Was the later Wittgenstein a transcendental idealist?

D. Hutto

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In his paper "Wittgenstein and Idealism" Professor Williams proposed a 'model' for reading Wittgenstein's later philosophy which he claimed exposed its transcendental idealist character. By this he roughly meant that Wittgenstein's later position was idealistic to the extent that it disallowed the possibility of there being any independent reality that was not contaminated by our view things. And he thought it was transcendental in the sense that 'our view of things' is not something that we can explain or can locate in the world. I argue that even if we accept Williams' interpretation of Wittgenstein it does not follow that the latter sponsored any form of transcendental idealism. I make this case in several stages and on two different platforms. Firstly, I give a brief description of the underlying basis of Williams' interpretation. Secondly, I defend the general thrust of it against a critique which issued from Malcolm. Finally, I argue that the views ascribed to Wittgenstein by Williams do not make him into a transcendental idealist. On the one hand, this case is made by showing that there is a non-trivial resemblance between Williams' Wittgenstein and Donald Davidson who is a self-styled realist. On the other hand, I set out exegetical reasons for thinking that if the continuity that Williams sees between the Tractatus and the later writings actually exists then it provides reason in itself not to regard Wittgenstein as an idealist.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCurrent Issues in Idealism
ISBN (Print)978-1855064348
Publication statusPublished - 1996


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