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Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations Notes

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This is an extract of our Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations document, which we sell as part of our Wittgenstein Notes collection written by the top tier of University Of Oxford students.

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Ludwig Wittgenstein - Philosophical Investigations Comments/Notes/Summary Meaning as Use

1. Introduces reference theory of meaning via Augustine. 'The words in language name objects sentences are combinations of such names' a. then seems to illustrate this theory with an example: five red apples. i. 'It is in this and similar ways that one operates with words.' ???
ii. seems to suggest that we do not have to explain how we know what to do with words - 'Explanations come to an end somewhere' iii. 'But what is the meaning of the word "five"? - No such thing was in question here, only how the word "five" is used.' Meaning as use?

2. Augustine's reference theory refers to a language more primitive than ours. Introduction of such a language.

3. This is a system of communication, but not a complete language. It describes part of what we call language.

4. Augustine's conception neglects the other functions of words etc in a language.

5. Augustine's conceptions shows us how 'the general concept of the meaning of a word' confuses the working of language, surrounding it 'with a haze that makes clear vision impossible.' a. we need to study language in primitive uses to survey its purpose and functioning i. such uses are taught to children to train them, not to explain

6. The language of (2) could be a complete language of a tribe. Part of training the language will be pointing to the objects and then saying their names (ostensive teaching of words) a. the trainee may come to literally picture the object when saying the word. Is this the purpose of the word?
i. Maybe, but the purpose of the words in language (2) is not to evoke images, though this may help attain the purpose ii. even then, does the person understand the word?

1. maybe, but this is totally dependent on the instruction given - with different instructions, or with the object (e.g. a brake-lever) in a different context, there will be a different understanding

7. The process of using words in (2) is a 'language-game', by which children learn their native language a. repeating words after a teacher is also a language-game b. 'I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the activities into which it is woven, a "language-game".'

8. We can add to language (2) a series of letters that act as numbers, and the two words 'there' and 'this'.

9. Can these words be taught ostensively?
a. numbers, maybe, at least the smaller ones b. 'there' and 'this': possibly, but pointing would likely occur in both the teaching and the use of the words

10. How is what the words signify supposed to come out except in the kind of use they have?
a. so, we can describe words in the teaching, as "the word ... signifies ..." b. this will be useful in cases of confusion of words, but only when the trainee already has

an understanding of the words, even if on that understanding 'block' means 'slab' and vice-versa

11. Despite the fact that they sound and look uniform, the functions of words are as diverse as the functions of tools in a toolbox.

12. Example: handles in a locomotive. Look alike, but each has a different function and has to be pulled/pushed differently.

13. Claiming that every word in the language signifies something is to say nothing whatsoever: we must explain 'the distinction' a. Which distinction? The distinction between words that signify something and words that don't?
b. Is this because all words in 'the' language do signify something, or necessarily signify something, or because all words in any language necessarily signify something? Or some other reason?

14. W: is anything gained by classifying tools together as objects that modify different things?

15. We can most straightforwardly apply the word 'signify' when the name is marked on an object. Naming is like attaching a name tag to a thing.

16. Should we count the colour samples of (2) etc as part of the language? Cf. 'Pronounce the word "the".' The colour and the second "the" are samples, and hence tools of the language.

17. It is difficult to classify words like 'block', 'slab', 'a', 'b' etc. because classification will vary according to inclination. Cf. classifying tools, classifying chess pieces

18. Are languages (2) and (8) incomplete because they consist only of orders?
a. no, in the same way that our language wasn't incomplete before it assimilated the notation of calculus, the symbolism of chemistry etc b. our language is like 'an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses...and all this surrounded by a multitude of new suburbs with straight and regular streets and uniform houses.' i. does this mean that language is never complete; that completeness does not apply to language as a whole?

19. 'To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life' - and languages with old orders, or questions and expressions for yes/no, are imaginable. a. is the call "Slab!" in (2) a sentence or a word?
i. if a word it cannot have the same meaning as the word 'slab' in our language, because in (2) it is a call ii. if a sentence, it cannot be the elliptical sentence "Slab!" in our language, because that sentence is short for "Bring me a slab", and that sentence doesn't exist in (2). iii. is "Bring me a slab" a lengthening of "Slab!"? When we call out the latter we mean the former. But how do you say one and mean the other? Do you say one to yourself as you say the other aloud?

20. We could mean "Bring me a slab" as one word corresponding to the single word "Slab!". But we would say it consists of four words when we use it in contrast to other statements, like "Hand me a slab", or "Bring him a slab". a. but what does it mean to use one word in contrast to another? Do we have all the others in mind at the same time? And is this before, during or after we say the sentence we choose?
i. this is not the explanation we should look for. We should determine whether our language contains the possibility of the other sentences. For us it does, but not for the foreigner who understands "Bring me a slab" as one word corresponding

to "building stone" in his language, and hence might pronounce it wrong

1. this is all we have to suggest a wrong or different conception. We should not resort to what goes on mentally in selecting the sentence (because it is irrelevant, or because it is puzzling?)

21. The difference between statements that use the same words (e.g. "Five slabs" as assertion and "Five slabs!" as order) lies in the part they play in the language game, and in other things e.g. tone of voice, facial expression a. W: but tone and facial expression might be unreliable in this respect. Similarly sentences with the grammatical form of questions are in fact assertions e.g. "Isn't the weather glorious to-day?" What makes a statement one or the other?

22. Frege says every assertion contains an assumption: the thing asserted. This means "It is asserted that such-and-such is the case", but "that such-and-such is the case" isn't a sentence in our language, and in "it is asserted: such-and-such is the case" "it is asserted" is superfluous. a. we could formulate every assertion with a question answered in the affirmative, but this doesn't show that every assertion contains a question b. so we can't comfortably formalise or group types of statement together; they have diverse functions/formulations etc

23. There are countless kinds of sentence. New types are introduced with new language games, and old ones become obsolete.

24. We might ask the nature of a question, and suggest it as 'a way of stating that I do not know suchand-such, or that I wish the other person would tell me' or 'a description of my mental state of uncertainty' a. but lots of very different kinds of things are called descriptions b. descriptions can be substituted for questions c. once again, questions can't be accounted for in one single way

25. Language is as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating etc

26. We think of language as attaching name tags to things. This is seen as 'preparation for the use of a word'. But what is it a preparation for?

27. This reference theory presupposes that there is only one thing called "talking about things", and it is naming. But this is absurd. Exclamations hold many completely different functions, and few of them are names. a. we can even conceive of languages that don't contain asking something's name (2 and 8) b. asking and giving names is its own language-game, but not language exhaustively

28. We can ostensively define names by pointing to the correct objects and stating the name, but how can the objects(concepts?) be defined like that?
a. it will never be unambiguously clear what the person is pointing to - ostensive definition can always be 'variously interpreted'

29. In order to avoid this confusion, we could ostensively define by saying that "This number is called 'two'." But then we would have to explain the concept of a number, using other words this would enter a hermeneutic circle a. using the word 'number' in this ostensive definition is necessarily if it will otherwise be taken incorrectly

30. So ostensive definition explains the use(meaning) of a word if the role of the word is already clear a. then we have the question of what it is to be clear

31. Ostensively defining the king in chess only explains the use(meaning) of the piece to someone who already knows the rules but doesn't know the physical shape of the king piece

a. ostensive definition of the king piece will also only have meaning to someone who understands something about board games - that pieces are manipulated in various ways b. 'it only makes sense for someone to ask what something is called if he already knows how to make use of the name'

32. A foreigner will learn some language from ostensive explanations, and will often have to guess how to interpret them: sometimes right, sometimes wrong a. this is Augustine's learning: it is that of someone who can think, but cannot speak

33. It isn't enough to say you just need to know what the person is pointing at, because how can we clearly differentiate between pointing at different things?
a. e.g. there is no regular pattern to how we focus on colour rather than shape b. but even the particular ways in which we focus on one rather than the other don't capture the whole: part of the meaning rests in the whole language-game

34. Even if someone has a regular way of focusing on shape, and the hearer can follow that way of focusing, can the word still not be interpreted differently? we would see this through use a. neither meaning nor interpreting explanations in a certain way signifies a process accompanying the giving and hearing of an explanation

35. There are characteristic experiences of pointing at e.g. the shape. But we would still depend on more context - on what happened before and after, because pointing at the shape and not the colour is much more complicated than pointing at the object. And pointing at a piece in a game is even more so - there are no established characteristic experiences of pointing at a piece in a game.

36. Because we cannot specify outwardly the symptoms of e.g. pointing at the colour, we say it is a mental or spiritual activity. a. wherever language suggests a non-existent body, we say there is a spirit

37. What is the relation between name and thing named?
a. from (2) it may be that when the name is uttered the thing is pictured mentally, or the thing is pointed at, or the thing has a name tag on it

38. What do 'this' and 'that' name? Russell etc have called them the real name - other names are only approximate a. 'name' characterises many different kinds of uses of words, but not the kind of use of 'that' or 'this' b. it is characteristic of a name that it it is explained by means of the expression 'That is called N', but we don't say 'That is called 'that'' c. naming seems to be a strange connection between word and object, and even stranger to the philosopher who stares deeper into the name to try to fathom the relation i. 'philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday'

39. So why call 'this' and 'that' names?
a. because conventional names can come to refer to things that no longer exist, in which case it seems that the word has no meaning and the sentence it is a part of is nonsense b. at this point we must replace the name with a word that names a simple - a real name (argument of Russell etc)

40. It is not meaning that corresponds to a word, but an object - so does a word have no meaning if no object corresponds to the word?

41. We can imagine a language-game in which participants communicate to each other the nonexistence of objects e.g. in response to a request for a tool that has been broken. In this case the name used to communicate the specific tool has a meaning, even though its bearer doesn't exist.

42. What about names that have never been used for a tool?
a. B could still respond with a shake of the head ('one could imagine this as a kind of

amusement for them.'

43. For a large class of cases meaning can be explained as follows: 'the meaning of a word is its use in the language.' a. 'the meaning of a name is sometimes explained by pointing to its bearer' Family Resemblances

65. For all this talk about language games, what is a language game? What is essential to languagegames, and hence language?
a. this lets off what 'once gave [Wittgenstein] the most headache, the part about the general form of the proposition and of language' b. correct: there is nothing common 'to all that we call language', but different kinds of affinity between them i. language refers to the affinity/affinities ii. so, this assumes we can have common terms/concepts, with nothing in common between all the referents of those terms/concepts

66. What is true of language is also true of games - there is no one strand unifying board games, ball games, card games, athletic games etc a. they are not all entertaining, nor competitive (maybe they are all entertaining, but on such a weak definition of entertainment that it's a trivial thesis - they may as well all be activities) b. such nexuses are 'a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: similarities in the large and in the small'

67. We can call such a nexus a "family resemblance", because personal features overlap and criss cross in the same way in families. a. thus we have a games family b. 'kinds of number' form another family i. things are called numbers based on their affinity with other things that we call numbers ii. the strength of this thread lies in the overlapping of many fibres, not in one fibre running through the whole thread iii. we cannot claim the commonality of the construct is the disjunction of common properties (i.e. entertainment OR competition OR z), because that would be like saying that there is something that runs through the whole thread, and it is the overlapping of fibres (if we allow disjunction, then we effectively lose the category of common properties, because then literally any two things can belong to a single proposition like 'either redness or computerness')

68. So can we explain umbrella concepts as the logical sum of sub-concepts?
a. we can use words like number/game for rigidly bounded concepts, but such bounds do not necessarily correspond to our use of such words i. we can draw clear boundaries, but that doesn't mean they already exist - in cases of family resemblance, they don't

1. this does not mean that language, or use of particular words are unregulated, just not totally regulated

69. To explain what a game is, we would describe games and suggest that they and similar things are called games.

a. the fact that we can't explain exactly what a game is is not ignorance - the boundaries just don't exist i. we can draw boundaries, for specific purposes, but they don't suddenly make the concept usable, beyond that purpose ii. even if boundaries, and hence terms, are inexact, this doesn't mean that they are useless

70. Does the lack of boundaries mean that speakers don't know what they mean by the word 'game'?
a. no - it's not as if we cannot talk about plants unless we can define them, or draw exactly what we saw b. this is tied up in the question of the possible distinction between understanding something and being able to express it/define it i. W seems to be suggesting that we can understand, say, the concept of a plant, without being able to express it. Likewise with games. ii. OR is W suggesting that our understanding consists solely in use/application of examples of plants, games etc. This is consistent with us being unable to understand what we cannot express

71. Frege claims that without clear boundaries, concepts are not concepts, as regions are not regions. But surely regions can have blurred boundaries. a. explaining concepts through examples is 'not an indirect way of explaining - in default of a better one. For any general explanation may be understood too' i. giving examples is a better way of explaining than through generalities b. 'this...is how we play the game' (is W claiming that using examples rather than general explanation is standard practice?)

72. Seeing what is in common: three cases of instruction i. showing a bunch of multi coloured pictures and saying 'this colour is called yellow ochre' ii. showing a bunch of different shapes, all the same colour, and saying 'what these have in common is called yellow ochre' iii. showing different shades of blue, and saying 'the colour that is common to all these is what I call blue'

73. The fact that colours can be ostensively defined using samples tempts us to think that lots of words are understood through holding a picture in our heads, e.g. the shape of a leaf a. but what is common to all shapes of leaf? what does the picture of the universal leaf look like? similarly for the sample of the colour green b. there may be universals of e.g. greenness and leafness i. but they must be understood as samples of all that is green, not as a sample of pure green (in order to be useful? in order to be applicable to actual use?), and this will depend on how the universals are applied ii. it will be impossible to divorce such universals from particular contexts. what shape should the sample green be? would it then be the universal of a green shape? if shapeless would it be the universal of shapelessness?

1. is W suggesting that universals are inapplicable to a real, situational, particular existence?

74. People may see universals as different things - as a sample of a leaf shape or as a sample of a particular shape (without attaching it to the leaf). This is just to say that people may use the sample, and hence the name attached to it, in different ways

75.

What is it to know what a game is, or know and not be able to say?
a. isn't my knowledge completely expressed in the explanations that I could give?
i. in the case of games, this is solely examples, analogies, local commonalities etc

76. Someone could draw a sharp boundary, but it would be different to 'mine'. We can see this as two pictures of 'similarly shaped and distributed' patches. The affinity between the two pictures is 'just as undeniable as the difference' a. does the affinity not presuppose that there is a similarity, which is a question of interpretive judgement?

77. The sharp picture can only resemble the blurred one to the extent that the blurred one lack sharpness - if the blurred one is completely blurred, then any number of sharper interpretations could be equally representative a. this is what happens in ethics and aesthetics when we try to find sharper definitions that correspond to blurred concepts i. in these cases we need to see the family of meanings that words have, and this is done through examining how we learnt the words; in which language-games

78. 'Compare knowing and saying: i. how many metres high Mont Blanc is ii. how the word "game" is used iii. how a clarinet sounds.' b. if we think it impossible to know something and not be able to say it, we are probably thinking of the first example. 'Certainly not of one like the third' i. seems like there is far from being a complete correspondence between knowing and saying, and this extends beyond concepts - to examples like the clarinet Intentionality etc.

429. The agreement between thought and reality consists in this: if I falsely say that x is red, then it is red that x isn't, and if I want to explain 'red' in the sentence 'x isn't red' then I point to something that is red a. so language provides the connection between thought and reality b. what is the difference between this and a Fregean idea of propositions, truth conditions etc?
c. the harmony between thought and reality can rest on ostensive definition ie pointing to something. how does this square with W's opposition to Augustinian picture?

430. Just putting a ruler against an object does not say it is of a particular length, and hence achieves nothing of what a thought can achieve a. without language we cannot link thought and reality in anything other than a 'lifeless' way?

431. There is a gap between an order and its execution, a gap that can be closed by the process of understanding, with which we can interpret it as as meaning 'we are to do THIS'. a. without understanding, an order is just sounds or words

432. Signs (words etc) by themselves seem dead, and require use to live. But does this mean that it has 'living breath within it', or is the use its breath?

433. The gap between order and execution makes it seem as if the ultimate thing sought by the order remains unexpressed. How can someone know, how can we show someone, what is 'meant'? By which

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