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The Linguistic Idealism Question: Wittgenstein’s Method and his Rejection of Realism

  • Olli Lagerspetz
From the journal Wittgenstein-Studien


After the publication of Wittgenstein’s posthumous work the question was raised whether that work involved idealist tendencies. The debate also engaged Wittgenstein’s immediate students. Resistance to presumed idealist positions had been ideologically central to G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell and other representatives of realism and early analytic philosophy. While Wittgenstein disagreed with them in key respects, he accepted their tendentious definition of ‘idealism’ at face value and bequeathed it to his students. The greatest flaw in the Realists’ view on idealism was their assumption of symmetry between realist and idealist approaches. For Realists, the chief task of philosophy was to establish what kinds of thing exist, and they took Idealists to offer an alternative account of that. However, the Idealists’ guiding concern was rather to investigate the subjective conditions of knowledge. In this respect, Wittgenstein’s conception of philosophical method was closer to theirs than to that of the Realists. This is especially obvious in his rejection of Moore’s idea of immediate knowledge. Ultimately, the trouble with Wittgenstein was not that he endorsed any kind of idealist ontology. It was his refusal to deliver the expected realist ontological messages on the supposed question of whether reality is independent of language or otherwise.


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Online erschienen: 2021-02-03

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