How not to speak on Wittgenstein and Social Science

Richard Raatzsch


In an article entitled "Wittgenstein and Social Science", Roger Trigg writes: "Our ability to reason about reality lies at the root of our intellectual endeavor. Yet it is an ability put in grave doubt by the later Wittgenstein. In rooting our reason in society, he made it impossible to reason about society" (Trigg [1991], p. 222, in the following quoted with number of page only.). Despite the "vast influence in the field of social science" [p. 209], of the work of the later Wittgenstein, it "adds up to a direct onslaught on the very possibility of rationality" [p. 219]. This is strong criticism. If it is correct, it should at least help social scientists to get rid of that philosophy they have mistakenly taken to be important for their field. But is this criticism correct? Trigg's argument, as I take it, runs as follows: Wittgenstein's later philosophy is incompatible with the possibility of a proper social science; there is or at least should and could be a proper social science; therefore this philosophy must be abandoned. (Notice that the "proper" is important insofar as there is a social science vastly influenced by the late Wittgenstein. This science is, of course, not made impossible by Wittgenstein's philosophy). The argument rests on a view of a proper social science on the one hand and on a view of Wittgenstein's so-called later philosophy on the other hand. The latter must be abandoned because it does not fit the former, not because it is false in itself. In this article I will first take a closer look at Trigg's views of a proper social science (section II). Secondly, I will look at how he views the later Wittgenstein (section III), in order finally to discuss whether Trigg's criticism meets Wittgenstein (section V). However, before I do that I will briefly examine Trigg's own views, asking whether he presents an attractive alternative at all (section IV). The final section of the article will investigate whether there are any points in Trigg's critique of Wittgenstein which may help to elucidate the importance of Wittgenstein's later philosophy for the social sciences, even if Trigg's criticism is not acceptable. In sections II and III I will quote Trigg extensively, because his remarks are themselves good examples of propositions which Wittgenstein criticized.


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; reason; social science; privacy; action; metaphysics; relativism

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