Ludwig Wittgenstein: Cambridge

BackgroundThe Early YearsCambridgeNorwayFirst World WarTractatus and TeachingArchitectReturn to CambridgeIn Russia and Norway etc.Professor of PhilosophyFinal Years


According to the memory of his sister Hermine, Wittgenstein was already working on a philosophical work at this time, which he then presented to Frege in Jena on his return from Vienna to England in the summer of 1911. It seems to have been the elderly Frege who encouraged Wittgenstein’s philosophical studies and advised him to go and study under Russell in Cambridge.

In the autumn Wittgenstein, although remaining enrolled in Manchester, finally moved to Cambridge as an affiliated student with Russell.

Great Court, Trinity College Cambridge

Great Court, Trinity College Cambridge


At the end of the first term Wittgenstein was still unsure whether to devote himself to philosophy or to aeronautics. Undecided, he asked Russell for advice. Russell told him to write a vacation essay on any subject of his choice. The first sentence alone of the essay (which is no longer extant) sufficed to convince Russell of Wittgenstein’s gifts, and he asked him to stay in Cambridge, to give up aeronautics, and to devote himself to philosophy.

And so Wittgenstein moved into Trinity College on 1 February, initially as an undergraduate, as a sophomore, but soon as an advanced student. Besides studying Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics with Russell, he attended Moore’s lectures on Psychology. His tutor was first the mathematician J. W. L. Glaisher, and later W. M. Fletcher. For a short while the logician W. E. Johnson was his coach and gave him tutorials in Logic, a venture soon discontinued because the student was quite unwilling to accept Johnson’s arguments. A very close friendship, however, very quickly developed between Russell and Wittgenstein: Getting to know Wittgenstein was one of the most exciting intellectual adventures of my life. (Mind 60, 1951) Wittgenstein had frequent discussions with Whitehead and made friends with the economist John Maynard Keynes and the mathematician G. H. Hardy of Trinity College. He became an active member of the C. U. M. Sc., the Cambridge University Moral Science Club, a debating club of the Faculty of Moral Science, as the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Cambridge was called until the end of the 1960s. Wittgenstein lobbied to get Moore made chairman, and with his help new statutes were promulgated which were influential in changing the club’s practices and in raising the standard of debate. In December Wittgenstein gave his first paper there on the subject, What is Philosophy?

With David Pinsent, a maths student at Trinity College, later to become a friend, he conducted psychological experiments on rhythm in speech and music in the hope of contributing to the study of aesthetics. Pinsent was his experimental subject in these studies, as he notes in his diary: ... to act as a ‘subject’ in some experiments he is trying: to ascertain the extent and importance of rhythm in music. (13th May 1912)

Wittgenstein spent the summer, like most of his holidays, with his family in Austria, at Hochreith and in Vienna. In September he travelled with his friend David Pinsent around Iceland. In November he was elected a member of the secret society, The Apostles. Known also as The Society or The Cambridge Conversazione Society, it was founded in 1820 by George Tomlinson, later to be Bishop of Gibraltar. Although not originally a secret society, it was nevertheless an association much given to ceremonial and arcane matters. It achieved especial significance at the turn of the century as practically all the important literary and intellectual personalities were counted among its members, as was later the so-called Bloomsbury Generation.

On his way to Vienna in December, Wittgenstein visited Frege in Jena.

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

Vater, Mutter und die Schwester Mining auf der Hochreit

Father, Mother and sister Mining at the Hochreit