Wittgenstein early metaphilosophy in the TLP basically gives philosophy the role of "riddler solver", that is, a discipline whose main task is to study language in order to clarify the meaning of propositions, or to show that a proposition clearly lacks meaning.

How does this change in the Philosophical Investigation? What is the objective of philosophy according to the late Wittgenstein?

  • 1
    Do you want answers restricted to the Philosophical Investigations or do you want people delving into the various notebooks?
    – virmaior
    Aug 26, 2015 at 1:32
  • Isn't this no more than an aspect of the Socratic attitude in Platos dialogues; say for example when Socrates questions Cephalus in The Republic as to what, then exactly constitutes justice; or when Socrates questions Ion in his eponymous dialogue as to what constitutes the skill of a rhapsode (a singer); how then does one distinguish between this attitude and that of late Wittegenstein? Aug 26, 2015 at 1:54
  • @virmaior Any comment on the change in Wittgenstein's metaphilosophy will be appreciated. I mentioned the Philosophical Investigation because it is the Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations because they are the most well-known representatives of the early and late Wittgenstein respectively,
    – Gabriel
    Aug 26, 2015 at 17:11
  • As far as I understood from better informed people, he completely rejected the project of any objective philosophy in his later years, very much like Husserl, who had a try of it of his own in his early years.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 16, 2016 at 20:20
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    His famous observation on the "bewitchment of language" is given below. I believe he did regard philosophy as having a kind of medicinal or healing function, except that "philosophy" is also the disease. He advised his students to go work in a factory and he said that the aim of philosophy was to "leave life as it found it." Not sure I'm quoting correctly. Jan 17, 2016 at 22:06

2 Answers 2


There are several remarks in the Philosophical Investigations in which Wittgenstein comments on the "business" of philosophy:

It was correct that our considerations must not be scientific ones. The feeling ‘that it is possible, contrary to our preconceived ideas, to think this or that’ — whatever that may mean — could be of no interest to us. (The pneumatic conception of thinking.) And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. All explanation must disappear, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light — that is to say, its purpose — from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems; but they are solved through an insight into the workings of our language, and that in such a way that these workings are recognized — despite an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by coming up with new discoveries, but by assembling what we have long been familiar with. Philosophy is a struggle against the bewitchment of our understanding by the resources of our language. (§109)

And from §122 to §129:

It is not the business of philosophy to resolve a contradiction by means of a mathematical or logico-mathematical discovery, but to render surveyable the state of mathematics that troubles us — the state of affairs before the contradiction is resolved. (§125)

Philosophy just puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. — Since everything lies open to view, there is nothing to explain. For whatever may be hidden is of no interest to us. (§126)


What is the objective of philosophy according to the late Wittgenstein?

The objective of philosophy according to the later Wittgenstein is both to make us aware of the temptation of any a-priori generalization and to show how to overcome it.

(The rejection, which marks the thansition from early to later Wittgenstein is, more generally, addressed to every kind of dogmatism in philosophy and the Philosophical Investigations can be seen as the culmination of all the consequences of this rejection).

The rejecting of any a-priori generalization is also the rejection of the tractarian approach, which did consist in reducing the sphere of the sayable to meaningful declarative sentences which are all of equal value, by virtue of a general form of truth-function ([p-, ξ-, N(ξ-)]), therefore every meaningful sentence is, abstractly and dogmatically, no more than the result of successive application of a formula consisting on a formal operation and one propositional variable (see TLP 6 and following comment).

So, while the Tractatus does construct a systematic edifice which relies on strict formal logic, on the other hands the Philosophical Investigations points out the therapeutic non-dogmatic nature of philosophy, verily instructing philosophers in the way of therapy. Consequently, according to this new viewpoint, a philosophical problem has the form: "I don't know my way about" (PI 123), and hence the aim of philosophy is "to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle" (PI 309)

(source: see in particular the paragraph 3.7. The Nature of Philosophy here)

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