About the Tractatus, while explaining the similarities and differences between Wittgenstein and Kant with regard to the metaphysics, on the one hand (both track limits, according to which we cannot speak about the subject in the limits of the worlds) and the ontology, on the other (Kant is an empiricist, whereas Wittgenstein holds a realistic ontology), a lecturer suggested that:

Wittgenstein is not a "Kantian idealist"; he may be considered an idealist, but limited to the Schopenhauerian connotation of "idealism".

Can you explain me why, and with regard to which areas investigated in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein may be considered a "Schopenhauerian idealist"?

  • The phrase "metaphysics on the one hand ... and the ontology on the other" doesn't make sense to me. Also, are you sure the lecturer said that Kant is an empiricist and Wittgenstein is a realist? Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 17:10
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    See Bryan Magee, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (2002), Ch.14 Schopenhauer's Influence on Wittgenstein, page 310-on, on the relationship between W and Kant-Schopenhauer: "a point which is of general interest about Wittgenstein. There are several respects in which the closest affinity of his thought is with Kant rather than Schopenhauer, but the fact that it was from Schopenhauer that he acquired the entire Kantian corpus of ideas and insights...". Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 17:40
  • @ChristopherE he sayed:""Wittgenstein is a kantian thinker, even if his ontology is realistic, whereas Kant's ontology is empiricist". About the other phrase, what I wanted to express is that Wittgenstein may be considered a kantian thinker if we look at metaphysics in the TLP, whereas he cannot be considered a kantian thinker if we look at the ontology.
    – franz1
    Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 17:55
  • Hello. The supposed comment about Schopenhauer doesn't make sense to me. It seems to suggest that Schopenhauer was less idealist than Kant. But in fact he was more. Commented Apr 23, 2016 at 19:40
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    Wittgenstein dispensed with his early affections for Schopenhauer by the time of the Tractatus. It might refer to "nonsense" in it, particularly if the lecturer subscribes to Hacker's "ineffability interpretation", “there are, according to the author of the Tractatus, ineffable truths that can be apprehended". According to Schopenhauer too we have irrational intuition of ineffable World Will, but of course not according to Kant. philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/files/conant/… Still, "idealism" is a big stretch.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 0:35

1 Answer 1


It is a myth that Wittgenstein's acquaintance with Kant's thought is due to him reading Schopenhauer in his teenage years. In my humble opinion, Schopenhauer wasn't a very perceptive reader of Kant, so I doubt that Wittgenstein learned any deeper Kantian ideas from him. That is, however, not the only reason to doubt this pervasive thesis, since Wittgenstein in the Tractatus references one thinker twice: Heinrich Hertz. Hertz was, of course, primarily a physicist, and not a philosopher, however he was under strong Kantian influence. And, whatever Kantian ideas we find in the Tractatus, most of them are also present in Hertz. Another Kantian physicist that Wittgenstein was influenced by is Ludwig Boltzmann. Wittgenstein writes:

There is truth in my idea that really in my thinking I am only reproductive. I believe that I have never invented a new line of thought: that has always been given me by someone else. I have only seized on it immediately with a passionate urge for the work of clarification. That is how Boltzmann, Hertz, Schopenhauer, Frege, Russell, Kraus, Loos, Weininger, Spengler, Sraffa influenced me.

So, although it is undeniable that Schopenhauer influenced Wittgenstein, the main content of his picture theory of language is actually present already in Hertz and Boltzmann (Wittgenstein originally wanted to study under Boltzmann, before the latter's suicide in 1906). And both physicists were deeply influenced by Kant, including certain "idealist" ideas.

An interesting fact is that the various picture theories of Hertz etc. were originally contrasted with empiricism, whereas the logical empiricists read Wittgenstein, also a picture-theorists, as an empiricist, and not a Kantian.

David Hyder wrote extensively about influence of Kant on Hertz and also about influence of Hertz on Wittgenstein. There are some of his writings:

  1. Mechanics of Meaning: Propositional Content and the Logical Space of Wittgenstein's Tractatus
  2. Kantian Metaphysics and Hertzian Mechanics
  3. Time, Norms and Structure in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy of Science

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