- freely available
Humanities 2015, 4(4), 924-937; https://doi.org/10.3390/h4040924
2. Wittgenstein and Sraffa
Ramsey was a bourgeois thinker. I.e. he thought with the aim of clearing up the affairs of some particular community. He did not reflect on the essence of the state—or at least he did not like doing so—but on how this state might reasonable be organized. The idea that this state might not be the only possible one partly disquieted him and partly bored him. He wanted to get down as quickly as possible to reflecting on the foundations—of this state. This was what he was good at and what really interested him; whereas real philosophical reflection disquieted him until he put its result (if it had one) on one side as trivial.(, p. 24)
3. Wittgenstein’s Circle of Marxist Friends
4. Wittgenstein and the Two World Wars
I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., and if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any […] journalist in the use of the DANGEROUS phrases such people use for their own ends.(, p. 93)
5. Wittgenstein and Stalin(ism)
6. Concluding Remarks
Conflicts of Interest
References and Notes
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- 1Note also that, as Rowland Hut recollects, Wittgenstein once described himself as “a communist, at heart” (, p. 343) and that, according to a 1935 letter of Keynes to the Soviet Ambassador to Great Britain, although Wittgenstein was not a member of the Communist Party, he had strong sympathies with the way of life which he believed the Soviet regime stood for (, p. 246).
- 2Theodore Redpath, Wittgenstein’s student, also refers to Wittgenstein’s distaste for land-ownership (, pp. 15–16). Moran takes that to be indicative more of a Tolstoyan rather than a Marxian influence and Redpath’s discussion (, p. 23) of Wittgenstein’s affection for Tolstoy’s Twenty Three Tales may be viewed as supporting such an approach. Be that as it may, the polemics against private property is a unifying rather than a dividing factor between Marx and Tolstoy. It is indicative of their common adherence to communism (as a social, opposed to an individualistic, approach to the issue of ownership and thus as one of the long fibers connecting many of the political approaches constituting the family-resemblance term “(political) Left”) and in any case, with regard to Wittgenstein, a substantially political affair, despite, or rather parallel to its significant ascetic (as religious) aspects.
- 4See also (, p. 16) where Wittgenstein mentions in 1931, most probably in chronological order, Boltzmann, Hertz, Schopenhauer, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler, and Sraffa as his main influences. Note that Wittgenstein first wrote “Frege, Russell, Spengler, Sraffa” and the rest of the names were added later (see (, p. 101, note 8)).
- 5The mention of those two years in the preface of the Investigations is probably a mistake, since Wittgenstein moved to Cambridge in January of 1929 and Ramsey died in January of 1930.
- 6See also (, pp. 57–58) for Malcolm’s account of an incident between Wittgenstein and Sraffa involving the question of what the logical form (or the grammar, according to von Wright’s version of the incident) of a certain Napolitan gesture is. This episode is often taken to be the point at which the Tractarian conception of the picture theory of language collapsed for Wittgenstein irreversibly.
- 7We should also note that the anthropological perspective under discussion is not a neutral philosophical tool, but bears a certain historical and philosophical weight. It has a lengthy history, beginning with Protagoras of Abdera and his famous dictum “Man is the measure of all things, of the things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they are not”, and is conveyed to Wittgenstein via the intellectual line Feuerbach-Marx-Gramsci-Sraffa.
- 8Wittgenstein in the preface of the Investigations refers to the occasion he had to read the Tractatus again together with someone (, p. x), and that someone was Nikolai Bakhtin. Wittgenstein in the published version of the preface suggests that this took place in 1941, but it is more probable that the actual year was 1943, without the latter date being totally unproblematic either (see , p. 35).
- 10“…I feel the terrible sadness of our—the German race’s—situation. The English—the best race in the world—cannot lose…The thought that our race will be defeated depresses me tremendously, because I am German through and through” (Wittgenstein’s remarks in October 1914 quoted in (, pp. 113–14)).
- 11Yet, Wittgenstein’s above comment may also be understood not so much as a repudiation of the goals of peace and freedom per se, but as a skeptical, tongue-in-cheek response towards the idea that such political organizations can (and really want to) in fact achieve the goals they claim to strive for. Pointing in the same direction are Wittgenstein’s later remarks about the reasons for the failure of the League of Nations as being a matter of why “wolves eat lambs” (, p. 131) and about the issue of the atomic bomb, where although the people publicly opposed to the bomb were for Wittgenstein “philistines” and “the dregs of intelligentsia”, still that was not enough to prove that “what they abominate is to be welcomed” (, pp. 55–56).
- 12Revolutionary defeatism was first made prominent by Lenin in World War I as a stance towards the war from a class-based rather than a nation-based perspective, which in the case of World War II (until the German invasion in Russia) resulted in keeping equal distances or exhibiting an equal opposition to both fascism and capitalism. It would be interesting to compare that stance of Wittgenstein’s not only with his own stance towards World War I, but also with Russell’s, especially his kind of pacifism, but this comparison must be left for another occasion. Note only that Wittgenstein’s relation to the issue of pacifism is quite complex. For example, we see him, on the one hand, advising Drury before the latter embarked for D-Day that “If it ever happens that you get mixed up in hand to hand fighting, you must just stand aside and let yourself be massacred” and, on the other hand, commenting, some time later and again to Drury, that “Heavy artillery is a marvelous sound; there is nothing quite like it” (, p. 163).
- 13A characteristic example is The Betrayal of the Left, a 1941 book with articles mainly by Victor Gollancz, but also by George Orwell and others, that are deeply critical of the British Communist Party’s revolutionary defeatism and in particular of the form it took in the People’s Convention.
- 14Albeit the only public (i.e., exceeding the circle of friends and students) political statement of Wittgenstein, it is still enough to show that Janik’s claim mentioned in the introduction of this article that “Whatever we may discover about Wittgenstein in the future, it is most unlikely that we shall ever turn up the slightest interest in politics let alone political activism” was way too strong.
- 15A rise of nationalism in England that was demonstrated in the content of the movie newsreels of the time and in the playing of the national anthem at the end of the film, things that angered the cinephile Wittgenstein (, pp. 423–24).
- 16With regard to the issue of essentialism, it is interesting to compare Marx’s Aristotelian understanding of the term as a concern to separate the (sharply distinguished) necessary from the accidental—together with the connection of that understanding to his commitment to holism and historicism (see )—with later Wittgenstein’s discussions concerning essence and the (fluid, as not always sharp and clear) distinction between essential and inessential (, §62, §65, §92, §164, §168, §173, §562–§568).
- 17This resolute anti-essentialism of later Wittgenstein contrasts in an interesting way with his remarks from the early 1930s on “Jewishness” which even if not construed as a demonstration of anti-Semitism (as self-hatred)—and at the same time of an essentialist approach as well—still cannot be treated as anything more than very rough exercises for an anti-essentialist approach which had not yet been fully developed and matured (see ). With regard to Wittgenstein’s relation to anti-Semitism, see also Rhees’s remark that evidence of anti-Semitism in Soviet Union would have shocked him, as he believed that the economic and social changes there had made it vanish (, pp. 94–95). This not only suggests that later Wittgenstein approached anti-Semitism as an economic and social phenomenon, but also that he took its (purported) dissolution as one of the achievements of the Soviet regime.
- 18In a letter to Moran, Rhees recollects: “He said to me once (about 1945) that if there really were class distinctions being established there, he would no longer feel disposed to Russia as he was” (, p. 94).
- 19Rhees’s emphasis on Wittgenstein’s use of “if”, as seen in the previous note, points in the same direction.
- 20Yet, with the exception of the above instance, Wittgenstein remained almost completely silent about his impressions of the visit, since he did not want his name and any negative impressions to be used for anti-Soviet propaganda (, p. 353).
- 21Note also that Hayek, who was a third cousin of Wittgenstein, refers also to their commonly acknowledged disagreement in political views (, p. 128) and this may be viewed as an illustration of how (later) Wittgenstein’s social perspective is opposed to Hayek’s individualist one at a philosophical as well as at a political level.
- 22We should still note that in the final stages of the war, Wittgenstein was already sickened by the atrocities of both the Axis and the Allies (see , pp. 479–82), a stance which can be viewed as a continuation of his revolutionary defeatism in the war’s early stages, and that the “darkness of the times” to which he refers in the published preface of the Investigations (written in 1945) was certainly connected to those demonstrations of inhumanity. As he characteristically put it: “Things will be terrible when the war is over, whoever wins. Of course, very terrible if the Nazis won, but terribly slimy if the Allies win” (, p. 51).
- 23Despite its vagueness and generality, or actually because of that, the term “leftist” is more appropriate for describing later Wittgenstein’s general sociopolitical stance, rather than a more specific, but at the same time more delimiting, determination such as communist, socialist, etc. His exact socio-political stance is difficult to pinpoint and this is not surprising, considering his personal resistance to categorizations. For example, despite the parallels we saw between Wittgenstein’s stance and that of the British communist party in the early 1940s, in the elections that took place after the end of the war Wittgenstein did not vote for it, but for the Labour party, and he strongly urged his friends to do the same. That should be conceived as a kind of a “businesslike” movement, since for him the important thing at that time was to get rid of Churchill (see , p. 480). Furthermore, apart from his own belief that a philosopher is not a citizen of any community of ideas (see , pp. 229–30; , §455), there are also certain important points of divergence between his perspective and that of certain members of the family of Marxist communist/socialist outlooks, as for example the scientistic, economistic, deterministic, and reductivist “orthodox” Marxism.
- 24Note also that Wittgenstein was familiar with some of Lenin’s philosophical views as well, although it is not clear to what extent and whether he had direct contact with his writings (, p. 141).
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