Healing the Rift

How G. H. von Wright Made Philosophy Relevant to His Life


  • Bernt Österman University of Helsinki




In the introductory “Intellectual Autobiography” of the Georg Henrik von Wright volume of the Library of Living Philosophers series, von Wright mentions the discrepancy he always felt between his narrow logical-analytical professional work and a drive to make philosophy relevant to his life, calling it a rift in his philosophical personality. This article examines the nature of the rift and the various stages the problem went through during von Wright’s career. It is argued that the initial impression that his books The Varieties of Goodness and Explanation and Understanding had contributed to healing the rift, was subdued by a gradual shift in existential focus from individualistic ethics towards a critical concern for destructive ways of thinking inherent in the Western culture, connected with von Wright’s “political awakening” at the end of the 1960s. The most urgent questions of our times called for novel, non-analytical, ways of doing philosophy, employed in von Wright’s later works on science and reason, and the myth of progress. Eventually von Wright’s earlier methodological concerns were also alleviated by his belief that logical-analytical philosophy was inherently unsuitable for exposing the cultural structures it was very much a part of.


Bergström, Lars, Harald Ofstad and Dag Prawitz, eds., 1978. En filosofibok: Tillägnad Anders Wedberg. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag.

Carnap, Rudolf, 1931. “Überwindung der Metaphysik durch logische Analyse der Sprache.” Erkenntnis 2: 219–41.

Donagan, Alan, 1989. “Von Wright on Causation, Intention, and Action.” In Schilpp and Hahn (1989), pp. 333–51.

Dray, William H., 1964. Philosophy of History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Haaparanta, Leila and Ilkka Niiniluoto, eds., 2003. Analytic Philosophy in Finland. (Poznán Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 80). New York: Rodopi.

Hämäläinen, Nora, Juhana Lemetti and Ilkka Niiniluoto, eds., 2014. Hyve: Philosophical Studies from the University of Helsinki 45. Helsinki: Helsingin yliopisto.

Jakola, Lassi, 2014. “Hyvän muunnelmat, analyysin muunnelmat: G. H. von Wright moraalisen hyvän luonteesta.” In Hämäläinen, Lemetti and Niiniluoto (2014), pp. 107–21.

Jerusalem, Wilhelm, 1913. Einleitung in die Philosophie, Fünfte und sechste Auflage. Vienna/Leipzig: Wilhelm Braumüller.

Niiniluoto, Ilkka and Thomas Wallgren, eds., 2017. On the Human Condition: Philosophical Essays in Honour of the Centennial Anniversary of Georg Henrik von Wright. Acta Philosophica Fennica 93.

Österman, Bernt, 2017. “Von Wright’s Troubled Relationship with Bertrand Russell.” In Niiniluoto and Wallgren (2017), pp. 201–15.

Schilpp, Paul Arthur and Lewis Edwin Hahn, eds., 1989. The Philosophy of Georg Henrik von Wright. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court.

Stoutland, Frederick, 2009a. “Introduction.” In Stoutland (2009b), pp. 1–14.

———, ed., 2009b. Philosophical Probings: Essays on Von Wright’s Later Work. Copenhagen: Automatic Press.

von Wright, Georg Henrik, 1955a. “Modern filosofi I.” Nya Argus 48: 124–27.

———, 1955b. Tanke och Förkunnelse. Helsingfors: Söderströms.

———, 1963. The Varieties of Goodness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

———, 1967. “Kriget mot Vietnam.” Hufvudstadsbladet, 28 November 1967.

———, 1968. “Om förklaringar i historievetenskapen.” Historiallinen Arkisto 63: 155–69.

———, 1971. Explanation and Understanding. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

———, 1974. Causality and Determinism. New York: Columbia University Press.

———, 1978a. “En filosof ser på filosofien.” In Bergström, Ofstad and Prawitz (1978), pp. 188–205.

———, 1978b. Humanismen som livshållning. Helsingfors: Söderström.

———, 1980. “Preface.” In Wittgenstein (1980), pp. ie–iie.

———, 1982a. Wittgenstein. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

———, 1982b. “Wittgenstein in Relation to His Times.” In von Wright (1982a), pp. 203–16.

———, 1986. Vetenskapen och förnuftet. Helsingfors: Söderström.

———, 1989. “Intellectual Autobiography.” In Schilpp and Hahn (1989), pp. 1–55.

———, 1993a. “Analytic Philosophy – A Historico-Critical Survey.” In von Wright (1993g), pp. 25–52.

———, 1993b. “Images of Science and Forms of Rationality.” In von Wright (1993g), pp. 172–92.

———, 1993c. “Introduction.” In von Wright (1993g), pp. 1–4.

———, 1993d. “Logic and Philosophy in the 20th Century.” In von Wright (1993g), pp. 7–24.

———, 1993e. Myten om framsteget: Tankar 1987–1992 med en intellektuell självbiografi. Helsingfors: Söderströms.

———, 1993f. “The Myth of Progress.” In von Wright (1993g), pp. 202–28.

———, 1993g. The Tree of Knowledge and Other Essays. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

———, 1994a. Att förstå sin samtid. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag.

———, 1994b. “Om de yttersta tiderna.” In von Wright (1994a), pp. 315–35.

———, 1994c. “Om framtiden.” In von Wright (1994a), pp. 23–38.

———, 1995. Erkenntnis als Lebensform, translated by Joachim Schulte. Vienna: Böhlau Verlag. German translation of von Wright (1993g).

———, 1997. “Begriffsanalyse ist eine schaffende Tätigkeit: Ein Interview mit Fragen von Hans Julius Schneider.” Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 45: 267–77.

———, 1998. In the Shadow of Descartes. Essays in the Philosophy of Mind. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

———, 2001. Mitt liv som jag minns det. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers Förlag.

———, 2003. “What Philosophy Is for Me.” In Haaparanta and Niiniluoto (2003), pp. 79–88.

von Wright, Georg Henrik, Risto Vilkko and Erkki Kilpinen, 2005. “The Georg Henrik von Wright-Bibliography.” Journal for General Philosophy of Science 36: 155–210.

Wallgren, Thomas, 2003. “Critical Theory.” In Haaparanta and Niiniluoto (2003), pp. 537–79.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 1978. Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, revised edition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

———, 1980. Culture and Value. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.