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Do we not need philosophy, in the wake of religion (apologies for my lack of grounding in that huge literature on Wittgenstein's 'way of life'), to find out if anything exists with an absolute or in itself value?

I found this, but it's a bit ambiguous with my grounding

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seems like absolute judgements of value can't be escaped but don't refer. Is that right?

  • (Logic and Sin in the Writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, By Philip R. Shields, p43)
  • 3
    Is there a reason you don't provide source information for quotes you're quoting??? (this feels like maybe the 10th time this has happened).
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 2:10
  • yeah, i forgot, sorry mate. excitability ?
    – user6917
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 2:46
  • 1
    Tractatus is not the right place to look, Wittgenstein's ethical and religious views are summarized here iep.utm.edu/wittgens/#H3 From 1929 lecture:"the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language", and as we do know from the Tractatus "what can not be said must be passed over in silence".
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


The Tractatus actually says nothing about Kant except some comments on the distinction between left and right in space. This is easily verified by searching any on-line copy of the work. As to what other works by Wittgenstein say about Kant or the absolute I refer to Conifold's comment on the question.

As to what you might infer about the kantian absolute from the Tractatus, note that Kant and Wittgenstein both take ``propositions" (usually, they use the German "Satz") to be stateable items of knowledge.

Kant finds that propositions can only be known when ``the corresponding objects may be given in experience'' (Critique of Pure Reason Bxviii). Of course he insists we have synthetic knowledge a prior which means it is not learned from experience. Notably this includes mathematics and the fact that every event has a cause. But their objects are given in experience, and this is how we learn that experience does not give us things in themselves. Absolutes like freedom and God and the universe as a whole go beyond anything that can be given in experience and so we do not have knowledge of them -- though we have beliefs and may use them as regulative ideas to organize knowledge. Absolutes are addressed in the Critique of Pure Reason only enough to say they are not objects of knowledge, in the paralogisms and the transcendental dialectic.

Wittgenstein by the end of the Tractatus uses "proposition" in a very similar way, saying ``The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science." Now I think natural science cannot be understood here to mean only research science. And Wittgenstein was not concerned with distinguishing theoretical from observational in science, at last in the Tractatus. I think natural science here more or less means propositions verifiable in experience, rather as Kant says.

I infer from this that Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus did not intend to say anything that could concern the kantian absolute. Of course many people drew great inspiration from earlier parts of the Tractatus and did not accept the ending of it. They might infer other things.

  • i read it ages ago, but thanks. interested in what it implies
    – user6917
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 6:20
  • not sure i follow your reasoning, in what sense does it "rule out" kant's absolute? i also downvoted cos your answer is too trivial as an answer
    – user6917
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 23:33
  • not sure that the propositions of natural science are always observable?
    – user6917
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 1:39
  • i see. i'm surprised that wittgenstein would claim that quarks are empirically observable rather than an extrapolation from empirical observation, i.e. sense reports. why not flesh out your answers with quotes etc. which demonstrate that wittgenstein claims that kant's absolute "is precisely" what we cannot find out through science.
    – user6917
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 1:47
  • I think there is a terminological confusion. Propositions are the domain of pure reason, but the moral law, where the "absolute judgements of value" belong, is from the practical reason, which is not about propositions or talking, it is about directing actions. So Tractatus does not in principle rule out "absolute values", it is silent about them, as it ought. Later Wittgenstein explicitly embraced "grasping a rule without interpretation", which is close to Kantian practical reason, and even retracted the "metaphysical" pronouncements of the Tractatus on language as contradicting its spirit.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 3:09

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