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AN AERO ENGINEER PHILOSOPHER PART 1

WERE IT NOT for London Review of Books, I wouldn’t have known that philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had the “childhood dream of becoming the greatest aviator since Orville and Wilber Wright.” To me, this is as odd as learning that novelist Franz Kafka attended the 1909 Brescia Air Show.

Franz Kafka, at left, and friends in the Viennese Prater, September 1913. Image from The Air Show at Brescia, 1909, Peter Demetz, 2002.

Maybe even odder.

In the London Review of Books, November 21, 2019, Jonathan Rée reviews Wittgenstein’s Family Letters: Corresponding With Ludwig. It is Rée’s article “The Young Man One Hopes For,” together with my usual Internet sleuthing, that prompts these tidbits in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow.

Wittgenstein’s Family Letters: Corresponding with Ludwig, edited by Brian McGuiness, translated by Peter Winslow, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

The Vienna Wittgensteins. Ludvig was the youngest of nine children. His father Karl was a steel tycoon, sort of the Austrian Andrew Carnegie; the Wittgensteins were second only to the Rothschilds in European wealth.

According to Wikipedia, “The family was the center of Vienna’s cultural life; [conductor] Bruno Walter described the life at the Wittgensteins’ palace as an ‘all-pervading atmosphere of humanity and culture.’ ” Alas, this atmosphere came with a domineering perfectionist father; three of his five sons would later commit suicide.

Ludvig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, 1889–1951, Austrian-British philosopher. He worked primarily in logic and the philosophy of mathematics, mind, and language. Photo on being awarded a scholarship from Trinity College, 1929.

Wittgenstein the Engineer. Ludvig attended the Technische Hochschule Berlin, and was awarded a diploma in 1908 after three years of study in mechanical engineering. It was there that his aeronautical dreams took an academic turn.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see where this led Wittgenstein and how he took a detour from aeronautical engineering to philosophy.

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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