Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies

By P. M. S. Hacker | Go to book overview

2 #2 Wittgenstein and the Autonomy Of Humanistic Understanding

1 Not Merely Destructive

Wittgenstein was a 'critical philosopher' in two more or less Kantian senses. First, he was concerned, early and late, with elucidating the limits of language. Where Kant had understood by Kritik the delineation of the limits of a faculty, Wittgenstein gave a linguistic turn to a form of critical philosophy. Where Kant explored the limits of pure reason, Wittgenstein investigated the limits of language. Where Kant delimited knowledge in order to make room for faith, Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus, delimited language in order to make room for ineffable metaphysics, ethics, and religion. With the collapse of the Tractatus conception of the distinction between what can be said and what cannot be said but only shown, his later critical investigations into the bounds of sense led to the repudiation of metaphysics, effable or ineffable. Ethics and religion were conceived naturalistically or anthropologically as aspects of a form of life, ultimately beyond rational foundation or justification. The investigation into the limits of language no longer intimated a domain of ineffable truth beyond those limits, which nevertheless shows itself in the forms of language. There is nothing ineffable about ethics, aesthetics, and religion, but a proper understanding of ethical, aesthetic, or religious utterances requires an apprehension of their role within the distinctive form of life or culture to which they belong. The bounds of sense fence us in only from the void of nonsense. Philosophy as it were keeps the account books of grammar, and its task is to point out to us when we are drawing a draft on currency that does not exist.

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