Tendentiously selected Wittgenstein quotations

An analytic philosopher claims that Wittgenstein’s time is past

In the English-speaking philosophical world Wittgenstein’s influence has declined markedly in recent years and he is in danger of becoming a marginal figure. This is in no small part due to the shift in the centre of gravity in the philosophical world from Britain to the United States and the influence of WVO Quine who argued that there is no sharp dividing line between philosophy and science. (Link)

Kafkaesque things Wittgenstein said that don’t seem like they could come from a contemporary analytic philosopher

Philosophical Investigations (PI), p.101
Of course, if water boils in a pot, steam comes out of the pot and also pictured steam comes out of the pictured pot. But what if one insisted that there must also be something boiling in the picture of the pot?

PI, p. 127
We see the straight highway before us, but we cannot use it, because it is permanently closed.

Culture and Value (CV),
1946, p. 54
Yes, a key can lie forever in the place where the locksmith left it, and never be used to open the lock the master forged it for

Wittgenstein’s forebodings about the future of philosophy

CV, p. 61, 1947
I cannot found a school because I do not want to be imitated. Not at any rate by those who publish articles in philosophical journals.

CV, p. 66, 1948
It is not without reluctance that I deliver this book to the public. It will fall into hands which are not for the most part those in which I would like to imagine it. May it soon – this is what I wish for it – be completely forgotten by the philosophical journalists, and so be preserved perhaps for a better sort of reader. (Draft PI Preface)

PI, p. x.
It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another–but, of course, it is not likely.

Things today’s philosophers are highly unlikely to say:

Letter to Waismann, 1929
I can readily think what Heidegger means by Being and Dread.
(This statement was censored by Max Black when he published the letter).

CV, p. 24, 1933-4
I think I summed up my attitude to philosophy when I said: philosophy ought really to be written only as a poetic composition.

CV, p. 56, 1947.
Don’t, for heaven’s sake, be afraid of talking nonsense (Unsinn)! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.

CV, p. 80, 1949.
For a philosopher there is more grass growing down in the valleys of Dummheit than up on the barren heights of cleverness. (See also p. 39, 1940, p. 50, 1946, and p. 57, 1947.)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (Malcolm’s Memoir )
….a serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes… and a philosophical treatise might contain nothing but questions.

Wittgenstein rejects academic ethics

TLP #6.41-6.42
The sense of the world must lie outside the world..… and so it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics.

Wittgenstein tries to speak of the things he says can’t be spoken of

TLP #6.371-6.372
The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena. Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God and Fate were treated in past ages. And in fact both were right and both wrong; though the view of the ancients is clearer insofar as they have a clear and acknowledged terminus, while the modern system tries to make it look as if everything were explained.

TLP 6.52-6.521-6.522
We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course then there are no questions left, and that is the answer. The solution to the problem of life I seen in the vanishing of the problem. Is this not why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been able to say what constituted that sense…. There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.

Ethics talk, 1929
Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it.

CV p. 45, 1944
Go ahead, believe! It does no harm.

CV, p. 64, 1947
It strikes me that a religious belief could only be something like a passionate committment to a frame of reference. Hence, although it’s belief, it’s really a way of living, or a way of assessing life.

CV, p. 53, 1946
Wisdom is passionless. But faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.
(See also CV, p. 56, 1947).

CV, p. 83, 1949
It is true that we can compare a picture that is firmly rooted in us to a superstition; but it is equally true that we always have to reach some firm ground, either a picture or something else, so that picture which at the root of all our thinking is to be respected and not treated as superstition.

Wittgenstein shows his severe side

Notebooks (1914-16),
Blackwell, 1961, 82e
What has history to do with me? Mine is the first and only world! I want to report how I found the world!

Toulmin p 236 (Citing a 1926 letter to Engelmann):
Anyway, I am not happy, not because my rottenness troubles me, but within my rottenness.

CV, p 48-9, 1946
The hysterical fear over the atom bomb being experienced, or at any rate expressed, by the public almost suggests that at last something really salutaryhas been invented. The fright at least gives the impression of a really effective bitter medicine. I can’t help thinking: If this didn’t have something good about it the philistines wouldn’t be making an outcry. But perhaps this too is a childish idea. Because really all I can mean is that the bomb offers a prospect of the end, the destruction, of an evil, – our disgusting soapy water science (ekelhaften seifenwäßrigen wissenschaft). And certainly that’s not an unpleasant thought, but who can say what would come after this destruction? The people making speeches against producing the bomb are undoubtedly the scum of the intellectuals, but even that does not prove beyond question that what they abominate is to be welcomed.

CV, p. 63, 1947
I believe that bad housekeeping within the state fosters bad housekeeping in families. A workman who is constantly ready to go on strike will not bring up his children to respect order either.

CV, p. 71, 1948
I think that the way people are educated nowadays tends to diminish their capacity for suffering. …….Endurance of suffering isn’t rated highly because there is supposed not to be any suffering — really it’s out of date.

CV, p. 86, 1950
The child is wicked, but nobody teaches it to be any different and its parents spoil it with their stupid affection.

Puzzling stuff from the end of the Tractatus (TLP)

TLP #6.371-6.372
The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena.

Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God and Fate were treated in past ages…. The modern system tries to make it look as if everything were explained.

TLP #6.41-6.42
The sense of the world must lie outside the world.…and so it is impossible for there to be propositions of ethics. Propositions can express nothing that is higher.

TLP #6.43—6.431—6.432:
The world of the happy man is a different one from the world of the unhappy man….So to at death the world does not alter, but comes to an end….
God does not reveal himself in the world.

TLP #6.44
It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.

TLP #6.52-6.521-6.522
We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.

Of course then there are no questions left, and that is the answer. The solution to the problem of life I seen in the vanishing of the problem.

Is this not why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been able to say what constituted that sense….

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

TLP #7
What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence.

The Way Out:
PI, p. 123, #410:
‘I’ is not the name of a person, nor ‘here’ of a place, and ‘this’ is not a name. But they are connected with names. Names are explained by means of them. It’s also true that it is characteristic of physics not to use these words.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Murray, Michael, Heidegger and Modern Philosophy, Yale, 197

Toulmin, Stephen and Janik, Allan, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, Touchstone, 1973.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, “On Heidegger on Being and Dread” (1929 letter to Waisman); in Murray, pp. 80-84, with commentary by editor.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations, Macmillan, 1958.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, ed. Von Wright, Culture and Value, Chicago,1977.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, “Lecture on Ethics”, 1929.