In his book, “Autism and Creativity: Is there a Link Between Autism in Men and Exceptional Ability?”, Michael Fitzgerald, a leading authority on autism and Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Trinity College, Dublin, claims Wittgenstein had higher functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). He claims that autism may even be the crucial ingredient of human creativity.
Using Wittgenstein as a case-study later in the book, Fitzgerald argues that the Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations represent a process of social maturation in Wittgenstein, and that his focus on the social dimension of language in the PI mirrors the kind of personal development commonly seen in many people with AS.
Given Wittgenstein’s interpersonal relationships and cognitive styles, Ishisaka Yoshiki concludes Wittgenstein had AS, classification ICD-10. The interpersonal diagnosis is based on the following behavorial characterisitcs of Wittgenstein:
– Lack of empathy for others
– Lack of sense of social interaction, detached
– Daily life was obsessive, stereotypic, persistent
– Strange accent and intonation
Yoshiki compared Wittgenstein’s cognitive style evident in his writings with the cognitive dysfunctions seen in autism. In particular, Yoshiki considers that the lack of integration evident in Wittgenstein’s thinking, its fragmentary and analytical nature, is diagnostically important, and speculates that his preference for pictorial thinking is designed to combat this dysfunction.
One difficulty with Fitzgerald’s and Yoshiki’s claim is that posthumous diagnosis is highly unreliable. Intense interest in a subject (philosophy in Wittgenstein’s case) , difficulties in social interaction, communication and imagination are typical traits of autism, but not sufficient for an autism spectrum diagnosis. It is not possible to diagnose the dead, so nothing definitive can be said about the Asperger status of historical figures. Of course, the lack of diagnosis during Wittgenstein’s lifetime does not suggest that there was nothing to diagnose, but the validity of historical diagnosis is questionable.
Asperger’s Syndrome historical shortlist (in no particular order): Russell, Einstein, Newton, Bartok, Warhol, Nietszche, Gould, Turing, Jung, Carroll.
Links to related material on Wittgenstein and Asperger’s Syndrome: