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Illustrated Wittgenstein Aphorisms and Quotations

Wittgenstein Aphorisms and Quotations. Image copyright unknown.

Introduction to Wittgenstein's Aphorisms and Quotations

Wittgenstein devoted a great deal of his thinking to the teaching of his philosophy: how best to explain a particular concept on which his was working. His aphorisms were developed as part of this continual struggle.

As such, it is helpful to view them as part of his lifelong preoccupation with the limits of language: with the boundary between what can be said, and said clearly, and what can only be shown.

Scattered throughout the website are images that are intended to depict, or connect with, various Wittgenstein aphorisms and quotes. I have gathered them all together here in the belief that, collectively, they offer a useful introduction to some central Wittgensteinian themes.

If you have encountered a Wittgenstein quote that puzzles you, and which is not discussed here, I'd be very happy to hear from you: Wittgenstein Aphorism Enquiry


Aphorisms and Quotations from Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Image copyright Daily Telegraph.

6.54 "My propositions serve as elucidations in the following sense: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them - as steps - to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright."


Aphorisms and Quotations from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations

Image copyright BBC.

18 "...ask yourself whether our language is complete;-whether it was so before the symbolism of chemistry and the notation of the infinitesimal calculus were incorporated into it; for these are, so to speak, suburbs of our language. (And how many houses or streets does it take before a town begins to be a town?) Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses with additions from various periods and this surrounded by a multitude of new buroughs..."

Image copyright Jez Bill

67 "Why do we call something a "number"? Well, perhaps because is has a - direct - relationship with several things that have hitherto been called number; and this can be said to give it an indirect relationship to other things we call the same name. And we extend our concept of number as in spinning a thread we twist fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres."

Public Domain Image: Copyright United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

106 "Here it is difficult as it were to keep our heads up,-to see that we must stick to the subjects of our everyday thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to describe extreme subtleties, which in turn we are quite unable to describe with the means at our disposal. We feel as if we had to repair a torn spider's web with our fingers."

Image copyright unknown.

118 "Where does our investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were only the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble.) What we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand."

Image copyright Misteree

218 "Whence comes the idea that the beginning of a series is a visible section of rails invisibly laid to infinity? Well, we might imagine rails instead of a rule. And infinitely long rails correspond to unlimited applications of a rule."

Image copyright unknown.

309 "What is your aim in philosophy - To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle?"

Image copyright unknown.

IIxi. p.223e "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him."


Aphorisms and Quotations from Other Posthumous Wittgenstein Publications

Image copyright unknown.

On Certainty 143 "I am told, for example, that someone climbed this mountain many years ago. Do I always enquire into the reliabiliy of the teller of the story, and whether the mountain did exist years ago?... [A child] doesn't learn at all that that mountain has existed for a long time: that is, the question whether it is so doesn't arise at all. It swallows this consequence down, so to speak, together with what it learns."


Aphorisms and Quotations from Conversatons with Wittgenstein

Image copyright unknown.

1930. "Philosophy is like trying to open a safe with a combination lock: each little adjustment of the dials seems to achieve nothing, only when everything is in place does the door open."