Blue and Brown Books (1958)

The Blue and Brown Books were written by Wittgenstein between 1933 and 1935. The contents of two books are lecture notes that Wittgenstein dictated to his students at Cambridge University, with the Blue Book being dictated in 1933–1934 and the Brown Book in 1934–1935. Both books provide readers with an indication of the direction Wittgenstein’s thinking took during these years, and the Brown Book represents an early draft of ideas that would later appear in Wittgenstein’s posthumously published Philosophical Investigations (1953). The Blue and Brown Books circulated among Wittgenstein’s students and friends for many years before they were bound and published together for the first time in 1958.

Philosophical Investigations (1953)

Philosophical Investigations was published in 1953, two years after Wittgenstein’s death. The work delivers an extended criticism of the approach to philosophical thinking that focuses on creating metaphysical theories and deep explanations that cut to the core of the concepts that govern human life and reality. Wittgenstein argues that since there, in fact, are no concepts or explanations hiding beneath the surface of everyday phenomena, and because these metaphysical theories are built upon unwarranted assumptions or generalizations (often born out of the structure of our grammar), this approach is deeply flawed. The purpose of Wittgenstein’s philosophy as presented in Philosophical Investigations is to lead us to recognize temptations toward metaphysical thinking and to learn to defeat them.

On Certainty (1969)

Posthumously published in 1969, On Certainty is a series of notes Wittgenstein took toward the end of his life on matters related to knowledge, doubt, skepticism, and certainty. Although the notes are not organized into any coherent whole, certain themes and preoccupations recur throughout. In On Certainty, Wittgenstein does not try to refute skeptical doubts about the existence of an external world so much as he tries to sidestep them, showing that the doubts themselves do not do the work they are meant to do.

On Certainty is discussed in a single section of Summary & Analysis in the SparkNotes guide Selected Works of Ludwig Wittgenstein.