Queer Town Icon: Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein

Throughout history, the world has been shaped and influenced by the vast contributions of gays and lesbians. We don't always know or remember these important role models. Welcome to the "Queer Town Icon" series.

Known as one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, Ludwig Wittgenstein has influenced nearly every field of the humanities and social sciences.

"Death is not an event in life," Wittgenstein once stated, "we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present."

Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1889. His family was one of the wealthiest in Europe, but his life was marked by tragedy and depression -- three of his brothers committed suicide.

Unsurprisingly, the philosopher was something of maverick. When he inherited his father's money, for example, Wittgenstein divided it among his family and artistic friends and left himself nearly nothing.

Wittgenstein played a major role in analytic philosophy.

"By showing the application of modern logic to metaphysics, via language," the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states, "he provided new insights into the relations between world, thought and language and thereby into the nature of philosophy."

He's known for his two stages of thought. That from his 1922 book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which he started making notes for when he was a solider in World War I, and later the 1953 book Philosophical Investigations.

In that, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes, Wittgenstein "took the more revolutionary step in critiquing all of traditional philosophy including its climax in his own early work. The nature of his new philosophy is heralded as anti-systematic through and through, yet still conducive to genuine philosophical understanding of traditional problems."

These impressive works continue to make an impact on the world today.

Wittgenstein once wrote: "Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself."

At different times, Wittgenstein worked as a gardener, a philosophy professor, and an architect -- he designed a modernist home for his sister that some people consider to be a masterpiece.

In 1993, director Derek Jarman made a film about the philosopher titled "Wittgenstein."

Wittgenstein died from prostate cancer in 1951. Critic Terry Eagleton described him as the "philosopher of poets and composers, novelists and movie directors."

The philosopher once wrote: "A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that's unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push."

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.


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