Tractarian Form as the Precursor to Forms of Life

Maria Tejedor Palau

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Interpreters are divided on the question of whether the phrase ‘form of life’ is used univocally in Wittgenstein’s later writings. Some univocal interpreters suggest that, for Wittgenstein, ‘form of life’ captures a uniquely biological notion: the biologically human form of life. Others suggest that it captures a cultural notion: the notion of differently enculturated forms of human life. Non-univocal interpreters, in contrast, argue that Wittgenstein does not use ‘form of life’ univocally, but that he uses it sometimes to highlight a cluster of biological notions and sometimes a cluster of cultural ones.

The debate between univocal and non-univocal readers has generated a raft of intricate, illuminating literature on both sides. If it remains to an extent open, it is partly as a result of the fact that the textual evidence available on this matter, in Wittgenstein’s later published and unpublished writings, is so limited. In this paper, I argue that considering Wittgenstein’s earlier treatment of ‘form’ can help to shed light on his later treatment of ‘form of life’. More specifically I argue that revisiting the Tractatus’ treatment of ‘form’ gives us – perhaps surprisingly – reasons to support a non-univocal later reading of ‘forms of life’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83–109
JournalNordic Wittgenstein Review
VolumeOctober 2015
Issue number 2242-248X
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2015


  • Wittgenstein
  • Tractatus Logico-Phiosophicus
  • Form
  • Forms of Life


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