Wittgenstein and history

Wittgenstein’s place in the history of Western thought has been widely discussedby scholars. But Wittgenstein’s own attitude to history has so farescaped the notice of scholars. In this essay the author attempts to exploitthe meagre primary resources in order to discuss and assess Wittgenstein’sown thinking about history – both the history of philosophy and history ingeneral – and about historical modes of thought. In section 2, he introducesthe historicist challenge to analytic philosophy, and distinguishes differentvarieties of historicism. In section 3, he critically discusses Wittgenstein’sattitude to the history of philosophy, and its relation to the positions ofthinkers such as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, the logical positivists, Ryle andQuine. While Wittgenstein himself was indifferent or hostile to historicalscholarship, he has inspired several historicists. For this reason section 4briefly considers the question of whether Wittgenstein’s reflections on othertopics such as language or the nature of philosophy willy-nilly support historicism,either directly or indirectly. The final section turns from the historyof philosophy to history in general. It compares and contrastsWittgenstein’s account of conceptual investigations with the genetic methodderived from Nietzsche and recently promoted by Bernard Williams,according to which proper philosophy needs to take account of the historicaldevelopment of our conceptual scheme.