"Great philosophical biographies can be counted on one hand. Monk's life of Wittgenstein is such a one."The Christian Science Monitor.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- 5.08(w) x 7.72(h) x 1.57(d)
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This is a fascinating, if rather extensive, account of Ludwig Wittgenstein's life, based on his papers and the reports of his friends well after his death at 62. Wittgenstein was a 20th century original, both as philosopher and academician, since he spent much of his adult life as a Cambridge don in England but seems to have hated this!Indeed, he comes across as a very troubled and lonely man who early on became fascinated with the technical philosophical work of Bertrand Russell. Once having caught the bug, he redirected his life from a technical career in engineering (urged on him by his father and his own sense that he had no special talents, unlike his seemingly more gifted siblings) to a technical career in the world of philosophy.After an initially awkward first interview with Russell, the dean of logical positivism became convinced that 'his German' (Wittgenstein was in fact Austrian as Russell subsequently determined) had the stuff of genius and might well be the answer to his needs. Russell had become convinced that he'd made all the progress he would ever make on the technical side of philosophy and had so exhausted his energy for further substantive contributions that he needed to find and nurture a younger acolyte with the energy to carry on and take 'the next big step.' Russell soon concluded that Wittgenstein was his man and became the young Austrian's mentor. Wittgenstein plunged at once into the work with his usual energy and focus, though he could not bring himself to publish until he had it right, much to Russell's dismay.World War I found Wittgenstein back in his family home in Vienna (where his kin were members of an extremely wealthy industrialist family of German-Jewish descent though they were Catholic in upbringing and commitment). Volunteering for service in the Austrian army, Wittgenstein found the life of a soldier, among average people, quite intolerable and sought seclusion, volunteering to go to the front as a way to test his mettle. There, he placed himself in harm's way, impressing his superiors and, as the war dragged on, eventually found himself a prisoner of the Italians. During this time he committed his thoughts to a small book which he shared by mail with Russell: the Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus. Being quite unknown, he had a great deal of trouble getting it published though Russell and others recognized its worth even though many (including Russell) had a hard time fully understanding it.After the war and publication of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein left philosphy and opted for a career as a grammar school teacher in a rural part of post-World War I Austria. He seems to have been a good teacher if overly demanding and given to corporal punishment of his charges, something he came to regret in later life. After one particularly eggregious incident, he fled Austria's school system and returned to Cambridge to do philosophy again. During his period as a grade school teacher, his Tractatus made the rounds among professional philosophers in Cambridge and in Austria (where it fascinated the nascent movement of logical positivists, who sought to establish a philosophical method entirely consistent with science and free of the taint of old philosophy's metaphysics). Contact was made by the Vienna Circle crew of logical positivists with Wittgenstein and he became a guiding light for them, though his concerns never seemed to be quite consonant with theirs.Back in Cambridge, he took up his teaching duties again, first as an assistant instructor and later as a professor of philosophy but could never bring himself to publish another work, though he worked on many manuscripts throughout this period and much of what he thought and wrote was circulated in notebook and other more or less unpublished forms. During this time he began to question what he had done in the Tractatus, a book he had once thought answered all the questions that could be answered, and said all that needed saying in
For those who know little of Wittgenstein, or those who only know him as an influencial philospher, you must know more--read this book. I haven't read a better biography. After reading about Wittgenstein's life: a constant internal battle with himself and whether he, a true genius, contributed enough to the world he spent his whole life trying to define, you will, i'm certain, not be content with your own. In short, you will be inspired.
I agree with one of the other reviewers on this page that this book could have been twice as long and only become the better for it. It is an extremely admirable work that is able to convey much philosophical thought SIMPLY, as it should be done. Not only this, but it traces the struggle of ONE MAN in his attempt to conquer the problems that most people simply ignore. Wittgenstein was a man who had to confess his sins to his own embarrassed friends, a man who had to test his love of life in the face of love of wisdom during World War I, and a man who gave all his money away in an attempt to live a true life. This book is really a supplement to philosophy because it is the kind of mirror in which we can see ourselves and it will drive us to improve, which is of course the way to improve the world. Thus the true impetus and virtue that dwells at the bottom of every noble ambition can be seen and held high as the symbol of an escape from the cave. Highly recommended.