Wittgenstein and G. H. von Wright’s path to The Varieties of Goodness (1963)

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Lassi Johannes Jakola


The development of G. H. von Wright’s work in ethics is traced from the early 1950s to the publication of The Varieties of Goodness in 1963, with special focus on the influences stemming from Wittgenstein’s later thought. In 1952, von Wright published an essay suggesting a formal analysis of the concept of value. This attempt was soon abandoned. The change of approach took place at the time von Wright started his work on Wittgenstein’s Nachlass and tried to articulate the main lines of Wittgenstein’s Philosophische Untersuchungen in spoken and written form. This preoccupation with Wittgenstein led to a new approach to value judgments in an 1954 article, which shows strong late-Wittgensteinian influences on methodical as well as stylistic levels. Some traces of the 1954 approach are still visible in The Varieties of Goodness, while the stylistic imitations and allusions have mostly been dropped. Furthermore, von Wright’s approach in The Varieties is wider in scope, aiming at a broad overview of the phenomenon von Wright calls the “varieties of goodness”. But new conncections to the later Wittgenstein also seem to emerge: the idea of a "perspicuous presentation" of ethical concepts and the will to make philosophy relevant for "kulturens större sammanhang".

Author Biography

Lassi Johannes Jakola, University of Helsinki

Lassi Jakola is a doctoral student in Classics and Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. His research focuses on the sophistic movement (5th century BCE) and on G. H. von Wright’s philosophy of values. Presently, he is employed in the projects The Creation of Wittgenstein and Den okände von Wright at the University of Helsinki, financed by the Academy of Finland and the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland.