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Wittgenstein and law

Uppsala University

VT21- Date: April 27- May 28 via Zoom (länken kommer senare)

The course consists of 10 seminars:

Weeks 17, 18 and 21: Tuesday and Thursday (10.00-12.00)

Week 19: Tuesday and Friday (10.00-12.00)

Week 20: Wednesday and Friday (10.00-12.00)

Language: English

Kursansvarig: Prof Joel Samuelsson


Kontakt och e-post för registrering:


Basic information

This course, offered by the Uppsala University Law Faculty, is 7.5 university points (7.5 ECTS credits). It is an optional course at advanced level in the studies for the degree of juris doktor. The language of instruction will be English (unless all attending students should happen to be native Swedish speakers). The teacher responsible and doing all of the teaching is professor Joel Samuelsson. The course is pass or fail.


General idea

Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889- 1951) has had a tremendous impact on modern thought and on modern culture in general. (Particularly so within the Anglosphere.) Of course, the cultural phenomenon we know as Law is not exempt from his influence. Anyone bent on understanding Law as a cultural phenomenon will, sooner or later, find Wittgenstein waiting, somewhere along the path. As legal scholars, we have reason to take an interest in Wittgenstein, simply in order to get to know ourselves better (and getting to know oneself is, and has been since the very beginning, really what being a scholar is all about).


Wittgenstein carries a unique standing in the history of ideas. Some consider him the most important philosopher since Immanuel Kant. In all likelihood, Wittgenstein’s standing is not unmerited. All the fuzz should be about something. There are causes, reasons, and among them, to be sure, is the spirit and pregnant style of Wittgenstein’s thought. His critique is forceful, unrelenting and pure. Within the humanities, whatever you study, studying Wittgenstein’s technique as well might be a good idea.


For these reasons the course “Wittgenstein and Law” is designed to establish a connection between Wittgenstein’s thought, on one hand, and the individual research carried out by the individual participant, on the other. (Thinking is a personal matter. That is, at least, a central tenet of Wittgenstein’s.)


Aim and learning outcomes

The aim is to make Wittgenstein accessible to the individual participant – as a point of reference (historical understanding, of Law as a cultural phenomenon) and as a possible normative ideal (method). Only so much can be achieved in five weeks’ time, but still, there it is.

Expressed as a matter of “learning outcomes”:

At the end of the course students shall, to some extent, have familiarized themselves with Wittgenstein, in particular with the Wittgenstein of the “Investigations”. This includes familiarity with basic notions - such as “form of life”, “grammar” and “family resemblance” – and arguments – e.g. “the private language argument”, but also familiarity with techniques and with what might, for want of a better word, be called the spirit of Wittgenstein’s text.

Students shall be able to put what they have learned in these respects into practical use, when doing legal science.

They shall be able to explain and discuss what Wittgenstein has to do with the law.

They shall have the tools to carry their studies on the topic further, if they so please.

And they shall have the courage to approach other texts belonging to the canon of Western thought.



In practice, taking this course means three things:

  1. reading,

  2. writing and

  3. attending seminars.

Required reading as per the list detailed below. Included are two original works by Wittgenstein as well as two introductions, both lightweight, one more so than the other. In addition, there will be printed hand outs and articles made available during the course.

The writing assignment will be to submit an essay consisting of 2 000 words, discussing what, if anything, Wittgenstein has to do with the doctoral thesis supposedly under production by the submitting participant in question. This essay will be the sole form of examination used during the course. Pass or fail only. Essays are to be submitted before midnight, Midsummer’s Eve (June 25th).

On the seminars (and the workshop)… There will be ten scheduled events, two each week – nine seminars and one workshop. As for the content, the preliminary outline provided below will give you some idea. Typically, in preparation, some task or other – detailed in the seminar description – will need to be dealt with.

Attendance is compulsory (one free pass, though).

The reading you do should inform your writing, as should the seminar discussions.


Reading list

  • Wittgenstein, L, Philosophical Investigations, 4th ed, Hacker, P M S, Schulte, E (eds), John Wiley & Sons 2009, 592 pp.

  • Wittgenstein, L, Tractatus Logico- Philosophicus, Routledge 2013, 144 pp.

  • Monk, R, How to Read Wittgenstein, GRANTA BOOKS 2005, 128 pp.

  • Heaton, J, Introducing Wittgenstein, Icon Books 2009, 176 pp.


Course dates
27 April 2021 - 28 May 2021
Course organizer
Joel Samuelsson
Kurs via Zoom. Länken kommer senare.