Ralph Blumenau reviews Wittgenstein and Judaism (2005) by Ranjit Chatterjee.

The first quarter of this original and thought-provoking reading of Wittgenstein is not directly concerned with his attitude to Judaism, but is all the same, an essential preliminary to what follows. In these pages Dr Chatterjee establishes three aspects of the general character of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Firstly, he devotes some time to challenging the idea that there were two distinct Wittgenstein philosophies. He is often supposed to have abandoned the philosophy of the Tractatus for that of the Philosophical Investigations. Chatterjee’s contention that the two books really go together is supported by Wittgenstein himself, who expressed the hope that they could be published together in one volume. Secondly, Dr Chatterjee describes Wittgenstein’s method: his lapidary sentences – really “chapter headings” as Wittgenstein himself once described them – leaving the exposition of these headings to the reader. No wonder that many readers are not up to this, or, like the Logical Positivists, drew conclusions from them which Wittgenstein then strongly repudiated. Thirdly, Dr Chatterjee comments on the mystical side of Wittgenstein, famously exemplified by the last sentence of the Tractatus: “What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, coupled as it was with the note to his publisher that what the book did not contain was more important than what it did. Wittgenstein held that not only were ethics and aesthetics more important than the investigation of language; but the investigation of language showed how subjective its usage must be and that it could not solve any philosophical problems.

The entire review is here at Philosophy Now.


Further Reading

Abrahamovitch, H. The Jewish Heritage of Ludwig Wittgenstein: Its Influence on His Life and Work. Transcultural Psychiatry, Vol. 43, No. 4, 533-553. 


This article discusses two aspects of Wittgenstein’s Jewish heritage. First, we try to show that Wittgenstein was acutely aware of his own Jewish heritage and especially concerned about its potential influence on his work. Second, we suggest that the form of his work, specifically, his method of inquiry and the peculiar literary character of his work, bear a striking resemblance to that of Hebrew Talmud. Like other assimilated Jews of Central Europe, Wittgenstein may have been directly or indirectly exposed to Hebraic culture and Talmudic logic. An understanding of Wittgenstein’s Jewish heritage provides an important and neglected perspective on his work.

Klagge, James C., ed. 2001. Wittgenstein: Biography and Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.

Book review here at the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Stern, D. 2000. The Significance of Jewishness For Wittgenstein’s Philosophy. Inquiry, Vol. 43, No. 4, 383-401.


Did Wittgenstein consider himself a Jew? Should we? Wittgenstein repeatedly wrote about Jews and Judaism in the 1930s, and biographical studies make it clear that this writing about Jewishness was a way in which he thought about the kind of person he was and the nature of his philosophical work. Those who have written about Wittgenstein on the Jews have drawn very different conclusions. But much of this debate is confused, because the notion of being a Jew, of Jewishness, is itself ambiguous and problematic. The paper provides a close reading of leading passages in which Wittgenstein discusses Jews and Jewishness, and argues that previous interpreters have been too quick to condemn or defend him. If we consider what it could mean to say that Wittgenstein was, or was not, a Jew, we will see that Wittgenstein’s problems with ‘Jewishness’ arise out of the philosophically problematic nature of the concept, a philosophical problem he was unable to resolve.