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Wittgenstein Ludwig(1889-1951) Austrian-born philosopher whose influence on modern philosophy and on certain sectors of sociology has been immense. Wittgenstein is unusual among philosophers in making a major contribution to two divergent major movements within the subject:
- In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1923), language was presented as ‘picturing’ the world. According to this theory, the ‘truth’ or ‘falsity of any proposition is ultimately a matter of its ‘correspondence’ or otherwise with the ‘atomic facts’, i.e. the ‘ultimate simples’ that make up the world. This view (connected with Russell's ‘logical atomism’) exerted a major influence on LOGICAL POSITIVISM;
- In Philosophical Investigations (1953), published posthumously, Wittgenstein -who had previously given up philosophy believing his task completed with the Tractatus - repudiated his ‘picture theory’, advancing instead a theory in which language was seen as providing ‘tools’ which operate only within particular social contexts or in relation to particular tasks. This is the meaning of Wittgenstein's most influential concept at this stage: language as a FORM OF LIFE (see also LANGUAGE GAMES). Whereas in the Tractatus language was the basis of universal truths, a secure basis for science, now there were multiple languages, and any truth was relative to these. Arguably Wittgenstein s later philosophy was implicit in his earlier view, for in quitting philosophy at this stage, he had reported himself as leaving unsaid, ‘what cannot be said’. In his later philosophy, there is much that can be said, but nothing that can be said independently of particular languages.
It is in its 'second’ form, that Wittgenstein's philosophy has exerted a ramifying influence on sociology, especially on SOCIAL PHENOMENOLOGY and ETHNOMETHODOLOGY, partly through its influence on LINGUISTIC PHILOSOPHY and partly more directly, and also through the work of Peter WINCH. It has also had a profound effect on historical and social studies of natural science, seen especially in the work of Thomas KUHN and Paul FEYERABEND. The influence of the later Wittgenstein has been seen as a baneful one X by some sociological commentators, e.g. GELLNER (1974), who sees Wittgenstein's influence on Winch as ushering in a ‘new idealism’ and a ‘new relativism’. For others (as for Winch), the MEANINGFUL UNDERSTANDING of social actors’ beliefs and values in the particular social contexts in which these are located is of the essence in sociological analysis, and the subject's only goal. There is also a third view, however. For many, Wittgenstein's emphasis on first understanding social actors’beliefs and values before trying to explain them is what is most important and valuable. In such a viewpoint, there are direct parallels between what some sociologists have taken from Wittgenstein, and what can also be found in WEBER's conception of accounts of social reality: ‘meaningful’ and wider ‘causal’ explanations are combined.