The Practical Turn in Psychology: Marx and Wittgenstein as Social Materialists

John T. Jost, Curtis D. Hardin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parker (1996) alleges that Wittgensteinian presuppositions of essentialism and relativism obscure the role of social power in linguistic discourse. Not only is this claim self-contradictory, it is wrong in each of its component counts. Strands of essentialism in Wittgenstein's early writings were skewered effectively in his own later philosophy. Although Parker is not alone in charging Wittgenstein with relativism, we argue that a careful reading of Wittgenstein's work belies such a claim. This is because the meaning of a given language-game is fixed by patterns of ongoing social interaction among people who share a particular ‘form of life’. Against Parker, we show that Wittgenstein's (anti-)philosophy is in fact largely congenial to Marx's (anti-)philosophy, with both writers allied against the doctrines of individualism, subjectivism, mentalism, idealism and metaphysicalism. Although it may be true that Wittgenstein the person was relatively silent about issues of social and political power, Parker has failed to establish that Wittgensteinian metatheory is incompatible with the analysis of power in social discourse. In sum, we argue that Wittgenstein, like Marx, was a social materialist (rather than a social constructionist) whose writings articulate the foundations of mind and meaning in terms of concrete social practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)385-393
Number of pages9
JournalTheory & Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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