Waugh’s House of Wittgenstein

1 March 2009 at 4:19 pm 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

The Saturday Wall Street Journal features Janes Penrose’s review of Alexander Waugh’s House of Wittgenstein, a profile of the prominent Viennese family that produced not only the philosopher Ludwig, considered by many the greatest of the twentieth century, but also pianist Paul. Their father, Karl, was an important Austrian industrialist, and their home, nicknamed Palais Wittgenstein, a Viennese landmark. The WSJ also offers a sample chapter.

Hayek enthusiasts will of course remember that Hayek and Wittgenstein were second cousins, though they did not appear to know each other well (see Hayek’s “Remembering My Cousin Ludwig Wittgenstein” in Hayek, Collected Works, vol. 4, pp. 176-81). My old boss Bill Bartley, founding editor of Hayek’s Collected Works, wrote a controversial Wittgenstein biography in 1973 (Bartley’s book was the first to discuss Wittgenstein’s homosexuality publicly, for which Bartley was condemned by Wittgenstein’s literary executors and outcast by the Wittgenstein establishment). Hayek is also mentioned briefly in the popular book Wittgenstein’s Poker, which we discussed before.

John Gray argues that Hayek’s theory of language, as presented especially in The Sensory Order, was strongly influenced by Wittgenstein (even the numbering system copies that of the Tractatus). There are, writes Gray, “many evidences that Wittgenstein’s work reinforced Hayek’s conviction that the study of language is a necessary precondition of the study of human thought, and an indispensable prophylactic to the principal disorders of the intellect. Examples which may be adduced are Hayek’s studies of the confusion of language in political thought and, most obviously, perhaps, of his emphasis on the role of social rules in the transmission of practical knowledge.”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Austrian Economics, People.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Rafe Champion  |  2 March 2009 at 11:03 am

    This comment relates in part to the 2006 discussion of Witt’s Poker and partly to the large claims made for Witt’s contribution by John Gray (inter alia). Peter Munz had the unique distinction of (a) being taught by Popper in New Zealand and Wittgenstein in Cambridge and (b) being was present at the great debate. He wrote two books on Popper and Wittgenstein, one to defend Popper http://www.the-rathouse.com/revmunzpop.html and the second (less convincing) to argue that they should have been allies and not enemies.

    On Wittgenstein’s contribution, he led philosophers into not just one but two dead ends. For a little-known critique of Witt Mark I see an essay that was buried in the notes of The Open Society,

    Contra Gray, Hayek’s critical studies were critiques of theories and assumptions, not language. Wittgenstein did not even study language, not in the helpful manner of two other Austro-Hungarians, Karl Buhler and Rene Wellek.

    In fairness to Wittgenstein, he would have been a brilliant plumber and he designed a truly magnficent house for his sister. But Popper was probably better at woodwork, he had a ticket for cabinetmaking.

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