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September 13th, 2023

Wittgenstein in Norway: A Philosophical Journey

September 13th, 2023

Written By

Torunn Tronsvang

Founder

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is recognised as one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. He played a key role in turning philosophical thinking in a more language-centric direction by investigating the relationship between thought, language and reality. One of his main works, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, was partly written during one of his frequent visits to Skjolden in Western Norway. Here he found the peace of mind he needed to think and write.

Wittgenstein’s Relevance Today

We as humans have a desire to turn to other humans’ deep thinking to seek orientation in our modern confusion. Every year, dedicated admirers make the pilgrimage to Norway solely to get a sense of why Wittgenstein kept returning to this remote cabin, which he placed on a steep mountainside overlooking the turquoise Eidevatnet lake. Wittgenstein wandered in these beautiful natural fjord and mountain landscapes to get clarity over his logical thinking. Now, people have made Wittgeinstein’s cabin a pilgrimage site to seek clarity of thought. It is said that Wittgenstein’s cognitive semantics research has served as a foundation for today’s artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, such as ChatGTP. That makes him more relevant than ever.

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Wittgenstein in Norway

In the summer of 1913, Wittgenstein embarked on a transformative journey to Norway. Seeking solitude and inspiration, he retreated to the tranquil landscapes of the Norwegian fjords, first in Øystese, Hardanger, and later in Skjolden by the Lustrafjord. This scenic escape allowed him to delve deep into his philosophical concepts and eventually laid the foundation for his groundbreaking writings.

During his stay in Norway, Wittgenstein engaged in profound contemplation, often taking long walks along the breathtaking fjords, immersing himself in the harmony of nature. The serene surroundings offered him an ideal environment to explore the limits of language, logic, and reality. He was particularly influenced by the simplicity and purity of the Norwegian wilderness, leading him to develop his ideas on language and its limits.

Skjolden’s Impact on Wittgenstein's work

Wittgenstein's time in Norway also provided him with the space to challenge traditional philosophical notions. His insights into the nature of language and its relationship to the world led him to conclude that much of traditional philosophy was trapped in a web of language, unable to escape its own limitations. The culmination of his contemplations during this Norwegian retreat resulted in the publication of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1921. In this influential treatise, Wittgenstein explored the logical structure of language and its capacity to accurately represent reality.

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Wittgenstein’s second book, Philosophical Investigations,  is perhaps the book which ties Wittgenstein closest to Skjolden. It was published after his death, but large parts of it were written from his cabin by lake Eidsvatnet.

The impact of Wittgenstein's philosophical journey to Norway resonated far beyond his own time, inspiring generations of thinkers and scholars to question the fundamental nature of language and its role in shaping our understanding of the world.

‘I can’t imagine that I could have worked anywhere as I do here. It’s the quiet and, perhaps, the wonderful scenery; I mean its quiet seriousness.’

- Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1936

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Today, Up Norway travellers can visit Wittgenstein’s cabin and explore the same landscapes that sparked Wittgenstein's philosophical pursuits. With each tranquil fjord and awe-inspiring vista, you can't help imagining the deep thoughts that emerged from the mind of this great philosopher during his time here. Here, he came to understand that there are some experiences, like the majesty of this sublime untouched landscape, which are beyond language, impossible to put into words.

‘Thanks to your prodigious efforts, we got to spend 8 hours with Harald Vatne. He not only spent hours with us at Wittgenstein's cottage, but also at his house, where Harald and his wife graciously served us waffles and coffee! Everything that you and your team organized for us was exquisite! You and your colleagues are artists in your own right.’

- Up Norway Travelers Doug & Lindsay Stern

Further Exploration:

  1. A 2023 video documentary explores Wittgenstein’s time in Skjolden and his relationship with locals, the ‘Skjoldingane’.
  2. The book Ludwig Wittgenstein and the People of Skjolden (2017) is written by local Wittgenstein expert, Harald Vatne
  3. For an exploration of Wittgenstein’s influence on artificial intelligence see abstract here.
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Venture on a Wittgenstein Inspired Workcation in Luster

Torunn Tronsvang

Founder