Wittgenstein-Studien 2 (2) (1995)

Denis McManus
University of Southampton
This paper attempts to explain the abiding appeal of the suspicion that Wittgenstein is a conservative thinker. Among Wittgensteinians, there is a growing orthodoxy which takes the notion of 'Wittgenstein's conservatism' to be 'nutty' (Diamond 1991 p34). One justification for this opinion is that the charge of conservatism has typically been defended on the basis of highly implausible interpretations of Wittgenstein. However, the critical core of the conservatism charge has been mislocated by Wittgenstein's supporters and by most of his critics. No conservative theses are defended in his work. But in challenging the conceptual tools so often used in justifying criticism of our practices, Wittgenstein appears to abandon us to a conservatism by default. To understand this charge, we must broaden the context within which Wittgenstein's work is normally discussed. Odd as it may sound, what Wittgenstein actually says may only be one (and perhaps not the most important) consideration that we must bear in mind in assessing whether he is a conservative thinker
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