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Sunday, 24 August 2014





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Linguistic therapy for philosophers

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Some philosophers (or whatever you call them) suffer from what may be called “loss of problems.” Then everything seems quite simple to them, no deep problems seem to exist any more, the world becomes broad and flat and loses all depth and what they write becomes immeasurably shallow and trivial. Russell and H.
G. Wells suffer from this.

Most philosophers seem to be eccentric to a certain extent. As they dabble in abstract thought ordinary people cannot understand who they are. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), the 20th century’s leading philosopher, is no exception. Some people hailed him as a philosopher’s philosopher and a genius whose work and thinking are audacious, complicated, austere, obscure and unsystematic. His detractors, however, consider him as a marginal and overrated character.

A peep into his personal life would reveal that Wittgenstein was a highly talented youth who taught himself music and how to play the clarinet. He also studied architecture and wanted to become a priest. At one stage he became a film buff. Even as a child he displayed his unusual mechanical talents by producing a model of a sewing machine.

As a young man he studied arts. After some time, he followed a course in aeronautical engineering at Manchester University. At this time he became interested in mathematics which in turn led him to study philosophy. He went to Cambridge University where the celebrated philosopher Bertrand Russell was teaching. At first, Russell took him to be a German and said, “My German engineer, I think, is a fool. He thinks nothing empirical is knowable - I asked him to admit that there was not a rhinoceros in the room, but he couldn’t.”

Great event

Before long, Russell changed his mind and said, “Wittgenstein has been a great event in my life ... I love him and feel he will solve problems I am too old to solve.” Inspired by his guru’s commendation, Wittgenstein followed the complicated path of studying philosophy.

Wittgenstein’s wrote his major work Tractatus - Logico - Philosophicus that called for clarity in philosophy. He vehemently rejected earlier philosophical ideas about existence, knowledge, truth and value on the ground that they are illusory. He argued that what can be said can be said meaningfully. Similarly, what can be said is the same as what can be thought and understood. He said that philosophers in the past had tried to think what is unthinkable. This does not mean that ethics, religion and aesthetics are nonsensical. But trying to to say anything about them is nonsensical.

Wittgenstein, like many others of his ilk, was concerned with the meaning of life. His deconstruction of traditional philosophy is not intended to leave us with nothing of value. It is an ethical and therapeutic enterprise, a way out of cloudy, empty babble, an encouragement to shut up and look. If we do so, we might see the world not just aright, but afresh. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.


It is strange but true that after writing Tractatus, Wittgenstein tried to give up philosophy by engaging himself in various other jobs such as gardener, school teacher and psychologist. In Tractatus he postulated that structure of the real world determined the structure of language. He treated words as tools and sentences as instruments. His philosophy can be summarised in his own words: “Our task as philosophers consists not in solving grand, super problems but in assembling reminders for a particular purpose, the purpose of seeing how language really works.”

Although Tractatus won him critical acclaim in European schools of thought, in later years Wittgenstein became its bitterest critic. He spent two decades to clarify and dispel the philosophical confusions found in his early thinking. His scathing attacks on Tractatus are found in his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations.

Linguistic philosophy

Wittgenstein is credited with bringing forth linguistic philosophy which is now referred to as analytic philosophy. It has dominated the philosophers of the English speaking world for more than two and a half decades. According to him, it is the philosophers who misuse the language and create problems.

Wittgenstein believed that philosophers must be given therapy for their confusion. He said that philosophy itself must be dissolved. The linguistic therapy can be administered only by cured philosophers. It is assumed that Wittgenstein and his followers belong to that category.

Today Wittgenstein’s analytical philosophy is in disintegration as its crusade against philosophy has come under attack. Its analyses are increasingly regarded as tedious and trivial. However, Wittgenstein’s stature as a philosopher remains unsullied.


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