Friday, 14 December 2012

Did Wittgenstein have Asperger's Sydrome?

Wittgenstein is now commonly featured on lists of people suspected to have asperger's syndrome. As Wittgenstein is deceased it may impossible to ever definitively prove that he in fact had asperger's. It is well established that posthumous diagnosis of psychological conditions or syndromes is highly unreliable but this still hasn't quietened the debate regarding whether many of history's great minds in fact had asperger's syndrome. 

Many have become interested in the question of whether Wittgenstein had asperger's, with much of this contemporary interest in the question of whether the great philosopher had asperger's being stirred up by Michael Fitzgerald's 2004 book 'Autism and Creativity: Is there a link Between Austim in Men and Exceptional Ability'. In this book Fitzgerald gives Wittgenstein as a case study, claiming that the development from the ideas of the Tractatus to the Philosophical Investigations was in part caused by Wittgenstein's social development. With the method taken in the Philosophical Investigations having a particular focus on the social dimension of language. Fitzgerald alleges that this development mirrors the personal development of many people with asperger's syndrome. This is certainly a rather contentious claim, in fact there are group of Wittgenstein scholars called the new Wittgensteinians who rejected the traditional view that there are two separate Wittgenstein's as such, rather contending that the clear distinction between the thought of the early and late Wittgenstein is false. If such a interpretation is correct (I personally doubt it is) it seems to seriously undermine  Fitzgeralds example of Wittgenstein as a case study of social development.  

Some have gone further than Fitzgerald in asserting that Wittgenstein has asperger's syndrome. Example being the Japanese psychologist Y. Ishiskaya who in his paper 'Wittgenstein and Asperger Syndrome: Did Wittgenstein have this syndrome?' concludes that Wittgenstein in fact did have Aspergers, classification ICD-10. This diagnosis was undertaken by examining Wittgenstein's social interactions throughout his life and concluding that much of Wittgenstein's social behavior was consistent with an individual with Asperger's syndrome.  
His interpersonal relationships were characterized by ego-centricity and a lack of concern or empathy for others as well as a lack of a sense of social interaction. He tended to be detached and isolated from others, but did seek close relationships with a few people, often one person at a time. The conduct of his daily life was dominated by the tendency to be obsessive, stereotypic, and persistent. He was reported to have been clumsy, and his accent and intonation when speaking to have been bizarre.(Abstract, Ishishkaya 2003) 
All of this according to Ishishkaya is taken to be sufficient to diagnose Wittgenstein with Aspergers syndrome. The validity of historical diagnosis is subject to serious scrutiny with many people being suspicious of such posthumous diagnosis.  

However there appears to be significant evidence that Wittgenstein displayed many of the traits that are associated with asperger's syndrome. Many of the stories and accounts featured in Ray Monk's brilliant biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein seem to be quite consistent with the claim that Wittgenstein in fact did have asperger's syndrome. It seems that the claim that Wittgenstein may of in fact had asperger's syndrome to pretty plausible, I suggest that anyone interested in claims regarding whether Wittgenstein did in fact have asperger's read Ray Monk's biography. While Monk never claims or states that Wittgenstein had asperger's syndrome it appears that Wittgenstein's personality and character is at least consistent with a diagnosis of asperger's syndrome. 

While it will not be possible to definitively answer the question of whether Wittgenstein had asperger's syndrome, some of the evidence does point towards a diagnosis of Wittgenstein being aspergic. The problem with both Ishiskaya and Fitzgerald's claims is that posthumous diagnosis of such conditions is highly unreliable. With all that being said the possibility that Wittgenstein was aspergic may better help us understand both the man and his work a little bit better. 


Fitzgerald M, (2004), Autism and Creativity: Is there a link Between Austim in Men and Exceptional Ability
Monk R (1991), Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, Vintage 

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