On the concept of childhood in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations

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In the sparse literature that is concerned with Wittgenstein's views regarding children and childhood, in his later work, it is often suggested that Wittgenstein presents, or at least is committed to, a romantic notion of the child according to which children should be conceived of as innocent beings who are ontologically different from adults. In this paper I argue that Wittgenstein's remarks do not support such an interpretation. First, I investigate the arguments for this view presented by Stanley Cavell, Yasushi Maruyama, and Philip Shields. Second, I consider an anti-essentialist understanding of Wittgenstein's concept of childhood that has been suggested in opposition to the treatment of the child as the 'ontological other' and argue that Wittgenstein refers to the child as intermediate link with which to state grammatical facts. In contrast to these various views, I hold, third, that the PI is committed to a strong and substantial concept of childhood. I argue for this claim on the basis of (i) the 'Motto' of the PI; (ii) Wittgenstein's reference to the philosopher Augustine; and (iii) the use of 'primitive'. I conclude that Wittgenstein's concept of childhood in his later works neither romanticises nor dispraises the child as the 'ontological other'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-136
Number of pages26
JournalWittgenstein-Studien (Walter de Gruyter)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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