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Wittgenstein, Science and the Social Sciences

Smith, R.



Paul Smeyers


It is generally agreed that a strong line of continuity in Wittgenstein’s writings, from the early Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to the late Philosophical Investigations, is marked by his constant preoccupation with questions about language and meaning. Here I argue that another and equally important continuity lies in his attitude towards science, here understood as including logic, geometry and mathematics. His early work shows him deeply impressed by these disciplines, which in many ways supplied the model for his ideas about language and meaning. Later, he came to see that he had been ‘captured’ by these scientific ‘pictures’, and in numerous ways he set out to show that our thinking about how we understand the world, ourselves and each other and the degree of certainty that it is desirable and possible to achieve, can take many different forms. When the social sciences today are often denigrated for lacking the ‘rigour’ and certainty of the physical science, and when some social scientists respond by trying to borrow or imitate the methods of the physical sciences, Wittgenstein’s repudiation of the ‘picture’ of science and his welcoming of a broader conception of knowledge and understanding are of great value to educational researchers and social scientists of all kinds.


Smith, R. (2018). Wittgenstein, Science and the Social Sciences. In P. Smeyers (Ed.), International handbook of philosophy of education (443-455). Springer Verlag.

Acceptance Date Feb 1, 2018
Online Publication Date Jun 23, 2018
Publication Date Jun 23, 2018
Deposit Date Feb 13, 2018
Publisher Springer Verlag
Pages 443-455
Series Title Springer international handbooks of education
Book Title International handbook of philosophy of education.