Whose Ethics? Which Wittgenstein?

  • Duncan Richter


The relevance of Wittgenstein for ethics depends on which Wittgenstein we mean. I argue that we should distinguish not only between Wittgenstein's personal opinions and his philosophy, but also, within his philosophical work, between broadly methodological remarks and what Wittgenstein might call genuinely philosophical remarks (which are not about philosophy but try to bring clarity to the mind bewitched by language). Wittgenstein's personal opinions will be considered irrelevant by most philosophers (although I try to show that they are not as crazy as some people might think), and his philosophical remarks consist only of what he calls ‘boring truisms'. It is to his methodology, therefore, that we might expect philosophers to look for ethical implications. If that methodology is well conceived, though, it should be ethically neutral. I argue that it is neutral in this way, that Wittgensteinian philosophy says nothing about ethics, but that its proper use will not likely leave our philosophical beliefs about ethics unscathed.

Philosophical Papers Vol.31(3) 2002: 323-342

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