Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951)

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language, starting his career in engineering. Born in Vienna into one of Europe's wealthiest families, he gave away his entire inheritance. Three of his brothers committed suicide, with Ludwig contemplating it too. Wittgenstein was home tutored until the age of 14, then attending school for three years and studying mechanical engineering at Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg, Berlin.

Outstanding contribution to science

Wittgenstein's aero-engine

Airscrew driven by propeller-blade tip-jets

Wittgenstein's patented unique aero-engine employing an airscrew driven by propeller-blade tip-jets, was reinvented about thirty years later by another Austrian, Friedrich Doblhoff, without knowing of Wittgenstein's work. The invention led to a completely new concept for a helicopter, which was successfully tested for the first time in 1943. There were various types of short-lived hybrid rotorcraft emerged with rotors driven by blade tip-jets. These included the Doblhoff WNF 342 V4 (1945) and later the Fairey Rotodyne (ca. 1957). It has also been suggested that by his proposed use of centrifugal flow compression, Wittgenstein anticipated, although in a different physical configuration, the gas-turbine aero-engine developed during the 1930s by Frank (later Sir Frank) Whittle (FRS 1947).

Philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language

In 1999 his posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953) was ranked as the most important book of 20th-century philosophy, standing out as "...the one crossover masterpiece in twentieth-century philosophy, appealing across diverse specializations and philosophical orientations". Philosophical Forum. 30 (4), December 1999, pp. 329–346. *For a summary of the poll, see here [1], accessed 3 September 2010.

The image on the right shows the plans of Wittgenstein's aero-engine.
Cater J , Lemco I Notes Rec. R. Soc. 2009;63:95-104.


Wittgenstein at Manchester

On his father's advice, in 1908 he started his doctorate at Victoria University of Manchester. Wittgenstein began his own researches in the Engineering Department after an initial period at the university's meteorological outstation (Glossop), where he had participated in practical work on the aerodynamic design of high-flying kites. He devised and patented a novel aero-engine that employed propeller-blade tip-jets. As a first practical step to the realisation of this device, Wittgenstein designed and constructed a variable-volume combustion chamber.

Wittgenstein - Sea of Faith - BBC documentary.
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