Philosophy from a POW: Wittgenstein via Keynes

For now, I will not write blog posts on the weekend. This weekend I made a little progress reading through (500+ page) The Price of Peace about John Maynard Keynes. This is not an economics textbook, although you will come away from it with a better understanding of “Keynesian economics”. The author presents the most intriguing parts of a life that could fill both a salacious tabloid and a respectable financial newspaper.

Here’s a story that surprised me:

Previous chapters describes Keynes’ involvement in winning World War I. He had a literal seat at the table for negotiating resulting peace and reparations agreements. Before the war, intellectuals from central Europe were exchanging ideas with Keynes at Cambridge University.

The horrific WWI pitted some of these Cambridge friends against each other, since some were British and others happened to be born in Hungary or Austria. Some died and never got to re-join the conversation. Brilliant Ludwig Wittgenstein ended up on a POW camp near Italy after the war.

Keynes used his government privileges to get Wittgenstein’s manuscript shipped out of the POW camp and into the hands of Bertrand Russell of Cambridge. This led to the English-language publication of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1922. According to The Price of Peace, Keynes’ own work on philosophy was completely eclipsed by Wittgenstein’s book. The book that might easily have ended up burned or thrown in the garbage of a POW camp.

Would Keynes and Wittgenstein blog if they were alive today? Would they have produced brilliant books, or would they be too distracted by Reddit and video games?

2 thoughts on “Philosophy from a POW: Wittgenstein via Keynes

  1. ScottBuchanan September 1, 2020 / 1:04 pm

    Did Wittgenstein write most of his Tractatus while in POW camp or at least while in armed service? How did he manage without a bunch of reference books? Did he just write out of his own head?


    • Joy September 1, 2020 / 1:07 pm

      When I initially read the Keynes book, I thought he had scratched out a book while on active duty or in prison. Before posting the blog I checked Wikipedia. It seems like the book was written in much more civilized circumstances. He was actually very wealthy and would rent/build remote cabins from himself in beautiful locations to get writing done. For some reason, the book was physically with him in POW camp.


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