Was Wittgenstein a conservative philosopher?

Revista Estudos Hum(E)Anos (2014/01):47-59 (2015)
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J. C. Nyiri has argued in a series of papers that Ludwig Wittgenstein is a conservative philosopher. In ‘Wittgenstein 1929-31: The Turning Back’ Nyiri cites Wittgenstein’s admiration for Grillparzer as well as overtly philosophical passages from On Certainty in support of that thesis. I argue, in opposition to Nyiri, that we should separate Wittgenstein’s political remarks from his philosophical remarks and that nothing Wittgenstein says in his philosophical work obviously implies a conservative viewpoint, or any other kind of political viewpoint. In his philosophical work Wittgenstein was concerned with untangling conceptual confusions rather than with putting forward a political viewpoint and the two kinds of activities are quite different. There is, however, some evidence of elements of conservatism in the stances that Wittgenstein took on political issues although there is also some evidence of sympathy for left-wing views, particularly during the ‘late’ period of Wittgenstein’s work after he returned to philosophy at the end of the 1920s. Wittgenstein’s philosophical work cannot be claimed by people of any particular political persuasion as their own but it can be used to untangle philosophical problems in the work of a great variety of political philosophies.

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Robert Vinten
Universidade Nova de Lisboa


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