Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Wittgenstein 3: World War I and Teaching

I'm continuing to read Wittgenstein's biography. My first two posts are

1. Childhood and Engineer
2. Student at Cambridge

I'm not very motivated to summarize my reading in detail. I've read past chapters 6-9.

World War I changed Wittgenstein quite dramatically. Chiefly, it pulled him somewhat out of a pure interest in logic and into an appreciation of the mystical and the religious. When Bertrand Russell met him after the war, Russell wanted pretty much nothing to do with him thereafter.

Chapter 6: Behind the Lines
I'm getting ahead of myself. Wittgenstein joined the Austrian army, not for nationalistic reasons but because he thought the experience of facing death might improve him as a person. He requested to be placed on the front lines of the eastern front, a request that was eventually granted.

He was in contact by letter with his friends in England and elsewhere during the war. The family in Berlin, Frege, Pinsent. He discovered Tolstoy's Gospel in Brief. It more than anything became a source of hope and faith. Not too long hence he would wonder if he should become a monk. A close friend in this regard was someone who would end up in Hungary after Austria lost its empire, a man named Paul Engelmann,

In 1915, he had a first version of the Tractatus. At this point it was still focused on logic. It had the following elements:
  • Picture Theory of meaning
  • metaphysics of "logical atomism"
  • analysis of logic in terms of tautology and contradiction
  • the distinction between showing and telling
  • the method of using truth tables (to show whether a logical proposition is a tautology or contradiction)
Wittgenstein worked as an engineer for a time but then in March 1916 he received his wish to go the the front.

Chapter 7: At the Front
Wittgenstein wanted to look death in the eye without fear. "Only death gives life its meaning." "Fear in the face of death is the best sign of a false life."

It was during his time at the front that his work changed. It took on a more mystical quality. It became more Schopenhauerian. It became more ethical. "Logical form cannot be expressed within language." "Ethics must be a condition of the world, like logic." These things could be shown but not told.

There are things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are sub specie aeternitatis, "under the form of eternity."

Wittgenstein finished the Tractatus at his uncle Paul's house. His uncle found him distraught at a railway station. Wittgenstein's best friend Pinsent had died in a plane crash. it had the theory of logic he worked out in Norway, the picture theory of language he worked out at the beginning of the war, and the Schopenhauerian mysticism from the second half of the war.

It is reassuring to me that few people could understand the Tractatus. Frege couldn't. Russell couldn't hardly. This was of course discouraging to Wittgenstein who thought the things they needed explained couldn't be told, only shown. Meanwhile, Russell was in trouble for his anti-war efforts, even imprisoned a little. He had been let go from Trinity College, Cambridge.

Chapter 8: The Unprintable Truth
Wittgenstein couldn't find a publisher in Germany after the war. He would spend the end of the war in northern Italy and then as a prisoner of war for a while. When he returned to Vienna, he was one of the wealthiest men in Europe. Then he dispensed with it all, gave it all away.

He met with Russell at the Hague in 1920. Witt was horribly depressed throughout this whole season.

Chapter 9: An Entirely Rural Affair
Russell and his people worked to get it published. After rejection after rejection they finally found an English publisher in 1921. Russell was in China when another student found a publisher in Germany. The version was abysmal. No proofs were shown him.

Meanwhile, Witt became an elementary school teacher. He was a failure. He boxed the ears of students when they couldn't get things. He even caused one girl to bled. This was in several places in rural Austria for about three years. He did write a moderately successful book of vocabulary for children.

Russell met with Witt in Switzerland. They would never be friends again. Witt disagreed with Russell divorcing his wife to marry his six month's pregnant mistress. He had become a mystic. Russell had gone on to publish his same old stuff that annoyed Witt. Russell had become a champion of democracy and Witt did not think people could rule themselves.

For a brief time a bright young student at Cambridge named Frank Ramsey had interaction with Witt about his work. As usual, it would eventually sour.

The chapter ends in 1926, with both of my parents alive. :-)

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