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Wittgenstein and Goethe: tracing methodological and scientific links between 19th century German romanticism and Wittgenstein's language games

Hanson, Nathaniel (2012) Wittgenstein and Goethe: tracing methodological and scientific links between 19th century German romanticism and Wittgenstein's language games. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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While, at the very least, one could attribute an academic connection between Goethe and Wittgenstein to the existence of a common Germanic scientific, literary, and philosophical tradition, the following paper attempts to lay the foundation for the possible mapping of the methodological and philosophical connections between the two thinkers in hopes to better understand Wittgenstein’s later philosophy. I focus on mapping explicit methodological connections between the two thinkers, using, on one hand Wittgenstein’s writings and personal notes, and, on the other, Goethe’s particular conception of organically-modeled explanations of phenomena. Specifically, I argue that Goethe’s method and philosophy of science directly influenced Wittgenstein’s work in epistemology and the philosophy of language. This paper, therefore, examines Wittgenstein’s language games through a Goethian methodological framework, one which bares striking resemblance to the language games of the Philosophical Investigations. Goethe postulated all plants to be connected via a universal archetypical plant. To Goethe, this plant was the conceptual and developmental basis for all other plants, which, he argued, were all possible stages of an infinite field of developmentally-linked possible floral forms. Nature, to Goethe, was continuously changing, adapting and interconnected; the archetypical plant stood as Goethe’s answer to the causally-focused models of the rapidly expanding Newtonian tradition of scientific explanation. Wittgenstein’s work is often split between a more static conception of the first half of Wittgenstein’s career, which was built upon explanations based upon strict, unchanging rules of logic and corresponding explanations, on one hand, and a more mystical, use-centered approach to philosophical method on the other. This later work is often understood to be a substantial revision to its earlier counterpart. My paper argues that the later Wittgenstein was reacting to methods of philosophical explanation similar to the scientific ideology and method of Newton with which Goethe was also reacting, namely closed causal-focused systems of scientific and philosophical explanation. This argument is augmented by the argued methodological connection between Goethe’s archetypical plant and Wittgenstein’s language games. By focusing on this Goethian connection, I believe that scholarship on language games, and the later Wittgenstein in general, will be able to be understood from a new philosophical vantage point.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Hanson, Nathanielnlh20@pitt.eduNLH20
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairWilson, Markmawilson@pitt.eduMAWILSON
Committee MemberBrandom, RBRANDOM
Committee MemberRicketts, Thomasricketts@pitt.eduRICKETTS
Committee MemberKoethe,
Date: 24 May 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 12 April 2012
Approval Date: 24 May 2012
Submission Date: 17 April 2012
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 50
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Wittgenstein, Goethe, Language-games, Philosophy of Language, History and Philosophy of Science, Romanticism, Hertz, Metamorphosis of Plants, Morphology, Newton, Tractatus, Philosophical Investigations
Date Deposited: 24 May 2012 18:50
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:57


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