Simply Wittgenstein

by James C. Klagge
Simply Wittgenstein


Ludwig Wittgenstein is generally considered as one of the most influential philosophers of modern times. A scion of a wealthy and troubled family in turn-of-the-century Austria (three of his brothers committed suicide), Wittgenstein is remembered today for his two great works, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) and Philosophical Investigations (1953), which remain both relevant and controversial to this day. In Simply Wittgenstein, Professor of Philosophy James Klagge presents a concise, yet highly illuminating, account of Wittgenstein’s masterpieces, weaving together philosophical, scientific, and biographical elements to introduce readers to the mind and work of an extraordinary thinker.


Born in Vienna into an extremely wealthy and highly cultured family, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) grew up surrounded by art, music, and a disturbing amount of dysfunctional behavior. After studying mechanical engineering and developing an interest in aeronautics, he became obsessed with mathematics and logic, which led to his life’s work exploring the relationship between language, philosophy, and reality.

In Simply Wittgenstein, James Klagge presents a fascinating portrait of this brilliant and troubled man, while exploring his two extraordinary books—the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations—in which he gave concrete form to his singular and perplexing ideas. Drawing on 30 years of teaching about Wittgenstein at both the undergraduate and graduate level, Klagge provides a clear and accessible introduction to these seminal works, helping the reader understand the revolutionary nature of Wittgenstein’s insights and the reason they continue to resonate in our own time.

Though Wittgenstein himself was convinced that he would never be properly understood, Simply Wittgenstein shows, with brevity and lucidity, that his ideas have had a profound and enduring effect on how we think about language and life.

About the author

James C. Klagge is Professor of Philosophy at Virginia Tech, where he has taught for 30 years. He has written, edited or co-edited four books on Wittgenstein, including Wittgenstein in Exile (2011), Ludwig Wittgenstein: Public and Private Occasions (2003), and Wittgenstein: Biography and Philosophy (2001). Klagge has a special interest in Wittgenstein's experiences as a teacher, and how they influenced his thought and writing.

About the series

Simply Charly's Great Lives Series offers brief, but authoritative introductions to the world's most influential people—scientists, artists, writers, economists, and other historical figures whose contributions have had a meaningful and enduring impact on our society. Each book, presented in an engaging, accessible and entertaining fashion, offers an illuminating look at their works, ideas and personal lives, and the legacies they left behind.

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"Professor Klagge gives us a bird’s eye view of the philosophy of one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. The book intertwines an accessible interpretation of Wittgenstein’s major works with the most relevant events in his life."

—Mauro Luiz Engelmann, Professor of Philosophy, Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil

“There is no one more well-suited to walk us through Wittgenstein’s life and work—together!—than James Klagge, who has shown before how philosophy and biography cohere. In the case of Wittgenstein, where the ideas and the life-story are unique, mesmerizing, and enigmatic, Klagge makes the philosophy not only accessible, but even relevant and applicable to current, real-life issues.”

—Anat Biletzki, author of (Over)Interpreting Wittgenstein, Albert Schweitzer Professor of Philosophy, Quinnipiac University

"This brief introduction to Wittgenstein's life and work presumes no previous knowledge on the reader's part. Yet Klagge shares with the reader little-known historical gems about Wittgenstein's personal and intellectual life. Employing his extensive knowledge of Wittgenstein's correspondence and other biographical resources, Klagge shows the reader what Wittgenstein was saying and writing to his friends at crucial points while developing his two major works: Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations. Klagge's own views affect how he presents the themes in those works, of course, but even readers who have already formulated views on Wittgenstein are bound to enjoy some of the new angles and biographical anecdotes he presents. Klagge's engaging, non-combative style and skill with an extensive array of biographical resources are to thank for this little book on Wittgenstein being so accessible and readable."

—Susan G. Sterrett, Curtis D. Gridley Distinguished Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, Wichita State University

"James C. Klagge’s new book Simply Wittgenstein offers a concise and accessible overview of Wittgenstein’s central ideas in the two major periods of his philosophical activity. Focusing on Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the posthumous Philosophical Investigations, Klagge explains the motivations, structures, and contents of Wittgenstein’s primary texts. The compact study is simply about without oversimplifying Wittgenstein’s intrinsically complex lifework. Klagge’s study makes an excellent resource for philosophy students and other interested readers to gain competent, authoritative exposure to the essentials of Wittgenstein’s thought."

—Dale Jacquette, Senior Professorial Chair in Logic and Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Bern, Switzerland

"Simply Wittgenstein is a lucidly concentrated presentation of the main lines of thought in Wittgenstein’s two major works against the background of Wittgenstein’s equally fascinating biography. Biography is no mere embellishment of philosophy here but is sparingly and sagely employed to illustrate the character and quality of Wittgenstein’s mind. In effect, Klagge whets the reader’s appetite for the original texts rather than merely summarizing their content. As co-editor (with Alfred Nordmann) of the most comprehensive anthologies of Wittgenstein’s philosophical and personal writings in English as well as a teacher of undergraduates for some thirty years, he is superbly qualified for that task. At a number of points, he introduces examples of current dilemmas about questions like what is a presidential election? Or is the idea of God essential to religion that show the relevance of Wittgensteinian ways of thinking to contemporary conceptual conundrums. Throughout, Professor Klagge never loses sight of the sense of silent wonder as the prerequisite of genuine philosophizing that Wittgenstein sought to awaken in his readers."

—Allan Janik, co-author of Wittgenstein's Vienna and Honorary Professor of Philosophy at the University of Vienna

“A tour de force. Not only does this accessible introduction offer a succinct, yet penetrating, understanding of the relation between Wittgenstein’s earlier and later philosophy—including his evolving thoughts on the nature of language, logic, philosophy, and religion—it treats the reader to a wealth of largely unknown biographical information. Demonstrating how Wittgenstein’s methodology might be brought to bear on philosophical and practical issues of concern today, James Klagge excels as philosopher, scholar and teacher to bring his subject to life. One of the few books I would recommend as a general introduction to the extraordinarily complex ideas of the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century. I learned a lot from it.”

—Dr. Julia Tanney, Philosopher, former Reader in Philosophy of Mind at the University of Kent

"There are many introductions to the life and work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, but I think James Klagge has produced the very best. Taking as his premise that his reader may know nothing about Wittgenstein or, for that matter, about philosophy, Klagge gives a lucid, charming, and wholly convincing account of Wittgenstein’s basic ideas, his way of thinking, his views on religion, culture, ethical behavior, and so on. He is especially good at explaining the root concepts like “language game,” "form of life,” and “private language.” But perhaps the highlight of this book is its set of applications: that is, how do Wittgenstein’s concepts and writings help us to understand the events of our time from courtroom cases to the bombing of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Wittgenstein, Klagge shows, literally helps us to live our lives: he is the philosopher par excellence of the twentieth—and now the twenty-first—centuries.

Klagge’s own clarity is exemplary: he never condescends to the reader and yet makes Wittgenstein’s thought wonderfully clear."

—Marjorie Perloff, author of Wittgenstein’s Ladder: Poetic Language and the Strangeness of the Ordinary and Sadie Dernham Patek Emerita Professor of Humanities at Stanford University




Biography, Philosophy



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Simply Charly


June 17, 2016

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