Our gospels define us
Sun Feb 27, 2011
I’m reading a fascinating book about the Wittgenstein family. It’s called House Wittgenstein, a family a war. The book main focuses on Paul Wittgenstein, the left armed concert pianist, nonetheless there are many things detailed in this book that have dramatically informed my opinion on both Ludwig Wittgenstein and his philosophy.
Two things I want to mention here, firstly much of Ludwig’s approach to life was influenced by Tolstoy’s work The Gospel in Brief (The parallels between the two works are drawn out very nicely here), secondly Wittgenstein’s close family constantly refer to him as being a saint in their personal correspondences.
When you read the Tractatus it’s hard not to notice the rather spiritual aspects of the work. I was originally introduced to the work in the context of the logical positivists and the Vienna Circle. Back then I recall that Wittgenstein himself didn’t have a great deal of time for that movement, and seeing where part of his main influence has come from this no longer surprises me.
By the account in this book, Wittgenstein seemed to attract a rather cult like following at Cambridge. His family thought of him as being the rather slow and stupid sibling, and were rather embarrassed that England had taken him to heart as a great philosopher.
On another note The history of Rome podcast presented a very interesting point of view a few episodes ago on one of the driving motivations for the spread of Christianity. This happened within the context of a roman culture where most of the population were slaves. Christianity offered salvation to all people, including slaves, and so for a time when there was great uncertainty in the world, and no other structured religion really offering anything to many people, Christianity spread rapidly. The times drove the adoption of their gospel.
I think now to the last 80 years. Wittgenstein’s work is a powerful one, and the author displayed aspects of sainthood in his persona, yet his work has not gained widespread dissemination. His fame has, but not so much his work. One of the most widely spreading “Gospels” of this age is that of scientology, which seems to be a fame driven message. I believe that the gospels being chosen now are a good reflection of the times we live in.