What are the problems with Wittgenstein's philosophy

Summary of Philosophical Investigations

Philosophizing in troubled times

In the 20s and 30s, philosophers, mathematicians and natural scientists came together for regular meetings in the so-called Vienna Circle, including next to the founder Moritz Schlick the philosopher Rudolph Carnap and the mathematician Kurt Godel. The members of the circle felt connected to the logical positivism, which traces every science back to empirical statements, i.e. statements that can be verified by observation. In their strictly anti-metaphysical stance, the members of the Vienna Circle also referred to Wittgenstein's early work Tractatus logico-philosophicus. As early as the mid-1920s, some of them tried to contact Wittgenstein, but without success. Wittgenstein met Carnap and a few other members of the circle in 1928 through his sister, whose house he helped build as an architect. The examination of the ideas of the Vienna Circle, with which he did not identify, led to his turning back to philosophy. With the emigration of many members of the circle after the National Socialists came to power in 1933 and the murder of Moritz Schlick by a student three years later, the regular meetings finally came to an end. Wittgenstein, who had already returned to England in 1929, was in immediate danger as a Jew after the annexation of Austria by the German Reich. Since he continued to feel closely related to the German culture despite the political developments in his home country, he decided only after some hesitation to accept British citizenship. The Second World War marked a deep turning point in his philosophical work. Immediately after the start of the war, he volunteered for auxiliary services and developed various medical devices. He continued his philosophical studies only after the war, where he no longer placed mathematics in the foreground, but rather the psychology of perception.


Returning to Cambridge in 1929, Wittgenstein planned a new, larger work. In it he intended to describe the main features of his philosophy as he had done in his famous ten years earlier Tractatus logico-philosophicus had set out to correct. In the foreword to the Philosophical Investigations he confessed that these contained observations that had preoccupied him over the past 16 years. The author, who had wished for a more unified whole, was dissatisfied with the loose, rather sketchy form of his book. According to the preface, he had already given up the plan to publish his thoughts, but finally decided to do so, mainly because he felt misunderstood in his lectures and discussions.

For the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein selected the remarks intended for publication from his extensive manuscript volumes, revised and reorganized them again and again. After his temporary position as a lecturer at Trinity College in Cambridge expired in 1936, he traveled to Norway to continue working on his work in the seclusion there. During the Second World War he returned to the Norwegian wasteland - meanwhile appointed professor at Cambridge - before he resumed teaching at the end of 1944. In 1947 he gave up his post because it was incompatible with writing and retired to Ireland for a year to write again in peace and solitude. Until shortly before his death, he made changes to the typescript, which was published posthumously in 1953 in German and English at the same time.

Impact history

Soon after their publication, Wittgensteins were in effect Philosophical Investigations as a classic. Although its author had lived in the utmost seclusion, a younger generation of philosophers attested to having hit the zeitgeist with his late work. In the late 1950s and 1960s the work was elevated to the rank of a cult book and founding manifesto of "ordinary language philosophy," a predominant branch of analytical philosophy at the time, especially in England. The professors in particular Gilbert Ryle, John L. Austin and John R. Searle, prominent representatives of the so-called speech act theory, referred to Wittgenstein's late philosophy.

In Germany the reactions fell to the Philosophical Investigations somewhat more cautious in specialist circles. At first it was mainly artists and writers, for example Ingeborg Bachmann and Thomas Bernhardwhich contributed significantly to the popularization of the book. Today Wittgenstein's late major work is one of the world's standard works of philosophy and linguistics, which he has significantly influenced.