As far as I've understood, Kant argued that metaphysical knowledge is impossible because the human mind is not capable enough to acquire it. Wittgenstein, on the other hand, claimed that metaphysical statements do not even make sense at all.

However, nowadays many philosophers still try to solve metaphysical problems. This leads me to think that they have come up with arguments against the views of Kant and Wittgenstein.

What are these arguments or where can I find out more about them?

  • 1
    Wittgenstein published two major works, one before, and one after accepting the position you are talking about. Both are very nice work, but to me, befitting their names, first (the Tractatus) just seems like a dogma and the other (the Investigations) just seems like a menagerie of examples that already presuppose the view. If you can find "The Blue and Brown Books", which are class notes from students during the period when he was clarifying his view, you can see better how he gets to where he ends up.
    – user9166
    May 13 '15 at 17:24
  • Wikipedia explains metaphysics as "Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms: • What is ultimately there? • What is it like?". These questions can be reasoned about because, divorced from the religious, and when ignoring that thinking about it has tended to drive people mad, and when being careful to distinguish different meanings of "exist" and "is" (and so on), it's trivial. But perhaps not very satisfying. ;-) The really satisfying stuff is fundamental physics, and that's difficult to think about. Very much so. May 14 '15 at 10:55
  • Blue and Brown Books are not necessarily a good prolegomena to the Investigations, they were written earlier and are, for example, more committed to verificationism. Better just to read secondary literature on the Investigations as an introduction. Also form a Wittgensteinian perspective metaphysics might often be nonsense, however it's not simply patent nonsense, but latent hard to detect nonsense.
    – Johannes
    May 15 '15 at 9:43

Well, the simple answer is that there are a huge variety of positions to approach both Kant and Wittgenstein's philosophy . . I can suggest a few:

  • Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil describes Kant's philosophy as a fox who has escaped from its cage, only to return voluntarily. The analogy of escape being his theory of the sublime (which, as Nick Land notes transforms Kant's philosophy into a kind of German mysticism), and the voluntary return being the resignation to only ever knowing appearances and never things in themselves. Nietzsche offers instead a conception of knowledge as a thin veneer masking base drives that function in service of a will to power . A good book for his epistemological views is The Gay Science.

  • Arguments against Wittgenstein's position on language are varied . Considering Wittgenstein's dissatisfaction with the picture picture
    of meaning, and his eventual emphasis on the pragmatic functions of
    language; his view of meaning as use is fairly widespread in both
    metaphysical philosophy and other areas. In 1000 Plateaus for
    example Deleuze and Guattari explicitly endorse Wittgenstein's
    conception of meaning as use. The basic view is that some say his
    first book tries to end lofy metaphysical speculation, yet his second shows why it can never end.

  • Philosophers associated with what's know as speculative realism address the question of alternatives to Kant's epistemology

These are just two. The more you look the more you find :)


Not a full answer but there are strong arguments against verificationism, which is the doctrine on the basis of which Wittgenstein rejects metaphysics as nonsense. This was responsible for the demise of logical empiricism. It is sometimes said that Kant's views became implausible after general relativity (because its geometry is non euclidean while Kant thought of euclidean geometry as synthetic a priori) and the work on foundations of logic and mathematics. Kripke is often acknowledged for aloowing a renewal of metaphysics.

  • you should provide reference or edit it - afaik wittgenstein was not always a verificationist, so your answer is misleading
    – user6917
    May 14 '15 at 13:19

Meta-physics, or before-physics was originally a set of lecture notes by Aristotle on a range of notions that in some way were covered by his Physics; but here covered in a more broader and general manner; they included notions like chance, change, place, time, first cause; though Aristotle did not use the term metaphysics himself (it was named as such by a first century editor), he says that he proposed here to deal with first causes (aitia) and principles (arche).

A useful question to ask is whether Kant and Wittgenstein metaphysicians in this sense.

Consider, that Kants Critique of Pure Reason begins with the consideration that time and space are forms of transcendental knowledge; where the term transcendental means the conditions of; consider too that Kant called his conception 'a copernican revolution'; consider he posited an indescribable and unobservable realm called the noumena which underlay in some entirely unspecifiable way the phenomenal realm; and again consider that he provided an argument deriving Newtons Third Law of motion from Aristotelian notions of substance; and one sees that the term metaphysician is not entirely inappropriate for him; one can say, quite justifiably, that he is here in the first critique a metaphysician of physics.

Now Wittgenstein named his first treatise the Tractatus in honour of Spinoza whose metaphysical tendencies are explicitly acknowledged in his own book; but when we turn to the text itself we see that it is concerned about logic; but it is a logic of a peculiar kind not concerned with the kind of questions that seem proper to either the formal propositional or predicate logic; to a large degree he is concerned with limits of logic - and what lies outside of this limit he calls undemonstratable; in the sense that a proof in Euclids Elements are a 'demonstration'; it can only be shown, ie revealed; he doesn't deny this as a real possibility; but only as a demonstratable possibility; thus he can say without irony 'there is the mystic'; and one can call him, justifiably a metaphysician of logic.

So their own work, far from denying metaphysics is affirming it.

  • Not a comment on the post, just the etymology. Meta means beyond, so potentially after, but not before. One interpretation of the title of Aristotle's Metaphysics is that it is simply what was left to cover next after the Physics.
    – user9166
    May 14 '15 at 22:45
  • Ok, thanks. You are right; I meant 'before' in terms of logical development; though as a study; the study of first principles tends to come 'after' the study of actual matter of the study. May 15 '15 at 8:17

One can accept the core of Wittgenstein's perspective and the notion of language as usage without rejecting the notion that there may be a proper domain for metaphysics. No one is correct about everything, and people are often most blind to the consequences of their own favorite observations.

I would contend that within the theory of Wittgenstein itself there is a proper domain of metaphysical inquiry. The theory arranges language into a set of overlapping 'games', each of which is coped to best cover a given set of uses.

But any concept has its meta-version. If there is a domain of games, there is a domain of studying games themselves, which for Wittgenstein was the domain of philosophy. Philosophers of Science, for instance are interested in the 'game' of science, and what its proper rules are.

But there are questions about games themselves. First and foremost is the question of the boundaries between games, and how to negotiate them. When neurology and psychology both try to give interpretations of depression, there is a boundary dispute. Each considers the other's explanations true in their own domain, but somehow 'cheating'. If I drug you into being happy, have I really helped you improve your life, well, yes and no... If I talk you out of being depressed, but your physiology makes it likely you will fall back in within the next five years, have I really helped -- well yes and no... Yet, by and large, there is peace between these two cabals of cheaters, and each can incorporate the other's work despite its origin within a field with different standards.

So to the extent different sciences are sub-games, there are boundaries between sub-games, and ways of negotiating those boundaries that respect both of the adjacent disciplines. The same thing obviously happens between top-level games, like religion and science, or logic and physics. Decisions about how one is to resolve those are going to lie in another game entirely, a meta-game that clearly has rules of its own.

It seems to me, without forcing the perspective, that, other than the sheer volume of absolute nonsense that Wittgenstein was so appalled by, this is what metaphysicians have always done, and will need to continue doing, despite the dismissal of them.

I do not consider the author of the "Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics that ..." hostile to our continuing to develop metaphysics. So I feel your characterisation is an unfair oversimplification.

Kant rules out a certain kind of certainty entirely with the split between noumenon and phenomenon.

But he also clearly thinks he can properly talk about ideas like Categories and Duty, which underly certain phenomena and are to a very high degree absolutes. So we can get around Kant's problem with metaphysics the way he did, by properly understanding what he meant.

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