Philosophical Investigations (1953)


Ludwig Wittgenstein


Meaning and Use

1.  Critique of Ostensive Teaching of Words

a.  Wittgenstein on example from Augustine (1)

1) Implications

a) In this theory "the individual words in language name objects"

b) Leads to view that "every word has a meaningÉit is the object for which the word stands"

2) Clarification

a) Such referential theory generally arises from focus upon "names like 'table,' 'chair,' 'bread,' and of people's names, and only secondarily of the names of certain actions and properties"

b) Essentially ignores other kinds of words

3) Operation of referential model

a) Even simplistic model (five red apples) shows problems

b) Eventually, one appeals to how words are used

b.  Transition to speculative model in which to test the referential model (2)

1) A language that fits Augustinian criteria would be "more primitive than ours"

2) Wittgenstein employs imaginative and primitive communication context

c.  Aside on insufficiency of this primitive language (3)

1) "Not everything that we call language is this system"

2) Since like generalizing about games from board games, "you can make your definition correct by expressly restricting it to those games"

d.  Status of ostensive teaching (6)

1) Can establish association of word and thing

a) "Uttering a word is like striking a note in the keyboard of imagination"

b) Insufficient explanation because "in the language in #2 it is not the purpose of the words to evoke images"

(1)        Wittgenstein sees relation of language to actions as did Marx when the latter said, "language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity of intercourse with other men"

(2)        However, Wittgenstein stops short of developing a praxeological theory of meaning

2) Wittgenstein hints at his functional theory of meaning

a) "Don't you understand the call 'Slab!' if you act upon it in such-and-such a way?"

b) While close to behavioral theory of meaning, Wittgenstein is ultimately more concerned with meaning than action

2.  Thesis of language games

a.  "We can also think of the whole process of using words in (2) as one of those games by means of which children learn their native language.  I will call them 'language-games'" (7)

b.  Wittgenstein uses imaginative variation (cf. phenomenological eidetic variation) to construct languages more complex than that found in primitive referential model (8)

1) Adds letters for numbers and "there" and "this" for directional or locational indicators, e.g., so as to say "d-slab-there"

2) Already, signification is dependent upon use (10)

c.  Tool-box metaphor (11)

1) "The functions of words are as diverse as the functions of their objects"

2) While appearance of words is similar, application (i.e., function) is not

d.  Connection of particular language-games with specific forms of life

1) Grouping of words depends on our classification and inclination (17) (Cf. Foucault)

2) While imaginatively there are innumerable language games, factually the form of life of a people delimits the language games

3) "The term 'language-game' is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life" (23)

3.  Critique of some views held in the Tractatus

a.  Rejection of analysis as reduction of names into correspondence with simples

1) Earlier had held "a name ought really to signify a simple" (39)--cf. atomic facts and atomic propositions in Russell

a) If simple destroyed, sentence with term referring to previous simple would, since it now contains a word with no meaning (i.e., no reference), be nonsense

b) However, the inadequacy of such analysis is shown because such a sentence does make sense

2) Distinction of meaning and reference (40)

a) "The word 'meaning' is being used illicitly if it is used to signify the thing that 'corresponds' to the word"

(1)        Wittgenstein rejects Tractatus 3.203

(2)        Wittgenstein notes that view confounds "the meaning of a name with the bearer of the name"

b) Example of Mr. N.N.

(1)        "When Mr. N.N. dies one says that the bearer of the name dies, not that the meaning dies"

(2)        "If the name ceased to have meaning it would make no sense to say 'Mr. N.N. is dead'"

c) Wittgenstein gives necessary but not sufficient condition of meaning

(1)   Because of such instances, it is necessary to separate meaning from reference

(2)        Insufficient to relate meaning to use because the contexts apply previously established diacritical oppositions

3) Wittgenstein is aware of limitation of functional theory of meaning (43)

a) "For a large class of cases--tough not for all--in which we apply the word 'meaning' it can be defined thus:  the meaning of a word is its use in the language"

b) While Wittgenstein does not say always, many ordinary language philosophers have so interpreted him

b.  Reassessment of names for primary elements

1) Wittgenstein cites Plato's Theaetetus that claims primary elements have no definition but rather bare names and characterizes Russell's "individuals" and his "objects" in the Tractatus as being such primary elements--cf. Tractatus 3.26 and 3.261 (46)

2) Now Wittgenstein says "it makes no sense at all to speak absolutely of the 'simple parts of a chair'" (47)

a) Wittgenstein is suggesting description and definition do not arise from and depend on atomic facts

b) Hence, analysis is a de facto possibility for only some statements

4.  Thesis of Family Resemblances

a.  Rejection of general form of propositions and language (65)

1) "Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all"

2) Study relationships when study language

b.  "I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than 'family resemblances'" (67)