Piero Sraffa, 1929 

Robert Vienneau at Thoughts on Economics mentions the publication of a new edition of Wittgenstein’s letters by Blackwell. Here is an excerpt from one written by Wittgenstein to Sraffa in 1934:

Dear Sraffa,

The following are some remarks I’ve put down on the topic of our last conversation. I hope they won’t be too disconnected and that you’ll read them to the end.

You said, “The Austrians can do most of things the Germans did.” I say, How do you know? What circumstances are you taking into account if you say they can? “This man, Austria, can remove the wedding ring from his finger.” True, it’s not too heavy and doesn’t stick to his finger. But he may be ashamed of doing it, hiw wife may not allow it, etc.

You say, “Learn from what happened in Italy.” But what should I learn? I don’t know exactly how things happened in Italy. So the only lesson I can draw is that things one doesn’t expect sometimes happen.

I ask, How will this whose face I can’t imagine in a rage looks when he gets into a rage? And can he get into a rage? What shall I say when I see him in a rage? Not only, “Ah, so he can get into a rage after all,” but also, “So this is the way he can be in a rage; so this is how it connects up with his former appearance.”

You say to me, “If a man is in a rage, the muscles a, b, c of his face contract. This man has the muscles a, b, c, so why shouldn’t they contract? If you, Wittgenstein, wish to know what he will look like in a rage, just imagine him with those muscles contracted. What will Austria look like when it turns Nazi? There will be no Socialist Part, there won’t be Jewish judges, etc., etc., etc. That’s what it’ll look like.”

I reply, This gives me no picture of a face; apart from the fact that I don’t know enough about the workings of things to know whether all these changes that you point out will happen together. For I understand what it means to say that the muscles a, b, c will contract, but what will become of the many muscles, etc., between them? Can’t the contraction of the one in this particular face prevent the contraction of the others? Do you know how in this particular case things interact?

Entire letter here.

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