“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. 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 an upper class family in Vienna. Wittgenstein initially started teens he studying engineering and moved to Manchester, England where he researched aeronautics. Soon after he left to Cambridge he read Bertrand Russell’s principle of mathematics and consequently left engineering for philosophy. In 1912 Wittgenstein's sister came to visit him where Bertrand Russell told her ‘We expect the next big step in philosophy to be taken by your brother’. Ten 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 we communicate with one another, words are means of mental pictures we swap through our speech. Often the meaning we intend to associate with a word or picture is misinterpreted due to the different pictures individuals uniquely attach to words as a result of our different experiences and contextual usages. Philosopher Alain de Botton explains it in this way, '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 less impulsively and clear as possible.
Wittgenstein took a break from philosophy and went to work in a school with kids in the mountains of Austria, where he did not last long. He went on to design a home to painstaking precision where he elevated the roof by an inch and gardened in a monastery. Later he felt must go back to Cambridge to say more about language. Wittgenstein eventually went back to conduct further research in Philosophy and created his second major and most famous work entitled ‘Philosophical Investigations’. 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.
Language is a tool used and shaped within 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 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’. By way of illustration, this might play out in our speech when a partner says, 'you don’t spend enough time with me. We may likely this 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. A great deal more could be said on Wittgenstein’s on private language, aesthetics, logic that space does not allow here. Essentially Wittgenstein wants to dissolve problems of language by helping us realize our the limitations of language, to become conscious of the language game we are playing, seek to understand the language game of the other is playing and dispel the darkness of misunderstanding by casting the light through clarity of 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