Was Wittgenstein A Leftist?




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Two initial points:


(1) Whenever I quote Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations I have linked to an on-line PDF of the second edition, even though I have invariably quoted from the fourth edition. However, the aforementioned PDF leaves much to be desired, since it is now out-of-date. But worse, its page numbering is wrong in places, and several passages are unreadable. But, it is the only on-line version I know of. If anyone knows of another, please e-mail me with the details.


(2) In Section (5) below, I am in fact responding to several objections raised against an earlier version of this Essay (which response won't be of interest to most readers). However, in those sections I have added new evidence about the relationship between Sraffa and Wittgenstein -- for example herehere, and here -- which isn't to be found elsewhere in this Essay.


Since writing this Essay, I have come across three excellent articles whose conclusions largely mirror several of my own: Vinten (2013) -- this links to a PDF -- Adam (2014), and Gakis (2015).


Finally, anyone interested in the late Guy Robinson's work will be pleased to know that, with the permission of his son, I have posted his unpublished Essays at this site. They can be accessed here.




Update 15/03/17: In this update, among other things, I have added additional comments (amounting to just under a thousand words) devoted to Wittgenstein and his opinion of Spengler. In an earlier update in February, I added several comments about Alan Turing's left-wing political leanings, and I also included a handful of thoughts about Wittgenstein's early, and decidedly odd, infatuation with Rabindranath Tagore.


Update 21/04/17: I have just received a copy of Eagleton (2016), which presents a rather weak defence of the idea that Wittgenstein was a leftist, and, oddly enough, an even weaker attempt to establish the alleged fact that he was nevertheless also a conservative of some sort! To that end he largely (and predictably) relies on the presumed influence that Spengler's work had on Wittgenstein. I have now added some negative comments on Eagleton's highly dubious conclusions.


Update 01/05/17: I have included a few comments about Frank Ramsey, and corrected a few errors and typos.


Update 10/07/17: I have added several comments about a relevant passage concerning Wittgenstein that Oxford Philosopher, A. W. Moore, included in his recent book on Metaphysics -- i.e., Moore (2013).


Update 30/07/18: I have added a few more comments about Engelmann (2013), Sraffa and Voloshinov.


Update 03/04/19: I have re-written this Essay adding just over a thousand words of new material. I have also corrected several errors and typos, and have clarified the argument somewhat.


Update 23/08/19: I have just re-written this Essay adding about a thousand words of new material. I have also corrected a few errors and typos, and clarified my argument in places.




Some readers have complained about the number of links I have added to these Essays because they say it makes them very difficult to read. Of course, 'Dialectical Materialists', should any read this essay, can hardly lodge that complaint since they believe everything is interconnected, and that must surely apply even to Essays that attempt to debunk that very idea. However, to those who find these links do make these Essays difficult to read I say this: ignore them -- unless you want to access further supporting evidence and argument for a particular point, or a certain topic fires your interest.


Others wonder why I have included links to subjects or issues that are part of common knowledge (such as recent Presidents of the USA, UK Prime Ministers, the names of rivers and mountains, films, or certain words that are in common usage). I have done so for the following reason: my Essays are read all over the world and by people from all 'walks of life', so I can't assume that topics which are part of common knowledge in 'the west' are equally well-known across the planet -- or, indeed, by those who haven't had the benefit of the sort of education that is generally available in the 'advanced economies', or any at all. Many of my readers also struggle with English, so any help I can give them I will continue to provide.


Finally, several of the aforementioned links connect to web-pages that regularly change their URLs, or which vanish from the Internet altogether. While I try to update these links when it becomes apparent that they have changed or have disappeared, I cannot possibly keep on top of this all the time. I would greatly appreciate it, therefore, if readers informed me of any dead links they happen to notice.


In general, links to 'Haloscan' no longer seem to work, so readers needn't tell me about them! Links to RevForum, RevLeft, Socialist Unity and The North Star also appear to have died.




As of January 2020, this Essay is just over 87,500 words long. A brief summary of some of its main ideas can be accessed here.


The material below does not represent my final view of any of the issues raised; it is merely 'work in progress'.


[Latest Update: 27/01/20.]

Quick Links


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1)  Introduction


2)  Conservative Mystic -- Or Leftist Radical?


 (a) Surrounded On Every Side By Reds


 (b) Wittgenstein's View Of The USSR; His Political And Socialist Opinions


 (c) Russia, September 1935


 (d) 'Introducing Bolshevism' Into Mathematics


 (e) Wittgenstein And Sraffa -- 1


 (f) Wittgenstein And Voloshinov


 (g) Wittgenstein's Reception By Soviet Philosophers


 (h) 'Philosophy Leaves Everything As It Is'


 (i) Was Wittgenstein A Mystic?


 (j) Ordinary Language Philosophy [OLP]


3)  Marx's Attitude To Language And Philosophy


 (a) Philosophy


 (b) Language


4)  And Wittgenstein's


5)  The 'Objections'


(a) Wittgenstein And Sraffa -- 2


(b) Other Objections


6)  Conclusions


7)  Appendix A


 (a) Dissolving Philosophical 'Problems'


(i)  The Reliability Of Memory


(ii) Propositions About The Future


 (b) Philosophical And Empirical 'Problems' Contrasted


 (i)  Einstein On Simultaneity


8)  Appendix B


 (a) Augustine On Language


9)  Notes


10)  References


Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism


Abbreviations Used At This Site


Return To The Main Index Page


Contact Me




Over a decade ago I published an Essay which, among other things, sought to show that Wittgenstein's political opinions weren't just left-of-centre, they were further to the left -- and thus were far more radical -- than any other major philosopher's had been since Marx himself.


It wasn't aimed at trying to show that Wittgenstein was an activist or even a political theorist, merely at countering the view that (i) He was a conservative mystic, and hence that (ii) His work is either of limited, or possibly even of no, interest to Marxists.


[The reason why this is important will be explained in the Conclusion.]


Recently, a few benighted individuals over at RevLeft have sought to denigrate the case I had previously built in favour of rejecting the above, and, as a result, they criticised the conclusions they thought I had reached. As we will see, those individuals misconstrued both the purpose of that Essay and its results.


In order to underline, and perhaps clarify, those conclusions -- as well as demonstrate where these individuals have gone astray -- I thought it would be useful to re-publish much of that material and incorporate the considerable body of evidence I had omitted or which has only come to light in the meantime.


Section Two presents this evidence, among which are the following main points:


(1) The vast majority of Wittgenstein's friends and pupils were leading communist activists or theorists. I have spent a considerable amount of space and time establishing their Marxist credentials in order to show that they weren't just run-of-the-mill leftists;


(2) There are clear links between Wittgenstein and Voloshinov's work -- a connection not previously noticed before by anyone;


(3) Wittgenstein made several unambiguous comments about the gains that workers had made as a result of the Russian Revolution (as he perceived things);


(4) Wittgenstein twice expressed a desire to go and live in Russia (in 1922 and 1935);


(5) In Wittgenstein's published and unpublished work there are many direct and indirect references to Marx, Engels and Hegel -- many of which have hitherto been almost totally ignored;


(6) Wittgenstein had more than a passing familiarity with Dialectical Materialism [DM]; indeed, he endorsed several of its core ideas -- this included a rejection of the so-called 'Law of Identity' [LOI], an acknowledgment that 'contradictions' could be used to explain motion and change, the social nature of language and thought, and an appeal to Engels's 'First Law', the change of 'quantity into quality';


(7) As is well known, Wittgenstein engaged in protracted and highly influential discussions with Piero Sraffa, the importance of which is now only just becoming apparent, as new evidence from the Sraffa archives comes to light;


(8) Philosophers in the former USSR viewed Wittgenstein as a friend of the Soviet Union who showed a keen interest in Marxist Philosophy;


(9) An officially-sanctioned and widely used Soviet Philosophy textbook, published in the mid-1930s, received Wittgenstein's early work positively, which salient fact no one seems to have noticed before.


This section will also challenge:


(10) The almost universal idea adopted by the left that Wittgenstein's philosophy is a conservative phenomenon, and, as such, rationalises the status quo -- by (a) leaving "everything as it is", and (b) appealing to ordinary language and 'commonsense';


(11) The widely held view that Wittgenstein was a mystic. I have presented original evidence and argument to account for his brief dalliance with mystical ideas during WW1 and for a decade or so after, as well as presenting a completely novel explanation for this odd turn of events.


Section Thee summarises Marx's negative view of Philosophy, which is something that the vast majority of his so-called followers studiously ignore (again, for reasons that are explored here), as well his comments about, and which concern the significance of, the social nature of language.      


Section Four briefly outlines Wittgenstein's new approach to Philosophy and the reasons he gave for adopting it.


Also in Sections Three and Four I will explore further the clear parallels that exist between the thought of Marx, Engels, Hegel and Wittgenstein -- including, once again, his criticism of the LOI, his belief that 'contradictions' can be used to explain motion and change, his appeal to Engels's 'First Law', and his belief that language is an anthropological phenomenon, connected with, and based upon, collective labour and social practice.


Section Five examines the incredibly thin reasons the aforementioned critics have advanced for rejecting the conclusions I reached in that earlier Essay.


In the Conclusion I add a few closing remarks, and try to explain why this subject isn't merely of academic interest.


Appendix A shows how Wittgenstein's method (as it had been interpreted by Friedrich Waismann) can be used to dissolve 'philosophical problems'.


Appendix B reproduces a passage Wittgenstein quoted from Augustine of Hippo.


[The reason why the last two Appendices have been included will become clear as this Essay proceeds.]


Some might wonder why I am bothering to devote an entire Essay to this topic in view of the irrelevant nature of the opinions advanced by the 'benighted' comrades over at RevLeft -- especially in view of the fact that they plainly know very little about Wittgenstein's work, and probably care even less. However, the Forum to which they contribute is perhaps the most widely read venue of its kind on the far-left; as such, what they have to say has the potential to mislead many younger comrades. Naturally, those who are familiar with Wittgenstein's work won't be misled in this way.


A few years after the above was first written, RevLeft went into terminal decline, and is now almost totally defunct -- not that this Essay had anything to do with that! I have left this material in this Essay since it deals with objections that are still prevalent on the far left.


I had in fact intended to expand my earlier Essay on Wittgenstein; this just gave me the incentive I needed.


Finally, while I was researching and writing this Essay, I made a series of discoveries about the relation between Wittgenstein, Marx, Engels, Hegel, Gramsci and Sraffa, the extent of which I was hitherto almost totally unaware. This was partly because much of this new material has come to light only recently (some of which I still haven't been able to consult or process to any great extent), and partly because my extremely hostile opposition to anything that originated with Hegel blinded me to these very clear links.


Hence, this Essay definitely represents 'work in progress', which I will no doubt be revisiting and revising many times over the next few years.


Conservative Mystic  -- Or Leftist radical?


Surrounded By Reds


Most revolutionaries, it seems, tend to regard Analytic Philosophy as a conservative or ideological affectation, with Wittgenstein's work viewed as perhaps a particularly pernicious example of one or both. This perspective has largely been motivated by the widely held opinion that Wittgenstein was a bourgeois, or even a conservative, theorist, an opinion compounded by the belief that he was also a mystic.1


This Essay will attempt to counter both of these clichéd reactions, as well as a few more beside along the way.


Notwithstanding this, it is important to point out at the start that I won't be considering the criticisms of Ordinary Language Philosophy [OLP] advanced by Ernest Gellner in his egregious book, Words and Things, about which Wittgenstein expert David Stern had this to say:


"While Gellner's critique, largely composed of shoddy rhetoric, insinuation and personal abuse, created considerable controversy, it was dismissed by the philosophical establishment at the time. However, his caricature of Wittgenstein was enormously attractive to those who needed a convenient rationale for dismissing him. It has since become conventional wisdom in many quarters, and especially among social scientists, and is certainly part of the reason why a relatively small number of social scientists on the left have taken a serious interest in Wittgenstein." [Quoted from here.]


Any who still think Gellner's attack is in any way accurate or reliable should consult this detailed critique -- or the shorter version reproduced in Uschanov (2002) --, and then perhaps think again.




Wittgenstein was born into one of the richest families in Austria on the 26th of April 1889. After his initial education, he enrolled as a student at the Manchester College of Technology in 1908 [Sterrett (2005), Monk (1990)]. As a result of his studies he became interested in the foundations of mathematics, and, following upon advice given to him by Frege he went to study with Bertrand Russell at the University of Cambridge in 1911. It soon became apparent to Russell that Wittgenstein was a genius who would make the next major advance in Philosophy -- or, so he told one of Wittgenstein's sisters. Indeed, Wittgenstein soon surpassed his teachers and was doing original research within a year, work that would later form the central core of his first book, the path-breaking Tractatus. He gave away his massive inheritance, and when WW1 broke out, volunteered to fight for the Austro-Hungarian army.


After the war, he became a teacher in Austria and for a few years a gardener in a monastery. Here is part of W. W. Bartley's summary of the time Wittgenstein spent at that monastery (in 1926):


"The monastery no longer exists...; yet some of the old retainers still remain, and a few remember Wittgenstein as 'a very good and industrious gardener -- and as a left-winger'." [Bartley (1988), p.116. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. (Bartley was the first biographer to reveal Wittgenstein's homosexuality.)]


So, according to this source, the only two things these "retainers" (i.e., workers) thought worthy of mentioning, nearly fifty years later, was that Wittgenstein was good at his job and that he was a "left-winger". For these to be the only details they recalled he must have stood out as someone with forthright left-wing opinions -- as well as being a highly proficient gardener, of course. Indeed, a few years earlier, in 1922, he wrote to his friend, Paul Engelmann, and expressed a desire to go and live in the USSR:


"The idea of a possible flight to Russia which we talked about keeps haunting me." [Engelmann (1967), pp.52-53. Cf., pp.58-59, where, a few years later, Wittgenstein repeats his intention to go and live in Russia, but this time Stalin's Russia.]


This was written within five years of the 1917 Revolution, as the Civil War there was drawing to a close. A "left-winger" who wanted to go and live in revolutionary Russia in the throes of a Civil War -- these are hardly the actions, or intentions, of a conservative (small "c" or capital "C")!


John Moran had this to say about the above:


"About two years later he sent the same friend some newspaper clippings of prize-winning poems by workers, urging him to preserve them. In 1937 he wrote him again that he might go to Russia." [Moran (1972), quoted from here.]


[I will return to this topic, and to John Moran's article, later.]


After attending several meetings and seminars held with members of the Vienna Circle -- a group of philosophers almost entirely composed of socialists and Marxists -- in the late 1920s, he returned to Cambridge University in 1929.


As we are about to see, the overwhelming majority of his friends, and many of his pupils, were prominent Marxists -- e.g., Piero Sraffa, Maurice Dobb, Nicholas Bakhtin (who was the older brother of Mikhail Bakhtin, founder member of the Bakhtin Circle, and colleague of Valentin Voloshinov -- more on this later), George Thomson, Maurice Cornforth, David Hayden-Guest (or Haden-Guest -- there appear to be two different spellings of his name), Alister Watson, Roy and Fania Pascal, Allen Cameron Jackson, John Cornford, George Paul, Douglas Gasking, and Rush Rhees. Either that or they were socialists of one sort or another. [Cf., Monk (1990), pp.343, 348; Rhees (1984), pp.x, 48; Cornish (1999), pp.40-87, and Sheehan (1993), pp.303, 343.]


Moreover, in the 1930s, Wittgenstein's college at Cambridge, Trinity Hall, was home to the infamous Cambridge Five ring of Soviet Spies -- four of whom have since been identified --, all of whom lived in close proximity to Wittgenstein.


[On this see Cornish, op cit, Chapter Two. Cornish concludes from the evidence he has amassed that Wittgenstein was the chief Soviet Spy Recruiter at Cambridge, but I am far from convinced about this. Not only does it seem to run counter to what we know about Wittgenstein's character, and with what he had to say about the Communist Party itself, KGB files released since have so far failed to confirm this hypothesis.]


Wittgenstein was also a member of the exclusive "Cambridge Apostles", as were the aforementioned spies and many of the other Cambridge communists. He also lived for a time in the same hostel as the leading spy, Anthony Blunt. [Cornish, op cit, p.45.]


Hence, in the Cambridge of the 1930s, Wittgenstein was surrounded on every side by socialists, communists and other assorted "ultra-lefts". In addition to those mentioned above, Frank Ramsey's two sisters, Lettuce and Margaret, were both left-wingers, the latter of whom was a Communist Party member and pupil of Wittgenstein's. Margaret Ramsey later married George Paul -- also a left-wing pupil of Wittgenstein's, who subsequently emigrated to Australia to take up an academic post at Melbourne University.2


About Ramsey himself (who was a major influence on Wittgenstein), he had this to say:


"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 [sic] 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 & what really interested him; whereas real philosophical reflection disquieted him and he put its result (if it had one) on one side as trivial." [Wittgenstein (1998), p.24e; this comes from a note dated 01/11/1931. Italic emphases in the original. Bold added.]


From the above we may conclude at least three things:


1) Wittgenstein linked criticism of the state with whether or not a given individual was a "bourgeois thinker". Hardly the comment one would expect from a conservative (capital "c", or otherwise).


2) Wittgenstein connected philosophical criticism with political criticism -- in direct contradiction to those who conclude he thought that philosophy 'leaves everything as it is' -- more on that later, too.


3) Wittgenstein discussed politics with his friends. [Why it is important to underline this will become apparent later on in this Essay, too.]3


Returning to Wittgenstein's friends at Cambridge, we read the following:


"The main forces responsible for recruiting young men at Cambridge into the party were James Klugmann, John Cornford, aided by their lieutenant, Sam Fisher. Fisher said that Klugmann was the 'the archrecruiter, who roped them in by the score at Trinity' [i.e., Wittgenstein's college -- RL]. At one time, Fisher said, there were fifty Communist Party members in that one college...." [Penrose and Freeman (1988), quoted in Cornish, op cit, pp.46-47. Link added. (I haven't yet been able to check this source.)]


And, this is what the poet, Julian Bell (nephew of Virginia Wolff, and who was probably Blunt's lover at Cambridge), had to say in a letter to the New Statesman:


"[I]n the Cambridge that I first knew, in 1929 and 1930, the central subject of ordinary intelligent conversation was poetry.... By the end of 1933 we have arrived at a situation in which almost the only subject of discussion is contemporary politics, and in which a very large majority of the more intelligent undergraduates are Communists, or almost Communists." [Quoted in Cornish, op cit, p.47.]


It is worth noting that Bell was a self-described Marxist who gave his life fighting for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War. At one point, he planned to write a PhD thesis on Wittgenstein, but this apparently came to nothing. [Cornish, op cit, p.47.] In addition, Bell wrote a famous poem about Wittgenstein (reproduced in Wittgenstein (2012), pp.173-79).


Ray Monk also records Wittgenstein's relationship with Communist Party member, George Thomson:


"George Thomson, for example, who knew Wittgenstein well during the 1930s, speaks of Wittgenstein's 'growing political awareness' during those years, and says that although he did not discuss politics very often with Wittgenstein, he did so 'enough to show that he kept himself informed about current events. He was alive to the evils of unemployment and fascism and the growing danger of war'. Thomson adds, in relation to Wittgenstein's attitude to Marxism: 'He was opposed to it in theory, but supported it in practice'. [We will see later precisely what this 'support' amounted to -- RL.] This chimes with a remark Wittgenstein made to Rowland Hutt (a close friend of Skinner's [this is Francis Skinner, Wittgenstein's lover -- more on him later, too -- RL] who came to know Wittgenstein in 1934): 'I am a communist at heart'.... There is no doubt that during the political upheavals of the mid-1930s Wittgenstein's sympathies were with the working class and the unemployed, and that his allegiance, broadly speaking, was with the left." [Monk (1990), p.343.]


Cornish describes a meeting he had with Allen Jackson, one of Wittgenstein's former pupils (mentioned earlier):


"In 1978...I visited one of Wittgenstein's former pupils in the 1930s, the retired Professor of Philosophy at Monash University, A. C. Jackson (himself a leading Australian left-wing academic) at Queenscliff in Victoria and asked him some questions about his recollections of Wittgenstein. He assured me that Wittgenstein's politics were ultra-left-wing and that he had a strong sympathy for Stalin [we will also see later what this 'sympathy' amounted to -- RL] and the Soviet Union. Jackson is in any case on record in print elsewhere saying that Wittgenstein was 'a bit of a Stalinist' [this is according to John Moran; more on that later, too -- RL], although his testimony to me was rather more emphatic than this suggests." [Cornish, op cit, p.49. Links added.]


Ray Monk adds the following details:


"...[E]ven after the show trials of 1936, the worsening of relations between Russia and the West and the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, Wittgenstein still continued to express his sympathies with the Soviet regime -- so much so that he was taken by some of his students at Cambridge to be a 'Stalinist'.... But at the time when most people saw only the tyranny of Stalin's rule, Wittgenstein emphasised the problems with which Stalin had to deal and the scale of his achievement in dealing with them. On the eve of the Second World War he asserted to Drury [this is Maurice O'Connor Drury, another pupil of Wittgenstein's; more on him later -- RL] that England and France between them would not be able to defeat Hitler's Germany; they would need the support of Russia. He told Drury: 'People have accused Stalin of having betrayed the Russian Revolution. But they have no idea of the problems that Stalin had to deal with and the dangers he saw threatening Russia.'" [Monk, op cit, p.354. Link added.]


Although Monk finally rejects the epithet "Stalinist", when applied to Wittgenstein, it is easy to see why he was viewed this way by friends and pupils alike. Indeed, Cornish adds this comment about Monk's rejection of this term:


"Douglas Gasking, a former Wittgenstein student and Communist Party member, said to me, in response to my enquiry about Wittgenstein's politics, that he was 'of the left'. What a Cambridge Communist Party veteran like Gasking might consider to count as 'of the left', of course, is likely to be considerably more to the left than an uninformed reader would gather from reading Monk's 'broadly speaking' qualification.


"The 'Stalinist' label was applied to Wittgenstein by left-wing and Communist students in a notably left-wing university whose alumni were to form the most successful spy ring known to history. The difference between being merely 'left-wing' and 'Stalinist' at Cambridge was quite clear. Politics at Cambridge was a very serious business. Everyone was left-wing; not everyone was a Stalinist. The 'Stalinist' label, then, is something whose implications need to be pondered very carefully, for Wittgenstein's Cambridge disciples were to colonise philosophy departments across the English-speaking world.


"George Paul, for example, who married Frank Ramsey's Communist sister, Margaret, greatly advanced the Communist cause in Australian universities, from 1939 to 1945.... Douglas Gasking and Allen Jackson, his successors at Melbourne and both students of Wittgenstein's, were also left-wingers. Gasking, who rose to the Chair, described himself as 'an old Bolshevik Wittgensteinian', and had been a Communist Party member at Cambridge. Selwyn Grave, the Australian philosopher/historian...writes of Jackson, 'His sympathies were markedly leftist and he came under public notice for them.' [Cornish is here quoting Grave's book, A History of Philosophy in Australia, University of Queensland Press, 1984, p.83. I have not yet been able to check this source -- RL.] Indeed, he was publicly named by the Victorian Royal Commission investigating the Communist Party." [Cornish, op cit, pp.50-51.]


Cornish then reveals that, unsurprisingly, the UK Special Branch had been monitoring Wittgenstein's residence (intercepting mail, etc.), which he shared with Maurice Dobb at Frostlake Cottage, Malting Lane, Cambridge, as early as 1929 (op cit, p.51).4


He continues:


"That so many of Wittgenstein's companions, students, etc. were Marxists, given the atmosphere of the times, is hardly surprising. The problem is not that they were Marxists, but rather that, of a Trinity population of fifty or so Communist undergraduates, at least one of his students -- Watson -- turned out to be a spy while others of his students established the Communist Party in Cambridge, served as its secretaries, converted some of the famous group of three Cambridge spies and gave their lives for the party in Spain. It was his students -- Bell, Cornforth, Haden-Guest, and Cornford -- who formed the nucleus of the whole Trinity College Communist explosion." [Cornish, op cit, p.52.]


Another of Wittgenstein's associates was Maurice Dobb, the famous Marxist economist and theorist. As noted above, Dobb and Wittgenstein shared lodgings for a while in the late 1920s and early 1930s.


Cornish adds these thoughts about Dobb:


"[L]et us consider the Cambridge Marxist, Maurice Dobb. Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge on 18 January 1929 and stayed in an attic room of John Maynard Keynes, the economist. Skidelsky, Keynes's biographer, writes:


'Complaining that he "was not born to live permanently with a clergyman", Keynes gave Wittgenstein notice to quit on 2 February [in other words, he was only able to tolerate Wittgenstein for just over 2 weeks! -- RL]; Wittgenstein moved in with Frank Ramsey and his wife, then with Maurice Dobb....' [Cornish is here quoting Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes, Vol. 2, Macmillan, 1992, p.292. I haven't yet been able to check this source -- RL.]


"Dobb, then, did not merely attend Wittgenstein's lectures, at one stage they shared a dwelling.


"Now Costello, who examined Special Branch files on the visit of Bukharin to Cambridge, writes:


'Special Branch reports on the revolutionary leader's visit indicate how by 1921 the MI5 Registry contained some bulky files on Cambridge scientists who were potential targets of, and sympathizers with, the Soviet Union. The records that have come to light show that elaborate measures were in place to monitor the activities of Needham and his cohorts, especially Maurice Dobb, who had been identified as a longtime member of the Communist faction of the Union of Scientific Workers. Dobb was already the university's leading spokesman for the new vision of the classless, scientifically run society that was to hypnotise the third wave of Cambridge undergraduate recruits to Marxism in the years to come.'" [Cornish, op cit, pp.62-63; quoting Costello (1988), p.162. (In fact, this quotation appears on pp.164-65 in the UK edition.) Links added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]5


Costello, continues:


"Until the end of his life, Maurice Dobb steadfastly played communism's John the Baptist, preaching the Decline of Capitalism to successive generations of undergraduates. In 1965, when I attended his classes, he was white-haired and weary after nearly a half century in his self appointed role. But he still mustered the persuasive enthusiasm of the true convert who was also an inspiring teacher....


"Dobb was a patient teacher and this made him a highly effective spokesman for Marxism. Although he was often suspected of being a Soviet agent, he was always able to defend himself by pointing to the openness of his communism....


"Dobb was not a simple ideologue, propagandist, or undercover agent. He studiously avoided activities that could have led to his prosecution or being turned out of his Cambridge teaching position.... Given the intellectual environment in which he operated, his unswerving loyalty to Moscow, and the scores of committee positions he held in such front organizations as the Union of Scientific Workers and the Society for Cultural Relations, Maurice Dobb was one of the Comintern's most influential assets in Britain....


"Counterintelligence officers were keeping close watch on Dobb and his Cambridge associates." [Costello, op cit, pp.165-66. Link added.]


So, Wittgenstein wasn't lodged with just any old run-of-the-mill communist, but one of the leading figures in the Party, an individual who was near the very top of Special Branch and MI5's watch list. According to what we read in Costello's account, this must have meant that MI5 and Special Branch were also monitoring Wittgenstein, which, once again, hardly suggests Wittgenstein was a conservative.


We can also see why one of the leading figures in the Bolshevik Party, Nikolai Bukharin, chose to visit Cambridge University in the early 1930s. There is no evidence that Bukharin met Wittgenstein, but, given what we have seen above (and will see below), it wouldn't be at all surprising if he had.


Wittgenstein was also a close friend of Nicholas Bakhtin. Fania Pascal noted the following about the relationship between these two:


"[A]nother intimate friend of Wittgenstein's [was] Dr Nicholas Bachtin (sic).... 'Wittgenstein loved Bachtin' Constance, Bachtin's widow, told me. From her I heard of the interminable discussions that went on between the two men....


"Nicholas Bachtin, an exile from the Russian Revolution but by the outbreak of the second World War a fiery communist, was an inspired teacher and lecturer.... What I do know...is that Wittgenstein loved Bachtin...and never dropped him as he easily did others." [Pascal (1984), p.14.] 


As noted earlier, another close friend of Wittgenstein's was the classical scholar, George Derwent Thomson. Costello adds the following comment about him:


"A prime mover of Marxism in the Apostles emerges from the membership lists, and the subsequent record of his professional career, as being a contemporary of Blunt's from King's College: Alister Douglas Watson. And he was aided and abetted by a senior Apostle who was his mentor: George Derwent Thompson (sic). A classical scholar in 1922, who became an Apostle in 1924 and a fellow of King's in 1927, Thompson (sic) nursed a 'hatred of capitalism'.


"Thompson's (sic) Marxism deepened when he taught at Galway University. An 'inspiring' teacher and editor of a two-volume edition of Aeschylus's Orestia, he left Cambridge in 1937 to be professor of Greek at Birmingham University -- where he was the organizer of the Communist party for many years. Significantly, Birmingham [where the Bakhtin's had also moved, and whom Fania Pascal tells us Wittgenstein visited regularly -- RL], a centre for industrial and scientific research, emerges from later MI5 reports as being second only to Cambridge as a haven for academic communism. Thompson's (sic) proselytizing before and during World War II helped ensure that Britain's premier 'red-brick' university became a haven for émigré physicist Klaus Fuchs as well as Alan Nunn May, both of whom were to supply atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Thompson's (sic) Marxism and Poetry (1946) made him the best-known British classicist behind the Iron Curtain." [Costello, op cit, p.191. Links added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Once again, Wittgenstein's friends weren't pale pink, lukewarm communists. Indeed, the two universities he frequented (Cambridge and Birmingham) were the leading academic centres of communist activity in the UK.


The last two friends of Wittgenstein's I want to mention are Roy and Fania Pascal (née Polianovska), the latter of whom taught both Wittgenstein and Francis Skinner Russian. This is what Costello had to say about Roy Pascal (who had translated Marx and Engels's The German Ideology into English):


"Pascal was second only to his mentor, Maurice Dobb, in promoting the communist cause at Cambridge. In particular, he was responsible for converting George Derwent Thompson (sic) from Marxist to zealous Communist.... Pascal had also been a friend and influence on Blunt since 1929, when they were both graduates in the Modern Languages Faculty....


"...Pascal was a fervent communist. His vigorously expressed politics alarmed some of the Pembroke [College] dons, who argued that he was an unsuitable candidate for a fellowship. But he was elected despite their objections to join Dobb as a senior member of the college. By now he was also a lodger at Dobb's small house in Chesterton Lane.


"Known as 'Red House', it was the epicentre of Comintern activity at Cambridge. Here Dobb worked as a tireless propagandist of the Communist cause. He was a founding member and Cambridge organizer of the Society for Cultural Relations and the League Against Imperialism but he maintained links with the Marxist scientists at the Cavendish Laboratory. The 'Red House'...had been under frequent surveillance by MI5 since the mid-twenties." [Costello, op cit, pp.197-98. Links added.]  


So, both Wittgenstein and Pascal had lodged with Dobb.


Costello had this to say about Fania Pascal:


"[Roy] Pascal's pivotal role in the Cambridge Communist network owed as much to his marriage to Feiga 'Fanya' Polianovska as it did to his association with Dobb.... 'Fanya' was a dedicated Marxist whose revolutionary ardour was born of her experience of pogroms.... That the Russians granted her an exit visa to study in Berlin [where she met her future husband -- RL] raises the presumption that her postgraduate work was not confined to philosophy....


"The Pascals assumed a pivotal role in the proselytizing activities of the Cambridge cell. Pascal spread the Marxist gospel in the Modern Languages Faculty and canvassed support from the left-wing members of the History Faculty for a series of Marxist histories under his own editorship.... Pascal was the standard-bearer of a fervent brand of intellectual communism that he took with him to Birmingham University in 1939 on his appointment as professor of German....


'[Costello is here quoting Roy Pascal's academic friend and fellow communist, Professor Harry Ferns -- RL] Fanya was the iron in her husband's political soul. She also had all the right qualifications for a full-fledged Comintern agent, as evidence by her activities at Cambridge. Fanya became an activist with the Cambridge branch of the Anglo-Soviet Society, and was soon elected to the committee of an organisation that was one of the principal links between the university and the Comintern in Moscow.' [Quotation marks added.]


"Professor Fern's most startling revelation was that just six weeks before Pascal's death in 1977, 'Roy told me he had once been approached by Soviet intelligence, not to work for them but to recommend young people whom they might approach'....


"Whether or not Pascal actually became one of the Soviets' Cambridge talent scouts, the significance of the approach is that it shows the high degree of trust and confidence Pascal enjoyed...." [Costello, op cit, pp.198-99.]


Yet again we see that Wittgenstein's friends were hardly insignificant, part-time communists.


Moving on now to those whom Wittgenstein taught: David Hayden-Guest was another of Wittgenstein's pupils who fought on the Republican side in Spain, where he was later shot and killed. Here is what he thought about Wittgenstein (recorded in a letter):


"I am attending a course of lectures and 'Conversation classes' in philosophy given by the great Wittgenstein...." [Quoted in Cornish, op cit, p.66.]


Maurice Cornforth had this to say about Hayden-Guest:


"I first met David when he came to Cambridge in the Autumn of 1929. I had arrived at the same time, and it wasn't long before we met....


"In the same year...the Viennese philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, also turned up at Cambridge.


"Wittgenstein immediately caused an upheaval in the circles of students (and lecturers) who were studying philosophy. He proceeded to tear all our preconceived ideas to pieces....


"A circle of young students very quickly formed around him, and both David and I belonged to that circle...." [Cornish, op cit, p.66. Cornish is here quoting C. Haden-Guest, David Guest. A Scientist Fights for Freedom (1911-1938). A Memoir, Lawrence and Wishart, 1939, pp.95-96, a source I haven't yet been able to check.]


As a result, Guest moved to Gottingen to further his studies, but he returned to Cambridge a died-in-the-wool communist. Cornforth describes his homecoming:


"He marched into Hall with a hammer and sickle emblem displayed in his coat.


"I well remember too how David came into a meeting of the Cambridge Moral Science Club...with a copy of Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. He was bubbling over with excitement about it, and kept reading passages aloud, especially those parts which deal with the class basis of philosophy.... I went straight home and read the book, and thereupon decided to join the Communist Party....


"[We] both joined at the same time, just after the final exams of 1931." [Haden-Guest, op cit, pp.97-98. Link added.]


We also read the following:


"Guest, along with Maurice Cornforth, James Klugmann, John Cornford..., John Lehmann (the poet and associate of Isherwood and Auden) and four or five others established a Communist cell at Cambridge University. By 1935, it had risen to 25 members and then jumped to about 150 across the whole university soon after. Trinity College alone had 12 members and weekly meetings in the students' rooms.


"This reflected a conscious drive by the Communist Party to orientate some of its work towards students. In 1932, the Communist Party Federation of Student Societies (FSS) was established, under the watchful eye of Dave Springhall, YCL [Young Communist League -- RL] national organiser.


"Initially the FSS had about twenty organizations affiliated, including at the LSE (a Marxist Society was established in 1931), Oxford (the October Club, established 1932) and the universities of London, Reading, Durham, Leeds, Manchester and Cambridge (where there was a long-established student Socialist Society). The Federation of Student Societies journal was the 'The Student Vanguard'. It was during this period of the early 1930s, that enthusiasm for the party secured the election of Philip Toynbee as the Communist Party's first Oxford Union President...and a Communist MP for the Cardiff University constituency." [Quoted from here; accessed 19/05/2016. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]


[For more on Guest, see Sheehan (1993), pp.345-50, and Levy (1939).]


Maurice Cornforth went on to become the leading communist philosopher in the UK, and member of the Central Committee of the British Communist Party.6


Costello adds this comment about Guest:


"[Guy] Burgess [one of the 'Cambridge Five' spy ring -- RL] got to know David Haden-Guest, the son of a labour MP, and fellow Trinity undergraduate, who became his guide to dialectical materialism. Haden-Guest was a socialist when he abandoned his study of philosophy under Wittgenstein early in 1932 to spend two terms at the University of Goettingen (sic). When he returned from Germany that autumn, after a spell of imprisonment for taking part in a demonstration against the Nazi party, Haden-Guest was a militant communist. Burgess was sufficiently impressed by such personal dedication to spend much of his second year reconciling his own historical theories to the dialectical materialism of Haden-Guest's copy of Lenin's The State and Revolution. Burgess insisted that his conversion was 'intellectual and theoretical' rather than an emotional issue of faith. His Marxism was not of the 'Damascus Road' intensity that inspired Haden-Guest's willingness to die for his political beliefs on the Ebro front of the Spanish Civil War....


"His [Guest's] arrest and imprisonment in Germany...endowed him with a reputation for action that made him the leading Communist proselytizer of the generation that came up in 1930. Among those Haden-Guest helped convert to communism [was]...Maurice Cornforth." [Costello, op cit, pp.203, 218. Links added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Hayden-Guest and Cornforth went on to found the Town Branch of the Communist Party in Cambridge, later a University section. Once again, we see that those around Wittgenstein weren't common-or-garden, half-hearted, wishy-washy communists.


Another of Wittgenstein's pupils was John Cornford, about whom Cornish had this to say:


"Cornford, like David Haden-Guest, was one of the legendary Cambridge Communists of the thirties. He was the son of Trinity College philosopher F. M. Cornford.... John Cornford succeeded Haden-Guest as Party secretary...and like Haden-Guest, he too died in Spain for the Party." [Cornish, op cit, p.68. Link added.]


Costello adds:


"'Now, with my Party, I stand all alone,' John Cornford had written before going into action as commander of the English Battalion of the International Brigade in Spain. On a rocky ridge above the Spanish village of Lopera on the Cordoba front, December 28, 1936, he made the ultimate sacrifice to his political commitments." [Costello, op cit, p.267. Link added.]


Earlier, Costello had described Cornford in the following terms:


"John Cornford was the outstanding left-wing leader of the 1933 freshman intake.... The son of Francis Cornford, a Trinity classics don whose wife was grand-daughter of Charles Darwin.... John Cornford had become a Marxist at Stowe School before he won an open history scholarship to Trinity at the age of seventeen in 1932.


"After two terms at the London School of Economics editing the Student Vanguard and taking time off to become a Communist with the Labour Research group, Cornford arrived in Cambridge. In his black shirt and dirty raincoat he cultivated the image of an austere party official tirelessly labouring for the revolution by organizing and recruiting new members. He injected a new sense of purpose into the Marxist membership of the two-hundred strong Cambridge Socialist Society, eventually effecting a Communist takeover by ousting the more moderate Labour supporters." [Costello, op cit, p.226.]


Another pupil of Wittgenstein's was the gifted mathematician, Alister Watson; as noted above he, too, was a Soviet spy. Peter Wright (a former MI5 agent whom UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, tried to silence in the mid-1980s) had this to say about Watson:


"One name stood out beyond all others: Alister Watson.... He was a...fervent Marxist at Cambridge in the 1930s, an Apostle, and a close friend of Blunt and Burgess....


"At Cambridge, Watson was an ardent Marxist; indeed, many of those I interviewed described him as the 'high priest' of Marxist theory among the Apostles.... He was drawn to Das Kapital as others are drawn to the Bible and, like a preacher manqué, he began to proselytize the creed among his friends...." [Wright (1987), pp.251-52. Links added.]


Cornish notes that Blunt later acknowledged that Watson had been his instructor in Marxism, adding:


"In 1929, Wittgenstein's endless discussions with fellow Apostle Watson had prompted John Maynard Keynes to write in a letter 'Ludwig is beginning, I think, to persecute poor Alister a little.' Wittgenstein...found Watson to be a student of sufficient interest to justify a large investment of his time. Watson's relationship with Wittgenstein was long-standing, his name featuring in reports of those attending Wittgenstein's lectures in the 1930s. (He also introduced Alan Turing to Wittgenstein.) If Wright is correct about the dates, Watson became a spy while a student of Wittgenstein's." [Cornish, op cit, pp.69-70.]


Watson and Wittgenstein corresponded for many years (on this see Wittgenstein (2012)). Costello adds:


"[Watson's] restless intellect was increasingly focused on the works of Karl Marx, and he began attending the meetings of the Moral Sciences Society and the Heretics. This brought one of the brightest Cambridge mathematicians of his generation into contact with J. D. Bernal and his followers.... Under the guise of 'investigative Marxism,' Watson quickly became the most articulate proselytizer of Marxist faith among the Apostles. 'To be a dialectical materialist means to think of things and our ideas of them, not as static, rigid, eternal entities, but as changing, developing, interacting,' Watson wrote in an incisive defense of the Marxist approach published in the 1934 Cambridge Review." [Costello, op cit, p.193. Links added.]


Yet again, we see those around Wittgenstein weren't half-hearted, lukewarm, dilettante communists.


Concerning Turing himself, we read the following in a letter he sent to his mother (dated 26/05/1933):


"Am thinking of going to Russia some time in the vac[ation] but have not yet quite made up my mind. I have joined an organisation called the 'Anti-War Council'. Politically rather communist. Its programme is principally to organize strikes amongst munitions and chemical workers when government [sic] intend to go to war." [Hodges (1983), p.71. Bold emphasis added.]


Hodges adds:


"For a short time, Anti-War Councils sprung up across Britain and united pacifists, communists and internationalists against a national war. Selective strikes had, in fact, prevented the British government from intervening on the Polish side against the Soviet Union in 1920." [Ibid., p.72.]


Hodges notes, however, that Turing wasn't in fact a died-in-the-wool communist, but was, if anything, at that time mildly anti-Soviet (ibid., pp.72-73), but it is equally clear that he was still "of the left" (p.73), at least in the early-, to mid-1930s when he knew Wittgenstein (pp.152-54). Finally, in 1945 he voted for the Labour Party (p.307). In a lecture he gave in 2003, Hodges added these thoughts:


"Yet Alan Turing had not been a rebel against his class or his school. In his upper-middle-class environment, dominated by the suffocating ideology of the Public School, he had neither complied nor rebelled; he had largely withdrawn into a scientific world of his own. There was, however, a moment in 1933 when the Anti-War student movement at Cambridge articulated the change that had taken place since the world of Duty plunged to disaster in 1914, and at twenty-one, Turing joined it and placed himself clearly on the modernist side. His contemporaries were insisting on deciding for themselves what to fight for, and the emergent left-liberal side decided not to fight for that old chant of Duty: 'King and Country.' 'Blatant militarist propaganda', Turing called a cinema recruiting film called 'Our Fighting Navy.' Ten years later, Alan Turing was to be seen by his WRNS assistants 'prancing' in his Bletchley Park hut at the news of the sinking of the Scharnhorst by that very Navy. Of course, the 1933 enlightenment had coincided with the one development that made war justifiable to the enlightened: the transformation of Europe's strongest industrial power into the aggressive engine of murderous fascism.


"The young Alan Turing was well aware of the shock of Nazi Germany, and it was obvious where his sympathies lay. When visiting Germany in 1934, Turing's travelling companion was surprised to see how naturally a German socialist seemed to confide in him. Later, he was immediate in his response to the 1938 wave of persecution, and sponsored a young Jewish refugee. But in the intellectual context of the 1930s, dominated by the question of Communist party policy, Alan Turing's 1933 political engagement was short-lived; he was regarded as 'not a political person.' Alister Watson, who introduced him to Wittgenstein, was a Communist party member, as was also the young Robin Gandy who later became his student and closest friend. Others of Alan Turing's friends were fully engaged with political and economic issues. But for Alan Turing, it was the 'phoney' that attracted his scorn rather than political opposition; the compromises and alliances of political action were alien to him." [Quoted from here; accessed 26/12/2016. Link added.]


Finally, we read the following on the PBS news website:


"He [Turing] also shared the left-leaning views of many of his Kings College compatriots, who included economists John Maynard Keynes and Arthur Cecil Pigou. Though Turing joined the Anti-War Movement in 1933, he never got deeply involved in politics. But watching Hitler’s rise to power in the late 1930s scared him, Hodges said, and it spurred his interest in cryptography, which would later help Great Britain in the war." [Quoted from here; accessed 26/12/2016. Link added.]


So, as we have seen, practically every single one of Wittgenstein's friends and prominent pupils were either communists or leftists of some sort. None of them were fringe members or political dabblers. Indeed, many were leading figures in the Communist Party.


Wittgenstein's View Of The USSR; His Political And Socialist Opinions


We turn now to Wittgenstein's view of the former USSR [fSU], as well as some of his political and socialist opinions.


Rush Rhees, a Trotskyist in the 1930s and one of Wittgenstein's pupils (who later became perhaps his closest friend), had this to say about the latter's attitude to the fSU:


"Towards the end of the 1939-45 war we wondered how people of the different countries of Europe could find a normal life again. Again and again Wittgenstein would say 'the important thing is the people have work'. He would have said this in 1935 as well, although there were none the problems of 'reconstruction' then. He thought that the new regime in Russia did provide work for the mass of the people.... He also thought it would be terrible if society were ridden by 'class distinctions'....


"[Added in a footnote -- RL]: When I said the 'rule by bureaucracy' in Russia was bringing in class distinctions there, he told me 'If anything could destroy my sympathy with the Russian regime, it would be the growth of class distinctions.'


"He said to me once, 'Marx could describe the kind of society he would like to see, that's all'....


"If Wittgenstein felt sympathy with anything important in Marx, I think it was Marx's faith in the proletariat: the importance of manual labour in the overthrow of capitalism and in the character of the 'non-capitalist' society there would be then. Marx's statements about this are cut and crossed by what he writes of the 'historical task' of the proletariat and by his suggestions that science, which transforms the world, is working for them. But when he shows the degradation of the workers under capitalism giving one example after another, he writes with the force of someone fighting against it. This sense of fighting may have seemed to Wittgenstein to show in the vitality of the Russian workers -- to judge from such reports as reached us. It may have been part of what 'he believes the regime in Russia stands for'. [We will see later where this phrase originated -- RL.]" [Rhees (1984), pp.204-07. Bold emphases added.]


In the early 1970s, Professor John Moran published (in the New Left Review) a ground-breaking article, 'Wittgenstein and Russia'.7


Among other things, Moran reveals that Wittgenstein had read Marx (although, from the comments recorded above it is patently obvious that Wittgenstein was very familiar with Marx's work), and probably also Engels's writings (as we will see). Rush Rhees responded to several questions Moran sent him; here is Moran's summary of the answers he received:


"The first opening into Wittgenstein's acquaintance with Marx came from Rush Rhees who made a generous effort, apparently much against his inclination, to deal with questions from a rather trying inquisitor.... What was important about Wittgenstein was what he said and wrote. My inquiries pertained, of course, to what Wittgenstein said and wrote -- about Marx, Communism, Russia; in practice Rhees did not entirely disagree that this was part of what Wittgenstein said and wrote. It is from Rhees's account of his own disagreements with Wittgenstein about Russia that we first get some indication of what it might mean to say Wittgenstein was a 'Stalinist'.


"Rhees wrote two rather lengthy letters in response to inquiries. On Wittgenstein's acquaintance with Marx he had evidence only that he had read part of the first volume of Capital, though he may also have read other works. He doubted that he knew anything of Engels. 'Wittgenstein was familiar with the "tenets" of what was written about as Dialectical Materialism in the 1930s.' Much of this familiarity may have come from frequent discussions of related ideas with Marxist friends rather than direct reading of Marx.


"According to Rhees, Wittgenstein 'used to speak with disgust of Marx's phrase "congealed labour time".' Relative to this phrase, 'Wittgenstein said he could imagine that many people would find Marx an infuriating writer to read.' Rhees twice emphasized that Wittgenstein regarded not Marx's views, but 'the way he wrote', for instance 'the sentences and similes...he uses' as infuriating. He commented however that this sort of thing was not superficial but extremely important for Wittgenstein.


"As against Rhees himself, who 'found the Marxist (or dialectical materialist) notion of "a developing reality" weird and incomprehensible' apart from such matters as developments in the structure of the earth's crust, Wittgenstein was quick to suggest that it could be given a good sense. For example, as the methods of showing 'what is so' develop, so too does the meaning of the expression 'what is so'; accordingly it can be said that '"reality" has meant something different at different stages in the development of science'. Rhees thought he intended this not as exegesis of Marx but as an account of what he considered sound in Marx's idea.


"Further, according to Rhees, Wittgenstein thought Marx's conception of history and society were not religious but scientific in attitude. Especially concerning history, it seemed to him Marx never thought future events depended on a great deal that was unknown to him. Rhees knew, and thought Wittgenstein also knew, passages from Marx contrary to the interpretation he attributed to Wittgenstein, but he thought he knew 'something of what Wittgenstein meant there'. From conversations with him when he was preparing the text, Rhees gathered that Wittgenstein had Marxist ideas in mind when he used the phrase 'transition from quantity to quality' with apparent approval (Investigations, §284)." [Moran (1972). Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added.]


And, here is the passage in question from the Investigations:


"Look at a stone and imagine it having sensations. -- One says to oneself: How could one so much as get the idea of ascribing a sensation to a thing? One might as well ascribe it to a number! -- And now look at a wriggling fly, and at once these difficulties vanish, and pain seems able to get a foothold here, where before everything was, so to speak, too smooth for it.


"And so, too, a corpse seems to us quite inaccessible to pain. -- Our attitude to what is alive and to what is dead is not the same. All our reactions are different. -- If someone says, 'That cannot simply come from the fact that living beings move in such-and-such ways and dead ones don't', then I want to suggest to him that this is a case of the transition 'from quantity to quality'." [Wittgenstein (2009), p.104e, §284. Italic emphases in the original; bold added.]


This isn't just a vague allusion to Engels 'First Law', it is a clear reference to a comment made by Engels about 'levels':


"If we imagine any non-living body cut up into smaller and smaller portions, at first no qualitative change occurs. But this has a limit: if we succeed, as by evaporation, in obtaining the separate molecules in the free state, then it is true that we can usually divide these still further, yet only with a complete change of quality. The molecule is decomposed into its separate atoms, which have quite different properties from those of the molecule. In the case of molecules composed of various chemical elements, atoms or molecules of these elements themselves make their appearance in the place of the compound molecule; in the case of molecules of elements, the free atoms appear, which exert quite distinct qualitative effects: the free atoms of nascent oxygen are easily able to effect what the atoms of atmospheric oxygen, bound together in the molecule, can never achieve.


"But the molecule is also qualitatively different from the mass of the body to which it belongs. It can carry out movements independently of this mass and while the latter remains apparently at rest, e.g. heat oscillations; by means of a change of position and of connection with neighbouring molecules it can change the body into an allotrope or a different state of aggregation.


"Thus we see that the purely quantitative operation of division has a limit at which it becomes transformed into a qualitative difference: the mass consists solely of molecules, but it is something essentially different from the molecule, just as the latter is different from the atom. It is this difference that is the basis for the separation of mechanics, as the science of heavenly and terrestrial masses, from physics, as the mechanics of the molecule, and from chemistry, as the physics of the atom." [Engels 6(1954), p.64. Link added.]


According to Elizabeth Anscombe, this wasn't a one-off on Wittgenstein's part, either:


"I don't know of Wittgenstein's having read Marx. He used sometimes to reflect on the well known phrase 'transition from quantity to quality'." [Quoted from here.]


Indeed, we read the following in a note Wittgenstein wrote, dated 14/07/1948:


"I think it is an important [and] remarkable fact, that a musical theme, if it is played at very different tempi, changes its character. Transition from quantity to quality." [Wittgenstein (1998), p.84e. Bold emphasis added.]


Concerning contradictions, we encounter the following in the Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics:


"But you can't allow a contradiction to stand! [Wittgenstein is here reporting the words of an interlocutor; I only add this comment since some readers seem to think this records his own views! -- RL.] -- Why not?...


"It might for example be said of an object in motion that it existed and did not exist in this place; change might be expressed by means of contradiction." [Wittgenstein (1978), p.370. Bold emphasis added.]8


Compare the above with this passage from Anti-Dühring:


"[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence…[t]hen we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction; even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body being both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continual assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]


Or, this from Lenin:


"Motion is a contradiction, a unity of contradictions." [Lenin (1961), p.256.]


"Movement is the presence of a body in a definite place at a given moment and in another place at another, subsequent moment -- such is the objection which Chernov repeats (see his Philosophical Studies) in the wake of all the 'metaphysical' opponents of Hegel.


"This objection is incorrect: (1) it describes the result of motion, but not motion itself; (2) it does not show, it does not contain in itself the possibility of motion; (3) it depicts motion as a sum, as a concatenation of states of rest, that is to say, the (dialectical) contradiction is not removed by it, but only concealed, shifted, screened, covered over." [Ibid., p.257. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Or, even these from Hegel himself:


"Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world: and it is ridiculous to say that contradiction is unthinkable. The only thing correct in that statement is that contradiction is not the end of the matter, but cancels itself. But contradiction, when cancelled, does not leave abstract identity; for that is itself only one side of the contrariety. The proximate result of opposition (when realised as contradiction) is the Ground, which contains identity as well as difference superseded and deposited to elements in the completer notion." [Hegel (1975), p.174; Essence as Ground of Existence, §119.]


"If we wish to make motion clear to ourselves, we say that the body is in one place and then it goes to another; because it moves, it is no longer in the first, but yet not in the second; were it in either it would be at rest. Where then is it? If we say that it is between both, this is to convey nothing at all, for were it between both, it would be in a place, and this presents the same difficulty. But movement means to be in this place and not to be in it, and thus to be in both alike; this is the continuity of space and time which first makes motion possible. Zeno, in the deduction made by him, brought both these points into forcible opposition. The discretion of space and time we also uphold, but there must also be granted to them the over-stepping of limits, i.e. the exhibition of limits as not being, or as being divided periods of time, which are also not divided. In our ordinary ideas we find the same determinations as those on which the dialectic of Zeno rests; we arrive at saying, though unwillingly, that in one period two distances of space are traversed, but we do not say that the quicker comprehends two moments of time in one; for that we fix a definite space. But in order that the slower may lose its precedence, it must be said that it loses its advantage of a moment of time, and indirectly the moment of space." [Hegel (1995), pp.273-74; partially quoted in Lenin (1961), p.257. The editors of Lenin's text have clearly used a slightly different translation.]


"[B]ut contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity." [Hegel (1999), p.439, §956.]9


Even though I have subjected these passages to destructive criticism (ironically using Wittgenstein's method expressed in his later work to that end), given what we know about the discussions Wittgenstein had with his communist friends (about DM, etc.), we can perhaps see from where it was that he drew inspiration for the above passage -- i.e., from Engels, or Lenin, directly or indirectly -- or, of course, from Hegel himself (whom we know he had read).


Again, we read the following in a Manuscript dating from the 1930s:


"Take the puzzlement over 'the rose is red'. The puzzle was solved by introducing two signs: '=' and 'ε'. We say then 'don't imagine "rose" and "red" are the same'." [Wittgenstein (1993b), p.310; "ε" is the sign for set membership. Bold emphasis added.]


Compare that with Engels:


"Abstract identity (a=a; and negatively, a cannot be simultaneously equal and unequal to a) is likewise inapplicable in organic nature. The plant, the animal, every cell is at every moment of its life identical with itself and yet becoming distinct from itself.... The fact that identity contains difference within itself is expressed in every sentence, where the predicate is necessarily different from the subject; the lily is a plant, the rose is red, where, either in the subject or in the predicate there is something that is not covered by the predicate or the subject…. That from the outset identity with itself requires difference from everything else as its complement, is self-evident." [Engels (1954), pp.214-15. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphasis added.]


Or, with Hegel:


"The interpretation of the judgment, according to which it is assumed to be merely subjective, as if we ascribed a predicate to a subject is contradicted by the decidedly objective expression of the judgment. The rose is red; Gold is a metal. It is not by us that something is first ascribed to them. A judgment is however distinguished from a proposition. The latter contains a statement about the subject, which does not stand to it in any universal relationship, but expresses some single action, or some state, or the like. Thus, 'Caesar was born at Rome in such and such a year waged war in Gaul for ten years, crossed the Rubicon, etc.', are propositions, but not judgments. Again it is absurd to say that such statements as 'I slept well last night' or 'Present arms!' may be turned into the form of a judgment. 'A carriage is passing by' should be a judgment, and a subjective one at best, only if it were doubtful, whether the passing object was a carriage, or whether it and not rather the point of observation was in motion: in short, only if it were desired to specify a conception which was still short of appropriate specification....


"The abstract terms of the judgement, 'The individual is the universal', present the subject (as negatively self-relating) as what is immediately concrete, while the predicate is what is abstract, indeterminate, in short the universal. But the two elements are connected together by an 'is': and thus the predicate (in its universality) must also contain the speciality of the subject, must, in short, have particularity: and so is realised the identity between subject and predicate; which being thus unaffected by this difference in form, is the content." [Hegel (1975), pp.233-34, §§167-169. Italic emphasis in the original. Bold emphasis added.]


"2. The immediate pure enunciation of the positive judgment is, therefore, the proposition: the individual is universal.


"This enunciation must not be put in the form: A is B; for A and B are entirely formless and consequently meaningless names; the judgment as such, however, and therefore even the judgment of existence, has Notion determinations for its extremes. A is B can represent any mere proposition just as well as a judgment. But in every judgment, even in those with a more richly determined form, there is asserted the proposition having this specific content: the individual is universal; inasmuch, namely, as every judgment is also in general an abstract judgment. With the negative judgment, how far it likewise comes under this expression, we shall deal presently. If no heed is given to the fact that in every judgment -- at least, to begin with, every positive judgment, the assertion is made that the individual is a universal, this is partly because the determinate form whereby subject and predicate are distinguished is overlooked -- the judgment being supposed to be nothing but the relation of two notions-and partly, probably, because the rest of the content of the judgment, Gaius is learned, or the rose is red, floats before the mind which is busy with the representation of Gaius, etc., and does not reflect on the form although such content at least as the logical Gaius who has usually to be dragged in as an example, is a much less interesting content and, indeed, is expressly chosen as uninteresting in order not to divert attention from the form to itself." [Hegel (1999), p.632. (I have used the online version here.) Italic emphases in the original. Bold emphasis added.]


[The above passages were taken from Hegel's 'analysis' of the copula "is", which in turn forms part of his defective criticism of the 'Law of Identity'.]


The significance of this is quite plain: Wittgenstein used the very same sentence as Engels and Hegel (no irony intended) in his attempt to resolve this 'problem'. A sheer coincidence?


Then there is this passage from Engels:


"To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses." [Engels (1976), p.26.]


Compare the above with this comment of Wittgenstein's (in his discussion of Augustine's puzzle over the measuring of time):


"Someone who is engaged in measuring time will not be bothered by this problem. He will use language and not notice the problem at all. In his hands, we might say, language is soft and pliable; in the hands of others -- philosophers -- it suddenly becomes hard and stiff and begins to display difficulties. Philosophers as it were freeze language and make it rigid." [Manuscript 219, quoted in Kenny (1984b), p.53. Bold emphasis added.]


Is this just another coincidence?


The above passages confirm (i) That Wittgenstein had read Marx, and (ii) That it is highly likely he had read Engels, too -- in view of the fact that (a) Marx himself was largely ignorant of DM, and (b) there are striking similarities between certain aspects of Engels's work and his own --, and (iii) We already know he had read Hegel.10


Wittgenstein's unorthodox view of contradictions isn't the only area where it seems clear he was echoing ideas we normally associate with Hegel and DM; indeed, he also held 'non-standard' views about the so-called 'Law of Identity' [LOI]:


"Roughly speaking, to say of two things that they are identical is nonsense, and to say of one thing that it is identical with itself is to say nothing at all.


"Thus I do not write 'f(a,b).a = b', but 'f(a,a)' (or 'f(b,b)'); and not 'f(a,b).~a = b', but 'f(a,b)'....


[Wittgenstein explains what he is doing with this comment: "Identity of object I express by identity of sign, and not by using a sign for identity. Difference of objects I express by difference of sign." (5.53, p.105.) -- RL.]


"The identity-sign, therefore, is not an essential constituent of conceptual notation." [Wittgenstein (1972), 5.5303-5.533, pp.106-07.]


"'A thing is identical with itself.' -- There is no finer example of a useless sentence.... It is as if in our imagination we put a thing into its own shape and saw that it fitted." [Wittgenstein (2009), §216, p.91e.]


"'a = a' is a perfectly useless proposition." [Wittgenstein (1976), p.283.]


"The law of identity, for example, seemed to be of fundamental importance. But now the proposition that this 'law' is nonsense has taken over this importance." [Wittgenstein (1993a), p.169.]


I can think of very few Analytic Philosophers (who haven't already been influenced by Hegel and/or Wittgenstein), if any, who would argue this way. But, this isn't surprising given what we know of the opinions of Wittgenstein's communist friends, and the books he read.11


It is also worth pointing out that the passages quoted above (from Wittgenstein (1972) -- the Tractatus) are from his early work. Indeed, we read the following in a letter Wittgenstein sent to Bertrand Russell (dated October 1913):


"But just now I am so troubled with identity...." [Wittgenstein (1979b), p.125. Italic emphasis in the original.]


We also read this from another note (dated 29/11/1914):


"I believe that it would be possible wholly to exclude the sign of identity from our notation and always to indicate identity merely by the identity of the signs....


"By means of this notation the pseudo-proposition (x)x = a or the like would lose all appearance of justification." [Ibid, p.34e.]12


These were written ten or fifteen years before his fellow workers had described him as a "left winger"; hence it is no surprise that even in these early days he was beginning to question the LOI.


And, here are two revealing passages from Manuscript 213:


"That everything is in flux must be inherent in the contact between language and reality. Or better: That everything is in flux must be inherent in language....


 "When it is said that 'everything is in flux' we feel that we are hindered in pinning down the actual -- actual reality." [Wittgenstein (2013), p.314e. Bold emphasis added.]


"We are bringing words back from their metaphysical to their normal use in language. (The man who said that one cannot step into the same river twice was wrong; one can step into the same river twice).


"And this is what the solution to all philosophical difficulties looks like. Our answers, if they are correct, must be ordinary and trivial." [Ibid., p.304e. Italic emphasis in the original.]


This suggests that Wittgenstein had read Heraclitus, or had read those parts of Hegel where he discusses universal change and Heraclitus -- or, indeed, he had discussed this with his Marxist-dialectician friends.


Moran continues (still in relation to Rhees's response to his questions):


"On the subject of Communism and being human, however, 'Wittgenstein would have said, and did say, that being a member of the Communist Party did queer things to people, very often. And in some cases I am sure he would have agreed that they cease to be human beings.' While Wittgenstein did not use the word, Rhees thought one might speak of 'alienation' here -- though not in Marx's sense. Noting that it was especially important to Wittgenstein that what a man does and thinks should 'come from himself', Rhees suggests that CP [Communist Party -- RL] membership would tend to destroy 'individual judgment and character' with the result that 'nothing comes from the man himself'.

'On political questions, from 1939 onwards anyway, Wittgenstein was generally sympathetic with the Russian communists. The British communists generally got on his nerves. (As the Russian communists might have if he had been living in Russia).'


"Rhees adds that he laughingly said his feeling toward Communism and Communists was along the lines of an old joke about not being anti-Semitic but just being unable to stand the Jews. More seriously, said Rhees, he thought a philosopher should not be 'committed to any doctrine in the way in which one would be in joining the Communist Party, for instance'. Rhees's elaboration of this suggests Wittgenstein thought such commitment irrevocable, thus incompatible with his requirement that a philosopher always be ready to question his suppositions; or that one could not be a philosopher and for example a CP member at the same time. The stricture on such commitments apparently has special application to philosophers.

"Rhees wrote also that [he, Rhees -- RL]:


'...loathed Stalinism from 1937 onwards (or earlier) and I used to disagree with Wittgenstein’s judgments on Russia on this account. In those years I was reading a good deal of Trotskyist literature. And I said to Wittgenstein that as far as I could see there were marked class distinctions growing in Russia or already there. 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. I think the evidence of anti-Semitism would have shocked him too, for he thought the economic and social changes had dissolved that entirely.'

"Several elements of this paragraph deserve to be singled out briefly. It confirms that Wittgenstein's 'Stalinism' was at least in part a pro-Russian attitude. It suggests further that: his attitude in some way contrasted with 'Trotskyism'; he was pro-Russian because he considered Russian policy at least favourable to elimination of classes; he may have thought Russia already had a classless society; he thought anti-Semitism at any rate had economic and social roots and could be eliminated by economic and social changes. It suggests then that he did not think 'man's inhumanity to man' was attributable to some static 'human nature' or to 'man in general'.

"A great deal of course remains unclear. For example, Wittgenstein and Rhees might not have agreed on what would count as evidence for the existence and development of class distinctions; we have no explicit consideration of how a supposed classless society within a single country might relate to class structures in the world at large, nor is the question of 'dictatorship of the proletariat' mentioned." [
Op cit. Bold emphases added.]


Rhees tells us that at one point he (Rhees) contemplated joining the RCP (this was the 1940s Trotskyist Party, not that more recent right-wing joke of the same name, now, mercifully, defunct), and sought Wittgenstein's advice. [Some of the comments above in fact reflect the advice he was finally given.]


This is hardly something one would ask of a conservative. [Cf., Rhees (1984), pp.200-09.]


In 1932, Wittgenstein and his close friend, M. O'C. Drury, visited Jarrow (a town in the North East of England all but destroyed by unemployment -- by 1933 unemployment there was just short of 73% -- and the starting point of the famous, CP-inspired Jarrow March):


"I spent some months in Newcastle, and together with a group of unemployed shipyard workers we had repaired a derelict building and turned it into a social club for the neighbourhood. We had also started a boot-repairing workshop, a carpenter's shop and a canteen where cheap meals could be had at cost price. When this was under way, Wittgenstein came up to Newcastle to visit me. I took him down to Jarrow, where there was almost complete unemployment. The shipyard there had been closed for several years. The shops were mostly boarded up, and the whole area had a terrible air of dereliction.


"Wittgenstein: Sraffa is right: the only thing possible in a situation like this is to get all these people running in one direction." [Drury (1984), p.122. Bold emphasis added.]


Which is an odd thing for an alleged conservative (large or small "c") to have said -- i.e., quoting a noted Marxist to the effect that the workers need to get organised! Perhaps more significantly this comment confirms, once again, that Wittgenstein discussed politics with Sraffa.


T. P. Uschanov also records the following highly pertinent fact:


"In November 1940 Wittgenstein made his only public political statement when he supported a communist Students' Convention held in Cambridge." [Quoted from here, referencing Flowers (1999), pp.142-43, which records the reminiscences of Theodore Redpath, another of Wittgenstein's pupils. Bold emphasis added.]


Once again, this would be a decidedly odd thing for an alleged conservative (small "c" or capital "C") to have done, especially given the political line coming out of Moscow throughout 1940.13


More importantly, as far as we know, this was the only political stance Wittgenstein took in public in his entire life. The fact that he chose to do so on behalf of young communists at a time when communism was a dirty word (because of the Hitler-Stalin pact) confirms the view of him held by the vast majority of his friends, colleagues and acquaintances: that his political opinions were to the left, and not just slightly to the left.


Brian McGuinness (Wittgenstein's other biographer) sums up his conclusions about Wittgenstein's political views in the 1930s in the following terms:


"[Wittgenstein's] sympathies in the Thirties (and, as we will see, throughout the war) were with the Left. So were his associations: returned to Cambridge in 1929, he took up again with the Apostles, by now largely a left-wing group. He lodged with the leading left-wing economist [Maurice Dobb -- RL] who was their most active senior member (some now think him their spymaster). Of four Cambridge men to die in the Spanish Civil War, three were, if not disciples, at least pupils or associates of Wittgenstein. His great friend [Francis Skinner -- RL], also tried to enlist despite a game [i.e., crippled -- RL] leg (and we may be sure he did it with Wittgenstein's approval). The Marxists, of course, criticised Wittgenstein's philosophy (confining themselves usually to that of the Tractatus) and he was critical of theirs -- principally of it being a philosophy at all; but they had attended his classes and had breathed his air. He, for his part, began (with Skinner) to study Russian. His teacher was Fania Pascal, she too wife of a Marxist and active in the British Soviet Friendship Society. Wittgenstein learnt the language well and had clearly retained a nostalgia for Russia formed in the first war -- a nostalgia for the Russia of Tolstoy perhaps, but it led him to visit the Russia of Stalin and even to think of settling there. The atmosphere of Stalinism contained something that attracted him: a total destruction of early twentieth-century social forms was required (he thought) if there was to be any improvement. 'Die Leidenschaft verspricht etwas' ['Passion does not want to wait' -- Nietzsche; full quote below -- RL], he said to Waismann: the passion that infused society there meant that some good would come from it. Again: Wittgenstein accepts the dark and terrible side of things. A Russian leader acts because he must: Lenin (here Wittgenstein repeated a cliché of the time) was like a man who had seized the wheel from a drunk (Lenin's philosophy was of course piffle). Fania Pascal had the impression that the sufferings of so many in the Russia of the 20s and 30s were accepted by Wittgenstein as an accompaniment, relatively unimportant, of the affirmation of a new society. Misery there would have been anyway: now at least it was for a purpose. His attitude toward the Russia of Lenin and Stalin mirrors his dismay at the total unemployment and dejection of 30s Jarrow (where Drury worked): the only solution, he said, is to get these people all running in the same direction. He seems to have thought that this had happened in Russia, and it is perhaps equally important for understanding his attitudes that he thought it would not happen in England.


"When the Pascals moved to Birmingham, they found Wittgenstein a frequent visitor: the Vice-Chancellor was a Cambridge friend (a former polar explorer) but Wittgenstein belonged to a strongly left-wing circle there. He belonged not as one active politically, but as a friend: yet for him that required a coincidence in approach to judgements of value. George Thomson and Nicholas Bachtin (brother of Michael) were his closest friends, the one a leading Marxist interpreter of antiquity, the other a former White Russian officer now a Communist, both men of remarkable literary gifts.... There and not in Trinity he found his friends. Though he did not applaud their ideology or their political activity when they went in for it, his sympathies lay with them and he shared their dislikes." [McGuinness (1999), pp.139-40. Links added.]


The passage alluded to above is the following:


"Wittgenstein: What should be given to the Americans? Surely not our half-rotten culture. The Americans have no culture yet. From us, however, they have nothing to learn.


"Russell's 'What I Believe'? Absolutely not a 'harmless thing'.


"Russia: The passion is promising. Our waffle on the other hand, is powerless." [Waismann (1979), p.142. This records a conversation he had with members of the Vienna Circle on January 1st, 1931. Link added.]


Russia, September 1935


Rhees and Monk note that when Wittgenstein visited Russia in the Autumn of 1935 he met with Sophia Yanovskaya. Fania Pascal informs us that she had taught Wittgenstein Russian, so the conversation between Wittgenstein and Yanovskaya was probably in that language. [Rhees (1984), pp.13-14.] Indeed, Rhees reports that in the interview Wittgenstein had with the Russian Ambassador, Maisky -- who had arranged permission for the visit -- they both spoke in Russian. [Ibid., p.126.]


Yanovskaya apparently advised Wittgenstein to "read more Hegel"; that implies he had already read some, which, as we are about to see, was indeed the case. [Monk (1990), p.351, and Rhees (1984), p.209.] This is confirmed by Drury, who records the following conversation with Wittgenstein:


"Wittgenstein: Kant and Berkeley seem to me to be very deep thinkers.


"Drury: What about Hegel?


"Wittgenstein: No, I don't think I would get on with Hegel. Hegel seems to me to be always wanting to say that things which look different are really the same. Whereas my interest is in showing that things which look the same are really different." [Drury (1984), p.157. Links added.] 


This is further confirmed by Theodore Redpath:


"When I told him I had read a certain amount of Nietzsche and asked what he thought of his general world view, he said that he didn't think there was much 'consolation' to be had from it -- it was 'too shallow'. Hegel he said he had hardly read at all, but from what he had read he thought Hegel 'had nose' -- he was struck, for instance, by Hegel's denial of the so-called 'law of contradiction'. That denial, indeed, could well have appealed to Wittgenstein's love of paradox, which came out from time to time on various occasions." [Redpath (1999), pp.18-19. Bold emphasis added.] 


And Monk records this significant comment:


"Almost all of Wittgenstein's energies were by now devoted to producing his own presentation of his new thoughts. He experimented with many different formulations -- numbered remarks, numbered paragraphs, an annotated table of contents etc. In his lectures, as though to orientate himself within the Western tradition, he went through C. D. Broad's taxonomy of philosophical styles and theories, given in Broad's own series of undergraduate lectures, 'Elements of Philosophy'. The method of Hume and Descartes, he rejected, but said of Kant's critical method: 'This is the right sort of approach.' With regard to the distinction between the deductive and dialectical methods of speculative philosophy -- the first represented by Descartes, the second by Hegel -- he came down, with reservations, on the side of Hegel:


'...the dialectical method is very sound and a way in which we do work. But it should not try to find, from two propositions, a and b, a further more complex proposition, as Broad's description implied. Its object should be to find out where the ambiguities in our language are.'" [Monk (1990), pp.321-22. This is based on, and is a quotation from, Wittgenstein (1980), pp.72-74. Bold emphases added.]


The above passage from Wittgenstein is preceded by this comment (which Monk omits):


"Broad said the Speculative Philosophy had two methods. The deductive which started with certain foundational self-evidence propositions and proceeded to deduce further propositions about reality, and the dialectical which he describes as the Hegelian method of examining contradictions, their relations and resolution." [Wittgenstein (1980), p.74.] 


As we have seen, Wittgenstein's attitude toward contradictions and the LOI does indeed appear to have been influenced by what Hegel had to say about both.14


In fact, Yanovskaya even went as far as to recommend Wittgenstein for the Chair of Philosophy at Kazan University (Lenin's alma mater), as well as for a teaching post at Moscow University. [Monk (1990), p.351.] In Stalin's Russia of the mid-1930s these were hardly posts one would have offered to just about anyone, least of all to someone who was, allegedly, a conservative German speaker, supposedly unsympathetic toward Communism.


Some have suggested that this 'liberal' approach to foreign intellectuals was fully in keeping with the Communist Party's Popular Front line of the mid-1930s, so the offer of such a post to Wittgenstein implies nothing significant about his political leanings. To be sure, the Popular Front was being promoted abroad at that time, but the atmosphere inside the USSR itself was completely different. This was the era when everyone was under suspicion of being either a fascist or a "Trotskyite wrecker", when Kirov was assassinated and the Great Purge was underway (which began in September 1936) -- and when Bukharin and other prominent Bolsheviks were soon to be fitted-up and executed on trumped-up charges. So, and once again, this was hardly an opportune time for these Stalinist paranoiacs to appoint, or even offer to appoint a German-speaking Austrian (and alleged non-red) to the chair at Lenin's old University! The fact they entertained this idea suggests Wittgenstein was recognised as a kindred spirit.


As Cornish points out:


"Kazan had been Lenin's university. Is this not striking? It would be rather like the Archbishop of Canterbury appointing a Muslim as the Bishop of London [that is, of course, on the assumption that Wittgenstein was a non-Marxist -- RL]. Is it credible that such an offer to a visiting non-Marxist Austro/English academic could have been made without approval from the very highest Soviet level? And why was it made? Are we to believe it was offered from disinterested Soviet intellectual respect for Wittgenstein's brand of linguistic analysis? Why would a Communist government support a non-Marxist philosopher teaching philosophy from the chair of Lenin's university?" [Cornish (1999), pp.73-74.]


John Moran had the following to say about Wittgenstein's proposed trip to Russia (first of all reporting what von Wright -- one of Wittgenstein's literary executors -- had told him):

"In a number of different letters von Wright made the following points. He had a single conversation with Wittgenstein concerning the Soviet trip; he recalled that Wittgenstein told him he was accompanied by Francis Skinner [Skinner did not in the end accompany Wittgenstein -- RL]; Wittgenstein was pleased with the trip, finding it 'interesting and humanly rewarding'; Wittgenstein had mentioned meeting a likeable woman philosophy professor whose name Wright thought was Janovskaja....

"The only source relative to the Russian trip of which he was aware was some correspondence between Wittgenstein and J. M. Keynes, in the Library of King's College, Cambridge. In fact this correspondence relates only to the prologue of the trip. There are three relevant letters from Wittgenstein to Keynes and one from Keynes to Wittgenstein, along with a letter of introduction to Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky. In one dated Sunday 30.6 (presumably 1935), Wittgenstein asked for an introduction to Maisky with a view to getting from him an introduction to 'some officials in Russia....' He adds that


'I have now more or less decided to go to Russia as a tourist in September & see whether it is possible for me to get a suitable job there. If I find (which, I'm afraid is quite likely) that I can't find such a job, or get permission to work in Russia, then I should want to return to England & if possible study medicine. Now when you told me that you would finance me during my medical training you did not know that I wanted to go to Russia & that I would try to get permission to practice medicine in Russia. I know that you are not in favour of my going there (& I think I understand you). Therefore I must ask you whether under these circumstances, you would still be prepared to help me....'

"In a letter dated 6.7.35 Wittgenstein thanked Keynes for agreeing to finance his medical training regardless of his plans. He adds that


'...what I wanted with Maisky was...to see him and have a conversation with him. I know that there is very little chance that I or my case could make a good impression on him. But I think there is an off chance of this happening. There is further a small chance of his knowing some official at Leningrad or Moscow to whom he might introduce me. I want to speak to officials at two institutions; one is the Institute of the North in Leningrad, the other the Institute of National Minorities in Moscow. These Institutes, as I am told, deal with people who want to go to the 'colonies', the newly colonized parts at the periphery of the USSR. I want to get information and possibly help from people in these Institutes. I thought that Maisky might recommend me to someone there. I imagine that such a recommendation or introduction could be one of two kinds. It might either be purely official; in which case it could only say "would so & so be so kind to see me & listen to my questions". For it is clear to me that Maisky could not do anything else qua Ambassador. Or it might be an unofficial recommendation to someone he knows well & this he would only give me if I made a good impression on him, which -- I know -- is very unlikely. If what I think is sound -- and God knows whether it is -- then it might be useful for me to get an introduction from you to Maisky. In this introduction I don't want you to ask him to give me introductions, but only to allow me to have a conversation with him.... You would have to say in your introduction that I am your personal friend & that you are sure that I am in no way politically dangerous (that is, if this is your opinion).... I am sure that you partly understand my reasons for wanting to go to Russia & I admit that they are partly bad & even childish reasons but it is true also that behind all that there are deep & even good reasons.'

"In a note dated only Friday, Wittgenstein wrote to Keynes,


'This is only to thank you for your introduction & to tell you that my interview with Maisky went off all right. He was definitely nice & in the end promised to send me some addresses of people in Russia of whom I might get useful information. He did not seem to think that it was utterly hopeless for me to try to get permission to settle in Russia though he too didn't think it was likely.'

"On 10 July 1935, Keynes wrote Maisky that he would like to introduce Wittgenstein


'...who is anxious to find a means of obtaining permission to live more or less permanently in Russia. Dr Wittgenstein....a distinguished philosopher, is a very old and intimate friend of mine, and I should be extremely grateful for anything you could do for him. I must leave it to him to tell you his reasons for wanting to go to Russia. He is not a member of the Communist Party, but has strong sympathies with the way of life which he believes the new regime in Russia stands for. [Can you imagine Keynes saying this of a conservative? -- RL.]

'I may mention that Dr Wittgenstein is an Austrian subject, though he has had long periods of residence in Cambridge both before and since the war. He has already had an interview with Mr Vinogradoff, who gave him some preliminary advice, but I gather Mr Vinogradoff is no longer in England.'

"Keynes sent the letter of introduction to Wittgenstein along with a note to the latter in which he said he


'gathered from Vinogradoff that the difficulty would be that you would have to receive an invitation from some Soviet organization. If you were a qualified technician of any description of a sort likely to be useful to them, that might not be difficult. But without some such qualification, which might very well be a medical qualification, it would be difficult.'" [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. (These letters have now been published in Wittgenstein (2012), pp.244-47.) Bold emphases added. Some paragraphs merged.]


It is worth underlining this comment of Wittgenstein's:


"You would have to say in your introduction that...you are sure that I am in no way politically dangerous...." [Ibid.]


Would a conservative (large or small "c") say this, or  expect Keynes to endorse it? Or, indeed, imagine that the neurotically suspicious communist authorities delegated to decide on such matters would so easily have had the wool pulled over their eyes?


Moran even managed to contact and then elicit a few comments from several of the Russians involved who were still alive. Here is his report:


"A. Soubotine at the Institute of Philosophy recalled a conversation with the late Sophia Alexandrovna Janovskaya, late professor of mathematical logic at the University of Moscow, who said she met Wittgenstein on one occasion in Moscow in the thirties; he impressed her favourably with his friendly simplicity and showed an interest in dialectical materialism. She gathered from her conversation with him that he was interested in Soviet philosophic thought and followed its development. Soubotine thought there might be pertinent material among the papers of Professor Janovskaya, who died in 1966.


"[Added in a footnote -- RL]: Goodstein [this is Reuben Goodstein, a pupil of Wittgenstein's -- RL] mentioned that Wittgenstein corresponded for a long time with a woman philosopher in Moscow whom he had visited.]


"Oleg Drobnitsky at the Institute of Philosophy learned through inquiries among his colleagues that Wittgenstein frequently met with Tatiana Nikolaevna Gornstein at Leningrad, where she is still a professor of philosophy. He was also said to have been friendly with a woman psychologist named Ladygina-Kots who is now dead.... In 1935, according to Mrs Gornstein, Wittgenstein visited her in Leningrad and offered to give a philosophy course at Leningrad University where she was in charge. At her request, he sent her a copy of The Yellow Book. She said he impressed her as a genuine friend of the Soviet Union, and she added that if her memory was correct, he was then president of the Society of Friends of Soviet Russia. She recalled that he mentioned his chat with Maisky, and that he spoke Russian reasonably well.


"Upon his return to England, according to Mrs Pascal, Wittgenstein sent Skinner to give her a report. She thought he would have found it difficult to tell her himself that when he was announced to a woman philosopher-mathematician in Moscow he heard her exclaim 'What, the great Wittgenstein?' She said he was offered a chair in philosophy at Kazan; and that at his request she ordered insulin shipped regularly to a woman professor in Moscow whose name she thought was 'Nikolaeva'.

"Sraffa, an economist to whose many years of critical stimulus Wittgenstein acknowledged indebtedness for 'the most consequential ideas' of his Philosophical Investigations, said that according to his recollection Wittgenstein was offered a teaching post in philosophy at the University of Moscow. He intended to accept it 'but the offer was withdrawn shortly afterwards when all Germans (including Austrians) became suspect in Russia'. He thought Wittgenstein had corresponded with a woman philosophy professor about this, but he did not recall her name. It was Goodstein's recollection that Wittgenstein spoke little of the visit, 'except to say how much he regretted Russia's continued suspicion of the West'." [Taken from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links and bold emphases added. Some paragraphs merged.]


This confirms that Wittgenstein was confident enough in his knowledge of DM to be able to hold a conversation about it with Professor Yanovskaya, and he also managed to convince her that he was interested both in this theory/method and Soviet Philosophy in general. Tatiana Gornstein also formed the impression that he was friendly toward the USSR -- and that he was even President of the Society of Friends of Soviet Russia!


However, in a footnote, Moran informs us that Maurice Cornforth expressed doubts about this:


"...as the Society was then dominated by the CP. He suggested that Wittgenstein 'probably had connections with the more respectable body, The Society for Cultural Relations with the Soviet Union (SCR), but he did not hold office in it'." [Ibid., footnote 15.]


Even so, Wittgenstein clearly left a positive impression on Gornstein, and to such an extent that she drew some favourable conclusions, rightly or wrongly. This was at a time when the Stalinists had imposed a rigid orthodoxy (so-called 'Diamat', a rigid and statist form of DM) on Russian Philosophy, having defeated the 'mechanists' and the 'idealists' in the mid-1920s and the early 1930s, respectively, so they would be in no mood to appoint as a Professor of Philosophy someone who held a conservative view of the world, or who was 'ideologically unsound'. [On this, see Graham (1973, 1987), Joravsky (1961), and Wetter (1958).]


Be this as it may, Drury informs us that Wittgenstein had a low opinion of Lenin's philosophical work (but exactly which part of Lenin's writings this refers to we don't know; nevertheless, it does indicate that Wittgenstein had at least read Lenin since he never passed comment on second-hand reports of another's views),15 but the opposite estimation of his practical endeavours:


"We talked for a time about Lenin. Wittgenstein: 'Lenin's writings about philosophy are of course absurd, but at least he did want to get something done.'" [Drury (1984), p.126.]


Moran also records a comment made by Allen Jackson, which supports Drury's recollection:


"Jackson mentions Wittgenstein’s having spoken of Lenin as 'a genius and a philosophical primitive'." [Quoted from here.]


So, Wittgenstein visited Russia in September 1935. Like many other Cambridge intellectuals at the time his desire to live in the USSR was partly motivated by the false belief that under Stalin it was a Workers' State (i.e., as he himself said, he thought it was "classless", and that he would lose sympathy with it if class distinctions returned). In this regard, of course, his intentions are more significant than his mistaken views. One only has to contrast Wittgenstein's opinion of Russia with that of, say, Bertrand Russell, to see how sympathetic in comparison Wittgenstein was toward revolutionary Marxism, even if, like many others, he finally mistook the latter for what had transpired in the fSU in the 1930s. [Cf., Drury's memoir in Rhees (1984), p.144, and Russell (1962).]


In his biography of Wittgenstein, Ray Monk downplays Wittgenstein's proposed move to Russia; relying on Fania Pascal's view of Wittgenstein's motives, he interprets it as a reflection of his attachment to a Tolstoyian view of the Russian peasantry and the 'dignity of manual labour'. [Moran also notes that one or two others formed this impression, too.]


While this clearly was a factor, it can't explain Wittgenstein's many positive remarks about the gains he believed workers had made because of the revolution, as well as his belief that there were no class distinctions in the USSR as a result. On this, Rhees is clearly a more reliable guide; he knew Wittgenstein better than almost anyone else. Moreover, it sits rather awkwardly with Keynes's remarks above, where he notes that Wittgenstein was sympathetic to "the way of life which he believes the new regime in Russia stands for"; notice the comment about the regime, and not just the way of life. Nor does it seem consistent with the positive impression he made on those he met while there --, that is, that he was a friend of the Soviet Union.


Rhees concurs:


"He said to me once, 'Marx could describe the kind of society he would like to see, that's all'.... If Wittgenstein felt sympathy with anything important in Marx, I think it was Marx's faith in the proletariat: the importance of manual labour in the overthrow of capitalism and in the character of the 'non-capitalist' society there would be then. Marx's statements about this are cut and crossed by what he writes of the 'historical task' of the proletariat and by his suggestions that science, which transforms the world, is working for them. But when he shows the degradation of the workers under capitalism, giving one example after another, he writes with the force of someone fighting against it. This sense of fighting may have seemed to Wittgenstein to show in the vitality of Russian workers -- to judge from such reports as reached us." [Rhees (1984), pp.206-07. Paragraphs merged.]


It is also difficult to square Monk's opinion with the many other comments we have seen Wittgenstein make about Lenin, Russia, and workers in general, as well as the fact that he surrounded himself with Marxists of one sort or another for much of the 1930s and 1940s.16


Here is a selection of the various things Monk had to say about the 1935 visit:


"Throughout the summer of 1935 he made preparations for his impending visit to Russia. He met regularly with those of his friends, many of them members of the Communist Party, who had been to Russia or who might be able to inform him about the conditions there.... Among those friends were Maurice Dobb, Nicholas Bachtin, Piero Sraffa and George Thomson....


"Wittgenstein was not the only one at Cambridge then seeking in Soviet Russia an alternative to the countries of Western Europe.... The summer of 1935 was the time when Marxism became, for the undergraduates at Cambridge, the most important intellectual force in the university, and when many students and dons visited the Soviet Union in the spirit of a pilgrimage. It was then that Anthony Blunt and Michael Straight made their celebrated journey to Russia, which led to the formation of the co-called 'Cambridge Spy Ring', and that the Cambridge Communist Cell, founded a few years earlier by Maurice Dodd, David Hayden-Guest and John Cornford, expanded to include most of the intellectual élite at Cambridge, including many of the younger members of the Apostles.


"Despite the fact that Wittgenstein was never at any time a Marxist, he was perceived as a sympathetic figure by the students who formed the core of the Cambridge Communist Party, many of whom (Hayden-Guest, Cornford, Maurice Cornforth, etc.) attended his lectures.... In Moscow Wittgenstein also met two or three times with Pat Sloan, the British Communist who was the working as a Soviet trade union organizer (a period of his life recalled in the book Russia Without Illusions, 1938).... After his return to England Wittgenstein very rarely discussed his trip to Russia.... The reason he gave friends for his silence was that he did not wish his name to be used, as Russell had allowed his name to be used..., to support anti-Soviet propaganda....


"He nevertheless repeatedly expressed his sympathy for the Soviet regime and his belief that, as material conditions for ordinary Soviet citizens were improving, the regime was strong and unlikely to collapse. He spoke admiringly of the educational system in Russia, remarking that he had never seen people so eager to learn and so attentive to what they were being told.... For two years after his return from Russia Wittgenstein toyed with the idea of taking up the teaching post in Moscow that he had been offered. During this time he continued to correspond with Sophia Janovskaya, and when he went away to Norway he arranged with Fania Pascal for Janovskaya to be sent insulin for her diabetes....


"...[E]ven after the show trials of 1936, the worsening of relations between Russia and the West and the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, Wittgenstein still continued to express his sympathies with the Soviet regime -- so much so that he was taken by some of his students at Cambridge to be a 'Stalinist'.... But at the time when most people saw only the tyranny of Stalin's rule, Wittgenstein emphasised the problems with which Stalin had to deal and the scale of his achievement in dealing with them...." [Monk, op cit, pp.347-54. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links and bold emphases added. Several paragraphs merged.]


Had Wittgenstein been a conservative (large or small "c"), he would hardly have refused to allow his name to be used for anti-Soviet propaganda, nor would he have been quite so optimistic about the resilience of the Soviet system, or, rightly or wrongly, the gains he thought that workers had made, and were still making. And, if he had been a conservative (large or small "c"), or he had been perceived as unsympathetic to the USSR, Professor Yanovskaya wouldn't have agreed -- nor would she have been allowed  -- to correspond with him (given the paranoid, anti-German hysteria prevalent in the USSR at the time).


It is also worth noting that in his preparations to go to Russia, Monk points out that Wittgenstein met with Sraffa and other leading communists. It is hardly credible that they only spoke about the weather or the intricacies of the Tractatus. He plainly conversed with them about matters relevant to his proposed trip, that is, he must have conversed with them about politics, and it is doubtful that this would have included the thoughts of Edmund Burke or Joseph de Maistre.


The on-line Cambridge University biography of Wittgenstein also had this to say about his visit to Russia:


"On 12 September Wittgenstein arrived in Leningrad. There he met the author and educator Guryevich at the Northern Institute, then an autonomous faculty of Leningrad University. On the evening of the following day he travelled on to Moscow, arriving there on the morning of the 14th. Here he had contacts with various western Europeans and Americans, including the correspondent of the Daily Worker, Pat Sloane (sic). Most of his discussions, however, were with scientists, for example the young mathematician Yanovskaya and the philosopher Yushevich from Moscow University, who were both close to so-called Mach Marxism and the Vienna Circle. He was invited by the philosopher Tatiana Nikolayeva Gornstein, a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, to teach philosophy at Leningrad University. He travelled to Kazakhstan, where he was offered a chair at the famous university where Tolstoy once studied [i.e., Kazan University -- RL]. On 1 October he was back in Cambridge. The trip was shorter than planned, and it appears that he had given up the idea of settling in Russia." [Quoted from here. Minor typo corrected. Bold emphases added.]


Again, would a conservative (large or small "c") have met with the communist trade union organiser, Pat Sloan, in Russia? Never mind that, would Sloan have agreed to meet him?


'Introducing Bolshevism' Into mathematics


We have already seen that Alan Turing was, in the early-, to mid-1930s, sympathetic to the left; however, Wittgenstein thought that Alan Turing (who was also one of his 'part time' pupils for a brief period in the 1930s) believed that he (Wittgenstein) was trying to introduce "Bolshevism" into Mathematics, because of his criticisms of the irrational fear of contradictions among mathematicians.17


As Wittgenstein himself put it:


"Turing does not object to anything I say. He agrees with every word. He objects to the idea he thinks underlies it. He thinks we're undermining mathematics, introducing Bolshevism into mathematics. But not at all." [Wittgenstein (1976), p.67.]


Of course, Wittgenstein's rejection is somewhat equivocal, since he could have been denying he was trying to "undermine mathematics", or even that Bolshevism would or could do this.


Here is what Monk had to say about this "Bolshevism":18


"The changes Wittgenstein wished to see are...I believe, so radical that the name 'full-blooded Bolshevism' suggests itself as a natural way to describe the militant tendency of his remarks." [Monk (1995). Bold emphasis added.]

"It was Ramsey -- the 'bourgeois thinker' [which is what Wittgenstein called him -- RL] -- who spoke of the 'Bolshevik menace' of Brouwer and Weyl, a phrase Wittgenstein was no doubt consciously echoing when he tried to reassure Turing that he was not 'introducing Bolshevism into mathematics'...." [Ibid.]


There are in fact many places in Wittgenstein's 'middle period' where he questioned whether the presence of contradictions in, say, mathematics was such a bad idea.


Since both contradictions and tautologies are Sinnloss (senseless), according to the Tractatus, Wittgenstein asks why mathematicians fear the former but not the latter. Plainly they do so since they regard contradictions, not as senseless (i.e., lacking a truth-value), but as false.19


Be this as it may, here are just a few of the many things he had to say about contradictions in notebooks and lectures during his 'middle period':


"I want to talk about the sense in which we should say that the law of contradiction -- ~(p.~p) [the 'dot' stands for 'and', and the tilde (i.e, '~') for 'not'; 'p' is a propositional letter; '~(p.~p)' is counted as a tautology in the Propositional Calculus (i.e., it is true under every interpretation) -- RL] -- is a true proposition. Should we say that if '~(p.~p)' is a true proposition, it is true in a different sense of the word from the sense in which it is a true proposition that the earth goes around the sun?


"In logic one deals with tautologies -- propositions like '~(p.~p)'. But one might just as well deal with contradictions instead. So that the Principia Mathematica would not be a collection of tautologies but a collection of contradictions. Should one say that the contradictions were true? Or would one then say that 'true' is being used in a different sense?" [Wittgenstein (1976), p.187. Bold emphasis added.]


"The laws of logic, e.g., excluded middle and contradiction, are arbitrary. This statement is a bit repulsive, but nevertheless true. In discussing the foundations of mathematics the fact that these laws are arbitrary is important, for in mathematics contradiction is a bugbear. A contradiction is a proposition of the form p and not-p. To forbid its occurrence is to adopt one system of expression, which may recommend itself highly. This does not mean we cannot use contradiction." [Wittgenstein (1979a), p.71. Italic emphasis in the original; bold added.]


"I am prepared to predict that there will be mathematical investigations of calculi containing contradictions, and people will pride themselves on having emancipated themselves from consistency too." [Waismann (1979), p.139. Bold emphasis added.]


And, we have already encountered the following passage (which is directly reminiscent of Hegel and Engels):


"But you can't allow a contradiction to stand! -- Why not?... It might for example be said of an object in motion that it existed and did not exist in this place; change might be expressed by means of contradiction." [Wittgenstein (1978), p.370. Paragraphs merged.]20


In which case, it is quite plain why Turing, according Wittgenstein, believed that he (Wittgenstein) was trying to introduce "Bolshevism" into Mathematics -- because of his criticisms of the irrational fear of contradictions among mathematicians. [Cf., Monk (1990), pp.419-20; see also Hodges (1983), pp.152-54.] The above comments (and there were plenty more like this in the 1930s) plainly demonstrate the influence both of DM and Hegel on Wittgenstein's thought. Which other major non-Hegelian (or even non-Buddhist) philosopher was arguing along these lines in the 1920s and 1930s? Which one was surrounded on all sides by active and leading Marxists with whom he regularly discussed DM?21


Indeed, and more recently, Graham Priest and the late Richard Routley, both Marxists (of a sort), thought that they could recruit Wittgenstein to the Paraconsistent and Dialetheic 'cause', even if they had a few criticisms to make of certain aspects of his work:


"The word 'dialetheism' was coined by Graham Priest and Richard Routley (later Sylvan) in 1981 (Priest et al 1989, p. xx). The inspiration for the name was a passage in Wittgenstein’s Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, concerning Russell's paradox.... A dialetheia is a two-way truth, facing both truth and falsity like a Janus-headed figure. Unfortunately, Priest and Routley forgot to agree how to spell the ‘ism’, and versions with and without the ‘e’ appear in print." [Priest, Berto and Weber (2018); quoted from here; accessed 03/04/2018.]


Here is an earlier version of the above (quoted in previous versions of this Essay):


"Though dialetheism is not a new view, the word itself is. It was coined by Graham Priest and Richard Routley (later Sylvan) in 1981 (see Priest, Routley and Norman, 1989, p.xx). The inspiration for the name was a passage in Wittgenstein's Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, where he describes the Liar sentence ('This sentence is not true') as a Janus-headed figure facing both truth and falsity (1978, IV.59). Hence a di-aletheia is a two(-way) truth. Unfortunately, Priest and Routley forgot to agree how to spell the 'ism', and versions with and without the 'e' appear in print." [Priest and Berto (2013), quoted from here. Links added.]


The passage to which the above two authors refer reads as follows:


"Why should Russell's contradictions not be conceived as something supra-propositional, something that towers above the propositions and looks in both directions like a Janus head? N.B. the proposition F(F) -- in which F(ξ) = ~ξ(ξ) -- contains no variables and so might hold as something supra-logical, as something unassailable, whose negation itself in turn only asserts it. Might one not even begin logic with this contradiction? And as it were descend from it to propositions. The proposition that contradicts itself would stand like a monument (with a Janus head) over the propositions of logic." [Wittgenstein (1978), p.256. Italic emphases in the original; bold added. Paragraphs merged.]


However, in his later work, it is clear that Wittgenstein abandoned this way of seeing things:


"There can be no debate about whether these or other rules are the right ones for the word 'not'.... For without these rules, the word has as yet no meaning; and if we change the rules, it now has another meaning (or none), and in that case we may just as well change the word too." [Wittgenstein (2009), §549, footnote, p.155e.]


In which case, if the negative particle typically maps a truth onto a falsehood, or vice versa, then a contradiction can't be true, but must either be senseless or false. Either that or we abandon this rule for negation.22


Any other interpretation can only be based on different use of the use of the 'negative particle', which would in turn imply that any 'contradiction' so formed would also involve using that word with a new meaning. Of course, this also impacts on how contradictions are viewed in mathematics, since, whenever a contradiction emerges in a proof (i.e., in an indirect proof), it implies that one of the premisses must be discharged as false. If contradictions can be true, then that would be an unsafe inference -- otherwise the meaning of "false" must change, too -- and so on.23


This is more-or-less the approach I have adopted in these Essays; that is, I have argued that any other interpretation of "contradiction" must be employing that word with a new meaning -- and, in DM, this is compounded by the fact that this "new meaning" still remains unexplained.


A more balanced and nuanced view of this issue (and one that displays a rather more secure grasp of Wittgenstein's overall method) can be found in Goldstein (1986, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1999).24


Wittgenstein and Sraffa -- 1


More importantly, Wittgenstein himself declared that his later philosophy had been inspired by his regular conversations with Piero Sraffa. The extent of Sraffa's influence is still unclear (however, see below), but Wittgenstein admitted to Rhees that it was from Sraffa that he had gained an "anthropological" view of philosophical problems.25


Von Wright, who succeeded Wittgenstein as Professor at Cambridge, had this to say about the latter's encounter with Sraffa:


"[Wittgenstein] said that his discussions with Sraffa made him feel like a tree from which all the branches had been cut." [Von Wright (1980), p.28.]


And, in a manuscript from the 1930s, we read the following:


"Are the sentences of mathematics anthropological sentences that say how we, human beings, infer and calculate? -- Is a book of laws a work of anthropology that tell us how persons of this people [social group/society? -- RL] treat a thief, etc? -- Could one say: 'The judge consults in a book of anthropology and, after it, sentences the thief to a prison sentence'? Now, the judge does not USE the book of laws as a manual of anthropology (conversation with Sraffa)." [Manuscript 117, quoted in Engelmann (2012), p.164. Capitals in the original. This now appears in Wittgenstein (1978), p.192, but in a different translation and with the reference to Sraffa omitted.]


This at least confirms the fact that Sraffa was indeed introducing Wittgenstein to an "anthropological view" of such matters at the time, whatever Wittgenstein initially thought of this in the early 1930s. In another manuscript (written this time in 1940), we find the following comment (about mathematics):


"If we employ the ethnological viewpoint, does it mean that we declare philosophy to be ethnology? No, it only means that we take up our position far out in order to be able to see things more objectively." [Manuscript 162b, quoted in Engelmann (2012), p.165.]


Engelmann points out the following in relation to the above passage:


"The ethnological viewpoint brings more objectivity to our investigation because it may avoid mythological assumptions (such as Platonism, Idealism or Grammaticism), and because it may help us to reach a clear view of how mathematics is binding in our practices -- our practices might also get clearer if we contrast them with imaginary forms of life." [Engelmann, op cit, p.165.]26


That is, Wittgenstein was arguing that we needn't look to something else outside of human life that makes our mathematics so certain to us, or which underpins "mathematical necessity" (such as the Platonic Forms, or 'God', etc.). This human-centred approach began to dominate Wittgenstein's thought  -- and not just in relation to mathematics --; from the mid-, to late-1930s onwards, there was a major change in the direction of his thinking which he attributed to Sraffa. [We will see that there were other things he learnt from Sraffa, too.]


So, in the Preface to what is his most important and influential work, Wittgenstein had this to say:


"Even more than this...criticism, I am indebted to that which a teacher of this university, Mr P. Sraffa, for many years unceasingly applied to my thoughts. It is to this stimulus that I owe the most fruitful ideas of this book." [Wittgenstein (2009), p.4e. Bold emphasis added.]


This is quite remarkable! The author of what many believe to be the most original and innovative philosophical work of the 20th century -- and one that, if correct, brings to an end 2500 years of Traditional Thought -- claims that his most "fruitful" ideas were derived from a man who was an avowed Marxist!


Of course, some question whether Sraffa was indeed a Marxist. In that regard, here is what one researcher has noted about Sraffa's political leanings:


"The Sraffa archives -- at the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge, UK -- were opened for consultation in the 1990s, and I began some work there in the second half of that decade. The most widespread reading of the Marx-Sraffa relationship -- almost a vulgata [a commonplace -- RL], especially among the Sraffians -- was the one embodied in Steedman's Marx after Sraffa (Steedman 1977). What PoC [The Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities -- RL] showed, he argued, was that the labour theory of value was dispensable in a scientific analysis of capitalism. What was needed was just a set of objective data -- physical and material -- about the methods of production. In a Classical-Marxian approach this had to be complemented by the real wage as determined from outside. Labour-values themselves are derived from these 'givens'. Moreover, most of the conclusions derived from value theory (as the theory of relative prices based on labour-values) can be shown to be analytically useless. Marx's magnitudes of value are redundant relative to the task of determining (simultaneously, and not successively, as Marx pretended) the rate of profits and the prices of production. This irrelevance of value theory does not necessarily mean a criticism of the other parts of Marx's economic legacy, since most of it may be confirmed within the Sraffa-based 'surplus approach'.


"Once again, these bold conclusions -- whatever their merits -- met the silence of Sraffa. They were in contrast with the anecdotal evidence put forward by friends and colleagues. So, for example, Joan Robinson (1977: 56) wrote: 'Piero has always stuck close to pure unadulterated Marx and regards my amendments with suspicion.' Similar recollections were written by Antonio Giolitti (1992: 80), who met Sraffa several times between 1948 and 1952: Sraffa, he says, was always urging him not to have doubts about Marx's theory of surplus value and also on the feasibility of Soviet planning. Adopting a very different reading (and rightly so!) of the Marxian labour theory of value, Paul M. Sweezy, one of the most important figures in what I've called Traditional Marxism, commented in 1987:


'[Sraffa] always was a loyal Marxist, in the sense of himself adhering to the labour theory of value. But he didn't write about that. Now that was Sraffa's peculiarity [...] Thinking that it is possible to get along without a value theory (using the term in a broad sense to include accumulation theory and so on) seems to me to be almost total bankruptcy. It's no good at all. And I don't think anything has come of it. It was good to show the limitations, the fallacies, the internal inconsistencies of neoclassical theory, that was fine, that was important. But to think that on that basis a theory with anything like the scope and purposes of Marxism can be developed is quite wrong.' (Sweezy 1987: 13-14.)" [Riccardo Bellofiore, quoted from here. Accessed 25/08/2013. Spelling adjusted to agree with UK English; formatting and quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added; minor typos corrected.]


This agrees with a BBC radio interview I heard, broadcast just before Sraffa died, in which he emphatically underlined his commitment to Marxism. Readers are encouraged to consult the rest of the above article for further evidence of Sraffa's (albeit, non-standard) Marxism.


As Nobel Laureate, Amartya K Sen -- a colleague of Sraffa's at Cambridge -- pointed out:


"The temptation to examine 'the economist Sraffa' separately has certainly been strong. And yet there is something to be gained from seeing Sraffa's different contributions together. No less importantly for the history of philosophical thought, it may be important to re-examine Sraffa's interactions with Wittgenstein, whom Sraffa strongly influenced, in the light of Sraffa's relationship with Antonio Gramsci, the Marxist theorist, who had a strong influence on Sraffa. Indeed, these dual relations also provide an opportunity to explore a possible 'Gramsci connection' in the transformation of 'early Wittgenstein' into 'later Wittgenstein.'" [Sen (2003), p.1241. (This links to a PDF.) Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


He adds:


"Sraffa also had deep political interests and commitments, was active in the Socialist Students' Group, and joined the editorial team of L'Ordine Nuovo, a leftist journal founded and edited by Antonio Gramsci in 1919 (it would later be banned by the fascist government). Indeed, by the time Sraffa moved to Britain in 1927, he had become a substantial figure among Italian leftist intellectuals, and was close to -- but not a member of -- the Italian Communist Party, founded in 1921 and led by Gramsci. While Sraffa had obtained the position of lecturer at the University of Perugia in 1923, and a professorship in Cagliari in Sardinia in 1926, he considered a move to Britain, as fascist persecution became stronger in Italy." [Ibid., p.1241.]


In relation to the conversations that took place between Wittgenstein and Sraffa, Sen concludes:


"The conversations that Wittgenstein had with Sraffa were evidently quite momentous for Wittgenstein. He would later describe to Henrik von Wright, the distinguished Finnish philosopher, that these conversations made him feel 'like a tree from which all branches have been cut'.... Wittgenstein told a friend (Rush Rhees, another Cambridge philosopher) that the most important thing that Sraffa taught him was an 'anthropological way' of seeing philosophical problems. In his insightful analysis of the influence of Sraffa and Freud, Brian McGuinness (1982) discusses the impact on Wittgenstein of 'the ethnological or anthropological way of looking at things that came to him from the economist Sraffa' (pp.36-39)." [Ibid., p.1242. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged.]


Sen then informs us of several conversations he had with Sraffa himself in the 1950s and early 1960s:


"Was Sraffa thrilled by the impact that his ideas had on, arguably, the leading philosopher of our times...? Also, how did Sraffa arrive at those momentous ideas in the first place? I asked Sraffa those questions more than once in the regular afternoon walks I had the opportunity to share with him between 1958 and 1963. I got somewhat puzzling answers. No, he was not particularly thrilled, since the point he was making was 'rather obvious.' No, he did not know precisely how he arrived at those arguments, since -- again -- the point he was making was 'rather obvious.'...


"There remains, however, the question of why Sraffa was so reserved about the depth and novelty of his conversations with Wittgenstein even at the beginning (in 1929 and soon thereafter), and why the ideas that so influenced Wittgenstein would have seemed to Sraffa to be rather straightforward. Sraffa himself did not publish anything whatsoever on this subject, but there is considerable evidence that what appeared to Wittgenstein as new wisdom was a common subject of discussion in the intellectual circle in Italy to which Sraffa and Gramsci both belonged." [Ibid., pp.1242-44. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


As we know, Gramsci was arrested, tried and then imprisoned by the fascist regime, and while incarcerated he wrote his famous Prison Notebooks. Sen continues:


"These notes give us considerable understanding of what Gramsci and his circle were interested in. Sraffa was very keen that Gramsci should write down his thoughts, and to help him, Sraffa opened an unlimited account with a Milan bookshop (Sperling and Kupfer) in the name of Gramsci, to be settled by Sraffa.... Working together on this distinguished journal had brought Sraffa and Gramsci even closer together than they already had been, and they had intense discussions over the years. [Added in a footnote: Their intellectual interactions involved a great variety of subjects, and John Davis (1993, 2002a) has illuminatingly investigated the impact of Gramscian notions of 'hegemony,' 'caesarism' and 'praxis' on Sraffa's thinking, and how these ideas may have, through Sraffa, influenced Wittgenstein. These possible connections are more complicated than the interactions considered in this essay, which are concerned with the most elementary issues of meaning and communication which lie at the foundation of mainstream philosophy.]" [Ibid., p.1244. Quotation marks and references altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Sen then proceeds to outline the specific influences of Gramsci's ideas on Sraffa, and derivatively on Wittgenstein. Here are the most obvious:


"The first item that Gramsci lists under this heading is 'language itself, which is a totality of determined notions and concepts and not just of words grammatically devoid of content.' The role of conventions and rules, including what Wittgenstein came to call 'language-games', and the relevance of what has been called 'the anthropological way' which Sraffa championed to Wittgenstein, all seem to figure quite prominently in the Prison Notebooks (Gramsci 1975, p.324):


'In acquiring one's conception of the world one always belongs to a particular grouping which is that of all the social elements which share the same mode of thinking and acting. We are all conformists of some conformism or other, always man-in-the-mass or collective man.'


"The role of linguistic convention was discussed by Gramsci with various illustrations. Here is one example (Gramsci 1975, p.447 -- a longer version of this now appears in Gramsci (2011), Volume Three, p.176 -- RL):


'One can also recall the example contained in a little book by Bertrand Russell [The Problems of Philosophy, i.e, Russell (2013); this links to a PDF -- RL]. Russell says approximately this:


"We cannot, without the existence of man on the earth, think of the existence of London or Edinburgh, but we can think of the existence of two points in space, one to the North and one to the South, where London and Edinburgh now are."…


'East and West are arbitrary and conventional, that is, historical constructions, since outside of real history every point on the earth is East and West at the same time. This can be seen more clearly from the fact that these terms have crystallized not from the point of view of a hypothetical melancholic man in general but from the point of view of the European cultured classes who, as a result of their world-wide hegemony, have caused them to be accepted everywhere. Japan is the Far East not only for Europe but also perhaps for the American from California and even for the Japanese himself, who, through English political culture, may then call Egypt the Near East.'


"How exactly Sraffa's ideas linked with Gramsci's, and how they influenced each other, are subjects for further research. But it is plausible to argue that, in one way or another, Sraffa was quite familiar with the themes that engaged Gramsci in the twenties and early thirties. It is not very hard to understand why the program of Wittgenstein's Tractatus would have seemed deeply misguided to Sraffa, coming from the intellectual circle to which he belonged. Nor is it difficult to see why the fruitfulness of 'the anthropological way' -- novel and momentous as it was to Wittgenstein -- would have appeared to Sraffa to be not altogether unobvious." [Ibid., p.1245. Quotation marks and formatting altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


It must be said that even though Sen ignores the huge difference between Gramsci's approach and Wittgenstein's, beyond the turn to the "anthropological", there is only an echo (one can't put it any higher than that) of the Italian's approach to language in Wittgenstein's work. As Sen goes on to point out, unless more hard evidence turns up, the precise details of Gramsci's influence on Wittgenstein will remain unclear and somewhat speculative.


However, as Venturinha notes the following:


"Lo Piparo's [i.e., Lo Piparo (2010) -- RL] extensive study of Gramsci's Prison Notebooks and of the correspondence between Sraffa and Gramsci's sister-in-law, who transcribed his letters for Sraffa while he was in prison, illuminates significantly the impact Sraffa may have had on Wittgenstein. There are many aspects in Gramsci's thought that are truly reminiscent of issues characteristic of the later Wittgenstein." [Venturinha (2010); quoted from here.]27


In addition, attempts to reconstruct Sraffa's influence on Wittgenstein are, even now, in their early stages, and they aren't likely to progress much further unless some hard evidence turns up (but see below); to date, these attempts have largely been based on inference, analogy and supposition.


Having said that, new evidence has recently started to emerge, and scholars are slowly working their way through it. [I have said much more about this below, here, here, and here.]


Wittgenstein And Voloshinov


Given the above considerations, it is no surprise to find that there are topics in Voloshinov's work that prefigure certain ideas in Wittgenstein's writings -- albeit in a much more sophisticated, developed, but often criticised and then modified form. In the main, these are connected with (i) The social nature of language, and (ii) The meaning of words/'signs'.28


Concerning the second of the above, we find the following words:


"Meaning is a function of the sign and is therefore inconceivable...outside the sign as some particular, independently existing thing. It would be just as absurd to maintain such a notion as to take the meaning of the word 'horse' to be this particular, live animal I am pointing to. Why if that were so, then I could claim, for instance, that having eaten an apple, I have consumed not an apple but the meaning of the word 'apple'." [Voloshinov (1973), p.28. Bold emphasis added.]


Compare that with Wittgenstein's comments, directed at what he alleged was Augustine's view of language:


"These words, it seems to me, give a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the words in a language name objects -- sentences are combinations of such names. -- In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.... It is important to note that it is a solecism to use the word 'meaning' to signify the thing that 'corresponds' to a word. That is to confound the meaning of a name with the bearer of the name. When Mr. N. N. dies, one says that the bearer of the name dies, not that the meaning dies." [Wittgenstein (2009), §1, p.5e, and §40, p.24e. Italic emphasis in the original; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Link and bold emphasis added; paragraphs merged.]29


[On this, see also here, and Appendix B.]


This parallel is quite striking -- partly because, as far as I am aware, no one has noticed it before. The view of the meaning of words Voloshinov and Wittgenstein were criticising has been (and in many cases still is) a core principle of traditional theories of language -- that is, that the meaning of a word is the object (or the 'idea', 'image', 'concept') to which it refers or with which it is associated.


Of course, these days we have the pair, "signifier" and "signified", which plainly form part of a re-vamped version of the traditional view, with a couple of neologisms thrown in for good measure. Of course, there is a pertinent logical difference between the examples used by Wittgenstein and Voloshinov; the former employed a Proper Name, while the latter used a common noun. That would normally constitute a significant difference, but I don't think it affects the aim or the force of the argument that the meaning of a word isn't an object. We can see this when Voloshinov says "It would be just as absurd to maintain such a notion as to take the meaning of the word 'horse' to be this particular, live animal I am pointing to." (Italic emphasis added.) Further, some have argued that Proper Names have no meaning. I won't enter into that debate here; suffice it to say that whether or not Proper Names have a meaning, it can't be the person (or object) named by that Proper Name. If a Proper Name has no meaning it most certainly can't be that person/object; if a Proper Name does have a meaning it still can't be that person/object. Either way, it can't be that person/object.


The approach advocated by Voloshinov and Wittgenstein thus broke entirely new ground.


Is it just a coincidence that within a few years of Voloshinov writing the above Wittgenstein also began to think along the same lines, using an analogous argument to motivate the completely new direction he was taking, a direction that took him away from the rather over-simplified semantics of the Tractatus (where every symbol was in the final analysis just a concatenation of "simple" names29a)? When we take into account the fact that Voloshinov and Wittgenstein: (a) both make the same point about the meaning of words, (b) both were influenced by the Bakhtin Circle, and (c) both adopted an anthropological/social view of language, it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to conclude that Wittgenstein was indeed influenced (directly or indirectly) by Voloshinov and/or Bakhtin.


Concerning the first of the above points (i.e., the social nature of language), we have these comments:


"In point of fact, the speech act, or more accurately, its product -- the utterance, cannot under any circumstances be considered an individual phenomenon in the precise meaning of the word and cannot be explained in terms of the individual psychological or psychophysiological conditions of the speaker. The utterance is a social phenomenon." [Voloshinov, op cit, p.82. Italic emphasis in the original.]


"Signs can arise only on interindividual territory. It is territory that cannot be called 'natural' in the direct sense of the word [Added in a footnote: Society, of course, is also a part of nature, but a part that is qualitatively separate and distinct and possesses its own specific systems of laws.]: signs do not arise between any two members of the species Homo sapiens. It is essential that the two individuals be organised socially, that they compose a group (a social unit); only then can the medium of signs take place between them. The individual consciousness not only cannot be used to explain anything, but, on the contrary, is itself in need of explanation from the vantage point of the social, ideological medium....


"The only possible objective definition of consciousness is a sociological one. Consciousness cannot be derived directly from nature, as has been and still is being attempted by naive mechanistic materialism and contemporary objective psychology (of the biological, behaviouristic, and reflexological varieties). Ideology cannot be derived from consciousness, as is the practice of idealism and psychologistic positivism. Consciousness takes shape and being in the material of signs created by an organised group in the process of its social intercourse. The individual consciousness is nurtured on signs; it derives its growth from them; it reflects their logic and laws. The logic of consciousness is the logic of ideological communication, of the semiotic interaction of a social group...." [Ibid., pp.12-13. Italic emphases in the original. Spelling altered to conform with UK English. Links added.]


"Thus every sign...is social." [Ibid., p.34.]


"[T]he sign and its social situation are inextricably fused together. The sign cannot be separated from the social situation without relinquishing its nature as a sign." [Ibid., p.37.]


"Idealism and psychologism alike overlook the fact that understanding itself can come about only within some kind of semiotic material...that sign bears upon sign, that consciousness itself can arise and become a viable fact only in the material embodiment of signs...understanding is a response to a sign with signs." [Ibid., p.11. Italic emphasis in the original.]


"Theme is a complex, dynamic system of signs that attempts to be adequate to a given instant of generative process. Theme is reaction by the consciousness in its generative process to the generative process of existence." [Ibid., p.100. Italic emphasis in the original.]


"To understand another person's utterance means to orient oneself with respect to it, to find the proper place for it in the corresponding context. For each word of the utterance that we are in process of understanding, we, as it were, lay down a set of our own answering words. The greater their number and weight, the deeper and more substantial our understanding will be.


"Thus each of the distinguishable significative elements of an utterance and the entire utterance as a whole entity are translated in our minds into another, active and responsive, context. Any true understanding is dialogic in nature…. Understanding strives to match the speaker's word with a counter word…." [ibid., p.102. Italic emphases in the original.]


Compare the above with what Wittgenstein was arguing:


"'A sign is always intended for a living being, so that must be something essential to a sign.'... A sign has a purpose only in human society...." [Wittgenstein (2013), p.146e.]


"The criterion of understanding is sometimes a process of translating a sign into action; we transcribe the sentence into other signs...." [Ibid., p.12e.]


"Interpreting a sign, adding an interpretation to it is a process that does take place in some cases but not every time I understand a sign....


"An interpretation is a supplementation of the interpreted sign with another sign.


"If someone asks me 'What time is it?' then no work of interpretation goes on inside me. I react immediately to what I see and hear." [Ibid., p.16e. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


{Compare the above with Voloshinov: "…The utterance 'What time is it?' has a different meaning each time it is used, and hence, in accordance with our terminology, has a different theme, depending on the concrete historical situation...." [Voloshinov, op cit, p.99.]}


"What I want to say is that to be a sign a thing must be dynamic not static." [Wittgenstein (1974b), p.55.]


{Compare the above with Voloshinov: "Theme is a complex, dynamic system of signs that attempts to be adequate to a given instant of generative process...." [Voloshinov, op cit, p.100. Italic emphasis in the original.]}


"In attacking the formalist conception of arithmetic, Frege says more or less this: petty explanations of the signs are idle once we understand the signs. Understanding would be something like seeing a picture from which all the rules followed, or a picture that makes them all clear. But Frege does not seem to see that such a picture would itself be another sign, or calculus to explain the written one to us." [Ibid., p.40. Italic emphasis in the original.]


"We may say that thinking is essentially the activity of operating with signs....


"If we say that thinking is essentially operating with signs, the first question you might ask is 'What are signs?' -- Instead of giving any kind of general answer to this question, I shall propose to you to look closely at particular cases which we would call 'operating with signs'." [Wittgenstein (1969), pp.6, 16.]


"[H]e [Wittgenstein -- RL] seemed to imply that for a sign to have significance it is not sufficient that we should 'commit ourselves' by its use, but that it is also necessary that the sign in question should belong to the same 'system' with other signs." [Moore (1959a), p.259; reprinted in Wittgenstein (1993a), p.53. Italic emphasis in the original.]


"He said, for instance,... 'To explain the meaning of a sign means only to substitute one sign for another.'" [Ibid., p.290, and Wittgenstein (1993a), p.82.]


"We think by means of the sign: to think of a thing is to think a proposition in which it occurs." [Wittgenstein (1980), pp.28-29.]


"For didn't I say that a sign can be explained only through another sign?" [Manuscript 112, quoted in Hallett (1977), p.113.]  


While Wittgenstein later rejected this rather simplistic view of "thinking", it is plain that the way he framed these questions in the 1930s was remarkably similar to the way Voloshinov had conceived them only a few years earlier. Indeed, we have the following comment in an unpublished manuscript dating from 1937; Wittgenstein had this to say about his earlier (pre-Sraffa) views:


"It showed itself that I did not have a general concept of sentence and language. I had to recognize this and this as signs (Sraffa) and could not, however, give a grammar for them." [Manuscript 157b, Quoted in Engelmann (2013), p.152.]


This could almost have come directly from Voloshinov, which suggests that Sraffa was perhaps familiar with the Russian's work, or with the discussions that had taken place in the Bakhtin Circle --, or, indeed, the somewhat similar debates going on at that time in the Italian Communist Party (on that, see above, and again, below).


In fact, what Wittgenstein had to say about "symbols" in his lectures [i.e., as reported in Wittgenstein (1980), pp.26-29, 43] is remarkably similar to some of the things Voloshinov had to say about "theme" (see below, too).


Here is what Wittgenstein had to say about "theme" in the Investigations:


"Understanding a sentence in language is much more a kin to understanding a theme in music than one may think. What I mean is that understanding a spoken sentence is closer than one thinks to what is ordinarily called understanding a musical theme....


"We speak of understanding a sentence in the sense in which it can be replaced by another which says the same; but also in the sense in which it cannot be replaced by any other. (Any more than one musical theme can be replaced by another.)


"In the one case, the thought in the sentence is what is common to different sentences; in the other, something that is expressed only by these words in these positions. (Understanding a poem.)


"Then has 'understanding' two different meanings here? --  I would rather say that these kinds of use of 'understanding' make up its meaning, make up the concept of understanding.


"For I want to apply the word 'understanding' to all this.


"But in the second case, how can one explain the expression, communicate what one understands? Ask yourself: How does one lead someone to understand a poem or a theme? The answer to this tells us how one explains the sense here." [Wittgenstein (2009), §§527-33, pp.151e-52e. Italic emphases in the original.]


 In a note dated 25/09/1946, Wittgenstein also had this to say about theme in music:


"Does the theme point to nothing beyond itself? Oh yes! But that means: -- The impression it makes on me is connected with things in its surroundings -- e.g., with the existence of the German language & of its intonation, but that means with the whole field of our language games." [Ibid., p.59e.] 


This not entirely clear passage appears to suggest that Wittgenstein also connected theme with language and with "language games".


Compare this with what Voloshinov had to say about "theme":


"Let us agree to call the entity which becomes the object of a sign the theme of the sign. Each fully fledged sign has its theme. And so every verbal performance has its theme." [Voloshinov, op cit, p.22.]


"A definite and unitary meaning, a unitary significance, is a property belonging to any utterance as a whole. Let us call the significance of a whole utterance its theme….


[Added in a footnote: "The term is, of course, a provisional one. Theme in our sense embraces its implementation as well; therefore our concept must not be confused with that of a theme in a literary work. The concept of 'thematic unity' would be closer to what we mean.]


"…The theme must be unitary, otherwise we would have no basis for talking about any one utterance. The theme of an utterance is individual and unreproducible, just as the utterance itself is individual and unreproducible. The theme is the expression of the concrete, historical situation that engendered the utterance. The utterance 'What time is it?' has a different meaning each time it is used, and hence, in accordance with our terminology, has a different theme, depending on the concrete historical situation ('historical' here in microscopic dimensions) during which it is enunciated and of which, in essence, it is a part.


"It follows, then, that the theme of an utterance is determined not only by the linguistic forms that comprise it -- words, morphological and syntactic structures, sounds, and intonation -- but also by extraverbal factors of the situation. Should we miss these situational factors, we would be as little able to understand an utterance as if we were to miss its most important words. The theme of an utterance is concrete -- as concrete as the historical instant to which the utterance belongs. Only an utterance taken in its full, concrete scope as an historical phenomenon possesses a theme. That is what is meant by the theme of an utterance.


"...Together with theme or, rather, within the theme, there is also the meaning that belongs to an utterance. By meaning, as distinguished from theme, we understand all those aspects of the utterance that are reproducible and self-identical in all instances of repetition. Of course, these aspects are abstract: they have no concrete, autonomous existence in an artificially isolated form, but, at the same time, they do constitute an essential and inseparable part of the utterance. The theme of an utterance is, in essence, indivisible. The meaning of an utterance, on the contrary, does break down into a set of meanings belonging to each of the various linguistic elements of which the utterance consists. The unreproducible theme of the utterance 'What time is it?' taken in its indissoluble connection with the concrete historical situation, cannot be divided into elements. The meaning of the utterance 'What time is it?' -- a meaning that, of course, remains the same in all historical instances of its enunciation -- is made up of the meanings of the words…that form the construction of the utterance.


"Theme is a complex, dynamic system of signs that attempts to be adequate to a given instant of generative process. Theme is reaction by the consciousness in its generative process to the generative process of existence. Meaning is the technical apparatus for the implementation of theme. Of course, no absolute, mechanistic boundary can be drawn between theme and meaning. There is no theme without meaning and no meaning without theme. Moreover, it is even impossible to convey the meaning of a particular word…without having made it an element of theme, i.e., without having constructed an 'example' utterance. On the other hand, a theme must base itself on some kind of fixity of meaning; otherwise it loses its connection with what came before and what comes after -- i.e., it altogether loses its significance….


[Quoting Marr] "'But was such an all-meaning word in fact a word?' we might be asked. Yes, precisely a word. If, on the contrary, a certain sound complex had only one single, inert, and invariable meaning, then such a complex would not be a word, not a sign, but only a signal. Multiplicity of meanings is the constitutive feature of a word. As regard the all-meaning word of which Marr speaks, we can say the following: such a word in essence has virtually no meaning; it is all theme. Its meaning is inseparable from the concrete situation of its implementation. This meaning is different each time, just as the situation is different each time. Thus the theme, in this case, subsumed meaning under itself and dissolved it before meaning had any chance to consolidate and congeal. But as language developed further, as its stock of sound complexes expanded, meaning began to congeal along lines that were basic and most frequent in the life of the community for the thematic application of this or that word.


"Theme, as we have said, is an attribute of a whole utterance only; it can belong to a separate word only inasmuch as that word operates in the capacity of a whole utterance…. Meaning, on the other hand, belongs to an element or aggregate of elements in their relation to the whole. Of course, if we entirely disregard this relation to the whole (i.e., to the utterance), we shall entirely forfeit meaning. That is the reason why a sharp boundary between theme and meaning cannot be drawn.


"The most accurate way of formulating the interrelationship between theme and meaning is in the following terms. Theme is the upper, actual limit of linguistic significance; in essence, only theme means something definite. Meaning is the lower limit of linguistic significance. Meaning, in essence, means nothing; it only possesses potentiality -- the possibility of having a meaning within a concrete theme. Investigation of the meaning of one or another linguistic element can proceed, in terms of our definition, in one of two directions: either in the direction of the upper limit, toward theme, in which case it would be investigation of the contextual meaning of a given word within the conditions of a concrete utterance; or investigation can aim toward the lower limit, the limit of meaning, in which case it would be investigation of the meaning of a word in the system of language or, in other words, investigation of a dictionary word.


"A distinction between theme and meaning and a proper understanding of their interrelationship are vital steps in constructing a genuine science of meanings. Total failure to comprehend their importance has persisted to the present day. Such discriminations as those between a word's usual and occasional meanings, between its central and lateral meanings, between its denotation and connotation, etc., are fundamentally unsatisfactory. The basic tendency underlying all such discriminations -- the tendency to ascribe greater value to the central, usual aspect of meaning, presupposing that that aspect really does exist and is stable -- is completely fallacious. Moreover, it would leave theme unaccounted for, since, theme, of course, can by no means be reduced to the status of the occasional or lateral meaning of words." [Voloshinov, op cit, pp.99-102. Italic emphases in the original.]30


Now, I am not suggesting that Wittgenstein and Voloshinov meant the same by "theme" in every respect (in fact, it is difficult to decide what Voloshinov finally did mean by this word -- on that, see, for example, here and here), but there are clear similarities, nonetheless.


Is this just one more coincidence?


Another interesting parallel (again, not previously noticed by anyone!) is to be found in the following:


"How does verbal discourse in life relate to the extraverbal situation that has engendered it? Let us analyse this matter, using an intentionally simplified example for the purpose.


"Two people are sitting in a room. They are both silent. Then one of them says, 'Well!' The other does not respond.


"For us outsiders this entire 'conversation' is utterly incomprehensible. Taken in isolation, the utterance…is empty and unintelligible. Nevertheless, this…colloquy of two persons…does make perfect sense….


"Let us suppose that the intonation with which this word was pronounced is known to us: indignation and reproach moderated with a certain amount of humour. This intonation somewhat fills the semantic void of the adverb well but still does not reveal the meaning of the whole.


"What is it we lack, then? We lack the 'extraverbal context' that made the word well a meaningful locution for the listener. This extraverbal context of the utterance is comprised of three factors: (1) the common spatial purview of the interlocutors (the unity of the visible -- in this case, the room, the window, and so on), (2) the interlocutors' common knowledge and understanding of the situation, and (3) their common evaluation of that situation.


"At the time the colloquy took place, both interlocutors looked up at the window and saw that it had begun to snow; both knew that it was already May and that it was high time for spring to come; finally, both were sick and tired of the protracted winter -- they were both looking forward to spring and both were bitterly disappointed by the late snowfall. On this 'jointly seen' (snowflakes outside the window), 'jointly known' (the time of the year -- May) and 'unanimously evaluated' (winter wearied of, spring looked forward to) -- on all this the utterance directly depends, all this is seized in its actual, living import -- is its very sustenance. And yet all this remains without verbal specification or articulation. The snowflakes remain outside the window; the date, on the page of a calendar; the evaluation, in the psyche of the speaker; and, nevertheless, all this is assumed in the word well." [Voloshinov (1987), p.99. Italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]31


Compare the above with these comments of Wittgenstein's (once again made only a few years later):


"But, think of the meaning of the word 'oh!' If we were asked about it, we would say '"oh" is a sigh; we say, for instance, things like "Oh, it is raining again already"'. And that would describe the use of the word. But what corresponds now to the calculus, the complicated game that we play with other words? In the use of the words 'oh"', or 'hurrah', or 'hm', there is nothing comparable." [Wittgenstein (1974b), p.67.]


For these one word sentences, Voloshinov chose "Well!", Wittgenstein "Oh!"; Voloshinov has it snowing; for Wittgenstein, it is raining.


Another coincidence?


The background to this remark of Wittgenstein's can be found in Engelmann (2013), who links it to a conversation between Wittgenstein and Sraffa, reported by Norman Malcolm. Malcolm tells us that Wittgenstein had related to him two anecdotes about the Tractatus; the first does not really concern us, but the second does:


"The other incident has to do with something that precipitated the destruction of this conception [that a proposition is a picture -- RL]. Wittgenstein and P. Sraffa, a lecturer in economics at Cambridge, argued together a great deal over the ideas of the Tractatus. One day (they were riding, I think, on a train) when Wittgenstein was insisting that a proposition and that which it describes must have the same 'logical form', the same 'logical multiplicity', Sraffa made a gesture, familiar to Neapolitans as meaning something like disgust or contempt, of brushing the underneath of his chin with an outward sweep of the finger-tips of one hand. And he asked 'What is the logical form of that?' Sraffa's example produced in Wittgenstein the feeling that there was an absurdity in the insistence that a proposition and what it describes must have the same 'form'. This broke the hold on him of the conception that a proposition must literally be a 'picture' of the reality it describes." [Malcolm (2001), pp.57-58. Italic emphases in the original.]


Von Wright reports this anecdote slightly differently; he has Wittgenstein saying that every proposition must have a "grammar" (footnote to the same page as the above). His version is confirmed by a comment made by Sraffa (in conversation with Professor Alessandro Roncaglia in 1973), where Sraffa says von Wright's account is the correct one. Von Wright's version is also confirmed in a letter written by Sraffa (dated 23/10/1974, now in the Sraffa Papers, C303).


[I owe this point to Engelmann (2013), p.152, who quotes Roncaglia (2009), p.27 (footnote 8), and Bellofiore and Potier (1998), p.73.]32


This might appear to be a rather trifling difference in emphasis, but Engelmann is able to draw some rather surprising conclusions from it, but which conclusions needn't, however, detain us.


While I do not want to enter into whether anything can be salvaged from the analogy drawn between pictures and empirical propositions (i.e., indicative sentences concerning matters of fact) in the Tractatus, it seems to me that this 'argument' (i.e.,  the one based on that hand gesture), if such it may be called, constitutes a very poor reason for abandoning Wittgenstein's earlier conception of a proposition (even if the latter is finally abandoned, or adjusted, for other reasons). A philosopher of Wittgenstein's brilliance should surely have been able to point out that Sraffa's gesture wasn't a proposition, and doesn't even look like a proposition. If Wittgenstein was going to abandon the idea that a proposition describes the 'reality' it represents, he should perhaps have done so for other reasons, not least because of this odd use of "describe", among other things -- certainly not because of a hand gesture that wasn't a proposition to begin with, nor which even implied one.


Be this as it may, I think Engelmann makes rather too much of this anecdote (as do many others), but this plainly isn't the place to enter into that topic (although I have said a little more in Note 32). The point is that this unexpected interjection (concerning gestures, one word exclamations, and 'sentences') on Sraffa's part certainly nonplussed Wittgenstein, and, rightly or wrongly, helped set him off in an entirely new direction. So, Voloshinov's emphasis on our capacity to understand single word sentences (directly or indirectly) exercised a profound (but indirect) influence on Wittgenstein, to such an extent that he was fully prepared to abandon a core Tractarian idea -- again, rightly or wrongly.


From this we can perhaps understand a little more clearly why Wittgenstein said he received from Sraffa such an important intellectual stimulus. This sheds new light on the significance of Voloshinov's comments above, and Wittgenstein's point about the use of "oh".


Joachim Israel, however, had this to say about the connection between Voloshinov and Wittgenstein:


"Historically viewed, philosophy of language has two epistemological roots. The first of these is anti-subjectivist, rejecting the notion of the isolated individual constituting or constructing the world of objects. This line of thought in Western philosophy is represented by the cogito of Cartesian rationalism, by Kant's notion of transcendental consciousness and Hegel's idea of natural consciousness. The second root, however, is the empiricist critique of all forms of transcendentalism, a critique which prioritised the sense experience of the concrete individual (rather than some transcendental 'consciousness') as the source of all knowledge.


"The philosophy of language, therefore, in reaction to these two dominant and warring trends which preceded it, seeks to preserve the anti-individualist thrust of transcendental philosophy, while acknowledging the force of the empiricist critique. It seeks to do so by focussing not on subjectivity but on intersubjectivity, understood as intercourse and communication between concrete historical subjects or classes of subjects, holding certain positions in the social structure of society. In this perspective, 'consciousness' (in transcendentalism) and 'sense perception' (in empiricism) are both replaced as grounds for epistemological analysis and philosophical reflection by language and, especially in Wittgenstein's work, by everyday language. One consequence is that 'language became central for the methodological self-understanding of philosophy'....


"In [Marxism and the Philosophy of Language] Voloshinov directed his critique against two 'false trends in the philosophy of language'. He termed them 'individualistic subjectivism' and 'abstractive objectivism'.... The two most fundamental aspects of language are, according to Voloshinov, the possibility of using it creatively and the evaluative nature of meaning. In discourse, the context of utterances therefore becomes the most essential linguistic feature. The notion that the meaning of an utterance depends on the context in which it is uttered anticipates Wittgenstein." [Israel (2002), pp.214-16; emphases in the original. Israel is here quoting Markus (1986), p.2. I haven't yet been able to check the latter source. Link added; some paragraphs merged.]


While I don't agree with everything Israel says (especially the link suggested between Wittgenstein and epistemology), I think he has the broad brushstrokes right -- especially if we interpret the word "meaning" in this comment "The notion that the meaning of an utterance depends on the context in which it is uttered ..." to refer to "speakers' meaning". [On that, see here.]


Israel then goes on to point out that Voloshinov worked closely with Mikhail Bakhtin (the brother of Nicholas Bakhtin, Wittgenstein's close friend), so close in fact that some scholars have attributed much of Voloshinov's Marxism and the Philosophy of Language to Mikhail Bakhtin himself (pp.215-16).33


Craig Brandist had this to say about the Bakhtin Circle:


"Most of the group's significant work was produced after their move to Leningrad in 1924. It seems that there the group became acutely aware of the challenge posed by Saussurean linguistics and its development in the work of the Formalists. Thus there emerges a new awareness of the importance of the philosophy of language in philosophy and poetics. The most significant work on the philosophy of language was published in the period 1926-1930 by Voloshinov: a series of articles and a book entitled Marksizm i filosofia iazyka (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language) (1929). Medvedev, who had been put in charge of the archive of the symbolist poet Aleksandr Blok, participated in the vigorous discussions between Marxist and formalist literary theorists with a series of articles and a book, Formal'lnyi metod v literaturovedenii (The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship) (1928) and the first book-length study of Blok's work. Voloshinov also published an article and a book (1925, 1926) on the debate which raged around Freudianism at the time. In 1929 Bakhtin produced the first edition of his famous monograph Problemy tvorchestva Dostoevskogo (Problems of Dostoyevsky's Work), but many other works dating from 1924-9 remained unpublished and usually unfinished. Among these was a critical essay on formalism called 'Problema soderzheniia i formy v slovesnom khudozhestvennom tvorchestve' (The Problem of Content, Material and Form in Verbal Artistic Creation) (1924) and a book length study called 'Avtor i geroi v esteticheskoi deiatel´nosti' (Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity) (1924-7).


"Since the 1970s the works published under the names of Voloshinov and Medvedev have often been ascribed to Bakhtin, who neither consented nor objected. A voluminous, ideologically motivated, often bad-tempered and largely futile body of literature has grown up to contest the issue one way or another, but since there is no concrete evidence to suggest that the published authors were not responsible for the texts which bear their names, there seems no real case to answer. It seems much more likely that the materials were written as a result of lively group discussions around these issues, which group members wrote up according to their own perspectives afterwards. There are clearly many philosophical, ideological and stylistic discrepancies which, despite the presence of certain parallels and points of agreement, suggest these very different works were largely the work of different authors. In accordance with Bakhtin's own philosophy, it seems logical to treat them as rejoinders in ongoing dialogues between group members on the one hand and between the group and other contemporary thinkers on the other." [Brandist (2005).Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis and links added.]34


It is difficult to believe that the subject matter (as well as some of the content) of these "lively group discussions" in the Bakhtin Circle didn't find their way to Nicholas Bakhtin in the UK, and thus to Wittgenstein. After all, we were told the following about those two:


"[A]nother intimate friend of Wittgenstein's [was] Dr Nicholas Bachtin (sic).... 'Wittgenstein loved Bachtin' Constance, Bachtin's widow, told me. From her I heard of the interminable discussions that went on between the two men.... Nicholas Bachtin, an exile from the Russian Revolution but by the outbreak of the second World War a fiery communist, was an inspired teacher and lecturer.... What I do know...is that Wittgenstein loved Bachtin...and never dropped him as he easily did others." [Pascal (1984), p.14. Paragraphs merged.]


Or, indeed, that the discussions in the Bakhtin Circle didn't find their way to Gramsci and Sraffa, and then to Wittgenstein (see below). All this takes on a new significance, too, when we recall that at that time (or soon after) Wittgenstein expressed a keen desire to go and live in Russia. The fact that theorists there were thinking along lines he found conducive to his new approach to language must have been a factor.


Brandist summarises Voloshinov's work in the Philosophy of Language as follows:


"The semiotic dimension of the new orientation of the Bakhtin Circle was developed at the same time by Voloshinov. In a series of articles between 1928 and 1930 punctuated by the appearance of the book-length Marksizm i filosofiia iazyka (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language) in 1929 (2nd edition 1930) Voloshinov published an analysis of the relationship between language and ideology unsurpassed for several decades. Voloshinov examines two contemporary accounts of language, what he calls 'abstract objectivism', whose leading exponent is Saussure, and 'individualistic subjectivism', developed from the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt by the romantic idealists Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) and Karl Vossler (1872-1942). Voloshinov argues that the two trends derive from rationalism and romanticism respectively and share both the strengths and weaknesses of those movements. While the former identifies the systematic and social character of language it mistakes the 'system of self-identical forms' for the source of language usage in society; it abstracts language from the concrete historical context of its utilisation (Bakhtin's 'theoreticism'); the part is examined at the expense of the whole; the individual linguistic element is treated as a 'thing' at the expense of the dynamics of speech; a unity of word meaning is assumed to the neglect of the multiplicity of meaning and accent and language is treated as a ready-made system whose developments are aberrations. The latter trend is correct in viewing language as a continuous generative process and asserting that this process is meaningful, but fundamentally wrong in identifying the laws of that creation with those of individual psychology, viewing the generative process as analogous with art and treating the system of signs as an inert crust of the creative process. These partial insights, Voloshinov argues that a stable system of linguistic signs is merely a scientific abstraction; the generative process of language is implemented in the social-verbal interaction of speakers; the laws of language generation are sociological laws; although linguistic and artistic creativity do not coincide, this creativity must be understood in relation to the ideological meanings and values that fill language and that the structure of each concrete utterance is a sociological structure." [Ibid. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]


However, although Voloshinov certainly wanted to argue that it was:


"fundamentally wrong in identifying the laws of that creation with those of individual psychology, viewing the generative process as analogous with art and treating the system of signs as an inert crust of the creative process...",


the way he posed this question, and the way he framed the argument, only succeeded in undermining these otherwise commendable objectives. [On that, see Essay Thirteen Part Three, especially here. Despite this, compare the above with what Wittgenstein had to say about artistic theme, quoted earlier.]


Brandist then links Voloshinov's work to Gramsci's:


"...Voloshinov firmly establishes the sign-bound nature of consciousness and the shifting nature of the language system, but instead of viewing the subject as fragmented by the reality of difference, he poses each utterance to be a microcosm of social conflict. This allows sociological structure and the plurality of discourse to be correlated according to a unitary historical development. In this sense Voloshinov's critique bears a strong resemblance to the Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci's account of hegemony in his Prison Notebooks. Like Voloshinov and Bakhtin, Gramsci drew upon the work of Croce and Vossler and Matteo Bartoli's Saussurean 'spatial linguistics', and combined it with a Hegelian reading of Marxism. As we have seen, however, Voloshinov was heavily influenced by the work of Cassirer, whose admiration for the work of von Humboldt, the founder of generative linguistics, was substantial. Voloshinov's critique thus tended towards the romantic pole of language study rather than taking up the equidistant position he claimed in his study. This can be seen in the tendency to see social groups as collective subjects rather than institutionally defined collectives and such assertions as those which suggest the meaning of a word is 'totally determined' by its context. What Voloshinov effectively does is to supplement Humboldt's recognition of individual and national linguistic variability with a sociological dimension. Humboldt’s 'inner-form' of language is recast as the relationality of discourse, dialogism. Abandoning the Marxist distinction between base and superstructure, Voloshinov follows Cassirer and Hegel in seeing the variety of linguistic forms as expressions of a single essence. It is significant that Gramsci, who adopted a consistently pragmatist epistemology followed the same course and emerged with startlingly similar formulations." [Ibid.]


So, this (postulated) link between Voloshinov and Gramsci might help explain how the former managed to influence Wittgenstein (directly or indirectly via Sraffa and Nicholas Bakhtin).


Wherever the truth lies, until more hard evidence emerges [but check this out] the postulated connection between Voloshinov and Wittgenstein must remain largely conjectural, based on (a) their overlapping circle of friends, (b) a handful of 'parallel' remarks, (c) a strikingly similar use of certain words, phrases and arguments, and (d) a shared "anthropological" and "social" approach to language (as a system of signs).


Israel summarised the connection between Voloshinov and Wittgenstein in the following terms:


"Voloshinov maintains that a discourse can only be studied meaningfully as a communicative event, as a meaning-creating interaction between actors, finding themselves in a social situation. 'Any true understanding is dialogic in nature,' he writes, and adds that meaning therefore 'is the effect of interaction between speaker and listener'. [Voloshinov (1973), p.35.] Language is therefore a shared practical activity -- a 'form of life' in Wittgenstein's terminology." [Israel, op cit, p.216. Referencing conventions modified to conform with those adopted at this site.]


[Readers are encouraged, however, to read the rest of Israel's article, since he outlines several other parallels between Voloshinov and Wittgenstein.]35


Now, I do not want to suggest that Wittgenstein and Voloshinov were in total agreement with one another (whether or not they were aware of it); the differences between Wittgenstein's work and Voloshinov's are far greater than are their similarities. This section has merely been aimed at showing that it is highly likely that some of Wittgenstein's ideas (even those where he disagreed with the approach adopted by the Russian) came from Voloshinov via his Marxist friends.


If so, core ideas in Wittgenstein's philosophy of language will have unimpeachable roots in contemporary Marxist theories of language.36


The Reception Of Wittgenstein's Philosophy By Soviet Philosophers


We already know of the sympathetic reception given to Wittgenstein by prominent Soviet Philosophers when he visited Russia in 1935. He was even referred to there as "The great Wittgenstein". [On that, see here.]


In addition to this we have this interesting (if not significant) reference to his work in an officially approved Soviet textbook -- A Textbook of Marxist Philosophy -- produced by the philosophical establishment in the USSR in the mid-, to late-1930s:


"The 'logical-analytic' method of Wittgenstein and his followers is by no means the only modern philosophy that approximates in certain points to the new dialectic.... It would appear, in fact, that not only are scientific discoveries confirming the standpoint of dialectical materialism but that Western philosophers are increasingly discarding metaphysical concepts...." [Shirokov (1937), pp.18-19. Paragraphs merged.]


Concerning this textbook we read the following:


"This volume was originally prepared by the Leningrad Institute of Philosophy as a textbook in Dialectical Materialism for institutions of higher education, directly connected with the Communist Party and also for use in the Technical Institutes which correspond to Universities in Great Britain. This particular textbook was specially selected by the Society for Cultural Relations in Moscow (VOKS) as the best example they could find of the philosophical teaching now being given in the Soviet Union not only to students of philosophy but to engineers, doctors, chemists, teachers, in fact to all who pass through the higher technical schools and institutes." [Ibid., p.7. Paragraphs merged.]


Of course, this only serves to confirm what we already knew: that in the 1930s Wittgenstein was perceived as sympathetic not only to the new Soviet society, but also to the "new dialectic", and that his work was viewed as supportive of the anti-metaphysical stance adopted by Russian thinkers (that is, as they understood the word "metaphysics"). Indeed, we also know that textbooks like the above had to pass through a rigorous official censorship process at the highest level of the Soviet political establishment (violation of which threatened imprisonment or other forms of punishment). If the Soviet authorities at the highest level regarded Wittgenstein's work in this way, they must have viewed him, rightly or wrongly, as a philosophical, or even a political, ally. To that end, it is also highly likely that they will have contacted the likes of Maurice Dobb, Maurice Cornforth, or Roy Pascal (or, indeed, Anthony Blunt and the other Cambridge spies, who were also in Russia at the same time as Wittgenstein -- on this, see Cornish, op cit, p.74) as part of the process of vetting the political opinions and loyalties of this German-speaking philosopher -- who, incidentally, was a contemporary student in the same school as Adolph Hitler!37


However, having said that, it is important to note the following from the Preface:


"In the original work Part I, which consisted of an historical introduction to Marxist Philosophy and the Theory of Knowledge, was of considerable length and included illustrations which would not be familiar to English students. But as it is really quite impossible to comprehend the philosophy of Marx and Engels without some knowledge of the development of philosophy up to Hegel, this section has been considerably condensed and entirely rewritten by the English editor who takes entire responsibility for this part of the work. The original authors did not cover this familiar ground in the manner of a conventional history of philosophy but from the Marxist point of view, and this whole method of approach has, of course, been faithfully followed in the rewritten section. The English editor [John Lewis] has also contributed an introduction relating the whole work to philosophical thought in the West to-day." [Ibid., p.7. Paragraphs merged.]


In other words, it was John Lewis who wrote the above words about Wittgenstein. Even so, his Introduction would still have had to pass the censor for it to be given an official imprimatur. So, this textbook still enjoyed the support of the communist movement, and was published in the UK by the Left Book Club.


Again, it could be argued that it is because this textbook appeared in English during the era of the Popular Front (the book was first published in the UK, as far as I know, in 1937) that the author(s) took a conciliatory stance toward Wittgenstein, whose work they clearly confused with that of the Vienna Circle. But that just illustrates how vacillating the Stalinists were between, say, 1930 and 1980. For example, compare the above comments with Kuusinen's, published some twenty-five years later:


"The basic tenets of neo-positivism were formulated by Bertrand Russell and the Austrian philosophers Wittgenstein and Schlick. Its most prominent exponents are Carnap in the United States and Ayer in Britain. It owes its origin to a desire to refurbish the subjective-idealist philosophy of Machism and adapt it to the present state of physics, mathematics and logic." [Kuusinen (1961), p.57.]


It is worth noting that Kuusinen offers no evidence whatsoever in support of the allegation that Wittgenstein was a Positivist, or that he was keen to promote "Machism" -- or even to accommodate to it.


Be this as it may, communists in the 1930s clearly saw "the great Wittgenstein" as a sympathetic figure. So, how many 'conservatives' can we say the that about?


'Philosophy Leaves Everything As It Is'


Perhaps the cornerstone of the allegation that Wittgenstein was a conservative philosopher is the accusation that he argued that philosophy "leaves everything as it is", and that it has, therefore, no political, social, or critical role to play -- other than, perhaps, to rationalise (directly or indirectly) the status quo. [On this, see, for example, Sean Sayers's remarks, quoted below.] According to this abiding (and convenient) myth, the sole job of the philosopher is to contemplate the minutiae of the use of language in splendid, ivory tower isolation. This hackneyed view of Wittgenstein's work on the left is well expressed by Herbert Marcuse, in a book that heavily influenced the reception, not just of Analytic Philosophy in general, but also Wittgenstein's work in particular, by the left:


"Austin's contemptuous treatment of the alternatives to the common usage of words, and his defamation of what we 'think up in our armchairs of an afternoon'; Wittgenstein's assurance that philosophy 'leaves everything as it is' -- such statements exhibit, to my mind, academic sado-masochism, self-humiliation, and self-denunciation of the intellectual whose labour does not issue in scientific, technical or like achievements. These affirmations of modesty and dependence seem to recapture Hume's mood of righteous contentment with the limitations of reason which, once recognized and accepted, protect man from useless mental adventures but leave him perfectly capable of orienting himself in the given environment. However, when Hume debunked substances, he fought a powerful ideology, while his successors today provide an intellectual justification for that which society has long since accomplished -- namely, the defamation of alternative modes of thought which contradict the established universe of discourse." [Marcuse (1968), pp.141-42. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling adjusted to agree with UK English.]


Here is how I tackled this Marcusian slur in Essay Thirteen Part Three (slightly edited):


I won't try to defend John Austin in this Essay, but Marcuse clearly failed to notice that when Wittgenstein said philosophy "leaves everything as it is" he was speaking of the discipline as he practised it, not as it has traditionally been pursued. Moreover, in view of the fact that Traditional Philosophy is little more than self-important hot air (on that, see Essay Twelve Part One), except perhaps negatively, it can't change anything, anyway.


Furthermore, Wittgenstein isn't advocating "conformism", as Marcuse alleges. It is no more the role of philosophy to challenge the status quo than it is the role of, say, basket weaving to challenge advanced brain surgery. Alongside Marx (who, it is worth recalling, had abandoned philosophy root and branch by the late 1840s and advised others to do likewise), Wittgenstein, again like Marx, would have argued that the point is in fact to change the world, not build non-sensical and incoherent philosophical theories about it. Change is the remit of political action, science and technology, not philosophy (even if individual philosophers might choose to involve themselves in the class struggle), as Wittgenstein conceived it....


Moreover, one only has to read the many conversations that took place between Wittgenstein and those he gathered around him to see that he wasn't a political quietist. Nor was he unsympathetic to Marxism or, indeed, the gains made by the Russian Revolution. [On that, see above.]


In fact, Marcuse along with the vast majority of Wittgenstein critics (and, it is worth adding, many Wittgensteinians, too) misquote or misinterpret him in this regard. Here is what Wittgenstein actually said:


"Philosophy must not interfere in any way with the actual use of language, so it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot justify it either. It leaves everything as it is. It also leaves mathematics as it is, and no mathematical discovery can advance it." [Wittgenstein (2009), §124, p.55e. Paragraphs merged.]


From this it is quite clear that the word "everything" refers back to "the actual use of language". This is plain from the fact that he then goes on to mention mathematics ("It also leaves mathematics as it is"), which he wouldn't have added if "everything" were totally unqualified in the way that many now suppose. So, philosophy leaves everything in language and mathematics as they are, but (by default) nothing else. Whether or not one agrees with Wittgenstein, this passage offers no support to those who characterise Wittgenstein as a conservative.


So, Philosophy leaves language and mathematics as they are. Whether or not one agrees with Wittgenstein (and I tend to the view that philosophical criticism, using Wittgenstein's method, can certainly change how we interpret language, science and mathematics, which is the approach I have adopted at this site), but it can in no way affect how we use language -- or, indeed, how we apply mathematics --, in every day life), this particular passage offers no support at all to those who would characterise Wittgenstein as a conservative.37a


[Others point to Oswald Spengler's work and its influence on Wittgenstein as additional 'proof' he was a conservative. I have rebutted that allegation in Note 36.] 


Moreover, there is this interaction between Norman Malcolm and Wittgenstein:


"[W]hat is the use of studying philosophy if all it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic etc., 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." [Letter from Wittgenstein to Malcolm, 16/11/1944, quoted in Malcolm (2001), p.93. Capitals in the original.]


[Here Wittgenstein is clearly referring Malcolm to his new conception of philosophy, not philosophy as it has traditionally been conceived.]


This doesn't sound like the remark of a 'philosophical quietist', as he has often been depicted by many on the left -- as well as far too many who should know better.


It is also worth pointing out, once again, that it isn't being maintained here that Wittgenstein was a political activist, or a left-wing/Marxist theorist, but the above comments, and those quoted and referred to throughout this Essay, show that the picture painted by Marcuse (and others) couldn't be more wrong.


[OLP = Ordinary Language Philosophy.]


As T. P. Uschanov has pointed out in relation the Ernest Gellner's egregious 'criticism' of OLP, Words and Things, and in connection with the question of Wittgenstein's alleged 'relativism':


"Finally, there remains the awkward question of intellectuals who profess to understand and appreciate Wittgenstein while fighting everything Gellner claims he represents. If Wittgenstein equals rampant self-legitimating relativism, it's extremely hard to explain why such outspoken foes of self-legitimating relativism as Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Bouveresse, Esa Itkonen, Hilary Putnam and Barry Smith present themselves as admirers of Wittgenstein and constantly co-opt him as an ally in their struggle against postmodernist defeatism. It's also hard to explain why many Marxists and other political radicals such as Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, K. T. Fann, David Rubinstein and Gavin Kitching have a similarly positive attitude to Wittgenstein. As far as Gellner is concerned, these antirelativist, anti-quietist Wittgensteinians might never have written. Of course it is a possibility that they are deluded or mendacious on a grand scale; but an immeasurably more economical explanation is that Gellner profoundly misunderstands Wittgenstein's stance on relativism. Yet another example of Gellner's no-true-Scotsman arguments is his explaining away of social scientists who admire Wittgenstein. In Words and Things and in many of his essays from the sixties Gellner condemned OLP for being a pseudo-sociology unsuitable for 'real' empirical social scientists, who were supposed to be above all that; in the early seventies, as many trained and competent social scientists like Hanna Pitkin and Rodney Needham started to use OLP to fructify their researches, Gellner rushed to condemn them for somehow ceasing to be 'real'. Already in 1968, Gellner had attacked the use of sociological research by philosophers in an article in the Times Literary Supplement, and again it was followed by a heated correspondence, this time involving such familiar names as Alasdair MacIntyre, Peter Winch, W. G. Runciman and D. Z. Phillips." [Taken from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]


Incidentally, the rest of Uschanov's article is as good a 'take down' of another academic as I have seen; anyone who thinks Gellner is a reliable critic of OLP should read it and then most definitely think again.38


Was Wittgenstein A Mystic?


Another of the charges often levelled against Wittgenstein (particularly by those on the far-left who are somewhat suspicious of his influence, to say the least) is that Wittgenstein was a mystic. However, this is an odd accusation coming from those who also look to Hegel -- a card-carrying Christian Mystic, Kabbalist, Alchemist, and Hermeticist, if ever there was one -- for inspiration (upside down or the 'right way up').


But, what truth is there in the allegation, anyway? It is undeniable that the Tractatus contains statements like the following:


"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists. To view the world sub specie aeterni [from the viewpoint of eternity -- RL] is to view it as a whole -- a limited whole. Feeling the world as a limited whole -- it is this that is mystical.... There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical." [Wittgenstein (1972), 6.44, 6.45, 6.522; pp.149-51. Italic emphases in the original. Paragraphs merged.]


However, these passages do not sit at all well with the whole tenor of the book, as Roger White, among others, has pointed out:


"In the light of the fact that the general form of a proposition gives us every possible proposition as a truth function of elementary propositions, then there could be no proposition that could answer a question that was not answered by any possible truth-function of elementary propositions. Hence, the main thrust of the 6.5s [to which the above quotations from the Tractatus belong -- RL] seems to be entirely negative....


[White then quotes the last one of the above three sentences from the Tractatus -- RL, and adds the following:]


"The intrusion of this paragraph in what otherwise looks an unremittingly negative sequence suggests that a purely iconoclastic reading of the 6.5s may not have been Wittgenstein's intention.... On this interpretation, what [those to whom the meaning of life has become clear -- RL] have seen is something that cannot be put into words, but only shows itself, so that part of what they have learnt is a recognition that they cannot say what they have seen. Although the question is indeed nonsensical [according to the criteria Wittgenstein himself lays down in the Tractatus -- RL], the asking of it registers a genuine intellectual worry, a worry that could not be appeased by giving a straight answer to the question, but by seeing something that could not be put into words.


"If that was Wittgenstein's intention, then, at any rate, as applied to issues such as the meaning of life, the difficulty is understanding what is supposed to show what cannot be said. In the earlier use of the saying/showing distinction, he was concerned with what was shown by the way our language worked, and where our mastery of the language showed that we were all implicitly aware of what was shown. It is hard to see what takes the place of our mastery of language here." [White (2006), pp.114-15. Links added.]


So, much of the last few sections of the Tractatus sit rather badly with the stark criteria Wittgenstein laid down for an expression to count as a proposition (and hence for it to be capable of saying, and then showing, something). The ethical and mystical passages can't do this since they aren't truth functions of elementary propositions.


As Wittgenstein (inadvertently) pointed out to Russell in a letter (dated 19/08/1919):

"Now I'm afraid you haven't really got hold of my contention, to which the whole business of logical propositions is only a corollary. The main point is the theory of what can be expressed by [propositions] -- i.e., by language -- (and, which comes to the same, what can be thought) and what can not be expressed by [propositions], but can only be shown; which, I believe, is the cardinal problem of philosophy." [Wittgenstein (2012), p.98. Italic emphasis in the original. I have replaced Wittgenstein's abbreviation "props" with what he intended, "propositions", in order to make his point easier on the eye.]


Hence, as White argues, if there are certain things that can't be said by means of propositions, then there is nothing beyond these propositions that could do the "showing" for them. However, since the whole point of the book is what can't be expressed but only shown by propositions, these incongruous passages can't be integral to what the Tractatus had to say.


In which case, we must look to other reasons why these rather odd sections were included -- reasons which I don't think anybody else has noticed before, or, at least, which haven't been fully appreciated -- but they were in fact staring us in the face.


These rather bizarre 'concerns' (about the meaning of life, and the mystical, etc.) only began to exercise an influence on Wittgenstein's thought during his military service in the First World War. They appear in his Notebooks for the first time in 1915/1916, after most of the core ideas of the Tractatus had been settled upon a year or so earlier. Thus, 'God' makes 'his' first appearance in a note dated 11/06/16 [Wittgenstein (1979b), p.72e]; the 'mystical' initially surfaces in a note written in May 1915 [Ibid., p.51e], and makes no further appearance in the Notebooks; comments about the 'will' first appear in the same month, as do those about 'the soul' -- and solipsism gets its first mention then, too. [Ibid., pp.49e-50e.] Up to that point, his interests had been almost exclusively concerned with logical syntax, logical form, the logical constants, the quantifiers, analysis, clarity, names, sense, nonsense, the nature of facts, simples and complexes, etc., etc. -- the core ideas of the Tractatus. After this, the meaning of life, happiness, death, suicide, and assorted ethical concerns began to dominate his thinking.


As Brian McGuinness notes in his biography of Wittgenstein:


"Russell was shocked by the mystical tendencies that he found in Wittgenstein after the war." [McGuinness (1990), p.204.]


He was shocked since there was no hint of it before he went off to fight in that conflict.


It is worth recalling at this point that Wittgenstein had lost his faith early on in life -- indeed, he tells us he abandoned belief in 'god' when he was a schoolboy. [Monk (1990), p.18.]


Now, this turn to 'god' and the 'mystical' isn't all that surprising given the effect we now know that modern warfare can have on human beings. So, this odd turn of events is a clear sign that Wittgenstein was beginning to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], which, as we also understand, can last for many years causing long-term psychiatric problems -- such as clinical depression, coupled with suicidal tendencies, both of which conditions we also know Wittgenstein suffered from for the rest of his life.             


Indeed, we read the following about those who, for example, lost loved ones in the 9/11 terror attack on New York, and who later suffered from PTSD:


"A group of researchers affiliated with the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University, and the Veterans Administration Boston Healthcare System surveyed a large number of people who had lost a loved one during the 9/11 attacks. About a quarter had lost a child, relative, or spouse, and most people had lost someone as a result of them being near the World Trade Centre or in lower Manhattan during the terrorist attacks.


"Most people felt their religion to be just as important after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as it was before the attacks. However, about a tenth said religion became more important and another tenth said that religion became less important to them. It seems that some people may have relied on their religious beliefs in an attempt to make sense of the terrorist attacks or gain comfort in response to their loss. On the other hand, some people may have become disillusioned or began to question aspects of their faith after the terrorist attacks. This was particularly the case for people who lost a child during the attacks....


"When faced with a major traumatic event, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is natural to struggle with how to make sense of that event. This is especially going to be the case when a loved one is lost as a result of that event. Relying on and strengthening religious beliefs is one way people may choose to cope with a traumatic event and unexpected loss. Relying on religion and spirituality can help some people adjust and recover from a traumatic event." [Quoted from here; spelling modified to conform with UK English. Bold emphases added. Accessed 21/08/2013.]


This shouldn't surprise us given, not just what is now known about how human beings react to trauma, but also what Marx said about religious belief; in times of extreme stress and emotional turmoil, many turn to mysticism as a means of consolation. It is reasonable to assume therefore that the same happens to soldiers and other combatants during war -- as well as after they have returned from service. Indeed, in connection with this assumption we read the following (which is, again, far from news to most of us):


"Virtually every war that has ever been fought has been supported by at least one religion. Faith in divine approval has helped soldiers go into battle confident their own cause was righteous and faith has strengthened their courage and convictions. Religious influences have also created moral confusion, however, because the same act of violence might be considered a sacred duty in one situation, or a violation of religious teachings in another situation. Victorious warriors usually believe they have pleased a God or gods, while defeat might be interpreted as divine punishment or displeasure.


"Exposure to traumatic combat experiences often leads to a search for meaning and purpose within a personal and collective sense -- seeking the answers to myriad questions about the painful realities of warfare, the value of personal existence, and the value of the human race....


"Traumatic distress refers to the emotional and psychological symptoms, or reactions, a traumatized individual experiences as a result of exposure to a traumatic event. Phrases such as 'traumatic distress' and 'symptoms of PTSD' are general terms referring to some level of distress that might vary from mild to severe. Some of these symptoms are nightmares, unwanted thoughts, and relationship problems. When symptoms are severe and last for a long time, an individual is likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. Many survivors initially suffer traumatic distress, but symptoms usually subside within a few months. About 30% of Vietnam veterans have met the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD at some point in their lives, with another 20% reporting some symptoms.


"Spiritual alienation and loss of meaning have been identified by clinicians as issues that are distressing to veterans seeking treatment for symptoms of PTSD.... Limited research has found that combat veterans who were able to find meaning and purpose in their traumatic experiences were less likely to develop PTSD." [Quoted from here; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added. Accessed 21/08/2013. Some paragraphs merged.]




"Exposure to traumatic combat experiences often leads to a search for meaning and purpose within a personal and collective sense -- seeking the answers to myriad questions about the painful realities of warfare, the value of personal existence, and the value of the human race...." [Ibid.]


But, this is exactly what happened to Wittgenstein.39


We can see the trauma he clearly experienced beginning to take its toll in the Autumn of 1914; here is a diary entry (dated 09/11/1914):


"But in the last few days I have been a subject for depression. I have no real pleasure in anything and my life is full of anxiety about the future! I am no longer at peace within myself.... Because I can't bring myself to feel at ease. I feel myself as dependent on the world and so I have to be afraid of it even when for the present nothing bad is going to happen to me. I see myself -- that self in which I was once able to rest secure -- as a distant country, now vanished, that I long for. -- The Russians are advancing fast on Cracow. The entire civilian population is having to leave the city. Things look very bad for us. God help me!" [Quoted in McGuinness, op cit, p.216. Italic emphases in the original; bold added.]


In another diary entry (dated 13/09/1914), he wrote the following:


"The news gets worse and worse.... I say Tolstoy's words over and over again in my head: 'Man is powerless in the flesh but free because of the spirit.' May the spirit be in me! In the afternoon the lieutenant heard shots in the vicinity. I became very agitated.... How will I behave when it comes to shooting? I am not afraid of being shot but of not doing my duty properly. God give me strength. Amen. Amen. Amen." [Quoted in McGuinness, op cit, p.221. Bold emphasis added.]


McGuiness tells us that Wittgenstein started to read Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief (this links to a PDF) in early September that year, from which he derived "great profit", a book he carried with him everywhere he went from then on (ibid., p.220). About these 'gospels', Monk had the following to say:


"His logic and his thinking about himself being but two aspects of the single 'duty to oneself', this fervently held faith was bound to have an influence on his work. And eventually it did -- transforming it from an analysis of logical symbolism in the spirit of Frege and Russell into the curiously hybrid work which we know today, combining as it does logical theory with religious mysticism.


"But such an influence does not become apparent until a few years later....


[Quoting Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, a book that Wittgenstein had read many years earlier -- RL:] 'Undoubtedly, it is the knowledge of death, and therewith the consideration of the suffering and misery of life, that give the strongest impulse to philosophical reflection and metaphysical explanations of the world.'


"If Wittgenstein had spent the entire war behind the lines, the Tractatus would have remained what it almost certainly was in its first inception of 1915; a treatise on the nature of logic. The remarks in it about ethics, aesthetics, the soul and the meaning of life have their origin in precisely the 'impulse to philosophical reflection' that Schopenhauer describes, an impulse that has as its stimulus a knowledge of death, suffering and misery.


"Towards the end of March 1916 Wittgenstein was posted, as he had long wished, to a fighting unit on the Russian Front... [where] he endeavoured to prepare himself psychologically and spiritually, to face death. 'God enlighten me. God enlighten me. God enlighten my soul', he wrote on 29 March." [Monk (1990), pp.116, 137. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links and bold emphases added.] 


Then, later that year, we read this (in a diary entry dated 29/07/1916):


"Yesterday I was shot at. I was scared! I was afraid of death. I now have such a desire to live.... From time to time I become an animal. Then I can think of nothing but eating, drinking and sleeping. Terrible! And then I suffer like an animal too, without the possibility of internal salvation. I am then at the mercy of my appetites and aversions. Then an authentic life is unthinkable." [Quoted in Monk, op cit, p.146. Italic emphasis in the original; bold added.]


It is quite clear from this that Wittgenstein was beginning to suffer from clinical depression:


"Hypersomnia is excessive sleepiness.... [P]eople who are suffering from clinical depression may suffer from hypersomnia...nearly every day." [Quoted from here; accessed 26/10/2013.]


As Monk points out, Wittgenstein's turn to the mystical is hardly surprising, therefore.40


So, his ethical and mystical ruminations were a coping strategy (conscious or not). Just as Dialectical Marxists have found it necessary to turn to their own mystical 'theory' [DM] in times of stress (i.e., long-term, continuous defeat, reverse, and disaster -- the evidence substantiating that allegation can be found here), as a source of consolation, so Wittgenstein turned toward his own preferred opiates, and stitched them into the Tractatus -- against the grain, as it were. No wonder they don't fit!


Significantly, these mystical leanings are conspicuous by their absence in Wittgenstein's 'middle' and 'later' periods. [Concerning references to 'God' etc. in Wittgenstein (1998), see Note 41.]


The 'mystical' is absent from the Notebooks of the 1930s and 1940s, as well as from the Investigations. "Mysterious" and "mystery" make an appearance in Wittgenstein (1981), §125, p.22, but this is only in relation to attempts to understand the nature of flames; they are mysterious until we understand them. "Mysterious" and "mystery" crop up several times in Wittgenstein (1993c), on pages 129 and 151, but, and once again, this is in connection with explaining certain puzzling phenomena, like fire or flames, or in relation the beliefs of those who celebrate Beltane, for example. "Mysterious" is also used (once) in The Big Typescript:


"One keeps hearing the remark that philosophy really doesn't make any progress, that the same philosophical problems that occupied the Greeks keep occupying us. But those who say that don't understand the reason this must be so. The reason is that our language has remained constant and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions. So long as there is a verb 'be' that seems to function like 'eat' and 'drink', so long as there are the adjectives 'identical', 'true', 'false', 'possible', so long as there is talk about a flow of time and an expanse of space, etc., etc. humans will continue to bump up against the same mysterious difficulties, and stare at something that no explanation seems able to remove. And this, by the way, satisfies a longing for the transcendental [an alternative version of the manuscript has 'supernatural' here -- RL], for in believing that they see the 'limit of human understanding' they of course believe that they can see beyond it." [Wittgenstein (2013), p.312e. Bold emphasis added. Paragraphs merged.]


This is totally out of sympathy with the Tractatus; here Wittgenstein argues that the source of mystery lies in our tendency to read too much into language, or in our tendency to misunderstand it. Plainly, Wittgenstein is here endeavouring to combat these 'mysteries' by applying his new "method" to the language many use in order to motivate it. [On that, see here.]


The word also crops up in Wittgenstein (1993b), p.319, where he uses it to describe the "mysterious" link some claim to see between a name and the object it supposedly names. Once again, he is trying to challenge this idea -- as indeed he does in The Brown Book:


"The relation of name and object we may say, consists in a scribble being written on an object..., and that's all there is to it. But we are not satisfied with that, for we feel that a scribble written on an object in itself is of no importance to us, and interests us in no way. And this is true; the whole importance lies in the particular use we make of the scribble written on the object, and we, in a sense, simplify matters by saying that the name has a peculiar relation to its object, a relation other than that, say, of being written on the object, or of being spoken by a person pointing to an object with his finger. A primitive philosophy condenses the whole usage of the name into the idea of the relation, which thereby becomes a mysterious relation. (Compare the ideas of mental activities, wishing, believing, thinking, etc., which for the same reason have something mysterious and inexplicable about them.)" [Wittgenstein (1969), pp.172-73.]


Here, this 'mystery' is one that results from the reification of the use to which we put certain inscriptions (ordinary names and words we employ to express or describe, for example, our psychological lives and experiences -- on the latter, see here). Once more, Wittgenstein is trying to combat these untoward moves, which he largely managed to do in the Investigations (i.e., Wittgenstein (2009), §§37-43, pp.22e-25e).


This term also appears once in Wittgenstein (1993d), p.401, where he characterises the idea that the future movements of a machine are somehow "mysteriously" embodied in its present operation. Once again, he is trying to dispel this 'mystery'.


Finally, "mysterious" crops up in Wittgenstein (1970), p.27, but there he is speaking about Sir James Jeans's book The Mysterious Universe (about which he took a rather dim view).


This suggests Wittgenstein might have begun to recover from the trauma he experienced during the First World War, or he had found other ways of coping -- by taking lovers, or even by accepting several of the core ideas of DM! So, when he was in discussion with Sraffa and his other Marxist friends in the early 1930s and beyond, he was no longer a mystic. Certainly, there is no evidence to suggest he was.40a


To be sure Wittgenstein did have religious 'leanings' of some sort (as noted above, the word "god" crops up all over the place in his later Notebooks, but his use of this word is often equivocal), and he converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed -- but this was, clearly, at the very end of his life. At other times, he wore his religious beliefs, if he had any, very lightly.41


Hence, the two main reasons why the far-left have been somewhat hostile to Wittgenstein -- i.e., that (i) his work was a conservative affectation, and that (ii) he was a mystic -- have been shown to be entirely misconceived -- or, at least with respect to his alleged mysticism, wildly exaggerated.


Finally, even if Wittgenstein were a mystic of sorts, why that should count against him when, in the eyes of many on the left, it doesn't count against Hegel or prevent them from studying his work, is itself something of a mystery.41a


Ordinary Language Philosophy [OLP]


There is, however, another reason why revolutionaries have harboured negative or even hostile opinions about Wittgenstein's work: his emphasis on the use of ordinary language. This represents -- so it seems to many on the left -- a capitulation to all the prejudices and 'banalities' of 'commonsense', just as it amounts to an accommodation with the status quo and with ruling-class ideology.


Sean Sayers makes this point (in his potted history of the journal Radical Philosophy):


"Radical Philosophy was born in the aftermath of the student movement of the 1960s. At that time, philosophy in British universities was very conservative and traditional. Ordinary language philosophy, the analytical approach, and the empiricist tradition were absolutely dominant. However, the student movement of the 1960s had opened young people's minds to a whole new range of radical ideas and issues. These were dismissed as not worthy of study, and excluded from discussion in philosophy departments.... It [Radical Philosophy -- RL] has tried to avoid the obscure and abstract style of much recent philosophy in both the analytical and continental traditions." [Quoted from here; this links to a PDF. Accessed 22/08/2013. Paragraphs merged.]


Here is what the late Gerry Cohen had to say about his experience at Oxford University in the early 1960s:


"I moved in 1961 from McGill to Oxford, where, under the benign guidance of Gilbert Ryle, I learned British analytic philosophy. Almost all politically committed students were, at that time, and throughout the 1960s, hostile to that philosophy. They regarded it as bourgeois or trivial, or both." [Cohen (2000), pp.xx-xxi.]


Sayers and Cohen were right about the conservative nature of British Philosophy in the 1960s, but it is now clear this had nothing to do with Wittgenstein, but more to do with his 'followers' and with the nature of academia itself. Having said that, this non-radical current in contemporary confusion (i.e., Radical Philosophy itself!) has ended up preferring neo-Hegelian and other assorted 'Continental' obscurantisms in place of what are in effect a series of egregious misrepresentations of Analytic Philosophy. That current in modern thought has in general been hostile to what passes these days for philosophy in France and Germany (and for several generations), but 'Continental Philosophy' itself has covered Marxism in a blanket of intellectual fog from which it will take many more generations to free it. This can be seen from the simple fact that Radical Philosophy, and, indeed, 'continental' forms of Marxism have had zero impact on the class war. [I have covered this topic in more detail here and here.] The almost total absence of practical implications for a current whose ideologues spare no effort telling all who will listen of the importance of 'praxis' is a pragmatic contradiction best left to those sad souls to figure out for themselves. They stopped listening to us Analytic Philosophers years ago. Fortunately, Jerry Cohen leant a different lesson from his time in Oxford.


The 'youthful affectation' that Sayers mentions in fact reflected views expressed by Marcuse a few years earlier still:


"Throughout the work of the linguistic analysts, there is this familiarity with the chap on the street whose talk plays such a leading role in linguistic philosophy. The chumminess of speech is essential inasmuch as it excludes from the beginning the high-brow vocabulary of 'metaphysics;' it militates against intelligent non-conformity; it ridicules the egghead. The language of John Doe and Richard Roe is the language which the man on the street actually speaks; it is the language which expresses his behaviour; it is therefore the token of concreteness. However, it is also the token of a false concreteness. The language which provides most of the material for the analysis is a purged language, purged not only of its 'unorthodox' vocabulary, but also of the means for expressing any other contents than those furnished to the individuals by their society. The linguistic analyst finds this purged language an accomplished fact, and he takes the impoverished language as he finds it, insulating it from that which is not expressed in it although it enters the established universe of discourse as element and factor of meaning.


"Paying respect to the prevailing variety of meanings and usages, to the power and common sense of ordinary speech, while blocking (as extraneous material) analysis of what this speech says about the society that speaks it, linguistic philosophy suppresses once more what is continually suppressed in this universe of discourse and behaviour. The authority of philosophy gives its blessing to the forces which make this universe. Linguistic analysis abstracts from what ordinary language reveals in speaking as it does -- the mutilation of man and nature." [Marcuse (1968), pp.142-43.]42


Here, once again, is how I tackled that criticism in Essay Thirteen Part Three (slightly edited):


From this it is quite plain that Marcuse prefers the obscure and impenetrable jargon that ruling-class hacks regularly inflict on their readers to the language of ordinary workers, and it isn't hard to see why. Indeed, as was alleged above, Marcuse all but concedes that it is impossible to derive the empty theses of Traditional Philosophy ("metaphysics") if theorists confine themselves to the vernacular. [On this, see Essay Twelve Part One.] And that is why he complains that the language used by Wittgenstein, and others, has been "purged" of the very jargon upon which traditionalists like Marcuse dote -- which "purge" is in fact a move in the right direction since it would prevent them from even attempting to perform their verbal tricks.


Arguing in this way, Marcuse plainly disagrees with Marx himself:


"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases added.]


It is also worth pointing out that, again like many others, Marcuse has confused ordinary language with "common sense". As we have seen, these two aren't at all the same. [On that, cf., Hallett (2008), pp.91-99.] Moreover, Marcuse is wrong in what he says about "eggheads" -- in fact, in all my years of studying Wittgenstein and OLP (to date, at least 45 years), I have yet to encounter anything that remotely suggests this reading. It isn't surprising, therefore, to find that Marcuse fails to quote, or even cite, a single passage in support of his wild allegations.


Furthermore, neither the OLP-ers nor Wittgenstein raised objections against other uses of language, they simply point out that it is a serious error to suppose one can answer questions about knowledge, perception, time, space, thought, action, etc., by using words in technical, or in other odd ways (a point Marx also made).


As Hanjo Glock notes:


"Wittgenstein's ambitious claim is that it is constitutive of metaphysical theories and questions that their employment of terms is at odds with their explanations and that they use deviant rules along with the ordinary ones. As a result, traditional philosophers cannot coherently explain the meaning of their questions and theories. They are confronted with a trilemma: either their novel uses of terms remain unexplained (unintelligibility), or...[they use] incompatible rules (inconsistency), or their consistent employment of new concepts simply passes by the ordinary use -- including the standard use of technical terms -- and hence the concepts in terms of which the philosophical problems were phrased." [Glock (1996), pp.261-62. See also this quotation, and my comments in Essay Thirteen Part One, as well as those I have posted at Wikipedia (here and here) concerning the use of technical terms in science.]


And, as Peter Hacker also emphasised:


"For two and a half millennia some of the best minds in European culture have wrestled with the problems of philosophy. If one were to ask what knowledge has been achieved throughout these twenty-five centuries, what theories have been established (on the model of well-confirmed theories in the natural sciences), what laws have been discovered (on the model of the laws of physics and chemistry), or where one can find the corpus of philosophical propositions known to be true, silence must surely ensue. For there is no body of philosophical knowledge. There are no well-established philosophical theories or laws. And there are no philosophical handbooks on the model of handbooks of dynamics or of biochemistry. To be sure, it is tempting for contemporary philosophers, convinced they are hot on the trail of the truths and theories which so long evaded the grasp of their forefathers, to claim that philosophy has only just struggled out of its early stage into maturity.... We can at long last expect a flood of new, startling and satisfying results -- tomorrow.


"One can blow the Last Trumpet  once, not once a century. In the seventeenth century Descartes thought he had discovered the definitive method for attaining philosophical truths; in the eighteenth century Kant believed that he had set metaphysics upon the true path of a science; in the nineteenth century Hegel convinced himself that he had brought the history of thought to its culmination; and Russell, early in the twentieth century, claimed that he had at last found the correct scientific method in philosophy, which would assure the subject the kind of steady progress that is attained by the natural sciences. One may well harbour doubts about further millenarian promises." [Hacker (2001c), pp.322-23.]


Comrades like Marcuse are welcome to this monumental waste of ink and paper (to which Hacker alludes) -- and that comment applies even more so to 'dialectical philosophy', which is definitely the poor relation of this long slow detour to nowhere.


What of this, though?


"Moreover, all too often it is not even the ordinary language which guides the analysis, but rather blown-up atoms of language, silly scraps of speech that sound like baby talk such as 'This looks to me now like a man eating poppies,' 'He saw a robin', 'I had a hat.' Wittgenstein devotes much acumen and spare to the analysis of 'My broom is in the corner.'" [Marcuse (1968), p.143.]

But, does Marcuse take Hegel or Engels to task for their use of "The rose is red" (on that, see here and here), or Lenin for his employment of "John is a man"? Not a bit of it! In fact, Marcuse misses the point of using such simple language: If we can't get that right, we stand no chance with more complex propositions or larger bodies of text. Indeed, as we have seen (for example, here, here and here), dialecticians can't even get "John is a man" right! [Which rather makes my point for me, one feels.]


However, Marcuse has an answer to this:


"To take another illustration: sentences such as 'my broom is in the corner' might also occur in Hegel's Logic, but there they would be revealed as inappropriate or even false examples. They would only be rejects, to be surpassed by a discourse which, in its concepts, style, and syntax, is of a different order -- a discourse for which it is by no means 'clear that every sentence in our language "is in order as it is."' Rather the exact opposite is the case -- namely, that every sentence is as little in order as the world is which this language communicates." [Ibid., p.144.]


[Except, and as noted above, Hegel doesn't always do this! His criticism of the subject-predicate form uses just such simple sentences.]


But, if the above were indeed so -- if "every sentence is as little in order as the world is which this language communicates" then the ordinary words and sentences Marcuse himself uses can't be "in order", either, which means we can't take what they say at face value. [But, is there another, deeper significance to his words?] We have already seen that attempts to argue that ordinary language is in some way (or in any way) defective back-fire on anyone foolish enough to try. But, here we encounter the same reckless bravado, for if Marcuse's words aren't "in order", what can they possibly mean? As Marcuse notes on the same page:


"Thus the analysis does not terminate in the universe of ordinary discourse, it goes beyond it and opens a qualitatively different universe, the terms of which may even contradict the ordinary one." [Ibid., p.144.]


Except that here the tables are turned on Marcuse, for if we analyse his words, and are able to follow his argument, we see that (if he were correct) his words would imply the opposite of what he intended -- that is, our ability to comprehend what he says shows that his words are in the "right order" and hence we can understand him after all! And yet, as soon as we succeed in understanding what he is telling us, we immediately see that his words aren't in fact in the "right order", for he tells us that none are! -- "every sentence is as little in order as the world is which this language communicates" --, and that they make no sense, therefore. [Yet another ironic 'dialectical inversion', one feels.]


Then we encounter this hackneyed complaint; Marcuse (quoting Wittgenstein):


"The almost masochistic reduction of speech to the humble and common is made into a program: 'if the words "language", "experience", "world", have a use, it must be as humble a one as that of the words "table", "lamp", door."' We must 'stick to the subjects of our every-day thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to describe extreme subtleties...' -- as if this were the only alternative, and as if the 'extreme subtleties' were not the suitable term for Wittgenstein's language games rather than for Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Thinking (or at least its expression) is not only pressed into the straitjacket of common usage, but also enjoined not to ask and seek solutions beyond those that are already there. 'The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known.'


"The self-styled poverty of philosophy, committed with all its concepts to the given state of affairs, distrusts the possibility of a new experience. Subjection to the rule of the established fact is total -- only linguistic facts, to be sure, but the society speaks in its language, and we are told to obey. The prohibitions are severe and authoritarian: 'Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language.' 'And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place.'


"One might ask what remains of philosophy? What remains of thinking, intelligence, without anything hypothetical, without any explanation? However, what is at stake is not the definition or the dignity of philosophy. It is rather the chance of preserving and protecting the fight, the need to think and speak in terms other than those of common usage -- terms which are meaningful, rational, and valid precisely because they are other terms. What is involved is the spread of a new ideology which undertakes to describe what is happening (and meant) by eliminating the concepts capable of understanding what is happening (and meant)." [Ibid., pp.144-45.]


Marcuse has worked himself up into a right old lather here, all the while missing the point. Once more, Wittgenstein was speaking here of his new approach to philosophy, which, if correct, would mean that traditional forms-of-thought, beloved of characters like Marcuse, are nothing more than elaborate, insubstantial "houses of cards". Wittgenstein is certainly not arguing against "anything hypothetical", or against "explanation" in other areas of theory (for example, in science -- indeed, he developed a novel account of what it is to reason hypothetically). Once more, in his haste to malign Wittgenstein, Marcuse only succeeded in aiming a few blows at thin air.


And, far from the following being true, the opposite is in fact the case:


"It is rather the chance of preserving and protecting the fight, the need to think and speak in terms other than those of common usage -- terms which are meaningful, rational, and valid precisely because they are other terms. What is involved is the spread of a new ideology which undertakes to describe what is happening (and meant) by eliminating the concepts capable of understanding what is happening (and meant)." [Ibid.]


The obscure terminology that litters the pages of Traditional Thought, and particularly the impenetrable jargon Hegel inflicted on his readers, actually prevents us from understanding the world. As pointed out in Essay Twelve Part One, the influence of Traditional Philosophy must be terminated in order to facilitate the advance of scientific knowledge in general, and Marxism in particular. [I am here, of course, very loosely paraphrasing Kant.]


Marcuse's failure to get the point is further underlined by this blindingly irrelevant comment:


"To begin with, an irreducible difference exists between the universe of everyday thinking and language on the one side, and that of philosophic thinking and language on the other. In normal circumstances, ordinary language is indeed behavioural -- a practical instrument. When somebody actually says 'My broom is in the corner,' he probably intends that somebody else who had actually asked about the broom is going to take it or leave it there, is going to be satisfied, or angry. In any case, the sentence has fulfilled its function by causing a behavioural reaction: 'the effect devours the cause; the end absorbs the means.'" [Ibid., pp.145-46.]


Marcuse plainly didn't know -- perhaps because of his characteristically sloppy research --, that when Wittgenstein used the sentence "My broom is in the corner" [Wittgenstein (2009), §60, p.33e] he was in fact criticising a view he himself had adopted in the Tractatus -- about (i) The nature of logically simple names, (ii) The idea that a fact is a complex, and (iii) The thesis that the sort of analysis he promoted in the Tractatus is capable of revealing (hidden) logical form, etc.44


So, Wittgenstein was here advancing a profound criticism of his earlier way of seeing things. Now, whether or not one agrees with Wittgenstein (before or after he changed mind -- or even at all!), the issues he raises aren't of the everyday "behavioural" sort that Marcuse seems to think; they concern the logical nature of propositions and how they can be used to represent the world (that is, if they can). These are hardly trivial.45


However, of far greater significance is the fact that Marx himself abandoned Philosophy sometime in the mid-, to late-1840s, a development about which Marcuse and the vast majority of Dialectical Marxists seem to be completely oblivious.


Any who doubt this are encouraged to read on where their qualms will soon be laid to rest.


Marx's Attitude Toward Language And Philosophy




In view of the above, it might be useful to review Marx's negative attitude toward Philosophy (i.e., as it took shape from the mid-1840s onward).


Here is what he wrote about Philosophy in the 1844 Manuscripts:


"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. I have used the on-line version, here. Bold emphasis and link added.]


"Philosophy is nothing but religion rendered into thought..." -- in which case, Philosophy is simply a more abstract source of consolation -- which is exactly the approach I have adopted toward it at this site.


[Incidentally, it can't be argued that Feuerbach was referring to contemporaneous German Philosophy. I have responded to that counter-claim, below.]


And, here are the thoughts of Marx and Engels in The Holy Family:


"If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea 'Fruit', if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea 'Fruit', derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then -- in the language of speculative philosophy -- I am declaring that 'Fruit' is the 'Substance' of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea -- 'Fruit'…. Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence is 'the substance' -- 'Fruit'….


"Having reduced the different real fruits to the one 'fruit' of abstraction -- 'the Fruit', speculation must, in order to attain some semblance of real content, try somehow to find its way back from 'the Fruit', from the Substance to the diverse, ordinary real fruits, the pear, the apple, the almond etc. It is as hard to produce real fruits from the abstract idea 'the Fruit' as it is easy to produce this abstract idea from real fruits. Indeed, it is impossible to arrive at the opposite of an abstraction without relinquishing the abstraction….


"The main interest for the speculative philosopher is therefore to produce the existence of the real ordinary fruits and to say in some mysterious way that there are apples, pears, almonds and raisins. But the apples, pears, almonds and raisins that we rediscover in the speculative world are nothing but semblances of apples, semblances of pears, semblances of almonds and semblances of raisins, for they are moments in the life of 'the Fruit', this abstract creation of the mind, and therefore themselves abstract creations of the mind…. When you return from the abstraction, the supernatural creation of the mind, 'the Fruit', to real natural fruits, you give on the contrary the natural fruits a supernatural significance and transform them into sheer abstractions. Your main interest is then to point out the unity of 'the Fruit' in all the manifestations of its life…that is, to show the mystical interconnection between these fruits, how in each of them 'the Fruit' realizes itself by degrees and necessarily progresses, for instance, from its existence as a raisin to its existence as an almond. Hence the value of the ordinary fruits no longer consists in their natural qualities, but in their speculative quality, which gives each of them a definite place in the life-process of 'the Absolute Fruit'.


"The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind 'the Fruit'….


"It goes without saying that the speculative philosopher accomplishes this continuous creation only by presenting universally known qualities of the apple, the pear, etc., which exist in reality, as determining features invented by him, by giving the names of the real things to what abstract reason alone can create, to abstract formulas of reason, finally, by declaring his own activity, by which he passes from the idea of an apple to the idea of a pear, to be the self-activity of the Absolute Subject, 'the Fruit.'


"In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method." [Marx and Engels (1975), pp.72-75. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphasis added.]


So, according to the above, Hegel's philosophy is full of empty abstractions, which "the ordinary man" would never dream of concocting. In view of the other things Marx had to say (recorded above and below), it is reasonably safe to conclude he also thought this of Philosophy in its entirety.


Here, indeed, is what he concluded about philosophy and philosophical language in general -- taken this time from The German Ideology:


"One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.


"We have shown that thoughts and ideas acquire an independent existence in consequence of the personal circumstances and relations of individuals acquiring independent existence. We have shown that exclusive, systematic occupation with these thoughts on the part of ideologists and philosophers, and hence the systematisation of these thoughts, is a consequence of division of labour, and that, in particular, German philosophy is a consequence of German petty-bourgeois conditions. The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases alone added.]


From this it is quite clear that Marx thought that Philosophy was divorced from real life and was based on (i) distorted language (i.e., it was "the distorted language of the actual world") and (ii) self-referential language ("so they were bound to make language into an independent realm") -- which is, of course, exactly what Wittgenstein concluded. More importantly, however, he also recommended a reversion to ordinary language as a way of undoing the damage ("the philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted") -- again, just like Wittgenstein.


Later on in The German Ideology we read the following:


"With the theoretical equipment inherited from Hegel it is, of course, not possible even to understand the empirical, material attitude of these people. Owing to the fact that Feuerbach showed the religious world as an illusion of the earthly world -- a world which in his writing appears merely as a phrase -- German theory too was confronted with the question which he left unanswered: how did it come about that people 'got' these illusions 'into their heads'? Even for the German theoreticians this question paved the way to the materialistic view of the world, a view which is not without premises, but which empirically observes the actual material premises as such and for that reason is, for the first time, actually a critical view of the world. This path was already indicated in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher -- in the Einleitung zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie and Zur Judenfrage. But since at that time this was done in philosophical phraseology, the traditionally occurring philosophical expressions such as 'human essence', 'species', etc., gave the German theoreticians the desired reason for misunderstanding the real trend of thought and believing that here again it was a question merely of giving a new turn to their worn-out theoretical garment -- just as Dr. Arnold Ruge, the Dottore Graziano of German philosophy, imagined that he could continue as before to wave his clumsy arms about and display his pedantic-farcical mask. One has to 'leave philosophy aside' (Wigand, p.187, cf., Hess, Die letzten Philosophen, p.8), one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality, for which there exists also an enormous amount of literary material, unknown, of course, to the philosophers. When, after that, one again encounters people like Krummacher or 'Stirner', one finds that one has long ago left them 'behind' and below. Philosophy and the study of the actual world have the same relation to one another as onanism and sexual love. Saint Sancho, who in spite of his absence of thought -- which was noted by us patiently and by him emphatically -- remains within the world of pure thoughts, can, of course, save himself from it only by means of a moral postulate, the postulate of 'thoughtlessness' (p.196 of 'the book'). He is a bourgeois who saves himself in the face of commerce by the banqueroute cochenne [swinish bankruptcy -- RL] whereby, of course, he becomes not a proletarian, but an impecunious, bankrupt bourgeois. He does not become a man of the world, but a bankrupt philosopher without thoughts." [Marx and Engels (1976), p.236. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]


Clearly, this is an expression of Marx's own farewell to Philosophy, telling his readers that "one has to 'leave [it] aside'" and devote oneself "like an ordinary man to the study of the actual world" (and this would scarcely exclude himself) --, which is, of course, one reason why also he famously said this:


"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." [Theses on Feuerbach.]


He elaborated further on these themes in the 1844 Paris Manuscripts:


"It can be seen how subjectivism and objectivism, spiritualism and materialism, activity and passivity, lose their antithetical character, and hence their existence as such antitheses, only in the social condition; it can be seen how the resolution of the theoretical antitheses themselves is possible only in a practical way, only through the practical energy of man, and how their resolution is for that reason by no means only a problem of knowledge, but a real problem of life, a problem which philosophy was unable to solve precisely because it treated it as a purely theoretical problem." [Marx (1975b), p.354. Italic emphases in the original; bold added.]


So, according to Marx, "philosophy is nothing but religion rendered into thought"; it must, therefore, be "left aside", and one has to "leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality". That is because Philosophy stands in the same relation to the "study of the actual world" as onanism does to sexual love. Furthermore, Philosophy is based on "distorted language of the actual world", empty abstractions and fabricated concepts. No wonder then that Marx contrasts practicalities (and a desire to change the world) with the pursuit of that empty and pointless ruling-class discipline, Philosophy.


And we know that Philosophy is a ruling-class form-of-thought, since Marx told us:


"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch...." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


Notice how Marx pointed out that:


"The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.... Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age...." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]


According to Marx, the elite control the production and distribution of ideas -- doctrines that represent and reflect their interests, and which promote their view of the world. Plainly, in order to do this the ruling-class also control education:


"The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it....The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance." [Ibid.]


In addition, they, and their ideologues, rule as "thinkers", and they do this in "its whole range" (which, of course, includes Philosophy).


As I have pointed out many times at my site:


It is worth adding that phrases like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", and "ruling-class ideology" -- used at this site in connection with Traditional Philosophy and the concepts that underpin Dialectical Materialism/'Materialist Dialectics', upside down or 'the right way up' -- aren't meant to imply that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented this way of thinking or of seeing the world (although some of them did -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius). They are intended to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise, the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. Up until recently this approach had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another, helped run the system for the elite.


However, that will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published; until then, the reader is directed here, here, and here, for further details.)


[Of course, there are other reasons for arguing that Philosophy is a ruling-class thought-form. We don't have to take Marx's word! Readers can find out what they are by following the above links.]


Indeed, Marx argues that philosophy is in effect an ideological affectation of, or even a weapon used in, the class war:


"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or -- this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms -- with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic -- in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production." [Marx (1968), pp.181-82. Bold emphasis added.]45a


Now, it is certainly possible to identify these "ruling ideas" (follow these links for more on this), but I have summarised this point in the following way:


As is easy to show, Hegel lifted many of his doctrines from earlier mystics and ruling-class hacks. These ideas have appeared in the philosophical theories of boss-class thinkers from ancient times until today....


Traditional Philosophy taught that behind appearances there lies a hidden world, accessible to thought alone, which is more real than the material world we see around us.

This way of seeing things was invented by ruling-class ideologues. They did so because if you belong to, benefit from or help run a society which is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can keep 'order' in several ways.

The first and most obvious way is through violence. This will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and it stifles innovation (among other things).

Another way is to win over the majority (or, at least, a significant proportion of "opinion formers", bureaucrats, judges, bishops, generals, intellectuals, philosophers, editors, teachers, administrators, etc., etc.) to the view that the present order either (1) Works for their benefit, (2) Preserves and defends 'civilised values', (3) Is ordained of the 'gods', or (4) Is 'Natural' and thus cannot be fought against, reformed or negotiated with.

Hence, a 'world-view' that helps rationalise one or more of the above is necessary for the ruling-class to carry on ruling "in the same old way". While the content of this aspect of ruling-class ideology may have changed with each change in the mode of production, its form has remained largely the same for thousands of years: Ultimate Truth (about this 'hidden world' underlying appearances) can be ascertained by thought alone, and can therefore be imposed on reality
dogmatically and aprioristically.


Some might object that philosophical ideas can't have remained the same for thousands of years, across different modes of production; that idea runs counter to core ideas in Historical Materialism. But, we don't argue the same for religious belief. Marx put no time stamp on the following, for example:


"The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man -- state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.


"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.


"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo." [Marx (1975d), p.244. Italic emphases in the original.]


The above remarks applied back in Ancient Babylon and Egypt, just as they did in China and India, in Greece and Rome, in the Middle Ages and they have done so right across the planet ever since.

The same is true of the core thought-forms found right throughout Traditional Philosophy -- that there is indeed an invisible world, accessible to thought alone --, especially since Marx also believed that:


"...philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381.]


This helps explain, of course, why Marx thought this entire discipline was based on distorted language and contained little other than empty abstractions and alienated thought-forms -- and, indeed, why he turned his back on it from the late 1840s onward.


In fact, after the mid-1840s, there are no positive, and very few even neutral, comments about Philosophy in Marx's work (and that includes his letters).46


It could be objected that Marx made positive remarks about dialectics all through his life, in published and unpublished work. In fact, he pointedly calls "the dialectic" a "method", not a theory or a philosophy. [Anyway, I have dealt with this response in Essay Nine Part One; readers are directed there for more details; precise links can be found in Note 46.]


As is well-known, Marx even published a book in 1847 called The Poverty of Philosophy -- hardly a ringing endorsement of this aimless, ruling-class discipline! [Yes I am aware he was lampooning Proudhon's The Philosophy of Poverty!]


Here are a few paragraphs from that book:


"If we had M. Proudhon's intrepidity in the matter of Hegelianism we should say: it is distinguished in itself from itself. What does this mean? Impersonal reason, having outside itself neither a base on which it can pose itself, nor an object to which it can oppose itself, nor a subject with which it can compose itself, is forced to turn head over heels, in posing itself, opposing itself and composing itself -- position, opposition, composition. Or, to speak Greek -- we have thesis, antithesis and synthesis. For those who do not know the Hegelian language: affirmation, negation and negation of the negation. That is what language means. It is certainly not Hebrew (with due apologies to M. Proudhon); but it is the language of this pure reason, separate from the individual. Instead of the ordinary individual with his ordinary manner of speaking and thinking we have nothing but this ordinary manner purely and simply -- without the individual.


"Is it surprising that everything, in the final abstraction -- for we have here an abstraction, and not an analysis -- presents itself as a logical category? Is it surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed, then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that, if you leave out of account the limits of this body; you soon have nothing but a space -- that if, finally, you leave out of the account the dimensions of this space, there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category? If we abstract thus from every subject all the alleged accidents, animate or inanimate, men or things, we are right in saying that in the final abstraction, the only substance left is the logical category. Thus the metaphysicians who, in making these abstractions, think they are making analyses, and who, the more they detach themselves from things, imagine themselves to be getting all the nearer to the point of penetrating to their core -- these metaphysicians in turn are right in saying that things here below are embroideries of which the logical categories constitute the canvas. This is what distinguishes the philosopher from the Christian. The Christian, in spite of logic, has only one incarnation of the Logos; with the philosopher there is no end to incarnations. If all that exists, all that lives on land, and under water can be reduced by abstraction to a logical category -- if the whole real world can be drowned thus in a world of abstractions, in the world of logical categories -- who need be astonished at it?


"All that exists, all that lives on land and under water, exists and lives only by some kind of movement. Thus, the movement of history produces social relations; industrial movement gives us industrial products, etc.


"Just as by dint of abstraction we have transformed everything into a logical category, so one has only to make an abstraction of every characteristic distinctive of different movements to attain movement in its abstract condition -- purely formal movement, the purely logical formula of movement. If one finds in logical categories the substance of all things, one imagines one has found in the logical formula of movement the absolute method, which not only explains all things, but also implies the movement of things....


"Up to now we have expounded only the dialectics of Hegel. We shall see later how M. Proudhon has succeeded in reducing it to the meanest proportions. Thus, for Hegel, all that has happened and is still happening is only just what is happening in his own mind. Thus the philosophy of history is nothing but the history of philosophy, of his own philosophy. There is no longer a 'history according to the order in time,' there is only 'the sequence of ideas in the understanding.' He thinks he is constructing the world by the movement of thought, whereas he is merely reconstructing systematically and classifying by the absolute method of thoughts which are in the minds of all." [Marx (1976), pp.162-65. Italic emphases in the original. Minor typos and a few major errors corrected. (I have informed the editors over at the Marxist Internet Archive about them.) Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


Not much positivity obvious in those words!


Of course, as noted above, some have argued that Marx was really only concerned with criticising German Philosophy in his early writings. To be sure, that was one aspect of his immediate focus, but it wasn't his only concern. For example, when he wrote the following, he knew Feuerbach wasn't just saying this of contemporaneous German Philosophy.


"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381.]


His target was much broader, in fact; as Brudney points out (with respect to the work of Feuerbach's to which Marx was referring here):


"...[T]he Principles [i.e., The Principles of the Philosophy of the Future -- RL] can be divided into three sections: the first tying modern philosophy to theology, the second characterizing and attacking Hegel's work as the culmination of modern philosophy, and the last presenting the themes of Feuerbach's new philosophy. The first part is intended to establish that modern or 'speculative' philosophy -- basically the rationalist tradition from Descartes to Hegel...has the same conceptual structure as Christianity and, therefore can be critiqued on the same grounds." [Brudney (1998), p.85. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis and link added.]


So, unless Marx had suffered from some form of localised amnesia, he can't fail to have known that Feuerbach was arguing that Modern Philosophy, from Descartes to Hegel, was "religion rendered into thought".


Moreover, even though the following appeared in The German Ideology, it is hard to see how Marx could, or would, have restricted it to contemporaneous German thought:


"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases alone added.]


The above comments were just as true of Descartes, Plato and Anselm as they were of the German Idealists of Marx's day. Or, are we to suppose that an Idealist of the stature of Plotinus, for example, whose theses find clear echo in Hegel's work, didn't "distort" language? Indeed, if this comment were true of Hegel, it must surely also be true of those Idealists whose doctrines Hegel appropriated (i.e., Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, John Scotus Eriugena, Nicholas of Cusa, Giordano Bruno, Jacob Böhme, Spinoza, etc., etc.).


More-or-less the same can be said about this comment:


"It can be seen how subjectivism and objectivism, spiritualism and materialism, activity and passivity, lose their antithetical character, and hence their existence as such antitheses, only in the social condition; it can be seen how the resolution of the theoretical antitheses themselves is possible only in a practical way, only through the practical energy of man, and how their resolution is for that reason by no means only a problem of knowledge, but a real problem of life, a problem which philosophy was unable to solve precisely because it treated it as a purely theoretical problem." [Marx (1975b), p.354. Italic emphases in the original.]


Or, should we imagine that non-German philosophers didn't treat these issues "as a purely theoretical problem[s]"?


As well as this:


"One has to 'leave philosophy aside'..., one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality..." [Marx and Engels (1976), p.236. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


The above plainly doesn't apply just to German Thought. If it did, Marx would surely have said something like this:


"One has to 'leave philosophy aside'..., one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of non-German philosophy and actuality...".


More to the point, does anyone think Marx was referring only to German Philosophers when he penned this famous observation:


"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." [Theses on Feuerbach.]


Or this?


"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or -- this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms -- with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic -- in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production." [Marx (1968), pp.181-82. Bold emphasis added.]


And this?


"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch...." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


Did the ruling-class only begin to "rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas" between, say, 1750 and 1840? Did they only begin to "regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age" when Kant was still in short trousers? Did they only begin to "control...the means of mental production" when Wolff was in Kindergarten? Perhaps the following only kicked in after the Lisbon earthquake?


"[The] legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic [are the] ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out." [Loc cit.]


Finally, as noted earlier, unlike the early part of that decade, after the late 1840s there are no positive (or even neutral) comments about Philosophy in Marx's work (including his unpublished writings). On its own (never mind the other things I have pointed out), this suggests that the interpretation placed on Marx's intellectual development in this Essay is accurate: Marx became an anti-philosopher.


Now, who do we know from the last century who also fits that description? Who gathered around him little other Marxist and socialist friends and pupils? Who tells us that the most formative ideas of his mature work were suggested to him by a leading Marxist economist? Who questioned the LOI and railed against the fear of contradictions among mathematicians? Who was called a "left-winger" by those who worked with him? Who wanted to go and live in Russia? Who spoke glowingly of the gains made by the Russian Revolution? Who was also an anti-philosopher, and who, like Marx, enjoined on us to return to the use of the vernacular?


If only there were some sort of clue...




Marx also had other things to say which were later elaborated upon in Wittgenstein's famous 'Private Language Argument'. The following passage is taken from the Grundrisse (I have quoted the entire section so that readers may appreciate the context):


"The object before us, to begin with, material production. Individuals producing in Society -- hence socially determined individual production -- is, of course, the point of departure. The individual and isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs among the unimaginative conceits of the eighteenth-century Robinsonades, which in no way express merely a reaction against over-sophistication and a return to a misunderstood natural life, as cultural historians imagine. As little as Rousseau's contrat social, which brings naturally independent, autonomous subjects into relation and connection by contract, rests on such naturalism. This is the semblance, the merely aesthetic semblance, of the Robinsonades, great and small. It is, rather, the anticipation of 'civil society', in preparation since the sixteenth century and making giant strides towards maturity in the eighteenth. In this society of free competition, the individual appears detached from the natural bonds etc. which in earlier historical periods make him the accessory of a definite and limited human conglomerate. Smith and Ricardo still stand with both feet on the shoulders of the eighteenth-century prophets, in whose imaginations this eighteenth-century individual -- the product on one side of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society, on the other side of the new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century -- appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past. Not as a historic result but as history's point of departure. As the Natural Individual appropriate to their notion of human nature, not arising historically, but posited by nature. This illusion has been common to each new epoch to this day. Steuart avoided this simple-mindedness because as an aristocrat and in antithesis to the eighteenth century, he had in some respects a more historical footing.


"The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual, appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole: in a still quite natural way in the family and in the family expanded into the clan [Stamm]; then later in the various forms of communal society arising out of the antitheses and fusions of the clan. Only in the eighteenth century, in 'civil society', do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations. The human being is in the most literal sense a Zwon politikon not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society. Production by an isolated individual outside society -- a rare exception which may well occur when a civilized person in whom the social forces are already dynamically present is cast by accident into the wilderness -- is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other. There is no point in dwelling on this any longer. The point could go entirely unmentioned if this twaddle, which had sense and reason for the eighteenth-century characters, had not been earnestly pulled back into the centre of the most modern economics by Bastiat, Carey, Proudhon etc. Of course it is a convenience for Proudhon et al. to be able to give a historico-philosophic account of the source of an economic relation, of whose historic origins he is ignorant, by inventing the myth that Adam or Prometheus stumbled on the idea ready-made, and then it was adopted, etc. Nothing is more dry and boring than the fantasies of a locus communis." [Marx (1973), pp.83-85. Bold emphasis and links added.]


"The main point here is this: In all these forms -- in which landed property and agriculture form the basis of the economic order, and where the economic aim is hence the production of use values, i.e., the reproduction of the individual within the specific relation to the commune in which he is its basis -- there is to be found: (1) Appropriation not through labour, but presupposed to labour; appropriation of the natural conditions of labour, of the earth as the original instrument of labour as well as its workshop and repository of raw materials. The individual relates simply to the objective conditions of labour as being his; [relates] to them as the inorganic nature of his subjectivity, in which the latter realizes itself; the chief objective condition of labour does not itself appear as a product of labour, but is already there as nature; on one side the living individual, on the other the earth, as the objective condition of his reproduction; (2) but this relation to land and soil, to the earth, as the property of the labouring individual -- who thus appears from the outset not merely as labouring individual, in this abstraction, but who has an objective mode of existence in his ownership of the land, an existence presupposed to his activity, and not merely as a result of it, a presupposition of his activity just like his skin, his sense organs, which of course he also reproduces and develops etc. in the life process, but which are nevertheless presuppositions of this process of his reproduction -- is instantly mediated by the naturally arisen, spontaneous, more or less historically developed and modified presence of the individual as member of a commune -- his naturally arisen presence as member of a tribe etc. An isolated individual could no more have property in land and soil than he could speak. He could, of course, live off it as substance, as do the animals. The relation to the earth as property is always mediated through the occupation of the land and soil, peacefully or violently, by the tribe, the commune, in some more or less naturally arisen or already historically developed form. The individual can never appear here in the dot-like isolation...in which he appears as mere free worker." [Ibid., p.485. Bold emphasis and links added. Some paragraphs merged.]


In other words Marx found the idea that there could be such a thing as a private language, which only one individual could speak, "absurd". Wittgenstein simply added the detail and provided the supporting argument.


For Marx, language was, therefore, a social product:


"But also when I am active scientifically, etc. -- an activity which I can seldom perform in direct community with others -- then my activity is social, because I perform it as a man. Not only is the material of my activity given to me as a social product (as is even the language in which the thinker is active): my own existence is social activity, and therefore that which I make of myself, I make of myself for society and with the consciousness of myself as a social being....


"Man is the immediate object of natural science; for immediate, sensuous nature for man is, immediately, human sensuousness (the expressions are identical) -- presented immediately in the form of the other man sensuously present for him. Indeed, his own sense-perception first exists as human sensuousness for himself through the other man. But nature is the immediate object of the science of man: the first object of man -- man -- is nature, sensuousness; and the particular human sensuous essential powers can only find their self-understanding in the science of the natural world in general, just as they can find their objective realisation only in natural objects. The element of thought itself -- the element of thought's living expression -- language -- is of a sensuous nature. The social reality of nature, and human natural science, or the natural science of man, are identical terms." [Marx (1975b), pp.350-52. Italic emphases in the original; bold added.]


"Hence, when we bring the products of our labour into relation with each other as values, it is not because we see in these articles the material receptacles of homogeneous human labour. Quite the contrary: whenever, by an exchange, we equate as values our different products, by that very act, we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it. Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic. Later on, we try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind the secret of our own social products; for to stamp an object of utility as a value, is just as much a social product as language." [Marx (1996), pp.84-85. Bold emphasis added.]


"Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men." [Marx and Engels (1976), p.44.]


Here, too, is what Engels had to say about language:


"Much more important is the direct, demonstrable influence of the development of the hand on the rest of the organism. It has already been noted that our simian ancestors were gregarious; it is obviously impossible to seek the derivation of man, the most social of all animals, from non-gregarious immediate ancestors. Mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labour, and widened man's horizon at every new advance. He was continually discovering new, hitherto unknown properties in natural objects. On the other hand, the development of labour necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual. In short, men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to each other. Necessity created the organ; the undeveloped larynx of the ape was slowly but surely transformed by modulation to produce constantly more developed modulation, and the organs of the mouth gradually learned to pronounce one articulate sound after another.


"Comparison with animals proves that this explanation of the origin of language from and in the process of labour is the only correct one....


"First labour, after it and then with it speech -- these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man, which, for all its similarity is far larger and more perfect. Hand in hand with the development of the brain went the development of its most immediate instruments -- the senses. Just as the gradual development of speech is inevitably accompanied by a corresponding refinement of the organ of hearing, so the development of the brain as a whole is accompanied by a refinement of all the senses. The eagle sees much farther than man, but the human eye discerns considerably more in things than does the eye of the eagle. The dog has a far keener sense of smell than man, but it does not distinguish a hundredth part of the odours that for man are definite signs denoting different things. And the sense of touch, which the ape hardly possesses in its crudest initial form, has been developed only side by side with the development of the human hand itself, through the medium of labour.


"The reaction on labour and speech of the development of the brain and its attendant senses, of the increasing clarity of consciousness, power of abstraction and of conclusion, gave both labour and speech an ever-renewed impulse to further development. This development did not reach its conclusion when man finally became distinct from the ape, but on the whole made further powerful progress, its degree and direction varying among different peoples and at different times, and here and there even being interrupted by local or temporary regression. This further development has been strongly urged forward, on the one hand, and guided along more definite directions, on the other, by a new element which came into play with the appearance of fully-fledged man, namely, society." [Engels (1876), pp.356-57. Italic emphases in the original.]


[Now, I am not so much interested in the scientific accuracy of the above comments here as I am with the connection they might or might not have with Wittgenstein's own thoughts.]


So, for Engels, as for Marx, language is a product of collective labour -- coupled with a "need to communicate" --, and is therefore a social artefact.


As we will see, Wittgenstein adopted similar views: language is a social phenomenon, developed as a result of collective labour (with words functioning as "tools"), and which is also primarily a means of communication.47


Wittgenstein's Attitude To Philosophy


What follows isn't meant to be a definitive account of Wittgenstein's view of Philosophy (that topic would require an entire book!), merely an outline of some of its main features, particularly those that echo Marx's approach (or, indeed, that of other Marxists).


First of all, although Wittgenstein called his work "philosophy", he conceived his use of this word in a new light:


"If, e.g., we call our investigations 'philosophy', this title, on the one hand, seems appropriate, on the other hand it certainly has misled people. (One might say that the subject we are dealing with is one of the heirs of the subject which used to be called 'philosophy.')" [Wittgenstein (1969), p.28.]


This is in line with Marx's emphasis on leaving philosophy; for Wittgenstein, it amounted to showing philosophy, as it has been traditionally practiced is just self-important nonsense based on a systematic misuse of language.


So, what is this new approach, this new 'method'? Here is how Wittgenstein described it:


"There is not a single philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, different therapies, as it were." [Wittgenstein (2009), §133, pp.56-57e. Italic emphases in the original.]


"Our inquiry is therefore a grammatical one. And this inquiry sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away. Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, brought about, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of our language." [Ibid., §90, p.47e.]


Of course, Wittgenstein didn't mean by the word "grammar" what one finds, for instance, in books devoted to formal or school grammar. What he meant by this word will become apparent as this section unfolds. [See, for example, Savickey (1999).]


"All I can give you is a method; I cannot teach you any new truths." [Wittgenstein (1979a), p.97.]


"My method throughout is to point out mistakes in language [although from what he said elsewhere, he clearly meant 'mistakes in how we use language', since he also said 'ordinary language is all right', Wittgenstein (1969), p.28 -- RL]. I am going to use the word 'philosophy' for the activity of pointing out such mistakes. Why do I wish to call our present activity philosophy when we also call Plato's activity philosophy? Because of a certain analogy between them, or perhaps because of the continuous development of the subject. Or the new activity may take the place of the old because it removes mental discomforts the old was supposed to." [Ibid., pp.27-28. Bold emphasis added.]


"The correct method of philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said..., and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person -- he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy -- this method would be the only correct one." [Wittgenstein (1972), 6.53, p.151. (This links to a PDF.) Italic emphasis in the original.]


He also thought that Traditional Philosophy (Metaphysics) had blurred the distinction between scientific research and conceptual problems:


"It was correct that our considerations must not be scientific ones.... And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. All explanation must disappear, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light -- that is to say, its purpose -- from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems; but they are solved through an insight into the workings of our language, and in such a way that these workings are recognized -- despite an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by coming up with new discoveries, but by assembling what we have long been familiar with. Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by the resources of our language." [Wittgenstein (2009), §109, p.52e. Italic emphases in the original.]


"Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and they are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness." [Wittgenstein (1969), p.18.]


"The essential thing about metaphysics is that it blurs the distinction between factual and conceptual investigations." [Wittgenstein (1981), §458, p.81.]


"What we find out in philosophy is trivial; it does not teach us new facts, only science does that." [Wittgenstein (1980), p.26.]


And, like Marx, he advocated a return to our ordinary ways of speaking:


"I think that essentially we have only one language, and that is our everyday language.... [O]ur everyday language is the language, provided we rid it of the obscurities that lie hidden in it. Our language is completely in order, as long as we are clear about what it symbolizes." [Waismann (1979), pp.45-46. Paragraphs merged.]


"When philosophers use a word -- 'knowledge', 'being', 'object', 'I', 'proposition/sentence', 'name', -- and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used this way in the language in which it is at home? What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use." [Wittgenstein (2009), §116, p.53e. Italic emphasis in the original. Paragraphs merged.]


"When I speak about language..., I must speak the language of every day." [Ibid., §120, p.54e.]


"On the one hand, it is clear that every sentence in our language 'is in order as it is'. That is to say, we are not striving after an ideal, as if our ordinary vague sentences had not yet got a quite exceptionable sense, and a perfect language still had to be constructed by us." [Ibid., §98, p.49e. Italic emphasis in the original.]


"For philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday." [Ibid., §38, p.23e. Italic emphasis in the original.]


"It is wrong to say that in philosophy we consider an ideal language as opposed to our ordinary one. For it makes it appear as though we thought we could improve on ordinary language. But ordinary language is all right." [Wittgenstein (1969), p.28.]


"The thing to do in such cases is always to look how the words in question are actually used in our language." [Ibid., p.56. Italic emphasis in the original.]


"[B]ut it is shocking to use words with a meaning they never have in normal life and this is the source of much confusion." [Wittgenstein (1980), p.73.]


Also, like Marx, he attributes conceptual error to philosophers' use of distorted language:


"The language used by philosophers is already deformed, as though by shoes that are too tight." [Wittgenstein (1998), p.47e.]


Hence, the 'problems' that have exercised Traditional Philosophers derive from a misuse, or misconstrual, of language (which means that philosophy, for him, was a critique of language -- i.e., the language found and mis-used in Traditional Thought). In which case, the job of a philosopher is to remind us how we ordinarily employ our words (which is very roughly part of what Wittgenstein meant by "grammar"):


"What is the meaning of a word? Let us attack this question by asking, first, what is the explanation of the meaning of a word; what does the explanation of a word look like? The way this question helps us is analogous to the way the question 'how do we measure a length?' helps us understand the problem 'what is length?'


"The questions 'What is length?', 'What is meaning?', 'What is the number one?' etc. produce in us a mental cramp. We feel we can't point to anything in reply to them and yet ought to point to something. (We are up against one of the real sources of philosophical bewilderment: a substantive makes us look for a thing that corresponds to it.)" [Wittgenstein (1969), p.1. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Link added. Several paragraphs merged.]


I have explored this question at length in Essay Three Part One, where I show how this "source of bewilderment" has misled philosophers from Ancient Greece until today (and that includes Hegel and DM-theorists, with all their 'abstractions' and 'essences').


"We are bringing words back from their metaphysical to their normal use in language. (The man who said that one cannot step into the same river twice was wrong; one can step into the same river twice). And this is what the solution to all philosophical difficulties looks like. Our answers, if they are correct, must be ordinary and trivial." [Wittgenstein (2013), p.304e. Italic emphasis in the original. Paragraphs merged.]


"Philosophy just puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything -- Since everything is open to view, there is nothing to explain. For whatever may be hidden is of no interest to us.... The work of the philosopher consists in marshalling recollections for a particular purpose." [Wittgenstein (2009), §§126-27, p.55e. Paragraphs merged.]


"The main cause of philosophical diseases -- a one-sided diet: one nourishes one's thinking with only one kind of example." [Ibid., §593, p.164e.]


"The confusions which occupy us arise when language is, as it were, idling, not when it is doing work." [Ibid., §132, p.56e.]


"In philosophy one is in constant danger of producing a myth of symbolism, or a myth of mental processes. Instead of saying what one knows and must admit." [Wittgenstein (1981), §211, p.38.]


"One predicates of the thing what lies in the mode of representation." [Wittgenstein (2009), §104, p.50e.]


{CF Russell: "That is why the theory of symbolism has a certain importance, because otherwise you are so certain to mistake the properties of the symbolism for the properties of the thing." [Russell (1918), p.185.] -- RL.}


"When we do philosophy, we are like savages, primitive people, who hear the way in which civilised people talk, put a false interpretation on it, and then draw the oddest conclusion from it." [Wittgenstein (2009), §194, p.85e.]


"Troubles we get into in philosophy come through constantly trying to construe everything in accordance with one paradigm or model. Philosophy we might say arises out of certain prejudices. The words 'must' and 'cannot' are typical words exhibiting these prejudices. They are prejudices in favour of certain grammatical forms." [Wittgenstein (1979a), p.115. Spelling altered to conform with UK English.]


"[This] book deals with the problems of philosophy, and shows, I believe, that the reason why these problems are posed is that the logic of our language is misunderstood. The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words: what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence. Thus the aim of the book is to draw a limit to thought, or rather --  not to thought, but to the expression of thought.... It will therefore only be in language that the limit can be drawn, and what lies on the other side of the limit will simply be nonsense." [Wittgenstein (1972), p.3. (This links to a PDF.) Paragraphs merged.]


"Most of the propositions and questions to be found in philosophical works are not false but nonsensical.... Most of the propositions and questions of philosophers arise from our failure to understand the logic of our language. (They belong to the same class as the question whether the good is more or less identical with the beautiful.) All philosophy is a critique of language.... It was Russell who performed the service of showing that the apparent logical form of a proposition need not be its real one." [Ibid., 4.003-4.0031, p.37. (This links to a PDF.) Paragraphs merged.]


"In everyday language it very frequently happens that the same word has different modes of signification -- and so belongs to different symbols -- or that two words that have different modes of signification are employed in propositions in what is superficially the same way. Thus the word 'is' figures as the copula, as a sign for identity, and as an expression for existence; 'exist' figures as an intransitive verb like 'go', and 'identical' as an adjective' we speak of something, but also of something's happening." [Ibid., 3.323, p.29.(This links to a PDF.) Paragraphs merged.]


"Philosophy aims at the clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity. A philosophical work consist essentially of elucidations. Philosophy does not result in 'philosophical propositions', but rather in the clarification of propositions.... [Philosophy] must set the limits to what can be thought; and, in doing so, what cannot be thought. It must set the limits to what cannot be thought by working outwards through what can be thought. It will signify what cannot be said, by presenting clearly what can be said." [Ibid., 4.112-4.115, p.49. (This links to a PDF.) Some paragraphs merged.]


"We want to replace wild conjectures and explanations by quiet weighing of linguistic facts." [Wittgenstein (1981), §447, p.79.]


"Why is philosophy such a complicated structure? After all, it should be completely simple if it is that ultimate thing, independent of all experience, that you make it out to be. Philosophy unravels the knots in our thinking, hence its results must be simple, but its activity as complicated as the knots it unravels. Lichtenberg: 'Our entire philosophy is correction [sic] of the use of language, and therefore the correction of a philosophy -- of the most general philosophy.'... You ask why grammatical problems are so tough and seemingly ineradicable. -- Because they are connected with the oldest thought habits, i.e., with the oldest images that are engraved into our language itself (Lichtenberg)....


"Human beings are deeply imbedded in philosophical, i.e., grammatical, confusion. And freeing them from these presuppositions [amounts to?] extricating them from the immensely diverse associations they are caught up in. One must, as it were, regroup their entire language. -- But of course this language developed as it did because human beings had -- and have -- the tendency to think this way. Therefore extricating them only works with those who live in an instinctive state of dissatisfaction with language. Language has the same traps ready for everyone; the immense network of easily trodden false paths. And thus we see one person after another walking down the same paths....


"One keeps hearing the remark that philosophy really doesn't make any progress, that the same philosophical problems that occupied the Greeks keep occupying us. But those who say that don't understand the reason this must be so. The reason is that our language has remained constant and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions. So long as there is a verb 'be' that seems to function like 'eat' and 'drink', so long as there are the adjectives 'identical', 'true', 'false', 'possible', so long as there is talk about a flow of time and an expanse of space, etc., etc. humans will continue to bump up against the same mysterious difficulties, and stare at something that no explanation seems able to remove. And this, by the way, satisfies a longing for the transcendental [an alternative version of the manuscript has 'supernatural' here -- RL], for in believing that they see the 'limit of human understanding' they of course believe that they can see beyond it.


"I read '...philosophers are no nearer to the meaning of 'Reality' than Plato got...'. What a strange state of affairs. How strange in that case that Plato could get that far in the first place! Or that after him we were not able to get further. Was it because Plato was so clever?" [Wittgenstein (2013), pp.311-12e. Italic emphases in the original; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged. Link added.]


"The dogmatism into which we fall so easily when doing philosophy." [Wittgenstein (2009), §131, p.56e.]


"When a sentence is called senseless, it is not, as it were, its sense that is senseless. Rather a combination of words is being excluded from the language, withdrawn from circulation." [Ibid., §500, p.147e.]


"This again is connected with the idea that the meaning of a word is an image, or a thing correlated to the word. (This roughly means, we are looking at words as though they were proper names, and we then confuse the bearer of a name with the meaning of the name.)" [Wittgenstein (1969), p.18.]


"Language cannot express what belongs to the essence of the world. Therefore it cannot say that everything is in flux. Language can only say what we could also imagine differently." [Wittgenstein (2013), p.314e. Italic emphasis in the original.]


[Once more, I am not concerned here to defend every single one of the above remarks, or, indeed, explain why Wittgenstein advanced them (or even why I think they are correct) -- I have largely done that in other Essays posted at this site, for example, here and here. This section is, once again, merely aimed at showing how Wittgenstein appropriated and then developed ideas he imported from various Marxists (and possibly, indirectly, from Marx himself), and thus that he is no enemy of the left.]


The result of a consistent application of Wittgenstein's method will be the complete dissolution of philosophical problems, as well as the demolition of the "houses of cards" built by Traditional Theorists -- the exposure of latent "nonsense" as patent "nonsense":


"What I want to teach is: to pass from unobvious nonsense to obvious nonsense." [Wittgenstein (2009), §464, p.141e.]


{"My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense." [Wittgenstein (1958), §464, p.133.]}


"But what we are destroying are only houses of cards, and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stood. The results of philosophy are the discovery of some piece of plain nonsense...." [Wittgenstein (2009), §§118-19, p.54e.]


"For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear.... A main source of our failure to understand is that we don't have an overview of the use of our words.... A philosophical problem has the form: 'I don't know my way about.'" [Ibid., §§122-23, pp.54-55e. Italic emphasis in the original. Some paragraphs merged.]


"All philosophy can do is to destroy idols. And that means not creating a new one -- say in 'the absence of an idol.'" [Wittgenstein (2013), p.305e. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


"If I am right, then philosophical problems really must be solvable without remainder, in contrast to all others.... The problems are solved in the literal sense of the word -- dissolved like a lump of sugar." [Ibid., p.310e. Paragraphs merged.]


"The philosopher is someone who has to cure many diseases of the understanding...." [Wittgenstein (1998), p.50e.]


The application of his method won't therefore be the discovery of a new set of truths, but a set of truisms with which no one would think of disagreeing:


"A common-sense person, when he reads earlier philosophers thinks -- quite rightly -- 'Sheer nonsense'. When he listens to me, he thinks -- rightly again -- 'Nothing but stale truisms'. That is how the image of philosophy has changed." [Manuscript 219, quoted in Kenny (1984b), p.57.]


"If someone were to advance theses in philosophy, it would never be possible to debate them, because everyone would agree with them." [Wittgenstein (2009), §128, p.56e.]


That is because if someone were to make a list of 'philosophical' theses (recall this term is being used in Wittgenstein's new sense of the word) it would contain nothing but rather obvious reminders about how words are ordinarily used, which, since Wittgenstein's listeners and readers already use these words in this way every day of their lives, would constitute a set of rather boring truisms. This is partly what lies behind the feeling of extreme disappointment, if not complete deflation, when those new to Wittgenstein's work read the results of his method for the first time (like those in Appendix A, or those in Essay Five, for instance). They expect from philosophers wisdom, profound truths about the nature of 'Being', 'Truth', and the 'Mind', moral guidance, or perhaps some insight into 'the meaning of life', not a set of banal truisms about how we use certain words. But, that is all Wittgenstein has to offer -- at least when he didn't stray into ethics or the philosophy of religion..


If Wittgenstein is right, then, like Marx, everyone will "leave philosophy" of their own volition, since it would tell them nothing new, or nothing they weren't already aware of because of their ordinary use of language. Hopefully, they will then devote themselves "like an ordinary man to the study of the actual world", and how to change it, turning their backs on empty speculation and pointless word-juggling. So, Wittgenstein's method in effect helps destroy whatever motivation there might be to indulge in Traditional Philosophy (that is, when it becomes plain that its concerns in fact focus on what are pseudo-problems, its theories "houses of cards") -- and, according to the approach I have adopted at this site, it does this in order to make room for genuine science. [Again, on this see Appendix A (link above).]


In this way, Kant's (modified) programme can be made thoroughly secular.48


Another clear parallel between Wittgenstein's new "anthropological" approach to language and the views adopted by Marx and Engels is to be found in the opening  sections of the Investigations. As part of his discussion of what he took to be Augustine's conception of language, Wittgenstein considers an anecdote about a very simple human society with a very basic form of 'language':


"[Augustine's words (quoted in Appendix B -- RL)] give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: words in language name objects -- sentences are combinations of such names. -- In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands. Augustine does not mention any difference between kinds of word. Someone who describes the learning of language in this way is, I believe, thinking primarily of nouns like 'table', 'chair', 'bread', and of people's names, and only secondarily of the names of certain actions and properties; and of the remaining kinds of words as something that will take care of itself....


"That philosophical notion of meaning is at home in a primitive idea of the way language functions. But one might instead say that it is the idea of a language more primitive than ours. Let us imagine a language for which the description given by Augustine is right: the language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass him the stones and to do so in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they make use of a language consisting of the words  'block', 'pillar', 'slab', 'beam'. A calls them out; B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call. -- Conceive of this as a complete primitive language." [Wittgenstein (2009), §§1-2, pp.5e-6e. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold added. Several paragraphs merged.]


Now, I do not want to enter into whether or not the scenario described here by Wittgenstein depicts a viable (form of) language, or even that it pictures a remotely plausible human society, simple or otherwise (although I tend to agree with Rush Rhees's view that it doesn't and it isn't -- Rhees (1970b); cf., also the important and pertinent remarks in Lamb (1979), pp.36-44; see also below -- and it is plausible to argue that Wittgenstein didn't, either), I merely wish to point out here that it is remarkable (for all that no one seems to have noticed it before!) that Wittgenstein connects "primitive" language, not with a 'gift from god', nor yet with something that an individual invents for herself, nor even with the activation of an innate 'language faculty' -- which ideas represent theories of language that have dominated traditional thought for many centuries, and still do --, but with collective labour and human communication!


As we have seen, this is precisely how Marx and Engels viewed language.


Of course, Wittgenstein's fanciful 'anecdote' isn't a fully developed (or even plausible) view of language -- to say the least -- so we must be careful not to read too much into it. But, it does serve to underline the fact that the "anthropological" view he adopted -- even when applied to a "primitive" 'language' --, connects it with human labour.


After outlining the manifestly ridiculous nature of such a simple language (pp.36-43), David Lamb added the following comment:


"When Wittgenstein asks us to 'imagine a language where...' he is not saying that this is a possible language, but simply conducting an exercise to free the philosopher from certain misconceptions about the nature of language and reality.... Thus if he asks us to imagine a language consisting of commands..., or of the words 'Block', 'Slab' or 'Stone', he is showing that languages are not the kind of things we can create arbitrarily and independently of a whole network of activities people engage in." [Lamb (1979), p.44.]


We already know from his biography the importance Wittgenstein placed on manual labour -- which was one of the reasons he wanted to go and live in the USSR. The fact that he linked language to collective labour is, therefore, no big surprise.


Wittgenstein even went on to draw an analogy between the use of words and the employment of tools, and then with the many levers and handles found in the cabin of a locomotive:


"Think of the tools in a tool-box: there is a hammer, pliers, a saw, a screwdriver, a rule, a glue-pot, nails, screws. -- The functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects. (And in both cases there are similarities.) Of course, what confuses us is the uniform appearance of words when we hear them in speech, or see them written or in print. For their use is not that obvious. Especially when we are doing philosophy!


"It is like looking into the cabin of a locomotive. There are handles there, all looking more or less alike.... But one is the handle of a crank, which can be moved continuously (it regulates the opening of a valve); another is the handle of a switch, which has only two operative positions: it is either off or on; a third is the handle of a brake-lever, the harder one pulls on it, the harder the braking; a fourth, the handle of a pump: it has an effect only so long as it is moved to and fro." [Wittgenstein (2009), §§11-12, pp.9e-10e. Italic emphasis in the original. Cf., Wittgenstein (1974a), §351, p.46e. Some paragraphs merged.]


"I have often compared language to a tool chest, containing a hammer, chisel, matches, nails, screws, glue. It is not [by?] chance that all these things have been put together -- but there are important differences between the different tools -- they are used in a family of ways -- though nothing could be more different than glue and a chisel...." [Wittgenstein (1970), p.1.]


These analogies were used by Wittgenstein to counter the idea that all words operate the same way, as names (which, as we have seen, was an idea that dominated traditional theories of language -- on this see Hacking (1975)). But, he also wanted to highlight the clear connection that exists between language and action, work and communication. As he noted elsewhere (in a remark dated 21/10/1937):


"Language -- I want to say -- is a refinement, 'in the beginning was the deed'." [Wittgenstein (1998), p.36e; cf., Wittgenstein (1974a), §402. Wittgenstein is here quoting Goethe's Faust, a passage also quoted by Marx: Marx (1996), p.97.]


He later added:


"Words are also deeds." [Wittgenstein (2009), §546, p.155e. Cf., also Wittgenstein (1998), p.53e: "Words are deeds", dated sometime in 1945.]


Bukharin also picked up on this theme; he had this to say in a paper read to the Second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology (in London, June and July 1931; while there is no evidence that Wittgenstein attended this congress, several of his friends did, so it is reasonable to suppose they reported back to him about it):


"And so man is historically given as social man (in contradistinction to the enlightened Robinsons of Rousseau, 'founding' society and history like a chess club, and with the help of a 'contract.' This social animal, i.e., human society, in order to live must produce. Am Anfang war die Tat ['In the beginning was the deed' -- RL] (in contrast to the Christian Logos: 'In the beginning was the Word'). Production is the real starting point of social development." [Bukharin (1971), p.22. Italic emphases in the original; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Link added.]


This approach plainly emphasises the active, labour-oriented current in human social development and communication, which Marx and Engels had also highlighted, and which clearly finds echo in Wittgenstein's work -- except he added that the use of language is also part of "the deed".


Of course, Robinson Crusoe also features in an early version of Wittgenstein's famous 'Private Language Argument':


"Robinson Crusoe may have held soliloquies. And then he talks to himself alone. But he talks the language he has talked with people before." [Wittgenstein (1993b), p.320.]


We have already seen Marx refer to Robinson Crusoe:


"The object before us, to begin with, material production. Individuals producing in Society -- hence socially determined individual production -- is, of course, the point of departure. The individual and isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs among the unimaginative conceits of the eighteenth-century Robinsonades, which in no way express merely a reaction against over-sophistication and a return to a misunderstood natural life, as cultural historians imagine. As little as Rousseau's contrat social, which brings naturally independent, autonomous subjects into relation and connection by contract, rests on such naturalism. This is the semblance, the merely aesthetic semblance, of the Robinsonades, great and small. It is, rather, the anticipation of 'civil society', in preparation since the sixteenth century and making giant strides towards maturity in the eighteenth. In this society of free competition, the individual appears detached from the natural bonds etc. which in earlier historical periods make him the accessory of a definite and limited human conglomerate. Smith and Ricardo still stand with both feet on the shoulders of the eighteenth-century prophets, in whose imaginations this eighteenth-century individual -- the product on one side of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society, on the other side of the new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century -- appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past. Not as a historic result but as history's point of departure. As the Natural Individual appropriate to their notion of human nature, not arising historically, but posited by nature. This illusion has been common to each new epoch to this day. Steuart avoided this simple-mindedness because as an aristocrat and in antithesis to the eighteenth century, he had in some respects a more historical footing." [Marx (1986), pp.17-18. Bold emphases and links added.]


For more on this, see Easton (1983) -- who also had this to say:


"Wittgenstein's links with Cambridge have tended to overshadow his connections with German thought, even though during the period from 1908 to 1937 he spent less than eight years in England, of which three were spent studying engineering at Manchester University. Through his association with Russell and Moore, Wittgenstein has been identified with the English empiricists. Yet many of his ideas, such as the need for a general critique of language expressed in the Tractatus, had reached maturity before his contact with Cambridge and had their origins in the post-Kantian tradition dominating the pre-war Viennese cultural milieu. The later writings also bear the imprint of these Austrian influences: his abandonment of the representational view of language for a functional analysis in the Investigations reflects the move away from ornamentation to functionality in architecture, as well as the more direct influence of discussion with the economist Piero Sraffa. In place of a general representational theory, Wittgenstein focussed on the use of language within a plurality of contexts and in doing so revealed an affinity with Marx. This is reflected in their approach to epistemological and philosophical problems which militates against the erection of fixed dichotomies and antinomies, the endless classification, polarisation and fragmentation characteristic of much Anglo-Saxon philosophy and instead appeals to the practice of everyday life to solve philosophical problems. As Marx says:


'We see how subjectivity and objectivity, spirituality and materiality, activity and suffering, lose their antithetical character, and thus their existence as such antitheses only with the framework of society: we see how the resolution of the theoretical antitheses is only possible in a practical way by virtue of the practical energy of man. Their resolution is therefore by no means merely a problem of understanding, but a real problem of life, which philosophy could not solve precisely because it conceived the problem as merely a theoretical one.'" [Easton (1983), p.2. Italic emphases in the original. Easton is here quoting Marx (1975b), p.354.]


The translation of the above passage in the Penguin edition is, I think, to be preferred (if only for its use of "passivity" in place of "suffering"!):


"It can be seen how subjectivism and objectivism, spiritualism and materialism, activity and passivity, lose their antithetical character, and hence their existence as such antitheses, only in the social condition; it can be seen how the resolution of the theoretical antitheses themselves is possible only in a practical way, only through the practical energy of man, and how their resolution is for that reason by no means only a problem of knowledge, but a real problem of life, a problem which philosophy was unable to solve precisely because it treated it as a purely theoretical problem." [Marx (1975b), p.354. Italic emphases in the original.]


Easton mentioned architecture in the above comment, which was partly an allusion to the (very modernist) house in Vienna Wittgenstein designed in 1926 for his sister, Gretl, and which later became the communist Bulgarian Embassy.49


Yet another sheer coincidence?


Possibly, but these 'coincidences' are accumulating rather convincingly.



Figure One: The House Wittgenstein Helped Design,

Situated in Kundmanngasse, Vienna


Wittgenstein's novel approach to philosophy, his method, it seems to me, represents a logical extension to Marx's view of language and philosophy (however, I am not suggesting Wittgenstein saw his work this way (even though he might have), but it is how I see his method, and how I view my own work), except, of course, Marx just waved Traditional Philosophy 'good-bye', and didn't bother to show how the distorted language in which philosophy is mired only served to confuse its own inventors.


Be this as it may, Wittgenstein and Marx both located the 'problems' with which Traditional Theorists have wrestled long and hard back to their employment of "distorted", or "deformed", language. However, I have pushed this approach much further than both of them ever imagined in order to show that all philosophical theories, not 99%, or even 99.9%, but all such theories (from Anaximander onwards) are little more than incoherent non-sense. [I have explained why this is so here. But, in much more detail here.]


In Appendix A, I have included several examples -- drawn from one of Friedrich Waismann's books, but written in conjunction with Wittgenstein -- that show (a) How Philosophical 'problems' can be dissolved, and (b) How they differ from empirical or scientific problems.


The Latest 'Objections'


One of the difficulties with trying to prove to fellow revolutionaries that someone is 'of the left' is that the bar has already been set rather high; even worse, it is set at different heights by different comrades. This is an unfortunate consequence of the sectarian approach to 'orthodoxy' we invariably encounter on the far-left. A pharisaical requirement of doctrinal purity demanded of all those who are, or claim to be, Marxists is, it seems, a universal character defect of this corner of the radical market.50


Hence, if comrade, C, is, for instance, a Trotskyist, then, concerning fellow Marxist, P, unless it can be shown to C that P is a member of the very same Tendency or Party as C, C is highly unlikely to accept any amount of evidence, no matter how comprehensive it is, purporting to show that P is 'of the left' (or, and what is far more likely, of 'the genuine left'). The same is true, mutatis mutandis, if C is a Stalinist, Maoist, or Libertarian Communist -- or, indeed, hails from some other wing of the myriad options currently on offer in revolutionary and far-left politics. Hence, the material presented above is unlikely to convince anyone who resembles comrade, C, and it would still be the case even if that evidence were several orders of magnitude greater than it already is. So, unless it could be shown that Wittgenstein had been praised to the rafters by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao -- or some other 'acceptable figure of the far left --, or belonged to the very same tiny sect (or maybe its precursor) as comrade C, then nothing I have to say will change his/her mind.


Before I consider the 'objections' raised against the view that Wittgenstein was 'of the left', it is worth reminding the reader what I am and what I am not claiming for Wittgenstein, and why I am doing this.


First: the original Essay was aimed at countering the widely-held opinion that Wittgenstein was a conservative theorist, who sought to "leave everything as it is". This clichéd view of Wittgenstein has unfortunately become a knee-jerk excuse for dismissing his work out-of-hand ever since. It has also become a lazy excuse for doing likewise with the work of anyone on the left who hasn't been put off Wittgenstein's work or who has based their work on his method. Indeed, I have lost count of the number of times I have been accused of being influenced by the thoughts of this 'bourgeois' theorist and 'mystic', those advancing this accusation clearly oblivious of the irony involved, since they seem quite happy to appropriate ideas drawn from that quintessentially bourgeois mystic, Hegel (upside down or 'the right way up').


Second: At no point is (or was) it argued that Wittgenstein was a political activist or a political theorist. That alone disposes of at least half of the 'objections'.


Third: It was argued that Wittgenstein's opinions were left-leaning, and, indeed, were, in many respects, far to the left of, say, Bertrand Russell's and every other leading philosopher since Marx himself. This doesn't mean Wittgenstein was a Marxist (but he may have been, as many close to him certainly believed), or a revolutionary, simply that he adopted an attenuated form of class politics coupled with a view of language that was heavily influenced by Marx, Engels and several other Marxists.


Fourth: it wasn't maintained, either, that his work contributed in any direct way to left-wing theory, but that it most certainly is capable of doing just that, as this site has sought to demonstrate (even if only negatively, at present). More to the point, however, his method is capable of showing that all of Traditional Philosophy (including DM, although there is no evidence Wittgenstein would have agreed with that point -- even if there is much to suggest he should have) -- and hence a major slice of ruling-class ideology -- is little more than self-important hot-air, a conclusion that isn't a million miles removed from Marx's own stated aims and intentions.




In view of the above, what penetrating, or path-breaking objections do we find over at RevLeft? Here is ex-SWP honcho, 'Hit the North' ([HTN], a comrade who used to berate me for not being actively involved in the UK-SWP, but who should now berate himself for the same reason since he tells us he has now left that party!), with the following highly complex, detailed and devastating 'critique':


"If he [Wittgenstein] was a leftist (and just hanging out with a few, who also happen to be your academic colleagues, is no proof at all), he wasn't one of any note. Move on."

In the pecking order of leftists who aren't of 'any note', HTN perhaps ranks above most, so we should take what he says with all due seriousness. But, is it really of 'no note' that one of the twentieth century's leading philosophers was 'of the left', and whose method, if he was right, brings to an end 2500 years of empty, boss-class speculation? Of course, Wittgenstein might have been mistaken, but is it really of 'no note' to find out where the truth lies?


This question may be of 'no note' to HTN -- which attitude alone confirms his preeminent position at the top of the No Notist Tendency --, but to those who want to oppose ruling-class ideology -- especially since it has helped cripple Marxism for so long --, it is of considerable 'note'.


Finally, and true-to-form, HTN ignores what he can't answer; Wittgenstein didn't just 'hang out' with a few individuals who just happened to have been his academic colleagues, for they weren't his academic colleagues to begin with! They were among his closest friends (some of whom were academics, or later became academics, and at Birmingham University, not Cambridge, but still not his academic colleagues), who were also leading Communist Party members, activists and theorists, as we have seen. Moreover, they comprised the vast bulk of his close friends. This isn't something a non-leftist would choose for him/herself.


Can anyone name a Conservative, or even a conservative -- before or since -- with a comparable circle of Marxist and/or socialist friends, theorists, pupils and activists?


Indeed, a far more pertinent question is this: Can HTN cite any close friends and acquaintances of Wittgenstein's that tell a different story?


And, here is self-confessed Wittgenstein non-expert, Luis Henrique [LH]:


"It boils down to two facts in Wittgenstein's life: he once fancied living in the Soviet Union (happily, he changed his mind in time, thus avoiding becoming more a victim of Stalinist repression, which is what would have happened to him if he went there), and he was friends with Piero Sraffa, who was a Marxist, and even thanked the Italian professor for some helpful insights in the preface of Philosophical Investigations.

"We have discussed the fantasy about living in the SU [Soviet Union,
see below -- RL] elsewhere.

"About Sraffa, he was an economist, who, as far as I know, never wrote about Ordinary Language Philosophy. Conversely, Wittgenstein never wrote, or even demonstrated any visible interest, in Sraffa's subject. So whatever insight Sraffa gave to Wittgenstein, it was something that Sraffa himself didn't think important enough to write down, and it was not about something in his area of expertise. So what does that prove? Apparently, that when Wittgenstein and Sraffa talked to each other, they talked about Wittgenstein's interests, not Sraffa's. After all, Sraffa didn't thank Wittgenstein for any helpful insight in the preface of 'Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities', did he?

"Seriously, it would make more sense to try and make the case that Wittgenstein's philosophic work is valuable for Marxists or leftists in general, without pretending that he was a leftist, if for no other reason, because the two issues are completely unrelated, as we can see from the enormous number of enthusiastic leftists who never made a single important contribution to Marxist or anarchist theory." [I have corrected minor typos in all of the passages of LH's I have quoted.]


More than "two facts" in fact, but that 'oversight' might be because LH finds it a challenge to count much beyond one.


Here is a brief summary of some of the more important facts:


(1) Wittgenstein was described as a "left-winger" by fellow workers in Austria in the early 1920s.


(2) In 1922, he expressed a desire to go and live In Russia -- that was soon after the revolution, during the civil war and before the Bolshevik party became Stalinised. So, he didn't do this just once, as LH alleged.


(3) The vast majority of his closest friends were prominent Marxists, or other socialists, and almost to a man/woman attested to Wittgenstein's left-leaning opinions.


(4) Many of Wittgenstein's students in the 1930s became leading communists (three of whom died in Spain fighting against Franco), and called Wittgenstein a "Stalinist", while another informs us that Wittgenstein told him he was "a communist at heart".


(5) Wittgenstein is on record affirming his support for the gains workers made as a result of the Russian Revolution, declaring that he would lose sympathy for the regime there if class distinctions returned.


(6) He was offered the chair at Kazan University (Lenin's old college), hardly an offer that would have been made to a non-red, German speaker at the height of Russian anti-Nazi paranoia.


(7) He demonstrated a workable knowledge of DM, engaging in conversation with a leading expert in the field, Professor Yanovskaya. He also convinced other academics in the USSR he was a good friend of Russia. Several DM-concepts surface throughout his work, in his 'middle' and 'later' periods. [See below.]


(8) In the Preface to his most important work (the Investigations), Wittgenstein credits a leading Marxist economist (Sraffa) for his most formative ideas. We now know of striking similarities between their work (on that, see below, too).


(9) Wittgenstein quotes (or alludes to) Engels approvingly in the above book, and uses an argument found in Voloshinov (who was a colleague of a mutual friend of his). He also adopted a social and anthropological approach to language, as did Voloshinov only a few years earlier. There are other remarkable similarities between Voloshinov's work and Wittgenstein's, as there are between Wittgenstein, Marx, Engels and Hegel's work (see the next point).


(10) Almost totally unique among Analytic Philosophers, Wittgenstein questioned the 'Law of Identity', and raised doubts over the applicability of the 'Law of Non-Contradiction' (even arguing that one could regard motion and change as contradictory!), and he expressed the opinion that the idea that everything is in flux (Heraclitus) must be inherent in language -- all of which ideas are central to Hegel's system and DM (upside down or the 'right way up'). Moreover, he employed arguments and expressions found in both Hegel's and Engel's work.


(11) Just like Marx and Engels, Wittgenstein regarded language as a social artefact (even likening words to tools), and connected discourse with practical activity -- also like Marx --, arguing, for example, that in the beginning "was the deed".


(12) His approach to language and Philosophy was remarkably similar to Marx's, connecting discourse with collective labour and communication, and, conversely, Traditional Philosophy with linguistic "distortion" and empty abstraction.


(13) His ideas were seen as sympathetic (to DM) by an officially sanctioned Soviet Textbook of Marxist Philosophy published in the late-1930s. Given points (2)-(12) above, that is hardly surprising.


(14) How many conservatives (large or small "c") of that time, or even later, would have described Lenin as a "genius"? And yet, Wittgenstein described him that way.


(15) His only publicly recorded political act (that we know of) was to support a communist Students' Convention in Cambridge in 1940, just when Communism was a dirty word because of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact.


Add to this the lack of evidence to the contrary -- have these critics found any colleagues, friends, students or acquaintances who tell us Wittgenstein wasn't 'of the left', or that he was a conservative?51


Wittgenstein And Sraffa -- 2


But, what of this comment from Luis Henrique [LH]?


"[H]e was friends with Piero Sraffa, who was a Marxist, and even thanked the Italian professor for some helpful insights in the preface of Philosophical Investigations."


And yet, these weren't just "some helpful insights"; as Wittgenstein himself acknowledged:


"Even more than this...criticism, I am indebted to that which a teacher of this university, Mr P. Sraffa, for many years unceasingly applied to my thoughts. It is to this stimulus that I owe the most fruitful ideas of this book." [Wittgenstein (2009), p.4e. Bold emphasis added.]


Notice, he credits Sraffa with providing him with "the most fruitful ideas of this book". Once again, LH fails miserably when it comes to accuracy.


LH then adds:


"About Sraffa, he was an economist, who, as far as I know, never wrote about Ordinary Language Philosophy."


Who on earth has ever argued that Sraffa wrote about "Ordinary Language Philosophy" [OLP]? Not even Wittgenstein did that! As I noted in the original Essay:


It is also worth pointing out that even though OLP is often associated with Wittgenstein's work, this identification is misleading, since it blurs the significant differences that exist between his method and that of the so-called "Oxford Ordinary Language Philosophers".




In addition to Marxist misrepresentations of Wittgenstein's views, there is an equally spurious idea that his work is of a piece with the Oxford OLP of Ryle, Austin, Warnock, Strawson, Urmson and Hampshire. Beyond a few superficial similarities, Wittgenstein's work bears little or no resemblance to "Oxford Philosophy". [On that, see Cavell (1971) and Dummett (1960).]


[For an example of at least one major difference between Wittgenstein's method and Oxford OLP, see below. See also my reply to Marcuse's 'objections', here and here.]


Not only is LH's objection irrelevant, it is based on a serious error on his part.


Even so, a recently discovered note written by Sraffa indicates he was actively interested in ordinary language, and he communicated this to Wittgenstein:


"If the rules of language can be constructed only by observation, there never can be any nonsense said. This identifies the cause and meaning of a word. The language of birds and the language of metaphysics can be interpreted in this way.... And if nonsense is a 'mere noise' it certainly must happen.... We should give up with generalities and take particular cases, from which we started. Take conditional propositions: when are they nonsense and when are they not?


"'If I were a king' is nonsense. For either I, or the job, would have to be entirely different....


"'If I were a lecturer' has sense....


"Then of course there are the propositions where 'if' stands for 'when'...." [Note from Sraffa to Wittgenstein written in Sraffa's own hand, January-February 1932; reprinted in Wittgenstein (2012), p.196. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. (I have quoted only about a third of the note in question.) Several paragraphs merged.]


Not much can be concluded from this except that it confirms that Sraffa and Wittgenstein exchanged ideas about (i) The nature of language, (2) Conditionals, and (iii) What does or does not constitute "nonsense".


There is also this comment of Sraffa's (which concerns Wittgenstein's 'therapeutic' method of dispelling metaphysical puzzles, outlined in the Blue and Brown Books):


"When you [Wittgenstein] describe the cause of these puzzles and prescribe the remedy you act as a scientist (like Freud). Have you found out whether these puzzles have in fact arisen out of this attitude to language, have you made sure that they did not exist before anyone took that attitude? And also, is it a fact that the disease is cured by your prescriptions? Even if this is so, you have only based it on your assertion, you have not given the evidence (Cp. the mass of actual examples produced by Freud). [Quoted in Engelmann (2012), p.228, who in turn was quoting a re-formatted version of Sraffa's Notes published in Venturinha (2012). Italic emphasis in the original.]  


Venturinha adds:


"This document consists of a series of notes on Wittgenstein’s 'Blue Book', dictated in 1933-34, written by Sraffa on the back of two diary sheets dated 'October 1941' and on the front and back of an envelope. Included in the folder (Sraffa/I21) is a letter from Sraffa to von Wright dated 27 August 1958, which reads:

'On comparing my copy of the Blue Book with the recently published edition I find that it contains a number of small corrections in Wittgenstein's handwriting which have not been taken into account in the printed version. I suppose that he made these corrections when he gave me the book which was shortly after the death of Skinner, to whom it had originally belonged.'" [Venturinha (2012); quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]52

Were those alterations the result of Sraffa's criticisms? We have as yet no evidence either way.


[I have added Sraffa's Notations to Note 52. See also Engelmann (2012), pp.172-73, 178.]


So, it looks like the hard evidence I mentioned earlier is beginning to turn up.53


We have also seen that these questions (about language) were central concerns of the Bakhtin Circle (which included Voloshinov), a group that enjoyed links with Gramsci and in turn with Sraffa. Indeed, as we have also seen, it was precisely this that helped move Wittgenstein in an entirely new direction.


But, what about the following?


"Conversely, Wittgenstein never wrote, or even demonstrated any visible interest, in Sraffa's subject. So whatever insight Sraffa gave to Wittgenstein, it was something that Sraffa himself didn't think important enough to write down, and it was not about something in his area of expertise. So what does that prove? Apparently, that when Wittgenstein and Sraffa talked to each other, they talked about Wittgenstein's interests, not Sraffa's. After all, Sraffa didn't thank Wittgenstein for any helpful insight in the preface of 'Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities', did he?"


LH misses the point, once more, which isn't that these two influenced each other, but that a leading Marxist economist had an important influence on Wittgenstein's change of direction, toward an anthropological and social interpretation of language and knowledge in line with ideas coming out of the USSR and the far left in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s (which, of course, had in turn originated in Marx and Engels's work).


Now, LH has no idea whether or not Sraffa wrote any of this down (except, we now know that he did, just as we also know that these two did discuss economics -- on that, see below), but that didn't prevent LH from concluding the opposite.


From this, LH might learn not to lead with his chin.


And, what does LH mean by "area of expertise"? Is he seriously arguing that Sraffa didn't know any ordinary language, or any of the ideas about language expressed by Marx and Engels, or by Gramsci, Bakhtin and Voloshinov? If so, he unwisely omitted the evidence supporting that peculiar idea.


And, speaking of irrelevance, we chance upon this strange remark of LH's:


"After all, Sraffa didn't thank Wittgenstein for any helpful insight in the preface of 'Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities', did he?"


If my argument had been: Wittgenstein and Sraffa influenced each other, LH would have had a point, but it wasn't, so he hasn't. But, there is evidence that Sraffa's work was influenced by Wittgenstein.


In fact, this is what Professor Roncaglia had to say about the meetings between Wittgenstein's and Sraffa, and the influence they had on each other -- it is worth recalling that Professor Roncaglia was a friend and colleague of Sraffa's, so this material has come from a source close to the Italian economist himself:


"During the periods when they were both at Cambridge, Wittgenstein and Sraffa would in general spend one afternoon a week together, discussion ranging far and wide rather than specifically dwelling on philosophy and economics as such. However their debates had a decisive influence on the Austrian philosopher, with his transition from the logical atomism of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to the mature positions emerging in the Philosophical Investigations....


"...[I]n the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein went on to abandon the idea of language as a univocal representation of the world, as well as the idea of the 'unspeakable'. Discussions with Sraffa seem to have played a role in this change....


"We shall see later on...how the change in Wittgenstein's philosophical position can be compared with the differences between the marginalist approach of general economic equilibrium and Sraffa's theoretical contribution.... We may perhaps detect Sraffa's political interests behind his opposition to an a priori theory of language, and his preference for a theory open to recognition of the role played by social factors. Although it is difficult to specify its precise nature given the scant documentation, there can be no doubt that Sraffa had a significant influence on Wittgenstein's thinking, and in this way on the course of contemporary philosophy.


[Added in a footnote: "The Sraffa-Wittgenstein correspondence recently acquired by Trinity College (Cambridge) might cast further light on this." [Roncaglia (2009), pp.25-28. Bold emphasis added.]54


About this new material, John Davis (one of the leading researchers in the field) had this to say:


"The availability of Piero Sraffa's unpublished manuscripts and correspondence at Trinity College Library, Cambridge, has made it possible to begin to set out a more complete account of Sraffa's philosophical thinking than previously could be done with only his published materials and the few comments and suggestions made by others about his ideas, especially in connection with their possible impact on Ludwig Wittgenstein's later thinking. This makes a direct rather than indirect examination of Sraffa's philosophical thinking possible, and also shifts the focus from his relationship to Wittgenstein to his own thinking per se. I suggest that the previous focus, necessary as it may have been prior to the availability of the unpublished materials, involved some distortion of Sraffa's thinking by virtue of its framing in terms of Wittgenstein's concerns as reflected in the concerns of scholars primarily interested in the change in the his thinking. This paper seeks to locate these early convictions in this historical context, and then go on to treat the development of Sraffa's philosophical thinking as a process beginning from this point, arguing that his thinking underwent one significant shift around 1931, but still retained its early key assumptions. Thus the approach I will take to Sraffa's philosophical thinking is to explain it as a process of development largely within a single framework defined by his view of how modern science determines the scope and limits upon economic theorizing." [Davis (2011). This links to a PDF. Accessed 31/08/2013.]


After pointing out that both Sraffa and Wittgenstein were opposed to Physicalism, Davis adds:


"However, one way to proceed -- albeit with many caveats -- would be to begin with the judgment Sraffa makes in his 'Surplus Product' paper about how the 'economic field' is influenced by the 'outside causes which operate in it'...and attempt to relate this idea as it may be found in Production of Commodities to comparable ideas in Wittgenstein's later thinking, on the grounds that they seem to have shared a similar overall view after 1931. I sketch such an argument here as one strategy for investigating Sraffa's mature philosophical views.


"Sraffa's judgment can be better understood by contrasting it with what he does not say. He does not say that the 'economic field' is simply affected tout court by 'outside causes' impinging upon it, but rather says that these 'outside causes' work within the 'economic field' in a such a way as to modify its functioning. His case is that of economies that produce a surplus where distribution, which is not determined objectively as are the values of commodities in terms of physical real cost, nonetheless comes to play a role in the determination of commodity values. In effect, in his later thinking Sraffa regards the 'economic field' as what can be described as only a relatively autonomous domain in that its own functioning is changed by those outside forces associated with distributional changes that operate within it. Indeed, the 'economic field' would only be fully autonomous in economies that do not produce a surplus in that their functioning would be fully determined in terms of objective physical real costs. But such economies were not Sraffa's chief concern. Critics might argue of course that the idea that 'economic field' was only 'relatively autonomous' could only be conjectured and that there was no evident reason to attribute it this character. But Sraffa anticipated this criticism in Production of Commodities where he demonstrated that the 'economic field' indeed has this relatively autonomous character within his equation system from the perspective of the standard system and standard commodity device. From this perspective, Sraffa's modified post-1931 objectivism is a subtle one in that it both preserves a physical basis for the world of production and at the same time shows it to be influenced by a social activity that operates upon and within it.


"Consider, then, Wittgenstein's later thinking.... It has been argued that one thing central to Wittgenstein's later thinking is his critique of the idea of a private language via his account of rule following in language games.... Wittgenstein's argument can be understood as saying that all languages are rule-governed, and that since rule-following is a public activity, language meaning must be determined in public settings in the various different language games in which we use it. A private language, however, were it conceivable, would seem to be one that is fully autonomous. I suggest, then, that parallel to Sraffa's view above, language games were conceived of as relatively autonomous by Wittgenstein, just as were types of commodity production by Sraffa. The one involves determining meaning and the other involves determining value (two different sorts of production), and the rule-governed character of the former, understood by Wittgenstein in terms of an ordinary physicalistic object language, is comparable to the quantitative determination of the latter, understood objectively by Sraffa in terms of physical real cost. At the same time, just as for Sraffa commodity value determination depends on distributional factors that operate within the 'economic field,' so also for Wittgenstein rule-following depends on social practices that are not part of language-games but nonetheless operate within them. There seems to be a parallel, then, between the later Wittgenstein and the later Sraffa as concerns their shared understanding of the idea of the relative autonomy of natural/physical systems that are nonetheless influenced by the human world. Put differently, they seem to share a conception of just how the natural and social worlds ought to be seen as connected which treats the former naturalistically and the latter historically." [Ibid. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Minor typo corrected; italic emphases added.]


And here is the abstract of another paper -- 'Sraffa and the Later Wittgenstein' by Ajit Sinha:


"This paper is an attempt at establishing the philosophical underpinnings and thus a deeper understanding of Sraffa's enigmatic book, particularly in the light of his well acknowledged influence on Wittgenstein's later philosophy or perhaps their mutual influence on each other's thinking during the period of late 1920s and 30s. It identifies and highlights certain parallels between the theoretical propositions of Sraffa in the Production of Commodities and the later Wittgenstein's propositions regarding his philosophy of language and meaning. It argues that both Sraffa and the later Wittgenstein eschew essentialism; both propose descriptive as opposed to predictive theories; and both are concerned with establishing the context that distinguishes sense from non-sense. It goes on to argue that it is unconvincing to suggest, as some scholars have done, that Sraffa's influence on Wittgenstein could either be located at his purported attack on the atomism of the Tractatus or its critique from the Gramscian perspective." [Quoted from here. I haven't yet been able to access this paper.]


I will pass no comment on the above opinions, except to note that as this new material is emerging and is examined by scholars, a much clearer picture of the influence these two had on each other is bound to emerge, but it can no longer be doubted that they did influence each other. This new material also shows that these two discussed current affairs as well as politics.55


Moreover, most of Wittgenstein's unpublished manuscripts (estimated to be approximately four million words) have only become widely available in the last ten years or so, and more are being discovered all the time. On that, see below.56


LH ends with this flourish:


"Seriously, it would make more sense to try and make the case that Wittgenstein's philosophic work is valuable for Marxists or leftists in general, without pretending that he was a leftist, if for no other reason, because the two issues are completely unrelated, as we can see from the enormous number of enthusiastic leftists who never made a single important contribution to Marxist or anarchist theory."


(a) I have made that case, as have several others; LH refuses to read this material, so no wonder he still thinks the case has yet to be made. The words "ignorance", "is", and "bliss" oddly come to mind here.


(b) The point is that revolutionaries in general have dismissed Wittgenstein's work on the grounds that he wasn't 'of the left', and that he was a conservative mystic (Marcuse being a notorious example of this attitude; on that see here and here). So, it is important to show this is a serious mistake on all their parts.


Finally, it is also worth pointing out that previously unknown documents of Wittgenstein's are being discovered all the time; for example, here is what the editor of the latest edition of Wittgenstein's letters had to say:


"Now the place of Sraffa in the collection has indeed been considerably enlarged, since a large number of letters from Wittgenstein and some memoranda written for Wittgenstein by him have come to light.... These enable us to form rather more than a speculative idea of the conversations to which Wittgenstein ascribed much of the inspiration of his Philosophical Investigations." [Editor's Introduction to Wittgenstein (2012), p.1.]


This new edition of his letters is now about three times the size it was when first published in the 1970s. [I have already quoted several recently discovered notes from Sraffa to Wittgenstein.] There is no reason to conclude that more documents won't come to light in the future.


Indeed, we read this from the BBC:


"Wittgenstein's archive rediscovered in Cambridge


"A rediscovered archive could shed new light on the work of renowned philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Professor Arthur Gibson, from the University of Cambridge, has been examining books and papers which disappeared from public view in 1941. He believes that one of these could be the 'pink' or 'yellow' book Wittgenstein's pupils thought existed. He said there was also a handwritten Brown Book which differs from the version that was published.


"Wittgenstein, who taught philosophy at Trinity College in Cambridge, was a prolific writer but published very little. The work now being examined has been described by Prof Gibson as 'entirely original philosophy whose existence, apart from the Brown Book was totally unknown to scholars'. It dates mostly from Wittgenstein's 'middle period', November 1932 to July 1936 and, like most of his work, was never published or made public in his lifetime....


"When his scribe, Francis Skinner, died in 1941, Wittgenstein packed the papers into two boxes and sent them to a former pupil, Reuben Goodstein. In the 1970s Goodstein gave the archive to the Mathematical Association. He had been president of the institution during the 1950s. It was later loaned to Trinity College and it was not until three years ago that Prof Gibson began working through the material at the request of the association. The boxes contained handwritten exercise books, lecture notes and papers amounting to more than 150,000 words. 'This archive is at least as important as the Blue and Brown Books which were published after Wittgenstein's death and has other important unpublished manuscripts,' Prof Gibson said....


"Among these is one with a pink cover containing some 'unknown narrative and many visual illustrations'. Prof Gibson believes that this is the hoped-for 'pink book'. Another 'significant' find was a handwritten version of Wittgenstein's Brown Book with a revised opening and an extra 60 pages. 'It's a unique, new version that no-one has ever seen,' Prof Gibson said. 'It appears to be ready for publishing as much of it is fair copy complete with instructions for the publisher.'


"Prof Gibson said Wittgenstein was frequently uncertain about whether he was writing one or a number of books. He said that the archive also helped to clarify the closeness of the relationship between the philosopher and Francis Skinner, with whom he lived in Cambridge. 'Many people assumed that Skinner was simply one of many students working as note-takers for Wittgenstein. But these handwritten manuscripts make it clear that they were working side-by-side, with Skinner taking dictation and Wittgenstein making his own amendments in the margins and on facing pages,' he said.


"Prof Gibson hopes to publish the contents of the archive later in the year. He said it would be a fitting tribute to Wittgenstein who died 60 years ago, on 29 April 1951." [BBC News, 28/04/2011. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site; several paragraphs merged.]57


And this from The Guardian:


"Lost archive shows Wittgenstein in a new light


"Mark Brown, 26/04/2011


"Material gives fresh insight into philosopher's mind and relationship with [his] young male lover and amanuensis. In the rarefied world of Wittgenstein scholarship it is little short of astonishing: an untapped, lost archive of original material which provides fresh insights into the utterly brilliant but undeniably troubled mind of a man who could lay claim to being the 20th century's pre-eminent philosopher. The Cambridge academic Prof Arthur Gibson revealed on Tuesday that he had spent much of the past three years working his way through an archive of Ludwig Wittgenstein material which disappeared in the chaos of the second world war. The archive, around 170,000 words plus mathematical equations, provides fresh insights into the philosopher's mind and also shines a fascinating light on the complex relationship he had with the man who, as amanuensis, put most of the words on to paper -- his young male lover Francis Skinner.


"Gibson recalled when he first opened the archive: 'I was just stunned. It was astonishing because it's a whole archive, never seen before and most of it entirely new. It provides an insight into his thought processes -- you're almost peering into his mind.' Wittgenstein dictated most of the archive to Skinner and it shows just how close the two were. Indeed, it was Skinner's untimely death at 29 which led to the archive being lost in the first place. It was 1941 and Skinner was, not for the first time, ill with polio and taken into hospital in Cambridge for treatment. At about the same time, hundreds of other patients were brought in because of heavy bombing on a nearby RAF base. In the confusion, Skinner was left in a corridor, forgotten for about for 16 hours. He died seven days later with the distraught older man by his side. Skinner's death 'provoked just about a nervous breakdown' in Wittgenstein, said Gibson.


"They had lived together, holidayed together and at one stage learned Russian together with the grand plan of emigrating to the Soviet Union and become farmers or medics. In his grief, the philosopher more or less shoved the archive in the post to one of his other students, where it remained, hidden away and unexplored until today, almost 60 years after Wittgenstein's death on 29 April 1951. It has some eye-popping elements, not least the only known handwritten version of Wittgenstein's Brown Book -- notes from his Cambridge lectures in the mid-1930s. There are an additional 60 pages of manuscript for the Brown Book with a revised opening and other changes. Gibson also believes that a pinkish Norwegian school exercise book in the archive, which has a complete and previously unknown narrative, may in fact be a missing Wittgenstein gem -- something talked about but never seen. 'This may or may not be the missing item called the Pink Book or Yellow Book that scholars have long been hoping for.' There is also a series of thousands of mathematical calculations in which Wittgenstein examines Fermat's little theorem. 'It's an extraordinary, even bizarre, and yet original series of calculations,' said Gibson.


"That the archive's rich seams have been unmined for all these years is down to circumstance more than anything. It was given to the Mathematical Association [MA -- RL] by its former president Reuben Goodstein in 1976 but, lacking professional archivists, the MA did not really appreciate what it had. In more recent years, the archive was handed by the MA to Trinity College to investigate -- a huge job eventually undertaken by Gibson. The material will add much to the knowledge of a man who was as eccentric as he was brilliant. For example, it had previously been assumed Skinner was one of a number of students taking notes, but Gibson can show that he was not just the chief scribe -- he was in-house partner and co-editor, far more important to Wittgenstein's philosophy than previously thought. Much of the dictation may have been made from the deckchair Wittgenstein sat on in his otherwise empty -- apart from a heater -- room at Trinity.


"'He was very austere, yes, although it was a bit of a fetish,' said Gibson, who is now dotting the i's and crossing the t's on his research, which will be published in a book within the year. For Gibson, it has been something of a labour of love because of his strong links with Wittgenstein. As an undergraduate at Cambridge he was taught by two of the great man's most distinguished students, Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Geach. 'The archive shows that unpredicted and new revolutionary matters still await us in Wittgenstein's philosophy and scientific knowledge that we incorrectly think we already understand,' said Gibson." [Quoted from here; accessed 27/08/2013. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. See also the Cambridge University site for more details. Several paragraphs merged.]


Finally, this new material (especially the recently discovered notes and letters) largely supports the case presented in this Essay, but it is no less significant that none of it supports the opposing view.


Other Objections


Now, as far Luis Henrique's [LH's] comments about Wittgenstein and the fSU are concerned (alongside several other topics he discusses), this is what I have managed to discover in his earlier posts at RevLeft (each numbered heading contains a link to the webpage involved); as noted earlier, many of these links, if not all, no longer work:




"At the time he tried to immigrate, the Soviet Union was anti-worker itself."

Sure, we know that now, but at the time Wittgenstein thought workers had made major gains as a result of the revolution, and that it was indeed a classless society. That shows that he, at least, was pro-working class even if he was ignorant of the true nature of Stalin's Russia.


We also know that Wittgenstein wanted to move to Russia in 1922, when it most certainly wasn't "anti-worker".




"Being close to Marxism is one thing, being close to class struggle is another. What relation did he have to class struggle? Did he even ever noticed [sic] the existence of social classes? On the other hand, what relation did he have to Marxism? Is there any indication that he ever read anything by Marx or any Marxist writer?

"I am sorry, but what I see is a philosopher completely removed from practical politics or political practice, who seems to seldom have even wondered about society, much less about social inequality, and even less about the causes of social inequality.

"I would say that, even if you restrict the universe to non-Marxist thinkers, there would still be lots of prominent thinkers that were closer to class struggle than Wittgenstein. Russell, obviously, Einstein, Keynes, Veblen, Hannah Arendt, Barthes, Baudrillard, Isaiah Berlin, Simone Weil, for instance."

Of course, many of these questions (which, in LH's case, arise from his manifest ignorance of the material in question -- some of which was in fact included in the original Essay, which he either didn't read, or he did so with a bag over his head) have been answered in the material presented above.


So, we now know that (i) Wittgenstein had read Marx, Hegel, Lenin and very probably Engels, too, and that (ii) He was aware of the existence of "social classes", having declared quite clearly that he would lose sympathy with the USSR if class divisions returned.


But, what of this?


"I am sorry, but what I see is a philosopher completely removed from practical politics or political practice, who seems to seldom have even wondered about society, much less about social inequality, and even less about the causes of social inequality."


Well, it is pretty decent of LH to apologise for his self-inflicted ignorance, but his caricature of Wittgenstein (which mirrors widely held and no less erroneous views held of him by many on the left) is misguided:


(i) As we now know, he wasn't "removed from practical politics" (see the above material), and,


(ii) It was never argued that he was a left-wing activist.




(iii) He expressed his opposition to social inequality, and claimed to know from whence it arose (having read Marx, calling his work "scientific").


And we have this comment from one of his pupils:


"One day I asked him why he never stated any political views or discussed politics in any of his lectures. His reply was interesting. He said he could not do so but that one day he would give a lecture or talk explaining why he could not. He never gave such a lecture or talk while I was still attending his classes." [Theodore Redpath, in Flowers (1999), p.47. Italic emphases in the original.]


As Redpath notes, we don't know whether or not he ever did give this lecture, but new material pertaining to his writings and lectures is constantly turning up.


LH, again:


"I would say that, even if you restrict the universe to non-Marxist thinkers, there would still be lots of prominent thinkers that were closer to class struggle than Wittgenstein. Russell, obviously, Einstein, Keynes, Veblen, Hannah Arendt, Barthes, Baudrillard, Isaiah Berlin, Simone Weil, for instance."


I'd like to see the evidence that some of the above were 'closer to the class struggle' than Wittgenstein; but, even if they were, so what? It had nowhere been part of the case presented in the original Essay, or here, that others were 'closer to the class struggle' than Wittgenstein, only that he has been badly misrepresented by the left for many years. Moreover, none of those mentioned by LH are in the same league as Wittgenstein, which is why I asserted the following in the original Essay (and have repeated in this one, too):


Rhees and Monk record the many sympathetic remarks Wittgenstein made about Marxism, about workers and about revolutionary activity in general. While these aren't in themselves models of 'orthodoxy', they reveal how close Wittgenstein came to adopting an attenuated and nuanced form of class politics in the 1930s -- certainly closer than any other major philosopher since Marx himself.


The only other individual in LH's list who could be regarded as a "major philosopher" was Russell (and he was an anti-Soviet commentator), and Wittgenstein's views were markedly to the left of Russell's. Of course, Einstein, Veblen, Arendt and Keynes weren't philosophers to begin with, and it is arguable that Barthes wasn't either. So what they are doing LH's list is somewhat mysterious.




"His attraction to the Soviet Union, however, seems to have had nothing to do with politics. Rather it seems that Wittgenstein had a problem with being an intellectual, and yearned for a simple, unsophisticated existence as a manual labourer (or, perhaps, yearned for symbolic punishment for his perceived faults). Thence his attempts at living a 'useful' life -- as a soldier, a teacher, a gardener, a bureaucratic employee at a public pharmacy, etc, culminating with his attempt to become a manual worker in the Soviet Union (probably partially motivated by the common anti-communist fantasy about 'reeducation' of intellectuals through hard labour in the SU). In other words, he seemed to be in pursuit of some kind of hell where he could pay for his sins, and the Soviet Union for a brief time seemed a suitable one. But I see no signs that this translated, in any way, into political support for the Soviet Union, not even in the Sidney/Beatrice Webb fashion of support for the Soviet State without any consideration of working class issues."


While there is a grain of truth in what LH has to say here, we have seen (again, in the material presented above, and in the original Essay) that Wittgenstein had very clearly expressed political reasons for wanting to live in the USSR -- indeed, as Keynes himself pointed out:


"Dr Wittgenstein....a distinguished philosopher, is a very old and intimate friend of mine, and I should be extremely grateful for anything you could do for him. I must leave it to him to tell you his reasons for wanting to go to Russia. He is not a member of the Communist Party, but has strong sympathies with the way of life which he believes the new regime in Russia stands for." [Quoted from here.  Bold emphasis added.]


Moreover, he impressed those whom he met during that visit of his support for the regime there, as Moran notes:


"In 1935, according to Mrs Gornstein [Professor of Philosophy in Leningrad -- RL], Wittgenstein visited her in Leningrad and offered to give a philosophy course at Leningrad University where she was in charge. At her request, he sent her a copy of The Yellow Book. She said he impressed her as a genuine friend of the Soviet Union, and she added that if her memory was correct, he was then president of the Society of Friends of Soviet Russia. She recalled that he mentioned his chat with Maisky, and that he spoke Russian reasonably well." [Quoted from here.]


He repeatedly expressed his support for the gains he thought workers had made -- indeed, he believed the USSR was a classless society -- , and he said that he would cease to support the regime there if class divisions returned. These all sound like political and socialist reasons to me (even if he was mistaken over the true nature of the USSR under Stalin).


Moreover, he was quite clear that he wanted to become a medical practitioner in the fSU, not a manual labourer.


Philosopher Jay (quoted only so that LH's replies to 'him' make more sense):


"I think the fact that he visited the Soviet Union at a time that there was an intense boycott of the Soviet Union was a sign of political support. One does not necessarily have to use words to show support."




LH: "And what did he support? Something that happened in 1917, or what was actually going on in the SU at the time of his visit? The revolution or Stalin's Thermidor?" [Paragraphs  merged.]

Again, LH exposes his ignorance, for these issues were cleared up in the original Essay (and have been again, above). We know that Wittgenstein wanted to move to Russian in 1922, and at a time when he was known by those with whom he worked as a "left-winger", so we can safely conclude that he supported the gains made in 1917 -- especially since he called Lenin a "genius".


Alas, he also supported the Russia of the 1930s. So, like many others, but unlike Rush Rhees, he failed to see clearly what had become of the revolution. However, when challenged by Rhees (who was at that time becoming a Trotskyist) -- and as noted several times already -- he said that his support was conditional on there being no class divisions in Russia


Philosopher Jay:


"The situation was quite complex at the time. He visited the Soviet Union in 1935 and I believe things got a lot worse only in 1936 when the Moscow show trials started.

"I think people underestimate the effect Adolf Hitler had on Stalin. Stalin was in no way the equivalent of Hitler, but he was pragmatic. He noted that Adolf Hitler had ripped up all democratic norms violently and ruthlessly eliminating his opposition from1933 through 1935. He was preparing the country for immediate war against the Soviet Union. Stalin simply adopted the violent wartime measures that had worked for Hitler. We should recognize that it was done in a modified form and was not the same as the insane and mindless sadism of the Nazis.

"In any case, I think the important thing to remember about Wittgenstein is that he was not anti-gay marriage nor anti-Soviet. I don't think his philosophy is particularly Marxist, but neither is it anti-Marxist. There are many things in it quite compatible with a Marxist outlook. He was anti-metaphysical and understood that language only had meaning within an historical-human context."



LH: "So this shows that he actually didn't support Stalinism. Good for him. What does that say about his grasp of political situations? Hadn't he noticed the nature of the Stalinist regime before going there? What were his particular delusions (sic) about the regime? Did he ever believe it had anything to do with the working class? (Other people failed, or even refused, to see what Stalinism was, out of a misguided loyalty to the very Revolution that Stalinism betrayed -- but how would that be the case for a thinker who, as far as I am informed, never spent two seconds of his time wondering about the Russian Revolution?)...."


In fact, he did support Stalin -- those who knew him pointedly called him a "Stalinist" --, but it was also clear that this meant he supported what Stalin's "regime stood for" as he (Wittgenstein) saw things, which support was conditional on class division not returning to Russia. So, his "grasp of political situations" was quite good; good enough to impress Ambassador Maisky (in London), as well as various Professors of Philosophy and others he met in Russia.


It would be interesting to see how LH knows that Wittgenstein "never spent two seconds...wondering about the Russian Revolution", especially since the evidence presented in the original Essay, and above, tells a different story.


LH, again: 

"'Anti-metaphysical' means different things for different people, and I am far from sure that his peculiar way of being 'anti-metaphysical' shouldn't be considered 'metaphysical' itself from a Marxist point of view (and, conversely, that he wouldn't dismiss Marxism as a form of 'metaphysics' if he ever deigned to pay any attention to Marxism)."


Once more, as we have seen, it is quite clear what Wittgenstein meant by "metaphysics", and what he meant by this word agrees with how it has been understood since at least Descartes's day. [On that, see here and here.]


And sure, one could characterise the sort of anti-metaphysics Wittgenstein advocated, or even the approach adopted at this site, in the way LH does, but that doesn't affect the actual arguments I have advanced -- and by implication, it won't affect Wittgenstein's, either.


All this is quite apart from the fact that it isn't at all clear what "the Marxist point of view" on this is, and LH certainly offers his readers no guidance in this regard. [Follow the two links above for what I think about this topic.] Even so, it isn't clear, either, who exactly is dismissing Marxism as metaphysical; certainly I am not, and Wittgenstein is on record calling Marx's theory of history "scientific". Once again, LH has only succeeded in showing he knows very little about this subject, even though he still seems happy to pontificate about it.




"And I think the part on 'understood that language only had meaning within an historical-human context' is simply false. He lacked any sense of History; doesn't seem to have been interested in History at all; his method in Philosophical Investigations manifestly fails to take History in account, everything being phrased and considered as if language magically emerged ex-nihilo a second ago. He doesn't even seem to take into consideration the differences and contrasts between different modern languages -- he talks about 'looking at how words are used' but doesn't seem to notice the contrasts between the way they are used, for instance, in German and English, two languages he was fluent in." [Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


[In relation to this, the reader is directed back to the earlier section on Wittgenstein and Voloshinov.]


Once again, LH omitted the evidence that supports the allegation that Wittgenstein wasn't interested in history. Wittgenstein's comments about Marxism, however, paint a different picture; they show he certainly knew about Marx's theory of history -- he even called it "scientific". Nor is it true that the Investigations "fails to take History into account"; indeed it begins with a brief discussion of Augustine of Hippo. And the many things Wittgenstein had to say about language hardly support the view that he thought it had "magically emerged ex-nihilo a second ago" -- for example:


"Why is philosophy such a complicated structure? After all, it should be completely simple if it is that ultimate thing, independent of all experience, that you make it out to be. Philosophy unravels the knots in our thinking, hence its results must be simple, but its activity as complicated as the knots it unravels.


"Lichtenberg: 'Our entire philosophy is correction of the use of language, and therefore the correction of a philosophy -- of the most general philosophy.'...


"You ask why grammatical problems are so tough and seemingly ineradicable. -- Because they are connected with the oldest thought habits, i.e., with the oldest images that are engraved into our language itself (Lichtenberg)....


"Human beings are deeply imbedded in philosophical, i.e., grammatical, confusion. And freeing them from these presuppositions [amounts to?] extricating them from the immensely diverse associations they are caught up in. One must, as it were, regroup their entire language. -- But of course this language developed as it did because human beings had -- and have -- the tendency to think this way. Therefore extricating them only works with those who live in an instinctive state of dissatisfaction with language. Language has the same traps ready for everyone; the immense network of easily trodden false paths. And thus we see one person after another walking down the same paths....


"One keeps hearing the remark that philosophy really doesn't make any progress, that the same philosophical problems that occupied the Greeks keep occupying us. But those who say that don't understand the reason this must be so. The reason is that our language has remained constant and keeps seducing us into asking the same questions. So long as there is a verb 'be' that seems to function like 'eat' and 'drink', so long as there are the adjectives 'identical', 'true', 'false', 'possible', so long as there is talk about a flow of time and an expanse of space, etc., etc. humans will continue to bump up against the same mysterious difficulties, and stare at something that no explanation seems able to remove.


"And this, by the way, satisfies a longing for the transcendental [an alternative version of the manuscript has 'supernatural' here -- RL], for in believing that they see the 'limit of human understanding' they of course believe that they can see beyond it.


"I read '...philosophers are no nearer to the meaning of 'Reality' than Plato got...'. What a strange state of affairs. How strange in that case that Plato could get that far in the first place! Or that after him we were not able to get further. Was it because Plato was so clever?" [Wittgenstein (2013), pp.311-12e. Italic emphases in the original; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Some paragraphs merged.]


Exception might be taken to Wittgenstein's comment that language has "remained constant" since Ancient Greek times, but the context makes it clear what he intended by this: he meant that the grammatical forms it contains, which cause the problems to which he alluded, have remained in place:


"So long as there is a verb 'be' that seems to function like 'eat' and 'drink', so long as there are the adjectives 'identical', 'true', 'false', 'possible', so long as there is talk about a flow of time and an expanse of space, etc., etc. humans will continue to bump up against the same mysterious difficulties, and stare at something that no explanation seems able to remove." [Ibid.]


Now, I have analysed in detail one such grammatical form (subject-predicate propositions in Indo-European languages, which take the copula "is", or its cognates) that has manifestly remained the same for thousands of years, and I have shown how it has seriously misled philosophers and logicians for centuries -- but more specifically in this regard, Hegel (in fact, it misled him into inventing his own idiosyncratic version of the 'dialectic'), and hence it has led astray every subsequent Marxist dialectician. [On this, see Essay Three Part One.]


Even so, it is true that the Investigations isn't dominated by historical questions; but since Wittgenstein was interested in examining the sort of 'problems' that have cast a shadow over philosophy ever since Ancient Greek times, that certainly provides a leitmotif for the entire book. In that case, Wittgenstein was concerned with unravelling recurring confusions over our use of language -- for example, (i) the idea that all words are names, (ii) that all nouns are substantivals, (iii) that there is an 'essence' lying behind the use of such words, (iv) that there is only one form of knowledge, for instance, which requires we search for an 'essentialist' definition of it, etc., etc. These and other topics have remained central to the work of philosophers for over two thousand years. Wittgenstein was at pains to show that puzzles like these arise from a systematic misunderstanding and distortion of language -- just like Marx. Indeed, it is why he said the following:


"If, e.g., we call our investigations 'philosophy', this title, on the one hand, seems appropriate, on the other hand it certainly has misled people. (One might say that the subject we are dealing with is one of the heirs of the subject which used to be called 'philosophy.')" [Wittgenstein (1969), p.28.]


This shows that Wittgenstein had the history of this failed intellectual discipline in mind as he endeavoured to replace it with his new method.


But, what about this?


"[H]e talks about 'looking at how words are used' but doesn't seem to notice the contrasts between the way they are used, for instance, in German and English, two languages he was fluent in."


In fact, this is something he does take into account, but he considered such things only of significance when they led to philosophical confusion. As usual, LH seems oblivious of this salient fact.


[OLP = Ordinary Language Philosophy.]


But, there is a more fundamental point at issue here. LH appears to be labouring under a widely-held illusion that Wittgenstein was only interested in parochial or minor differences in our use of language -- this plainly underlies LH's reference to the two languages in which Wittgenstein was fluent, English and German. In fact, as he told his students, he was interested in the "big logical differences", those that carried across all languages. [More on this presently.] By way of contrast, an interest in linguistic minutiae was characteristic of John Austin's work, as it was also of the Oxford OLP-ers, not Wittgenstein.58


In Essay Twelve Part One I outlined  an example which illustrates Wittgenstein's concern with the "big differences" (in this case concerning our use of number words). Here is what I wrote:


An example taken from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations illustrates the radical difference between number words and other terms we use (which, incidentally, also exposes one of the core confusions motivated by Semiotics -- that all words are signs, or operate as "signifiers" of the "signified"; on this see Essay Thirteen Part Three).


Wittgenstein encourages us to consider an example where a customer enters a grocery shop and asks the shop assistant for five red apples. The assistant doesn't first go off in search of red things, nor yet collections of five things. Manifestly, he or she will go and find apples first, or even red apples, and then count them.


This forms part of the Fregean idea that number words attach to concepts, not objects. Or, as Wittgenstein might have said, number words express operations carried out on objects of a certain sort, qualified by a count noun -- like "three apples" or "five pears" (although, as far as I am aware, Wittgenstein didn't use the phrase "count noun" -- he did use a roughly equivalent term "substantive", though).


Hence, the assistant will count apples: one apple, two apples..., and so on, as the concept expression "ξ is an apple" is successively instantiated or applied -- sometimes expressed demonstratively (typically to children) as: "This is an apple, and that is another...". Of course, this isn't to suggest that these are the words that this fictional assistant will actually use, or indeed that he/she will use any words at all, but they, or words like them, will have been used in her/his childhood training, at some point. No one is just taught to count 'objects' -- but to count objects of a certain sort, or objects identified demonstratively, governed by the use of concept expressions (like "ξ is an apple"), or count nouns (i.e., "n apples"). Novices who can proceed along lines they have been trained are thus said to have grasped the use of number words (and, indeed, of concept expressions and/or count nouns). Subsequently, this linguistic skill becomes automatic, which is indeed part of what we mean by "knowing how to count" -- or even how to serve in a grocers shop! [On this, see Robinson (2003b). The use of Greek symbols, like those employed above, is explained here.]


[This isn't to suggest, either, that knowing (implicitly) how to apply number words is sufficient to be able to credit an individual with a minimal grasp of the concept of number. As is well known (at least since Frege (1953) -- and as is implied by the above comments), this requirement needs supplementing with what is called a "criterion of identity" (that is, the individual concerned must be able to specify whether or not, in this case, there are the same number of apples (or, indeed, red apples) each time. That is, they must be proficient with the practical and not just verbal application of "same apple", i.e., with what counts as the same (sort of) apple. Cf., Wittgenstein (2009), §1, pp.5e-6e. See also, Geach (1968), pp.39-40 this in fact links to the 3rd (1980) edition, so the page numbers are different: pp.63-64), Lowe (1989), and Noonan (2018). For some of the complexities involved in this area, see Epstein (2012).]


Now, the whole point of this analysis is aimed at showing that not all words are names and not all words function in the same way -- and, eo ipso, that words can't be "signifiers" of the "signified" -- otherwise, the order in which the above grocer looked for the items required by this customer would be indifferent, and he/she could or would look for five things first, red things next, apples last.


In addition, it is also aimed at demonstrating that we all know this to be so (i.e., in our practice -- in, say, our automatic reaction to requests like the one the shopkeeper faced --, but not necessarily in our deliberations about such things, where we often go astray). And, that is why (whatever philosophical theory we hold, whatever ideology we assent to) not one of us would dream of looking for something named by "five" first, or even "red", and then "apples" last. On the other hand, if all words were names, we would typically do this.


This alone shows that Wittgenstein wasn't fixated on ordinary German (or even ordinary English). No human being who has ever walked the planet would dream of looking for something 'named' by "five" first, or even "red", and then "apples" last (always assuming they lived in a society with the requisite social organisation and vocabulary, etc.), whatever their language, social circumstances or ideological commitments happened to be.


Not even George W Bush, or the Pope, or Andrew Carnegie, or Rupert Murdoch, or Plotinus, or Julius Caesar, or Hegel, or Stalin, or..., would look for five red things first!


Now, this is what Wittgenstein meant by "logical grammar": logical features expressed in language, reflected in our practices, which illustrate how we all react in social circumstances (or otherwise), no matter what ideology or theory we subscribe to, and no matter in what century we actually live. Indeed, they are so much part of our second nature, so much part of what we do without thinking, that we fail to spot their significance --, which is, of course, why they went unremarked upon for millennia (until Frege and Wittgenstein pointed them out).


[This also illustrates that Wittgenstein was interested in "big logical differences" rather than the minutiae that concerned much that passed off as OLP, especially as it was practiced in Oxford in the 1950s and 1960s. (I owe this point to Peter Geach.) This also shows that numbers can't be 'abstracted' into existence, either. I will leave that gnomic comment in that state for now and return to it in a future re-write of Essay Three Part One. On this in general, see Frege (1953). Cf., also Beaney (1996), Dummett (1991), Kenny (1995), Noonan (2001), Weiner (2004). See also Zalta (2018).]


This specific topic isn't covered at all well in the Wittgenstein literature (indeed, most commentators seem to miss the point of Wittgenstein's parable here); however, see Baker and Hacker (2005b), pp.43-91, and Baker and Hacker (2005a), pp.1-28. But, and once more, the best article on this is still Robinson (2003b).


Hallett refers his readers to the following passage from Peter Geach's lecture notes:


"...[N]otice that the order of the operations in the grocer's shop is determinate: it would be hopeless for the grocer to...look around for red things until he found some that were also apples, and it would be still more hopeless for him to recite the numerals up to five in his language first of all -- this would be a completely idle performance. Frege said that a number attaches to a concept.... What Frege of course meant was that a number is a number of a kind of things -- a kind of things expressed by a general term; and that until you have fixed upon the kind of thing that you are counting, you can't count, you can't attach a number." [Hallett (1977), pp.74-75.]


LH appears to be totally oblivious of this, too -- as, indeed, are many of Wittgenstein's critics.


This is what Wittgenstein meant by looking at how we actually use and comprehend language, but because LH appears to be unaware of it he once again advances a series of irrelevant criticisms.





"Now, I can't claim to have a proper understanding of Wittgenstein's work...".


As we have seen: that is an understatement.


"I am at the moment struggling with the Philosophical Investigations (and wondering how can people get so passionate about that kind of stuff). But what has been systematically presented to us as his thought has not bought any sympathy from my part -- it is just a new fad of intellectual sectarianism and snobbery, of the same gender, though obviously not of the same species, that has long plagued the left (indeed, a particularly nasty and extreme species of such dogmatism, even compared to the abyssal standards of the left). The best I can say in Wittgenstein's behalf, regarding this, is that he is apparently innocent of such developments (and, indeed, that some things he writes in [the Philosophical Investigations -- RL] seem to directly contradict some of the posturing here); the worse I can imagine is that his own presumption and arrogance may have added with those of the left to ignite Ms. Lichtenstein's own school of sectarian and dogmatic sophistry."


Once more, it would be interesting to see LH's evidence (or argument) that justifies this parting shot (but see below).


Even so, the allegation that my work is "dogmatic" is a bit rich in view of LH's advocacy of the dogmatic ideas that abound in DM.


But, what "dogmatic" ideas or theses have I advanced? On this, LH is -- like others who have asserted similar things -- silent.


No surprise there, then.






"Pick [up] your [Philosophical Investigations -- RL] and open it at paragraphs 193-194, where he discusses the functioning of machines, or rather what we mean by 'functioning of machines'. Does that sound like it was written by someone with any knowledge of Marx's work? Namely, where does it sound as written by someone acquainted to Marx's discussion of the finalistic nature of human activity?" [Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Emphasis in the original.]

LH seems not to have noticed that the paragraphs he mentioned occur in a section where Wittgenstein was examining what it means to follow a rule, and he introduced the machine analogy since the views he was criticising depend on a mechanical interpretation of rule following -- that the steps in a rule are as determined as the movements of a machine. [On this, see Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.106-81.] Now, of course, this isn't what Marx is interested in, but who ever suggested it was? Nobody.


So, why this puzzlement on LH's part? His intention seems to be to suggest that this section of the Investigations shows that Wittgenstein was unaware of what Marx had said about machines. But, why is that the case? They both wanted to make entirely different points, so it isn't clear how this shows Wittgenstein was unaware of what Marx had argued.


But, let us suppose LH is right; even then, all this would show is that Wittgenstein hadn't read every page that Marx had written. Who ever claimed he had? [Not even LH has read every page! If he had, he, too, would be an anti-philosopher, for example.] But, it is clear from what we have seen, Wittgenstein had read enough of Marx's work to declare it "scientific".


Finally, this comment is rather odd:


"Namely, where does it sound as [if it were] written by someone acquainted to Marx's discussion of the finalistic nature of human activity?"


But, what does LH mean by "finalistic"? That human activity is goal directed? Wittgenstein certainly accepted that idea. How could he fail to! Hence, it is unclear what LH is actually suggesting by this word, or this comment.






"And by the way, what is the evidence that Wittgenstein ever engaged in criticism of dialectical materialism, or of its Stalinist caricature?"

Well, we know Wittgenstein was well-versed enough in the inner workings of DM to sustain conversations with experts in the field. And, we have seen that he included several DM-inspired ideas in his work (among other things, the 'Law of Identity', the irrational fear of 'contradictions', the change of quantity into quality, and promoting the idea that motion and change could be described as 'contradictory').


But, LH is blithely ignorant of all this, too.


And yet, the implication underlying LH's questions is (oddly enough) correct; Wittgenstein nowhere criticised this theory, as far as is known -- except he declared Lenin's philosophical ideas "absurd", even though he also described Lenin as a "genius". Having said that, and as I have shown, his method can be, and has been, used to show that DM is incoherent non-sense.59






"But is it relevant? As far as I know, he never uttered any criticism, be it of Marxism, or of Stalinist 'diamat'. Indeed, people intend to prove that he was sympathetic to the left because he once planned to live in the Soviet Union -- but, by such line of reasoning, this would 'prove' he was 'sympathetic' to 'diamat' -- which was the 'official' 'philosophy' in that place and time."


In fact, as we now know -- but, alas, LH doesn't -- Wittgenstein did criticise Marxism, although there is no evidence that he criticised DM (or even the Stalinised version of it, Diamat; but, see Note 59). Moreover, Wittgenstein's desire to go and live in the USSR could indeed be used to argue that he was sympathetic with the ideas enshrined in DM. He certainly left that impression with those with whom he conversed on his visit there in 1935. Of course, as already noted, that doesn't mean that his method can't be used to criticise DM.


But, what of these more fundamental allegations? 

LH: "What can be said is that his work implies such criticism. But his work is so convoluted and enigmatic, that practically anything can be thought as 'implied' in it, from militant atheism to mystical, if unorthodox, theism. Apparently it is impossible to interpret Wittgenstein without misinterpreting him. So what are the implications to socialism or to dialectical materialism, if any? Maybe there are some -- and -- gasp -- maybe there are none; what I can say for sure is, I don't take Ms. Lichtenstein very peculiar, very idiosyncratic, and very biased, interpretation of Wittgenstein for granted. And, not taking it for granted, I don't think that Wittgenstein's method is necessarily opposed to Marx's method (a.k.a. 'dialectical materialism'). Some much better arguments than Ms. Lichtenstein's sophisms would be needed to take me to that conclusion...." [Bold emphasis in the original.]

This isn't so; if we look at how we actually use language (in the sense indicated earlier), every doctrine enshrined in Traditional Thought) can be shown to be incoherent non-sense.


The rather broad and baseless allegations made about my use of Wittgenstein's method will need far more support than LH's sweeping (and unsupported) allegations, however.


LH: "Now, let's place the burden of proof where it belongs. Where did Wittgenstein criticise 'dialectics', or Marx's method, or 'diamat', or Lenin's 'Empiriocriticism', etc.? What does he say that can be actually taken as contrary to any of those things? I am tired of 'arguments' like 'Lenin had to think about motion without matter in order to say it was unthinkable' -- it is sheer sophistry, and anti-Wittgensteinian sophistry for what is worth, because anyone actually looking at how words are used can see that this is not how we use the word 'unthinkable'...." [Emphases in the original.]

I have answered LH's rather odd argument here (in an Essay where I do in fact consider a wide range of uses of "unthinkable", had LH bothered to check before he shot his mouth off). But, this is yet another topic about which LH prefers to remain in a state of profound ignorance.


[His other allegations have already been answered above.]


LH: "The guy had f**k [expletive deleted -- RL] all to do with socialism (of course, someone else might try and build bridges between his thought and socialism, but that would be this someone else's work, not Wittgenstein's). And any attempts to use his work to criticise 'my philosophy' -- or whatever other philosophy, for what it is worth -- should at least be actually based in his work, which 'anti-dialectics' is not." [Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site; abbreviation replaced with what it stands for.]

Given that LH openly admitted he lacks a "proper understanding" of Wittgenstein's work, he is hardly in a position to criticise my work when I support what I have to say with detailed evidence and references to Wittgenstein's published and unpublished writings, as well as that of his commentators, while LH simply posts a series of ignorant and uninformed opinions regaling us with what he thinks Wittgenstein said -- which he fails to substantiate with a single reference to the latter's work, or even the secondary literature on Wittgenstein.


Sure, LH 'sort of' quotes Wittgenstein in a few places, but not in support of the allegations he makes about my alleged misrepresentation of Wittgenstein's work.




Finally, there is this inane comment from 'Nizan':


"There are enough leftists who were leftists in addition to idiots, the distinction is not necessarily worth much trouble. Incidentally, Wittgenstein hardly endeavoured into any serious philosophical projects that were not already dead, his work served as the framework for postmodernism at best, a[t] best (sic) hardly worthy of comment." [Quoted from here.]


Well, we can all be grateful to this comrade for volunteering to add his name (albeit inadvertently) to the list of leftists who are "idiots", but it is manifestly untrue that "Wittgenstein hardly endeavoured into any serious philosophical projects that were not already dead", since philosophers are still hotly debating them. These include such hardly perennials as: the meaning and reference of names, the nature of reference and meaning themselves, sense, language, and what it means to follow a rule, the status of definite descriptions, our knowledge of other minds, the use of first person and third person psychological verbs, aspect perception, sensation, the nature of colour, action, behaviour, contextualism, 'universals', proof, truth, number, infinity, sets, the Real Number Line, nonsense, foundationalism, scepticism, causation, and perception, to name but a few.


But, what about this?


"...his work served as the framework for postmodernism at best, a[t] best hardly worthy of comment."


Certainly, postmodernists have used his work to motivate their own ideas (but so have anti-postmodernists; on that see here), but there is nothing 'postmodernist' in Wittgenstein's work (and I challenge anyone who disagrees to provide evidence to the contrary), but blaming Wittgenstein for postmodernism (if that is what 'Nizan' is doing) makes about as much sense as blaming Marx for Stalinism -- or, if you are a Maoist or a Stalinist, blaming Marx for Trotskyism; or for Leninism, if you are a non-Leninist Marxist, etc., etc.




From the above it is now abundantly clear that Wittgenstein was "a left-winger" (at least in the 1920s, 1930s, and arguably also in the 1940s), just as it is reasonably clear he was a mystic for only a few years (during, and shortly after, WW1). We have also seen that the idea that he was a conservative (small "c" or capital "C"), and that his work only serves to defend or rationalise the status quo, isn't just misguided, it is the exact opposite of the truth. His method in fact terminates, or can be used to bring to an end, two-and-half millennia of an important strand of ruling-class ideology (i.e., 'Traditional Philosophy') -- or, at the very least, it reveals it to be the self-important hot air it is.


This isn't just an academic exercise. It is important to challenge the 'received' view of Wittgenstein, widely held on the far-left, since it has served as an effective barrier to his method being appropriated by revolutionaries. There are now no good reasons to reject his work -- other than those that one would apply to any other philosopher, that is, whether or not his approach is sound and his arguments valid.


I haven't directly addressed these two issues in this Essay, but I have defended Wittgenstein's method in other Essays (for example, here and here), where I have also shown that the alternative approach adopted by Marxist Dialecticians (i.e., DM/'Materialist Dialectics') collapses into incoherence all too easily.


The long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism (note the use of the word 'dialectical' here; the non-dialectical version hasn't been road-tested yet) means that we have no other choice but to re-examine our core theory like the radicals we claim to be.


And this is where Wittgenstein's method -- coupled with a return to ordinary language (as Marx himself enjoined) -- will come into its own.


Appendix A -- The Dissolution Of Philosophical 'Problems'


I have in fact 'dissolved' several philosophical 'problems' in my Essays, the most accessible example of which is perhaps my discussion of the 'paradox of motion' that Zeno bequeathed to posterity and which Hegel put to no good in his spectacularly wrong-headed 'derivation' of the 'contradictory' nature of motion.


There is, of course, a classic dissolution of another philosophical 'problem' in the Investigations itself: the possibility of there being a 'private language', but it is far too long and involved to summarise here.


Fortunately, Friedrich Waismann's The Principles of Linguistic Philosophy outlines several easily accessible examples of the dissolution of a handful of philosophical 'problems'.


Concerning that book, Wikipedia notes:


"At one point in 1934, Wittgenstein and Waismann considered collaborating on a book, but these plans fell through after their philosophical differences became apparent." [Quoted from here.]


This book later appeared as The Principles of Linguistic Philosophy [Waismann (1997)], which Wittgenstein subsequently disowned -- oddly accusing Waismann of plagiarism, among other things! However, as its editor points out, a good half of the book was sourced "verbatim" via dictation, or from typescripts written by Wittgenstein himself -- cf., Waismann (1997), p.xv.


Even so, there is no reason to suppose that Wittgenstein would have approached the following 'problems' any differently -- at least in the early 1930s, even if he would have adopted a much more nuanced approach ten or fifteen years later. Nevertheless, the following two examples show reasonably clearly how his method can be used to make philosophical pseudo-problems disappear.


The Reliability Of Memory


Waismann begins with a question:


"Let us ask, for example: What right have we to believe what our memory tells us?


"This question, as is well known, often arises out of Descartes's more general question: Have we any knowledge which is infallible? If there were any such knowledge it would show itself as infallible in that it would be impossible even to doubt it. Now is there anything which cannot possibly be doubted? Let us review the various departments of knowledge to see which of them can significantly be doubted. This method of doubt is like a sieve which retains only absolutely certain knowledge. It is clear that the general propositions of Physics and the Laws of Nature are excluded; for everyone admits that they are, without exception, hypotheses which can at any time be overthrown by further experiments. The propositions of history are no better since they rest upon tradition, and the same applies to most of our everyday knowledge as far as it relies on the evidence of other people. The situation seems to be different with regard to propositions of whose truth I am convinced by my own observation. For example, if I say 'the rose is red', it does seem as if what I say is beyond all doubt. But do not people now and then have illusions and hallucinations? May not I only be dreaming of seeing a rose? However, what I cannot doubt is that I have the sense-impression of a rose now, whether it is a dream or not. Do we not seem to have reached the point at which all doubt is silenced? Yet a really determine sceptic could, even at this point, find something to attack. He might say 'Be this as it may, even if this moment I have before me a wholly definite picture, even so my problem is not affected. For the question was whether there is any absolutely certain knowledge? (sic) But a perception cannot be called knowledge until it is expressed in words. And to do this presupposes a correct use of words which depends, like all things learned, on memory. So, if I look at a rose and say I see a rose, the truth of what I say depends on my remembering correctly what each word I say means. I must know what the words 'rose', 'red', and 'see' mean. Plainly all speaking, thinking, and formulating presupposes that we can store up the meanings of words in our memories. Yet we know that memory can deceive us. What guarantees that it does not always deceive us, even when we make the simplest perceptual judgement? Does not certainty seem to dissolve into nothing?


"This train of thought exposes even analytic judgements (which consist merely in the analysis of concepts) to doubt. That certain things follow from the definition of a word cannot be doubted; what can, however, be doubted is our capacity to hold a concept in mind long enough to enable us to infer anything from its definition with certainty. It is not the logical connection, but our psychological capacity to hold it in mind, that is open to doubt. However cogently the steps in a mathematical proof may follow from each other, I can never be sure that my proof is correct, that during the short time that elapses between the first and the last steps I have not forgotten, or slightly altered, the meaning of the symbols involved; so that the symbols which I write down as the final stage in the proof may not mean anything that in fact follows from the data with which I started. Whether it is probable or not that our memory deceives us in this way is not relevant here; it is sufficient that it should be possible to doubt the reliability of memory, for this leads at once to the question, how far, in principle, memory is trustworthy.   


"At first sight this seems a question that can be answered without much difficulty; for I can easily check whether I am using my words correctly by asking whether their usage is the same, or by consulting various written explanations of our language. But even such practical aids, it might be said, do not in principle exclude possibilities of error. For in what other people say and in the written explanations, dictionaries, etc., there will again occur words whose meaning needs to be determined, and the same sceptical doubts can be raised about this interpretation; not to mention the fact that among fundamental presuppositions of knowledge we cannot include the assumption that the physical marks preserve their shape and could not for some mysterious reason change from one moment to another. How can you tell that there is not an arch-deceiver, who alters the shape of the letters whenever you close the book or look away from the page for an instant? That such things do not happen is already the conclusion of an inference from our experiences in the past; but how can we appeal to these experiences when we are suspicious about the trustworthiness of memory?


"So doubt can corrode all certainty. And in fact the situation is exceedingly odd. We cannot go back into the past and hold our present memories alongside it for comparison. We have only our memories to rely on, and they now seem suspect. Every attempt to prove the reliability of memory at the decisive point makes use of memory, so that we go hopelessly round in a circle. Anyone who broods on this process will soon be overtaken by a kind of giddiness. It is as if a bottomless abyss opened before him. Is there no escape from this desperate situation?" [Waismann (1997), pp.15-17. Italic emphases in the original; links added.]


After testing and rejecting several attempted solutions to this 'puzzle', Waismann proceeds to dissolve it:


"I believe that the right way out lies close at hand, and that it has been overlooked for so long only because people have not tried to see exactly what is meant by the question. It is only necessary to alter the direction of one's attention in the way we have spoken of earlier to see how a solution is to be found. If we want to understand the meaning of a question, we must know under what circumstances it should be answered by 'yes', and under what circumstances it should be answered by 'no'. So we ask the doubter 'What does it mean to say that my memory deceives me? What are the criteria for this being the case?' He may make some answer as: 'My memory deceives me when it disagrees about a past event either with what most other people say really happened or with what is written in reliable documents, diaries, letters, etc.' In this case his question has a clear meaning. I can tell whether specific memories, e.g. of my childhood, are, or are not correct. There is, if this is what the sceptic means, no further problem to perplex us. It is a matter of experience how far memory can be trusted. But this is obviously not the sense in which the sceptic doubts the certainty of memory. For what he asks is whether all memory is unreliable, including the memory we normally call reliable. So we ask him again: 'What do you now mean by the word "unreliable"? At any rate you do not mean what is normally understood by it. You must therefore explain what you mean by this word; that is, you must say in what circumstances you call memory "reliable", and in what "unreliable".' If he gives us a criterion, such as comparison with a certain document, we can understand precisely what his question means. In this case, however, it is not a philosophical question but one of everyday life. There is nothing exciting about his question but if he fails to mention any criterion whatever (and this, of course, is usual with the radical philosophic sceptic), in such a case he does not know himself what he is asking. He does not know how a case of reliable memory is to be distinguished from one of unreliable memory. He draws, in fact, no distinction between these concepts. The question 'Is not all memory (including that which we call reliable) perhaps unreliable?' is thus on a level with 'Are not all notes including those which we call low perhaps high?' This questions is a misuse of language, nothing more.


"We can now see how the problem dissolves. We do not say to the doubter, 'You are mistaken, for what you doubt is something which is a matter of fact.' We tell him instead, 'Your question has no meaning, for you have failed to give a meaning to the words of which it is made up'. Our conclusion would in no way be affected, however much he persisted that he meant something definite by his question. We should reply: 'Then tell us what it is that you mean. If you cannot do this, then do not imagine that there is a question'.


"But what are we to do if the doubter contends that the criterion for reliability of memory is that it should agree with the facts of the past? Does saying this give a sense to his question?... [However], saying that a memory is reliable 'when it agrees with the past' gets us no farther, for it does not tell us how we are to find out whether such an agreement exists or not. We have not formulated any criterion but simply replaced the old words with new ones whose meaning is as much in need of explanation as the old. Hence the sceptic deceives himself if he thinks his question has been given a clear meaning." [Ibid., pp.20-21. Italic emphases in the original.]


Waismann then explains how philosophical 'problems' like this arise. He points out (the obvious) that we typically learn how to use words like "unreliable" as the opposite of "reliable". But when someone wonders whether, say, memory is unreliable, what are they distinguishing it from? The posing of such a question only serves to undermine the meaning of the words used to raise such doubts.


[This is the line I have adopted (with suitable modifications) in several of my Essays -- for example, here, in relation to the word "change"; here, in relation to "motion"; here in relation to "identity", "same" and "equal"; and here in relation to "motion" and "matter".]


Waismann continues:


"Somebody might object, 'But surely I know what the word "unreliable" means. I need not give an explanation. I am just asking whether all memory may not turn out to be unreliable. So it is not a matter of how I am going to use the word, but a question concerning the facts.' To this we should reply, 'You are asking the question whether a memory which is normally called reliable cannot turn out to be in fact unreliable. So you deviate from the ordinary use of language; you cannot mean by "unreliable" what the plain man means. So will you please explain to us what you mean.'" [Ibid., p.22. Italic emphases in the original.]


Of course, one response to Waismann would be to ask him why the ordinary use of words is decisive, and why the opinions of 'the plain man' should be taken into account when we are conducting a philosophical enquiry.


However, anyone who agrees with Marx won't respond that way. But, let us suppose some might do so, or who might agree with what Marx says elsewhere, but disagree with him over this, at least:


"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases alone added.]


What could we say to such an objector? Surely the vernacular can't be expected to cope with areas outside of the ordinary and the everyday -- for example, with respect to technical issues in the sciences or even difficult problems in philosophy?


I hope to cover this hackneyed objection more fully in Essay Twelve Part Seven, but until then the reader is directed to my response above, in Essay Four Part One, and to the following passage I quoted in Essay Thirteen Part Three (which concerns the language used in Artificial Intelligence, but the point the authors make also applies to the employment of technical language in any discipline -- if it is thought that such language will solve a single philosophical problem):


"As to the widespread disparagement of attempts to resolve philosophical problems by way of appeals to 'what we would ordinarily say', we would proffer the following comment. It often appears that those who engage in such disparaging nonetheless themselves often do what they programmatically disparage, for it seems to us at least arguable that many of the central philosophical questions are in fact, and despite protestations to the contrary, being argued about in terms of appeals (albeit often inept) to 'what we would ordinarily say...'. That the main issues of contemporary philosophy of mind are essentially about language (in the sense that they arise from and struggle with confusions over the meanings of ordinary words) is a position which, we insist, can still reasonably be proposed and defended. We shall claim here that most, if not all, of the conundrums, controversies and challenges of the philosophy of mind in the late twentieth century consist in a collectively assertive, although bewildered, attitude toward such ordinary linguistic terms as 'mind' itself, 'consciousness', 'thought', 'belief', 'intention' and so on, and that the problems which are posed are ones which characteristically are of the form which ask what we should say if confronted with certain facts, as described....


"We have absolutely nothing against the coining of new, technical uses [of words], as we have said. Rather, the issue is that many of those who insist upon speaking of machines' 'thinking' and 'understanding' do not intend in the least to be coining new, restrictively technical, uses for these terms. It is not, for example, that they have decided to call a new kind of machine an 'understanding machine', where the word 'understanding' now means something different from what we ordinarily mean by that word. On the contrary, the philosophical cachet derives entirely from their insisting that they are using the words 'thinking' and 'understanding' in the same sense that we ordinarily use them. The aim is quite characteristically to provoke, challenge and confront the rest of us. Their objective is to contradict something that the rest of us believe. What the 'rest of us' believe is simply this: thinking and understanding is something distinctive to human beings..., and that these capacities set us apart from the merely mechanical.... The argument that a machine can think or understand, therefore, is of interest precisely because it features a use of the words 'think' and 'understand' which is intendedly the same as the ordinary use. Otherwise, the sense of challenge and, consequently, of interest would evaporate.... If engineers were to make 'understand' and 'think' into technical terms, ones with special, technical meanings different and distinct from those we ordinarily take them to have, then, of course, their claims to have built machines which think or understand would have no bearing whatsoever upon our inclination ordinarily to say that, in the ordinary sense, machines do not think or understand." [Button et al (1995), pp.12, 20-21. Italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


So, if the sceptic mentioned by Waismann isn't using words such as "memory", "reliable", and "doubt" in an ordinary way, then he or she isn't questioning the reliability of memory, but the 'reliability' of 'memory', and memory itself will, of course, emerge unscathed. On the other hand, if that individual is using such words in an ordinary way, his or her doubts must disintegrate along the lines suggested above. Either way, memory emerges (philosophically) unscathed, and this 'problem' simply disappears.


This isn't to suggest that memory is infallible, as Waismann points out:


"In order to avoid misunderstandings it must be remarked that it is not because it is general that the sceptic's question is mistaken. Once we know under what circumstances a memory is to be called reliable, it might well be that the memories of someone during a certain period of time were all unreliable. Experiences could even be described which (if they occurred) would show that the memory of all men during a certain time was unreliable. But then such a case could be contrasted with the case in which this was not so. But if and only if the sceptic rejects this and every other criterion which we may suggest, if for instance he refuses to allow that either introspective knowledge, or the testimony of others, or written documents, or causal effects, e.g. vestiges, can be sufficient to show whether or not a memory is reliable, then his constantly reiterated question: 'But are not all memories unreliable?' is merely a logical confusion dressed up as a problem." [Waismann, op cit, p.22.]       


[On reflection Waismann might want to replace "logical" with "linguistic" or even "grammatical" (in Wittgenstein's later sense of that word) in that last clause.]


However, there is a much quicker way to dissolve this 'problem', one I have in fact used on Internet Discussion Boards many times, which employs a modified version of a technique Wittgenstein explored in On Certainty, and one hinted at in the above.


If a sceptic questions memory (in the way outlined by Waismann), then her memory of what this word itself means is open to doubt (as is her memory of the word "doubt", too). In which case, the sceptic has no way of knowing whether or not her 'doubt' has any content, since she might not only be misremembering the word "doubt", but the word "memory", too. If so, for all she knows, her 'doubt' might not be a doubt, and it might not even be about memory.


The only way to circumvent that fatal objection is for her to argue that her use of words remains secure even while she undermines her own memory (or visa versa) -- thus dissolving her own doubts, once more.


[Of course, this isn't to suggest that sceptics have no answer, or don't have a counter-argument to the above, but we will have to leave that to another time.]


The Truth-Value Of Propositions About the Future


Waismann now considers another metaphysical 'problem' that dates back at least to Aristotle:


"We turn now to the consideration of a question which goes back to Aristotle and is today again attracting attention -- the question whether our logic is valid for statements which refer to the future.... Lukasiewicz writes:


'The proposition that there are only two truth-values is the most fundamental basis of our whole logic and has been much disputed since ancient times. The proposition, well known to Aristotle, was disputed by the Epicureans for the case in which the statement refers to contingent events in the future. It occurs most clearly as the principle of their dialectics in the writings of Chrysippos (sic) and the Stoics. Here it represents the propositional calculus of antiquity. The controversy about the two truth-values has a metaphysical background; the adherents of this principle are decided determinists while its opponents are inclined to the indeterministic view of the world....


'Accordingly the most fundamental principle of logic does not seem to be quite self-evident. I have tired to overcome the doctrine of the two truth-values by using examples which go back to Aristotle. This has led to the following train of thought:


'There is no contradiction in supposing that my presence in Warsaw at a certain time next year, say at 12 noon on 21 December, is decided neither in the affirmative nor in the negative at the moment. It is therefore possible but not necessary that I shall be present in Warsaw at the given time. According to this supposition the statement 'I shall be in Warsaw next year at 12 noon on 21 December' cannot be either true or false today. If the statement were true today my presence in Warsaw would be necessary, which contradicts the supposition; if the statement were false today my presence in Warsaw would be impossible, which also contradicts the supposition. The statement is therefore neither true nor false at the present moment. Hence it must have a third truth-value, differing from true and false, or (putting it symbolically) from 1 and 0. This truth-value may be symbolised by "1/2"; this symbol represents the idea "possible", which is a third value beside the true and false.


'This train of thought led to the construction of a three-valued system of logic.'


"In this system of logic the principle of the excluded middle is not unconditionally valid; statements concerning the future are neither true nor false but undecided, i.e. possible. Before we accept this view we must make sure that it provides a clear solution of the difficulty. A statement about the future is said to be neither true nor false at the present moment. It begins to be true at the moment when the event which it describes happens. But does this change take place suddenly or gradually? At what moment does the proposition 'it will rain tomorrow' begin to be true? When the first drop of rain falls to the ground? Or, supposing that it does not rain tomorrow, when does the proposition begin to be false? In the last second of the day, on the stroke of 12 p.m.? Supposing that the event has happened, that the proposition is true; does it remain true for ever? And if so it what way? Does it remain uninterruptedly true, true at every moment of the day and night? Would it remain true even if there were no thinking beings? Or shall we say that it is true only at certain times -- for instance, when it is being thought of? In that case how long exactly does it remain true? For the duration of the thought, or of the written, or of the spoken, word? I have not raised these difficulties wilfully, or for my own amusement; they represent themselves to anyone who examines the situation closely; and so we are even more deeply involved in embarrassment. It is as if we could not understand how logic can be valid if it leads to the paradoxical result that the whole future is determined at the present moment. But, on the other hand, it is even more difficult to be content with the opposite view, according to which truth and falsity should be states into one of which every proposition enters at a particular moment. From this dilemma arises a philosophical problem with all its characteristic features. We see no escape...." [Waismann (1997), pp.27-28. Italic emphases in the original.]


Waismann points out that several philosophers have tried to solve this 'problem' by arguing that truth is a timeless property of propositions.


"Such a view as this leads in the right direction, but it does not reach the heart of the problem. For what is meant by saying that truth is a timeless quality? Does it mean that the proposition is true at all times? Or that to combine truth with a time-specification is nonsensical? Such an answer cannot satisfy us, particularly for the following reason: if we say 'Truth is something timeless', it looks as if we have made an assertion about truth which we expect our opponents to admit, but we are in fact only provoking them to contradict us, and they may well reply 'I cannot see why truth should be something timeless'. And so our interminable dispute will begin again, and no conclusion will be established. We must then realise that this is still a dogmatic formulation. A genuine solution of the problem must be such that any hesitation and resistance has been made impossible. For this hesitation always rises from the feeling 'Something is being asserted -- I do not really know whether I should agree to it or not'. As long as dispute is still possible the real solution has not been found.


"Now we wish to proceed undogmatically. Let us pass from the question 'Is a statement about the future true now?' to the question 'What is meant by saying that a statement about the future is true now?' First of all: 'What is meant by saying of a given proposition that it is true?' Does this describe the proposition? One is tempted to answer 'In a sense, yes; I do ascertain that the proposition is true'. Suppose the proposition is 'It is raining'. What am I saying when I say this proposition is true? I am saying no more than it is raining. I have simply repeated the proposition. The words 'It is true that' add nothing to the meaning of 'It is raining', though they may add emphasis, like 'certainly', 'surely', etc." [Waismann, op cit, pp.28-29. Italic emphases in the original.]


It could be objected, Waismann notes, that saying it is raining doesn't automatically mean that it is true that it is raining. So, the objection might proceed, after having verified that particular proposition, saying that it is true does in fact add to the original statement, contrary to what was argued above. Hence, "It is true that it is raining" says more than "It is raining".


Waismann replies:


"[I]t must be remembered that adding the words 'It is true that...' does not guarantee the truth of the proposition. If a criminal lies in court, but every time he lies [he] swears that he is speaking the truth, does this make his statements true? The proposition 'p is true' is not more true than the proposition p; affirming that p is true does not make it true.


"What does it mean to say that there is a difference between 'p' and 'p is true'? Perhaps the difference can be put as follows: In uttering the sentence p I need not know whether p is true, but on the other hand when I say 'p is true' I express my knowledge of the truth of p. Certainly one can use the words 'p is true' in this way, but one is deviating from the ordinary use of language. There are at least three reasons for saying this:


"(i) If the suggested usage were adopted, the same words when uttered by different persons would have a different meaning. If A and B both say 'It is true that it is raining', and if this means 'I know that it is raining; I have ascertained it is raining' they are saying different things, and it is possible that one is speaking the truth and the other not.


"(ii) If we interpret the words 'It is true that...' in this way, Lukasiewicz's problem could not even be raised. For if the expression 'It is true that...' is to mean 'I know that...', the question whether a statement about the future is true at the present moment would amount to the question: 'Do I know at the present moment whether, e.g. I shall be in Warsaw next year on 21 December?' And in this case, of course, the reply is that I do not know. There would be no need to doubt the principle of the excluded middle; it is obvious that there are only two possibilities, viz. that I either know or do not know what will be the case, and the principle of excluded middle remains perfectly valid. Since Lukasiewicz has been led to doubt its validity he cannot have been using the words 'It is true that...' in the sense of 'I know that...'.


"(iii) The proposition 'It is true that it is raining' can be denied in only one way, for the expressions 'It is not true that it is raining' and 'It is true that it is not raining' have exactly the same meaning. Whereas the proposition 'I know that it is raining' can be denied in two different ways, for 'I know that it is not raining' does not mean the same as 'I do not know that it is raining'. Therefore the proposition 'I know that it is raining' is not a translation of the proposition 'It is true that it is raining'. The two propositions have different logical multiplicity." [Ibid., pp.29-30. Italic emphases in the original.]


Waismann then supposes that his opponent still maintains that "It is true that p" says more than "p"; he doesn't contradict him but merely asks:


"'What exactly do you mean by "more" in this connection?' We would remind him that in ordinary language we say, for example, that 'Today is Thursday' means more than that 'Today is a weekday'. The difference is that the former entails the latter but not conversely. It is conceivable that 'Today is Thursday' should be false and 'Today is a weekday' true; on the other hand it is inconceivable (self-contradictory) that today should be Thursday and not a weekday." [Ibid., p.31. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]


From this Waismann proposes the following criterion:


"The proposition p means more than the proposition q, if ~p & q is meaningful (possible) but, p & ~q is inconceivable (contradictory)." [Ibid., p.31. Italic emphases in the original.]


["~" is the negative particle, "not"; "&" stands for "and" (I have employed a different symbol here, since Waismann's ".", which he uses in place of my "&", is less perspicuous). So ~p & q implies that p could be false while q is true (or ~p could be true and q could also be true), whereas p & ~q represents the converse: p could be true while q is false (or p could be true and so could ~q). There are, of course, other possibilities (i.e., p and q might have opposite truth values), but given the context of Waismann's argument, not all of these other options are relevant.]


Waismann now applies this criterion to two propositions: where "p" is "It is true that it is raining" and "q" is "It is raining":


"[We now ask:] 'In what sense are you using the word "more"'? If you were using it according to the criterion just given there would be sense in saying 'It is not true that it is raining, and it is raining'. If you do not agree to use it in this sense, then we ask you in what sense you are using it, for we do not understand you.'" [Ibid., p.31. Italic emphasis in the original.]


He then points out that "p is true" can be replaced by "p", while "p is false" can be replaced by "~p".


"If [the above rules] are accepted it is not difficult to show that Lukasiewicz's arguments are fallacious. Since 'p is true' means the same as 'p', 'p is true now' would simply mean 'p now'. For example, 'It is true that it will rain tomorrow' simply means 'It will rain tomorrow'; 'It is true now that it will rain tomorrow' means 'It will rain tomorrow now', and this is nonsense. Giving two time-coordinates to an event in this way is a mistake of the same kind as saying 'The temperature of this room is 60 [degrees] and 70 [degrees], or 'This man is twenty and thirty years old'.


"The confusion arises from thinking (wrongly) that the words 'p is true' form a description of p which can be completed by adding a time specification. Here, as in so many cases, one is misled by the external form of expression; it seems as if the adjective 'true' stands for a quality of propositions of which it can be asked 'When does p have this quality?'...." [Ibid., p.32. Italic emphases in the original.]


Waismann now tells us he is "making no assertions", but it is obvious that he is. What I think he means is somewhat similar to the points I have made in Essay Twelve Part One: an assertion that something is a rule is different from the assertion of a proposition that expresses a matter of fact --, or, indeed, the assertion of a fact about that rule:


It could be objected that the propositions advanced in this Essay -- such as "Metaphysical propositions are non-sensical" -- are self-refuting, too, since they aren't empirical and yet they are also supposed to be true. If so, they can't be false, either, and so they must be non-sensical themselves, if we are to believe what this essay has to say.


This objection is based on the idea that there are only two uses of the indicative mood: fact-stating and philosophical thesis-mongering. The conclusion seems to be that I am either stating facts -- which could be false --, or I am advancing a supposedly true philosophical theory of my own about language, etc. If the latter is the case, then what I have to say is no less non-sensical -- hence, I have only succeeded in refuting myself!


But, there are other uses of the indicative mood, one of which features in the formulation of scientific theories, which, in general, don't state facts, but express rules we use to make sense of the world (also called here forms of representation; more about that presently). And rules aren't the sort of thing that can be true or false, only useful or useless, effective or ineffective, practical or impractical, followed or broken, etc.

So, when Newton, for example, tells us that the rate of change of momentum is proportional to the applied force, he isn't stating a fact -- otherwise it could be false. But if that were so, its falsehood would change the meaning of "force", and it would therefore be about something other than "force" as Newton meant that word (in his Second Law) --, he is proposing, or establishing, a rule that can be used to study acceleration, among other things.


[Of course, he might not have seen things this way, but that doesn't affect the point being made. Recall the comments made at the top of this page: This Essay "tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history...." I will say more about why such 'Laws' are in effect rules in Essay Thirteen Part Two. (Incidentally, this approach to scientific 'Laws' helps account for the odd fact that they all appear to tell lies about nature (this links to a PDF). Why that is so will also be examined in the aforementioned Essay. On this, see Cartwright (1983).)]


I use the indicative mood in the same way -- as part of interpretative, or elucidatory, rules --, except, in this case, I do so only in order to show that philosophical theses themselves are both non-sensical and incoherent.

Someone might refer us to Wittgenstein's notorious statement:


"6.54: My propositions [Sätze -- sentences, RL] serve as elucidations in the following way: Anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical [unsinnig], when he has used them -- as steps -- to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright." [Wittgenstein (1972), p.151. (This links to a PDF.) Paragraphs  merged.]


They might then claim (as, indeed, many have) that he only succeeded in refuting himself, too.


As I explained earlier, in place of "nonsense" I prefer "non-sense", and that is clearly what Wittgenstein also intended; that is, he was referring to propositions (sentences) which are incapable of expressing a sense (Sinn). [He pointedly contrasts Unsinnig (non-sense) with Sinnloss (senseless) sentences.]

So, Wittgenstein's own Unsinnig sentences [Sätze] -- not the inscriptions produced by the metaphysicians he is criticising -- express rules ("elucidations") in what appear to be propositional (or sentential) form. That is, they use the indicative mood, by-and-large. He employed these elucidations in an endeavour make it clear how it is that our sentences are capable of expressing a sense (Sinn), and how they sometimes fail to express a sense (Sinnloss) --, or, worse, how they can't express a sense (Unsinnig). When that has been done, or once we see what Wittgenstein was trying to say, we no longer need these rules and can "throw them away".


Now rules, as I also pointed out earlier, can't express a sense (they are Unsinnig) -- they aren't capable of being true or false, they can only be useful or useless, followed or abrogated --, but that doesn't prevent us from understanding them (which we plainly do once we realise they aren't like empirical propositions, or even metaphysical pseudo-propositions, but are elucidations -- i.e., once we see, or come to appreciate, they aren't incoherent non-sense). In that case, Wittgenstein was outlining, or proposing, a set of interpretative rules that were aimed at rendering his analysis of language clear.

Again, when Newton, for example, tells us that the rate of change of momentum is proportional to the impressed force, he is (indirectly) informing us how he intends to use certain words and how he proposes to make sense of nature by means of them. His 'laws' elucidate his physics, and as such are rules.

But, why "throw them away"? Well, consider someone who is trying to teach a novice how to play chess, how the pieces move, how they can capture other pieces, etc., etc. In doing this, they will explain the rules of chess in the indicative mood: "The Queen moves like this, and this...". Of course, the rules can also be expressed in the imperative mood, too: "Move your Rook like this...", "The King has to move this way...", but that isn't absolutely essential. In addition, the rules of the game can be taught by practical demonstration -- by simply playing! Novices can even learn by just watching others play, asking the odd question or two.


The rules of chess are also Unsinnig, since they can't be false. "The Bishop doesn't move diagonally" isn't an alternative rule for the Bishop in chess, since the way that that piece moves defines what the word "Bishop" means in that game. The rules elucidate how that word is used and how that piece behaves. If a 'Bishop' were to move (legitimately) in any other way, it would be part of an different game, not chess!

Some might want to argue that "The Bishop moves like this..." is in fact true. But, if that were the case, "The Bishop moves like this..." would then be descriptive not prescriptive, making this an assertion, which could be true or could be false. But, anyone who now claimed that such rules were descriptive (and, in this case, were true) would have no answer to someone else who retorted "Well, I'll move it any way I like!", other than to appeal to tradition, to how the game has always been played in the past. So, in order to proscribe the antics of such maverick chess players, "The Bishop moves like this...", and sentences like it, would have to be viewed prescriptively, and thus as rules, not descriptions.


Of course, "The Bishop moves like this..." is a correct (or true) description of, or assertion about, a rule in chess, in the sense that anyone who used it would be speaking truly about the rules themselves, but the prescriptive nature of this rule doesn't depend on such truthful reports, but on the application of that rule, a rule which defines how certain pieces must move.


Once we have grasped these rules we can in effect "throw them away" (unless, of course, we have to explain them to someone else, or appeal to them to settle a dispute, etc.). How many times do you have to say to yourself once you have mastered the rules of chess: "The Rook moves like this, the Pawns like that..."?

Every single Wittgenstein commentator misses these simple points, and they then struggle to comprehend the Tractatus!


Now, I'm not suggesting Wittgenstein was crystal clear about this (he wasn't a systematic philosopher at any point in his life), but it seems to me to be the only way to make the Tractatus comprehensible, so that it doesn't (a) self-destruct, or (b) morph into something completely different (perhaps as a result of the rather extreme interpretations suggested by, for example, the 'New Wittgensteinians'). [On that, see Crary and Read (2000), and Read and Lavery (2011).]


But, even if it could be shown that Wittgenstein didn't hold this view, it certainly represents my view, and my attempt to repair the Tractatus.


I think the same comments (suitably adjusted and/or adapted) might very well apply to what Waismann had to say.


Waismann then points out that he uses the method of question and answer in order to help his interlocutors see for themselves how they have always used words like "true" and "false" (presumably before they read any philosophy!), directing them to their own linguistic practices. He then continues:


"The following objection might be raised:


"We began with the rule 'It is true that it will rain tomorrow' = 'It will rain tomorrow' and passed to the rule:


"'It is true that it will rain tomorrow' = 'It will rain tomorrow now'.


"Is the second rule a consequence of the first? Certainly not, even though, if we follow the analogies of ordinary language, it presents itself quite naturally once the first is accepted.


"This, however, is by no means decisive, and someone might well say 'I agree to the first rule, but not the second'. He would then be obliged to explain what he means when he says 'It is true now that...', and his explanation would be a new convention. On the other hand if he agrees to the second, he is recognising it of his own free will....


"Even now our clarification is exposed to misinterpretation; someone might ask whether the original question about the future, 'Is "p" true or false now?', has really been answered. To ask this is to show that one is not freed from the spell of the verbal expression, and is like remarking 'how strange that mathematicians have not found the sum of the series 1 - 1 + 1 - 1 + ...!' [Discussed earlier in the book, pp.10-11 -- RL.] Our method aims not at answering such questions, but at displaying their lack of meaning: we rectify the use of language, and in the rectified language the possibility of formulating the question does not arise, for its wording is such as to violate the rules we have specified. The solution is just this -- the problem vanishes." [Waismann, op cit, p.33. Italic emphasis in the original. (I have separated a few sentences to make the points Waismann wanted to make somewhat clearer.)]


[For Waismann, a "new criterion" changes the meaning of the sentences involved, which would alter the sentence "It is true now that..." so that it no longer means what we normally take it to mean. Naturally, we might want to question the wisdom of running together the meaning of a word and the meaning of a sentence/proposition. I have tackled that knotty problem in Essay Thirteen Part Three -- for example, here and here.]


Not everyone will accept this method as a valid way to proceed in Philosophy (indeed, the vast majority of contemporary Philosophers, never mind most Analytic Philosophers, don't accept it -- if they did they would soon be out of a job, having shown their entire discipline exudes little other than self-important hot air!), but, as I have argued in my Essays, traditional philosophical methods simply result in the production of incoherent non-sense.


So, Wittgenstein's technique (which is a modified version of the one Waismann employed) can be used to dissolve philosophical 'problems' to order in like manner (since they all depend on a misuse, or on a distortion, of ordinary language).


[For more details, the reader is directed to the following: Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.34-64, 263-347, Fischer (2011a, 2011b), Glock (1996), pp.261-62, 293-96, Kuusela (2005, 2008), Iliescu (2000), Peterman (1992), and Suter (1989) -- or, the many books and articles listed here and here.]


I have employed a somewhat similar, but far more radical approach to the method outlined above when discussing the philosophical confusions created by those who think Hegel had something useful to tell humanity (upside down or 'the right way up') -- for example, here, here, here, here and here; but in general, here and here.


The difference is that an application of this method shows that the theories and theses of DM are also incoherent non-sense, whether Wittgenstein held to that opinion or not.


Philosophical 'Problems' Contrasted With Empirical Questions


Einstein On Simultaneity


Waismann illustrates the difference between a philosophical and an empirical question (while at the same time highlighting the Wittgensteinian principle that clarification makes hitherto puzzling questions disappear) by considering how Einstein approached simultaneity:


"...It is always language which leads us into the fallacy of misapplied concepts and which as a matter of course uses the same words with different meanings. The effect of this is the effect of a conjuring trick; the change occurs so innocently that it escapes attention....


"Perhaps the most famous example of clarification is Einstein's analysis of simultaneity. At the end of the last century difficulties of unknown origin arose in classical physics and manifested themselves in a variety of ways. The situation can perhaps best be described by saying that in the classical view it was quite uncertain whether two events taking place at two widely separate places (for example, one on the Earth and the other on Sirius) were simultaneous or not. In this view the answer to the question depends on the state of motion of the bodies relative to the ether. Light takes about eight years to travel from Sirius to Earth, so that an event which is observed to be taking place now on Sirius actually happened eight years ago -- but only if the Earth-Sirius system is at rest in the ether. If the system is moving in the direction from Sirius to the Earth, the light takes longer than eight years, because the earth is flying away from it. But if the system is moving in the opposite direction, the light takes less than eight years. In order, therefore, to assign a definite place in time to an even on Sirius, the size and direction of motion of the system must be known. But experience (the Michelson-Morley experiment) has shown that such a motion cannot be ascertained. In order to explain this fact, Lorentz invented a remarkable hypothesis according to which the measurements of our apparatus become shorter owing to their motion, and at the same time clocks (and all other natural processes), go slower in such a way that the effect of the motion is exactly compensated. In other words, Lorentz says 'Motion through the ether and the contraction of the measuring instruments are both real processes. If only one part of these processes took place we could very well measure the motion; but in fact, the processes are so adjusted to each other that the effect of the whole is exactly zero'; the motion, though real, escapes notice; that it becomes impossible to determine whether an event on the Earth is simultaneous with one on Sirius or not.


"Surveying this argument today it is perfectly clear that a way out of this dilemma could only be found by turning away from the world of facts to a consideration of concepts. The decisive step consists in passing from the question 'Are the two events simultaneous?' to the question 'What exactly does it mean to say that they are simultaneous?' The answer to this is that initially it does not mean anything; for the word 'simultaneous' has only a clear meaning when it is applied to events at more or less the same place. If it is used to refer to events in quite different places, we require a statement of what it is to mean in this new context. This step was taken by Einstein. He neither discovered hitherto unknown facts, nor did he suggest a hypothesis which explains better the known facts; rather he cleared away from the concept of simultaneity the confusion which had surrounded it. He simply drew attention to the fact that the word 'simultaneous' must be redefined if it is to be used to apply to events in quite different portions of space. The realization that it is here a matter of our having to determine the use of a word at once made the difficulties of classical physics disappear. For these were precisely due to the fact that one regarded what is only a matter of convention as if it were a problem of physics, that one tried to ascertain whether certain events were simultaneous instead of defining the word 'simultaneous'." [Waismann, op cit, pp.11-13. Italic emphases in the original; links added.]


Appendix B


Augustine On Language


Wittgenstein quoted the following passage from Augustine's Confessions in the opening sections of the Investigations:


"When grown-ups named some object and at the same time turned toward it, I perceived this, and I grasped that the thing was signified by the sound they uttered, since they meant to point it out. This, however, I gathered from their gestures, the natural language of all peoples, the language that by means of facial expression and the play of eyes, of the movements of the limbs and the tone of voice, indicates the affections of the soul when it desires, or clings to, or rejects, or recoils from, something. In this way, little by little, I learnt to understand what things the words, which I heard uttered in their respective places in various sentences, signified. And once I got my tongue around these signs, I used them to express my wishes." [Augustine (2004), Book One, 8:13, pp.10-11, quoted in Wittgenstein (2009), p.5e (but clearly using a different translation; the on-line version to which I have linked is different still!). Italic emphasis in the original.]


However, concerning the above, Garth Hallett points out that:


"Augustine's own criticism, in De Magistro, of such a primitive view shows that too much should not be made of one isolated passage." [Hallett (1977), p.73. Italic emphases in the original.]


As I noted in Essay Thirteen Part Three:


For the 'Augustinian Picture' of language, see Glock (1996), pp.41-45, Baker and Hacker (2005a), pp.1-28, and Baker and Hacker (2005b), pp.48-72. See also here.... However, Wittgenstein's view of Augustine's theory of language wasn't entirely accurate, but it did serve as a point of departure for him. On this, see Kirwan (2001) and Burnyeat (1987). [This links to a PDF.]




1. That this 'received picture' is incorrect can be seen by reading Alan Janik's essays 'Nyiri on the Conservatism of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy' -- which was itself a reply to Nyiri (1998) --, and 'Wittgenstein, Marx and Sociology', both reprinted in Janik (1985), pp.116-57.


2. Frank Ramsey was accredited by Wittgenstein as the second most "formative" influence on his thinking, after Piero Sraffa (more on him later), when he came to write the Investigations.


Subsequently, George Paul, Margaret Ramsey, Allen Jackson and Douglas Gasking were investigated by ASIO -- the Australian equivalent of MI5 -- for their Communist Party connections. [Cornish, op cit, p.45.]


3. That is something we knew, anyway! [On this, see later sections of this Essay.]


4. Cornish's source for this is John Costello's, The Mask of Treachery: Anthony Blunt: The Most Dangerous Spy in History, Harper Collins, 1988 -- although its UK title is, Mask of Treachery. The First Documented Dossier on Blunt, and Soviet Subversion, Faber and Faber, 1988. The reference Cornish himself mentions can be found in the un-numbered Documents Section at the end of this book, fourth page along.


5. It is worth recalling that Joseph Needham, sometime Master of Caius College Cambridge, wrote the Forward to the famous book, Science at the Crossroads, (i.e., Bukharin et al (1971)), which published papers read at the Second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology (held in London in June and July 1931), attended by Nikolai Bukharin, Abram Deborin and Boris Hessen, among others.


6. For more on Cornforth, see Sheehan, op cit, pp.343-45.


7. I recently discovered a copy of this article on-line; I have re-formatted and re-posted it here. However, in the years since Moran's article was first published much more evidence has come to light, evidence that lends even more support to the view that Wittgenstein's political orientation was indeed left-wing. Very little if any of it supports the opposite view.


8. However, it is important not to read too much into this isolated passage. Wittgenstein might be alluding to a rather obvious point that I have also made:


C1: If Fb is true at t1, and ~Fb is true at t2, b must have changed.


Hence, the fact that Fb and ~Fb are contradictories allows us to draw the conclusion that b must have changed. Of course, that depends on how we are using the word "change", too! [C1 I would call a grammatical remark.] Of course, there are counter-examples to C1, but that intriguing possibility will have to be left to one side for now.


Nevertheless, given the other things Wittgenstein had to say about contradictions, it is highly likely he was alluding to Hegel, Engels or Lenin:


"But you can't allow a contradiction to stand! -- Why not?... It might for example be said of an object in motion that it existed and did not exist in this place; change might be expressed by means of contradiction." [Wittgenstein (1978), p.370. Paragraphs merged.]


["~" is the negative sentential operator "not", which maps a true onto a false proposition, or vice versa; "b" is a name variable, and "F" stands for any predicable to which b can sensibly be attached.]


9. See also this much longer passage from Hegel.


10. As we will see, Wittgenstein engaged in conversation about DM with Professor Sophia Yanovskaya -- that is, they spoke about a topic he couldn't have learnt from Marx. So, he felt confident enough with his knowledge of this subject to talk to a soviet expert in the field.


Yanovskaya was Professor of Mathematical Logic at Moscow University and one of the co-editors of Marx's Mathematical Manuscripts. Cf., Yanovskaya (1983), reprinted in Marx (1983).


11. The best analysis of Wittgenstein's criticisms of identity can be found in White (1978). See also Marion (1998), pp.48-72 for an extended discussion. On identity in general, see Geach (1967, 1968, 1973, 1975, 1990), Griffin (1977), Noonan (1980, 1997, 2018) and Williams (1979, 1989, 1992). See also Deutsch (2018). [It is worth adding that not all of these authors agree with one another!]


12. For example, the Tractatus uses "(x).x = x" ("Everything is identical with itself") in place of "(x)x = a". [Wittgenstein (1972), 5.534, p.107. (This links to a PDF.)]


13. But, this isn't the least bit surprising when the other points made in this Essay are taken into account


After the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact (signed August 23 1939), the line coming out of Russia was markedly different from the line before that treaty had been signed. The Russian communists were now not only highly critical of military opposition to the Nazis, they actually supplied the Nazis with war materiel. Of course, all that changed when the Nazis invaded Russia on the 23rd of June 1941.


14. For further similarities between Hegel, Marx and Wittgenstein, see Easton (1983), Lamb (1979), and Rubinstein (1981).


15. Indeed, in view of what we have already seen, he might have been encouraged to read Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-criticism by David Hayden Guest, and that could be why he called Lenin's philosophical ideas "piffle".


16. The full details of Wittgenstein's desire to live in Russia, and the visit itself, can be found in Monk (1990), pp.340-54.


17. Cf., Monk (1990), pp.419-20; see also Hodges (1983), pp.152-54.


18. I hope to re-post Monk's paper at this site at some point in the future ("fair use" permitting). See also Monk (2007). Added on Edit: I have had to shelve those plans for copyright reasons.


19. If this were so, contradictions would have to be 'necessarily' false -- otherwise, they could be true --, but, we have already seen that that option is a non-starter.


20. There are several other passages in Wittgenstein (1976, 1978) that make similar points.


21. On this, see the detailed coverage of this aspect of Wittgenstein's work in Priest and Routley (1989), pp.35-44, and Goldstein (1989), pp.540-62. See also Priest (2002, 2004, 2006).


22. Of course, if a contradiction were deemed 'false', it would have to be false in a different sense to how a factual proposition could be false. For example, the following sentence "Tony Blair was Prime Minister of the UK in July 2013", which, although false, could have been true; plainly, it would be true if Blair had refused to resign in 2007 and had led New Labour to yet another election victory, etc., etc. So, if we take both uses of "false" to be the same here, then we would also have to allow for the possibility that some contradictions are in fact true. Now, this might not be unwelcome news to DM-theorists, but, as I have agued elsewhere (i.e., here, here, here, here, and here), little sense can be made of 'true contradictions'.


The different sense of "false" alluded to above would mean that a contradiction would be false according to the truth tables or some other formal criterion.


23. The rationale underlying indirect proof is still controversial for some mathematicians and philosophers of mathematics, but we can't enter into that thorny topic here.


24. Graham Priest's work will be reviewed in a later Essay; in the meantime readers are encouraged to check this out -- which is a review of one of Priest's recent books, written by leading logician, Hartry Field. See also Slater (2004) -- now Slater (2007b) --, Slater (2002, 2007c), and Field (2008), pp.361-92. See also Priest and Berto (2018). [I have now added several comments about Priest's work to Essay Five.]


25. Cf., Monk (1990), pp.260-61. Cf., also Malcolm (2001), p.58, von Wright (1980), pp.28, 213, Wittgenstein (1998), p.16, and Wittgenstein (2012). Concerning Sraffa's influence on Wittgenstein, see also an important recent study, Engelmann (2013). Cf., also Arena (2013), Davis (2002, 2011), Engelmann (2012), Kurz (2009), Lo Piparo (2010), Marion (2006), Roncaglia (2009), Rossi-Landi (2002), pp.200-04, Sharpe (2002), and Venturinha (2010).


26. By "grammaticism", I think Engelmann is referring to Wittgenstein's earlier view that language is a "calculus", governed by strict and clearly defined grammatical rules. (This idea is prominent, for example, in Wittgenstein (1974b, 1975).) That doesn't mean that Wittgenstein flipped over to the opposite view -- i.e., that there are no grammatical rules. What it does mean is that he developed a far more nuanced conception both of language and grammar. [On this, see, for example, Savickey (1999).]


27. I haven't yet been able to consult a copy of Lo Piparo's article.


28. However, it should be remembered that Frege had already emphasised the social nature of language a generation or so earlier still, and we already know that his work exercised a far greater influence on Wittgenstein -- on this see Travis (2010), pp.301-24.


29. Cf., Baker and Hacker (2005a), pp.1-28 and Baker and Hacker (2005b), pp.43-91.


29a. To be sure, how signs (functioning as symbols) are concatenated had its own logic in the Tractatus, which couldn't itself be expressed in significant propositions -- since such sentences in fact express rules --, but the fact is that for a proposition to signify, it had to be (in the final analysis) a concatenation of simple names. [Cf., Wittgenstein (1972), 3.12ff. (This links to a PDF.)] The best explanation of this and many other similar points is to be found in White (2006).


30. I have argued elsewhere that much of what Voloshinov had to say about "theme" falls apart on close examination. I am not, however, alleging the same about Wittgenstein's comments!


31. Incidentally, I have also subjected this passage to destructive criticism in Essay Thirteen Part Three -- which criticism could well be applied to some of the things Wittgenstein was arguing in the early 1930s -- and which, unfortunately, also re-surfaced in the Investigations.


32. I think this reference is to Bellofiore and Potier's 'Piero Sraffa: New Evidence on the Biography and the Reception of Production of Commodities in Italy' (I am relying on Google Translator, here!), published in Il pensiero economico italiano, VI, 1:7-55.


I have now reproduced the relevant pages from Roncaglia (2009) below. Roncaglia claims he can show that Wittgenstein's anthropological view of language mirrors the change from Marginalist theory in economics to Sraffa's new approach, expressed in The Production of Commodities; cf., Roncaglia, op cit, pp.51-54, and pp.126-31. Sraffa's letter has now been published in Bellofiore and Potier (2012).


[The following depends on what I have said elsewhere in this article about Voloshinov and the hand gesture Sraffa made which perplexed Wittgenstein so much.]


Engelmann (2013) adds much to understanding of Sraffa's influence on Wittgenstein; however, he fails to explain why Wittgenstein should have taken Sraffa's gesture as a serious challenge to his earlier, Tractarian, ideas. That gesture wasn't a proposition, so it couldn't have had a sense, even though it might convey a certain meaning. That, of course, is of interest in itself, but it still poses no challenge to the Tractatus. Engelmann also fails to consider the indirect influence of Voloshinov's work on Sraffa, and hence on Wittgenstein. Voloshinov's attempt to fragment language into "signs", single word sentences, and assorted exclamations and gestures would, I think, provide a more promising line of enquiry, even though his ideas were themselves thoroughly confused (and clearly sent Wittgenstein hurrying off down a philosophical cul-de-sac) -- on that, see here, here and here.


Of course, that hand gesture might be interpreted in several ways, or it could be translated into propositional or sentential form, but that just concedes the point. If a gesture has to be given a sense in this way that only serves to underline the fact that propositional form is a necessary prerequisite for anything to have a sense, in the first place. It doesn't work the other way round. Any sense we give to gestures are parasitic on language and propositional form, not the other way round. In which case, it is difficult to see why Wittgenstein was so easily nonplussed. However, if we take into consideration the indirect influence of Voloshinov via Sraffa, this becomes a little less puzzling. Clearly, Sraffa had prepared the ground ahead of time in their protracted discussions (I'm not suggesting this was a plot!), so Wittgenstein's reaction to that gesture was no big surprise by the time it had been performed. Wittgenstein's mind had been primed by then by Sraffa and his (possible) retailing of Voloshinov's ideas, and to which he would pay attention because, as we have seen, he was already sympathetic to what he took to be a Marxist view of language.


This is surely a much more promising line of enquiry; but it will remain a tentative explanation until more hard evidence comes to light.


33. On this, see, for example, Brandist (2005).


34. On this, also see Clark and Holquist (1984).


35. However, what Wittgenstein meant by "form of life" is itself still rather controversial, and in the end, not at all clear.


36. Of course, it could be argued that since Wittgenstein doesn't mention Voloshinov's name in the list of those whom he said had influenced him, this conjecture can't be correct. Here is that list:


"I think there is some truth in my idea that I am really only reproductive in my thinking. I think I have never invented a line of thinking but that it was always provided for me by someone else & I have done no more than passionately take it up for my work of clarification. That is how Boltzmann, Hertz, Schopenhauer, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler, Sraffa have influenced me." [Wittgenstein (1998), p.16. Links added.]


But, this doesn't mean that Voloshinov didn't influence Wittgenstein since that influence could well have been channelled via Sraffa or Nicholas Bakhtin. Moreover, the above list was written sometime in 1931, which might very well have been before Voloshinov's influence became apparent, even to Wittgenstein.

Anyway, the above list is incomplete, since it omits Goethe, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, all of whom had a profound influence on Wittgenstein. And, that can't be because the list was restricted to philosophers since Loos and Weininger weren't philosophers, nor was Sraffa. So, there appears to be no good reason why Wittgenstein omitted these three names except, perhaps, that they simply slipped his mind. Also missing are F. P. Ramsey, George Moore, and L. E. J. Brouwer! In the Preface to the Investigations, Wittgenstein had this to say about Ramsey's influence:


"For since I began to occupy myself with philosophy again, sixteen years ago, I could not but recognise grave mistakes in what I set out in that first book [i.e, the Tractatus -- RL]. I was helped to realise these mistakes -- to a degree which I myself am hardly able to estimate -- by the criticism which my ideas encountered from Frank Ramsey, with whom I discussed them in innumerable conversations during the last two years of his life. Even more than to this --- always powerful and assured -- criticism, I am indebted to that which a teacher of this university, Mr P. Sraffa, for many years unceasingly applied to my thoughts. It is to this stimulus I owe the most fruitful ideas of this book." [Wittgenstein (2009), p.4e. Italic emphasis added.] 


It is unclear from this whether the clause "It is to this stimulus..." refers to Sraffa alone or to the stimulus both he and Ramsey exercised on his thought. Be this as it may, Ramsey was either on a par with Sraffa or second only to him in this respect. Furthermore, is anyone seriously prepared to argue that the above three (Ramsey, Moore, and Brouwer) didn't have a profound influence on Wittgenstein? Moore, for example, was the most important influence motivating the writing of On Certainty, albeit twenty or so years later. [On Ramsey and his influence on Wittgenstein, see McGuiness (2006) and Monk (2016).]


Frege is nowhere in sight in the above passage from the Investigations -- nor are Boltzmann, Hertz, Schopenhauer, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, or Spengler. Unlike the thoughts presented in Wittgenstein (1998), this comment was meant for publication. Moreover, as noted above, it is also possible that Voloshinov's ideas were filtered through to Wittgenstein via Sraffa.


Some have pointed to Oswald Spengler, a conservative, as proof Wittgenstein was also a conservative. But, that no more shows Wittgenstein was a conservative than Marx's reading of, and influence by, Hegel shows he was, too. Moreover, Wittgenstein also mentioned Weininger, whose influence was entirely 'negative'; indeed, he said the following in a letter to Moore (dated 23/08/1931):


"I can quite imagine that you don't admire Weininger very much.... It is true that he is fantastic [Moore had meant this word in its older sense: "full of fantasy" -- RL] but he is great and fantastic. It isn't necessary or rather not possible to agree with him but the greatness lies in that with which we disagree. It is his enormous mistake which is great. I.e., roughly speaking if you just add a '~' to the whole book it says an important truth." [Wittgenstein (2012), p.193. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Italic emphasis in the original. The tilde (i.e., "~") is the sign for negation.]


In which case, his inclusion of Spengler's name in no way implies Wittgenstein agreed with the latter's conservatism -- especially given the overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary presented in this Essay.


Others have noted that, like Spengler, Wittgenstein expressed a negative view of the 'spirit of the age'; he also had this to say (which does at least sound Spenglerean):


"It is not absurd to believe that the scientific & technological age is the beginning of the end of humanity, that the idea of Great Progress is a bedazzlement, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge & that humanity, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means clear that this is not how things are." [Wittgenstein (1998), p.64e.]


However, this passage is ambiguous, not least because it ends with an enigmatic "It is by no means clear that this is not how things are." Wittgenstein appears to be qualifying or attenuating this pessimistic view of progress, not fully endorsing it. Moreover, Wittgenstein's opening comment, "It is not absurd to believe that the scientific & technological age is the beginning of the end of humanity...", doesn't imply that this is his view, only that it isn't absurd to hold that opinion; that is, that it is a valid point of view but not necessarily his own. Indeed, he later says of science that it can both enrich and impoverish. [Ibid., p.69e.] This suggests he harboured an ambivalent attitude toward science -- even though he held a negative view of any attempt to import its methodology into philosophy, as we saw above.


But, let us suppose for the moment that Wittgenstein did fully agree with Spengler's pessimistic view of 'the west', would that imply he was a conservative? Hardly. Many on the left also shared this view of western 'decadence', attributing cultural decline and creeping scientism to the 'death throes of Late Capitalism'. Here, for example, is Louis Fraina (aka, Corey Lewis, a founding member of the US Communist Party), in a 1934 essay entitled The Decline of American Capitalism:


"The decline of capitalism was evident in Europe even before the crisis and depression which set in after 1929. A general economic crisis prevailed and cyclical prosperity was on a lower level than pre-war, while capitalism was crushed in the Soviet Union. Bourgeois economists, particularly in Germany, admitted and analyzed the elements of decline. In the United States, however, it was smugly assumed that economic decline was the lot of lesser breeds outside the law -- the law of American prosperity everlasting. For hadn't American capitalism solved the problem of prosperity? There would not and could not be any more depressions and hard times: prosperity was eternal, world without end, and a new world around the corner. But when prosperity crashed in the United States, and crashed more severely than in Europe, where the already existing economic crisis was aggravated by the new cyclical breakdown, the sentiment was general that 'capitalism is on trial.' Some prophesied the crack o' doom, others argued that capitalism might survive if it 'reformed' itself. In Europe it looked like the end; American prosperity had seemed as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar, and now it was overwhelmed by the seas of depression....


"The decline of capitalism is the outcome neither of the depression nor of the World War. It was the fact of decline which gave the war its specific historical character – decline producing war and war reacting upon decline. The decline of capitalism is the outcome of general capitalist development and of the movement of social change. In longtime perspective, the decline of capitalism is determined by its having outgrown the historical necessity of its being. In the words of Prof. F. L. Schuman: 'Western civilization is already old. It may already have run its course and be headed toward a long twilight of decline. In any case its problems are immediate, pressing, and threatening.' This is a conclusion in terms of the future, not of a past compact of the wish-fulfilments of the agrarian-Junker reactionary, Oswald Spengler, whose lamentations, nevertheless, express the decline of capitalist culture. Minor social changes produce a situation where a major social change becomes necessary -- the revolutionary substitution of the old order by the new. In short-time perspective, the decline of capitalism is determined by the high development of the productive forces and the relative exhaustion of the long-time factors of expansion. This imposes fetters upon the further development of industry, leads to a slackening rate of growth and eventually an absolute fall in production, and results in economic decline and social decay." [Quoted from here. Accessed 15/03/2017. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis and link added.]


A quick Google search for "The decadence of capitalist culture" will reveal that this topic has been a constant theme on the left (both hard and soft left) for much of the last 150 years, so Spengler's pessimism is hardly the sole preserve of conservatives. In that case, even if Wittgenstein agreed 100% with Spengler, that would still fail to imply he was a conservative.


[Hard left attitudes to 'capitalist degeneracy' can be accessed, for example, here, here, here and here. See also Esther Leslie's review of Walter Benjamin's analysis of the commodification of capitalist culture. On Spengler, see also here, and Haller (1988), pp.74-89 -- but Haller seems rather confused in places, to say the least.]


I have just received a copy of Eagleton (2016), which, among many other things, succeeds in blurring the distinction I have attempted to draw in this Essay between Wittgenstein's clear leftist leanings and the allegation he was a conservative, or even  a mystic, of some sort. Although Eagleton's work isn't in any way aimed at my work (I doubt he even knows about it!), it is aimed at undermining the idea that Wittgenstein wasn't a conservative in any sense of that term but was in fact a leftist. I have already had occasion to take Eagleton to task for his surprisingly sloppy approach both to Philosophy and Marxism in an earlier version of this Essay, but this latest work of his merely extends his slap-dash approach to such matters into the nature of Wittgenstein's work itself. I don't propose to enter into that topic here since it isn't relevant to the aims of this Essay; I will merely comment on his attempt to blur the aforementioned distinction.


Initially, Eagleton does make some attempt to present a rather weak case in support of the claim that Wittgenstein was sympathetic to the left (pp.121-33), but he spends much of the rest of the chapter devoted to undermining that conclusion. Indeed, true-to-form (and predictably!), he largely bases his negative conclusions on the alleged influence Spengler had on Wittgenstein. However, he offers no new evidence all the while ignoring the contrary evidence and argument presented above, and throughout this Essay. Of course, Eagleton shouldn't be faulted for not knowing about my work, but he should be taken to task for not asking the rather obvious questions I have posed and for failing to subject to critical scrutiny the time-worn and hackneyed tale that Wittgenstein was influenced (positively) by that reactionary hack, Spengler.


Eagleton does, however, reference Bloor (1983), p.163ff (the actual reference should in fact have been Bloor (1983), pp.162ff) in support, but Bloor's only real evidence comes from passages taken from the early pages of Wittgenstein (1980), all but one of which date from the early 1930s -- i.e., pp.12e, 16e, 17e, 21e, 23e, 31e, and 53e --, which were written before the influence of Wittgenstein's Marxist friends had exercised their full effect (and this is especially true of the most formative influences Sraffa had on his thought -- who, it is safe to bet, would have given Spengler short shrift, to say the least). Moreover, most of these 'Spengler' passages are about music and art, and hence do not seem to be at all relevant to the philosophical work Wittgenstein was doing at the time, nor is there any clear evidence they had a notable effect on it, or on his political ideas. Indeed, as pointed out above, given the fact that (i) Marxists were making many of the same points about 'bourgeois culture', and had been doing so for some time (but from a totally different angle), and that (ii) There is far more evidence (direct and indirect) that the latter exercised a far more profound influence on Wittgenstein than Spengler. Given these salient facts, Eagleton and Bloor's thesis can be seen for what it is: sloppy at best, misleading at worst.


[In a future re-write of this Essay, will add several more comments about Eagleton and Bloor. I will also add a few about Peter Hacker's comments on Spengler.]


Finally, even if it is admitted that Spengler's work influenced Wittgenstein, that isn't the same as admitting Wittgenstein was a conservative. Many of the socialist and Marxist members of the Vienna Circle were heavily influenced by Frege, a noted right-winger (who made several reprehensible comments about Hitler in his 1924 diary), but that doesn't mean they were either rightists or supporters of Hitler!


"Although he was a fierce, sometimes even satirical, polemicist, Frege himself was a quiet, reserved man. He was right-wing in his political views, and like many conservatives of his generation in Germany, he is known to have been distrustful of foreigners and rather anti-semitic. Himself Lutheran, Frege seems to have wanted to see all Jews expelled from Germany, or at least deprived of certain political rights. This distasteful feature of Frege's personality has gravely disappointed some of Frege's intellectual progeny." [Quoted from here. Accessed 17/05/2017.]


Similarly, many on the left have been profoundly influenced by that Nazi sympathiser, Heidegger; does that make them Nazis?


37. On this, see Cornish, op cit, pp.9-24, who reproduces a picture that purports to show what some take to be the young Wittgenstein in the same school photograph as Hitler (p.11). In fact, here it is:




Figures Two And Three: School Photographs


Naturally, the reader must make up her own mind whether or not the boy labelled "Ludwig Wittgenstein" is indeed Ludwig Wittgenstein.


37a. This isn't to pick on Marcuse, or, indeed, other Marxists who have referred to this passage in support of the claim that Wittgenstein was a conservative thinker, since other commentators who should know better are guilty of the same crass misinterpretation. The most recent example I know of is the Oxford Philosopher, A. W. Moore, who, in his recent book on Metaphysics, had this to say:


"Let us return to the example of transfinite mathematics. Wittgenstein insists that 'philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language,' and, in particular, that 'it...leave mathematics as it is' (§124).


[In a footnote] "In fact, just before this remark about mathematics, he says that philosophy, by which he means good philosophy, 'leaves everything as it is' (emphasis added). Everything? Well, everything untainted by bad philosophy. And here, of course, the threat of circularity is again manifest." [Moore (2013), pp.273-74. Italic emphasis in the original.]


Of course, it may well be the prevailing view that Wittgenstein was here revealing his conservative, shall we say, tendencies, hence it has now become impossible to read this passage independently of that view --, that is, that the word "everything" here is to be understood in a totally unrestricted sense.


But it is no less clear that this is seriously to misinterpret this passage. Here it is again:


(1) "Philosophy must not interfere in any way with the actual use of language, so it can in the end only describe it.


(2) "For it cannot justify it either.


(3) "It leaves everything as it is.


(4) "It also leaves mathematics as it is, and no mathematical discovery can advance it." [Wittgenstein (2009), §124, p.55e. Italic emphasis added.]


Once more, it is clear that the word "everything", in Line 3, is restricted to "the actual use of language", and that can be seen from the next sentence. If "everything" were totally unrestricted, there would be no point adding the extra caveat in Line 4. Why inform us that Philosophy "also" leaves mathematics as it is if we have just been told it leaves "everything" as it is? If the meaning of "everything" in Line 2 is unrestricted, then mathematics can't be part of "everything", can it? So, either Wittgenstein was a sloppy stylist (who wants or admit that?), or he held some rather odd ideas about mathematics.


So, in Line 3, Wittgenstein is talking about "the actual use of language", not absolutely everything -- from politics to pottery, science to sociology, quasars to quarks! The continual use of "it" should have alerted his commentators to this rather simple point (here coloured appropriately to help the unconvinced see the light):


(1) "Philosophy must not interfere in any way with the actual use of language, so it can in the end only describe it.


(2) "For it cannot justify it either.


(3) "It leaves everything as it is.


(4) "It also leaves mathematics as it is, and no mathematical discovery can advance it."


The red "it" clearly refers back to "philosophy", but it is also clear that the purple "it" refers back to "the actual use of language", which means that "everything as it is" is correctly coloured purple, too.


Moore's aside, "Well, everything untainted by bad philosophy. And here, of course, the threat of circularity is again manifest", is also unnecessary, and hardly justified by Wittgenstein's actual words. It is no less clear that Wittgenstein's later appeal to ordinary usage isn't "circular", as Moore claims (pp.271-74), and that the additional claim that:


"[T]here is no Archimedean point from which to tell what makes sense", [Moore (2013), pp.272-73. Link added.]


is equally misguided. I have in fact given it just such a point (or a practice) in Essay Twelve Part One -- or, at least indicated how one such can be found. Whether there is such a (general) point (or practice) that will always enable us to discriminate sense from non-sense (or even nonsense) I will leave tantalising vague for now.


38. On Wittgenstein's 'relativism' see Putnam (1992b), pp.168-79. Incidentally, Hanna Pitkin's book [Pitkin (1992)] is itself a first-rate example of how Wittgenstein's method can be applied to social and political questions. It also contains an excellent exposition and defence of the word "ordinary" in OLP.


39. Wittgenstein enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army on the 17th of August 1914; he fought initially on the Eastern Front, and later, in 1918, in the Italian campaign.


40. For the rest of Wittgenstein's war experiences, see McGuiness (1990), pp.206-66, and Monk (1990), pp.105-66.


40a. Some might be tempted to point to several odd incidents that occurred during Wittgenstein's meetings with The Vienna Circle -- for example, his insistence on reading passages from that mystical poet, Rabindranath Tagore -- as evidence of his abiding mysticism.


"[T]he Vienna Circle interpreted Wittgenstein's early work as the charter document for their movement, until they prevailed on him to come speak to their group and explain some of the more difficult points in his theory of representation. When he finally came, instead of answering their questions about his book, he sat face away from them reading Tagore, the Indian poet, for over an hour and then got up and silently left the room. Afterward Carnap remarked to Schlick, 'I guess he is not one of us'." [Quoted from here; accessed 27/12/2016. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added. I have read this anecdote about Wittgenstein many times, but have lost the exact reference, although Ray Monk reports most of it -- Monk (1990), p.243.]


This incident will have taken place in the late 1920s, when Wittgenstein was still recovering from his PTSD, so not much can be read into it. I am unaware of any further episodes like the above in the 1930s, '40s, or early '50s before he died. Having said that, Yorick Smythies and Wittgenstein did translate a poem of Tagore's into English (the exact date of which is unclear but it must have taken place in the late 1930s or very early 1940s, and which, to the best of my knowledge, remained unpublished) -- Smythies (2017), pp.327-35.


[Wittgenstein had discovered Tagore's work in 1921, when he was still dallying with mysticism [Monk (1990), pp.408-10]. Nevertheless, it looks like his poems remained important to him for the rest of his life; but no more should be read into that than Marx's admiration for Shakespeare and Goethe meant he was a mystic, too.]


41. On this, see Putnam (1992a), pp.141-57.


For an explanation of what Wittgenstein might have meant when he said: "I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view", see Malcolm (1997).


Malcolm constructs, I think, the strongest case for arguing that Wittgenstein was religious. He notes that while conversations with one of his sisters had destroyed his boyhood faith, he had been told by Wittgenstein about a play he had seen in Vienna when he was in his early twenties (which would place this around 1910-11) that convinced him of the "possibility of religious faith" [Malcolm (1997), p.7]. Now, this doesn't contradict what was argued in the main body of this Essay, since the mere possibility of religious faith -- obviously! -- isn't the same as adopting a religious faith. Malcolm also acknowledges that Wittgenstein's overt turn to the 'mystical', coupled with ruminations about 'God', etc., didn't manifest itself until Wittgenstein's military service began, which is what has also been argued in this Essay. Most of Wittgenstein's comments about religion (and hence most of those that Malcolm quotes) come from Wittgenstein (1998).


Even so, "God" (in the religious sense of that word) is absent from his most important work -- Wittgenstein (2009). To be sure, the words "God" and "deity" do crop up in the Investigations -- for instance, §§234, 346, 352, 426, as well as in the Philosophical Fragments, §§284, 342 (which is part of Wittgenstein (2009)); see also ibid., §23, which contains a non-committal reference to "religion"  --, but as will soon become clear to anyone who reads these sections, Wittgenstein is merely using those words and ideas as a linguistic and philosophical device to make a specific point. For example:


"But couldn't we imagine God's (sic) suddenly giving a parrot reason, and its now saying things to itself? -- But here it is important that, in order to arrive at this idea, I had recourse to the notion of a deity." [Wittgenstein (2009), p.117e, §346.]


An atheist or an agnostic could have written that.


[Note, I am not arguing Wittgenstein was an atheist or an agnostic, just making the point that this use of "God" isn't necessarily religious.]


So, while Wittgenstein still played around with religious ideas in private notebooks, in his most important work, they are totally absent.


For what are, I think, effective criticisms of Wittgenstein's comments about religious belief, see Cook (1988, 1993). For a corrective to Malcolm's interpretation, see Winch (1997).


41a. Dialectical Marxists have tended to argue that Hegel's mysticism can be largely ignored since his thought represented ideas that were revolutionary, or which represented revolutionary and progressive concepts at the time they were written. That isn't the case with mystics who wrote, say, a hundred years later, when bourgeois thought was largely, or completely, reactionary. I have dealt with that argument here.


42. We have already seen how Marcuse completely misconstrued Wittgenstein's comment that philosophy "leaves everything as it is".


43. On this, cf., Hallett (2008), pp.91-99.


44. Wittgenstein (1972), 2-3.263, pp.7-25, and 5.5423, p.111. [This links to a PDF.] On the background to this, see White (1974, 2006). On Investigations §37-61 (the relevant sections), see Baker and Hacker (2005b), pp.112-42, Hallett (1977), pp.112-39, and Hallett (2008), pp.33-41.


45. Once again, I have said much more in response to Marcuse; the reader is directed here for further details.


45a. It could be objected that this doesn't mean that Philosophy is of no use to revolutionaries. Indeed, Marx said the following:


"In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic -- in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out." [Marx (1968), p.182. Bold emphasis added.]


Hence, Philosophy is one of the "ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict [i.e., the conflict between the material productive forces and the existing relations of production -- RL] and fight it out." In which case, it could be maintained that Philosophy is of use to revolutionaries in their ideological fight with ruling-class ideologues.


However, this passage on its own isn't decisive, but when it is read in the light of the other things Marx had to say it is quite clear he regarded Philosophy as an integral part of ruling-class ideology and thus of no use to socialists. After all, why would Marx advise his readers to "'leave philosophy aside'..., one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality" if it were of any use to revolutionaries?


Indeed, why point the following out?


"The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.... Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age...." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]


Furthermore, why make this point?


"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. Bold emphases added.]


Why "condemn" something if it is of any use to socialists?


And, of course, Marx is quite clear: men, not communists or revolutionaries, fight this out, which is why he also said:


"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." [Theses on Feuerbach.]


Also see my comments on this passage, here.


46. In order to check this allegation I have ploughed through the Indices of all fifty volumes of MECW, and followed up every reference to Philosophy in Marx's writings.


Of course, MECW also contains Engels's work, who was far more sympathetic toward Philosophy, not having taken Marx's advice, and MECW doesn't reproduce all of Marx's work. When it has been completed, MEGA will be the most comprehensive corpus to date -- reputed to extend to 120 volumes! [When it has been finished I'll check through it, too!]


Concerning Marx and 'dialectics', see here and here.


47. On Marx, see Brudney (1998), and Labica (1980), although these two studies are decidedly unsatisfactory on this topic.


48. I am not claiming Wittgenstein saw things this way!


Kant: "I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith", Critique of Pure Reason, B xxx. Another on-line translation has rendered this sentence as follows: "I must, therefore, abolish knowledge, to make room for belief." [Quoted from here.]


Paraphrasing Wittgenstein's method (at least as I have employed it at this site): "I have had to destroy Traditional Thought in order to make room for science."


Concerning Wittgenstein's statement that "Philosophy states only what everyone admits", see Kenny (2004).


49. On this, see Monk (1990), pp.235-38, and Cornish (1999), p.250, note 31.


For the background to the general (i.e., pre-WW1) criticism of language in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, see Janik and Toulmin (1973), pp.120-66, and Weiler (1970). These largely focus on the work of Fritz Mauthner, whom Wittgenstein mentions in the Tractatus:


"All philosophy is a critique of language (though not in Mauthner's sense)." [Wittgenstein (1972), 4.0031, p.37. (This links to a PDF.)]


50. I have attempted to explain why this is so, here.


51. Some might point to the following comment in Moran's article:


"Similarly Maurice Cornforth thought Wittgenstein was not in political sympathy with the Soviet Union but hoped to find a life free of 'bourgeois' formality and insincerity." [Quoted from here.]


This view is contradicted by Keynes and Rush Rhees (both of whom knew Wittgenstein far better than Cornforth -- who, by the mid-1930s, had grown apart from Wittgenstein), as well as by the impression of his views he created in those he met during his visit to Russia in 1935.


Others might point to the following comment:


"Wolfe Mays, a former student, writes that in the early forties Wittgenstein gave the impression in his classes of being 'distinctively apolitical, despite his desire to live in Russia.'" [Quoted from here.]


Certainly Wittgenstein's classes were apolitical (even though his lectures and seminars challenged several 'bourgeois' philosophical ideas, such as the role of contradictions and the 'law of identity'), but, as we have seen, his private conversations weren't a-political.


Others might mention the fact that Wittgenstein claims he was influenced by Spengler's (reactionary) The Decline of the West. This is supposed to indicate he was a conservative. Even though it is true that Wittgenstein claims this book influenced him, it is far from clear what that influence amounted to. He also claims he was influenced by Weininger, but we know that that 'influence' was almost totally negative.


So, as noted above, just because Wittgenstein claims he was influenced by someone that doesn't mean he agreed with everything they said, or, indeed, anything they said.


[On this, see the review of a recent book about Wittgenstein and Weininger, posted here.]


Consequently, this one fact alone (i.e., Spengler's supposed influence on Wittgenstein) is hardly sufficient to counter the overwhelming bulk of evidence to the contrary.


Well, I won't do the work of these 'objectors' for them. They are welcome to trawl through Wittgenstein's work (all four million words), as well as the memoirs of his friends and pupils, in order to find what few crumbs of comfort they can. That won't change the outcome; the available evidence overwhelmingly supports the line promoted throughout this Essay. And, as we will see, the new evidence that has turned up in the last ten years or so supports it, too -- on that, see here and here.


52. I reproduce here the notes written by Sraffa (quoted from Venturinha (2012)), but slightly edited:




1) You say: circumstances. Why always torn out or made up phrases? Why don't you take them from the works of some philosophers e.g. ...


2) Cause. Is it, historically, true?


3) Remedy. Does it in fact cure?


4) Metaphysics, why not theology?


5) Psycho-Analysis, dispute


2-3 bis) When you describe the cause of these puzzles and prescribe the remedy you act as a scientist (like Freud). Have you found out whether these puzzles have in fact arisen out of this attitude to language (II, 13 [41]), have you made sure that they did not exist before anyone took that attitude etc? And also, is it a fact that the disease is cured by your prescription?




cont. Even if this is so, you have only based it on your assertion, you have not given the evidence (Cp. the mass of actual examples produced by Freud).


You say 'it is no use' answering the solipsist with common sense (p. 70 [98]), and you prescribe a 'cure'. Now, as a matter of fact, have no solipsists been 'cured' by common sense?


Arising from the above, why do you deal only with made up examples (or, if they are actual, torn off from their circumstances) instead of with quotations from philosophers' books?


Also, why do you deal always with metaphysics and never with theology? Are not their puzzles very similar (e.g. omniscience in god and freewill in man)? But could it be said that theological puzzles only arise when people take the calculus' attitude to language? (N.B. I am not suggesting that this is the reason you leave theology alone)


2.2. Quotations






p.9 [37] end of §2 "in order to break the spell" (but why should we want to?)


p.16 [44] l. 3-4 "Philosophy is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert upon us." (cp. p. 77 [105] §1 and p. 17 [45] end)


line. 5-6 "I want you to remember that words have those meanings which we have given them:[;] and we give them meanings by explanations." (and the rest of the paragraph 7 following one)


p.16 [44] paragraph 4 Meaning given by someone


p.22 [50] §2 "We are here misled by the substantives ...["]


p.29 [57] l. 6 from bottom "an unclarity about the grammar of words" = Metaphysics


p.51 [79] §3 "Trouble caused by our way of expression"


p.58 [86] middle "language is slightly cumbrous and sometimes misleading"


p.66 [94] §2 and 67 [95] §1 General rule


p.68 [96] "They state their case wrongly.... For if they don’t wish to talk of...they should not use...["] Psychoanalytical Dispute


p.70 [98] l. 8 "solving their (philosophical) puzzles, i.e. curing them of the temptation to..."


Further down: "Source of this puzzlement"


p.81 [109] end "the phrase 'I think I mean something by it'...is for us no justification at all" "doesn’t interest me" "calculus"


p.82 [110] end "apparently unimportant details of the particular situation in which we are inclined to make a certain metaphysical assertion"




p.70 [98] Philosophers' disagreement "not founded on a more subtle knowledge of fact"




p.9 l.9 from bottom "a puzzlement caused by the mystifying nature of our language"


p.28 §3 Philosophers tempted by methods of science and source of metaphysics




p.12 [40] second half


language as exact calculus


p.13 [41] these puzzles "always spring from just this attitude towards language"


[Bold emphases alone added; several of Sraffa's abbreviations restored.]


53. This isn't surprising, since scholars were only recently allowed to examine Sraffa's private papers -- Bellofiore and Potier (2012).


54. Roncaglia outlines what he takes to be the influence Wittgenstein had on Sraffa on pp.51-54, and pp.126-31. The reader is directed there for further details.


55. Also worthy of note is Kurz (2009), which is in fact a review of Wittgenstein (2012), and hence also of some of the material that has recently come to light. For those who can't access Wittgenstein (2012), Kurz quotes this new material extensively. Cf., also Arena (2013).


56. Some of this material is now beginning to appear on-line (however, much of it is still in German).


57. It is worth recalling that Skinner was a committed leftist who wanted to volunteer to fight in Spain on the Republican side. [He was finally turned down on health grounds.]. Hence, and once again, we see a committed leftist collaborating closely with Wittgenstein as he developed his ideas. Indeed, we now know that in the 1930s, Skinner was Wittgenstein's amanuensis for several parts of his unpublished work. [On that, see here and here.] As far as anyone seems to know, not on single friend or pupil of Wittgenstein's went to Spain to fight for Franco.


58. Of course, Wittgenstein wasn't oblivious of these relatively minor differences, but they didn't dominate his thought as they did that of others.


59. Having said that, Wittgenstein does:


(1) Criticise Heraclitus's claim that one can't step into the same river twice (although his reasons for doing so aren't immediately clear, but it is quite easy to show he was right); this would undermine one of the key arguments to which DM-theorists appeal in support of their doctrine of universal change:


"We are bringing words back from their metaphysical to their normal use in language. (The man who said that one cannot step into the same river twice was wrong; one can step into the same river twice). And this is what the solution to all philosophical difficulties looks like. Our answers, if they are correct, must be ordinary and trivial." [Wittgenstein (2013), p.304e. Italic emphasis in the original. Paragraphs merged.]


(2) Argue that a different use of the negative particle only succeeds in changing its meaning; which point would clearly undermine (or at least change our view of) Hegel's use of the word "contradiction", and hence its employment in DM:


"There can be no debate about whether these or other rules are the right ones for the word 'not'.... For without these rules, the word has as yet no meaning; and if we change the rules, it now has another meaning (or none), and in that case we may just as well change the word too." [Wittgenstein (2009), §549, footnote, p.155e.]


(3) Point to the different meaning of "is" when that verb is being used as the copula in predicative propositions compared to its use as the "is" of identity -- which, if he were right, would completely scupper the entire 'dialectic' (on that see here):


"In no branch of learning can an author disregard the results of honest research with so much impunity as he can in Philosophy and Logic. To this circumstance we owe the publication of such a book as Mr Coffey's Science of Logic: and only as a typical example of the work of many logicians of to-day does this book deserve consideration. The author's Logic is that of the scholastic philosophers, and he makes all their mistakes -- of course with the usual references to Aristotle. (Aristotle, whose name is taken so much in vain by our logicians, would turn in his grave if he knew that so many Logicians know no more about Logic to-day than he did 2,000 years ago). The author has not taken the slightest notice of the great work of the modern mathematical logicians -- work which has brought about an advance in Logic comparable only to that which made Astronomy out of Astrology, and Chemistry out of Alchemy....


"[Summarising Coffey's errors -- RL]:


"[1] The author believes that all propositions are of the subject predicate form....


"[3] He confounds the copula 'is' with the word 'is' expressing identity....


 "The worst of such books is that they prejudice sensible people against the study of Logic...." [Wittgenstein (1913), pp.2-3.]


[The same idea crops up in many places in his work, but not in relation to the above book. Of course, Wittgenstein had other and better reasons for rejecting the LOI.]




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