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Lot #4017
Ludwig Wittgenstein Autograph Letter Signed to Piero Sraffa, Who Inspired the 'Philosophical Investigations'

Rare handwritten letter by Wittgenstein to the wife of his influential friend, whose remark led to the 'Philosophical Investigations'

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Rare handwritten letter by Wittgenstein to the wife of his influential friend, whose remark led to the 'Philosophical Investigations'

Highly influential Austrian-British philosopher (1889–1951) whose greatest contributions were in the fields of logic, philosophy of mathematics, and language. Scarce ALS, one page, 4.75 x 7.25, April 29, 1949. Unpublished handwritten letter to the wife of his old Cambridge friend, the Italian economist Piero Sraffa, written from Vienna, Austria. In full: "Thanks for your letter of April 11th. I was very glad to get it. It was forwarded to me here. I am staying for some weeks with my eldest sister who is very ill. I expect to be in Cambridge in about 3 or 4 weeks & am looking forward to seeing you then." In fine condition. Wittgenstein's autograph material is very scarce—this is the first example we have offered in over five years.

According to Norman Malcolm, Piero Sraffa caused Ludwig Wittgenstein to rethink a rude gesture, providing him with the conceptual break that founded the Philosophical Investigations (published posthumously in 1953): 'Wittgenstein was insisting that a proposition and what it describes must have the same 'logical form,' the same 'logical multiplicity.' Sraffa made a gesture, familiar to Neapolitans as meaning something like disgust or contempt, of brushing the underneath of his chin with an outward sweep of the finger-tips of one hand. And he asked: 'What is the logical form of that?''

In the introduction to the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein mentions these ongoing conversations with Sraffa over the years and says, 'I am 'obliged' to this stimulus; it gave me the most consistent ideas for this book.' In 1946, despite Wittgenstein's protests, Sraffa ended their weekly conversations; when the philosopher said he would say anything as Sraffa wished, Sraffa replied, 'Yes, but in 'your' way.' Sraffa and Wittgenstein deeply influenced each other, discussing and reviewing each other in journals and notebooks. Both authors dealt with the prevalent form of positivism in their respective disciplines—economics and philosophy.

While Wittgenstein had his famous shift from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to the Philosophical Investigations, where he rejected the previous idea that the world is an atomistic set of propositional facts in favor of the notion that meaning arises from its use in a holistic, self-contained system, Sraffa similarly discarded the neoclassical paradigm, which was atomistic, individualistic, and deductive. Although there are disputes about how to understand Sraffa—especially between the neoclassical camp of Paul Samuelson and the neo-Ricardian camp of Pierangelo Garegnani—there is consensus on Sraffa's influence. One can say that, similar to Wittgenstein in philosophy, Sraffa aims to replace the individualistic and positivistic understanding of price as the result of supply and demand equilibrium in neoclassical economics with the price that has the social function of reproducing a stationary or growing economy given a certain income distribution.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Remarkable Rarities
  • Dates: #707 - Ended February 22, 2024

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