Philosophy Ludwig Wittgenstein: Middle Works
Anat Biletzki
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0138


Although Ludwig Wittgenstein’s work is usually recognized as belonging to either “the early” or “the later” Wittgenstein, his writings between those two erstwhile well-defined categories are now seen to be worthy of their own independent investigation. If the early Wittgenstein is identified with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (TLP) and the later with Philosophical Investigations (PI)—both, of course, also with additional texts that are associated with the same chronological periods—then, concerning the “middle Wittgenstein,” scholars are less clear, both as to definitive texts and as to the exact time span that would count as middle. (We will here treat “middle” works from the late 1920s until the mid-1930s.) This is related to the question of the move from the early Wittgenstein to the later as being a profound break or a matter of philosophical continuity; it is also then associated with certain thematic problems—phenomenology, language and mind, logic, and mathematics—that engaged Wittgenstein in some or all periods of his thought but that are recognized as being critically significant in the middle period.

General Overviews

In contrast to the overwhelming numbers of introductions, overviews, and textbooks that are devoted to either the early or the later works, there are scant books, or even articles, of general treatment dedicated to the middle works per se. Such are Stern 1991, Stern 1995, and Hintikka and Hintikka 1986. What one sometimes finds, in general surveys or introductions to the whole of Wittgenstein’s thought, with a focus on the continuity evinced by the middle work, is a chapter (or two) that deals with the middle texts or period, as, for example, in Glock 2001 and Pears 1987–1988. Other general investigations, though still of limited size, are the explicatory introductions to the later Wittgenstein that view the middle deliberations as harbingers of the later thought (Hilmy 1987). An interesting eccentricity—pointing, perhaps, to the difficulty of identifying what it is that the middle Wittgenstein is doing—is the dramatic revision that certain texts have undergone in subsequent editions, such as Hacker 1986 and Kenny 2006.

  • Glock, Hans-Johann. “The Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy.” In Wittgenstein: A Critical Reader. Edited by Hans-Johann Glock, 1–25. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

    Embedded in an article (which is itself embedded in a book) on the whole of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, section 3—“Wittgenstein in Transition”—is both succinct in presenting the issues of the middle period and contextually appropriate in putting it within the whole Wittgensteinian framework.

  • Hacker, P. M. S. Insight and Illusion: Themes in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein. Rev. ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

    Follows Wittgenstein’s development on particular themes with attention paid to the chronological placement of moves and transformations in his thought. Most significant is chapter 5, “Disintegration and Reconstruction,” dealing explicitly with the philosophy of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Very different from the first edition—Insight and Illusion: Wittgenstein on Philosophy and the Metaphysics of Experience (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972).

  • Hilmy, S. Stephen. The Later Wittgenstein: The Emergence of a New Philosophical Method. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.

    Contra its title, concentrates almost exclusively on middle Wittgenstein 1929, cited under Published Works) and even more specifically on the Big Typescript. It holds the unusual claim that Wittgenstein’s later philosophical method was born of this period’s critique of TLP, focusing on these crucial texts as illuminating the later Wittgenstein and ignoring developments of the mid-1930s and later.

  • Hintikka, Merrill B., and Jaakko Hintikka. Investigating Wittgenstein. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

    An important, controversial interpretation of Wittgensteinian’s development, from early to later, recognizing the middle, from 1929 to 1936, as effecting a continuous change between them.

  • Kenny, Anthony. Wittgenstein. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

    A classic work on all Wittgenstein(s), this is a lucid presentation of both continuity and unity in Wittgenstein’s thought achieved by some focus on the middle work. Of great benefit is the new introduction on the current novelties in Wittgensteinian scholarship arising from the availability of the Nachlass, in particular its middle period parts. (First edition Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973.)

  • Pears, David. The False Prison. Vols. 1–2. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987–1988.

    Two volumes that, although organized around two distinct parts (“Inside the Early System” and “Inside the Later System”), contribute to the reading of the middle period (especially chapters 9–12). Clear explication of the move from early to the later Wittgenstein as a “transition” and elaboration on this transition as involving questions of sense-data, other minds, the ego, and phenomenalism.

  • Stern, David. “The ‘Middle Wittgenstein’: From Logical Atomism to Practical Holism.” Synthese 87.2 (1991): 203–226.

    Although written in 1991, this is one of the most systematic introductory surveys of “middle Wittgenstein,” not only putting it into the transitional context between the early and the late but also providing a thematic analysis of the transition.

  • Stern, David G. Wittgenstein on Mind and Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    A study of the transformation from early Wittgenstein to the later conceptions, this is a comprehensive project of delving into the work done in the middle period to explain the change in perspective—moving from the early foundations in representation to the drastically later ideas on mind and language.

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