Wittgenstein - Life, Language, Thought WEA Sydney

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Wittgenstein occupies a unique place in 20thC philosophy: He brings a depth of understanding and richness of vision unparalleled in the history of Modern linguistics, and profoundly influenced all 20th and 21stC development in the connection between language and thought. He also influences the beginning of the debate over Artificial Intelligence.
Wittgenstein’s project is very ambitious in scope, he hopes to show the boundary between the thinkable and the unthinkable; between the sayable and that which cannot be defined in language. In the Tractatus Wittgenstein develops his famous ‘picture theory of language’ and in the Philosophical Investigations, he invents the Games Theory of language. We will also study his influence on the arts; his Anthropology; and his philosophy of Psychology.


  • Onine


  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), London: Routledge, 1990.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue and Brown Book (1933-1935), Oxford/Blackwell, 1958.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953), Oxford/Blackwell, 1958.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Last Writing on the Philosophy of Psychology (1949-51), Oxford/Blackwell, 1992.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (1951) Oxford/Blackwell, 1969.


  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: A biographical introduction to his life and ideas. Wittgenstein is one of those philosophers whose life and attitudes are part of the philosophical ideas themselves.
  • Three Original Ideas: It makes sense to divide Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy into three periods; each period is characterized by a new idea concerning the nature of language, and its connection to how humans think and how they live their lives both practically and ethically.
  • Early Wittgenstein - The Tractatus (1922): In this work Wittgenstein develops his famous ‘picture theory of language’. In this theory language is understood as a diagram which pictures possible states of affairs and “a logical picture of facts is a thought”. He considers what it means for a statement to be true. We will also consider ‘possible worlds theory’.
  • Middle Period - Philosophical Investigations, (1953): Firstly we will consider his theory of Language-Games. In this theory the meaning of a word is defined through its cultural usability: culture and context confer meaning.
  • Thought is Language: Wittgenstein proposes that we do not have a ‘private mind’ because anything we think we can also in theory say. This idea is still controversial, we will discuss the pros and cons of it.
  • Family Resemblances: Language need not have an essence; it may not be reducible to one set of rules; the rules may change depending on which type of game one is playing.
  • Wittgenstein - Influence on the Arts: His ‘Gestural’ theory of expression influences many forms of 20thc art. Late Modernists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, were influenced by the idea that pictorial form constitutes a language, picturing spatial relationships, which connects it to its referent.
  • Other Areas of Interest: Anthropology; Philosophy of Psychology; The state of Wittgenstein’s theory in Contemporary Philosophy.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Have an overall idea of the development of Wittgenstein’s life, works and the history of the times.
  2. Comprehend Wittgenstein’s ideas on: Language and its relation to human thought.
  3. Understand the psychology of our relations to others and the world of objects via the many ‘Language Games’ which we play.
  4. Discuss the impact which Wittgenstein had on the philosophical world which came after him.
  5. Relate Wittgenstein’s ideas to contemporary debates in the development of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
  6. Apply Wittgenstein’s theory to the assessment of current debates in psychology and language.

Kerry Sanders

BA (Hons), PhD
Dr Kerry Sanders gained her PhD in Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Her specialist areas are: Aesthetics, Phenomenology, Postmodernism and Political Philosophy. She has formerly taught at...