BV: Ludwig, you are generally quite critical of academic philosophy. What then do you make of your students, many of whom went on to have pretty normal academic lives? For example, what do you think of Anscombe, who many now consider the best among your students and an exemplary philosopher in her own right?
LW: Anscombe was intense. She would focus in on a problem and battle with it. But this doesn't mean I agreed with her! Or that she was a representative of my views! She was skeptical of the cogency of the philosophy problems from the early modern period (the mind-body problem, utilitarianism vs deontology, and so on), but she was generally more accepting than I was of the coherence of traditional philosophy problems, such as those inherited from Aristotle. She certainly would go on and on about Aristotle and Aquinas! This is a big difference between us. For me metaphysics is metaphysics, and I see all of it as a confusion. But for Anscombe there is a distinction between bad metaphysics (Descartes or Leibniz) and good metaphysics (Aristotle), and she saw her life project as defending a good metaphysics of human beings and highlighting its practical implications. That is certainly not how I saw things!
BV: It is ironic, isn't it, that you routinely told your students to leave academic philosophy, and yet the best of your students went on to become academics and never showed any of your torturedness about being academics?
LW: The best of my students? I don't think of Anscombe, Malcolm and so on as my best students! They were students I was close to, yes. They were students I depended on, yes. But did I think that these students would continue my life's work after I died? No. Because philosophy as I think of it is the deeply personal activity of rooting out one's own confusions so as to be at peace. It is a constant effort to see things just as they are, and not by gaining new knowledge we didn't have before, but by having the courage to see aright what we already know but refuse to see! This seeing aright no one else can do for me. That is each person's task and burden. My philosophy consisted of my attempting to clear my confusions. There was therefore nothing to pass on after I died as a philosophical tradition in my name.
BV: But you are an industry and a tradition, just like Plato or Spinoza or Kant. All your unpublished works were excavated and catalogued, and scholars pour through them to cull the insights from your gnomic sayings to see how they apply to traditional philosophical problems. Isn't this what your writings are meant for? If not, what is the point of the Philosophical Investigations?
LW: Maybe I should have burned my manuscript! This is exactly why I didn't publish it in my lifetime. Because I saw what people did with the Tractatus. I clearly said in the preface of the Tractatus that it was not a text book, and that only people who have already had the thoughts expressed in it will understand it. The book was not meant to teach others what to think. It was an expression of my journey from tortured philosophy to peace. If the book resonates with you, then it might move you to write your expression of your own journey. And yet people started treating it like a text book, and sought to use it for defending their philosophical views, even though if the book is right, no such views are sensical to begin with! But they brushed this off saying, "Oh, the genius says funny things!" I did not want to publish again when it was clear that my form of writing would be so grossly misunderstood. And after my death this is what has happened with the Investigations as well.