In the Tractatus he says at 4.111 that “philosophy is not one of the natural sciences,” and at 4.112 “Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts.”

My question is: is Wittgenstien limiting philosophy? Consider the something in metaphysics like the equivalence principle. Einstien used language to extend the framework itself (not clarify) as we know there are extensions where this does not hold like teleparallel gravity. So it would be more accurately called a guess which extends the framework.

Am I missing something or misinterpretation wittgenstien?

  • Maybe... For W philosophy is not a science, neither in the Tractatus (see your quote) nor in subsequent works. Philosophical work is a work of elucidation of our concepts and language uses. Feb 8, 2023 at 15:33
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    Where do you think Carnap got the idea that anything not empirically verifiable, like metaphysics, is meaningless (hint: TLP 6.53)? But TLP is not dispositive because Wittgenstein repudiated much of it in the late period. His late philosophical therapy is arguably even more limiting, it denies philosophy its own subject or method, and sets aside many traditional philosophical problems as pseudo-problems stemming from linguistic confusion. Equivalence principle would not be philosophy to Wittgenstein, it is science's business.
    – Conifold
    Feb 8, 2023 at 15:41
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    But isn't it true that many traditional philosophical problems are pseudo-problems stemming from linguistic confusion? For example, there is the question of "mind" - people start talking about "mind" and write volumes about it, without realizing that "mind", well, we don't know really know what it is exactly. Another example is "intelligence" - people discuss "intelligence", but few stop to realize that there is no single definition of "intelligence". Linguistic confusion reigns and results in a lot of speculative ink.
    – Frank
    Feb 8, 2023 at 17:10
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    @DavidGudeman So, what is "mind"?
    – Frank
    Feb 8, 2023 at 18:23
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    @Frank, not a suitable topic for a comment thread. Feb 8, 2023 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


Einstein reconciled the fixed speed of light from Electromagnetism, with Newtonian gravity, in a classical theory - I don't see that as 'extending the framework', but as describing what happens in the existing framework, and recognising that it looks like space bending due to gravity.

TLP 6.54: "My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright."

Known as Wittgenstein's Ladder

People very often seem to chose to make a mistaken interpretation not of Wittgenstein's thought as a whole, but of the TLP - against what is in the text itself. His point as I see it was to follow through the implications of the picture theory of language, and so find it's limits:

"Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent" - ie the saying showing distinction. This leads directly to the Private Language argument, and the implicit precursor to speaking of the unspoken nature of intersubjectivity, seeing from another person's eyes.

Wittgenstein does choose a narrower business for the rather sprawling enterprise of philosophy. I would describe it as advocating a tighter focus for the subject. What was once Natural Philosophy, is now a far bigger subject of study, and science is consider to be separate. So philosophy has been changing, over time.

Wittgenstein kicked off Ordinary Language Philosophy, the shift to observing how we do in fact communicate, over creating 'perfect' formal languages to eliminate apparent problems that had not even been fully considered. That makes the scope if philosophy wider, not narrower, than it had become.

There are certainly strands of philosophical thought Wittgenstein dismissed, like mysticism. Yet at the same time, I would say the tools of his thought are exemplarary for examining what the interesting mystics are about, those not just seeking to mystify. And that evidences for me the value in his pursuit of a sharper focus for philosophy.

"In this sort of predicament, always ask yourself: How did we learn the meaning of this word ("good", for instance)? From what sort of examples? In what language-games? Then it will be easier for you to see that the word must have a family of meanings." -Philosophical Investigations

See this article for examples of this in action: Nāgārjuna, Nietzsche, and Rorty’s Strange Looping Trick

  • " “For the clarity we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophy problems should completely disappear.”" ... I thought he was limiting philosophy over here too? Feb 8, 2023 at 18:56
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    @CrigleCragle i want to share this circle loop with thee. Feb 8, 2023 at 22:02
  • @MoreAnonymous: The fly once shew out the bottle no longer sees the bottle. Yet the knowing how to shew it, must be worked out for each bottle. Philosophy as a toolbox, rather than some list of epistemological assertions. We got the grounds of science all figured out? Cool, it exits philosophy, it's problems 'dissappear' to philosophy. That is it having been 'clarified'. (i argue that this only fully applies to taking measurements, not assembling theories here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/96371/…)
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 8, 2023 at 23:16


Arguably no one limited philosophy to the extend that Wittgenstein did. Those limitations differ for his early and late philosophies.

In Tractatus, we can philosophically investigate pretty much everything, except for the one thing that really matters, which is the mystical (also called ethics, the transcendental, the moral, the metaphysical). However, this is what matters the most to us human beings. He had a major disagreement with Vienna circle on this point, they thought he just dismissed the mystical as nonsense, but for Wittgenstein it was actually the most important area of questioning. Therefore in his early philosophy, we can philosophically investigate everything, except for the one thing that matters most, the ethical.

In his later philosophy, Wittgenstein imposed a different limit on philosopphy. We as humans engage in language games, and meaning is use. There is no Socratic certainty, we cannot give a 100% accurate definition, there is no such thing. 'Smoke' is one thing for a chemist, another thing for a firefighter, and a totally different thing for Snoop Dogg. Language games are never complete. They come into existence and go out of existence just like us human beings. All that philosophy can do is clarify some pseudo-problems we get ourselves into when we mix different language games.

Alain Badiou considered Nietzsche, Lacan and Wittgenstein to be the most limiting philosophers in history. Check out his book "Wittgenstein's anti-philosophy".

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