April 26th, 1889 - April 29th, 1951 | Main | From the Introduction.

April 26, 2005


"445. It is in language that an expectation and its fulfilment make contact."

--from Philosophical Investigations

I give you an order. You do as I tell you to, or not, as you choose. Contact has been made between my expectation that you should do something, your fulfillment of that expectation. This deceptively simple, vaguely sexual picture of language is a succinct statement of Wittgenstein's favored way of understanding language: as a tool used to bring about desired effects, in all areas of life.

People often called Wittgenstein a behaviorist for his emphasis upon action and practice, but this passage illustrates why that is not the case. He speaks of expectation and fulfillment of expectation, neither of which would be part of the vocabulary of any behaviorist worth her salt. Wittgenstein knew that humans had inner lives--it would run counter to common sense to deny this. But he didn't think it was nearly as important as the ways in which we used language to manipulate others and ourselves.

A clarificatory question arises: what does it mean for an expectation to "make contact" with its fulfillment? I don't know that Wittgenstein answers this question, or if he doesn't answer it because we should already know the answer, or if he simply can't answer it. Its interpretation clearly has important ramifications for any reading of this passage, however, so it merits consideration.

Posted by tiet0024 at April 26, 2005 10:08 PM | Investigations