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My Interview with Ludwig Wittgenstein and The Definition of Ethical Self-Actualization

Does it feel like summer yet to you?

Summertime as a child gave me an indescribable feeling of freedom. Something about the air, the activities and experiencing some of life's great joys while at the same time not having to go to school made summer the best season of the year for me.

That very sense of independence seems like a parallel to what we are seeing with the current structural changes in the labor market as discussed by the New York Times in their excellent article on the YOLO Economy. Earlier this week on LinkedIn's site, over 250,000 professionals read about a phenomenon which LinkedIn's editors are very cleverly terming: "The Great Resignation". See the LinkedIn News post below from Tuesday, May 11th:

Is a 'Great Resignation' coming?

Has the prospect of returning to the office got you thinking about leaving your job? You’re not alone, with some heralding the onset of a "Great Resignation." Vaccinations have begun to lift some of the uncertainty around the pandemic, leaving those still employed freer to consider their options for the first time in months. Do they want to return to an office? Can they work remotely? What else has emerged as important to them during the shutdown? Whatever the decision, employees will want to avoid burning any bridges if they leave.

I wonder what Ludwig Wittgenstein would think about all this. After all, Ludwig Wittgenstein is someone who left his philosophy career multiple times: to fight at the front in World War I, to write alone at a remote cottage in Norway and, finally for a third time, to teach grade school children in parochial Austria. Each time he would eventually find his way back to academia at Cambridge.

You can read a bit about his enigmatic life and career on Wikipedia.

Unless you were a philosophy major in college, you probably have never heard of Wittgenstein (I certainly had not until about nine months ago); however, he remains one of the most profound and misunderstood thinkers of all time.

Similar to my interviews with Sigmund Freud, Susan B. Anthony and Jackie Robinson, (see Interviews with Dead People on the Social Musings by Austin blog here:, I am using Ludwig Wittgenstein’s actual words in quotations.

AustinFromAustin: Herr Professor Doktor Wittgenstein, thank you for joining the Social Musings by Austin blog this week. I have been very excited to speak with you. John Maynard Keynes, the Chancellor of Cambridge at the time, once told of your arrival that “God has arrived. I met him on the 5.15 train.” RESPECT. Any thoughts for me as I try to make sense of the world we live in?

Wittgenstein: AustinFromAustin, “The world is made up of facts, not things.” “I know this world exists. But its meaning is problematic.” “It’s what we do and who we are that gives meaning to our words.”

AustinFromAustin: We humans have had a heck of a lot of progress in the 100 years since you were prominent...although the past 14 months have been challenging for many global citizens.

Wittgenstein: “The horrors of hell can be experienced in a single day - that is plenty of time.” When I think of the polarization in society today, I harken back to a previous comment I made way back when: “When two principles meet which can not be reconciled with one another, then each calls the other a fool or a heretic.” I saw this in both World Wars.

AustinFromAustin: Yeah. Sometimes I check the news. It isn’t pretty sometimes. Do you think it is right to question the world and our places in it?

Wittgenstein: “If people did not sometimes do silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done.” Besides, “doubt can exist only where a question exists, a question only where an answer exists, and an answer only where something can be said.”

AustinFromAustin: Some people think the fact that I am writing this blog is silly actually...

Wittgenstein: “Even to have expressed false thought boldly and clearly is to have gained a great deal.”

AustinFromAustin: That certainly gives me solace. BTW, have you checked out the Arts and Culture section ( of my blog yet?

Wittgenstein: “In art it is hard to say anything as good as saying nothing”

AustinFromAustin: Wow. I need to think about that one for a while. Your sister famously was a friend of Sigmund Freud, did you read my Zoom interview transcript with your fellow Viennese, Siggie Freud by any chance? He had some strong thoughts on the palliative effects of arts and culture.

Wittgenstein: I appreciate Dr. Freud's advancements in the science of psychoanalysis, and as a philosopher I can see all too clearly that "philosophy is a sickness of the mind." I took my research more into the linguistic philosophy realm and found that "the limits of my language are the limits of my world." "There is no private meaning. We are what we are, only because, we share a common language and common forms of life".

AustinFromAustin: Would you mind explaining that a bit more for me?

Wittgenstein: "Even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer."

AustinFromAustin: Whoa man, are you ok? Do you have like Zoom Fatigue or something? That was hard for me to understand.

Wittgenstein: I feel perfectly normal. What I am trying to describe is the human condition.

AustinFromAustin: Oh. Ok. I see. TBH, I found your stuff kinda hard to read. Do you think people understand you better now than back in 1929?

Wittgenstein: “If someone is merely ahead of time, it will catch him up one day”, and since

“people, culture, the air, everything will be different in the future”, I hope that my words will help society when the wind blows the right way for true understanding. “The most important thing is to settle accounts with myself” and I have done that.

AustinFromAustin: Vielen Dank, Herr Professor Doktor Wittgenstein.

I sometimes reflect upon how amazing it is that as humans in this world, we enjoy such unique opportunity for personal and spiritual growth.

Sure, we all have important obligations and responsibilities - to our employers, families, societies, etc. - but each of us enjoys the uniquely human freedom to try to do something new with ourselves every single day. It is wholly within our power, no matter how busy or tired we might be, to educate, improve and express ourselves.

In a recent Social Musings blog post (, I mentioned the concept of Ethical Self-Actualization. I would like to try to define it here.

According to Google search and the Oxford English dictionary, regular ole’ self-actualization is defined as such:

“the realization or fulfillment of one's talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone.”

I believe that there are a multitude of ways to fulfill one’s talents and live one’s true potential. However, some of them might come at the expense of other people, the environment or our own health. Conversely, what I term “ethical” self-actualization implies the aspirational thought that one can have their cake and eat it too. I think you can do both well AND good. It is harder at times to approach life in this way, granted; yet, I read stories every day on LinkedIn about working Americans who are striving to live their best life, for causes they truly believe in. Their stories inspired me to try to emulate that mentality.

So hopefully, we can all work on ourselves within the context of the greater world. Try to remember that what narrowly may feel selfish to you could actually be beneficial for the greater good. For example, taking a walk outside, meditating or practicing yoga may help you avoid road rage when you are stuck in post-COVID, gonna-be-worse-than-it-ever-was-before traffic. Making a new connection on LinkedIn may just lead to a successful partnership that brings an important idea to market which benefits millions of people around the world. Spending that extra moment with friends, family and loved ones could be just the inspiration you need to try something new.

The two can co-exist if we only try!

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. Have a great weekend.

Connect with me on social media:

Instagram: austinfromaustin1

Note to readers:

Many of the quotes from the Interview above came from the 1993 film “Wittgenstein”, which was the Winner of Best Feature Film at the Berlin International Film Festival. It is available for free on Kanopy streaming via your local public library. (With your library card and by signing into Kanopy, you should be able to watch five free art house films per month, consider it an investment in yourself!).

1 commentaire

Not silly. Infact it feels like watching a reality show, that is not fake.

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