About the Conference

Biography and Theory in General

In many disciplines, the relationship between the biography and the research result is not of the interest of scholars in that discipline.

The biography of a physicist does not help others to understand her specific physical theory. E.g. the life of Einstein—although it is an exciting one and does help us understand how he might have developed the Relativity Theory—cannot be taken into account in the justification of his Relativity Theory. Whether E=mc2 is true or not does not depend on Einstein's work in the Patentamt in Bern.

In other disciplines, the biography of a person is even essential for the understanding of her work. Most evidently is this the case with the literary science:

Most scholars agree on that in War and Peace the experience of Tolstoy with the Caucasian War is most eminent. The latest book by Robert Gstrein Die ganze Wahrheit is another good example. If one does not know that several authors have quarrel with the publishing house Suhrkamp Verlag, one will not understand different hints Gstrein is making in the book.

Within philosophy, we can find both types of people: The biographies of e.g. Aristotle and Immanuel Kant are neither necessary nor really helpful when it comes to the understanding of the transcendental deduction of the categories or to the understanding of the metaphysics. On the other hand, Nietzsche's work is not understandable without the knowledge of his biography. Of course, most philosophers are somewhere in between: There are many philosophers whose biographies must be taken into account, and others whose biographies could be neglected.


Wittgenstein is a bit different: Some Wittgenstein scholars suggest that we should treat his philosophical theory as a given theory, but a growing number of the scholars gives his biographical writings just as much credits. And it is even worse: Wittgenstein often mixes biographical and philosophical writings together: in one and the same notebook we can find both types of remarks. Sometimes they are separated by pages, but mostly they just come one after another. While remarks on mathematics can usually be separated from other remarks rather easily, remarks on cultural philosophy (or philosophy of culture, if you like) are more difficult to be sorted out. Another overall difficulty—which is perhaps that of philosophy after all—is that Wittgenstein tends to link different parts of his life together: His philosophy is one that is also practiced by himself. So the biographical elements are "polluted" (in a manner of speaking) with his philosophy (or vice versa, if you should find this more appopriate).

Preceding Conference

In the year 1999 the annual spring conference of the Philosophy Department of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University dealt with just this issue. And the results of this conference were published in Wittgenstein: Biography & Philosophy (Klagge, James C. (ed.): Wittgenstein, Biography & Philosophy, Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press). Because more than ten years have passed since the conference, it seems to be important to deal with this topic again. This symposium should help its participants in getting a clearer picture of this debate.


The speakers of the conference are mostly philosophers, but also some literary scholars, from institutions in Europe and America. The principal object is to enable a talk between the different disciplines and scholars. Another important purpose was to provide younger scholars the possibility to start a discussion with well-established experts.

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