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BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter November 17, 2017

“Among the omitted stuff, there are many good remarks of a general nature” – On the Making of von Wright and Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value

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From the journal SATS


This paper uses archival material to contextualize Georg Henrik von Wright’s making of Vermischte Bemerkungen (Culture and Value), an edition that assembles Wittgenstein’s remarks on cultural topics. Von Wright was particularly interested in these remarks but initially regarded them as too detached from philosophy to be published. In 1967-68, however, he began seeing socio-political questions as belonging to philosophy. He then resumed editing Wittgenstein’s ‘general remarks’ and published them in 1977. Von Wright did not read Culture and Value as a philosophical work, but as a means for helping readers understand Wittgenstein in relation to his times. It is argued that the intention to provide documents enabling readers to recognize the historical Wittgenstein motivated much of von Wright’s work as one of Wittgenstein’s literary executors. Moreover, through making available his own archives, he inspired the same documentary approach to fathom the history of editing Wittgenstein in its historical context.

1 Constructively contextualizing the making of Culture and Value

Georg Henrik von Wright’s work as one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s literary executors is informed by his concern to preserve the historical documents of Wittgenstein’s writings and to make them available for research. This concern is most strikingly reflected in von Wright’s and Norman Malcolm’s initiative to produce a complete microfilm copy of Wittgenstein’s papers. Together with; Von Wright’s (1969) corresponding catalogue, the microfilm provided the main source for most of the subsequent historical and philological research into Wittgenstein’s writings, leading to large-scale editorial projects such as the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Tübingen in the early 1980s, and the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen, which made Wittgenstein’s Nachlass available in its entirety through the Bergen Electronic Edition (Wittgenstein 2000a). Von Wright’s own editorial work also increasingly bore traces of critical philology. He became convinced that it would be best to publish Wittgenstein’s manuscripts and typescripts with as little editorial intervention as possible and eventually published some of them “in toto” (cf. Wittgenstein 1992, preface). With help from assistants, he traced remarks in the Philosophical Investigations to their manuscript sources and thus reconstructed the book’s pre-versions (cf. Maury 1981; Maury 1994; Erbacher 2015b, 189–191). In addition to these Wittgenstein editions in a strict sense, von Wright published contextual sources written by Wittgenstein and his friends, such as letters and memoirs (e.g. Wittgenstein 1969a, 1973, 1974, 1983, 1994a; Pinsent 1990) and a series of scholarly essays that shed light on the historical context of Wittgenstein’s work (Von Wright 1955, 1971, 1979, 1992a). These essays have become classics in the study of how Wittgenstein gradually distilled more finished versions of his work from his notes. Together, they can be read as the factual backbone of Wittgenstein’s work-biography (Von Wright 1982). The sum of all these pioneering achievements became the point of departure for the critical-genetic edition of the Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein 2001), a book that can be seen as a high point of the scholarly text-genetic approach that von Wright developed as an editor of Wittgenstein’s writings.

Due to this scholarly and source-oriented approach to editing Wittgenstein’s papers, von Wright’s edition Culture and Value (Wittgenstein 1977; first English edition Wittgenstein 1980; from now on abbreviated CV) seems at first sight not to fit. CV is a collection of aphoristic remarks which Wittgenstein wrote on general topics such as religion, music, literature, history and art, but in contrast to the other volumes that von Wright edited, it was von Wright himself who assembled the passages from various places in the Nachlass, according to his own personal taste and judgment. This was an untypical editorial procedure for him, and it may raise suspicions if measured against today’s philological ‘gold standard’ of scholarly critical editing. It may be accused of being “unfaithful” (Venturinha 2010: 1) to the sources, possibly even misleading concerning Wittgenstein’s philosophy, as has happened in some cases of editions sourced from Wittgenstein’s Nachlass (cf. Stern 1996). However, what may appear as an editorial deficit from the perspective of critical editorial philology, can provide a fruitful starting point for an investigation from another perspective: by inquiring into von Wright’s reasons and motives for creating and publishing his selection, we may gain insight into von Wright as an editor and his understanding of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. For this, it is necessary to understand his editing process not exclusively as a series of context-less philological operations but as philosophically relevant acts that took place in specific working contexts, through cooperation with friends and colleagues and with an elaborated understanding of the edited materials. This may be called constructively contextualizing, as it takes into account the relevant historical context for constructing a helpful understanding of the editorial intentions that critical text philology identifies as editorial biases (cf. Erbacher 2016a, 2017). This step from a ‘critical’ to a ‘post-critical’ investigation of editions from Wittgenstein’s writings is what this paper tries to achieve for the case of von Wright and Wittgenstein’s CV.

Taking seriously the editorial intentions for CV, it is important to note right away that the book was never intended as a presentation of a philosophical work by Wittgenstein. Despite it often being treated as such, von Wright did not regard his collection of general remarks as directly belonging to Wittgenstein’s philosophical writings, as he made unmistakable clear in his preface to CV. Whether Wittgenstein himself ever contemplated composing a book of remarks on broader cultural topics is an issue of debate (cf. Rothhaupt and Vossenkuhl 2013; Rothhaupt 2013, 2017). While working on and revising his texts, Wittgenstein marked sections that may be read as remarks on culture, and he transferred such remarks into fair copies (e.g. Ms 168 [1]; cf. Rothhaupt 2017). But scholars have questioned whether the philological evidence suffices to conclude that Wittgenstein worked on a selection of cultural remarks as part of his philosophical work or even that he planned a book containing such a selection (Majetschak 2013; Stern 2013). In any case, with regard to Wittgenstein’s literary executors, there is no indication that they thought the selection in CV would resemble anything Wittgenstein would have wanted to publish as his contribution to philosophy. Hence, the literary executors did not regard CV as another work by Wittgenstein, but as a collection of remarks illuminating his intellectual orientation. The editor, Georg Henrik von Wright, was convinced that CV tells “us more than any other written source about Wittgenstein’s intellectual character and view of life, and also how he regarded his relationships with his times” (Von Wright 1982: 203). According to von Wright, CV thus shows Wittgenstein as an intellectual phenomenon (“geistige Erscheinung”), which is “to view his personality and work in relation to phenomena outside the strictly professional sphere of philosophy – for example, trends in contemporary literature or art, or political and social ideas” (Von Wright 1982: 2). Making readers aware of this intellectual orientation was, for von Wright, related to correcting a dominant picture of Wittgenstein in the reception of his works (mainly in the Anglo-Saxon world), where the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations had become pillars in the canon of professional analytical philosophy:

The vogue of ‘Wittgensteinianism’ of the first two postwar decades was rather narrowly ‘professional’. It disregarded the broader cultural perspectives. An explanation for this is perhaps the fact that whereas Wittgenstein’s influence then was mainly in the Anglo-Saxon world, his background was central European. The portrait of the man implicit in the writings of his British and American pupils and followers was – as an Italian writer put it – that of a cultural illiterate. Partly as a consequence of the gradual reception of Wittgenstein’s philosophy by the German-speaking and Latin worlds this portrait is now being corrected. The publication of the Vermischte Bemerkungen (1977) will, I hope, contribute to a better understanding both of Wittgenstein’s roots in European culture and of his significance to our times. (Von Wright 1982: 2–3)

From the perspective of strict, critical text philology, this quote may be read as showing an editor’s agenda for steering the reception of Wittgenstein’s philosophy by producing a collection of remarks that was neither made nor planned by the author. By contrast, from the perspective of a constructive contextualization, it may be read as an invitation to try to understand the understanding that motivated this editorial intention. The hermeneutical endeavor that involves the latter alternative may be of special interest for the practical reflexivity of working practices in philosophy, as it aims to conceive of von Wright’s making of the book – a book that was meant to show Wittgenstein as an intellectual phenomenon – as an intellectual phenomenon in its own right. As such, to fathom the connection between work in philosophy and its broader cultural context would not only be von Wright’s editorial intention when making CV, but also the leitmotif for the constructive contextualization of his making of that edition. Naturally then, the starting point for this editorial story is the editor’s lived experience with Wittgenstein’s work and how it was embedded in his broader cultural life.

2 Knowing Wittgenstein as a man entrenched in great culture

In stating his hope that CV will contribute to a better understanding of Wittgenstein’s cultural roots, von Wright makes a distinction between a strictly professional philosophy and a broader cultural perspective. This distinction is present from the very beginning of von Wright and Wittgenstein’s friendship, as von Wright remembered it. Von Wright met Wittgenstein for the first time in the spring of 1939, when he was a doctoral student from the University of Helsinki and lived in Cambridge for a study sojourn. Philosophically, the 23-year-old was convinced that logical positivism would be his “gateway to serious philosophizing” (von Wright 1989: 5). Having inspired proponents of the Vienna Circle, and being inspired by them in return, Wittgenstein would surely have had something to say about von Wright’s philosophical orientation. Yet, as von Wright reports, they did not talk about philosophy during their first meeting (Von Wright 2001: 72–77). They talked instead about Nordic architecture and the landscape Wittgenstein had learned to love during periods of work that had been crucial for the development of both the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations. But von Wright’s geographical origin may not have been the only non-philosophical aspect of interest to Wittgenstein. Being raised in the spirit of the continental European educational elite, von Wright’s broader cultural background matched that of Wittgenstein: while von Wright’s professional home was logical positivism, his “spiritual home”, as he once put it, was the literature of Goethe and Schiller, of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (Von Wright 1989: 8). To this list of German authors, we may add the 19th century art historian and humanist Jakob Burckhardt and the philosopher of history Oswald Spengler, who Wittgenstein counted among the few authors who had influenced him (CV, 19; Ms-154,16r_f). [2] Burckhardt’s books, for example, were in von Wright’s suitcase when he travelled as a student through Italy with Göran Schildt (Von Wright 2001: 59–67). As if walking in Goethe’s footsteps, the two young intellectuals travelled in a first-class compartment to follow the traces of great past cultures. Strongly influenced by Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlandes (Decline of the West), which he had found in his father’s library, [3] von Wright experienced this journey in a mood colored by what he called his “early Spenglerism” (Von Wright 1989: 8), that was

to view history as a sort of tableau vivant, to be looked at in awe and contemplated like a work of art. In the details of history one should try to discern the typical, the ‘morphological similarities’, the recurrent patterns. The great changes, the crises and revolutions of history, are like earthquakes and other catastrophes in nature. They cannot be judged under the moral categories of justice and rightness. But they may, like life as whole, be seen in the light of ‘tragedy’. (Von Wright 1989: 8)

Though “rightness” was not a category for this detached contemplation of world history, “greatness” certainly was. This is the element von Wright absorbed from Burckhardt’s writings:

the admiration of greatness – greatness of achievement but also of personality (Goethe, Leonardo). Greatness is an unpredictable chance element in history; it is largely through greatness that the typical and recurrent gets its individuality. (Von Wright 1989: 8)

Von Wright’s early Spenglerism was thus not a matter of cultural pessimism, which is often associated with the title of Spengler’s book, but a glowing appreciation of past cultures and great personalities. Resonating with that was the belief in a nobility of spirit completed by education and social-spiritual formation – Bildung (cf. Von Wright 1947). Wittgenstein, though he may have been sympathetic to that ideal, probably did not share a romantic optimism about it. In fact, von Wright was shocked by what he experienced as Wittgenstein’s cultural pessimism:

This grim pessimism was, at times at least, coupled with a positive wish for destruction. I remember Wittgenstein saying: ‘I am all for chaos.’ When in the Summer month 1939 I expressed my horror before the impending war, he said that not one but four or five great wars was what mankind needed. [4]

Quite understandably, the doctoral student was shattered to hear this, especially since military airplanes over Cambridge simultaneously portended the outbreak of a new war. According to von Wright, Wittgenstein “lived” the decline of the West (Von Wright 1982: 212). Yet, this lived experience of the cultural decline resulted “not only in his disgust for contemporary civilization, but also in his deep awe and understanding of this civilization’s great past” (Von Wright 1982: 212). This reverence for the greatness of past cultures resembles the mood of von Wright’s early Spenglerism and may have provided silent but firm grounds for a common understanding, even though they did not talk explicitly about Spengler (cf. Von Wright 2001: 127).

Von Wright and Wittgenstein’s appreciation of greatness surely extended to great literary authors, for example the already mentioned Goethe. Regarding the time after World War II, when von Wright had become Wittgenstein’s successor as professor of philosophy at Cambridge, von Wright remembered Wittgenstein sometimes stayed at his house, and that their conversations centered upon cultural topics and literature:

When Wittgenstein was with us, he and I had daily talks, sometimes on things he was working on, sometimes on the logical topics which were mine at the time, but most often on literature and music, on religion, and on what could perhaps be termed the philosophy of history and civilization. Wittgenstein sometimes read to me from his favourite authors, for example, from Grimm’s Märchen or Gottfried Keller’s Zuericher Novellen. The recollection of his voice and facial expression when, seated in a chair in his sickroom, he read aloud Goethe’s Hermann und Dorothea is for me unforgettable. (Von Wright 1989: 15)

Recollections like this show that von Wright understood his acquaintance with Wittgenstein as a friendship with a philosopher who related his thinking and being to great history, music, literature and art. Likewise, von Wright surmised, in his autobiography, that their mutual affinity originated from these shared non-philosophical interests and a shared taste rooted in a central European culture, a culture that was in a state of dissolution (Von Wright 2001: 74). This character of their friendship may account for why, already shortly after Wittgenstein’s death, von Wright wanted to write about Wittgenstein with a view to their “conversations, of his likes and dislikes in literature and art, etc.” (Letter from von Wright to Friedrich August von Hayek, 22 February 1953; cf. Erbacher 2015c). This intention eventually led to von Wright’s now-classic biographical sketch, which concludes by saying “It would be surprising if he [Wittgenstein] were not one day ranked among the classic writers of German prose” (Von Wright 1982: 33). This statement was partly a preventative measure, to ward against a one-sided and purely professional reception. Von Wright continues

Those who approach Wittgenstein’s work will sometimes look for its essence in a rational, matter-of-fact dimension, and sometimes more in a supra-empirical, metaphysical one. In the existing literature on Wittgenstein there are examples of both conceptions. Such “interpretations” have little significance. They must appear as falsifications to anyone who tries to understand Wittgenstein in all his rich complexity. They are interesting only as showing in how many directions his influence extends. I have sometimes thought that what makes a man’s work classic is often just this multiplicity, which invites and at the same time resists our craving for a clear understanding. (Von Wright 1982: 34)

This contrast – of, on one hand, seeing Wittgenstein as a great author belonging to a cultural tradition, and on the other hand, interpreting him in the context of professional philosophy – is present in many of von Wright’s recollections. That von Wright was so aware of this contrast may have to do with his intellectual life being shaped by both the practice of professional philosophy, which he pursued from his early positivistic days onwards, and by his friendship with Wittgenstein, a great philosopher with whom he shared broader views on culture and literature. This distinction – between professional philosophy and a broader cultural context in von Wright’s thinking and conception of his acquaintance with Wittgenstein – is relevant for the whole editorial story of CV. As we will see in the next stage of this story, the shared cultural background helped von Wright to perceive more clearly the literary quality of Wittgenstein’s remarks. He came across them when he read through the manuscripts that the literary executors had inherited. But distinguishing between professional philosophy and a broader cultural perspective may also partly account for his hesitation to publish remarks which seemed to have a general character rather than a philosophical one.

3 Making the first selection of general remarks and not publishing it

Von Wright became aware of the special beauty of some of Wittgenstein’s remarks when he stayed at Cornell University as a guest of Norman Malcolm. The two men first met at Cambridge in 1939, but they became friends only when attending Wittgenstein’s very last lecture in 1947 (Von Wright 1992b: 215, 1995b). Immediately after Wittgenstein’s death, they began what would develop into a lifelong friendship cultivated through regular visits and written correspondence. Having resigned from his chair at Cambridge 1 year after Wittgenstein’s death, and fearing that his home country, Finland, which he had moved back to, could be incorporated into the Soviet Union, von Wright proposed that Malcolm should act in his place as literary executor, if he ended up being isolated from the West:

As you probably know, Ludwig Wittgenstein in his will gave to Rhees, Miss Anscombe and me the copyright in his unpublished writings with the wish that we shall publish as many of them as we think fit.

Should it now – for some reason or other – happen that the other executors will not be able to consult and contact me about the editing and publication of the manuscripts, I should like them to consult you and you to exercise the same authority as regards their publication as I possess according to the will. I completely trust your judgment in the matters concerned, and I know that Wittgenstein would have done so too. [5]

This was probably as much a measure to ensure continued work on Wittgenstein’s writings as it was an expression of trust. It might also have signalled that von Wright did not want the fact that Wittgenstein had appointed him a literary executor and not Malcolm to become a barrier between them. In any case, their friendship grew stronger in the subsequent years. Not long after von Wright’s proposal, Malcolm invited him to Cornell University. At that time, von Wright’s biographical sketch (1955) of Wittgenstein appeared for the first in English in The Philosophical Review, then edited by Malcolm. Staying at Cornell, von Wright taught a course on the Tractatus. Six students attended, so also did five staff members, among them, Malcolm himself, Max Black and John Rawls. [6] In contrast to earlier rather discouraging experiences in trying to explain Wittgenstein’s thought, [7] the course on the Tractatus at Cornell was an exhilarating experience, as he wrote to Elizabeth Anscombe:

I give seminars in which I try to explain the Tractatus. I have learned a lot from them and I have the feeling that now I am beginning to understand the book. It is even more wonderful than I had thought. And one of the most wonderful things about it is that it is absolutely straightforward. No metaphors, no allusions, no mystery. The difficulty is to avoid twisting his words, to avoid putting an “interpretation” on them. [8]

With his enthusiasm for the poetic clarity of the Tractatus, von Wright got the inchoate idea to compile a collection of general remarks drawn from Wittgenstein’s manuscripts. He had brought to Cornell photographs of some manuscripts and was intent on typing out the passages that Rhees, Anscombe and he had chosen for the volume that would appear as Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (Wittgenstein 1956). It was the first time von Wright was centrally involved in editing a volume from Wittgenstein’s Nachlass. [9] Transcribing the selection was an unedifying experience at times, as he noted to Anscombe: “the work was awful. I am constantly tormented by the question: Do we do the right thing, or not?” [10] Still, while continuing to transcribe the selected passages, he was struck by the beauty of some remarks in the manuscripts:

Among the omitted stuff, there are many good remarks of a general nature. I have omitted them in order to avoid – as I think we should – creating the impression that the book, which we publish, is a collection of aphorisms. Perhaps some of the omitted remarks can be published on some other occasion. [11]

This first observation of “some good remarks of a general nature” may be seen as the germ of CV. At that time, however, it did not occur to von Wright that these remarks might be related to Wittgenstein’s writings on the foundations of mathematics. Indeed, it took ten more years for the germ of CV to sprout, and yet almost another decade for von Wright to fully recognize the flower’s philosophical significance.

In the first half of the 1960s, Rhees systematically investigated the writings from Wittgenstein’s first years after his return to Cambridge in 1929 (cf. Erbacher et al. 2017). Both Rhees and von Wright were fascinated to discover that the writings in those manuscripts provide a bridge between the Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations. The first volume from those writings was Rhees’ edition Philosophische Bemerkungen (Wittgenstein 1964), which was intended as the first of two “intermediate cases” (Philosophical Investigations, § 122) in the morphology of Wittgenstein’s thinking. [12] The typescript of Philosophische Bemerkungen (Ts 209) stems from 1929/1930, the same time as Wittgenstein’s Lecture on Ethics (Ts 207, edited in Wittgenstein 1965). This caused Rhees to wonder if he ought to add the Lecture on Ethics to Philosophische Bemerkungen, or, alternatively, to combine it with a collection of remarks of a general nature. Von Wright addressed this consideration in a letter to Anscombe:

You may remember that Rhees in a letter raised the question of what to do with the lecture on Ethics. Chronologically it belongs in the period of the Philosophische Bemerkungen. Published as an Appendix to the Bemerkungen – with extract from Waismann’s notes – it would appear rather “out of place”. Rhees seems to feel the same, since he mentioned the possibility of publishing a separate volume consisting of general remarks on aesthetics, ethics, religion, etc. and including the Ethics lecture in it. This idea of a volume of “general remarks” is worth taking seriously. There are, for example, a number of remarks in the typescript of October 1948 to March 1949 which might go into such a volume and also in the typescript of last writings (i.a. the whole Notebook IV). We must discuss the problem when we meet. [13]

The literary executors indeed discussed the issue during their next meeting in the summer of 1964, and they appointed von Wright to go through all the manuscripts in the Nachlass in order to make a selection for a volume of general remarks. Yet when he actually started making this selection, he soon became sceptical about the project and about ever publishing it, as he wrote to Anscombe in March 1965:

I have started to make a selection of “aphorisms” and “general remarks”. My impression so far is that the job is next to hopeless and will result in nothing publishable. But it can nevertheless be nice to have the selection made for one’s own (and your and Rhees’s) sake. [14]

Only six days later, von Wright saw his first doubts confirmed:

I have been working on the selection now, but I am very pessimistic about the eventual publishability of anything. [15]

He nevertheless continued searching the manuscripts, as he wrote to Anscombe:

As I think I told you in an earlier letter, I have been selecting “general remarks”, but become rather pessimistic about their publishability in one volume. In any case I am going to complete the job and compose a volume for you and Rhees, and me. It may be nice to have it in typescript, even it is unsuitable for publication. [16]

After three and a half months, von Wright completed his task. The resulting first selection of general remarks amounts to two big folders containing more than 1,500 passages from about 60 items in Wittgenstein’s Nachlass. The typed selection is entitled thus:

A collection of remarks by Ludwig Wittgenstein

on questions connected with

his Life and Work; the Nature of Philosophical Inquiry;

Art, Religion and the “Philosophy of Life”; the I, the

Will, and the World; and various other General Topics [17]

Von Wright sent a copy of this collection to each literary executor. In an accompanying letter, he explained the rationale for his selection:

I have proceeded on a “maximum principle”: selecting generously and with a view to then sieving the selected material. I doubt whether my present view of the matter is definitive: but it is against, rather than for, publishing anything at all. […] Perhaps some of us will some day have a really good idea of how to make a selection that can justifyable [sic] be published. [18]

A note attached to the collection shows that the missing “justification” for a publication had to do with the assumed hiatus between Wittgenstein’s philosophical work and his general remarks:

One can make a broad distinction between remarks which are of Wittgenstein’s philosophical work and remarks which are “detached” or “detachable” from it. […] To the “detachable” remarks belong a great number of reflexions on art and religion. – Question: Could a collection be published consisting of only “detachable” remarks? Or would such a collection be too far removed from the rest of Wittgenstein’s work to be of interest? [19]

While von Wright, in 1954, did not question whether it was right to separate the remarks of a general nature from those on the foundations of mathematics, he now wondered whether if there could be a justification to publish them by themselves. For the time being, the literary executors did not see such=a justification and thus did not publish them. This decision was in line with other cases where the literary executors excluded passages from publication-typescripts which they regarded as not belonging to Wittgenstein’s philosophical work. One of these cases is the editorial project that von Wright turned to after he had made the first selection of general remarks, namely, the project that developed from his and Malcolm’s idea to deposit copies of Wittgenstein’s writings at Cornell University. The way in which Wittgenstein’s private non-philosophical remarks were then discussed and handled sheds light on the hesitations to publish the general non-philosophical remarks in CV, especially as some of the former were eventually treated as part of the latter. [20]

4 Turning to another project: Microfilming the whole nachlass

In their extensive correspondence, von Wright regularly informed Malcolm about plans and activities in connection with publishing Wittgenstein’s writings. It was therefore natural for von Wright to tell Malcolm about his excitement over reading the Moore Volume and the Big Typescript. Receiving such news, Malcolm was anxious to learn more about these works, especially since they might forge links between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations. His interest also stemmed from his desire to write about the relation between Wittgenstein’s early and late philosophy in an encyclopedia article (cf. Malcolm 1967). Thus, in the summer of 1963, when Anscombe gave guest lectures at Cornell, Malcolm raised the question of whether it would be possible for Cornell University to make photocopies or a microfilm of Wittgenstein’s writings from the middle period. [21] This proposal, which, according to Malcolm (letter from Malcolm to von Wright, 6 June 1963), Anscombe considered a good idea, may be seen as the first mention of what would later become the Cornell Microfilm. Rhees, however, objected vehemently to Malcolm’s proposal. [22] He reminded von Wright that Malcolm’s notes to Wittgenstein’s lectures from 1939 had been published without Malcolm’s permission and without him being told it was going to happen. Rhees feared that if the material went to Cornell, a similar situation would arise. He was certain that the manuscripts contained a lot of material Wittgenstein would not have wanted to have in general circulation. Rhees explained his concerns to von Wright:

When such material is published, many writers (“publish or perish”) refer to it as though it were on the same level as those remarks which Wittgenstein did give as his considered statements for publication. These writers bounce back and forth between the published statements and the posthumously published notes as suits their own thesis: showing their “new interpretation”, etc. I have noticed this again and again in connexion with the Notebooks 1914-1916, which are often treated as though they were a part of the Tractatus. [23]

Rhees thought this was certainly not what Wittgenstein wanted them to do with his papers, as he put sharply:

When I spoke to Wittgenstein about the task ten days before his death he was particularly anxious that care should be taken in what was published and how it was presented. This is vague, I know. But I am certain he would have said “no” to “Just circulate everything”.


If Wittgenstein had thought we were going to be careless about letting this material get into the hands of all and sundry, ahead of any publication from it, then I do not think he would have entrusted us with the material. [24]

This issue became even more sensitive inasmuch as Wittgenstein had written down not only tentative philosophical remarks but also remarks in a special code. The literary executors had already seen such coded remarks in Wittgenstein’s notebooks from World War I (Mss 101-103). These notebooks begin with diary-like entries written when Wittgenstein enlisted as a soldier. Six days after the first entry, he started inverting the alphabet when expressing disgust over the coarse meanness of his comrades. Throughout the preserved war notebooks, he used the code when writing notes about private matters, his health and mood, thoughts about friends and about the progress of his philosophical work. When von Wright and Anscombe published their edition of these notebooks (Wittgenstein 1961), they excluded these coded entries, thus creating a precedent for not publishing the remarks that seemed to them to be unrelated to Wittgenstein’s philosophical work. Besides being a matter of piety, in light of the content of some of the coded remarks, their appearance could be taken as a reason for regarding them as not belonging to the philosophical work. After all, Wittgenstein had distinguished the coded entries from his notes on logic precisely by using the code, also by strictly keeping the coded notes on the left hand pages while writing his philosophical notes on the right. In his later manuscripts, Wittgenstein repeatedly used this code again, albeit less systematically (cf. Somavilla 2010). Like the coded entries in the war notebooks, the ones in his later manuscripts appear initially to be private and of no philosophical importance. Naturally then, a question arose: What should be done about the coded remarks if whole ledgers would be copied and made available? Rhees in particular did not want them to be published:

I wished (and do) that W. had not written those passages. I do not know why he wanted to; but I think I do understand in a way, and I understand then also why he chose this ambiguous medium. I fear especially that if they are published they will be published by themselves – not in the contexts (repeat: contexts) in which they were written; so that what was a minor and occasional undertone to Wittgenstein’s life and thinking, will appear as a dominant obsession. [25]

Malcolm suggested covering up the coded passages during the photographing – if they were the main reason for not giving a set of manuscript copies to Cornell University. [26] However, the literary executors first wanted to know exactly what Wittgenstein had written in code before they made any decision about having them copied. In autumn 1965, von Wright was given the task of deciphering the coded remarks in their entirety, as he reported to Malcolm:

We discussed the question of copies for Cornell. Our feeling was that the final decision on the question should be taken when the writings in code have become deciphered in their entirety. This, I am afraid, will take me the whole of this academic year. Then, depending upon the over-all impression which the decoded text makes upon us, there are two possibility [sic]. One is to photograph everything, and the other to omit the text in code. For a great many reasons – scholarly, technical, and economic – the first possibility is by far the more attractive one. But I find it difficult to make a prediction at this stage, both because there is still a lot to be decoded and because different people may judge the final situation differently. [27]

Indeed, von Wright started siding with Rhees after he had deciphered the coded passages; hence he wrote to Rhees

In the course of the Term I have completed the decoding of all the MSS of which I have copies. I am now convinced that your restrictive attitude to the question of taking copies of the whole Nachlass without discrimination for libraries was fully justified. [28]

The next spring, however, von Wright and Malcolm discussed once again the possibility of depositing copies of the Wittgenstein Nachlass in the Cornell Library. Von Wright now became convinced that it would be right to have the entire Nachlass microfilmed with the help of Cornell University, as it “would solve, once and for all, the problem of taking copies of the originals. The existence of the microfilm, moreover, would be a safeguard of the preservation of the Nachlass in case of disaster”. [29] But it took much effort to persuade Rhees to agree to the idea. [30] After long and heated negotiations, a two-step procedure for dealing with the coded passages was agreed upon: first, a microfilm without omissions was produced under von Wright and Malcolm’s supervision. Of this microfilm, one Xerox-copy was made. This copy was then given to the literary executors for striking out the passages they considered inappropriate for the public, especially all the coded remarks. In a second step, Cornell University Library produced another microfilm of this examined copy. Scholars would gain access only to the film without the coded remarks. In addition, other research institutions were allowed to purchase copies of the second film from Cornell University Library (cf. Von Wright 1969).

The episode of producing a covered-up version of the Nachlass on microfilm, together with editorial decisions not to publish the coded entries and the decision not to publish the first selection of general remarks, all testify to the fact that the literary executors felt it was their duty not to publish what they regarded as not belonging to Wittgenstein’s philosophical work, or not contributing to its understanding. In the case of the general remarks, however, von Wright changed his opinion about their significance when he re-read them in times of cultural, philosophical and personal change. In particular, he experienced a blurring of the formerly strict distinction between Wittgenstein’s philosophical remarks and his broader notes on culture. This happened at the same time as von Wright’s professional philosophizing blurred with his personal involvement in political and cultural issues. It is, again, the correspondence with Malcolm that provides the opportunity for these changes to enter the editorial story of CV.

5 Re-reading Wittgenstein under changed conditions

The correspondence between von Wright and Malcolm is as much a philosophers’ exchange of ideas on philosophical themes as it is a conversation between friends who talk about personal, political and cultural affairs. This correspondence therefore offers valuable insights into the context of von Wright’s editorial work on Wittgenstein’s papers. A clue to the changes that accompanied von Wright’s editorial work in the mid-1960s is found in a letter from February 1965, written while deciphering the remarks in Wittgenstein’s personal code:

I am proceeding with the decoding-job – as a sort of “psychotherapy” for myself. Now when I have got used to it I can do it rather quickly, and there is no question that we cannot finish the job in another two or three months.


I spoke above of “psychotherapy”. This was no mere joke. Because of the emotional upset, I have been practically unable to do any creative work now for two months. In order to not aggravate my depression, I try to concentrate on semi-mechanical and routine jobs. Otherwise I should have a feeling of being completely useless, - as indeed the newspapers tell me I am. [31]

The background for these depressing circumstances was that von Wright, in his function as chancellor of the Academy of Finland, experienced a political threat to the academy (cf. Von Wright 2001: 175–194). He noted to Anscombe:

We have had a somewhat gloomy time here. The Academy of Finland has been violently attacked by the president of the republic and his attacked [sic] seconded by strong fire, particularly in the leftist newspapers. It is not clear what are the objectives, but prima facie they seem to be to bring the scientific and artistic activity under some form of political control. This, needless to say, opens up very sad prospects for the country’s future. These sinister developments have depressed me very much and I have not been able to do any work now for more than a month. [32]

What von Wright expressed in this letter in a rather polite form, he put more frankly in a letter to Malcolm:

Something extraordinary has happened here. The Academy of Finland has practically since it was founded, been the object of attack from various political quarters, chiefly leftist. […] Now the President of the Republic, probably in a fit of bad temper and under the influence of evil and stupid advisors, decreed – hear and try to believe it – that the whole institution should be dissolved and abolished. [33]

In his next letter, von Wright told Malcolm the situation had become even worse:

You say you hope the uproar over the Academy has subsided. It has not. The press is becoming impatient that we have not already been “dissolved”; we are accused of being reactionaries, out of touch with scientific development and a burden on the nation. I know that I ought not to [sic] pay attention to all this nonsense, but to my shame I must confess that it worries me terribly. I feel disappointed at my country’s backwardness and immaturity, and I know that I shall for the future feel alienated from it. I am not planning to take any immediate action, but I am seriously considering the possibility of breaking up from here for good after a year or two. Should Jaakko Hintikka decide not to return to Finland, it is almost certain that I should follow his example. [34]

The political attack on the Academy of Finland, and, indeed, on himself, represented a point of transition in von Wright’s life. More than once, he considered immigrating to the USA. Malcolm supported this idea and offered to negotiate a permanent post for him at Cornell University. [35] Von Wright ended up not leaving his country, but he clearly cultivated his relationship with Malcolm and strengthened his ties to the USA. He accepted a professor-at-large position at Cornell, and his and Malcolm’s cooperation on “Wittgensteinian themes” (cf. Von Wright 1995b) intensified. On his regular visits to the USA during these years, von Wright experienced the cultural change that took place during the Johnson administration. He experienced the civil rights movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War, both of which affected him. The USA had been for him the example of a good democracy and a free society, but this conviction was radically shaken when he witnessed Johnson’s decision to begin heavy bombing in Vietnam. [36] This shock came to expression in an article von Wright wrote during a visit to Cornell University in 1967. In this article, which was published under the title The War against Vietnam (Von Wright 1967), he expressed anger over the annihilation of Vietnamese civilians by American bombing; he was convinced that no outcome of the bombing could justify its continuation. By publishing this article, von Wright sent his fellow Finns a fervent call to action. Here spontaneous emotions were conveyed with a directness rarely sensed in his otherwise well-tempered publications. Indeed, the article was originally not meant for publication. Only when von Wright returned to Finland did he think about submitting it to a newspaper. Afterwards, he was, more than many of his academic colleagues, open to discussing the demands of the younger generation. He was curious to learn about how young people saw life and wanted to improve it. [37] Von Wright underwent, so to speak, his own ‘1968 revolution’ at the age of 52. On the other side of the political spectrum, however, his struggle with the political left about the Academy was aggravated, especially after he had succeeded Alvar Aalto as president of that institution: von Wright suddenly found himself in a personal duel with the president of Finland (Von Wright 2001: 241–252).

With regard to the eventual publication of CV, it is important to understand that von Wright’s involvements in practical political issues during that period of cultural change affected his understanding of philosophy and its role in society. He made this interaction between cultural change, personal life and philosophy explicit in a letter to Anscombe just before she was to visit him:

You may find that I have changed a lot. Some years ago I began to take an interest in things which I had before regarded with indifference. One could call them “political and social” questions. It was, chiefly, the Vietnam war and my repeated visits to the United States which woke me up. Whether my new consciousness has been in any way “fertile” or whether it has only “tormented” me, I feel quite unable to tell (yet). Another thing which has much changed is “my” philosophy. This too is partly a shift in interests, but even more in opinions – and since “opinion” is a very poor term here one must I think really use the more pretentious term “philosophy”. Many of my colleagues would speak of these changes as a “deterioration”. They may be right. But I am sure that deterioration is not, so to speak, in the new direction my thoughts have taken, but possibly in the fact that I am too old to be able to do any decent philosophy of a different kind from the work I had been doing before. – To add just one last comment: I slowly begin to feel and understand that the two changes I mentioned have something to do with one another. [38]

To Malcolm he had written in a similar vein, and with a view to Wittgenstein:

This last winter my “view of the world”, and particularly of the future of man and human society, have undergone great changes. I feel like becoming a different person myself. I am on my way somewhere, but do not yet know the destination. External events have of course greatly contributed to this – in the first place by making me aware of the world round me in a way I never was before. I think I told you in an earlier letter that I have come to a new understanding also of the great pessimism which was Wittgenstein’s. [39]

Von Wright’s new understanding of Wittgenstein’s pessimism – one may call it his ‘later Spenglerism’ to contrast it with the cultural optimism connected to the young von Wright’s early Spenglerism – is also reflected by the fact that in his letters, he began using the phrase “the darkness of our time”, alluding to Wittgenstein’s preface to the Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein 1953). Von Wright (1990, 1995a) regarded an earlier version of that preface as an oppositional response to Carnap’s (1928) preface to Der logische Aufbau der Welt, which expressed the conviction that positivistic philosophy served the spirit of progress in its time. Resonating thus with Wittgenstein’s views of contemporary Western civilization – views which von Wright had been astounded by thirty years earlier – the general remarks came again to the fore of his mind, as he noted to Malcolm three months after the letter quoted directly above: “I have been thinking a little about a possible collection of Wittgenstein’s ‘general remarks’. My view of the selection has become a little more definite.” [40] This renewed interest in Wittgenstein’s general remarks coincided with von Wright’s new reading of Wittgenstein’s philosophical works that made connections to historical and social developments:

The Wittgensteinian mood of the so-called ordinary language philosophy of the 1950s left me completely cool. My neo-Wittgensteinianism, if it can be called by that name, is related to changes which my thinking as a whole has undergone since the mid-1960s: to my awakening interest in Hegel and Marx, to my questioning of the political and social Weltbild with which I had been brought up and lived, and to my search for a new humanist orientation. (Von Wright 1989: 41)

Von Wright’s new philosophical orientation brought him into contact with the Yugoslavian Praxis-group that sought to develop a humanist Marxism. In 1973, von Wright took part in one of their summer-schools on the island of Korčula. When the group and their journal Praxis were forbidden a year later, von Wright was a leading force in protesting against this political censorship (Von Wright 2001: 250–254). By this time, he had clearly departed from the narrow professional philosophy that had been advocated by the protagonists of logical positivism. Instead, he turned towards a philosophy that developed a critical perspective of Western civilization. At the same time, a new ‘continental’ philosophy moved to the front stage of academic philosophy. Along with these philosophical changes came a fresh interest in Wittgenstein, recognizing that his philosophy had a central European pedigree. Allan Janik, for example, wrote as early as in 1966 about traces of Schopenhauer in Wittgenstein’s writings. Around 1968, Janik started working on a book that would embed Wittgenstein’s thinking in the intellectual sphere of Viennese modernity: Wittgenstein’s Vienna (Janik and Toulmin 1973). Von Wright liked and supported this work that showed the importance of seeing the biographical context of Wittgenstein’s work. [41] A shock for the literary executors, on the other hand, was the biographical essay “Wittgenstein” (Bartley 1973) that attributed scandalous homosexual practices to him. Anscombe (1974) and Rhees (1974) denounced such speculations, which, to the best of their knowledge, were unwarranted. Von Wright wondered whether it would be right to honor the author of that essay with so much attention, but he liked the remarks in Rhees’ article about knowledge of a man’s private life and how it might relate to understanding his work. [42] The wondering about this relation was also the context in which Wittgenstein’s general remarks gained renewed interest and came to be seen as possibly illuminating for understanding his philosophical works. The final impulse that made von Wright resume the idea to publish Wittgenstein’s general remarks came during a visit from Christopher Nyíri, another proponent of investigating Wittgenstein from a cultural point of view. In late 1974, von Wright wrote to Malcolm about Nyíri’s (cf. Nyíri 1988) visit:

In November a Hungarian scholar by the name of Nyíri visited us and read a paper to our research seminar on Wittgenstein in the “perspective” of Marx, Freud, and Musil. […] A consequence of N’s visit was that I resumed the work which I, as you remember, started years ago on editing a collection of Wittgenstein’s “general remarks”. I re-read the material and was deeply impressed. I must now set myself to do the work. It is an immense job and I am sure that I shall experience much frustration in the course of doing it. But fortunately I can find two junior people here to help me with the more “technical” aspects of the task. [43]

6 Making a second selection that could justifiably be published

One of the “junior people” whom von Wright mentioned when informing Malcolm about his resumption of editing the general remarks was Heikki Nyman. Von Wright told Rhees about Nyman’s contribution to correcting the remarks in the first selection:

In doing this work I have relied heavily on the assistance of a certain Mr Heikki Nyman. He has translated several of Wittgenstein’s works into Finnish, knows the material extremely well, and has in my opinion a very good judgement. He also knows German well. He has, among other things, checked all the selected remarks against their manuscript sources which, as you can imagine, resulted in a very great number of corrections in the text which I typed out earlier – and also in some additions. When the stuff is published, due acknowledgement ought to be made to Mr Nyman. [44]

Von Wright and Nyman consulted together to determine which remarks should be excluded from the original selection. In a first step, they cut the number of repetitions and already-published remarks. Then they excluded remarks of a purely personal nature and, as Nyman remembers, remarks that referred to living persons, such as the following [45]:

Philosophers like Wisdom, Ayer and others. They show off with a bundle of stolen keys//show you keys which they have stolen//, but they can’t open doors with them. (Ms-138,17a_f) [46]

Apart from these cuttings, von Wright initially did not want to interfere much in the first selection, as is confirmed in a letter to Rhees:

It will essentially be a “collection of materials” with no attempt at ordering or sieving the stuff. The presentation will be chronological. – I reread the remarks recently and was struck by their beauty and depth. [47]

Rhees, who was deeply concerned about not producing misunderstandings of Wittgenstein’s philosophy through their editions, and about not publishing something Wittgenstein probably did not want them to publish, was very interested in how von Wright would decide whether a remark was good enough to be published and whether philosophical remarks should be included in the selection:

I am interested that you are going to prepare a volume of ‘general remarks’. One or two questions come to my mind. These are expressions of curiosity, simply. They are not matters on which at some point I might raise “objections” I shall do nothing of the kind. If I seem to express an opinion here, it is simply meant as part of a question, that is all.

Some years ago we used to speak of ‘Wert-Fragen’, when we spoke of collecting quasi parenthetical remarks in the manuscripts. The term ‘general remarks’ is of wider scope. Does it mean that you intend to include the various remarks about the nature of philosophy – about das ‘was der Philosoph immer tut’, ‘die Art der Fragen in der Philosophie’, similes characterizing the work of philosophy, and so on? You have included these in your original typescript. And I have wondered why. It is often hard to draw a line between such remarks and more detailed but still general discussions of philosophical method, which often form a part of his investigation of some important question. And further: they seem to be of a fundamentally different sort from those other remarks about Lebensprobleme, Einstellung (oder Verhalten) im Leben, about Ethik (“Subjektivität”, Willensfreiheit, Verantwortung …), Kultur und Künste (Musik, Architektur, Dichtung, Malerei) und Religion. I say “fundamentally” because the remarks about the nature of philosophy could themselves be subjects of philosophical discussion, often; as Lebensprobleme could not.

You say you will produce the material “with no attempt at … sieving the stuff”. The question this raises is more difficult still. It always starts me asking what Wittgenstein himself would have wanted. What he would have destroyed, if it came to that. From my memory of them (Which I have not refreshed recently) I would say that some of the remarks are ‘all right, but ordinary’ – daß sie keinen Stempel an sich tragen, der sie als die seinen kennzeichnet. Diese würden dann die Luft verbrauchen, welche dem lebendigen Blühen der eigentlichen (‘gestempelten’) Bemerkungen dienen sollte. – But I do not think this is a question on which discussion is possible, and I am not trying to discuss it. [48]

Von Wright understood the difficulties Rhees saw in producing a collection of Wittgenstein’s general remarks:

I am sensitive to the comments you make on my plans for a collection of “general remarks”. For me too it is very much of a problem, whether one should include remarks about the nature of philosophy in general and the more personal remarks about the nature of W’s own work. These remarks are very numerous; perhaps it would be a good idea to exclude them altogether. However, I also find them on the whole very interesting and, when they have an auto-biographical touch, very moving. Another great difficulty for me is whether one should attempt a “sieving” of the stuff. You are quite right when you say that the inclusion of too many less original remarks may have a suffocating effect on the really excellent ones. On the other hand: should the editor also pass value-judgements on the stuff, or should he limit his task to that of presenting a collection of materials.

I think that none of the difficult questions here can be answered until one has produced a more surveyable collection than the one we already have omitting all the already printed ones and cutting down the repetitions (which are very numerous). You will hear from me about this, when I think I have made some progress. [49]

As it turned out, von Wright also excluded a number of hitherto unpublished passages stemming from the chapter “Philosophie” in the so-called Big Typescript (Ts 213, edited in Wittgenstein 1969b; Wittgenstein 2000b), which von Wright had originally included in his first selection. As these belonged to the remarks Rhees had also omitted from his edition of Philosophical Grammar (Wittgenstein 1969b; cf. Kenny 1976; Erbacher 2017), they remained unpublished for several more years. However, there were also some additions to von Wright’s first selection, in particular, some coded remarks commenting on the philosophical work or which von Wright regarded as beautiful aphorisms. After one year, the number of remarks was reduced to about a third of those included in the first selection. Von Wright reported to Rhees and Anscombe on the sieving process:

From the material included in the “old edition” I have, following the advice given by Rhees and in agreement with my own view of the matter, omitted a) remarks of a purely personal nature, b) comments by Wittgenstein on the progress of his own work, c) reflections on the nature of philosophy, and d) remarks which belong in the broader context of philosophical argument. Some remarks which may be classified under these headings, however, I have not omitted. [50]

Von Wright considered the new selection publishable in principle. [51] Since he thought it would be especially difficult to translate the literary quality of the remarks, and since they would be of prime interest to a German audience, he proposed publishing them first solely in German. Rhees and Anscombe agreed. Von Wright then wrote straightaway to Siegfried Unseld, director of the publishing house Suhrkamp, asking him whether he would be interested in a volume of Wittgenstein’s “General Remarks”. [52] Unseld immediately replied that he would, without any hesitation, be willing to publish them. [53]

Von Wright sent Unseld the ‘new edition’ of about 500 remarks under the title “Allgemeine Bemerkungen” in March 1976. [54] Unseld was fascinated by the collection and suggested to publish it as Vermischte Bemerkungen. [55] This proposal for the title pleased von Wright, perhaps since it could be understood as an allusion to the posthumously published Vermischte Schriften of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, perhaps also because Lichtenberg was one of the authors whom both Wittgenstein and von Wright very much liked. [56] As von Wright expected the selection to appeal to a “very wide audience”, he and Unseld envisaged publishing the new book in the series “Bibliothek Suhrkamp”. [57] The books in this series were available for a decent price and set the intellectual agenda in Germany for a long time. Hence, Unseld’s support and enthusiasm for CV contributed to making Wittgenstein’s writings not only accessible but also popular in Germany. When the volume was finally published, Unseld wrote to von Wright:

I took the volume into my hand again and wanted to re-read the one or other passage that I knew already from the manuscript, and I was deeply fascinated again by the wisdom of some of the remarks. These remarks one cannot only read, one can live with them. [58]

Von Wright too regarded the remarks as more than beautiful aphorisms, as he pointed out in his preface to CV:

I am all the same convinced that these notes can be properly understood and appreciated only against the background of Wittgenstein’s philosophy and, furthermore, that they make a contribution to our understanding of that philosophy. (Wittgenstein 1980, preface)

Von Wright spelled out the ideas expressed in this prefatory note in more detail in his opening address at the International Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg (Austria) in August 1977. Just in time, for it was there that he received the first printed copies of CV. In his lecture – later published as Wittgenstein in Relation to His Times (cf. Von Wright 1982: 201–216) – he announced the appearance of CV to the philosophical community and explained how he regarded the collection’s significance for understanding Wittgenstein’s philosophy. He still held that the remarks in CV did not belong to Wittgenstein’s philosophical work, but he now proposed that they may make readers see Wittgenstein’s philosophical work in the right relation to his times. Von Wright argued that Wittgenstein had seen human life and human artefacts entrenched in structures of a social nature, which he had called “forms of life”. Language games could be seen as embodiments of forms of life. Thus, malfunctions or distortions in language games would signal malfunctions in the way people lived. Consequently, Wittgenstein’s work on misleading ways of speaking would amount to a fight against distortions in the language games that were rooted in a sick way of living (cf. Von Wright 1982: 206–208). Wittgenstein’s writings may thus be read as subversive philosophy targeting current Western civilization. If so, however, it seemed important to von Wright to add that his fight against distortions of language games was, not aiming at changing people’s way of speaking. In order to change it, one would have to change the way of life that entrenches the particular way of speaking. And, as von Wright pointed out in his lecture: “It is vain to think that by fighting the symptoms one can cure illnesses” (Von Wright 1982: 208). Thus, Wittgenstein may have diagnosed the sickness of his times, he may even have shown how a therapy may work, but he did not carry out therapy, for the therapy would have consisted of changing the way the ‘patient’ lived. As von Wright put it, Wittgenstein “wished these ways of life changed – but he had no faith that he or his teaching would change them” (Von Wright 1982: 206).

As von Wright noted, the civilization-critical orientation of Wittgenstein’s philosophizing could be seen most strikingly precisely there where one would expect it the least: in his remarks on the foundations of mathematics. In-between his treatment of set-theory, there would appear passages on the “sickness of a time” (Von Wright 1982: 208). These passages, von Wright now stressed, truly belong there: “To Wittgenstein set-theory was a cancer rooted deep in the body of our culture and with distorting effects on that part of our culture which is our mathematics” (Von Wright 1982: 208). This sentence indicates how much von Wright’s reading of the remarks had actually changed during the past 25 years. After all, the manuscripts on the foundations of mathematics were precisely the context from which von Wright decidedly omitted the “remarks of a general nature” when he was first struck by them in 1954. In contrast to his opinion at that time (i.e. that the general remarks ought to be separated from Wittgenstein’s philosophical work), von Wright now presented an interpretation according to which the general remarks encourage one to read even Wittgenstein’s remarks on the foundations of mathematics as animated by his criticism of the contemporary Western way of life.

7 Inspiring the next generations with a documentary approach

Von Wright’s lecture at Kirchberg opened up for a reading of Wittgenstein’s writings as showing their socio-cultural embeddedness, their ‘entrenchment in structures of a social nature’, and the author’s entrenchment in the same. This level of self-reflection in Wittgenstein’s writings becomes tangible especially when taking into account some of the passages that the literary executors had long excluded from their editions but which were then assembled in CV. Read in their light, Wittgenstein’s philosophical writings can no longer be regarded as intending to state eternal philosophical truths, but rather as showing a man’s philosophizing in and responding to his specific intellectual environment. Hence, at the end of his lecture, von Wright concluded that Wittgenstein’s “way of seeing philosophy was not an attempt to tell us what philosophy, once and for all, is, but expressed what it, for him, in the setting of his times, had to be” (Von Wright 1982: 216). This suggests that each era needs its own philosophy – a message that not only may address the spirit of the times but is likely to encourage subsequent generations to go their own way. Indeed, the 1977 Kirchberg Symposium signalled that the ‘baton’ of editing Wittgenstein was about to be passed to younger scholars. This conference gathered, on the hand, Wittgenstein’s pupils and heirs who had worked for more than 25 years to make his writings publically available, above all von Wright and Anscombe, but also Malcolm or Anscombe’s husband Peter Geach (cf. Leinfellner et al. 1978: 545–550). On the other hand, scholars like Allan Janik, Anthony Kenny, Brian McGuinness, Tore Nordenstam and Joachim Schulte, who came to Kirchberg that year, became leading forces in the next rounds of editing Wittgenstein. Janik remembers this historic conference in the literal meaning of the word:

Anyone who attended the second annual Wittgenstein Symposium is not likely to forget it. For a young scholar it was mighty impressive to see everybody who was anybody on the Wittgenstein scene gathered together for a week, discussing, socializing and generally enjoying each other’s company (it would be simpler to list who was not there from the international Wittgenstein community than to make a long list of those who were present). The philosophical highlight of the meeting was G.H. von Wright’s presentation of the Vermischte Bemerkungen. Since only a few of the people present were aware that Wittgenstein’s Nachlass contained such texts, the little book was a bombshell. I can still remember staying up well into the night devouring its pages. (Janik 2007: 94)

Von Wright’s presentation of CV at Kirchberg impressed even those who were already familiar with Wittgenstein’s ‘general remarks’, such as Schulte:

I was quite familiar with many of the remarks quoted by von wright, but I was none the less deeply impressed by his way of posing his questions, the sober enthusiasm with which he spelled out the context in which he placed Wittgenstein’s observations, and above all the historical perspective which he brought to bear on the latter’s writings – a perspective I have slowly learned to appreciate as an indispensable ingredient in fruitful Wittgenstein studies. (Schulte 2016: 188)

The excitement von Wright kindled with his lecture and his edition of CV is paradigmatic for his work as one of Wittgenstein’s literary executors. His devotion to preserving and publishing Wittgenstein’s papers inspired large-scale editorial projects that would follow in the footsteps of Wittgenstein’s literary heirs. For example, there are the critical scholarly editions of Wittgenstein’s main works (Wittgenstein 1989, 2001), the complete electronic edition (Wittgenstein 2000a) and the complete correspondence (Wittgenstein 2011) – projects that continued editing Wittgenstein in the historically informed and source-oriented spirit that von Wright had developed. This also holds true for the new reading edition (Wittgenstein 2003) that was made from the critical-genetic edition of the PI (Wittgenstein 2001). Quite in accordance with the orientation of von Wright’s work reported in this article, the editor of that volume, Schulte, expresses his hope that the still-existing hiatus between the “analytical” and “cultural” (PU 2003: 295) reception may be bridged, such that an understanding can be achieved which does justice to what von Wright, already in 1955, had called the “multiplicity” of Wittgenstein and “all his rich complexity”. Just as in von Wright’s work, one senses a merger here between editorial philology and an apprehension of the cultural dimension of Wittgenstein’s writings. As this paper has tried to show, von Wright’s selecting and publishing Wittgenstein’s remarks on general topics evolved in the spirit of just this merger. Thus, being an editor’s selection with a clear editorial intention, CV may go against the grain of much of critical editorial philology. But the motivation to document the historical Wittgenstein is that which unites CV with much of von Wright’s other editorial work on Wittgenstein’s writings.

In conclusion then, von Wright’s work as one of Wittgenstein’s literary executors, including his studies and CV, may be called documentary, indicating the aim to understand all of Wittgenstein’s writings as documents of a rich and complex, but unified philosophical pattern. [59] The editions and publications coming together in this documentary approach can be grouped into three kinds of documents: (1) editions of Wittgenstein’s writings, (2) editions of contextual material such as letters and memoirs and (3) scholarly investigations. CV is indeed a special publication when seen against the background of this grouping, but not because it stands in contrast to von Wright’s other work as one of Wittgenstein’s literary executors. Rather, CV partakes in all three kinds of sources that are characteristic for his documentary approach: CV (a) consists of remarks that can be found among Wittgenstein’s philosophical writings, and yet (b) which are, in the editor’s opinion, contextual material that (c) he selected in order to bring out a specific dimension of Wittgenstein’s writings. Thus, CV, though being an edition of Wittgenstein’s writings, resembles, in its function, von Wright’s editions of letters and memoirs as well as his scholarly work on Wittgenstein’s biography and on the origins of the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations. CV may therefore be regarded as a hybrid – an edition and a contextual study of Wittgenstein’s writings – that is meant to allow readers to see Wittgenstein’s life and work as a unified whole. It thereby shows von Wright’s documentary intention like no other single edition made from Wittgenstein’s Nachlass.

Von Wright not only developed a documentary approach as an editor of Wittgenstein’s writings, but he also prepared the grounds for applying this approach to studying the editorial work itself. By donating his archives and his correspondence to the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland (Wallgren and Österman 2014), he provided the sources that enable scholars to investigate the history of editing Wittgenstein in its ‘rich complexity’ and ‘multiplicity’. These resources contain a wealth of details for critical philological research, but they additionally allow themselves to be understood as documents of a human story of philosophical inheritance and of the making of a philosophical classic. Their potential has here been explored, inasmuch as they are the main sources for the present account.

References for archival materials

Editorial note: the archival materials cited in this article have been quoted in a normalized form, that is, corrections, deletions, repetitions and so forth have not been preserved in the transcription.

A Collection of Remarks by Ludwig Wittgenstein, The von Wright and Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Helsinki (WWA), WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Wittgenstein Materials\Additional Material\G1\A collection of remarks

Draft for the opening lecture for the 16th Wittgenstein Symposium in Kirchberg 1977 (Austria), WWA, WWA\Von Wright materials\Manuscripts etc.\Kirchberg 1977.

Letter from Anscombe to von Wright, 4 July 1954, The National Library of Finland (NLF), COLL.714.11–12.

Letter from Malcolm to von Wright, 6 June 1963, NLF, COLL.714.142-148.

Letter from Malcolm to von Wright, 21 September 1965, NLF, COLL.714.142-148.

Letter from Rhees to von Wright 7 July 1965, NLF, COLL. 714.200-201.

Letter from Rhees to von Wright 17 December 1966, WWA, WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Filing cabinet\Rush Rhees I (1975–1998).

Letter from Rhees to von Wright, 10 January 1975, WWA, WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Filing cabinet\Rush Rhees III (1975–1998).

Letter from Unseld to von Wright, 24 February 1976, WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Filing cabinet\Suhrkamp.

Letter from Unseld to von Wright, 26 March 1976, WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Filing cabinet\Suhrkamp.

Letter from Unseld to von Wright, 7 September 1977, WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Filing cabinet\Suhrkamp.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 12 November 1952, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 6 June 1954, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 6 November 1954, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 11 June 1964, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 18 January 1965, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 10 March 1965, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 16 March 1965, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 20 April 1965, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 28 June 1965, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, 29 June 1969, NLF, COLL.714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Anscombe, July 1976, NLF, COLL714.11-12.

Letter from von Wright to Friedrich August von Hayek, 22 February 1953, WWA documents\Biographical\2. Hayek, Sjögren, National Biography.

Letter from von Wright to Malcolm, 25 November 1952, WWA, WWA\Von Wright materials\Manuscripts etc.\Letter to Malcolm 25 November 1952.

Letter from von Wright to Malcolm, 2 January 1965, NLF, COLL.714.142-148.

Letter from von Wright to Malcolm, 8 February 1965, NLF, COLL.714.142-148.

Letter from von Wright to Malcolm, 13 October 1965, NLF, COLL.714.142-148.

Letter from von Wright to Malcolm, 21 December 1967 NLF, COLL.714.142-148.

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Letter from von Wright to Rhees, 13 December 1974, WWA, WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Filing cabinet\Rush Rhees II (1972–1974).

Letter from von Wright to Rhees, 16 January 1975, WWA, WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Filing cabinet\Rush Rhees III (1975–1998).

Letter from von Wright to Rhees, 17 December 1975, NLF, COLL.714.200-201.

Letter from von Wright to Rhees, 17 December 1975, WWA, WWA documents\Wittgenstein’s Nachlass\Filing cabinet\Rush Rhees III (1975–1998).

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I am especially indebted to Benedict and Anita von Wright for generously sharing their recollections and for permission to quote from von Wright’s unpublished letters. I thank Volker Munz, who represents the copyright holders of the letters by Rhees that are quoted here, and who granted permission to quote from Rhees’ letters. For permission to quote from Siegfried Unseld’s letter, I thank Suhrkamp Verlag. I thank the National Library of Finland and the von Wright and Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Helsinki for providing access to letters and archival materials. Furthermore, I thank Bernt Österman and Thomas Wallgren for fruitful discussions on the topic and for the opportunity to present drafts of this paper at a research seminar at the University of Helsinki. Likewise, I thank the University of Bergen for the opportunity to present an earlier version of this paper. For comments and responses at these presentations, I am grateful to all participants of these presentations. For comments on an earlier version of this essay, I thank Allan Janik. I thank André Maury for a personal interview and for transmitting my questions to Heikki Nyman. For language corrections, I thank Tina Schirmer and Arlyne Moi; for help in final editing, I thank Anne Seibel and Julia Jung. Last but not least, I am indebted to the anonymous reviewers of SATS for their comments that significantly improved the paper.

The main research undergirding this article has been funded by the Research Council of Norway, as part of the project “Shaping a Domain of Knowledge by Editorial Processing: The Case of Wittgenstein’s Work” (NFR 213080). First sketches of the present text were crafted under the aegis of the program “Joint Nordic Use of WAB Bergen and VWA Helsinki”, funded by Nordforsk. Preparation of the study and early presentations were part of a mobility program funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The substantial revision and elaboration of the earlier German version of the text has been funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) part of the research project “Practice Theory’s Scholarly Media: Harold Garfinkel and Ludwig Wittgenstein” (P01) at the Collaborative Centre “Media of Cooperation” (SFB 1187) at the University of Siegen (Germany).


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Published Online: 2017-11-17
Published in Print: 2017-12-20

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