Thread: Was Wittgenstein a leftist?

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    Default Was Wittgenstein a leftist?

    Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of my favorite philosophers. However I don't know what his directions are on politics. What I read so far didn't have much to do with politics.
    Could someone explain his political views(if any) to me?
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    He tried to volunteer as an agricultural worker in the Soviet Union but they wanted him to be a professor. That'd have been around 1930 or so. And there was a great deal of interest in the Soviet Union as a giant co-op or technocracy at the time, and not something so radical.

    Take a look at the biography by Ray Monk. It's been quite a while since I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. From what I understand it is still held in high regard.
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    As I recall, Ray Monk's bio of Wittgenstein also made the point that in the 1930s, Wittgenstein was on friendly terms with many of the local leftists at Cambridge University, including people like Pierro Sraffa (who was acknowledged by Wittgenstein in The Philosophical Investigations, Maurice Dobb, the historian Christopher Hill, and a number of other people too.
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    There's only one R in Piero *offensively pedantic*

    I was going to bring that up, too, even if it isn't exactly conclusive proof of anybody's politics. Interestingly enough, though, Sraffa was known for his close friendship with Gramsci, and Wittgenstein famously went to school with Hitler. Seems our boy Ludwig was the Kevin Bacon of the political world!
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    BTW Rosa Lichtenstein has a summary on Wittgenstein here:

    anti-dialectics.co.uk/Wittgenstein.htm
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    ^ I second that suggestion, it's a thorough overview of Wittgenstein and politics.
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    If he was a leftist (and just hanging out with a few, who also happen to be your academic colleagues, is no proof at all), he wasn't one of any note. Move on.

    ^ I second that suggestion, it's a thorough overview of Wittgenstein and politics.
    Lol, it's one of the most hilarious and desperate exercises in straw-grasping to be found on the internet.
    Last edited by Hit The North; 24th June 2013 at 21:10.
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    If he was a leftist (and just hanging out with a few, who also happen to be your academic colleagues, is no proof at all), he wasn't one of any note. Move on.

    Lol, it's one of the most hilarious and desperate exercises in straw-grasping to be found on the internet.
    It boils down to two facts in Wittgenstein's life: he once fancied living in the Soviet Union (happily, he changed his mind in time, thus avoiding becoming more a victim of Stalinist repression, which is what would have happened to him if he went there), and he was friends with Piero Sraffa, who was a Marxist, and even thanked the Italian professor for some helpful insights in the preface of Philosophical Investigations.

    We have discussed the fantasy about living in the SU elsewhere.

    About Sraffa, he was an economist, who, as far as I know, never wrote about Ordinary Language Philosophy. Conversely, Wittgenstein never wrote, or even demonstrated any visible interest, in Sraffa's subject. So whatever insight Sraffa gave to Wittgenstein, it was something that Sraffa himself didn't think important enough to write down, and it was not about something in his area of expertise. So what does that prove? Apparently, that when Wittgenstein and Sraffa talked to each other, they talked about Wittgenstein's interests, not Sraffa's. After all, Sraffa didn't thank Wittgenstein for any helpful insight in the preface of "Production of Commodities by Means of Commodites", did he?

    Seriously, it would make more sence to try and make the case that Wittgenstein's philosophic work is valuable for Marxists or leftists in general, without pretending that he was a leftist, if for no other reason, because the two issues are completely unrelated, as we can see from the enormous number of enthusiastic leftists who never made a single important contribution to Marxist or anarchist theory.

    Luís Henrique
    Last edited by Luís Henrique; 25th June 2013 at 14:18.
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  13. #9
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    I'm not sure what the import would be of Wittengenstein being leftist. Whether or not he was is fairly irrelevant, is it not? Would we not be better concerned with what he wrote and how it relates to our lives?
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    I'm not sure what the import would be of Wittengenstein being leftist. Whether or not he was is fairly irrelevant, is it not? Would we not be better concerned with what he wrote and how it relates to our lives?
    Yes, of course. How, and if.

    Luís Henrique
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    I'm not sure what the import would be of Wittengenstein being leftist. Whether or not he was is fairly irrelevant, is it not? Would we not be better concerned with what he wrote and how it relates to our lives?
    Part of it is pure curiosity I'm sure. Sometime's it's nice to have a more complete picture of a historical figure.

    On the other hand, if he was a right-winger, say, along Heideggerian lines, then wouldn't a fact like that entail a different reading of his philosophy work? Injecting politics into how we read a person's ostensibly non-political writing can be taken to excess very quickly, but as a generality, even in fields quite unrelated I think it can often provide further insight that might not be otherwise available.
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    Part of it is pure curiosity I'm sure. Sometime's it's nice to have a more complete picture of a historical figure.

    On the other hand, if he was a right-winger, say, along Heideggerian lines, then wouldn't a fact like that entail a different reading of his philosophy work? Injecting politics into how we read a person's ostensibly non-political writing can be taken to excess very quickly, but as a generality, even in fields quite unrelated I think it can often provide further insight that might not be otherwise available.
    Some of the best stuff I've seen on Wittgenstein in years and years has been work on the similarities between him and Heidegger.

    The PI and Heidgeger's Dasein are both attempts to cure solipsism -- and explore a few other directions -- but both are attempts at being grounded in something.
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    There are enough leftists who were leftists in addition to idiots, the distinction is not necessarily worth much trouble. Incidentally, Wittgenstein hardly endeavored into any serious philosophical projects that were not already dead, his work served as the framework for postmodernism at best, a best hardly worthy of comment.
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    This will be of interest to people who were following this thread:

    Rosa just recently finished researching and writing an article titled "Was Wittgenstein a Leftist?" in direct response to some of the questions and responses on this thread, which examines, among other things, the parallels between Wittgenstein and Marx. Here it is: http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/was_wit...tein_A_Leftist
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    ...his work served as the framework for postmodernism at best, a best hardly worthy of comment.
    That sounds interesting, to say the least. Care to elaborate on that?


    Lol, it's one of the most hilarious and desperate exercises in straw-grasping to be found on the internet.
    You may want to take a look at the article linked to by Hyacint in their last post.
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    That sounds interesting, to say the least. Care to elaborate on that?
    I don't believe that I have any significant depth or breadth of understanding of the Wittgenstein oeuvre, but my impression is that his work on language paved the way for the concept of "deconstruction" in the context of post-modernism.

    I completely agree with RL's assertion that "his method in fact brings, or can be used to bring to an end, two-and-half millennia of empty boss-class ideology (i.e., 'Traditional Philosophy') -- or, at the very least show it up for the self-important hot air that it is." The same aspects of "his method" that allowed him to do this were the tools that post-modernists would eventually use to "deconstruct" pretty much everything else outside of the field of traditional philosophy.
    "to become a philosopher, start by walking very slowly"
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    Originally Posted by Hit The North
    Lol, it's one of the most hilarious and desperate exercises in straw-grasping to be found on the internet.
    You may want to take a look at the article linked to by Hyacint in their last post.
    I've just looked at it and have to say that just because the straw is of an interminable length doesn't make it any less of a straw.

    Bottom line: Witty had nothing to say about politics, about political philosophy, about political economy or about class struggle. So if he was a "leftist" (whatever that means - I notice that Rosa doesn't claim that he was a socialist or a communist) he's not one that holds much importance to me.

    As for Witty's method being a corrective to "boss-class ideology", Rosa employs this is a narrow sense to imply 'philosophy'. As ever, her target is the alleged injurious influence of the Hegelian dialectic. Well, if this is boss class ideology, fine, but I think Marx and Engels long ago recognised that this is not where the core of bourgeois ideology resides and had completed their critique of Hegel by the end of the 1840s.

    Weirdly, whatever the merits of Wittgenstein's approach and its usefulness for "leftists", Rosa seems to believe that she must prove that Wittgenstein was on our side, was a leftist and not a mystic. She needs to salvage the character of the man in order to extol the virtue of his work (a good example of hero worship!). But is this really necessary? She should put more effort into showing how employing Wittgenstein's approach would help to improve the fortunes of the communist workers movement which, I believe, is her central argument.
    Last edited by Hit The North; 4th September 2013 at 16:19.
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  30. #19
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    I've just looked at it and have to say that just because the straw is of an interminable length doesn't make it any less of a straw.

    Bottom line: Witty had nothing to say about politics, about political philosophy, about political economy or about class struggle. So if he was a "leftist" (whatever that means - I notice that Rosa doesn't claim that he was a socialist or a communist) he's not one that holds much importance to me.

    As for Witty's method being a corrective to "boss-class ideology", Rosa employs this is a narrow sense to imply 'philosophy'. As ever, her target is the alleged injurious influence of the Hegelian dialectic. Well, if this is boss class ideology, fine, but I think Marx and Engels long ago recognised that this is not where the core of bourgeois ideology resides and had completed their critique of Hegel by the end of the 1840s.

    Weirdly, whatever the merits of Wittgenstein's approach and its usefulness for "leftists", Rosa seems to believe that she must prove that Wittgenstein was on our side, was a leftist and not a mystic. She needs to salvage the character of the man in order to extol the virtue of his work (a good example of hero worship!). But is this really necessary? She should put more effort into showing how employing Wittgenstein's approach would help to improve the fortunes of the communist workers movement which, I believe, is her central argument.
    I'm not sure you're reading her correctly.

    Her long (but then again, it's RL so what did we expect) essay isn't to prove that he was a leftist, she even says that this probably can't be proved, but to prove that he wasn't a conservative. And to this extent, it's pretty powerful. So I don't think she was trying to bring him to our side (hero worship) but keep him out of the hands of the other side.

    As for the boss-class ideology, it was Marx who said that the ruling ideas are always those of the ruling class. Hence 'western' analytic philosophy is nothing but. And no one did so good a job at shredding analytic philosophy to the ground than Wittgenstein (although Nietzsche deserves mention here).

    So, yeah, I'd like to thank RL for the essay (I read half of it yesterday) and encourage others to read it.
    If we have no business with the construction of the future or with organizing it for all time, there can still be no doubt about the task confronting us at present: the ruthless criticism of the existing order, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be.
    - Karl Marx
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    His brother, Paul Wittgenstein, was a noted Pianist, who lost his right arm in WW1 and still went on, from his 20s until his death, to become a world renowned concert pianist. Sorry I know this is slightly off-topic, it's just a great story.

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