The individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.
He then sets out throughout the rest of the book to demonstrate the
limitations of this conception, including, he argues, with many
traditional philosophical puzzles and confusions that arise as a
result of this limited picture.
1 The text
1.1 Editions and referencing 1.2 Method and presentation
2 Language, meaning, and use
2.1 Meaning is use 2.2 Meaning and definition 2.3 Family resemblances 2.4 Language-games 2.5 Rules
3 Private language
3.1 Wittgenstein's beetle 3.2 Kripke's account
4.1 Wittgenstein and behaviorism 4.2 Seeing that vs. seeing as
5 Relation to the Tractatus 6 Criticism 7 See also 8 Notes 9 References 10 External links
Editions and referencing
First Edition: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1953. Second Edition: Blackwell Publishers, 1958. Third Edition: Prentice Hall, 1973 (ISBN 0-02-428810-1). 50th Anniversary Edition: Blackwell Publishers, 2001 (ISBN 0-631-23127-7). This edition includes the original German text in addition to the English translation. Fourth Edition: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009 (ISBN 1405159286).
The text is divided into two parts, consisting of what Wittgenstein
calls, in the preface, Bemerkungen, translated by Anscombe as
"remarks". In the first part, these remarks are rarely more than a
paragraph long and are numbered sequentially. In the second part, the
remarks are longer and numbered using Roman numerals. In the index,
remarks from the first part are referenced by their number rather than
page; however, references from the second part are cited by page
number. The comparatively unusual nature of the second part is due to
the fact that it comprises notes that Wittgenstein may have intended
to re-incorporate into the first part. Subsequent to his death it was
published as a "Part II" in the first, second and third editions.
However, in light of continuing uncertainty about Wittgenstein's
intentions regarding this material, the fourth edition (2009)
re-titles "Part I" as "Philosophical Investigations" proper, and "Part
II" as "Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment."
In standard references, a small letter following a page, section, or
proposition number indicates a paragraph.
Method and presentation
...think of the following use of language: I send someone shopping. I give him a slip marked 'five red apples'. He takes the slip to the shopkeeper, who opens the drawer marked 'apples', then he looks up the word 'red' in a table and finds a colour sample opposite it; then he says the series of cardinal numbers—I assume that he knows them by heart—up to the word 'five' and for each number he takes an apple of the same colour as the sample out of the drawer.—It is in this and similar ways that one operates with words—"But how does he know where and how he is to look up the word 'red' and what he is to do with the word 'five'?" Well, I assume that he acts as I have described. Explanations come to an end somewhere.—But what is the meaning of the word 'five'? No such thing was in question here, only how the word 'five' is used.
This example is typical of the book's style. We can see each of the steps in Wittgenstein's method:
The reader is presented with a thought experiment: someone is sent shopping with an order on a slip. Wittgenstein supplies the response of an imagined interlocutor. He usually puts these statements in quotes to distinguish them from his own: "But how does he know where and how he is to look up the word 'red' and what he is to do with the word 'five'?" Or Wittgenstein may indicate such a response by beginning with a long dash, as he does before the question above: —But what is the meaning of the word 'five'? Wittgenstein shows why the reader's reaction was misguided: No such thing was in question here, only how the word 'five' is used.
Similarly, Wittgenstein often uses the device of framing many of the
remarks as a dialogue between himself and a disputant. For example,
Remark 258 proposes a thought experiment in which a certain sensation
is associated with the sign S written in a calendar. He then sets up a
dialogue in which the disputant offers a series of ways of defining S,
and he meets each with a suitable objection, so drawing the conclusion
that in such a case there is no right definition of S.
Through such thought experiments, Wittgenstein attempts to get the
reader to come to certain difficult philosophical conclusions
independently; he does not simply argue in favor of his own theories.
Language, meaning, and use
The Investigations deals largely with the difficulties of language and
meaning. Wittgenstein viewed the tools of language as being
fundamentally simple,[non-primary source needed] and he believed
that philosophers had obscured this simplicity by misusing language
and by asking meaningless questions. He attempted in the
Investigations to make things clear: "Der Fliege den Ausweg aus dem
Fliegenglas zeigen"—to show the fly the way out of the fly
Meaning is use
See also: Picture theory of language
A common summary of his argument is that meaning is use—words are
not defined by reference to the objects they designate, nor by the
mental representations one might associate with them, but by how they
are used. For example, this means there is no need to postulate that
there is something called good that exists independently of any good
deed.[non-primary source needed] This anthropological perspective
contrasts with Platonic realism and with Gottlob
Frege's notions of sense and reference. This argument has been
labeled by some authors as "anthropological holism."
Meaning and definition
Wittgenstein rejects a variety of ways of thinking about what the
meaning of a word is, or how meanings can be identified. He shows how,
in each case, the meaning of the word presupposes our ability to use
it. He first asks the reader to perform a thought experiment: to come
up with a definition of the word "game". While this may at first
seem a simple task, he then goes on to lead us through the problems
with each of the possible definitions of the word "game". Any
definition that focuses on amusement leaves us unsatisfied since the
feelings experienced by a world class chess player are very different
from those of a circle of children playing Duck Duck Goose. Any
definition that focuses on competition will fail to explain the game
of catch, or the game of solitaire. And a definition of the word
"game" that focuses on rules will fall on similar difficulties.
The essential point of this exercise is often missed. Wittgenstein's
point is not that it is impossible to define "game", but that we don't
have a definition, and we don't need one, because even without the
definition, we use the word successfully. Everybody understands
what we mean when we talk about playing a game, and we can even
clearly identify and correct inaccurate uses of the word, all without
reference to any definition that consists of necessary and sufficient
conditions for the application of the concept of a game. The German
word for "game", "Spiele/Spiel", has a different sense than in
English; the meaning of "Spiele" also extends to the concept of "play"
and "playing." This German sense of the word may help readers better
understand Wittgenstein's context in the remarks regarding games.
Wittgenstein argues that definitions emerge from what he termed "forms
of life", roughly the culture and society in which they are used.
Wittgenstein stresses the social aspects of cognition; to see how
language works for most cases, we have to see how it functions in a
specific social situation. It is this emphasis on
becoming attentive to the social backdrop against which language is
rendered intelligible that explains Wittgenstein's elliptical comment
that "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him." However, in
proposing the thought experiment involving the fictional character,
Robinson Crusoe, a captain shipwrecked on a desolate island with no
other inhabitant, Wittgenstein shows that language is not in all cases
a social phenomenon (although, they are for most cases); instead the
criterion for a language is grounded in a set of interrelated
normative activities: teaching, explanations, techniques and criteria
of correctness. In short, it is essential that a language is
shareable, but this does not imply that for a language to function
that it is in fact already shared.
Wittgenstein rejects the idea that ostensive definitions can provide
us with the meaning of a word. For Wittgenstein, the thing that the
word stands for does not give the meaning of the word. Wittgenstein
argues for this making a series of moves to show that to understand an
ostensive definition presupposes an understanding of the way the word
being defined is used.[non-primary source needed] So, for
instance, there is no difference between pointing to a piece of paper,
to its colour, or to its shape; but understanding the difference is
crucial to using the paper in an ostensive definition of a shape or of
Why is it that we are sure a particular activity — e.g. Olympic
target shooting — is a game while a similar activity — e.g.
military sharp shooting — is not? Wittgenstein's explanation is tied
up with an important analogy. How do we recognize that two people we
know are related to one another? We may see similar height, weight,
eye color, hair, nose, mouth, patterns of speech, social or political
views, mannerisms, body structure, last names, etc. If we see enough
matches we say we've noticed a family resemblance. It is perhaps
important to note that this is not always a conscious process —
generally we don't catalog various similarities until we reach a
certain threshold, we just intuitively see the resemblances.
Wittgenstein suggests that the same is true of language. We are all
familiar (i.e. socially) with enough things which are games and enough
things which are not games that we can categorize new activities as
either games or not.
This brings us back to Wittgenstein's reliance on indirect
communication, and his reliance on thought-experiments. Some
philosophical confusions come about because we aren't able to see
family resemblances. We've made a mistake in understanding the vague
and intuitive rules that language uses, and have thereby tied
ourselves up in philosophical knots. He suggests that an attempt to
untangle these knots requires more than simple deductive arguments
pointing out the problems with some particular position. Instead,
Wittgenstein's larger goal is to try to divert us from our
philosophical problems long enough to become aware of our intuitive
ability to see the family resemblances.
Wittgenstein develops this discussion of games into the key notion of
a language-game. Wittgenstein introduces the term using simple
examples, but intends it to be used for the many ways in which we
use language. The central component of language games is that they
are uses of language, and language is used in multifarious ways. For
example, in one language-game, a word might be used to stand for (or
refer to) an object, but in another the same word might be used for
giving orders, or for asking questions, and so on. The famous example
is the meaning of the word "game". We speak of various kinds of games:
board games, betting games, sports, "war games". These are all
different uses of the word "games". Wittgenstein also gives the
example of "Water!", which can be used as an exclamation, an order, a
request, or as an answer to a question. The meaning of the word
depends on the language-game within which it is being used. Another
way Wittgenstein puts the point is that the word "water" has no
meaning apart from its use within a language-game. One might use the
word as an order to have someone else bring you a glass of water. But
it can also be used to warn someone that the water has been poisoned.
One might even use the word as code by members of a secret society.
Wittgenstein does not limit the application of his concept of language
games to word-meaning. He also applies it to sentence-meaning. For
example, the sentence "Moses did not exist" (§79) can mean various
things. Wittgenstein argues that independently of use the sentence
does not yet 'say' anything. It is 'meaningless' in the sense of not
being significant for a particular purpose. It only acquires
significance if we fix it within some context of use. Thus, it fails
to say anything because the sentence as such does not yet determine
some particular use. The sentence is only meaningful when it is used
to say something. For instance, it can be used so as to say that no
person or historical figure fits the set of descriptions attributed to
the person that goes by the name of "Moses". But it can also mean that
the leader of the Israelites was not called Moses. Or that there
cannot have been anyone who accomplished all that the Bible relates of
Moses, etc. What the sentence means thus depends on its context of
One general characteristic of games that Wittgenstein considers in
detail is the way in which they consist in following rules. Rules
constitute a family, rather than a class that can be explicitly
defined. As a consequence, it is not possible to provide a
definitive account of what it is to follow a rule. Indeed, he argues
that any course of action can be made out to accord with some
particular rule, and that therefore a rule cannot be used to explain
an action. Rather, that one is following a rule or not is to be
decided by looking to see if the actions conform to the expectations
in the particular form of life in which one is involved. Following a
rule is a social activity.
Main article: Private language argument
Wittgenstein also ponders the possibility of a language that talks
about those things that are known only to the user, whose content is
inherently private. The usual example is that of a language in which
one names one's sensations and other subjective experiences, such that
the meaning of the term is decided by the individual alone. For
example, the individual names a particular sensation, on some
occasion, 'S', and intends to use that word to refer to that
sensation. Such a language Wittgenstein calls a private language.
Wittgenstein presents several perspectives on the topic. One point he
makes is that it is incoherent to talk of knowing that one is in some
particular mental state. Whereas others can learn of my pain, for
example, I simply have my own pain; it follows that one does not know
of one's own pain, one simply has a pain. For Wittgenstein, this is a
grammatical point, part of the way in which the language-game
involving the word "pain" is played.
Although Wittgenstein certainly argues that the notion of private
language is incoherent, because of the way in which the text is
presented the exact nature of the argument is disputed. First, he
argues that a private language is not really a language at all. This
point is intimately connected with a variety of other themes in his
later works, especially his investigations of "meaning". For
Wittgenstein, there is no single, coherent "sample" or "object" that
we can call "meaning". Rather, the supposition that there are such
things is the source of many philosophical confusions. Meaning is a
complicated phenomenon that is woven into the fabric of our lives. A
good first approximation of Wittgenstein's point is that meaning is a
social event; meaning happens between language users. As a
consequence, it makes no sense to talk about a private language, with
words that mean something in the absence of other users of the
Wittgenstein also argues that one couldn't possibly use the words of a
private language. He invites the reader to consider a case in
which someone decides that each time she has a particular sensation
she will place a sign S in a diary. Wittgenstein points out that in
such a case one could have no criteria for the correctness of one's
use of S. Again, several examples are considered. One is that perhaps
using S involves mentally consulting a table of sensations, to check
that one has associated S correctly; but in this case, how could the
mental table be checked for its correctness? It is "[a]s if someone
were to buy several copies of the morning paper to assure himself that
what it said was true", as Wittgenstein puts it. One common
interpretation of the argument is that while one may have direct or
privileged access to one's current mental states, there is no such
infallible access to identifying previous mental states that one had
in the past. That is, the only way to check to see if one has applied
the symbol S correctly to a certain mental state is to introspect and
determine whether the current sensation is identical to the sensation
previously associated with S. And while identifying one's current
mental state of remembering may be infallible, whether one remembered
correctly is not infallible. Thus, for a language to be used at all it
must have some public criterion of identity.
Often, what is widely regarded as a deep philosophical problem will
vanish, argues Wittgenstein, and eventually be seen as a confusion
about the significance of the words that philosophers use to frame
such problems and questions. It is only in this way that it is
interesting to talk about something like a "private language" —
i.e., it is helpful to see how the "problem" results from a
To sum up: Wittgenstein asserts that, if something is a language, it
cannot be (logically) private; and if something is private, it is not
(and cannot be) a language.
Another point that Wittgenstein makes against the possibility of a
private language involves the beetle-in-a-box thought experiment.
He asks the reader to imagine that each person has a box, inside of
which is something that everyone intends to refer to with the word
"beetle". Further, suppose that no one can look inside another's box,
and each claims to know what a "beetle" is only by examining their own
box. Wittgenstein suggests that, in such a situation, the word
"beetle" could not be the name of a thing, because supposing that each
person has something completely different in their boxes (or nothing
at all) does not change the meaning of the word; the beetle as a
private object "drops out of consideration as irrelevant". Thus,
Wittgenstein argues, if we can talk about something, then it is not
private, in the sense considered. And, contrapositively, if we
consider something to be indeed private, it follows that we cannot
talk about it.
The discussion of private languages was revitalized in 1982 with the
publication of Saul Kripke's book Wittgenstein on Rules and Private
Language. In this work, Kripke uses Wittgenstein's text to develop
a particular type of skepticism about rules that stresses the communal
nature of language-use as grounding meaning. Kripke's version of
Wittgenstein, although philosophically interesting, has been
facetiously called Kripkenstein, with some scholars such as Gordon
Baker, Peter Hacker, Colin McGinn, and
"But if I suppose that someone is in pain, then I am simply supposing that he has just the same as I have so often had." — That gets us no further. It is as if I were to say: "You surely know what 'It is 5 o'clock here' means; so you also know what 'It's 5 o'clock on the sun' means. It means simply that it is just the same there as it is here when it is 5 o'clock." — The explanation by means of identity does not work here.
Thus, according to Wittgenstein, mental states are intimately connected to a subject's environment, especially their linguistic environment, and conceivability or imaginability. Arguments that claim otherwise are misguided. Wittgenstein has also said that "language is inherent and transcendental", which is also not difficult to understand, since we can only comprehend and explain transcendental affairs through language. Wittgenstein and behaviorism From his remarks on the importance of public, observable behavior (as opposed to private experiences), it may seem that Wittgenstein is simply a behaviorist—one who thinks that mental states are nothing over and above certain behavior. However, Wittgenstein resists such a characterization; he writes (considering what an objector might say):
"Are you not really a behaviourist in disguise? Aren't you at bottom really saying that everything except human behaviour is a fiction?" — If I do speak of a fiction, then it is of a grammatical fiction.
Clearly, Wittgenstein did not want to be a behaviorist, nor did he want to be a cognitivist or a phenomenologist. He is, of course, primarily concerned with facts of linguistic usage. However, some argue that Wittgenstein is basically a behaviorist because he considers facts about language use as all there is. Such a claim is controversial, since it is not explicitly endorsed in the Investigations. Seeing that vs. seeing as
The duck-rabbit, made famous by Wittgenstein
In addition to ambiguous sentences, Wittgenstein discussed figures
that can be seen and understood in two different ways. Often one can
see something in a straightforward way — seeing that it is a rabbit,
perhaps. But, at other times, one notices a particular aspect —
seeing it as something.
An example Wittgenstein uses is the "duckrabbit", an ambiguous image
that can be seen as either a duck or a rabbit. When one looks at
the duck-rabbit and sees a rabbit, one is not interpreting the picture
as a rabbit, but rather reporting what one sees. One just sees the
picture as a rabbit. But what occurs when one sees it first as a duck,
then as a rabbit? As the gnomic remarks in the Investigations
indicate, Wittgenstein isn't sure. However, he is sure that it could
not be the case that the external world stays the same while an
'internal' cognitive change takes place.
Relation to the Tractatus
According to the standard reading, in the Philosophical Investigations
Wittgenstein repudiates many of his own earlier views, expressed in
the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. The Tractatus, as Bertrand Russell
saw it (though Wittgenstein took strong exception to Russell's
reading), had been an attempt to set out a logically perfect language,
building on Russell's own work. In the years between the two works
Wittgenstein came to reject the idea that underpinned logical atomism,
that there were ultimate "simples" from which a language should, or
even could, be constructed.
In remark #23 of
"Wittgenstein was insisting that a proposition and that which it describes must have the same 'logical form', the same 'logical multiplicity', Sraffa made a gesture, familiar to Neapolitans as meaning something like disgust or contempt, of brushing the underneath of his chin with an outward sweep of the finger-tips of one hand. And he asked: 'What is the logical form of that?'"
The preface itself, dated January 1945, credits Sraffa for the "most
consequential ideas" of the book.
I have not found in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations anything that seemed to me interesting and I do not understand why a whole school finds important wisdom in its pages. Psychologically this is surprising. The earlier Wittgenstein, whom I knew intimately, was a man addicted to passionately intense thinking, profoundly aware of difficult problems of which I, like him, felt the importance, and possessed (or at least so I thought) of true philosophical genius. The later Wittgenstein, on the contrary, seems to have grown tired of serious thinking and to have invented a doctrine which would make such an activity unnecessary. I do not for one moment believe that the doctrine which has these lazy consequences is true. I realize, however, that I have an overpoweringly strong bias against it, for, if it is true, philosophy is, at best, a slight help to lexicographers, and at worst, an idle tea-table amusement.
Notes Remarks in Part I of Investigations are preceded by the symbol "§". Remarks in Part II are referenced by their Roman numeral or their page number in the third edition.
^ Stern, David G. (2004). Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations: An introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ^ In 2009 Blackwell published the fourth edition (ISBN 978-1-4051-5929-6). The first two editions (1953 and 1958) were Anscombe's text; in the anniversary edition (2001), P. M. S. Hacker and J. Schulte are also credited as translators. The fourth edition (2009) was presented as a revision by Hacker and Schulte, crediting Anscombe, Hacker, and Schulte as translators. ^ Wittgenstein (1953), Preface. (All citations will be from Wittgenstein (1953), unless otherwise noted.) ^ Symposia: Symposium sobre información y comunicación, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Centro de Estudios Filosóficos, 1963, p. 238 ^ §1. ^ §97 quotation:
the order of possibilities, which must be common to both world and thought... must be utterly simple.
^ §309; the original English translation used the word "shew" for
^ Jesús Padilla Gálvez Philosophical Anthropology: Wittgenstein's
^ Nicholas Bunnin, Jiyuan Yu (2008) The Blackwell Dictionary of
Western Philosophy, entry for anthropological holism p.34
^ See §3.
^ See §66 (Wittgenstein. PI. Blackwell Publishers, 2001).
^ (II, xi), p.190
^ See §26–34.
^ See §66-§71.
^ See §7.
^ See §201.
^ a b §293
^ Kripke, Saul. Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Basil
Blackwell Publishing, 1982.
^ Stern 2004:2–7
^ Part II, §xi
^ Norman Malcolm. Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir.
^ Pier Luigi Porta (2012). "Piero Sraffa's Early Views on Classical
Political Economy," Cambridge Journal of Economics, 36(6), 1357-1383.
^ Russell, Bertrand (1959). My Philosophical Development. New York:
Allen & Unwin. pp. 216–217. ISBN 0041920155.
^ T. P. Uschanov, The Strange Death of Ordinary
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (2001) . Philosophical Investigations. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-23127-7. Kripke, Saul (1982). Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Basil Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-13521-9.
The first 100 remarks from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations with Commentary by Lois Shawver. Wittgenstein's Beetle – description of the thought experiment from Philosophy Online. As The Hammer Strikes in Fillip
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