Radical Historicality

Perspectives from the Later Wittgenstein

Carl Humphries

This book explores the philosophical issues raised by the fact that while some people, at a given time, have experienced fundamental changes to their frameworks of belief and evaluative commitment as a consequence of events, others have not. From the perspective of the latter, the very idea that this could occur – that we could have commitments that are radically historical in this sense — can seem unintelligible, while from the perspective of the former, any attempt to rule this out in principle can appear dogmatic. The author argues that this problem lies at the heart of some of the central ethico-political conflicts of our time, and that existing approaches in mainstream "Continental" and "analytical" philosophy fail to address it coherently. He then draws on the three main contemporary currents of interpretation of the later Wittgenstein – arguably the most stringently anti-dogmatic thinker of the last century – to uncover some perspectives that may shed light on this.


Humphries has written a highly interesting book, in which he weaves together two extremely interesting threads. The first concerns historicism as a current of European thought, the second the philosophy of the later Wittgenstein. These are linked by a problem of self-reference: if historicists postulate the historicality of knowledge and culture, then among other things they should also postulate the historical nature of this postulate, while if Wittgenstein invokes the contextuality of all meaning in his battle with apriorism, then he cannot treat his own stance as a priori either. Humphries's idea is, in essence, that through an analysis of how the later Wittgenstein's thoughts have been interpreted we may find a way to articulate a position that is radically historical on the one hand, while avoiding both the paradox of self-reference and dogmatism on the other.

Dr hab. Jakub Gomułka, Assoc. Prof. (Pedagogical University of Krakow)


Humphries's book will, I predict, be met with a lively reception, and will come to constitute one of the reference points in research on Wittgenstein, especially as regards the aspect of radical historicality mentioned in its title.

Dr hab. Tomasz Zarębski, Assoc. Prof. (University of Lower Silesia)

Carl Humphries is a pianist, writer and university lecturer. He holds a PhD in Philosophy from Southampton University (UK) and teaches at the Jesuit University Ignatianum in Krakow (Poland).


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