Wittgenstein and Marx. Marx and Wittgenstein

by Fabio Sulpizio (Volume editor) Gabriele Schimmenti (Volume editor) Moira De Iaco (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 210 Pages
Series: Treffpunkt Philosophie, Volume 21


This volume collects chapters dedicated to finding affinities and disagreements between Marx and Wittgenstein. It aims at integrating different ways to address Marx(ism) and Wittgenstein from multiple philosophical vantage points and from their philosophical attitude and their critical method of thinking. The volume explores different ways in which the relationships between Marx(ism) and Wittgenstein can be fruitfully investigated. The historical connections and the heritage of Marx’s and Wittgenstein’s thought are indeed analyzed in its vividness by considering new sources and new interpretations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction. Alienation and Fetishism: From Words to Commodities in Wittgenstein and Marx (Fabio Sulpizio, Moira De Iaco & Gabriele Schimmenti)
  • Wittgenstein, Marx, and (post-)Marxism: A Synoptic Overview (Dimitris Gakis)
  • Marx, Wittgenstein, and the Reform of Language. A Complementary View of Wittgenstein and Marx’s Thoughts (Moira De Iaco)
  • This is the Way We Live. Wittgenstein and Natural History (Marco Mazzeo)
  • Language, Alienation, and Philosophical Therapy in Marx and Wittgenstein (Marco Gigante)
  • Being and Consciousness in Karl Marx and Ludwig Wittgenstein (Doğan Göçmen & Doğan Barış Kılınç)
  • Representation and Depth in Marx and Wittgenstein (Alfonso Maurizio Iacono)
  • Marx and the Sociality of Hieroglyphics. From Wittgenstein to Marx (Gabriele Schimmenti)
  • Language, Thought and Reality in Marx’s German Ideology and in the Mature Critique of Political Economy (Pietro Garofalo)
  • From Wittgenstein to Marx via Rossi-Landi (Roberto Fineschi)
  • 1929-1932: Wittgenstein and two Italians in Cambridge (Lucia Morra)
  • When Homology Goes on Holiday. Rereading the Rossi-Landi/Marx Relation from a Wittgensteinian Perspective (Giorgio Borrelli)
  • Words, Knives, Use. On the Alliance between Marx and Wittgenstein according to Rossi-Landi (Angelo Nizza)
  • Marx and Wittgenstein on Religion (Robert Vinten)
  • Political Dimensions of Wittgenstein’s “Praxis” as a Linguistic Activity (Antonia Soulez)
  • “For the Marxists are racing motorists”. Wittgenstein on Max Eastman and on “the sound idea in Marx’s thinking” (Marco Brusotti)
  • List of Contributors
  • Series Index

←VI | 1→

Alienation and Fetishism: From Words to Commodities in Wittgenstein and Marx

Fabio Sulpizio, Moira De Iaco, Gabriele Schimmenti

This volume collects essays dedicated to finding affinities between Marx and Wittgenstein that is sometimes not presented as intuitively evident even by the authors of the volume themselves. Indeed, evidence is hard to find, and, if you want to be picky, you were not meant to find it. As Antonia Soulez suggests in her contribution to this volume, Wittgenstein’s perspective cannot be directly considered political; instead, it indirectly has a lot to say about the themes that contemporary philosophy owes, to a great extent, to Karl Marx. The relationship between Marx and Wittgenstein, that are explored here through the different contributions, goes far beyond the potential influence of the first on the second and does not simply dwell on the simple interpretations of Marx’s texts re-read in the context of Wittgensteinian research (and vice versa). This volume aims at integrating different ways to address Marx(-ism) and Wittgenstein from multiple philosophical vantage points starting from the crucial affinity of the critical method of thinking adopted by both philosophers.

Why should we discuss Marx(ism) and Wittgenstein again? After all, several scholars, such as e.g. Rubinstein (1981), Janik (1985), and Kitching and Pleasants (2002), have published research relevant to this subject. However, there are at least three ways in which we might develop research on the relationships between Marx(ism) and Wittgenstein. First, we can consider a new interconnection between Marx and Wittgenstein from a historical vantage point. After having returned to Cambridge in 1929, Wittgenstein had intellectual exchanges with Marxians (Piero Sraffa, Maurice Dobb, George Thomson, Nicholas Bachtin). They shaped the anthropological turn of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Among these relationships, the one with Piero Sraffa was especially long-lasting and intense and it led Wittgenstein to declare himself in debt to Sraffa for his tireless criticism that influenced the movement of Wittgenstein’s thought. The role played in Wittgenstein’s philosophy by Sraffa and other Marxian scholars, who entered into discussion with Wittgenstein from the 30’s onwards, has been investigated increasingly in recent years. This volume follows leads from this research, assuming and deepening their results.

←1 | 2→

Moreover, our thinking about connections between Marx and Wittgenstein should be updated on the basis of the documents now available. Researchers now have new resources to consult regarding both Wittgenstein and Marx. In the former case, scholars have free access to Wittgenstein’s digitalized Nachlass (www.wittgensteinsource.org) and his related web resources (http://wab.uib.no/transform/wab.php?modus=opsjoner; http://wittfind.cis.uni-muenchen.de/; http://wab.uib.no/sfb/) developed and run by the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (Norway). These new sources allow us to explore Wittgenstein’s unpublished writings, to consider the original version of the writings selected to compose the edited works, and to search for the occurrences of concepts and references to philosophers, Wittgenstein’s friends, and books across the Nachlass, epistolary, and notes and testimonies of Wittgenstein’s students and friends.

In the latter case the colossal project of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA2), the new German historical-critical edition of Marx’s and Engels’ works, allows us to reconsider their thought in a new light. For instance, just to briefly mention one of the several benefits of the MEGA2, the fourth section (Abteilung) of the MEGA2 includes Marx’s and Engels’ notebooks on several subjects, including their notes on volumes that they have read.

Some of the essays collected in this volume take advantage of these resources to argue that it is possible to find some commonalities between Marx and Wittgenstein (see Fineschi; Schimmenti) or to reconstruct Wittgenstein-Marx(ist) connections (see Mazzeo; De Iaco), for instance, with respect to concepts such as “praxis”.

We should also not forget the fact that several philosophers have tried to integrate Marx and Wittgenstein in their own original work. Among others, it is worth remembering e.g. Ferruccio Rossi-Landi (1968; 1983) and Aldo Giorgio Gargani (1975) both focused on the defetishization of linguistic and scientific alienation. Indeed, for Marx and Wittgenstein, language and its rules are a crucial element of human life, and what we can define as cultural progress is not in any way an expression of an intrinsic necessity in historical becoming, but instead an enlargement of needs and inter-relational contexts freed from processes of subsumption extraneous from their context. David Rubinstein is cited several times in the essays that follow for the importance his research has had not only in terms of the place he assigns to Wittgenstein in the field of thinkers that deal with the social nature of meaning, but also in his insistence that our subjective experience cannot be characterised independently of the social context, obviously in the broad sense of a place in which an experience takes place. Rubinstein’s reference to psychiatrist William Abel Caudill also opens up a horizon that deserves to be further explored — namely with respect to the relationship between philosophy and psychiatry, or rather the relationship between theoretical reflection in the ←2 | 3→field of psychiatric knowledge and the analysis of philosophical and social context, in which the hidden elements of our overall way of life that lead to mental illness are being revised — so as to offer an important integration of, if not an alternative, to the model of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari proposed by Mark Fisher on the social origin of mental illness. The theme of mental illness might bring us to consider how, in Wittgenstein and Marx (and Gramsci and Althusser), change can only be connected to a context and its rules, whose genesis can be considered rational only in the moment in which they imply a certainty that derives from a form of life. Only praxis can change our way of seeing, and ultimately, our choice to adopt another set of rules. In the end, this is because “what men consider reasonable or unreasonable alters. At certain periods men find reasonable what at other periods they found unreasonable. And vice versa” (OC, § 336). Perhaps Marx himself, as Eugène De Roberty recognized, does not find only the law of the phenomena he is investigating, but above all, the law of their change, their development, and the passing of phenomena from one form into another, from an ordering of that link to a new one. The comparison between Wittgenstein and Marx can also be explored via Sraffa through Gramsci as was pioneered by Amartya Sen (2003). In fact, the Marxian approach to some linguistic questions combines the thought of Wittgenstein and Gramsci: the relationship between language and common sense/popular philosophy; Wittgenstein’s problem of the relation between misleading uses of language and solipsism and Gramsci’s argument against neolalism; the strong link between rules (of grammar) and the direction of thought. In this regard, the questions posed by Antonio Gramsci in Prison Notebooks regarding the issue of translation could be related to the long and elaborate attempt to answer the aphorism 358 of Zettel where Wittgenstein wondered: “Does this system have something arbitrary?” to which he responded: “Yes and no. It is related both to what is arbitrary and what is not arbitrary.” Ultimately, it is a philosophy that we could define in terms of a theory of context, or in terms of the expression of a possibility, which is factually and historically conditioned, of linguistic games: statements and actions that move according to presuppositions. The interaction of these presuppositions with praxis, which is addressed precisely by those presuppositions, is provided by the set of all possible statements and actions, governed by the rules imposed by the presuppositions themselves that seem to produce certainties with truth claims, truths that could be interpreted as models to develop a theory of social transformation. Obviously, this theory cannot be based on absolute reason, which was criticized by Marx, and which both The German Ideology and the Theses on Feuerbach remind us of. For Wittgenstein and Marx (as for Gramsci), it is impossible to think outside a given context, and we must first recognize the rules of this context. However, according to Wittgenstein, this recognition involves the speaker’s ways of ←3 | 4→life, that is, those social conditions, which have always also an historical dimension that Wittgenstein did not consider and which are the origin, even here in Althusser’s sense, of those same rules. We could say that for Marx and Wittgenstein, what is stated in the second thesis on Feuerbach about “the question of whether an objective truth belongs to human thought is not a theoretical question, but instead a practical one” marks their philosophical path; Moreover, even Friedrich Engels had insisted on the role that labour, language, and cooperation play in the development of human capabilities.

The volume is opened by the contribution of Dimitris Gakis, who offers a synoptic overview of the correlation between Marx(ism) and Wittgenstein, recognizing this relationship as a “legitimate subfield Wittgenstein scholarship”. De Iaco’s contribution highlights, instead, the difficulties of the inscription of Wittgenstein’s philosophy within a Marxian framework. According to De Iaco, historicity marks the main difference between the two philosophers. Nevertheless, Mazzeo’s reflections aim at showing a possible point of contact between Marx and Wittgenstein in the concept of natural history (Naturgeschichte). Brusotti highlights how Wittgenstein viewed Marx and Marxism by analysing the traces of critical discussions of Marxism in Wittgenstein’s philosophy coming from his reading of Max Eastman’s book Marxism: Is it Science? The therapeutic form of Wittgenstein’s philosophy is seen as a form of progressive political thought by Gigante, who tries to interrelate Wittgenstein’s ideas with Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach. Göçmen and Kılınç focus on the relationship of reality and consciousness by setting up a comparison between Marx and Wittgenstein’s approaches. They frame the critical method of both philosophers and restore the image of Wittgenstein as a realist philosopher. Iacono relates Wittgenstein and Marx investigating how both their philosophies reject Cartesian epistemological assumptions of the depth associated with the distance and the correspondence of subject and object on the basis of knowledge. Clarifying the concept of fetishism with respect to commodities and words, Iacono shows that for both Wittgenstein and Marx the depth must be discovered in the surface of what appears. Schimmenti investigates the concept of “social hieroglyphics” in Capital and some of its sources in Marx’s notebooks. He tries to show how this metaphor hides a layered critique: a critique of the mode of production and a critique of political economy. This allows him to trace some commonalities with Wittgenstein’s ideas in his Remarks on Frazer’s Golden Bough.

By exploring the conception of language emerging from The German Ideology, Garofalo argues that some aspects of the linguistic turn seem to be anticipated by Marx who, unlike Wittgenstein, grounds the contradiction of language on the contradictions of the social world.

Morra’s essay brings together a historical reconstruction of Wittgenstein’s relationship with Sraffa and Raffaello Piccolo who was poet, philosopher, ←4 | 5→literary scholar, and Professor of Italian at the Magdalene College in Cambridge. On the basis of the analysis of the collected historical data, Morra claims that Wittgenstein’s political position in the first three years after his return in Cambridge (1929-1931) was closer to the liberal socialism of Piccoli than to the Marxism of Sraffa.

The key role of practice in religion both for Wittgenstein, Marx, and Engels is discussed by Vinten. He highlights in his contribution that there are many affinities between them, although Marx and Engels assume that religion and science are in a direct conflict, whereas Wittgenstein stresses that religion and science involve different kinds of activities and beliefs.

Soulez analyses the political dimension of Wittgenstein’s struggle against the fascination of our language that distorts our thought and gives us mental cramps. The Marxist issue of alienation became in Wittgenstein a problem of linguistic alienation and Soulez underlines that the return to the real praxis of language invoked by Wittgenstein has indirect political repercussions despite the fact that Wittgenstein’s philosophy did not promise to pursue political goals.

The correlations between Marx, Wittgenstein, and Rossi-Landi are deepened by Giorgio Borelli, Roberto Fineschi, and Angelo Nizza, who try to show a possible constellation regarding the concepts of labour, praxis and language. Fineschi focuses on the strong points, but also on the limits of Rossi-Landi’s work. According to him, once we gain a correct appreciation of the abstraction levels of Marx’s theory, it is possible to renew a critical framework for investigating the relationship between Marx and Wittgenstein. Borrelli, instead, gives an account on how Rossi-Landi reinterprets Wittgenstein’s notion of linguistic use in the light of homological theory. Finally, Nizza aims at reversing Rossi-Landi’s scheme about the relationship between language and work: Instead of just understanding language as work he also proposes to conceive work as language.

With this volume, we aim at establishing a new permanent theoretical roundtable, which develops our previous attempts at discussing Marx and Wittgenstein further. After all, the character of variety and syncretism of the following essays does represent an attempt to think new ways of building the new in the wake of tradition.


Gargani, A. G. (1975). Il sapere senza fondamenti. Torino: Einaudi.

Janik, A. (1985). Wittgenstein, Marx and Sociology. In: A. Janik (ed.), Essays on Wittgenstein and Weininger, Amsterdam: Rodopi: 136-157.

Kitching, G. and Pleasants, N. (eds.) (2002). Marx and Wittgenstein. Knowledge, Moral and Politics. London/New York: Routledge.

Rossi-Landi, F. (1968). Il linguaggio come valore e come mercato. 2nd ed. Milano: Bompiani.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (July)
Alienation Fetishism Language Capitalism Marxism Praxis
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 210 pp.

Biographical notes

Fabio Sulpizio (Volume editor) Gabriele Schimmenti (Volume editor) Moira De Iaco (Volume editor)

Fabio A. Sulpizio is a professor of history of philosophy at the University of Salento (Lecce). He studied at the University of Pisa and at the University of Lecce. His main areas of research are modern Italian philosophy and French Enlightenment. Moira De Iaco is a professor of language education at the University of Bari "Aldo Moro." She is the author of several articles and monographies on Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language. She investigated Sraffa’s influence on Wittgenstein. Gabriele Schimmenti received his PhD from the University of Salento (Lecce) and the University of Cologne. He studied in Palermo, Münster and Berlin. He published several articles on Young Hegelianism and Karl Marx.


Title: Wittgenstein and Marx. Marx and Wittgenstein
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
212 pages