Wittgenstein “in the Midst of” Life, Death, Sanity, Madness—and Mathematics

  • Richard McDonough
Part of the Philosophers in Depth book series (PID)


One of Cavell’s most striking themes, which he associates with Wittgenstein's Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (IV. 53), is that there is a close connection between philosophy and madness and that madness lurks just beneath the surface of ordinary life. However, he does not quote the final remark of that section which suggests that just as madness permeates sanity so also death permeates life (Wittgenstein’s “Midst of Death and Madness”, hereafter MDM). The extensive religious-literary history of MDM, including Augustine, Luther, Milton and Rilke (several of which are admired by Wittgenstein) is explored. MDM is viewed in the light of Wittgenstein’s Remark to Drury that he cannot help looking at problems from a religious point of view. The view of death in Wittgenstein’s “later philosophy” is contrasted with his view in the Tractatus. It is shown how Wittgenstein uses MDM to bring the deceptive sublimity of mathematics “down to earth” (where the people and the madness are). Finally, it is shown how these insights suggest that mathematics is, within limits, akin to literature, and, following Cavell, that some great literature can be seen as making what Wittgenstein calls “grammatical” points.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard McDonough
    • 1
  1. 1.Arium School of Arts and SciencesSingaporeSingapore

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