Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Chronology of his Life & Work

Childhood, Youth, and Student Years

Birth, Childhood & Youth 

1889

26th April, 8.30 pm: a fifth son, Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, the youngest of eight children, is born to Poldy and Karl in their house at Neuwaldegg, then on the outskirts of Vienna (McGuinness, 2nd edition, p.viii; Kanterian, p.14). He is baptised in his mother’s faith, as a catholic (Richter, p.xxi).

1890

Fanny Figdor, LW’s paternal grandmother, dies in Hietzing, Vienna (Wiener Ausgabe, p.11; Kanterian, p.12 Waugh, p.219).  

1891

LW and his siblings are brought up by an unsympathetic nursemaid, Fraülein Elise, until LW is six years old (McGuinness, p.27).

1892

Karl arranges a private performance of Johannes Brahms’ clarinet quintet in the Alleegasse house, in Vienna, which Brahms attended (McGuinness, p.19).

1893

LW starts speaking, at around the age of four (Monk, p.12).

(Also in 1893: Publication of the first volume of Frege’s Die Grundgesetze der Arithmetik [The Basic Laws of Arithmetic]).

 

1894

LW is educated at home by private tutors, according to his father’s wishes, until the age of 14 (McGuinness, pp.24-5). He receives formal religious instruction from a priest, for example (McGuinness, p.43).

Karl acquires the Hochreit, near Hohenberg, Lower Austria, a country estate and hunting lodge in the mountains not far from Vienna, where the Wittgenstein family proceed to live each Summer (Wiener Ausgabe, p.14, Wittgenstein in Cambridge, p.32, note). He acquired and developed it mainly for his eldest daughter, Hermine (McGuinness, pp.29, 46).

LW’s childhood and early youth are spent in Vienna and at the Hochreit.

(Also in 1894: Posthumous publication of Heinrich Hertz’s Die Prinzipien der Mechanik [The Principles of Mechanics]).

1896

LW’s eldest brother, Hans, aged 9 and a musical prodigy, plays violin in St. Peter’s Church, Vienna (McGuinness, p.26).

(Also in 1896: Publication of Ernst Mach’s Populär-wissenschaftliche Vorlesungen [Popular Scientific Lectures], and his Die Principien der Wärmelehre [Principles of the Theory of Heat]).

1897

Karl Wittgenstein’s Prague Iron Industry company exchanges directors with Viennese bank Credit-Anstalt, and transfers its business to that company (McGuinness, pp.15-16).

1898

Karl (aged 51) returns to Vienna after a long foreign holiday, and dramatically resigns from all his boards and offices in the wake of a scandal and its attendant public criticism, transferring his fortune into real estate, stocks and shares in Switzerland, Holland, and the U.S.A. (McGuinness, pp.15-16; Wiener Ausgabe, p.12; Sterrett, p.73; Waugh, p.19).

October: The Vienna Secession building, designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, and for which Karl Wittgenstein had supplied much of the funding, was completed.

1899

Karl leaves the board of Credit-Anstalt and the Credit-Anstalt directors leave the Prague Iron Industry company’s board (McGuinness, p.16). Aged 52, Karl retires from business life (McGuinness, p.16).

LW, aged 10, constructs a working-model of the family’s sewing-machine from wood and wire (McGuinness, p.45; Monk, p.13).

(Also in 1899: First appearance of Karl Kraus’s satirical journal Die Fackel (Monk, p.16). Publication of Joseph Jastrow’s article ‘The Mind’s Eye’, Popular Science Monthly, vol.54, 1899, in which the ‘duck-rabbit’ figure appeared (for the first time)).

1900

March: Gustav Klimt exhibits his fresco ‘Philosophy’, for which Karl Wittgenstein had supplied the funds, at the seventh Secession Exhibition (McGuinness, p.18). The Rector of the University of Vienna agitates opinion against the work (see http://www.kilidavid.com/Art/Pages/Artists/klimt.htm).

1901

LW’s eldest brother, Hans, aged 25, runs away from home and flees abroad (Waugh, p.28).

1902

April or May: LW’s eldest brother, Hans, disappears from a boat, aged 26 (stories vary as to where this happened: Chesapeake Bay, Massachusetts seems to be the favourite). Suicide is presumed (McGuinness, p.26, Monk, p.12; Wiener Ausgabe, p.14; Kanterian, p.16; Waugh, p.28).

Carl Sjögren and his wife Mima have a son, Arvid (later to marry LW’s niece Clara) (McGuinness family tree).

1903

One of the family tutors reveals to Karl that his sons are not learning much. Incensed, Karl tests them on what they have learnt, confirming their ignorance, and alters his plans for their education, sending them to school (Mc, pp.44, 50). The news of Hans’s suicide also contributes to the feeling that their previous method of education was inadequate (Mc, p.44). Paul goes to a Gymnasium in Wiener Neustadt (Mc, p.50).

LW (aged 14), his preparatory education being inadequate for a Viennese Gymnasium (Grammar School), despite having undergone a period of intense extra tuition (Waugh, p.36), begins three years of schooling at the Staatsoberrealschule in Linz, Austria (receiving there a less classical but more practical education than he would have had in a Gymnasium) (Wiener Ausgabe, p.14). LW welcomes the prospect of going to school far from Vienna (McGuinness, p.50) (Linz being about 150km away). While there, he lives with a Dr. Strigl, a schoolmaster from another school (McGuinness, p.50; Sterrett, p.75), and forms a friendship with Strigls’s son, Pepi (Mc, p.51).

As part of his studies, LW takes courses in both mathematics and Elemente der darstellende Geometrie (descriptive geometry) in all three years (Hamilton 2001a, p.57). However, LW’s elite background does not suit him well to this new school environment, and his performance there is mediocre (McGuinness, pp.44, 51). He performs well only in Religious Knowledge (grade 1), English, and Conduct (grade 2) (McGuinness, p.51; Kanterian, p.22). In French, Geography, History, Mathematics, Natural History, and Physics he gets grade 3, and in German, Chemistry, Descriptive Geometry and Freehand Drawing only grade 4 (out of 5) (McGuinness, p.51). Despite the good mark in Religion, LW loses his religious faith while at this school, following conversations with his sister Gretl (McGuinness, p.43; Monk, p.18; Kanterian, p.22).

During the years 1903-6 LW reads works by Arthur Schopenhauer, Otto Weininger, Ludwig Boltzmann (and perhaps also by Heinrich Hertz), as well as Franz Reuleaux’s Kinematics of Machinery (published 1875) (McGuinness, pp.39-41; Monk, p.26; Wiener Ausgabe, p.14; plus Cambridge Archive).

(Also in 1903: Frege publishes the second volume of his Grundgesetze der Arithmetik, Bertrand Russell publishes The Principles of Mathematics, G.E.Moore publishes Principia Ethica, and Otto Weininger publishes Geschlecht und Charakter [Sex and Character] (in the Spring), but then dramatically commits suicide (4th October) at the house where Beethoven had died. The Wright brothers make their first flight (Sterrett, p.62). Frank Plumpton Ramsey is born (Kanterian, p.82).

1904

2nd May: LW’s brother Rudolf (‘Rudi’) commits suicide in Berlin, by taking poison (McGuinness, pp.27-8; Monk, p.12; Sterrett, pp.73-4; Waugh, pp.22-3).

LW’s father, Karl, becomes more sympathetic to Ludwig’s desire to stay away from school, advising his wife that he could laze around at home, or go into a workshop (Wiener Ausgabe, p.14).

(Also in 1904: Publication of a Festschrift for Ludwig Boltzmann which included Frege’s essay ‘Was ist ein Funktion?’ (Künne 2009, p.27)).

1905

7th January: Margarete, Ludwig’s second sister, marries a wealthy American, Jerome Stonborough (Waugh, p.20). Gustav Klimt is commissioned to paint her wedding portrait (Monk, p.9).

LW reads Schopenhauer’s book Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Idea, first published in 1818).

Asked to specify his intended vocation, LW vacillates between physics and engineering (Spelt & McGuinness 2001, p.131).

(Also in 1905: Publication of Ludwig Boltzmann’s Populäre Schriften (including his 1894 essay ‘On Aeronautics’) (see Sterrett, pp.xxi, 42, 47, 72), Bertrand Russell’s ‘On Denoting’, and Ernst Mach’s Erkenntnis und Irrtum [Cognition and Error]).

Ludwig’s Student Years, 1: Berlin 

1906

Summer: LW finishes school in Linz, and matriculates, having specified Physik (physics) as his intended vocation (Spelt & McGuinness 2001, p.131). Shortly after leaving school he reads Boltzmann’s Populäre Schriften (Waugh, p.48). He had already planned to attend the Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Berlin, before he expressed an intention to study physics under Boltzmann in Vienna, and perhaps even ‘applied for a place in Boltzmann’s class at the University of Vienna’ (Waugh, p.48). But Boltzmann commits suicide while on holiday with his family in Duino, near Trieste, on September 5th 1906, putting paid to any such scheme (Sterrett, pp.48, 75, 107; Waugh, p.49).

23rd October: LW registers instead at the Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Berlin (‘the MIT of imperial Germany’ (Hamilton 2001, p.55; Sterrett, p.77), and begins his studies in mechanical engineering (Maschinenbau). While studying in Berlin, LW lodges with the family one of his professors, Stanislaus Jolles (Spelt & McGuinness 2001, p.134). But he later described his time there during these three semesters as having been wasted (Wiener Ausgabe, p.15; Waugh, p.49).

During his first Winter semester 1906-7, he would have taken courses in: Darstellende Geometrie, Höhere Mathematik (Differential-und-integral-Rechnung, Analytische Geometrie) mit Übungen, Mechanische Technologie I und Eisenhüttenkunde, Experimental-Physik, Mechanik I, Einleitung in den Maschinenbau (introduction to mechanical engineering), either Einführung in die Experimental-Chemie or Abriß der Experimental-Chemie, and Allgemeine Volkswirtschaftslehre I und II (Hamilton 2001a, pp.58-9, 63).

In the first Summer semester, he would have taken all these, together with Einführung in die Elektrotechnik (introduction to electrical technology) (Hamilton 2001a, pp.58-9, 63).

1907

In 1907-8 LW took courses in: Maschinenelemente, Mechanische Technologie II und Materiallenkunde, Wärmetechnik, Übungen I im Maschinen-Laboratorium, Mechanik II, Graphische Statik, Hebemaschinen, Arbeitsmachinen, Elektromechanik, Übungen I im Elektrotechnischen-Laboratorium, and Volkswirtschaftspolitik I und II (H 2001a, pp.57, 58-9, 64, 93 note).

While at Charlottenburg, LW is inspired by reading the diaries of Gottfried Keller, and starts writing his own diary (Kanterian, p.29), as well as writing philosophical reflections in dated notebooks (Monk, p.27). LW’s sister Hermine described him as having been ‘suddenly gripped by philosophy’, violently and against his will, during his time at Charlottenburg (McGuinness, p.73).

1908

5th May: LW receives his Abgangzeugnis (engineering certificate) from Charlottenburg (Wiener Ausgabe, p.15; H 2001a, p.93, Monk, p.27).

Ludwig’s Student Years, 2: Manchester

Spring 1908: On his father’s advice, LW goes to Manchester, England (Monk, p.28, plus Cambridge Archive), and enrols in the College of Technology there, to pursue research in aeronautical engineering (Cambridge Archive; Wiener Ausgabe, p.15). The members of staff at the University included Sir Horace Lamb (Professor of Mathematics, and author of the standard text Hydrodynamics, a 1907 German translation of the third edition of which (1906) Wittgenstein owned) (H 2001b, p.9 and note, Monk, p.34; Spelt & McGuinness 2001), and the physicist Ernest Rutherford (Sterrett, pp.78, 82).

Summer: As an initial, Summer position, LW begins by being involved with experiments with kites at an outpost of Manchester University, the Upper Air Experimental Kite Flying Station near Glossop, Derbyshire (Sterrett, p.81). While involved in this work, LW stays at The Grouse Inn, Glossop (Monk, p.29), and while staying there, meets William Eccles, one of his fellow engineering students, with whom he was to make friends (Mays, p.3).

(August 1908: Wilbur Wright began a series of flights in France (Sterrett, p.20)).

Autumn: LW registers as a research student in aeronautical engineering in the Engineering Laboratory at Manchester University (Monk, p.30; Sterrett, p.21), and begins working on the design and construction of a jet-reaction aircraft engine. His interest soon shifts from the engine itself, to the propeller, for which he creates a new design (Malcolm 1984, p.5, Monk, p.34; Sterrett, pp.83, 89). While at Manchester, LW lives in lodgings on the Wilmslow Road (Waugh, p.168).

Also at Manchester were the mathematician J.E.Littlewood, whose lectures on mathematical analysis LW attends (Spelt & McGuinness 2001, p.132; Hide, p.74; Kanterian, p.31), and who was a good friend of Bertrand Russell’s, and the philosopher Samuel Alexander, who also knew Russell, and who would have known Frege’s work.

While at Manchester, LW develops an interest in mathematical aspects of engineering, then in mathematics itself, and then in the foundations or philosophy of mathematics (Malcolm 1984, p.5, Hamilton 2001b, p.10). One of his fellow students introduces him to Russell’s book The Principles of Mathematics, which he then studies (Monk, pp.30, 33). (Russell’s book contains a chapter on Hertz’s Principles of Mechanics, so if LW had not already read parts of Hertz’s book before this point, he should by now have known about his mechanics (see McGuinness, p.75)). Russell’s book prompted LW to write to him (Cambridge Archive).

LW also studies Frege’s Grundgesetze der Arithmetik (Monk, pp.30, 33), which he might also have found out about from Russell’s book, which contains an appendix on Frege (Mays, p.11).

(Some commentators think it likely that LW’s first visit to Jena to meet Frege occurred during his time at Manchester. But Peter Geach’s version of LW’s report of their first meeting strongly suggests not (see Künne 2009, p.27; McGuinness, p.74)).

(Some commentators have also conjectured that it was Samuel Alexander who recommended that LW contact Frege (see Sterrett 2006, p.92, but cf. McGuinness, p.75; Mays, p.10-11, and Künne 2009, p.27, note 3)).

October: LW, having derived some aeronautical equations, shows them to one of his professors, Sir Horace Lamb. Lamb isn’t sure whether they could be solved by the methods of the day (Spelt & McGuinness 2001, p.132).

[Date?] As a result of his work on the foundations of mathematics and his ongoing work with Whitehead, Russell is elected to the Royal Society (McGuinness, p.85).

1909

April: LW must have made his first attempt to solve Russell’s paradox by this point, since, in a conversation with Russell, the Cambridge mathematician P.E.B.Jourdain mentions a ‘reply’ that he (Jourdain) had given to LW concerning this attempt (McGuinness, pp.74, 76; Monk, p.33; Grattan-Guinness 1977, pp.114-5; Sterrett, p.92). (Jourdain, too, knew the work of both Russell and Frege (McGuinness, p.168; Mays, p.13, note)).

(25th July: Louis Bleriot flew across the English Channel (Sterrett, p.88)).

Autumn: One of the Professors supervising LW’s work was Joseph Ernst Petavel, F.R.S., director of Manchester University’s engineering laboratories. Petavel encourages Wittgenstein by providing him with a high-duty compressor from the physics laboratory which LW needs for his research on high-pressure gases. Eccles and C. M. Mason, the assistant director of the new research laboratory at the Engineering Department, help LW set up this apparatus in the engineering laboratory (Mays, pp.4, 14; Hamilton 2001b, p.8, note).

1910

LW is elected to a research studentship at Manchester for 1910-11, on the recommendation of Petavel and Lamb.

22nd November: LW applies for a patent for his design for ‘Improvements in Propellers applicable for Aerial Machines’ (Monk, p.34).  

Eccles reports that on one Sunday afternoon in this year, LW decided he would like to go to the seaside but, not on finding a suitable train at the railway station, decided he would hire a special one. Eccles dissuaded him, and they took a taxi to Liverpool instead, taking a trip on the ferry while there (Mays, pp.6-7; McGuinness, pp.66-7).

(Publication of the fourth edition of Mach’s Populär-wissenschaftliche Vorlesungen, the first volume of Russell & Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica, and Russell’s paper ‘The Logical Theory of Types’).  

1911

Marie Kalmus, LW’s maternal grandmother, dies (McGuinness, p.22 (not 1921, as McG’s family tree has it); Waugh, p.219).

Easter: deciding that he no longer loves her, Russell breaks with his first wife, Alys (McGuinness, p.86).

June 21st: LW puts in a revised and complete patent design for his propeller (Monk, p.34).

August 17th: LW’s revised patent design for his propeller is accepted (Monk, p.34). Petavel and Lamb again recommend LW for a research studentship at Manchester (H 2001b, p.9 and note).

Summer: LW draws up plans for a proposed book on philosophy (Monk, p.35), and presents Frege with this work when he visits him for the first time in Jena, Germany, on his return journey from Vienna to England (McGuinness, p.74; Cambridge Archive, and Künne 2009, pp.27-8). LW later told Peter Geach that Frege had ‘wiped the floor’ with him in their arguments during this meeting (McGuinness, p.83). Although still enrolled at Manchester, to where he should have returned, LW wants to study with Frege (Kanterian, p.37), but he leaves for Cambridge to study with Russell, almost certainly on Frege’s advice (McGuinness, p.73; Mays, p.10, Sterrett 2006, pp.89, 93; White 2006, p.1; Künne 2009, p.28).

Ludwig’s Student Years, 3: Cambridge

[Material from October 1911 onwards will appear on this site once it has been communicated via the 'Wittgenstein Day-by-Day' page]