Wittgenstein and Idealism

David R. Cerbone

in The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199287505
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Wittgenstein and Idealism

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  • Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic
  • History of Western Philosophy


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Of the many sources of interpretive conflict in Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy, one of the most recalcitrant is the question of his philosophy's ultimate commitment to idealism. Those who argue that Wittgenstein must in the end be some kind of idealist will cite, among other things, his appeal to ‘forms of life’ (either as diverse or ultimately and emphatically singular), his attention to the (alleged) constitutive role of, variously, our practices, community, or ‘mindedness’ in the formation of concepts, and his apparent dismissal of philosophical problems and questions as instances of speaking ‘outside’ of language-games. That just these features of Wittgenstein's philosophy converge to make for an ultimately idealist philosophy is succinctly summarised in Thomas Nagel's characterisation. Nagel, who labels Wittgenstein ‘one of the most important sources of contemporary idealism’, traces this influence to his views on ‘the conditions of meaning’.

Keywords: Ludwig Wittgenstein; philosophy; idealism; forms of life; Thomas Nagel; conditions of meaning

Article.  12140 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; History of Western Philosophy

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