Archetypes of Wisdom
Douglas J. Soccio
Chapter 17
The Twentieth Century: Ludwig
Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger
Learning Objectives
On completion of this chapter, you should be able to
answer the following questions:
What is philosophical deconstruction?
What is analytical philosophy?
What is philosophical realism?
What makes a proposition meaningful?
What is phenomenology?
What is constructivism?
What is ontology?
What is the “They”?
What is “Idle Talk”?
What is the “Standing-Reserve”?
By the twentieth century, philosophers were struggling
with the “post-Nietzschean deconstruction of
Philosophical deconstruction is a close textual analysis
that focuses on uncovering and overcoming “privileges”
hidden in philosophic arguments and theories by taking a
text “apart.”
Philosophical deconstruction has its most direct and
influential expression in Nietzsche’s critique of Western
philosophy as just one more historically rooted expression
of the will to power.
Two Approaches to Philosophy
There have been two influential trends in twentieth century
Analytical philosophy
Continental philosophy
Analytic Philosophy
Analytic philosophy stresses logic, testability, precision
and clarity.
Common to this way of approaching philosophy is the
notion that the universe consists of independent (atomic)
entities, material particles, sense data, impressions, and
Logical and linguistic analyses are said to be the only
proper methods for sorting out philosophical confusions.
One philosophical archetype of the analytical approach is
Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Continental Philosophy
Continental philosophy tends to explain things not by
reducing them to simple entities but by understanding them
in a broader, holistic, historical context.
This approach includes phenomenology, existentialism,
and Deconstruction.
One philosophical archetype of the continental approach is
Martin Heidegger.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
One of the most influential analytic philosophers, Ludwig
Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was born into a prominent
family in Austria. As a child and young man Wittgenstein
exhibited numerous talents and interests.
In 1912, Wittgenstein registered at Cambridge University to
study under Bertrand Russell, one of the most prominent
philosophers in the world at the time.
From 1911 to 1913, Wittgenstein discussed the foundations
of logic and philosophy with Russell and key figures such
as philosopher G. E. Moore (1873-1958), economist John
Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), and mathematician and
philosopher Frank Ramsey (1903-1930).
In 1914, at the start of WWI, Wittgenstein joined the
Austrian army. He was captured in 1917.
While a prisoner of war he wrote his first major work,
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
In 1920, Wittgenstein temporarily gave up philosophy,
convinced that in the Tractatus he had, once and for all,
solved philosophical problems.
He worked for some time as a gardener in a monastery,
then as a grade school teacher and finally as an architect.
In 1929, Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge where he was
awarded a Ph.D. Over the next several years he worked
intensely and rejected many of his former philosophical
In 1939, Wittgenstein was made a professor at Cambridge.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s he worked on his second
major work, the Philosophical Investigations. It was
published posthumously.
In 1951, Wittgenstein died of prostate cancer.
What Are You Talking About?
Analytic philosophers emphasize the need to clear up
linguistic confusions to show that most philosophical
“problems” are based upon an abuse of language.
Analytic philosophers are very interested in technical
issues in language and logic, as opposed to traditional
philosophical concerns such as the meaning of life.
Early analytic philosophers tended to advocate realism.
Realism is the belief that there exists an independent
objective world of accessible things and facts.
Philosophy should concern itself with identifying and
eliminating mistaken claims about reality.
The Tractatus
Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is seen as a major example of the
linguistic-analytical turn in twentieth century philosophy.
The Tractatus consists of seven main propositions and
comments on those seven, arranged numerically. He
attempts to show the underlying structure of language.
His basic point is this: what cannot be said cannot be
thought; trying to say the unsayable amounts to trying to
say the unthinkable.
Wittgenstein argues that the complex propositions of
ordinary language are meaningful only if they are
analyzable into simpler, ultimately elemental propositions
that consist only of names.
The Tractatus
In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein further argues:
Analysis must end in simple unanalyzable names that
refer to objects.
Sentences that cannot be reduced to simple symbols are
Ultimately, all meaningful sentences fall under the
natural sciences.
Traditional philosophical problems as such do not exist.
Philosophy is ultimately an ethical and therapeutic
enterprise that enables us to see the world afresh.
Philosophical Investigations
Upon reflection, Wittgenstein determined that the
Tractatus itself relied upon illegitimate metaphysical
Accordingly, rather than one meaningful language, there
are many different languages with many different
structures and many different uses.
In the Investigations and other writings, Wittgenstein talks
about languages as we use it in ordinary life, using such
expressions as “forms of life,” “language games,” and
“family resemblances,” not as once-and-for-all, fixed,
logically exact relationships, but rather as certain kinds of
natural human practices.
Philosophical Investigations
Wittgenstein now thinks of words as tools and sentences as
The structure of language now determines the structure of
thought and consequently the structure of experience.
Wittgenstein’s Turn
Fact-stating is only one language use; there are countless
others and thus countless ways of experiencing the world.
Language as used in ordinary life exemplifies certain kinds
of natural human practices.
When philosophy succeeds, it allows us to give
philosophical problems a rest.
According to Wittgenstein,“Philosophy is a battle against
the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of
Martin Heidegger
To admirers, Martin Heidegger is seen as one of the most
important philosophers of the twentieth century. To
detractors, he is dismissed as an incoherent Nazi
Heidegger (1889-1976) grew up in a small rural village in
southern Germany. He attended a Jesuit high school with
the intention of becoming a priest but had a nervous
breakdown, and eventually decided to pursue philosophy.
In 1915, Heidegger sought a position at the University of
Freiburg where, in 1916, Edmund Husserl began
teaching. Husserl was an extremely important influence on
In 1927, Heidegger began teaching at the University of
Marburg where he met Hannah Arendt.
Heidegger was known as a brilliant teacher in great part
due to his conviction that philosophy cannot be divorced
from life.
In 1927, Heidegger published his most famous, though
incomplete work, Being and Time.
During the 1930’s, Heidegger’s reputation was severely
tarnished by his association with the Nazi Party.
Heidegger’s Children
Nonetheless, Heidegger was vastly influential regarding
the works of many later philosophers, including:
Jean-Paul Sartre and Hannah Arendt, in existentialism
and phenomenology.
Hans-Georg Gadamer in hermeneutics.
Jacques Derrida in deconstructionism.
Richard Rorty in pragmatism.
Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich in theology.
Charles Taylor and Stanley Cavell in analytical
The Science of Being
Phenomenology is a method of philosophical analysis first
developed by Edmund Husserl.
It involves an attempt to reveal the “essence” of human
consciousness through “descriptive analysis.”
Phenomenology developed as a reaction to constructivism,
the epistemological notion that all knowledge is a product
of the human mind.
For Husserl, consciousness is always consciousness of
The Science of Being
According to Husserl, we do not need to answer the
skeptic’s challenge as to whether the objects of
consciousness ever exist objectively.
It is enough for all human purposes that the objects of
consciousness exist simply as objects of consciousness.
Husserl, and Heidegger after him, were deeply concerned
with a European crisis associated with the spread of
relativism, skepticism and the use of science to
“objectivize” psychic life, the life of the spirit, and reduce
the spiritual realm to matter.
Being Human
Heidegger’s blend of phenomenology, ontology, and
existentialism evolved from studying Husserl’s ideas.
According to Heidegger, Husserl saw phenomenology as
the science of beings (in the plural), whereas it is more
properly understood as the science of Being with a capital
“B”. Toward this end, Heidegger attempted to articulate the
fundamental condition of uniquely human existence.
He talks about human “be-ing” (humanity) and individual
human beings, as well as existing in a uniquely human
way, not as a mere object of scientific inquiry.
What makes us uniquely human is not detached
knowledge, but fundamental concern about our condition.
The Meaning of Being
In Being and Time, Heidegger struggles to articulate what
he calls the “fundametnal ontology of Being.”
Heidegger notes that we can be described from two
different levels.
One level is the ordinary, day-to-day level of facts.
Heidegger calls this the ontic level.
We are unique among beings because our nature and the
fact that we exist at all is something we care about,
something that matters to us.
The Meaning of Being
Indeed, our concern with the deeper meaning of our own
existence is part of our very essence, part of who and what
we are, a reflection of a deeper level of Being.
Heidegger calls this the ontological level of Being.
This is the level of our uniquely human way of existing in
the world.
The essence of being human is that we make choices.
We lose the “meaning of Being” in the course of our ontic
To be human is to be amazed in the presence of Being.
The “They”
Anxiety offers us a way to choose authentic existence or to
choose to fall into inauthenticity.
When the burdens of the human condition prove too much
to bear, we often seek inauthentic escape by loosing
ourselves in the “they.”
When we seek false ontological solace in the “they,” we
descend from empathetic Being-with-others to Being-withone-another.
We allow an “aggregate average” to determine how we live
and think.
Idle Talk
With the “they” there can be no dialogue, but only “idle
Fallenness is Heidegger’s term for inauthenticity. It is a
mode of being in which we are lost in and dominated by
the world.
For Heidegger, authenticity means living in and with
anxiety in the “moody understanding” of our
An authentic individual lives honestly and courageously in
the moment, refuses to make excuses, and does not rely on
groups or institutions for meaning or purpose.
The Age of Technology
In his analysis of technology, Heidegger says that
calculative technological thinking sees everything as
“standing-reserve,” a source of energy to be stored to await
our beck and call.
This way of thinking transforms human beings into beings
“just there,” entities to be used and treated like everything
else in the standing-reserve.
The essence of technology is a way of looking at the world
as raw material to be used.
Technology is a frame of mind that we have not chosen
and that characterizes and dominates our era.
Humanity is a Conversation
Conversation for Heidegger is progressively attuned
communication about Being. It is the language function
that makes this possible.
Language enables us to be amazed by Being.
Participants in a conversation are not merely exchanging
information, but rather are attuned to each other and to
whatever they are talking about.
All conversations are really one conversation, the subject
of which, ultimately, is Being.
Final Thoughts
“When we do philosophy we are like savages, primitive
people, who hear the expressions of civilized men, put a
false interpretation on them, and then draw the queerest
conclusions from it.” - Ludwig Wittgenstein
“Perhaps the distinction of this age consists in the fact that
the dimension of grace has been closed. Perhaps this is its
unique dis-grace.” - Martin Heidegger
Discussion Questions
Has language ever “bewitched” your intelligence? Think
carefully before you say “no.” Consider, as just three
possibilities, “he changed his mind,” “she is not being her
true self,” “God is everywhere.”
Do you agree with Rorty that Heidegger’s Nazism is
irrelevant to his philosophy? Would his religious beliefs be
relevant? Does it matter philosophically if a proponent of
vegetarianism eats meat? When, if ever, are a
philosopher’s personal beliefs and habits philosophically
Chapter Review:
Key Concepts and Thinkers
Analytical philosophy
Continental philosophy
The “They”
Idle Talk
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

Archetypes of Wisdom