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From Metaphysics and Philosophical Theses to Grammar: Wittgenstein's Turn

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The paper discusses the question ‘what does Wittgenstein mean by not having theses in philosophy?’ His conception of philosophy without theses, as this is articulated in his later work, is understood as a response to the problem of dogmatism in philosophy and a non-metaphysical form of philosophy. I argue that although already the Tractatus aims at a philosophy devoid of theses, it involves a relapse back to such theses. Its conception of philosophical clarification involves a particular conception of the essence of propositions. This way the form of the activity of clarification is determined by a philosophical/metaphysical thesis. In his later philosophy Wittgenstein, however, manages to solve this problem. His solution, explained with the help of the metaphor of ‘turning our whole investigation around’, consists of a change in the comprehension of the status of philosophical statements. For instance rules (e.g. definitions) and examples are understood as what he calls ‘objects of comparison’. Such objects of comparison are something that cases of language use (to be investigated with the purpose of clarification) are to be compared with, but the philosopher is not to make the claim that such objects of comparison show what the cases of language use under examination must be. The modality (expressed by ‘must’) is a characteristic of the philosopher's mode of presentation. It should not be claimed to be a feature of his object of investigation (the uses of language to be clarified).

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Helsinki

Publication date: April 1, 2005

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