Wittgenstein as Philosophical Tone-Poet

Philosophy and Music in Dialogue


Author: Béla Szabados
This book provides the first in-depth exploration of the importance of music for Ludwig Wittgenstein’s life and work. Wittgenstein’s remarks on music are essential for understanding his philosophy: they are on the nature of musical understanding, the relation of music to language, the concepts of representation and expression, on melody, irony and aspect-perception, and, on the great composers belonging to the Austrian-German tradition. Biography and philosophy, this work suggests that Wittgenstein was a composer of philosophy who used the musical form as a blueprint for his own writing and thought. For Wittgenstein music is not alone, but connects and resonates with our cultural forms of life. His relation to composers, especially to Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler, enables Wittgenstein to address the question of how to do philosophy and compose music in the breakdown of tradition. Unlike his conservative musical sensibility, Wittgenstein’s philosophy is open to musical experiments. Reflecting on his remarks on music makes it possible to compare the therapeutic aim of his philosophical activity with that of music, and thus notice affinities between Wittgenstein and John Cage.

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Béla Szabados has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Calgary and is professor of philosophy at the University of Regina. His publications include Wittgenstein Reads Weininger (2004), Wittgenstein at the Movies (2011) and Wittgenstein on Race, Gender, and Cultural Identity: Philosophy as a Personal Endeavour (2010).
"In this absorbing and culturally rich book Béla Szabados begins with the observation that the many remarks of Wittgenstein's on music, and the central role music played in his life and his thought, have not been given sufficient attention in the world of Wittgenstein scholarship. By the end of this carefully constructed and eminently clear study one sees why he says that, his having convincingly shown the extent to which Wittgenstein's engagement with music intertwines with his philosophical thought and the extent to which each casts special or unobvious light on the other. […] Szabados does an exemplary job of following Wittgenstein into the hidden depths of his remarks and observations on Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, and the perhaps unjustly obscure Josef Labor [...] [a] beautiful book – a remarkable contribution to our understanding of music in civilization." – Garry L. Hagberg, Bard College, in: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2016.02.35
Chapter I. A Life in Music
Chapter II. Early Views: Wittgenstein’s Vienna Revisited
Chapter III. Wittgenstein in Transit: A Critique of the Tradition
Chapter IV. Later Views: A New Era
Chapter V. Wittgenstein and the Composers
Chapter VI. Breakdown of Tradition
Chapter VII. Philosophy, Music and Therapy

The author would like to make you aware of the following:
- on page 46, note 7 is missing: "It is on the basis of such considerations that Hanne Ahonen powerfully argues for the claim that Wittgenstein was a life long musical formalist."
- on page 211, the author refers to the following work: Ahonen, Hanne. 2005. 'Wittgenstein and the Conditions of Musical Communication' in Philosophy 80: 513-529.