Wittgenstein and the unity of good

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)


This paper discusses the problem of the unity of moral good, concerning the kind of unity that moral good or the concept thereof constitutes. In particular, I am concerned with how Wittgenstein’s identification of various complex modes of conceptual unity, and his introduction of a methodology of clarification for dealing with such complex concepts, can help with the problem of unity, as it rises from the moral philosophical tradition. Relating to this I also address the disputed question, whether Wittgenstein regards good as a family-resemblance concept, and make an attempt to characterize family-resemblance concepts generally by way of their similarities and differences from certain other complex modes of conceptual unity. I argue that whilst Wittgenstein does regard good as a family-resemblance concept, in the Philosophical Investigations he seeks to make a more general methodological point. I conclude with a suggestion of how Wittgenstein’s methodological points can help us to put into a broader perspective famous criticisms of the moral philosophical tradition by Michael Stocker and Bernard Williams, and how Wittgenstein's methods more generally can help to address the problem of the unity of good. This illustrates one way in which Wittgensteinian methods can help resolve disputes in moral philosophy, where the main approaches, Aristotelian, Kantian and utilitarian theories, seem to be locked in a stalemate. As I argue, this situation has to do with their assumptions about the unity of moral good. The response isn’t to reject those theories, however, but to re-interpret them in a way consistent with the Wittgensteinian methodology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)428-444
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Journal of Philosophy
Issue number2
Early online date5 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Goodness, moral philosophy, Wittgenstein, fanmily-resemblance

Cite this