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Winch, Wittgenstein and Marxism

Radical Philosophy :Thl.. leell
Wlllch, WIII,gellslelll
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Ted Benton


This paper suffers from a certain ‘instability’

deriving from its having been written some years
ago, and then substantially modified more recently
to serve quite different purposes. This modification,has, unfortunately, been insufficiently
thorough, although the instability of the paper
may be itself of some interest.

The work for the original paper was produced in
the late ’60s, in a context of extensive political
radicalisation of ‘intellectual’ youth in the
advanced capitalist countries, and also in the
Eastern Block. The realisation of the complicity
of the US intellectual establishment1 in the
imperialist war against Vietnam was of particular
significance. It led, both in the USA and in
Britain, to students questioning not only the
social relationships within which ‘knowledge” was
‘transmitted’ in the universities and colleges,
but also the very content of that knowledge. In
this, philosophy students were no exception and
attempts were made to establish precisely what
was the social/political significance of philosophy. The dominant tendencies of ‘linguistic
philosophy’ and ‘linguistic analysis’ at that time
were not always clearly distinguished, and those
on the neo-Marxist left tended to reject the whole
of their philosophy curricula as ‘bourgeois ideology’. Either, following Marcuse~ linguistic
philosophy was conceived as merely a new variant
of empiricism, so that it could be subjected to
the already well-established general critique of
empiricism, or, following Perry Anderson,3
Wittgenstein and other linguistic philosophers
were regarded as professional defenders of the
conceptual status-quo, and so as, intentionally
or not, politically conservative. In that general
context, I wrote this paper in order to defend
what I considered to be genuinely intellectually
” liberating aspects of W~ttgenstein’s philosophy
against this tendency to submerge its particular
! . characteristics into an ill~efined and amorphous
;, ‘bourgeois culture’. It was also my objective to
indicate a path from Wittgenstein to Marx which
could be followed, I thought, without turning away
from some of the central philosophical advances
;,present in Wittgenstein’s work.

;, Since I wrote the original paper there have
~,~ppeared several defences (or partial defences) 4
,~f Wittgenstein from a leftist and even Marxist
tandpoint by academic philosophers on the left.

t therefore now seems to me to be necessary to
onduct a series of distinct investigations:

” ,(i) What, if anything, justified the original
diSmissal of Wittgenstein as a ‘bourgeois

(ii) What, if anything, is in the more recent
attempts to uncover a ‘progressive’

Wittgenstein and connect him with Marx?

(iii) Can we use the answers to these questions
to achieve a more reliable and objective


assessment of the place of Wittgenstein in
British intellectual history?

In the course of these investigations, I hope,
some steps are made towards the development of an
adequate conception of ideology – a conception
which would, in my view, be a necessary condition
of any satisfactory situating of Wittgenstein’s
work in its social and intellectual context. The
present paper, then, is to be understood as
simultaneously an exercise in critical history of
ideas and an attempt at conceptual analysis and


The Effects of Wittgenstein’s work: the case

of Peter Winch
In order to conduct the first investigation ‘what just~fied the rejection of Wittgenstein as
a bourgeois philosopher?’ – it is necessary to
distinguish the philosophical achievements present in Wittgenstein’s work from the assimilation/
appropriation of Wittgenstein’s work by British
intellectual culture – particularly, in the fields
of philosophy, ethics and sociology. To quote
the Italian philosopher, Rossi-Landi:

Don’t look for the meaning of a philosopher,
look for his use: the meaning of a philosopher
is his use in-;-culture. 5

I want to argue that in the particular case of
Wittgenstein there are important differences
between the meaning of the philosopher and his
use in the culture. To illustrate this point I
shall consider one text only: Peter Winch’s
Idea of a Social Science. My argument will be
that the general methodology of the social studies which Winch argues for in The Idea is not
only misconceived on its own account, but more
importantly for present purposes, that quite
opposite methodological conclusions for the
social sciences can be drawn from a development
of aspects of Wittgenstein’s work which Winch
1 N Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins,
Pelican, 1969
2 H Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, Sphere Books,
1968, Ch.7
3 Perry Anderson – ‘Components of the National
, Culture’ (originally in NLR50 and reprinted in
Student Power, ed. IR.Blackburn
4 See, for instance, Tony Manser, The End Qf
Philosophy: Marx and Wittgenstein, Inaugural
Address, Univ. of Southampton, 1973; John Moran
‘wittgenstein and Russia’, NLR73; K T Fann,
‘wittgenstein and Bourgeois Philosophy,RP8;
Also relevent are E Burke, ‘wittgenstein’s’

Conservatism, RP10; and the contributions by
Richard Norman and Tony Skillen to RPl
5 F ROBsi-Landi ‘Per un uso Marxiano di
Wittgenstein’, trans. Prof. Tony Manser. I am
greatly indebted to Tony Manser both for his
translation, and for the stimUlation of his excellent inaugural address on Marx and



Winch represents his task in The Idea as extending Wittgenstein’s treatment of the notion
of ‘following a rule’ from the analysi~ of linguistic meaning to forms of interaction other
than speech – to non-linguistic social actions
and interactions which can nevertheless be said
to have a symbolic character.

In this way, it
should be possible to develop a conception of
sociological understanding along the same lines
as Wittgenstein’s conception of what it is to
‘understand the meaning of’ in connection with
linguistic meaning. Already there are difficulties with this method of procedure:

(i) ‘Social action’ is not, generally, taken
as the sole object of knowledge in the social
studies. Winch seems to suppose that i t must
be without justifying his assumption.

(ii) It can not be .correct for Winch to characterise thi.s task as extending the application of
Wittgenstein’s treatment of linguistic meaning to
‘forms of social interaction other than speech’,
since Wittgenstein’s account of linguistic meaning
already involves the concept of social action:

‘I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, the
“language-game” .’ (P. I, Part 1, § 7)
, Here the term “language-game” is meant to bring
into prominence, the fact that the speaking of
language is part of an activity, or of a form of
life.’ (P.I, Part 1, §23)
We should rather view Winch as offering a further
elucidation of Wittgenstein’s conception of meaning by developing the notions of language-game
and form of life beyond their rather primitive qnd
gestural status in Wittgenstein’s own work.

(iii) Winch, without ever making i t explicit, presupposes the validity of the argument:

Social actions are meaningful.

The social studies aim at the understa~ding of
social action.

Therefore: ‘Understanding’ in the social studies
is understanding of the meanings of social actions.

Of course, the argument, once explicitly formulated, can be clearly seen to be invalid, but
Winch’s whole project of using Wittgenstein’s work
to shed light on the proper method in the social
studies depends upon it.

My main purpose in this section is to examine
Wipch’s presentation of the implications of
Wittgenstein’s philosophy for the methods of the
social studies.

I shall try to show (1) that
these implications, as presented by Winch are,
indeed, intellectually and politically conservative.

It is, perhaps, ‘appropriations’ of
Wittgenstein’s work such as Winch attempts which
formed the basis (such as it was) for a rejection
of Wittgenstein’s work itself as ‘conceptual conservatism’. (2) I shall try to show that there
are elements in Wittgenstein’s work which could
form the basis of a methodology for the social
studies quite other than that proposed by Winch,
and having none of the latter’s conservative implications.

It would be a methodology, indeed,
having much in common with a certain way of understanding Marx’s method.

Such a presentation of
Wittgenstein’s work may be thought to justify
more recent claims to the discovery of a ‘progressive Wittgenstein’.

(1) I suggested above that implicit in Winch’s
position was the assumption that to understand a
sociai action was to understand the meaning of


that social action.

I shall begin by outli~ing
·a conc~ption of what i t is to ‘understand the
meaning of’ which (a) is present explicitly or
implicitly in much of the argumentation of The Idea
andiwhichl(h)wouldlcarry, as implications of its
being~ accepted as the only conception of sociological understanding, some of Winch’s most extreme and controversial methodological p~escrip­
tions. The proposition ‘2 x 2 = 4’ is a meaningful arithmetical proposition. Let us suppose that
a teacher wishes to discover whether a pupil ‘understands .the meaning of’ the proposition. Perhaps
he/she may do this by getting the pupil to carry
out various movements with pairs of counters or
other objects on a desk, maybe by getting him/her
to carry out other arithmetical exercises involving the use of ‘x’ and ‘=’ signs’, as well- as the
numerals 1-4. Consistent success in these exer-·
cises will satisfy the teacher that the pupil

Being able to perform certain tasks which involve the relevant arithmetical rules, then, may
be allowed to count as ‘understanding the meaning
of’ a proposition such as ‘2 x 2 = 4’. Similarly
wi th the meanings of words. To be able to use
words in the correct contexts, according to the
grammatical and other rules for their us~, is to ‘

qualify as ‘understanding the meanings of’ those

Similarly, we might go on to give an account of
what it is to ‘understand the meaning of’ a social
action in terms of the ability to perform those
practices which form the context of the action in
question. The performance of a social action
(like the utterance of a statement) will generally’

occur within a definite social situation and with
the expectation of some kind of response. Only a
limited range of responses will count ,as meaningful responses to .the original act.


outside that range indicate a failure to understand the meaning of the original act.

An obvious example here is provided by the multiplicity of ways in which acts of economic ex~
change can be performed. Where, for instance, the
eventual sale-price of articles is customarily
arrived at by a complex process of bluff, counterbluff and negotiation, the outsider who innocently’

takes the first demand of the salesman as a statement of the price of the article may be said to
have ‘misunderstood the meaning of’ social

In general, then, it may be said that someone
understands the meaning of a social act if he/she
is able to participate successfully in the social
practice to which that social act belongs.

this sense, the ability to understand the meanings
of social acts is a precondition for living any
kind of social life at all.

It is understanding of this kind, which Winch
has in mind when he compares the sociologist’s
understanding of social phenomena with the enginABBREVIATIONS
I.S.S. – Peter Winch, The Idea of a Social Science
R & K P, 1958
R.F.G.B. – L Wittgenstein – ‘Remarks on Frazer’s
Golden Bough, trans A R Manser (University of
” Southampton, Philosophy Department)
P.I. – L Wittgenstein – Philosophical Inves~iga­
R.F.M. – L Wittgenstein, Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, trans. G E M Anscombe,
Oxford 1964
G.I. – K Marx and F Engels, The German Ideology.

Part I, ed. ~,JiArthur, London, 1970


eer’s understanding ofnis colleagues’ activities:

His (the social student’s) understandi~g of
social phenomena is more like the engineer’s
~nderstanding of his colleagues’ activities
than it is like the engineer’s understanding
of the ~echanical systems which he studies.

(I.S.S. p88)
If this is, indeed, the conception of undsr.standing which Winch has in mind, then the apparently very extreme restrictions which he places on
the formation of concepts in sociology become intelligible. This is what he says:

Now i f the position of the sociological investigator … can be regarded as comparable, in
its main logical outlines, with that of the
natural scientist, the folIowing must be the
case. The concepts and criteria according to
which the sociologist judges that, in two situations, the same thing has happened, or the
same action performed, must be understood in
relation to the rules governing sociological

But here we run against a difficulty; for whereas in the case of the natural
scientist we have to deal with only one set of
rules, namely those governing the scientist’s
investigation itself, here what the sociologist
is studying, as well as his study of it, is a
human activity and is therefore carried on
according to rules. And it is these rules,
rather than those which govern the sociologist’s
investigation, which specify what is to count
as ‘doing the same kind of thing’ in relation to
that kind of activity. (I.S.S. pp86/7)
Now, this, restriction on the sociologist – that
he must accept the criteria of identity for action of those who participate in the social activities he studies is regarded by most sociologists
correctly I think, as the denial of the possibility of the scientific study of society. Why does
Winch say it?

Well, it does follow, I think, from the concep, tion of ‘understanding the meaning of’ which I
just outlined. Someone who did not distinguish
between kinds of acts in more or less the same way
as others with whom he/she participated in social
practices would not be able to participate successfully in those practices (cf. my example of the
misunderstanding of the practice of ‘bargai ing’)
[I overlook here the complexities of th~’ concept
bf ‘ability’ but I don’t think this ?~ ects my
A condition of successful participation in a
social p~actice, then, will be that the participator accepts (in his/her practice, at any rate) the
criteria of identity for actions of those with
. whom he/she participates.

~~If To identify sociological understanding with par~ffticipants’ understanding will thus involve restric’ting the sociologist to the criteria of identity to the classifications – of actions employed by
those whose activities he/she studies.

It is true that Winch goes on to qualify this
iew, and I shall consider his qualification later,
ut for the moment it will be worthwhile to conider this unqualified statement of his.

It is
is statement, suggesting, as it does, that
. ciological understanding of a form of social
~~tivity, in order to count as ‘understanding’ at
l~ll” must be couched in terms of only those con’)~epts involved in the activity itself, which has
“~led to most of .the controversy surrounding
‘Winch’, s work.

I ‘shall consider here only one (central) difficulty with this (unqualified) ‘Winchian’ notion
of what i t is to understand social activity.

~This difficulty is ·that it seems to follow from

what Winch says about the nature of the understanding of social life that certain sorts of
mistake about the character of one’s own social
life would be impossible (compare the orientation
of most of the debate over Winch towards the question of understanding ‘alien’ societies).6
There are at least two fairly obvious ways in
which, even on Winch’s terms, someone could be
mi~taken about the meaning of an act.

Such a
mistake could occur as a result of a misperception
of the physical movement involved (eg the dispute
over the famous Harvey sm~th ‘V’-sign) i This
would be analogous to mis-reading or mis-hearing
a word. Alternatively, someone may be insufficiently well socialised, or familiar with an established way of life, to recognise an act for what
it is. This would be analogous to having insufficient grasp of a language – to not yet being
‘master of the technique’. (P.I.§199)
However, there is no conceptual room at all in
Winch, as so far expounded, for this sort of situation: a situation in which all, or most of the
participants in a form of life are, not just
occasionally, but quite generally, mistaken about
the character of their social life. This is ruled
out by Winch, I think, because his yonception of
participants’ understanding makes the last arbiters as to the character of any social action
those to whose social life the act belongs. No
sense can be attached to their misunderstanding
such acts since, in general, their practice
provides the criteria by which all attempts to
understand their social life are to be judged.

Now, it is precisely this sort of situation ruled
out by Winch, which many sociologists (and anthropologists) believe it to be their task to detect
and expose. This is essentially the poi~t which
MacIntyre makes (Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Proceedings, 1967) when he says that Winch’s
conception of sociological understanding, if
accepted, would require sociologists to cease
using the concepts of ‘ideology’ and ‘false consciousness’.

It would also rule out any crosscultural social science. The sense in which
Winch’s drawing out of the methodological implications of Wittgenstein’s work is conceptually,
and hence politically conservative is, then,
fairly clear. The notion of social science as a
critique of the dominant (or even ‘all-pervasive’,
since cultural uniformity is also a presupposition of the Winchian methodology) ideology by
which a given social order understands and justifies itself is a conceptual impossibility.

The jtory of Winch’s ‘appropriation’ of
Wittgenstein’s work to support a conservative
methodology in the social studies could be paralleled by other examples of 1’Ji ttgensteinian moral
philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of
education and so on. The relatively superficial
observer of the philosophical scene, assuming he
takes these readings of Wittgenstein to be authentic, might well be justified in concluding that
Wittgenstein’s main intellectual concern was with
conceptual apologetics.

Hence, the ‘bourgeois’


(2) But is the Winchian appropriation of
Wittgenstein the only plausible one? There is in
Winch’s work itself a conception of understanding
which seems to go beyond ‘participants” understanding as described above, but which plays a
relatively small part in Winch’s over-all argument. This conception of understanding, though,
6 For a useful collection of some of the key items
in this debate see B R Wilson, Rationality,
Oxford, 1974



and a distinction tpat goes with it, is, I shall
argue, quite central to the philosophy of

Early in Winch’s Idea of a Social Science he
claims that it is the central problem of both
sociology and epistemology to ‘elucidate’ or
‘throw light on’ the concept of a ‘form of life’.

Winch does not give an account of what ‘elucidation’ is, but presumably it amounts to more than
merely participation, or the capacity to participate, in that of which elucidation is sought.

Again, following his analogy between social students and engineers, Winch says:

I do not wish to maintain that we must stop
at the unreflective kind of understanding of
which I gave as an instance the engineer’s
understanding of the acti~ities of his colleagues.

But I do want to say that any more
reflective understanding must necessarily presuppose, i f it is to count as genuine understanding at all, the participant’s unre[lective understanding. (1.S.S. p89)
Sometimes Winch characterises this more reflective
kind of understanding as involving technical concepts which presuppose the concepts of unreflective understanding, whilst elsewhere it seems that
he might have in mind the distinction betwe~n
reflective and unreflective application of a
rule; the distinction between being able to follow
a rule and being able to make explicit, or give
an account of, the rules one is following.

This distinction is given much more prominence
in Wittgenstein’~ work, and is connected with the
distinction between depth and surface gra~nar.

To return to the example of the arithmetical proposition ‘2 x 2 = 4’, a criterion of ‘unreflective’

understanding of this proposition would be the
ability to correctly manipulate the symbols of
which the proposition consists.

A criterion of
reflective understanding would be the ability to
state the relevant arithmetical r:11es.

these are different conceptions of understanding
is indicated by the possibility that someone
qui te unskilled at ari th.rnetic might ,’ell satisfy
the second criterion and, equa.lly, that a highly
skilled mathematician might well be entirely incapable of satisfying it.

Winch’s linking of propositional meaning with
the meaning of actions suggests the further question: might not successful participants (or
participant-observers) in forms of life remain
quite incapable of making explicit or giving
accounts of the rules that govern their practice?

Provided it is accepted that the intellectual
distance separating participation in forms of
life and elucidating, or giving dccounts of such
forms of life may sometimes be very great,this
distinction between participant.s’ ‘unreflective’

understanding, and reflective understanding might
have yielded methodological implications quite
contrary to the ones which Winch actually drew.

The conception of the task of the social studies
which might have been developed would have been
analogous to vJittgenstein’ s own conception of
philosophy as the description of language-games
(P.I. Part l,~l09), though it would not get its
purpose from specifically philosophical problems.

But this task of describing language-ga~es is
not such an innocent exercise as i t sowlds.

Wittgenstein also described philosophy as a battle
against the ‘bewitchment of our intelligence by
means of language’ (~. Part I I § 109).

It is
one thing to be a language-user, quite another to
be able to give an.adequate account of the uses
of language. One is constantly misled, for instance, by the superficial grammatical forms of

From the gr~~atical similarity of


‘1 have a sharp pain in my knee’ and ‘I have a
sharp pencil in my pocket’ we may be led to think
of ‘pains’ as a strange kind of ‘thing’ which we
cannot share with others, which no-one else can
perceive, and so on.

In this way philosophers,
psychologists and others are led to think of ‘mental’ predicates as referring to strange ‘private’

objects which may be investigated only by introspection or may be entirely inaccessible to other

Although most of us are quite capable of using
such words as ‘pain’ quite correctly in everyday contexts, we are readily misled by the gramma-‘

tical fonns of our sentences, and fall into confusion when we attempt to give accounts of their
use (~Part 1, S664). Giving an account of
the use of any item of language in such a way as
to avoid these confusions involves describing the

part it actually plays in human social interac~
tions (‘forms of life’ and ‘language-games’).

This is to give what Wi ttgenstein calls the ‘depth’ .~
as distinct from the ‘surface-grammar’ of the
expression. Again, if linguistic expressions
have both a depth’- and a surface-grammar perhaps
social actions, and forms of social action, too,
have depth- and surface-grarr~ars? Might not the
surface appearance of some social actions and
relationships belie Lheir true character, and so
‘bewi the intelligence’ of anyone who would
give an account of them?

If this were so, then at least part of the task
of the social scientist could be characterised as
exposing mistaken interpretations of forms of
social activjty in so far as they result from the
‘bewitchment of the intelligence’ by the superficial appearance of those forms of interaction.

The complementary task of providing ‘correct’

interpretations would consist in laying bare the
‘depth-grammar’ of forms of social interaction.

It would consist in giving what Wittgenstein calls
‘perspicuous representations’ of those activities
wllose interpreta tion. is in dispute.

Wi ttgenstein ‘s
conception of philosophy as a battle against the
bewitchment of our intelligence by means of langu:”
age, t.ogether with his distinction between depthand surface-grammar ·::ould, then, plausibly found
a conception of ‘understanding’ in the social
sciences which amounts tc exposing ideologies as
misrepresentations of social life.

This, perhaps, is that underlies the claim that,
~’Vinch, Phillips a!l.d co nobli thstanding, ,there is
a ‘progressive Wittgenstein’ awaiting his presentation on the philosophical scene.




Wittgenstein and Marx; Wittgenstein er Marx?

In this section, I shall begin by drawing attention to three ar_eas of enquiry in vhich Marx Clnd
Wittgenstein share similar or analogous positions.

These apparent similarities may seem to ~ive even
more basis to the ‘progressive Wittgenstein’ interpretation.

I shall, however, conclude the
section with a brief sta temen t of scule of the
fundamental differences betVleen the t.heoret_ical
positions of Marx and Wittgenstein.


Wi ttgenstein and Marx

(a) Tlle rela tionships between lanyuaye and social f
life. An insistence on the practical character of
language, on language as an assortment of instruments or ‘tools’ which have a variety of uses is’

present in the work of both thinkers. The indispensably social character of language was also
argued by Wittgenstein through his analysiS of
the notion of ‘following a rule’ and the connec’Led-,::

‘private-lantuage’ argument. The concepts of

‘language-game’ and ‘form of life’ which appear in
Wittgenstein’s later work are also introduced at
least in part to establish this point. The same
point is made in a strikingly similar way by Marx
and Engels:

Language is as old as consciousness, ‘language
is practical consciousness that exists also
for other men, and for that’reason alone it
really exists for me personally as well;

language, like conscious~ess, only arises
from the need, the neces~ity, of intercourse
with other men.

(G. ~. Part I, pSl)
There is even’, in Wittgenstein I s notes on Frazer’ s
Golden Bough,the elements of a materialist conception of ritual practices and even of general
intellectual life:

There can have been no trivial reason, i.e. on
the whole no reason that caused certain races
of men to venerate the oak tree except that
they and the oak tree were united in a form of
life; thus it developed not from a choice but
like the relation of the flea and the dog with
each other. (If the f1e. developed a ritual,
. it would be concerned with the dog).

It could be said that it is not the union (of
.oak and man) which caused the ritual, but in a
certain sense their separation.

For the awakening of the intellect goes with
a separation from the original soil, the
original foundations of life itse1f. 7 .

(R.F.G.B. Manser tr. ppS/9)
Compare this with two quotations from Marx and
Engels in the German Ideology:

1 The production of ideas, of conceptions, of
consciousness, is at first directly interwoven
with the material activity and the material
intercourse of men, the language of real life.

Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse
of men, appear at this stage as
efflux of their material behaviour.


2 Division of labour only .becomes truly such
from the moment when a division of material
and mental labour appears •.. From this moment
onwards consciousness can flatter itself that
it is something other than consciousnes~ of
existing practice, •.• from now on consciousness is in a position to emancipate itself
from the world and to proceed to the formation
of ‘pure’ theory, theology, philosophy, ethics,
etc. —(G.!: pS2)
For Marx and Engels, then, ‘pure’ theoretical
disciplines arise from a separation of mental and
manual labour, whilst for Wittgenstein ‘the awakening of the intellect’ goes with a parallel
‘separation from the soil’.

(b) The Conception of Philosophy. Philosophy,
like other intellectual disciplines, arises from
·a separation of language, or of intellectual
practices involving language, from practical
life, from social practice. This is so for both
Marx and Wittgenstein. Compare Marx and Engels
(and in quote 2 above):

Hitherto men have constantly made up for themselves false conceptions about themselves,
about what they are and what they ought to be.

They have arranged their relationships according to their ideas of God, of normal man, etc.

The phantoms of their brains have got out of
their hands. They, the creators, have bowed
down to their creations. (G.I. p37)
with Wittgenstein:

—The confusions which occupy us arise when
language is like an engine idling, not when
it is doing work. (P.I. Part 1,§132)
Again, for both Marx and Wittgenstein, the

resolution of philosophical puzzles is to be
achieved by bringing language, thought, and
social practice back “into contact with one
another. Compare Marx and Engt!ls:

For philosophers, one of the most difficult
tasks is to descend from the world of thought
to the actual world ••• The philosophers would
only have to dissolve their-language into
ordinary language from which it is abstracted,
to recognise it as the distorted langUage of
the actual world (G. I.)
with Wittgenstein:

What we do is to bring words back from their
metaphysical to their everyday use.

(P.I. Part 1, 116)
Finally, for both Marx and Wlttgenstein, this
method of resolving philosophical puzzles also
spells the end of philosophy, strictly speaking,
and the beginning of a new practice.

Compare Marx and Engels:

When rea1i ty is depicted, philosophy as an
independent branch of knowledge loses its
medium of existence.

(G.l. Part 1, p48)
with Wittgenstein:

The real discovery is the. one that makes me
capable of stopping doing philosophy when I
want to.

(P.I. Part 1, 133)
(c) What is to replace philosophy? The battle
against the bewitchment of the intelligence that
Wittgenstein proposed, involving the description
and invention of language-games so as to display
the depth, as distinct from surface-grammar of
expression could, I have argued, be extended to
found a social-science methodology of ideological
exposure. Such a methodology is closely analogous to Marx’s way of representing his own criti~~e
of certain categories of Classical Political
Economy in Capital. Particularly relevant here
are Marx’s treatment of the ideological effects
of the commodity-form (Capital, Vol.l, Ch.I) in
the well known concept of ‘commodity-fetishism’,
and the similar treatment of the wage relation
and the category of ‘value and labour’ (Capital,
Vol.l, Ch.XIX).

If we substitute for Marx’s distinction between
‘phenomenal forms’ and real or ‘essential’ relations Wittgenstein’s distinction between surfaceand depth-grammar, Marx’s argument can be represented plausibly enough. In the case of the wagerelation, Marx can be represented as arguing that
the ‘surface gr~mar’ (Marx actually speaks of
‘the surface of bourgeois society’) of the relationship between capitalist and worker has ‘bewit~hed the intelligence of smith, Ricardo and
their followers, as well as capitalists and workers
themselves. Marx’sbattle against this bewitchment is to display the ‘depth-grammar’ of the relationship – to display it as principaliy a production-relation, and only in virtue of this an
exchange-relation. This exposure of the dualcharacter of the wage relation enables Marx to
distinguish between ‘labour’ and labour-power,
and to expose the wage-relation as exploitative.


wittgenstein or Marx?

Despite these Similarities and analogies, there
are nevertheless fundamental differences between
7 I am indebted to Prof. A R Manser for this
The ‘Remarks’ were first published
in Synthese, Vol.XVII, 1967, with an introductor~ note by Rush Rhees.

A partial translation,
omitting the passage I quote, by A C Miles and
Rush Rhees was published in The Human World,
No.3, Nay 1971


the theoretical positions of Marz and Wittgenstein.

Unfortunately I have space only to summarise these:

(a) The typified episodes of interaction w~ich
Wittgenstein gives as examples of language-games
are not related by him to the more-or-less enduring social practices from which he abstracts them.

Moreover, there is no conception of the relationships of such practices to the social totalities
(‘forms of life’) which they constitute. The notion of ‘form of life’ itself has an extremely
shadowy existence in Wittgenstein’s work. There
are no criteria of identity and difference for
‘forms of life’, nor any conception of what constitutes the unity of a ~ocial formation (these
questions become crucial for Winch, for whom the
unity of a ‘culture’ becomes surreptitiously identified with the unity of a social formation).

There are, in the Marxist tradition, at least
attempts to solve these problems with concepts
such as mode of production, articulation or modes
of production, juridico-political superstructure,
determination-in-the-last-instance, and so on.

(b) There is the merest recognition in Wittgenstein that language-games, and thus forms of life,
are subject to change:

. •. but new types of language, new languagegames, as we may say, come into existence, and
others become obsolete and get forgotten.

(~ Part 1,§23)

The sickness of a time is caused by an alteration in the mode of life of human beings,
and it was possible for the sickness of philosophical problems to get cured only through
a changed mode of thought and life, not through
a medicine invented by an individual.

(R.F.M. pS7, quoted in Manser 1973)
But there is in these occasional references to
the ‘fact’ of change “no conception of the causes
of historical and cultural changes, no conception
of the historical process, nor even of language
and culture as themselves historical products.

The timelessness of the forms and language and
thought in the Tractatus remains in the Investigations conception of language.

(c) There is, in Wittgenstein, no connection between ‘the bewitchment of the intelligence by
means of language’ and ~e interests of antagonistic social classes, as there is in Marx. Indeed
the whole notion of ‘shared’ forms of life, central to Wittgenstein’s conception of language and
meaning is quite inconsistent with any conception
of class remotely r~sembling the Marxian one.

(d) For Marx, the relations between thought,
language and social relations are theorised as
part of a general theory of history – of social
formations and their transformations. By contrast
the philosophical practice of the later Wittgenstein – the description and invention of languagegames and forms of life – has a deliberately ad
hoc character. There is no attempt at a general
theory, the interest in forms of social life and
their description getting ‘its light, that is to
say ~ts purpose, from the philosophical problems’.

(P. I. Part 1, §l09)
(e) Finally, both Wittgenstein’s notion of philosophical practice, and the representation of
Marx’s methods of ideological exposure which I
have given, fall foul of epistemological objections – but of rather different sorts. In the case
of Wittgenstein, the questions arise: how do we
know when a ‘puzzle’ has been resolved, when a
language-game has been perspicuously presented,
or accurately described? Surely this cannot be


something that is just spontaneously recognisable – or why speak of “a ‘battle’ against bewitchment? wittgenstein’s answer, presumably, is:

‘The real discovery is the one that makes me
capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want
to’ (P.l. Part 1,§133). One trouble with this is
that it is a purely personal and subjective criterion – some are prepared to stop doing philosophy earlier than others. Also, it fails to come
to grips with the persistence of several mutually
incompatible accounts of particular languagegames, and forms of life. Each account may be
seen, from the standpoint of the others as the
result of a bewitchment of the intelligence.

In the case of Marx, the conception of scientific practice as ‘ideological exposure’, as a
stripping away of the veil of appearance to reveal
the underlying reality seems to suggest, again,
that reality (=’depth grammar’) is somehow just
spontaneously recognisable as such. But not only
does this conception, like Wittgenstein’s threaten to descend into epistemological relativism, but
it also has the defect of concealing the work of
theoretical production of new concepts with which
to grasp the nature of social reality in a scientific way (at least in Wittgenstein there is no
claim to scientific status). There are, however,
other, perhaps more fruitful ways of reading Marx
on these questions. In particular, the attempt
to build upon Marx’s own conception of sciences
as a distinctive mode of theoretical production
(outlined, not in Capital,. but particularly in the
1857 Introduction to the Grundrisse) seems to hold
out most hope of real progress.


Situating Wittgenstein

Finally, the attempt to adequately situate
Wittgenstein in British intellectual culture is
clearly well beyond the “scope of this paper. A
number of memoirs and biographical documents,
together with investigative reports 8 are now
available, and between them they contain the raw
materials for some such future attempt. But lest
the latter parts of this paper have tended to reinstate the ‘conservative’ Wittgenstein, perhaps
I had better conclude with an extract from
Wittgenstein’s own assessment of his intellectual

Even more than to this – always certain and
forcible – criticism I am indebted to that
which a teacher at this University, Mr P.

Sraffa, for many years increasingly practised on my thoughts. I am indebted to this
stimulus for the most consequential ideas of
this book.

(P.!. “Preface, pviii)
‘Mr Sraffa’ is a Neo-Marxist economist.

8 See for instance, P Engelmann, Letters from
Ludwig wittgenstein with A Memoir, Oxford, 1967;
K T Fann, Ludwig wittgenstein: The Man and his
Philosophy, NY, 1967; N Malcolm, Ludwig’

wittgenstein: A Memoir, London, 1958, with a
biographical sketch by G H Von Wright. J Moran’s
‘Wittgenstein and Ru~sia, NLR, 1973, is full of
interesting information, but is relatively weak

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