Wittgenstein And Russia



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I have reproduced below John Moran's 1972 article from the New Left Review, which I recently found on the Internet. In the forty years since it was written, researchers have uncovered many more connections between Wittgenstein, Marxism and the former USSR -- to such an extent that it is no longer possible to argue that Wittgenstein was "apolitical", or, indeed, a conservative. I have incorporated much of this new material in my new Essay: Was Wittgenstein A Leftist?


Moran unfortunately relies on Herbert Marcuse for some of his ideas, but, as I have argued here (warning, this page takes a few seconds to load properly!), Marcuse is an unreliable source. Among other things, I have shown that the clichéd interpretation of Wittgenstein -- that he  wanted to "leave everything as it is"  -- is completely misguided. Finally, what Moran has to say at the end about the Tractatus doesn't seem to have been informed by a careful reading of that book.


[For anyone interested, this is easily the best book on the Tractatus. There is nothing comparable yet for the Investigations -- although, Anthony Kenny's book comes about the closest.]


Wittgenstein And Russia


New Left Review I/73, May-June 1972, by John Moran

In 1922 Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote to a friend that he was haunted by the possibility of an eventual flight to Russia. 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. [1] In the interim he had spent a short time there. G. H. von Wright, one of his literary executors, [2] writes that in 1935 Wittgenstein "had plans for settling in the Soviet Union. He visited the country with a friend and apparently was pleased with the visit. That nothing came of his plans was due, partly at least, to the harshening of conditions in Russia in the middle thirties." [3] 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". [4]

Such is the meagre sum of information pertinent to Wittgenstein's interest in either Marxism–Leninism or the USSR that has surfaced in readily accessible sources. Nor does the literature contain much that directly conflicts with Mays's impression. On the contrary, explicitly or tacitly it is almost universally confirmed.

Obviously no philosopher's thoughts and feelings on such matters are irrelevant to his philosophy. Even to ignore them would be a highly significant omission for a serious philosopher. Wittgenstein himself emphasized that he saw no value in a study of philosophy that merely enabled one "to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc," without improving one's thought about "the important questions of everyday life". He adds that thinking honestly about people's lives is "if possible, still more difficult" than thinking about the usual more technical dimensions of philosophy. [5] Now, if Marxist criticism of existing institutionalized ways of life is not among "the important questions of everyday life", it is difficult to conceive what might be described by that phrase. Further, the widely seminal role played by Wittgenstein's thought, particularly in 'Anglo-Saxon' philosophy, is grounds for public interest in where he stood on such issues.

There is reliable evidence that the current version of Wittgenstein's views and attitudes on these topics is somewhat distorted. However "apolitical" he may have appeared to his students, it seems clear he was not politically indifferent but sensitive to large political issues and deeply concerned about them. His attitude might be described more accurately as "anti-political" rather than "apolitical", for he seems clearly to have been drawn to the USSR mainly by its avowed advocacy of a classless society.

This conclusion, which need not surprise careful readers of his published writings, is the most significant result of recent attempts to amplify von Wright's brief mention of the 1935 trip. To satisfy my own curiosity and that of students with whom I have discussed Wittgenstein's philosophy, I sent letters of inquiry to people whose names were publicly associated with that of Wittgenstein, including his executors, his translators, persons generally known to have influenced his thinking and persons who have written on him or his ideas. I also tried, again through correspondence, and with limited success, to pick up the Soviet end of the thread.

Replies included a variety of perspectives and impressions ranging from serious doubt that Wittgenstein ever went to Russia (and that he had any sympathy for either the USSR or Marxism) to the belief that he was regarded as a "Stalinist" by those who knew him well. Nearly all who were asked for information did reply, some very patiently to several requests.

When one considers that a number of people [6] were able to provide little or no relevant information despite acquaintance with Wittgenstein and keen interest in his views, it would seem that some rather important, hitherto unpublicized facts were established.

The remainder of this article is devoted to an account of the information gathered, some reactions of those from whom it was sought, and some suggestions on the possible significance of Marxist views for Wittgensteinian exegesis.


The 1935 Visit

Von Wright was asked to identify the 'friend' with whom he said Wittgenstein went to Russia. He and most of my other correspondents were also asked for evidence pertaining to Wittgenstein's trip, persons in the USSR with whom he was in contact, his reactions to life in the Soviet Union, his acquaintance with the writings of Marx and Engels and his reactions to their views.

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; 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. Remarking that it was an interesting question whether Wittgenstein was acquainted with Marx's work, he added that "To the best of my knowledge he was not". Nor could he recall any reaction by Wittgenstein to Marx.

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.

"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." [7]

The Russian 'Utopia'

With Francis Skinner, Wittgenstein received Russian lessons from Tania Pascal (Mrs Roy Pascal -- Fania Pascal, in fact -- RL) in the fall of 1934. According to Mrs Pascal he quickly became proficient, read Dostoyevsky in the original and translated a tale of Grimm into Russian. He had Russian conversation lessons without Skinner; and Mrs Pascal says Skinner did not go to Russia. His sister, Mrs P. M. Truscott, says Skinner had planned to go with Wittgenstein but was prevented by ill health. R. L. Goodstein, a friend of both Wittgenstein and Skinner, wrote that as he recalled it Skinner never planned to go and his health was normal at the time. [8]

Although Wittgenstein did not discuss the purpose of his Russian trip with her, Mrs Pascal thought the political opinions of both underwent a "profound change" around that time; but she would have been surprised at either of them reading Marx or Engels. Roy Pascal (who edited an English edition of the first and third parts of Marx's The German Ideology) added the opinion that Wittgenstein shared a "general malaise among intellectuals about western society" and hoped to find Russia more congenial. [9] He too was inclined to doubt that Wittgenstein read Marx or Engels. Observing that Wittgenstein hated newspapers and political discussions, he remarks that he was nonetheless "acutely aware of public affairs" though tending to influence his pupils to be unworldly.

The opinion of the Pascals that Wittgenstein looked to Russia for a more congenial environment seems to accord well with a recurring belief that, in Goodstein's words, "What attracted him was the Russia of Dostoievski and Tolstoy, not the Russia of Stalin." F. A. von Hayek thought [10] that to Wittgenstein Russia meant Tolstoy, rather than Marx. This is also the opinion of Stephen Toulmin, who suggests that, given Wittgenstein's "intense distaste for private property" and "extremely strong belief (though largely a theoretical one) in the dignity of manual labour and the brotherhood of men unencumbered by material possessions", he would have been "entirely happy and at home in a kibbutz". Mrs Truscott, who thought Wittgenstein made the trip to Russia for purposes of preliminary reconnaissance, felt the idea of 'Russia' to Skinner and him was reminiscent of the Utopian communities in America rather than anything realistic. 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. Wittgenstein's nephew, Thomas Stonborough (who resides in the Viennese house designed by Wittgenstein) was confident Wittgenstein never read Marx or Engels; he felt the "idealistic side of Communism" might be satisfying to Wittgenstein's "ascetic and religious nature", but doubted that he ever actually went to Russia.

According to Goodstein, though Skinner was not a member of any political party he was influenced by Wittgenstein to become a 'Tolstoyian Socialist'. The question of Wittgenstein's 'influence' on Skinner merits further consideration. They met in 1931, remaining close friends until Skinner's death in 1941. For a while they shared rooms over a tobacconist's shop. Skinner received a BA from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1933. Goodstein said "he was a mathematician of great power and greater promise". He was one of about seven people to whom Wittgenstein dictated The Blue Book and one of two (with Alice Ambrose) to whom he dictated The Brown Book.

According to Pascal, Skinner "enlisted as a volunteer in Spain", [11] which he would not have done without at least tacit approval from Wittgenstein. Skinner abandoned academic work in the mid-thirties, a decision also apparently influenced by Wittgenstein, who often urged students to give up academic philosophy for honest toil. [12]

Mrs Pascal noted that Skinner worked for a while at the Pye Radio factory as a technician. At the Cambridge works of the Cambridge Instrument Co, where he was employed as a milling machine operator for about a year, he was remembered by co-workers as a cultured man and congenial companion. According to Goodstein, Wittgenstein was with him when he died -- soon after leaving this job.

On the Russian trip itself and its aftermath there is less available information than on its prologue. One piece of tangible evidence in Wittgenstein's handwriting is an Intourist postcard to G. E. Moore from Moscow, dated 18.9.35, indicating his intention to return in about a fortnight to Cambridge where he would remain for the academic year, lecture and try to write for publication.

From the Soviet end, Maisky was unable to recall even Wittgenstein's name. No reply was received to inquiries sent to the Institute of the North and the Institute of National Minorities. 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. [13]

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.

Mrs Gornstein said, according to Drobnitsky, that Wittgenstein made a second trip to Moscow in 1939, when he still wanted to live and work in the USSR. She learned of this trip from Sophia Janovskaya, whom he visited.

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. [14] 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. [15] 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". Von Hayek said that in 1947 or 1948 he met Wittgenstein on a train from Vienna to London and "he was reacting to having encountered the Russians at Vienna (as an army of occupation) in a manner which certainly suggested that he had met them in the flesh for the first time and that this had shattered all his illusions".


Acquaintance With Marx

An initial request for information from Miss Anscombe concerning Wittgenstein's trip, his views on Russia and Marx, brought no reply. In a subsequent letter which repeated the request, it was noted that a former student [16] of Wittgenstein had said he thought "those who knew him well regarded him as a 'Stalinist'; Miss Anscombe could tell you about that". The relevant portion of her reply was: "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'."

She was then asked, among other things, for information on textual evidence of such reflections, what may have prompted them, where they led, the conditions under which they were made, with whom they were discussed, the sort of attitude he seemed to have toward the notion, whether he conceived it primarily or at all as part of a way of considering socio-economic developments, whether he related it to the notions of economic base and superstructure, negation of negation or satisfaction of needs. No reply has been received. [17]

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. He expressed agreement with Miss Anscombe about writing on Wittgenstein's personal life while claiming that neither of them wished to be secretive: it would matter little and might be preferable if people (including himself) "knew next to nothing" about Wittgenstein's life. "They might be less prone to read what he said in the light of supposed personal leanings...." 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". [18]

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'." [19] 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" [20] 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. [21]

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).

Dangers Of Commitment

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 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. [22] 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. [23]

Rhees wrote also that:


"I 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.

Lines Of Inquiry

Future scholarship may clarify the relations among 1) Wittgenstein's austere way of life, a 180 degree turn from that of his tycoon father; 2) his thoughts and feelings about Soviet life and goals; 3) his acquaintance with Marxist views and attitude towards them; 4) what is generally known as his 'philosophy' -- earlier and later. We can only suggest here some lines that such investigation might follow. However, one thing is clear. Interpretations of Wittgenstein's philosophy as aiming at adjustment of individuals to the established world can hardly be correct. [24]

Whatever "revolution in philosophy" Wittgenstein's work may represent, it is of course never expressly a philosophy of revolution. One important characteristic of the Tractatus, however, is that it is a work of rebellion. Both the Tractatus and the Investigations have a "therapeutic orientation", representing an effort to achieve a mode or degree of integrity, of wholeness, as a condition for freedom. Interestingly, in objecting to such a task for philosophy, Marcuse proposes instead that of understanding the world, in terms of what it has done and can do to man.

Compare this with Descartes, who used his 'methodic doubt' to declare himself independent from the dead bones of the past, effectively proclaiming in his cogito: "I have a mind of my own, I can think for myself"; which meant in part, disposing of his landed patrimony, investing in joint stock company shares (and raising up a lot of difficulties about 'mind-body' relations).

Wittgenstein divested himself of his (money) patrimony, standing alone against 'the world' and 'fate', which latter he equated with 'father', while in his early philosophy he propounded a rather ambiguous solipsism, involving isolation of an individual from a (particular) universal as a condition for union with a (universal) universal. Thus his 'solipsism' can be construed as a stage in a process toward universalism; solipsism versus egotism, nepotism, chauvinism and other such particularisms.

However, the Tractatus is, in spite of its exquisitely fine elaboration, an impatient work. It recounts a dream of instant, effortless anarchy. In it, a quietistic correspondence theory of language and an escapist 'transcendental' anthropology cum value theory reinforce each other. The resulting bind or aporia is well known.

In the Investigations Wittgenstein saw that in the Tractatus he had, like so many philosophers, mischievously confused language reform, unilateral verbal change, with real change -- to the detriment of the latter. Turning his investigation to "our real need" his task now was to escape and avoid the disabling rack of philosophical paradox while developing techniques for helping others to do likewise.

His chief means was to assemble reminders of how we learn specific expressions and how we actually use them in vital circumstances, by contrast with what we think they 'must' mean. This emphasis on working versus idle language parallels a two-fold understanding of philosophy: philosophy as working versus idle or mandarin philosophy -- a philosophy whose objective is to eliminate the need for itself as against a philosophy that finds its 'end' within itself and seeks to perpetuate itself in a privileged if agonized position.

The same emphasis on working language highlights the social character and the social relativity of concept formation and linguistic use as outgrowths of various kinds of social contexts or systems and the kinds of activities carried on within those systems, by contrast with his former concern for a static essence of language as such. Negatively there is the famous critique of "private language" such that only one person could understand it.

The critique of 'skepticism' also deserves further attention, especially in view of the seeming strictures on theory construction. Here, as throughout the Investigations, Wittgenstein seems to be opposing obscurantism -- deliberate and inadvertent. He proceeds, in effect, by 'negation of negation' or critique of defects. Having confined himself to conceptual as against causal investigations, he scrupulously avoided what he considered inappropriate (spurious, idle) 'theorizing' which gives rise to the very binds or 'hang-ups' he sought to avoid. Appropriately then, he attempted no general 'definition' of bona fide theorizing. It is extravagant to say, however, that Wittgenstein proclaimed philosophy to be "the renunciation of all theory". [25] If he proposes that philosophy should leave everything (conceptually) as it is, this is for the sake of accuracy, aimed among other things at avoiding the acceptance of spurious language reform in lieu of real change. Wittgenstein recognized and respected the value of theories which enable us, for example, to organize vast quantities of data in relatively simple, perspicuous form. However, it would seem that for him, each theory would have to be judged on its own merits.

Nor did he attempt to define a state of 'health' for which he was striving. The impediments removed, it would be what it would be.

Like Marx, he deliberately omitted (early and late) an overall prescription for a prefabricated 'new order' to be imposed on the world. Impediments removed, it would be -- a classless society. By contrast with the existing order, we know what it will not be, much as the 'negative theologians' knew what was not divine (before they inherited the earth and became landlords). Herein lies just a hint at the humane relevance of Wittgenstein's early remarks on silence and his later silences.


[1] Paul Engelmann, Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein with a Memoir, Oxford 1967, pp.52-53, 58-59.

[2] With Rush Rhees and G. E. M. Anscombe (Mrs Peter Geach).

[3] 'Biographical Sketch', p.16 in Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, London 1958, by Norman Malcolm. The sketch was first published in The Philosophical Review, 64 (1955).

[4] Wolfe Mays, 'Recollections of Ludwig Wittgenstein' in Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Man and His Philosophy, ed K. T. Fann, New York 1967, p.82.

[5] Malcolm, Memoir, op. cit., p.39.

[6] E.g., Norman Malcolm, Max Black, K. W. Britton, John Wisdom, Alice Ambrose Lazerowitz, Bertrand Russell. (The latter said he was convinced, though without concrete evidence, that Wittgenstein never read Marx.)

[7] 'Vinogradoff' was apparently Semyon I. Vinogradov, Assistant Chief, Third Western Division of the Soviet Foreign Office.

[8] The disagreement may be only apparent. Mrs Truscott may have been alluding to the fact that her brother still suffered after-effects (including a shortened leg) of a 1924 osteomyelitis attack.

[9] As was pointed out to me by Brian McGuinness who collaborated with D. F. Pears on a translation of the Tractatus and is now preparing a biography of Wittgenstein, this is confirmed by Waismann, who reports Wittgenstein as having said to him in 1931: 'Russland: Die Leidenschaft verspricht etwas. Unser Gerede dagegen ist kraftlos.' ('Russia: the passion there contains the promise of something, whereas all our gabble is impotent.'). See Wittgenstein und der Wiener Kreis, p.142.

[10] Private communication. A third cousin of Wittgenstein, von Hayek wrote a biographical fragment on him which has been privately circulated.

[11] He was not accepted, however; apparently because of his leg.

[12] For Wittgenstein there was philosophy and there was philosophy. Piero Sraffa says Wittgenstein was very kind to Skinner and regretfully came to the conclusion that he had not the makings of a philosopher. Presumably one deficiency would have been his susceptibility to such 'influence'.

[13] Goodstein mentioned that Wittgenstein corresponded for a long time with a woman philosopher in Moscow whom he had visited.

[14] Which dates from the period of The Blue Book. See M. Lazerowitz, 'Wittgenstein on the Nature of Philosophy' in Fann, op. cit., p.137n.

[15] Cornforth remarked that this must be wrong, 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'.

[16] A. C. Jackson.

[17] It should be admitted that in the same letter I expressed appreciation for plain speaking along with contempt for obscurantism and pedantry. Noting a remark attributed to her by Engelmann (op. cit., p. xiv) to the effect that 'If by pressing a button it could have been secured that people would not concern themselves with his [Wittgenstein's] life, I should have pressed the button....'

[18] Von Wright thought it was absurd and anachronistic to speak of Wittgenstein as a Stalinist. To say it is 'anachronistic' seems puzzling except perhaps in relation to the Hitler-Stalin pact (which he did not mention).

[19] Rhees felt it was of some importance that Wittgenstein used the German which he himself did not recall. I find 'Gallerten menschlicher Arbeit', 'Gallerte menschlicher Arbeit', 'festgeronnener Arbeitzeit' and 'Gerinnung von Surplusarbeitzeit'.

[20] Though he thought with respect to alienated labour it was 'large scale industry' whether capitalist or communist, 'that is the evil'. Perhaps he would not want to speak of social 'reality' or of living beings as part of 'reality'.

[21] Or, characteristically, he may have considered it an ‘intervening case’ between (1) an interpretation of Marx and (2) something analogous but more congenial to Rhees. It would be misleading to take it as a sign of 'verificationism'.

[22] Jackson thought Wittgenstein's having been regarded as a "Stalinist" meant no more than this; which would accommodate von Wright's remark about anachronism. The date seems important given the widespread loss of sympathy for the Russian Communists even among Communists outside the USSR, following upon the Hitler-Stalin pact.

[23] Zettel, §455 may be of special relevance here. Also, Pascal notes that Wittgenstein had continuing friendships with some non-philosopher Communists. Jackson mentions Wittgenstein’s having spoken of Lenin as "a genius and a philosophical primitive".

[24] See e.g. Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, Boston 1964, p.183.

[25] Marcuse, loc. cit.



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