Michael Williams: Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism

Michael Williams: Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism

“This article distinguishes Wittgensteinian contextualism from epistemic relativism. The latter involves the view that a belief’s status as justified depends on the believer’s epistemic system, as well as the view that no system is superior to another. It emerges from the thought that we must rely, circularly, on our epistemic system to determine whether any belief is justified. Contextualism, by contrast, emerges from the thought that we need not answer a skeptical challenge to a belief unless there is good reason to doubt the belief; so we need not rely on our epistemic system to determine whether a belief is justified. Accordingly contextualism is not committed to the view that a belief’s status depends on the believer’s epistemic system, nor to the view that no system is superior to another. The contextualist is not committed to epistemic relativism.”

Michael Williams. “Why (Wittgensteinian) Contextualism Is Not Relativism.”
Episteme: A Journal of Social Epistemology 4.1 (2007): 93-114.

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Edmund Dain: Wittgenstein, Contextualism and Nonsense

Edmund Dain: Wittgenstein, Contextualism and Nonsense

“What nonsense might be, and what Wittgenstein thought that nonsense might be, are two of the central questions in the current debate between those—such as Cora Diamond, James Conant and Michael Kremer—who favour a “resolute” approach to Wittgenstein’s work, and those—such as P. M. S. Hacker and Hans-Johann Glock—who instead favour a more “traditional” approach. What answer we give to these questions will determine the nature and force of his criticisms of traditional philosophy, and so the very shape Wittgenstein’s work has for us, as well as, to some extent, what the lesson of the Tractatus might be. My aim in this paper is to provide a detailed defence of the austere view of nonsense, that lies at the heart of the resolute approach, against a range of influentialcriticisms developed by Hans-Johann Glock and which focus on Wittgenstein’s contextualism. In so doing, I hope also to shed some light on the kind of view the austere view is, as well as how it might relate to certain other crucial aspects of Wittgenstein’s thought.”

Edmund Dain (2008). Wittgenstein, Contextualism, and Nonsense.
Journal of Philosophical Research 33:101-125 (PDF).

Tamara Dobler: Two conceptions of Wittgenstein’s contextualism

Tamara Dobler: Two conceptions of Wittgenstein’s contextualism


“How should we understand Wittgenstein’s proposals that ‘the meaning of a
word is its use in the language’ (Wittgenstein 1953, §43) and that a nameonly has a meaning in a language-game (ibid. §49)? Are they incompatiblewith occasion-invariant semantics? In this paper I present two leadinginterpretations of Wittgenstein’s contextualism: James Conant’s meaning-eliminativism (ME) and Charles Travis’s meaning-underdetermination(MU). I argue that, even though these two interpretations are very similar,the latter gives a more nuanced account of Wittgenstein’s contextualismthat doesn’t involve a commitment to the claim that words have no meaningoutside immediate contexts of use.”

  • 1. Against the ‘incompatible context’ interpretation of nonsense
  • 2. Eliminating meanings
  • 3. Meaning-underdetermination
  • 4. The status of language-games
  • 5. Nonsense and linguistic understanding

Tamara Dobler: Two conceptions of Wittgenstein’s contextualism
Lodz Papers in Pragmatics. Special issue on “Context and Contextualism”
(ed. Piotr Stalmaszczyk).

Alberto Voltolini: Is Wittgenstein a Contextualist?

 Alberto Voltolini: Is Wittgenstein a Contextualist?

“There is definitely a family resemblance between what contemporary contextualism maintains in philosophy of language and some of the claims about meaning put forward by the later Wittgenstein. Yet the main contextualist thesis, namely that linguistic meaning undermines truth-conditions, was not defended by Wittgenstein. If a claim in this regard can be retrieved in Wittgenstein despite his manifest antitheoretical attitude, it is instead that truth-conditions trivially supervene on linguistic meaning. There is, however, another Wittgensteinian claim that truly has a contextualist flavour, namely that linguistic meaning is itself wide-contextual. To be sure, this claim does not lead to the eliminativist/intentionalist conception of linguistic meaning that radical contextualists have recently developed. Rather, it goes together with a robust conception of linguistic meaning as intrinsically normative. Yet it may explain why Wittgenstein is taken to be a forerunner of contemporary contextualism.”

  • 1. Wittgenstein and Truth-conditional Contextualism
  • 2. Wittgenstein and Meaning Contextualism
  • 3. Meaning Eliminativism vs. Meaning Normativism
  • 4. Towards an Evaluation

Alberto Voltolini (2010) “Is Wittgenstein a Contextualist?”
Essays in Philosophy: Vol. 11: Iss. 2, Article 3 (PDF).

Jason Bridges: Wittgenstein & Contextualism

“In recent years, Hilary Putnam has advocated what is sometimes called a “contextualist” view of meaning, according to which the meaning of an utterance is shaped in far-reaching and uncodifiable ways by the context in which it is uttered. Professor Putnam cites Charles Travis as the main proponent of the version of contextualism Putnam endorses. Travis in turn cites Putnam as a systematic influence. Perhaps unwisely given the presence of both of these formidable philosophers today, I will argue that the contextualist view Putnam and Travis hold in common is mistaken.”

“A critique of attempts by Charles Travis and others to read contextualism back into Philosophical Investigations. The central interpretive claim is that this reading is not only unsupported; it gets Wittgenstein’s intent, in the parts of the text at issue, precisely backwards. The focus of the chapter is on Wittgenstein’s treatment of explanation, understanding, proper names, and family-resemblance concepts.”

“A talk given in April 2010. In broad strokes, I draw connections between some ideas in my current work on contextualism.  A central strand is that contextualism’s real significance for philosophy ought to be methodological (as it is for Wittgenstein).”

“Semantic contextualism is a view about the meanings of utterances. The relevant notion of meaning is that of what is said by an utterance, as it is sometimes put, of the content of the utterance. Semantic contextualism (which I will henceforth simply label “contextualism”) holds that the content of an utterance is shaped in far-reaching and unobvious ways by the circumstances, the context, in which it is uttered. Two utterances of the same sentence might vary in content as a result of differences in their respective contexts that do not map onto any obvious indexical elements in the sentence.”

“A “quietist” reading of Wittgenstein is one that attempts to do justice to his conviction that it cannot be the job of philosophy “to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything”—more pithily, that philosophy “leaves everything as it is.”1 A central difficulty facing such a reading of Wittgenstein’s remarks on rule-following is his tendency to characterize putative instances of rule-following in ways that seem pointedly to omit something central to our ordinary, pre-philosophical understanding of the phenomenon.”