“Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination”.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
The inspiration for this shirt came from this quote above by Ludwig Wittgenstein born 26 April 1889-29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who studied under Bertrand Russell. Wittgenstein’s work focused on logic, principle of mathematics, philosophy of mind, culture, aesthetics and most famously the philosophy of language. He was born into a wealthy family in Vienna in his teens he studied engineering, then Manchester he researched aeronautics and at Cambridge he read Bertrand Russell’s principle of mathematics where he changed his course to logic and philosophy. When Wittgenstein was 23 his sister came to visit him in 1912, Bertrand Russell told her ‘We expect the next big step in philosophy to be taken by your brother’. 10 years later Wittgenstein published his first text ‘The Tractatus’ the summary of which can consolidated in his famous intimation, ‘whereof one cannot speak about one must be silent’. In this text he sought to define the limits of thought by its expression in language. In following tradition of St. Augustine (4th century philosopher & theologian) words are the metaphysical mirror or symbols directly correlating to empirical objects in reality. Therefore talk of the sublime, mystical transcendent by way of abstraction propositions ‘hangs in the air’ unless supported by reality. When communicating between one another words are means of mental pictures we swap with each other through speech. The problem is the meaning associated with the word or picture mistranslates in our conversing because of different pictures associated with the word received, resulting in misunderstanding. For instance you’re girlfriend may be in the hotel lobby she tells you, ‘I met a very interesting person downstairs’. In her mind she meant an innocent chat and in the partner’s mind is interpreted as a seductive threat hitting on her. Essentially Wittgenstein is asking how do human beings communicate? ‘ On the whole we are very bad at making clear the picture transference and often interpret the wrong meaning realizing divergences’. The solutions are to speak as precisely and less impulsively as possible.
Wittgenstein took a break working in a school with kids in the mountains of Austria, designing a home to painstaking precision and gardened in a monastery. Later he felt must go back to Cambridge to say more about language. The second major work he wrote is called ‘Philosophical Investigations’ from which our quote is derived. Wittgenstein takes the philosophy of language a step further not limiting the boundaries of language of what can be spoken but how it works. Language does not contain a set of inner unfathomable mystery or abstract universal rules. On the contrary language is a tool used and shaped in a particular place, context, time and forms of life constituting ‘language games’. Wittgenstein shows the numerous variety of games available in language: ‘ giving orders, and obeying them- Describing of an object or giving its measurement, reporting an event, speculating an event making up a story, and reading it, playing acting, singing catches, guessing riddles, making a joke, telling it, solving a problem in its practical arithmetic, translating from one language into another, requesting, thanking , cursing, greeting, praying’. This might play out in our speech for example a partner might say, you don’t spend enough time with me. What likely will be interpreted as stating a critical fact game. When in reality the partner is really playing another language game, using words as an instrument for gaining reassurance. Far more can be said of Wittgenstein’s on private language, aesthetics, logic that space does not allow here. Fundamentally Wittgenstein , wants to dissolve problems of language, realize our limitations the limits of our language, become conscious of the language game we are playing, seek to understand the language game of the other you encounter dispel the darkness of misunderstanding and cast the light of clarity through our speech . ‘Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by means of our language’.
See our tribute to Wittgenstein by viewing our Constellations Skull Tee.
For further inquiry see: ‘Philosophical Investigations’, Ludwig Wittgenstein. ‘Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations an introduction’, by David G Stern‘Wittgenstein’ School of Life Alain De Botton