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Wittgenstein quote

September 25, 2011

Man hört immer wieder die Bemerkung, daß die Philosophie eigentlich keinen Fortschritt mache, daß die gleichen philosophischen Probleme, die schon die Griechen beschäftigten, uns noch beschäftigen. Die das aber sagen, verstehen nicht den Grund, warum es so sein muß. Der ist aber, daß unsere Sprache sich gleich geblieben ist und uns immer wieder zu denselben Fragen verführt…. Ich lese “philosophers are no nearer to the meaning of ‘Reality’ than Plato got.” Welche seltsame Sachlage. Wie sonderbar, daß Plato dann überhaupt so weit kommen konnte! Oder, daß wir dann nicht weiter kommen konnten! War es, weil Plato so gescheit war?  — Ludwig Wittgenstein, TS 213

Translation (by Anthony Kenny)

You always hear people say that philosophy makes no progress and that the same philosophical problems which were already preoccupying the Greeks are still troubling us today.  But people who say that do not understand the reason why it has to be so.  The reason is that our language has remained the same and always introduces us to the same questions…. I read “philosophers are no nearer to the meaning of ‘reality’ than Plato got.”  What an extraordinary thing.  How remarkable that Plato could get so far!  Or that we have not been able to get any further!  Was it because Plato was so clever?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2011 4:01 pm


    I love how Wittgenstein just busts into English:

    Ich lese “philosophers are no nearer to the meaning of ‘Reality’ than Plato got.” Welche seltsame Sachlage.

    Who needs to translate? Who needs to say one’s source?

    But then Sir Kenny does render the German without showing this multilingual move of Wittgenstein? And which English writer is being quoted? Shouldn’t we readers get to know these things?

  2. September 26, 2011 4:54 pm

    No Kenny just gave the English — I had to dig up the German on my own. He takes a few liberties in the translation, but overall, I think it is accurate (and has more punch than my own translation).

    I don’t know exactly who Wittgenstein is quoting, but perhaps it was an oblique reference to Alfred North Whitehead’s famous quote in Process and Reality, “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

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