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Wittgenstein (second from right), Summer 1920
Peter Guy Winch (14 January 1926, London – 27 April 1997, Champaign, Illinois) was a British philosopher known for his contributions to the philosophy of social science, Wittgenstein scholarship, ethics, and the philosophy of religion. Winch is perhaps most famous for his early book, The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy (1958), an attack on positivism in the social sciences, drawing on the work of R. G. Collingwood and Ludwig Wittgenstein's later philosophy.
Major influences upon Winch include Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rush Rhees, R. G. Collingwood and Simone Weil. He gave rise to a form of philosophy that has been given the name ‘sociologism’. He also bears responsibility for a small school of sociology that was prepared to accept his radical criticism of the subject.
Winch saw himself as an uncompromising Wittgensteinian. He was not personally acquainted with Wittgenstein; Wittgenstein’s influence upon him was mostly mediated through that of Rush Rhees, who was his colleague at the University College of Swansea, now known as Swansea University, and whom Wittgenstein appointed as one of his literary executors. In 1980 Winch published Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value, translated by himself. After the death of Rhees in 1989 he took over his position as literary executor.
From Rush Rhees, Winch derived his interest in the religious writer Simone Weil. Part of the appeal was a break from Wittgenstein into a very different type of philosophy which could nevertheless be tackled with familiar methods. Also Weil’s ascetic, somewhat Tolstoyan, form of religion harmonised with one aspect of Wittgenstein’s personality.
At a time when most Anglo-American philosophers were heavily under the spell of Wittgenstein, Winch’s own approach was strikingly original. While much of his work was concerned with rescuing Wittgenstein from what he took to be misreadings, his own philosophy involved a shift of emphasis from the problems that preoccupied Oxford style ‘linguistic’ philosophy, towards justifying and explaining 'forms of life' in terms of consistent language games. He took Wittgensteinian philosophy into areas of ethics and religion, which Wittgenstein himself had relatively neglected, sometimes showing considerable originality. An example is his illuminating treatment of the moral difference between someone who tries and fails to commit murder and someone who succeeds, in his essay "Trying" in Ethics and Action. With the decline of interest in Wittgenstein, Winch himself was increasingly neglected and the challenge his arguments presented to much contemporary philosophy was sidestepped or ignored. In insisting on the continuity of Wittgenstein’s concerns from the Tractatus through to the Philosophical Investigations, Winch made a powerful case for Wittgenstein’s mature philosophy, as he understood it, as the consummation and legitimate heir of the entire analytic tradition.
Wittgenstein famously said that philosophy leaves the world as it is. Winch takes his ideas into regions that have strong moral and political implications.
Served in the Royal Navy 1944–47.
Graduated at University of Oxford 1949.
Married Erika Neumann and had 2 sons, Christopher and David.
1951 Lecturer in philosophy at Swansea University.
1967 Professor of Philosophy at King's College London.
1980–1981 President of the Aristotelian Society.
- Understanding a Primitive Society, 1964, American Philosophical Quarterly I, pp. 307–24
- Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein (ed), 1969
- Ethics And Action, London 1972
- Culture and Value, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Translated by Peter Winch, Oxford 1980
- Simone Weil, the Just Balance, Cambridge 1989
- Trying to Make Sense, Oxford 1987
- The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, London 1990 (second edition).
- see Sutton, C. The German Tradition in Philosophy. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974
- see the Discussion in New Rules of Sociological Method by Anthony Giddens London: Hutchinson: 1976
- see biography by Colin Lyas
- see Peter Hacker Wittgenstein's Place in Twentieth Century Philosophy Blackwell: Oxford: 1996
- Philosophical Investigations §124
- see article by D.Z Phillips in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
- Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen: Newsletter 57
- Philosophy as the Art of Disagreement On the Social and Moral Philosophy of Peter Winch by Lars Hertzberg
- Peter Winch by Colin Lyas
- Peter Winch 1926–97 by Rupert Read
- Winch, Malcolm, and the Unity of Wittgenstein's Philosophy by Cora Diamond
- Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein, Oxford 1958
- Tractatus Logico Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, London 1922