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Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in the areas of logic, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language.
Described by his mentor and colleague Bertrand Russell as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating," Wittgenstein is considered by many to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. Instrumental in inspiring two of the century's principal philosophical movements, logical positivism and ordinary language philosophy, he is considered one of the most important figures in analytic philosophy. According to an end of the century poll, professional philosophers rank both his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) and Philosophical Investigations (1953) among the top five most important books in twentieth-century philosophy, the latter standing out as "the one crossover masterpiece in twentieth-century philosophy, appealing across diverse specializations and philosophical orientations." Wittgenstein's influence has been felt in nearly every field of the humanities and social sciences, yet there are widely diverging interpretations of his thought.
Wittgenstein's thought is usually divided between his "early" period, exemplified by the Tractatus, the only philosophy book he published in his lifetime, and his "later" period, best articulated in the Investigations. The early Wittgenstein was concerned with the relationship between propositions and the world, and saw the aim of philosophy as an attempt to describe that relationship and correct misconceptions about language. The later Wittgenstein was stridently anti-systematic in his approach and emphasized philosophy as a kind of "therapy," and rejected many of the conclusions of the Tractatus. The later Wittgenstein provided a detailed account of the many possible uses of ordinary language, calling language a series of interchangeable "language games" in which the meanings of words are derived not from any inherent logical structure, but from their public usage (the so-called "meaning is use" argument); thus there can be no private language.