LGBTQ Heroes: Ludwig Wittgenstein

The gay man who shaped philosophy.

LGBTQ Heroes: Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

From 1929 to 1947, Wittgenstein taught at the University of Cambridge.

During his lifetime he published just one slim book (the 75-page Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921), one article (“Some Remarks on Logical Form”, 1929), one book review and a children’s dictionary.

His voluminous manuscripts were edited and published posthumously. Philosophical Investigations appeared as a book in 1953, and has since come to be recognised as one of the most important works of philosophy in the 20th century.

Born in Vienna into one of Europe’s richest families, he inherited a fortune from his father in 1913. He initially made some donations to artists and writers, and then, in a period of severe personal depression after the First World War, he gave away his entire fortune to his brothers and sisters.

He left academia several times—serving as an officer on the front line during World War I, where he was decorated a number of times for his courage; teaching in schools in remote Austrian villages; and working as a hospital porter during World War II in London.

His philosophy is often divided into an early period, exemplified by the Tractatus, and a later period, articulated in the Philosophical Investigations. “Early Wittgenstein” was concerned with the logical relationship between propositions and the world and he believed that by providing an account of the logic underlying this relationship, he had solved all philosophical problems. “Late Wittgenstein”, however, rejected many of the assumptions of the Tractatus, arguing that the meaning of words is best understood as their use within a given language-game.

Early life

Wittgenstein’s father. Karl Otto Clemens Wittgenstein, was an industrial tycoon, and by the late 1880s was one of the richest men in Europe, with an effective monopoly on Austria’s steel cartel. Thanks to Karl, the Wittgensteins became the second wealthiest family in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, only behind the Rothschilds.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in Vienna in 1889. The family was at the centre of Vienna’s cultural life.

Personal life

Significant relationships included David Hume Pinsent in 1912, Francis Skinner in 1930, and Ben Richards in the late 1940s.

Death

Wittgenstein died in 1951. He was 62.