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« In Which You May Think Of Wittgenstein What You Like »

Infinite Possibility

The short correspondence of Ludwig Wittgenstein retains a certain zest. Ludwig was most certainly gay, most definitely eccentric, and intellectually demanding beyond all measure. His time at Cambridge brought security and stability to his career; he was often treated with kid gloves by an understanding administration. He was left to his own devices, and in his letters with luminaries like Bertrand Russell, John Maynard Keynes and George Edward Moore, he hints at the machinations involved in the greatest philosophical mind of his century.


Dear Bertrand Russell,

My dear father died yesterday in the afternoon. He had the most beautiful death that I can imagine; without the slightest pains and falling asleep like a child! I did not feel sad for a single moment during all the last hours, but most joyful and I think that this death was worth a whole life.

I will leave Vienna on Saturday the 25th and will be in Cambridge either on Sunday night or Monday morning. I long very much to see you again.

Yours ever

Ludwig Wittgenstein

John Maynard Keynes 7/6/13

Dear J.M. Keynes,

Thanks very much for the trouble you take over my business. – My reason for not seeing you oftener last term was, that I did not wish our intercourse to continue without any sign that you wished to continue it.

Yours sincerely

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Russell teaching at UCLA


Dear Bertrand Russell,

I am sitting here in a little place inside a beautiful fiord and thinking about the beastly theory of types. There are still some very difficult problems (and very fundamental ones too) to be solved and I won’t begin to write until I have got some sort of a solution for them. However I don’t think that will in any way affect the Bipolarity business which still seems to me to be absolutely untangible. Pinsent is an enormous comfort to me here. We have hired a little sailing boat and go about with it on the fiord, or rather Pinsent is doing all the sailing and I sit in the boat and work. Shall I get anything out??! It would be awful if I did not and all my work would be lost.

However I am not losing courage and go on thinking. Pray for me! If you see the Whiteheads please remember me to them. My address for the next 3 weeks shall be: Hotel Öistensjö, Öistensjö, Norway.

If you’ve nothing better to do, do write to me how you are, etc. I very often now have the indescribable feeling as though my work was all sure to be lost entirely in some way or other. But I still hope that this won’t come true.

Whatever happens don’t forget me! Yours ever most, etc.


with Georg von Wright 9/20/13

Dear Bertrand Russell,

Types are not yet solved but I have had all sorts of ideas which seem to me very fundamental. Now the feeling that I shall have to die before being able to publish them is growing stronger and stronger in me every day and my greatest wish would therefore be to communicate everything I have done so far to you, as soon as possible. Don’t think that I believe that my ideas are very important but I cannot help feeling that they might help people to avoid some errors. Or am I mistaken? If so don’t take any notice of this letter.

I have of course no judgment at all as to whether my ideas are worth preserving after my death or not. And perhaps it is ridiculous of me even to consider this question at all. But if this is ridiculous please try to excuse this foolishness of mine because it is not a superficial foolishness but the deepest of which I am capable. I see that the further I get on with this letter the less I dare to come to my Point.

But my point is this: I want to ask you to let me meet you as soon as possible and give me time enough to give you a survey of the whole field of what I have done up to now and if possible to let me make notes for you in your presence. I shall arrive in London on the 1st of Oct and shall have to be in London again on Oct 3rd (evening). Otherwise I am not fixed in any way and can meet you wherever you like. My address will be the Grand Hotel.

I know that it may be both arrogant and silly to ask you what I have asked you. But such I am and think of me what you like.

I will always be yours



Dear George Edward Moore,

Only a few lines because I’m just now in the right mood.

First of all: write soon when exactly you’re going to come to Bergen.

Secondly: come soon.

Thirdly: I’ve got out lots of new logical stuff. (I don’t dare to say more.)

Fourthly: If you see Johnson please give him my kindest regards.

Fifthly: if you see Muscio please tell him that he’s a beast (he’ll know why).

Sixthly: once more – come soon. That’s all. Yours, etc., etc.


Russell hitting the UCLA campus


Dear Bertrand Russell,

I don’t know your precise address but hope these lines will reach you somehow. I am prisoner in Italy since November and hope I may communicate with you after a three years interruption. I have done lots of logical work which I am dying to let you know before publishing it.

Ever yours

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Russell at UCLA


Dear Bertrand Russell,

You can’t imagine how glad I was to get your cards! I am afraid though there is no hope that we may meet before long. Unless you came to see me here, but this would be too much joy for me. I can’t write on Logic as I’m not allowed to write more than 2 cards (15 lines each) a week. I’ve written a book which will be published as soon as I get home. I think I have solved our problems finally. Write to me often.

It will shorten my prison. God bless you.

Ever yours


Russell in office hours


Dear Bertand Russell,

Thank you for your kind letter. I have now obtained a position: I am to be an elementary-school teacher in a tiny village called Trattenbach. It’s in the mountains, about four hours’ journey south of Vienna. It must be the first time that the schoolmaster at Trattenbach has ever corresponded with a professor in Peking. How are you? And what are you lecturing on? Philosophy? If so, I wish I could attend and could argue with you afterwards. A short while ago I was terribly depressed and tired of living, but now I am slightly more hopeful, and one of the things I hope is that we’ll meet again.

God be with you!

Warmest regards from

Your devoted friend

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Paul Wittgenstein is second from left; Ludwig Wittgenstein is at right.  

From Bertrand Russell

to the Council of Trinity College 5/8/30

Owing to illness I have been prevented from studying Wittgenstein’s recent work as thoroughly as I had intended to do. I spent five days in discussion with him, while he explained his ideas, and he left with me a bulky typescript, “Philosophische Bemerkungen”, of which I have read about a third. The typescript, which consists merely of rough notes, would have been very difficult to understand without the help of the conversations. As it is, however, I believe that the following represents at least a part of the ideas which are new since the time of his Tractatus: According to Wittgenstein, when anything is the case there are certain other things that might have been the case in regard, so to speak, to that particular region of fact.

Suppose, for example, a certain patch of wall is blue; it might have been red, or green, or so. To say it is any of these colours is false, but not meaningless. On the other hand, to say that it is loud, or shrill, or to apply to it any other adjective appropriate to sound would be to talk nonsense. There is thus a collection of possibilities of a certain kind which is concerned in any fact. Such a collection of possibilities Wittgenstein calls a “space”. Thus there is a “space” of colours and a “space” of sounds. There are various relations among colours which constitute the geometry of that “space”. All this is, in one sense, independent of experience: that is to say, we need the kind of experience through which we know what “green” is, but not the kind through which we know that a certain patch of wall is green. Wittgenstein uses the word “grammar” to cover what corresponds in language to the existence of these various “spaces”. Wherever a word denoting a region in a certain “space” occurs, the word denoting another region in that “space” can be substituted without producing nonsense, but a word denoting any region belonging to any other “space” cannot be substituted without bad grammar, i.e. nonsense.

A considerable part of Wittgenstein’s work is concerned with the interpretation of mathematics. He considers it false to say that mathematics is logic or consists of tautologies. He discusses “infinity” at considerable lengths and links it with the conception of possibility that he has developed in connection with his various “spaces”. He believes in “infinite possibility”, as he calls it, but not in actual “infinite classes” or “infinite series”. What he says about infinity tends, obviously against his will, to have a certain resemblance to what has been said by Brouwer. I think perhaps the resemblance is not so close as it appears at first sight. There is much discussion of mathematical induction.

The theories contained in this new work of Wittgenstein’s are novel, very original, and indubitably important. Whether they are true, I don’t know. As a logician who likes simplicity, I should wish to think that they are not, but from what I have read of them I am quite sure that he ought to have an opportunity to work them out, since when completed they may easily prove to constitute a whole new philosophy.

Bertrand Russell

wittgenstein's sketch of his house


Dear Piero Sraffa,

I am expecting you in my room on Friday about 7.45 as our Hall begins at 8.


Ludwig Wittgenstein

I want to talk with you about vivisection. I think it is closely related to the things we are talking about.



My dear W.H. Watson,

Thanks so much for your letter and the cutting. Yes, I believe Einstein is just a bloody journalist – I was glad to hear that you’ve got a little animal and hope he’s doing well. I’ve had a very busy term, doing lots of work and seeing pupils. But my work progresses very slowly for it’s such a huge job and I’m not equal to it.

What you wrote about your boss interested me very much, it’s such a typical thing to happen nowadays to otherwise good and kind people.

I wish I could come over some time and see you and have discussions and conversations with you.

Yours ever

Ludwig Wittgenstein


My dear W.H. Watson,

Thanks so much for your letter and the photo. The boy looks very sweet, I must say. I don’t say this to flatter you. I’ve been feeling rather rotten for the last 2 or 3 weeks and am always afraid of a kind of mental breakdown. I haven’t been able to touch my work for about 10 days except today I’ve done a little work and perhaps I’m beginning to get better. I have however kept on lecturing the whole time.

My classes are middling. Moore still comes to them and there are two mathematicians who are rather good (you don’t know them). I’ve been to the cinema only about 3 or 4 times this term and once to the "Kinema" (Mill Rd.) to a perfectly rotten war film. Lee, whom I think you’ll remember sent me the enclosed cutting which by the way I want back for my collection but I want you to see it just to get an idea.

Let me hear from you soon again.

Yours ever

Ludwig Wittgenstein



Dear Piero Sraffa,

I wish to say one more thing: I think that your fault in a discussion is this: you are not helpful! I am like a man inviting you to tea to my room; but my room is hardly furnished, one has to sit on boxes and the teacups stand on the floor and the cups have no handles, etc etc. I hustle about fetching anything I can think of to make it possible that we should have tea together. You stand about with a sulky face; say that  you can’t sit down on a box, and cann’t hold a cup without a handle, and generally make things difficult. – At least that’s how it seems to me.


Ludwig Wittgenstein

From the Minutes of the Moral Science Club


Prof. L. Wittgenstein: “Other Minds”

The second meeting was held in Mr. T. Moore’s rooms in Trinity, with Mr. Lewy in the chair. Prof. Wittgenstein read a paper in which he discussed various problems connected with other peoples’ minds. First he mentioned several of the answers which have been given to the question “How do we know of the existence of other peoples’  minds?”, and explained why he considered the analogical argument to be unsatisfactory.

Then he discussed the nature of this question itself; and, among other things, described at some length the sort of circumstances under which he would wish to say that a person did not believe that other people had minds, or did believe that flowers felt.

A discussion followed.

Timothy Moore 

Haus Wittgenstein

"Coal War" - Joshua James (mp3)

"Mother Mary" - Joshua James (mp3)

"Magazine" - Joshua James (mp3)

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