothered to acknowledge. The outcome is…….well, I won’t spoil the ending for you.

Fann, K.T, ed., Ludwig Wittgenstein The Man and His Philosophy, New York: Delta (Dell Publishing Co. Inc.) 1963.

Book Information:
Paperback: 412 pages

Brief Discussion:
An interesting early collection of essays notable for its high proportion of personal recollections, and
for its inclusion of a number of essays relating to mathematics and logic. All the pieces except for the
contribution by Wolf Mayes previously published elsewhere, Contains the following essays: G.H.Von Wright: A Biographical Sketch; 4 Memoirs of Wittgenstein individually by Bertrand Russell, Rudolph Carnap, G.E. Moore and John Wisdom; D.A. Gasking & A.C. Jackson: Wittgenstein as a Teacher; Karl Britton: Portrait of a Philosopher; A Symposium: Assessments of the Man and the Philosopher individually by Erich Heller, M.C.O.Drury, Norman Malcolm & Rush Rhees; Jose Ferrater Mora: Wittgenstein, A Symbol of Troubled Times; Gilbert Ryle: Ludwig Wittgenstein; George A. Paul: Ludwig Wittgenstein; Morris Lazerowitz: Wittgenstein on The Nature of Philosophy; O.K. Bouswma: The Blue Book; Leonard Linsky: Wittgenstein on Language & Some Problems of Philosophy; Norman Malcolm: Wittgensteinʼs Philosophical Investigations ; Paul Feyerabend: Wittgensteinʼs Philosophical Investigations ; Rush Rhees: Wittgensteinʼs Builders; Alice Ambrose: Wittgenstein on Some Questions in Foundations of Mathematics; Joseph L.Cowan: Wittgensteinʼs Philosophy of Logic; Arnold Levison: Wittgenstein and Logical Laws; George Pitcher: Wittgenstein, Nonsense and Lewis Carrol; Alice Ambrose: Wittgenstein on Universals; John Wisdom: A feature of Wittgensteinʼs Technique; Albert W. Levi: Wittgenstein as Dialectitian; Dennis Oʼ Brien: The Unity of Wittgensteinʼs Thought.

Grayling, A.C., Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
(Previously issued as OUP paperback 1988 & 1996)

Book Information:
Publisher: Oxford University Press.
Paperback: 142 pages
ISBN: 0-19-285411-9

Brief Discussion:
In many ways an excellent short introduction to Wittgensteinʼs work intended for the non-specialist, and notable for its view that, historically, Wittgenstein was more influenced by the Logical Positivists than they by him. Although very much of its time in claiming that Wittgenstein expounds theories which require proper philosophical evaluation - a standpoint very popular up to the 1980ʼs - the account given of the earlier and later philosophies remains highly readable. Grayling is critical of Wittgensteinʼs later philosophy, especially in arguing for the conclusion that since Wittgenstein takes language to be ʻlogically publicʼ, he cannot allow for the possibility of a ʻcontingently private languageʼ, a point of view again very much of its period. Neither does he see the Philosophical Investigations as quite having had the lasting influence he takes Wittgensteinʼs followers to suggest. He regards the Tractatus, by contrast, as a historical document which commentators are not inclined to view as having any direct relevance to current philosophical thinking.

Ayer, A.J., Wittgenstein, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1985.

Book Information
Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Hardback: 155 pages
ISBN: 0 297 78612 1

Brief Discussion:
Ayer's account of Wittgenstein's ouevre is almost bound to be interesting because Ayer at one point became, via Ryle, something of a protege of Wittgenstein's (A Part of My Life, O.U.P. 1977), although in later years relations were soured by his infamous 1946 radio broadcast in which, as he reports (Ibid.) he unwisely attributed to Wittgenstein a psycho-analytic approach, associated with John Wisdom, which Wittgenstein vehemently repudiated. A short correspondence between them to some extent healed the breach. Yet in spite of placing Wittgenstein with his brilliance and originality as second only to Russell in rank as one of the two greatest philosophers of the century, a reader would be hard put to find that opinion reflected in this account of Wittgenstein's life and work. Ayer's treatment is almost uniformly critical, not to say on occasion hostile, both in discussing The Tractatus and The Investigations. Ayer repeats his well known 'verificationist' criticism of Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument as he sees it, and only agrees with Wittgenstein when he appears to be propounding a view similar his own, e.g., when as in the famous 'Moses' example (§ 79) Ayer's sees his well-known view echoed that there is no fixed set of descriptions which can be taken to determine the reference of a proper name. However, the
book is wide-ranging and takes time to discuss Wittgenstein on Fraser's Golden Bough, religion, magic, and On Certainty. Whilst neither presenting Ayer at his best, nor providing what would now be considered to be a Wittgenstein for the 21st Century, the book remains an interesting and stimulating read.

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