Wittgenstein's way out of Kantian Philosophy

Oskari Kuusela


Wittgenstein's Tractatus can, and has been plausibly interpreted as an exercise in
Kantian critical philosophy. As Kant's critical philosophy is an attempt to determine
the foundations of knowledge through considerations of the necessary conditions of
possibility of knowledge, and to set limits to knowledge claims in this way, so the
Tractatus can be understood as an attempt to determine the foundations of language
through considerations of the necessary conditions of possibility of language, and to
set limits to language use in this way. Some commentators have suggested that
Wittgenstein's later philosophy, too, could be understood as critical philosophy in
this sense. In this paper I will argue, however, that this is problematic. Although
Wittgenstein's later philosophy is concerned with limits of language, it is not an
attempt to give foundations and set limits to language, - these being attempts to
give reasons or grounds for why language must / can only be used in certain ways.
Rather Wittgenstein questions the idea of philosophy as giving foundations. Thus, he
does not e.g. move from a strong absolutist view of foundations to a weaker
relativistic view of foundations, or deny that foundations can be determined for
language either in the strong or weak sense. Rather, he points out that the idea that
philosophy gives foundations does not make sense, - and hence that there is nothing
to deny. Consequently, he puts forward a different conception of philosophy:
philosophy as description of language use, where description is not a new way of
giving foundations.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; late Wittgenstein; critical philosophy; method; limit

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