Philosophy, historically, has been written in a wide diversity of literary styles. In modern philosophy, for example, Discourse on Method by Descartes is written in an autobiographical manner, and Meditations on First Philosophy utilise, as its title indicates, the literary form of meditative writing. Spinoza wrote Ethica in a geometrical fashion, in order the style of the book to reflect its subject-matter. Kant’s attempt to produce a purified system of philosophy is mirrored in his conceptually rigid way of writing, and Hegel’s dialectical method is hardcoded in the move that consciousness performs from one stage to the other in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Nietzsche’s work is exemplary here, since he experimented with and utilised many literary genres (aphorism, polemic, essay, treatise, etc).

The list can be extended both forwards and backwards in time. A  simple look at the pre-Socratic philosophers, who wrote in a poetic fashion, and Plato, who wrote dialogues, will give us a glimpse of the different writing styles in antiquity. At the other end of the spectrum, looking at the 20th century, we also encounter diverse manners of exposition: the dialectical writing in the Dialectic of Enlightenment by Adorno and Horkheimer, the poetic writing of the late Heidegger, the logical expositions of the Vienna circle, the deconstructive writing strategy of Derrida – and the list is far from exhaustive.

Having this historical background in mind, in this paper I focus on Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (Wittgenstein et al., 2009). I will try to build a necessary connection between the manner of exposition of the book and its argument about language games. My main claim is that there are philosophical reasons to take into account the style of a book when considering its arguments. I will start by discussing manner of exposition as a personal and/or aesthetic choice, a position that is popular in the literature (Kanterian, 2012). I find this association unsatisfactory. My critique is based on the fact that this position uses a non textual explanans, in our case Wittgenstein’s personal life, for the explanation of a textual element. Therefore, explaining the manner of exposition by reference to an non textual element leads to a point where the relation between the style and the argumentative structure of the text remains unjustifiable.

Contrary to this interpretation I forward the claim that we should understand the manner of exposition of the book as a reflection of its content. Since language games deny that there is an essence in language (Pichler, 2007), this is reflected in the unsystematic manner of exposition. As a result, the manner of exposition performs the arguments of the book. I conclude my paper by reflecting on the philosophical task that the relation between the manner of exposition and the content poses to us, the reader.


Kanterian, E. (2012). Philosophy as Poetry? Reflections on Wittgenstein’s Style. Wittgenstein-Studien, 3(1), pp.95-132.

Pichler, A. (2007). The Interpretation of the Philosophical Investigations: Style, Therapy, Nachlass. In: G. Kahane, E. Kanterian and O. Kuusela, ed., Wittgenstein and His Interpreters, 1st ed. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.123-144.

Wittgenstein, L., Anscombe, G., Hacker, P. and Schulte, J. (2009). Philosophical investigations. 4th ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

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