The subject of this question is the comparison between the earlier and later Wittgenstein.

So, I begin this brief critique on the assumption his metaphysics bears some correlation to a naive interpretation of the Cartesian skepticism that the Devil is playing tricks on the existence of a permanent personal identity. In particular, I would lie to draw on Russell's most basic critic of the permanence of the "I" as a syntactic gestalt. Of course, Russel's own attempt at forming complete systems consistent within themselves was unexpectedly undermined by Gödel's famous proof a few decades hence.

But essentially, Russell's argument that the "I" is impermanent is a concept that has had reverberations that extend not only throughout the ivory tower of academia, but have had very real implications of the concept of permanence and change in the concept of identity as a construct that range from the Existential to Eastern philosophical doctrines such as Taoism (and those influenced by them: Schopenhauer, etc.)

What lead to Wittgenstein's departure from his more classical textual critique to his more radical and celebrated consideration (that involved no doubt no small admission of humility on his part) that his observations of the section of society that his observations were based on brought his conclusions based almost entirely on theory as opposed to having any empirical basis were effectively brought to its knees. In its place grew a more natural and organic philosophy based on empirical study whereby he imbued in the language of "the masses" an almost transcendental quality in which resided an intrinsic quality of the language as on organic entity and the employers of such a natural circumventing of the academic rigmarole of subjecting themselves to years of study of an appreciation of a linguistic life that they were living already.

In the words of Derek Jarman,

Because he was a very clever young man, he actually managed to do it. When he'd finished his work, he stood back and admired it. It was beautiful. A world purged of imperfection and indeterminacy. Countless acres of gleaming ice stretching to the horizon. So the clever young man looked around the world he'd created and decided to explore it. He took one step forward and fell flat on his back. You see, he'd forgotten about friction. The ice was smooth and level and stainless. But you couldn't walk there. So the clever young man sat down and wept bitter tears. But as he grew into a wise old man, he came to understand that roughness and ambiguity aren't imperfections, they're what make the world turn. He wanted to run and dance.

So is this "running and dancing" (clearly a superficial metaphor for the more difficultly defined concept of "living") the living that the non-philosopher does instinctively, and hence the crux of Jarman's epitaph in a critique on Russell's, (speaking of mathematics, but easily applied to the study of philosophy: particularly that of the field of self-contained logical systems),

... a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.

Is the above the, the essence of Wittgenstein's claim that he proclaimed the end of philosophy, just as Nietzsche proclaimed the death of god as a metaphor for the death of morality within the framework of the defunct meta-narrative of religion, was merely an admission that philosophy of linguistics was defunct, albeit an effective vehicle for the dry (and useless in terms of practical application, if the study of philosophy was also to exhibit the ability to live by one's philosophy, as though philosophy were an ethos or a system that the practitioner must adhere to if the world of ideas were to somehow have some intrinsic part to play in the day to day living of a virtuous life [an idea that was propounded by the pre-Socratics and beyond, and still holds credence]).

Does Wittgenstein's later philosophy not merely stand as a critique to the Socratic epithet that "An unexamined life is not worth living?"

  • There's a lot of spelling mistakes in this... Jul 16, 2017 at 21:58
  • @MoziburUllah agreed - unreadable as was
    – martin
    Jul 16, 2017 at 22:08
  • It;s an interesting question but as I feel that Wittgenstein's thinking was in much the same muddle throughout his life I can't answer it. My impression is that as time went on he became increasingly vague and devoid of content, but clearly not everyone agrees.
    – user20253
    Jul 17, 2017 at 15:28
  • @PeterJ Odd. I have the opposite impression that his later philosophy matured and reached deeper than the somewhat shallow quips of the Tractatus (especially in Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics and Philosophical Investigations). Mathematics as grammar and not about anything, language games and family resemblance, rule-following regress, private language argument, are all from later period. As for the reasons for change, see Kuusela's Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, it was driven by internal logic.
    – Conifold
    Jul 17, 2017 at 23:43
  • @Conifold. It's good to be fair and generous, but I'm afraid I find nothing in his work of any interest. It's a style of philosophy that goes around in circles and never breaks out. My apologies to W fans but I can't grasp why he is so well known. Off-topic though. For me his later work is no different from his earlier work so I have no comment on the question. .
    – user20253
    Jul 19, 2017 at 10:42

2 Answers 2


I do not think there was anything necessarily naïve in the content of the Tractatus - or that argument has yet to be made to me convincingly. But perhaps the Philosophical Investigations involved a new method on Wittgenstein's part in conveying his ideas - deliberately anchoring philosophy in an examination of the usage of language. In the Tractatus, perhaps the subject matter was logical form, whereas in Philosophical Investigations, perhaps the subject matter was the discipline of philosophy's relationship to ordinary language. Those two projects would be related, and the results of each project may not necessarily be incompatible with each other. I do not think Philosophical Investigations necessarily involved a revision of the substance of the Tractatus, though Wittgenstein almost certainly revised his method of engaging the discipline of philosophy.

  • You don't think that a central thesis of Tractatus is that language stands in a picturing relationship to the world, and that a central aim of Investigations is refuting that view? Jul 17, 2017 at 20:10
  • I think Wittgenstein's target is probably different in both texts - not necessarily that he did not revise his approach. In the Tractatus, I think his target was something like a critique of ambitions in philosophy to "go beyond" logical form - to say something metaphysical which exceeded the limits of logical form. His target in Philosophical Investigations seems more subtle, like he is presenting a method instead of a set of propositions. This does look like a fundamental revision of approach, to me, but not necessarily a fundamental revision of substance; the targets appear to be different
    – l_ruth_
    Jul 17, 2017 at 23:37
  • Hm, okay. See Norman Malcolm's book Nothing Is Hidden: Wittgenstein's Criticism of His Early Thought for a different view. Jul 17, 2017 at 23:51

I'm not entirely sure what you mean with respect to the Socrates quote. If you mean that Wittgenstein's philosophy encourages you to stop doing philosophy (stop examining) then you are correct. It is quite clear that Wittgenstein had an affinity for "simpler" folk - people who were non-philosophers. During some of his lectures in Cambridge, he quoted from detective and Western movies. In one of these detective stories there is a comment from the author about how unusual a clock is, how it measures something that isn't 100% real. Wittgenstein thought that this kind of confusion from a non-philosopher was much more important to speak about than the same kind of confusion from a philosopher. His purpose was to show his new form of philosophy - one which would allow the philosopher to stop asking questions. He believed that the kind of problems and doubts that philosophers get into (e.g. thinking the conception of perception, or time, or numbers is unusual) are not signs of superior thinking among intelligent people, but instead signs that philosophers are being more easily led astray than normal folk.

The reasons Wittgenstein abandoned the Tractatus are many. For one, there were specific problems with certain ideas found in the Tractatus, such as the idea that the bottom-level propositions of the system are independent, however there are certain sentences which are dependent. E.g. the sentence "the house is painted blue all over" precludes the statement "the house is painted red all over." Ramsey played a large role in convincing Wittgenstein about this. There was a long period of transition between Wittgenstein finishing the Tractatus and reaching the era in which he wrote PI. He came to realise his fundamental picture of philosophy was mistaken. The ideas of the Tractatus are still heavily influenced by the Augustinian picture of language found at the start of the PI.

This isn't to say Wittgenstein disagreed with all he wrote in the Tractatus. His conception of philosophy vastly changed, however there is still stuff in the Tractatus he would agree with I'm sure. He originally wanted to publish the PI along with the Tractatus so the genesis of his ideas would be clearer.

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