How many Wittgensteins?

David G. Stern


The paper maps out and responds to some of the main areas of disagreement over the nature of Wittgenstein’s philosophy: (1) Between defenders of a “two Wittgensteins” reading (which draws a sharp distinction between early and late Wittgenstein) and the opposing “one Wittgenstein” interpretation. (2) Among “two-Wittgensteins” interpreters as to when the later philosophy emerged, and over the central difference between early and late Wittgenstein. (3) Between those who hold that Wittgenstein opposes only past philosophy in order to do philosophy better and those who hold that Wittgenstein aimed to bring an end to philosophy and teach us to get by without a replacement. It is shown that each of these debates depends on some deeply un-Wittgensteinian, and quite mistaken, assumptions. It is concluded that Wittgenstein’s most polished writing, most notably in Philosophical Investigations I §§ 1–425, is best understood as a kind of Pyrrhonism which aims to subvert philosophical theorizing, by means of a polyphonic dialogue. Because this delicate balance between philosophical questions and their dissolution is not achieved in most of his other published and unpublished writings, we should be very cautious when using the theories and methods we find in those other writings as a guide to reading the Philosophical Investigations.


20th century philosophy; Big Typescript; Philosophical Investigations; Tractatus logico-philosophicus; Wittgenstein Ludwig; dialogue; history of Wittgenstein scholarship; philosophy; reading of Wittgenstein

Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.