Forms of Life


  • Peter Hacker



Wittgenstein Ludwig, form of life, Lebensform, calculus conception of language, ethnological conception of language


The phrase ‘Lebensform’ (form of life) had a long and varied history prior to Wittgenstein’s use of it on a mere three occasions in the Philosophical Investigations. It is not a pivotal concept in Wittgenstein’s philosophy. But it is a minor signpost of a major reorientation of philosophy, philosophy of language and logic, and philosophy of mathematics that Wittgenstein instigated. For Wittgenstein sought to replace the conception of a language as a meaning calculus (Frege, Russell, the Tractatus) by an anthropological or ethnological conception. A language is not a class of sentences that can be formed from a set of axioms (definitions), formation and transformation rules and the meanings of which is given by their truth-conditions, but an open-ended series of interlocking language-games constituting a form of life or way of living (a culture). Wittgenstein’s uses of ‘Lebensform’ and its cognates, both in the Investigations and in his Nachlass are severally analysed, and various exegetical misinterpretations are clarified.

Author Biography

Peter Hacker

P. M. S. Hacker is a professor of philosophy at the University of Kent and an emeritus Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. He is author of more than twenty books and over one hundred and fifty papers. His main interests concern the philosophy of Wittgenstein, the history of analytic philosophy, philosophy of language and philosophy of psychology, and philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. He is currently completing a trilogy on human nature, the first volume of which was Human Nature: the Categorial Framework (2007), the second The Intellectual Powers: a Study of Human Nature (2013), and the final volume of which will be The Passions: a Study of Human Nature.


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