Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Wittgenstein's Life, Language and Thoughts

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

Learn about philosophy the smart way with Philosophy courses at the University of Sydney.

Ludwig Wittgenstein occupies a unique place in 20th Century philosophy. He brings a depth of understanding and richness of vision unparalleled in the history of modern linguistics, and profoundly influenced all 20th and 21st Centuries development in the connection between language and thought. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s project is very ambitious in scope, he hopes to show the boundary between the thinkable and the unthinkable; between the sayable and that which cannot be defined in language. However there are some aspects of human experience which, for Wittgenstein, are unsayable: these experiences constitute his mysticism. In The Tractatus Wittgenstein develops his famous ‘picture theory of language’ and in the Philosophical Investigations, he invents the Game Theory of Language and proposes his radical idea that thought requires language, and that there is no human private language. We will also study his influence on the arts; his Anthropology; and his philosophy of Psychology.


This philosophy course is designed to:

  1. Give the student a comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of Wittgenstein.
  2. Give the student an understanding of the theory of language.
  3. Introduce the student to theories of mind and language.
  4. Discuss the history of 20th Century philosophy in relation to language, psychology and ethics.


This philosophy course will cover the following content:

Ludwig Wittgenstein

A biographical introduction to his life and ideas. Wittgenstein is one of those philosophers whose life and attitudes are part of the philosophical ideas themselves. His work concerns our manner of approaching life; our attitude towards knowledge, and what we think knowledge is for. These are not only philosophical problems, but also ethical and aesthetic issues. I have chosen Terry Eagleton’s insightful film script on Wittgenstein as a way into Wittgenstein’s character.

Three Original Ideas

It makes sense to divide Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy into three periods; each period is characterised by a new idea concerning the nature of language, and its connection to how humans think and how they live their lives both practically and ethically.

Early Wittgenstein

The Tractatus (1922): In this work Wittgenstein develops his famous ‘picture theory of language’. In this theory, language is understood as a diagram which pictures possible states of affairs and “a logical picture of facts is a thought”. He considers what it means for a statement to be true. We will also consider ‘possible worlds theory’.

Setting the Limits to Thought

Wittgenstein’s project is very ambitious in scope, he hopes to show the boundary between the thinkable and the unthinkable; between the sayable and that which cannot be defined in language. However there are some aspects of human experience which are unsayable; these experiences constitute Wittgenstein’s mysticism.

Middle Period

Philosophical Investigations (1953): Firstly we will consider his theory of Language-Games. In this theory the meaning of a word is defined through its cultural usability: culture and context confer meaning.

Thought is Language

Wittgenstein proposes that we do not have a ‘private mind’ because anything we think we can also in theory say. This idea is still controversial, we will discuss the pros and cons of it.

Family Resemblances

Language need not have an essence; it may not be reducible to one set of rules; the rules may change depending on which type of game one is playing.

Late Philosophy

On Certainty (1951). The Dream Hypothesis: why Descartes is wrong about not knowing if you are dreaming or awake. On groundless certainty: “To be sure there is justification, but justification comes to an end... My life consists in my being content to accept many things” (OC).


Influence on the Arts. Late Modernists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, were influenced by the idea that pictorial form constitutes a language, picturing spatial relationships, which connects it to its referent. Against the Abstract Expressionists, they turned from a private mental theory of art to a public theory, like Wittgenstein’s game theory, they began understanding art as a serious ‘game’ of cultural communication.

Other Areas of Interest

  • Anthropology.
  • Philosophy of Psychology.
  • The state of Wittgenstein’s theory in Contemporary Philosophy.

Intended Audience

This philosophy course is suitable for personal interest learners: university students, adults and active retirees.

Delivery Style

This philosophy course will be delivered as an interactive lecture where questions and discussions are facilitated wherever possible.

Recommended Reading

By Ludwig Wittgenstein:

  • Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), London: Routledge, 1990.
  • The Blue and Brown Book (1933-1935), Oxford/Blackwell, 1958.
  • Philosophical Investigations (1953), Oxford/Blackwell, 1958.
  • Last Writing on the Philosophy of Psychology (1949-51), Oxford/Blackwell, 1992.
  • On Certainty (1951) Oxford/Blackwell, 1969.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion