- Birthday, Books, Philosophy, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Ludwig Wittgenstein on Language, Philosophy, and More

Happy birthday, Ludwig Wittgenstein! Here are some quotes from his writing:


“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”


“My difficulty is only an—enormous—difficulty of expression.”


“Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.”


“It’s only by thinking even more crazily than philosophers do that you can solve their problems.”


“If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.”


“It’s only by thinking even more crazily than philosophers do that you can solve their problems.”


“Never stay up on the barren heights of cleverness, but come down into the green valleys of silliness.”


“Don’t for heaven’s sake, be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.”


“A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.”


“I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.”


“Aim at being loved without being admired.”


“Genius is talent exercised with courage.”


“One often makes a remark and only later sees how true it is.”


“Logic takes care of itself; all we have to do is to look and see how it does it.”


“Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole single great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.”


“It is one of the chief skills of the philosopher not to occupy himself with questions which do not concern him.”


“Language is a part of our organism and no less complicated than it.”


“I am either happy or unhappy, that is all. It can be said: good or evil do not exist.”


“The world of the happy is quite different from the world of the unhappy.”


“A man who is happy must have no fear. Not even in the face of death.”


“Only a man who lives not in time but in the present is happy.”


“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.”


“The World and Life are one. Physiological life is of course not ‘Life.’ And neither is psychological life. Life is the world.”


“Ethics does not treat of the world. Ethics must be a condition of the world, like logic.
Ethics and Aesthetics are one.”


“It is true: Man is the microcosm:
I am my world.”


“What cannot be imagined cannot even be talked about.”


“It is clear that the causal nexus is not a nexus at all.”


“What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”


“Certain, possible, impossible: here we have the first indication of the scale that we need in the theory of probability.”


“My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them…He must so to speak throw away the ladder…”


“The world is all that is the case.”


“The world is the totality of facts, not things.”


“The thought is the significant proposition.”


“Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. Philosophy does not result in ‘philosophical propositions’, but rather in the clarification of propositions. Without philosophy thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and indistinct: its task is to make them clear and to give them sharp boundaries.”


“Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result of philosophy is not a number of philosophical propositions.’ but to make propositions clear.”


“Logic pervades the world: the limits of the world are also its limits. So we cannot say in logic, ‘The world has this in it, and this, but not that.’ For that would appear to presuppose that we were excluding certain possibilities, and this cannot be the case, since it would require that logic should go beyond the limits of the world; for only in that way could it view those limits from the other side as well. We cannot think what we cannot think; so what we cannot think we cannot say either.”


“The world and life are one.”


“I am my world. (The microcosm.)”


“The subject does not belong to the world, but it is a limit of the world.”


“It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.”


“Scepticism is not irrefutable, but obviously nonsensical, when it tries to raise doubts where no questions can be asked. For doubt can exist only where a question exists, a question only where an answer exists, and an answer only where something can be said.”


“There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”


“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”


“What I give is the morphology of the use of an expression. I show that it has kinds of uses of which you had not dreamed. In philosophy one feels forced to look at a concept in a certain way. What I do is suggest, or even invent, other ways of looking at it. I suggest possibilities of which you had not previously thought. You thought that there was one possibility, or only two at most. But I made you think of others. Furthermore, I made you see that it was absurd to expect the concept to conform to those narrow possibilities. Thus your mental cramp is relieved, and you are free to look around the field of use of the expression and to describe the different kinds of uses of it.”


“What should we gain by a definition, as it can only lead us to other undefined terms?”


“The difficulty in philosophy is to say no more than we know.”


“To convince someone of the truth, it is not enough to state it, but rather one must find the path from error to truth.”


“I must plunge into the water of doubt again and again.”


“Every explanation is after all an hypothesis.”


“We must plow through the whole of language.”


“When I am furious about something, I sometimes beat the ground or a tree with my walking stick. But I certainly do not believe that the ground is to blame or that my beating can help anything…And all rites are of this kind.”


“An entire mythology is stored within our language.”


“What makes a subject difficult to understand—if it is significant, important—is not that some special instruction about abstruse things is necessary to understand it. Rather, it is the contrast between the understanding of the subject and what most people want to see. Because of this the very things that are most obvious can become the most difficult to understand. What has to be overcome is not difficulty of the intellect but of the will.”


“Philosophizing is: rejecting false arguments.”


“The philosopher strives to find the liberating word, that is, the word that finally permits us to grasp what up to now has intangibly weighed down upon our consciousness.”


“Philosophy unravels the knots in our thinking; hence its results must be simple, but its activity is as complicated as the knots that it unravels.”


“People are deeply embedded in philosophical, i.e., grammatical confusions. And to free them presupposes pulling them out of the immensely manifold connections they are caught up in.”


“The aim of philosophy is to erect a wall at the point where language stops anyway.”


“We are asleep. Our Life is a dream. But we wake up sometimes, just enough to know that we are dreaming.”


“A good guide will take you through the more important streets more often than he takes you down side streets; a bad guide will do the opposite. In philosophy I’m a rather bad guide.”


“Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.”


“Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.”


“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language.”


“Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.”


“What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.”


“Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it.”


“When I obey a rule, I do not choose. I obey the rule blindly.”


“So in the end, when one is doing philosophy, one gets to the point where one would like just to emit an inarticulate sound.”


“My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.”


“One can mistrust one’s own senses, but not one’s own belief.”


“The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”


“If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”


“If you tried to doubt everything, you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.”


“At the core of all well-founded belief lies belief that is unfounded.”


“Knowledge is in the end based on acknowledgement.”


“At the end of reasons comes persuasion.”


“You get tragedy where the tree, instead of bending, breaks.”


“A new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion.”


“Man has to awaken to wonder—and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.”


“If someone is merely ahead of his time, it will catch up to him one day.”


“Reading the Socratic dialogues one has the feeling: what a frightful waste of time! What’s the point of these arguments that prove nothing and clarify nothing?”


“A confession has to be part of your new life.”


“If you use a trick in logic, whom can you be tricking other than yourself?”


“I squander untold effort making an arrangement of my thoughts that may have no value whatever.”


“Resting on your laurels is as dangerous as resting when you are walking in the snow. You doze off and die in your sleep.”


“I sit astride life like a bad rider on a horse. I only owe it to the horse’s good nature that I am not thrown off at this very moment.”


“People nowadays think that scientists exist to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc. to give them pleasure. The idea that these have something to teach them—that does not occur to them.”


“Genius is talent exercised with courage.”


“Our greatest stupidities may be very wise.”


“Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.”


“In philosophy, the race is to the one who can run slowest—the one who crosses the finish line last.”


“There is no more light in a genius than in any other honest man—but he has a particular kind of lens to concentrate this light into a burning point.”


“The truth can be spoken only by someone who is already at home in it; not by someone who still lives in untruthfulness, and does no more than reach out towards it from within untruthfulness.”


“A teacher who can show good, or indeed astounding results while he is teaching, is still not on that account a good teacher, for it may be that, while his pupils are under his immediate influence, he raises them to a level which is not natural to them, without developing their own capacities for work at this level, so that they immediately decline again once the teacher leaves the schoolroom.”


“Courage, not cleverness; not even inspiration, is the grain of mustard that grows up to be a great tree.”


“It is not by recognizing the want of courage in someone else that you acquire courage yourself.”


“You can’t be reluctant to give up your lie and still tell the truth.”


“Words are deeds.”


“If you want to go down deep you do not need to travel far; indeed, you don’t have to leave your most immediate and familiar surroundings.”


“A hero looks death in the face, real death, not just the image of death. Behaving honourably in a crisis doesn’t mean being able to act the part of a hero well, as in the theatre, it means being able to look death itself in the eye.”


“For an actor may play lots of different roles, but at the end of it all he himself, the human being, is the one who has to die.”


“The less somebody knows and understands himself, the less great he is, however great may be his talent. For this reason, our scientists are not great.”


“One might say: art shows us the miracles of nature. It is based on the concept of the miracles of nature.”


“You could attach prices to ideas. Some cost a lot some little. And how do you pay for ideas? I believe: with courage.”


“If life becomes hard to bear, we think of improvements. But the most important and effective improvement, in our own attitude, hardly occurs to us, and we can decide on this only with the utmost difficulty.”


“Someone who knows too much finds it hard not to lie.”


“Is it just I who cannot found a school, or can a philosopher never do so?”


“Schiller writes in a letter [to Goethe, 17 December 1795] of a ‘poetic mood.’ I think I know what he means, I think I am familiar with it myself. It is the mood of receptivity to nature and one in which one’s thoughts seem as vivid as nature itself.”


“Ambition is the death of thought.”


“I would really like to slow down the speed of reading with continual punctuation marks. For I would like to be read slowly. (As I myself read.)”


“Nothing is more important than the formation of fictional concepts, which teach us at last to understand our own.”


“If a false thought is so much as expressed boldly and clearly, a great deal has already been gained.”


“Human beings have a physical need to tell themselves when at work: ‘Let’s have done with it now,’ and it’s having constantly to go on thinking in the face of this need when philosophizing that makes this work so strenuous.”


“The Sabbath is not simply a time to rest, to recuperate. We should look at our work from the outside, not just from within.”


“One age misunderstands another; and a petty age misunderstands all the others in its own ugly way.”


“Philosophy hasn’t made any progress?—If someone scratches where it itches, do we have to see progress? Is it not genuine scratching otherwise, or genuine itching?”


“Philosophical problems can be compared to locks on safes, which can be opened by dialing a certain word or number, so that no force can open the door until just this word has been hit upon, and once it is hit upon any child can open it.”


“A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.”


“If a person tells me he has been to the worst places, I have no reason to judge him; but if he tells me it was his superior wisdom that enabled him to go there, then I know he is a fraud.”


“For a truly religious man, nothing is tragic.”


“It seems to me that, in every culture, I come across a chapter headed Wisdom. And then I know exactly what is going to follow: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”


“You must always be puzzled by mental illness. The thing I would dread most, if I became mentally ill, would be your adopting a common sense attitude; that you could take it for granted that I was deluded.”


“It is so characteristic, that just when the mechanics of reproduction are so vastly improved, there are fewer and fewer people who know how the music should be played.”


“Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life.”


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