Essays in Philosophy

Volume 11, Issue 2, July 2010

Ordinary Language Philosophy: A Reappraisal

Alberto Voltolini
Pages 150-167

Is Wittgenstein a Contextualist?

There is definitely a family resemblance between what contemporary contextualism maintains in philosophy of language and some of the claims about meaning put forward by the later Wittgenstein. Yet the main contextualist thesis, namely that linguistic meaning undermines truth-conditions, was not defended by Wittgenstein. If a claim in this regard can be retrieved in Wittgenstein despite his manifest antitheoretical attitude, it is instead that truth-conditions trivially supervene on linguistic meaning. There is, however, another Wittgensteinian claim that truly has a contextualist flavour, namely that linguistic meaning is itself wide-contextual. To be sure, this claim does not lead to the eliminativist/intentionalist conception of linguistic meaning that radical contextualists have recently developed. Rather, it goes together with a robust conception of linguistic meaning as intrinsically normative. Yet it may explain why Wittgenstein is taken to be a forerunner of contemporary contextualism.