Silences Noises Voices (excerpt). | Main | #120

May 19, 2005


"107. The more narrowly we examine actual language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement. (For the crystalline purity of logic was, of course, not a result of investigation: it was a requirement.) The conflict now becomes intolerable; the requirement is now in danger of becoming empty.--We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to rough ground!"

-from Philosophical Investigations

During the later period of Wittgenstein's tenure at Cambridge, easily the greatest period for what is sometimes called "ordinary language" philosophy, many other great philosophers at the time looked down upon the work of Wittgenstein and those who followed in his style. One of the major reasons for this was that the "crystalline purity of logic" was (and in many cases still is) seen as a result of investigation. Wittgenstein seemed to be flouting this time-tested wisdom (and indeed he was).

When one is taught formal logic, it is always within the context of formal logic as a way of lending mathematical rigor to arguments. And, at more advanced levels, one is taught to see the contradictions that arise out of certain translations of ordinary language into formalization ("I am lying"; "This sentence is false").

This tends to make one think, "If only our language were more logical! How could it be fixed?" But this is impossible; as Wittgenstein says in another passage (perhaps tomorrow's entry), "Is this language somehow too coarse and material for what we want to say? Then how is another one to be constructed?" (#120)

In yet another passage, he emphasizes again that the language-games he has described in various places in the Investigations are not "preliminary studies" meant to point the way to building the perfect language. Rather, they are simply examples meant to be held up in contrast to our ordinary language, and, in this way, to illustrate certain facts about our language.

This section, from #107 to around #133, has fascinated me lately. I'm sure I'll be posting a few more from this area soon.

Posted by tiet0024 at May 19, 2005 10:01 PM | Investigations