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The last words of Ludwig Wittgenstein

The last words of Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher, who worked in the fields of mathematical logic, philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He born in Vienna in 1889, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential philosophers of any age.

His final words were:

Tell them I've had a wonderful life.

Source: Wittgenstein: A Wonderful Life, Tim Madigan, 2006.

Background to Ludwig Wittgenstein's last words

Wittgenstein came from an exceedingly wealthy Austrian family but gave all his money away in order not to be distracted from his intellectual life. He arrived in England in 1908, initially to study Aeronautical Engineering at Manchester University, during which time he showed much promise, inventing a form of rotor blade that is still in use today. After reading Bertrand Russell's work on the foundations of mathematics he travelled to Cambridge to introduce himself to Russell and eventually became his pupil. It soon became clear that his depth of thought was more profound than other thinkers of his time and the pupil readily outstripped the teacher.

With the publication of Wittgenstein's Tractatus in 1921 he concluded that the problems of philosophy were all effectively solved and, declaring that he had no more interest in the subject, decided to do something that he considered more useful and took up a post as a primary school teacher in a small Austrian village.

It has often been suggested that Wittgenstein had Asperger's Syndrome. He certainly had a profoundly penetrating intellect and an inability to see through the eyes of other people, which are classic symptoms of the condition. These traits made him an impatient teacher and were the cause throughout his life of him being seen as aloof and somewhat intimidating. This was the source of regret for Ludwig, who in reality had a deeply compassionate regard for others, which he found impossible to communicate face to face.

He did return to philosophy in later life and, somewhat reluctantly, took up the post of professor at Cambridge University. He was certainly the most influential philosopher of the 20th century and probably the only philosopher who is widely acknowledged as a genius.

When he contracted prostate cancer in 1951 he went to stay with friends in Cambridge and, when he wasn't expected to survive the night and with other friends due to visit the following morning, he made his famous utterance - "tell them I've had a wonderful life". This statement is something of a rarity as last words go as we can say with some certainty that it was the last thing he ever said. It is also unusual in that, although he may have believed it, the sentiment doesn't accord with what seems a rather lonely life. It is quite possible that he said it in order to ease the burden of those who were coming to mourn his passing.