Main | May 2005

April 27, 2005


"203. Language is a labyrinth of paths. You approach from one side and know your way about; you approach the same place from another side and no longer know your way about."

--from Philosophical Investigations

The Investigations themselves serve as a wonderful example for this passage; before we take up reading the Investigations, we believe that we understand certain philosophical terms, terms that are called into question during the progression of the Investigations: language itself being the primary term that is so problematized. Before entering Wittgenstein's work, we are content in our mastery of a certain (philosophical) technique. As we work our way through the Investigations, we lose our satisfaction, our certainty, and we begin to see that, when approached from another side, our philosophical thoughts no longer make sense.

Philosophy is the business of finding the path that makes our current problems disappear. Some paths create more problems than they solve; all paths create some problems. The most important thing to remember about philosophy is that, at its most basic level, it shows us that there is always another path to be found.

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:18 PM

April 26, 2005

From the Introduction.

"For more than one reason what I publish here today will have points of contact with what other people are writing to-day.--If my remarks do not bear a stamp which marks them as mine,--I do not wish to lay any further claim to them as my property.

I make them public with doubtful feelings. It is not impossible that it should fall to the lot of this work, in its poverty and in the darkness of this time, to bring light into one brain or another--but, of course, it is not likely.

I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking. But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.

I should have liked to produce a good book. This has not come about, but the time is past in which I could improve it.

January 1945."

--from the Introduction to Philosophical Investigations

Posted by tiet0024 at 10:17 PM


"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 10:08 PM

April 26th, 1889 - April 29th, 1951

Today, April 26th, is Wittgenstein's 116th birthday. We at the Wittgenstein Youth Brigade would appreciate it if, in honor of this day, you refrained from participation in any and all epistemology classes. There are many more important things one can do with one's time (as Wittgenstein often urged to his friends) than sit about and run in mental circles.

Also, the Brigade highly recommends the book Wittgenstein's Poker, which is very accurate to our understanding of both the philosophy and the history. If you are looking for a good read for this summer, this is an excellent choice.

And, today of all days, remember Wittgenstein's motto: "Never treat your common sense as you do your umbrella. When you enter a room to philosophize, do not leave it at the door, but bring it in with you."

Posted by tiet0024 at 8:06 AM

April 23, 2005

Thank you, UMN Philosophy Dept!

The Wittgenstein Youth Brigade would like to express its gratitude to the University of Minnesota Philosophy Department for the generous award of one of the 2005-06 Woodbridge Scholarships of $1000. This money will allow the Brigade to continue fighting the good fight against platonist propositions and essentialist assertions during the next academic year.

Thank you, UMN Philosophy Department!


The Wittgenstein Youth Brigade.

Posted by tiet0024 at 12:40 PM


"491. Not: 'without language we could not communicate with one another' --but for sure: without language we cannot influence other people in such-and-such ways; cannot build roads and machines, etc. And also: without the use of speech and writing people could not communicate."

--from Philosophical Investigations

Language does not just entail communication, but the whole apparatus of representation. All manner of different forms of representation fall under the purview of language, for Wittgenstein: speaking, painting, gestures, models, hypotheses, theories, and so on. The only real line to be drawn in this picture of language is between all these forms of representations, and the intent of the person making use of them. A question raised in other passages is: what is the relationship between language and the intention behind its use? Language, Wittgenstein repeatedly answers, is a tool.

This passage puts emphasis on the point that straightforward communication between people is only one of the myriad ways in which language is used--and perhaps not even the most important. The point that Wittgenstein wants to drive home is that we can't establish a formal model to describe our language, because our uses of language are so disparate.

Posted by tiet0024 at 12:28 PM

April 21, 2005


"499. To say 'This combination of words makes no sense' excludes it from the sphere of language and thereby bounds the domain of language. But when one draws a boundary it may be for various kinds of reason. If I surround an area with a fence or a line or otherwise, the purpose may be to prevent someone from getting in or out; but it may also be part of a game and the players be supposed, say, to jump over the boundary; or it may shew where the property of one man ends and that of another begins; and so on. So if I draw a boundary line that is not yet to say what I am drawing it for."

--from Philosophical Investigations

Writing laws, discussing philosophy, compiling a report on the results of an experiment, cutting random pieces of newspaper text to assemble surrealist poetry: these are all acts of language, language games, in which the "sphere of language" is bounded for various purposes. This is a powerful conception of language because it applies not only to idealized propositional language (like mathematics) but also to communication through multiple levels of noise (like talking with your mouth full or via text message).

We draw boundaries around certain words, labelling them "technical terminology", making them in a sense unusable by uninitiated outsiders; for example, if a quantum physicist is talking about the "color" of a particle, she is not referring to anything we nonphysicists normally conceive of as color. When we enter conversation with this physicist, our vocabulary is twisted, and if we are unable to follow its curvature we become lost. In this way, boundaries placed upon language can "show where the property of one man ends and that of another begins".

Posted by tiet0024 at 11:39 PM

April 20, 2005


"521. Compare 'logically possible' with 'chemically possible'. One might perhaps call a combination chemically possible if a formula with the right valencies existed (e.g. H-O-O-O-H). Of course such a combination need not exist; but even the formula HO2 cannot have less than no combination corresponding to it in reality."

--from Philosophical Investigations

When is something "logically possible"? We tend to use this phrase to describe some hypothetical state of affairs, the only limitation of which might be that we can imagine it. This is the space in which most philosophical discussions take place.

Even though there is a vast space of "chemically possible" states, we do not care about them; chemistry does not study these combinations unless they are (at least potentially) actualized in some chemical. Why this difference between the treatment of "logically possible" and "chemically possible"?

The interesting thing is that so many philosophical discussions take place in the region of "logically possible" space that has no experiential correlate.

Posted by tiet0024 at 10:38 PM

April 19, 2005


"525. 'After he had said this, he left her as he did the day before.'--Do I understand this sentence? Do I understand it just as I should if I heard it in the course of a narrative? If it were set down in isolation I should say, I don't know what it's about. But all the same I should know how this sentence might perhaps be used; I could myself invent a context for it.

(A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.)"

Of course we say we understand the sentence. The first question is rhetorical. It's the second that catches our attention: we understand things differently according their context, of course. But in both cases we say we understand the sentence. This is an argument for a certain theory of meaning. Namely, it is an argument for conceiving of meaning as arising out of the use of language (as opposed to being a function of the mental sense and physical reference of a proposition, as espoused by Frege).

There is a brilliant double meaning to the parenthesized closing statement. Of which words is he speaking? The words in his example sentence, or the words in his discussion of it? He is speaking not just of German (or English) sentences, but of language games in general; and this includes the language of mathematics.

Something that preoccupied much of Wittgenstein's thoughts on mathematics were questions such as this: what is the difference between the sentence "two plus two equals four" and the sentence "I have two apples, so if you give me your two apples I'll have four." The simple answer is that there is a difference with regards to quantification (one is universal, the other is instantiated). But what does this really mean? Wittgenstein wrote much on this (and many have since considered it), which we will see when we get to the notes on his lectures on the foundations of mathematics.

Posted by tiet0024 at 11:59 PM

April 17, 2005


"517. The question arises: can't we be mistaken in thinking that we understand a question?

For many mathematical proofs do lead us to say that we cannot imagine something which we believed we could imagine. (E.g., the construction of the heptagon.) They lead us to revise what counts as the domain of the imaginable."

--from Philosophical Investigations


If we can be mistaken in thinking that we understand a question (or, more generally, that we understand a certain language game), then many of the possible-worlds type arguments that are often involved in philosophical rhetoric are defunct. For example, suppose I ask you whether you believe space to be a substance or a relational property. You, having (let's suppose) a classically-trained Newtonian mindset, might be inclined to respond, Space is a substance since it would be around even if there were no objects to have it as a property. I might respond, I see, that's an interesting point; can I imagine a universe without anything in it? Just a whole bunch of empty space?

In fact, it seems quite easy--one imagines an empty room, then removes the walls from the mental image. And yet there is a very solid argument that this cannot be the case: see The Hole Argument.

Now it looks as though we cannot use arguments based upon examples we have made up (because these can often go either way), and that we must stick to examples we have experienced in real life. I don't think that this is a good interpretation, however; philosophy is of necessity engaged in some theory in addition to its praxis, and theory is similarly engaged to some abstraction and construction of hypotheticals. What is important is that we should try to keep our examples tied to our forms of life, and remember that hypotheticals are not a priori, though we are often tempted to call them that.

And when we "revise the domain of the imaginable", do we say that we didn't really experience our initial imagining as we thought we had? Or just that the picture we imagined initially did not have the reality we thought it did at first?

From one point of view, I can say that I am still able to imagine a space with no objects in it, in the manner outlined above. From another, I realize that in that imagined picture there is always at least one object, the one who is watching the empty space. The position of the speaker varies in importance depending upon which language game one plays.

In retrospect, this reading has wandered somewhat from the original passage; any comments on the original passage would be more than welcome...

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:54 PM

April 14, 2005


"303. 'I can only believe that someone else is in pain, but I know it if I am.'--Yes: one can make the decision to say 'I believe he is in pain' instead of 'He is in pain'. But that is all.--What looks like an explanation here, or like a statement about a mental process, is in truth an exchange of one expression for another which, while we are doing philosophy, seems the more appropriate one.

Just try--in a real case--to doubt someone else's fear or pain."

--from Philosophical Investigations

Doubt can conquer all, if we let it. Anyone who has studied analytic philosophy has encountered the solipsistic view at one time or another; a view, specifically, that we can know nothing but what occurs in our own thoughts. All other humans may be elaborate replicas, after all--mere robots devoid of true human feelings. We might be hooked up to simulated realities, a la The Matrix. The only things we know for sure are the thoughts we have ourselves...and even those can be suspect, in certain cases.

Most traditions in analytic philosophy have attempted to give some response to the points raised by solipsism, and Wittgenstein (at least in this case) follows suit. His argument: when we want to doubt, for example, other people's pain, we can certainly do so. But what we are actually doing in such a case is switching language games, from our normal, everyday language game to a specialized one we use when we are doing philosophy.

In this specialized game, the rules allow us to doubt other people's pain. But we should not allow ourselves to think this actually has any deep meaning, because in the context of our normal language game we do no such thing. We have sympathy in some cases, empathy in others--in either case we might even feel another person's pain so acutely that it becomes our own. Again, the "depth" of the philosophical problem presented by solipsism is illusory, and only presents itself when we are twisting our language up in the way we do while working on philosophy. But this twisted-up language is not the way we actually think or act; when we go about our daily lives, the "problem" of solipsism vanishes of its own accord. (This again is reminiscent of Hume's thought, but with the opposite conclusion.)

Posted by tiet0024 at 10:51 PM

April 13, 2005


"109. It was true to say that our considerations could not be scientific ones. It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically 'that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible to think such-and-such'--whatever that may mean. (The conception of thought as a gaseous medium.) And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems; they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in despite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language."
--from Philosophical Investigations

There are two ways to open up this passage for discussion. The first way is to note Wittgenstein's insistence upon the investigation proceeding based only upon a reorientation or rearrangement of what is already known. This is placed in contrast to a scientific inquiry, which would (Wittgenstein implies) proceed on empirical lines to gather new data and reveal new information. The purpose of philosophical inquiry in this picture, then, is to steer us away from confusing, muddled, and otherwise dead-end lines of thinking; in other words, the philosophical project is therapeutic, an attempt to "battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence".

The second way to look at this passage is to query its emphatic denial of any theory, any hypothetical considerations. This is where I want to look. What would it mean to trade in all explanation for description? Perhaps we could conceive of it as ceasing to look for causal relationships, and just looking, without any particular kind of relationship already in mind. But what would this even mean?

Remember also what he is talking about here: the way in which we use our language. The linguistic conception he is opposing considers our language to function as a fragmented depiction of a perfect, timeless set of propositions. The reason he opposes this view is that there is no reason to suppose the existence of such a set of propositions; meaning may lie simply in the way we all already use language, it does not need to establish a correspondence to the world.

This, then, is our first example of a philosophical problem: what is meaning? The above passage outlines Wittgenstein's thoughts on how to go about solving such a problem. One does not gather new data, but looks only at what one already knows--intuitions are key. Nor does one formulate a theory dealing with hypotheticals, but only a description that includes the ways in which the problem actually manifests in our world. The actual solution of a philosophical problem will simply be a particular arrangement of our understanding of it, in light of which the problem ceases to exist.

Analysis of this passage allows the clearest understanding of the limits (and limitations) of Wittgenstein's project. It makes me think of Hume's discussion of the problem of free will, with the added twist that (for Wittgenstein) all of philosophy is to be done similarly.

And yet, this interpretation is problematic as well. Wittgenstein emphasized that he wanted to avoid adopting a general theory or method. Can all philosophical problems really be solved in the manner described? If so, it sounds like a general philosophical method.

Posted by tiet0024 at 8:33 PM

April 11, 2005


"683. I draw a head. You ask 'Whom is that supposed to represent?'--I: 'It's supposed to be N.'--You: 'But it doesn't look like him; if anything, it's rather like M.'--When I said it represented N.--was I establishing a connexion or reporting one? And what connexion did exist?"
--from Philosophical Investigations

This passage describes an interesting event that most of us have probably experienced at one time or another. Suppose that after the event Wittgenstein described, he continued by saying: "Yes, I see what you mean. It's much more like M." Prior to this communication, he had not seen the drawing to be at all like M. (whomever M. happens to be). The moment of recognition takes place as an attempt to make a connection between the physical image and a mental image.

It's important that people will have conversations following this general format about normal images and also about very abstract images. The best example of this is, of course, looking for people's faces in clouds. My answer to Wittgenstein's question would have to be that we are establishing the connection; it doesn't exist before we make it. I don't think that there's any reason to separate things down the line Wittgenstein does, though: I might establish the connection by reporting it.

It reminds me of this picture:

Kuhn described his 'paradigm shifts' as being like these changes in perception. This is a very similar concept.

There's a connection to be drawn here with aesthetics. Suppose we reframe the above conversation as a question of the beauty of the drawing; "It's supposed to be beautiful" instead of "It's supposed to be N." There are times when, after examining a picture for a while, we change our mind about it, saying "I can see a certain beauty in it after all."

Posted by tiet0024 at 6:29 PM

April 10, 2005

#621 (with consideration of #618).

"621. Let us not forget this: when 'I raise my arm', my arm goes up. And the problem arises: what is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?
((Are the kinaesthetic sensations my willing?))"
--from Philosophical Investigations

Continuing the thread of philosophical discussion of will, Wittgenstein here seems to be pointing out another seemingly empty psychological characterization--"willing" an action. In #618, he points out that we would not normally say "my will does not obey me", and my initial reaction was that he was suggesting that the concept 'will' is subsumed by the concept 'me' or 'self'. Also, he alludes (very bluntly) to Augustine--who I have not read, so any comments regarding Augustine's view of human will would be very welcome.

Reading #621, it seems more likely that Wittgenstein wanted to look at the actions that we normally conceive of as the result of an act of will, as actually being that in which the will consists. But this isn't quite right either. It seems that that is the point of his example: at first glance, there is no difference between saying that I raised my arm and saying that my arm went up. We almost always use these two forms of expression interchangably.

But it's not quite right to say that our will is simply what we do. There are certainly cases in which our bodies do not obey us, as Wittgenstein mentions in #618. So though my initial answer to the question "what is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?" is "Nothing", that's not always correct.

There are situations in which the distinction between the two descriptions is quite sinister: imagine a story in which we know that the protagonist's arm has been possessed by a malevolent ghost, who takes control of it at random intervals. In this context, when the protagonist reports "My fist began to clench...", there is all the difference in the world between that statement and "I began to clench my fist..."

Yet here, at this moment, when I say "My fingers began to type a response...", of course I simply mean "I began to type a response..." The meaning of a statement is dependent upon its use, and its 'use' must include the context of the statement's utterance. This is the point of the problem Wittgenstein outlines in #621; one cannot simply extract the meaning of a statement describing an intention/action combination by "subtracting" action from intention. Of course, this is what makes such statements so difficult to parse. In some cases, yes, we could say that the kinaesthetic sensations are the willing; but not in all cases.

I am likely to reinterpret this passage at a later time, though. This (and #618) are both very tricky.

Posted by tiet0024 at 4:00 PM

April 8, 2005

Philosophy conference presentation.

Tomorrow afternoon I will be delivering a short paper entitled "Proofs and Explanations: The Wittgensteinian Influence on Kuhn's Theory of Science" at Macalaster college in St. Paul. Any parties are welcome to attend, though of course an interest in the subject matter would heighten the pleasure to be derived from such an experience.

Precise details--
Time: 2:30 PM Saturday, April 8th. Talk will last for 20-30 mins.
Place: Carnegie 208

The full paper is available for download in PDF format here.

(EDIT: There was an error causing the paper not to download when clicked. This error has been corrected. The paper should now download as normal.)

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:31 PM


"618. One imagines the willing subject here as something without any mass (without any inertia); as a motor which has no inertia in itself to overcome. And so it is only mover, not moved. That is: One can say 'I will, but my body does not obey me'--but not: 'My will does not obey me.' (Augustine.)
But in the sense in which I cannot fail to will, I cannot try to will either."
--from Philosophical Investigations

This is a difficult passage, and I have nothing to say about it yet.

(Edit: see entry for #621 for discussion.)

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:19 PM

April 6, 2005


"515. Two pictures of a rose in the dark. One is quite black; for the rose is invisible. In the other, it is painted in full detail and surrounded by black. Is one of them right, the other wrong? Don't we talk of a white rose in the dark and a red rose in the dark? And don't we say for all that that they can't be distinguished in the dark?"
--from Philosophical Investigations

This fragment makes our question from #514 a little easier to answer: we need not immediately conceive of both pictures of the rose in the dark to be able to say that we know what "a rose in the dark" means. The phrase might be used with either picture, depending upon the context, and our knowing what it means just requires that we be able to use it should such contexts arise.

Color has been understood as a so-called "secondary property" at least since Locke; that is, color exists as a relationship between the colored object and its observer, and is dependent upon both. So clearly it is not strictly accurate to speak of a rose being red in the dark--it may emit radiation of the same wavelength, but if no one is looking at it, it isn't red.

But at the same time, we do think of roses as being either white or red, and if we have a white rose, and somebody asked us "Is that a white rose?", we would answer "Yes" even if we could not see it. Is this a mistake? Is there such a thing as a mistake in structure of the language?

One way such a mistake (if that's the word I'm looking for) might manifest is in the form of linguistically sanctioned (or even provoked) oppression of a certain social group. For example, if we have a grammar that prohibits assignment of certain desirable adjectives to feminine subjects--for example, if our grammar made it nonsensical to say "She is strong"--then we should want to say that that grammar has a mistake built into it.

This is the inverse of the kind of mistake occurring when we speak about the rose, however. It is important that we don't feel any urgency in the first case, but the second case (at least for me) is disturbing.

To state that a certain turn of phrase or topic of discussion is nonsense is just to deny a particular discursive framework--that is, to deny a particular method of and context for discourse. It is only done for political reasons; a good deal of what we can visualize is "nonsense", but we only call nonsense that which we have reason to dislike. The point is that we have no such political reasons to bother ourselves about the use of constructions such as "a red rose in the dark", despite the fact that such a thing does not exist in practice. We still imagine it, envision it, and so we are able to incorporate it into our language.

Posted by tiet0024 at 9:18 PM

Wittgenstein reading group.

I'm hoping to hold a Wittgenstein reading group over the summer, because I just know I'll be bored out of my skull. Provisional reading list will include:

Depending on the interests of the people who will be joining us, I will probably shift the focus of the readings (i.e., if we have people more interested in philosophy of mathematics, that's what we'll focus on).

Note: I've never read Remarks, but after going through a collection of notes from his lectures on the foundations of mathematics at Cambridge I'm excited to go through this one as well. The Tractatus I've read only once, and found it to be greatly in need of an accompanying discussion group. Investigations will also be much clearer if there is a group to talk through it with.

Please let me know if you are interested. I'm hoping to find at least a couple of people, so if you think you might want to join just send me an email. Thanks!

Posted by tiet0024 at 1:34 PM


"514. A philosopher says that he understands the sentence 'I am here', that he means something by it, thinks something--even when he doesn't think at all how, on what occasions, this sentence is used. And if I say 'A rose is red in the dark too' you positively see this red in the dark before you."
--from Philosophical Investigations

What do you say? Can you see the red rose in the dark? I can, somehow.

The comments about the understanding of the sentence "I am here" relate to the earlier criticism of considering a language only in terms of its grammar. In what sorts of cases might one use the expression "I am here"? Answering the telephone, as a warning to your roommate (in case they haven't heard you enter), in the manner of consolation, speaking of your avatar when playing a game with a group of others, etc. Were I to claim this an exhaustive list, someone would always be able to come up with an additional use of the expression.

And the grammar of our language allows us to use these three words in so many different ways, but it does not guide our understanding of which of these ways is appropriate in a given situation.

My question really is why the example of the rose is related to all of these grammatical considerations. When we consider #515, perhaps things will be more clear. I'll make that entry today, since I missed yesterday.

Posted by tiet0024 at 11:28 AM

April 4, 2005


"199. Is what we call 'obeying a rule' something that it would be possible for only one man to do, and only once in his life?--This is of course a note on the grammar of the expression 'to obey a rule'.
It is not possible that there should have been only one occasion on which someone obeyed a rule. It is not possible that there should have been only one occasion on which a report was made, an order given or understood; and so on.--To obey a rule, to make a report, to give an order, to play a game of chess, are customs (uses, institutions).
To understand a sentence means to understand a language. To understand a language means to be a master of a technique."
--from Philosophical Investigations

Though it is framed negatively ("It is not possible..."), this passage is probably representative of the most constructive of Wittgenstein's thoughts. Most of the passages in PI are dedicated to highlighting the problems with analytical philosophy, and do not proffer an alternative. The section I immediately focus on is in the latter two paragraphs; language is a custom, or a technique. As he emphasizes in other passages, words and sentences are tools.

Switching gears for a moment: the typical conception of mind is in opposition to body, as though our mental lives existed incoporeally and distant from our flesh. This is the Cartesian picture; most of you who have gone through Philosophy 101 will be familiar with it. I think that this is one of the traditional pictures that Wittgenstein was trying to throw off. He did this by way of demystifying language...his view, as I understand it, was that the "problems" of philosophy were the result of mystifying language, the result of giving it a life outside of its use.

Something important to notice is the similarity between this point of view and that of many of the pragmatists (Pierce, Dewey, James, etc). I don't know right now whether or not Wittgenstein ever read any of the works of the pragmatists; his reading habits were hit-or-miss: if he was caught by the thoughts expressed in a text, he would read it front to back, but otherwise he'd set it down without a second thought.

"To understand a sentence means to understand a language." I'm not sure if I agree with this, but I might be interpreting it too narrowly. Couldn't we understand a sentence in translation? I mean, couldn't I learn a sentence of Italian, and really understand it by learning its English translation, without knowing the rest of the language? Or perhaps I know only the past tense. Because I cannot speak in the future, present, subjunctive, etc, I surely can't "speak Italian".

Maybe he means something different--there are degrees of freedom in interpreting "understand", as well as the scope of "a". Perhaps all he is saying is that in order to interpret a sentence in any language it must be the case that we already understand at least one language.

Reading Wittgenstein is difficult, in that it actually requires active thought from the reader; to read Wittgenstein successfully is to do philosophy, so to speak.

Posted by tiet0024 at 4:26 PM

April 3, 2005

#141 (from Preliminary Studies for Part 2 of PI)

"141. If there were a verb meaning: to believe falsely, it would not have any first person present indicative."
--from Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, vol. 1.

This entry is somewhat confusing without a bit of a backstory. While Wittgenstein was teaching at Cambridge, he worked with the philosopher G.E. Moore, who was also on the faculty at the time. It's hard to imagine to two together, actually; Moore was a very precise fellow, insistent that his students, when expressing their ideas, utilize absolute clarity of language. Wittgenstein was, of course, unclear the vast majority of the time, even in his writing.

At any rate, one day Moore delivered a brief presentation to the Moral Science Club (of which Wittgenstein was chair, I believe) regarding a sort of paradox he had discovered. The paradox, now commonly referred to as Moore's Paradox, was just this: Though there are no rules of logic that prevent me from saying it, it is nonsensical for me to utter a sentence of the form "Not X, but I believe X. That is, I would never say "It is not raining, but I believe it is raining," or anything of that sort.

This is an interesting point if only because it runs counter to Frege's insistence some years earlier that the laws of logic were "laws of thought". Wittgenstein was immediately fascinated by this semantic paradox, and discussed it over the course of several paragraphs in Part II of Philosophical Investigations (see #x). (The introductory quote above was taken from a collection of manuscripts that Wittgenstein used as notes for the actual compilation of part II of PI.)

It is strange that we have such an expression as "I believe" in our language. On the surface it appears that there is a differentiation to be made between "I believe that I am hungry" and "I am hungry". However, Moore's Paradox shows us that this appearance is misleading. It makes absolutely no sense (in a normal context) to say "I am not hungry, but I believe I am hungry."

We may only speak of our own false beliefs in the past tense.

Note that the verb "is true" fills a similarly vacuous role in our everyday language. "It is not raining, but it is true that it is raining."

I think that the most important realization to come from all this is that we implicitly understand sentences in our language not as disembodied propositions, but as situated statements--that is, as actual sentences uttered by humans. If, when I said, "The sky is blue," I meant it as a tautology, then there would be some content in saying "I do not believe the sky is blue." It would be as though I said, "I do not believe God is omnipotent," though that appears to be part of the definition of God (by many accounts). This statement is different from the statement, "I do not believe in God."

Posted by tiet0024 at 1:10 PM

April 2, 2005

#23 (Language games.)


"23. But how many kinds of sentence are there? Say assertion, question, and command?--There are countless kinds of use of what we call 'symbols', 'words', 'sentences'. And this multiplicity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten. (We can get a rough picture of this from the changes in mathematics.)
Here the term 'language-game' is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life."

Clearly the emphasis in this passage is on the lived practice of language, as opposed to the abstracted and stultified description of language in propositional terms, as is usually focused upon by analytic philosophers. This is a very interesting departure, though from an analytical standpoint it is hard to get a grasp on. So-called natural language is not adequately described by any set of formal grammatical rules G, because no such set can ever encompass the labyrinthine idiomatic linguistic structures that comprise the actual use of language in our daily lives.

Chomsky wrote of this, making the point by actually constructing a sentence that was grammatically correct but nonsensical: "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."

colorless green ideas.png

But what is Wittgenstein suggesting when he states that language is "part of an activity"? Cavell has written extensively on the concept of a "form of life", the general idea being an emphasis on lived experience--getting dressed in the morning, tasting a candy bar, sexual attraction*, reaching the last page of a good book and knowing you will soon have to put it down, etc. I think that all Wittgenstein wants to say here is that we should not look at languages in a priori terms, but rather as an activity or behavior similar to any of these other "forms of life". [What is the difference between an activity and a behavior? Would Wittgenstein have agreed with my use of the two as synonyms? I don't know.]

The remark about the "changes in mathematics" is interesting as well. Much of Wittgenstein's work on mathematics was directed towards highlighting the fact that mathematical proof is not ahistorical, but evolves as a kind of language-game.

*Cavell does not mention sex or gender in his explication of "forms of life". I only mention this because there are feminist philosophers who have criticized Cavell's reading for this very reason, and it is an important shortcoming.

Posted by tiet0024 at 2:31 PM

April 1, 2005

For reference.

This site will primarily contain discussions of Wittgenstein's work, but may also veer into the work of other 19th and 20th century philosophers, esp. Russell and the logical positivists. I welcome comments and corrections, so please feel free to post either.

There was a livejournal prior to this site, but it did not have any particular emphasis, being rather a journal about my life featuring the occasional philosophical consideration. If you are interested in this, you would probably not be interested in that, though my guess is that that is only a one-way conditional.

If you are only interested in the philosophical postings, and have no interest in me as a person, you will find that I have helpfully segregated my posts into two different categories: Investigations, and The Person. I'll leave it to you to decide which is more interesting.

I read books and play video and computer games, so you shoul expect to see updates regarding these every so often. Rest assured that unless it is a very philosophical book/game, these discussions will always be separate from the Investigations.

Lastly, thanks to the University of Minnesota library system for providing this free service to all students. I very much appreciate it.

Posted by tiet0024 at 1:02 PM


"The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes; their roots are as deep in us as the forms of our language and their significance is as great as the importance of our language.--Let us ask ourselves: why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep? (And that is what the depth of philosophy is.)"
--Philosophical Investigations, #111.

Wittgenstein's words here convey both his contempt for and fascination with philosophy as it was and is practiced in academia. I feel a very similar repulsion-attraction, and I don't believe myself to be the only one. What is this picture of philosophy?

Imagine a philosopher. One tends to imagine an old white man, sitting next to a fireplace in a comfortable armchair, constructing questions about what really is the nature of reality and knowledge, and so on. The reason these questions are not considered the fevered dreams of madmen is simply that they hint at some sort of depth, a depth that is not accessible by the meagre language we use in our daily lives. This is the "character" of philosophical problems that Wittgenstein is describing in paragraph #111 of Investigations.

The depth is produced by our inability to describe the connection between words and reality--we realize that there is a connection, since language works, yet we are unable to talk about it in any descriptive way. [Is it a contradiction that I seem to be speaking of it right now?]

A grammatical joke: "Call me a cab." "You're a cab." It does feel, in a sense, deeper than a joke based upon "mere" situation. As though the joke is built into the vagaries of our language. Is it fair to compare this kind of joke to the depth we attribute to philosophical questions such as "Do humans have free will?" This question does seem to me to have a depth to it. Is this depth inspired by my wanting a "deeper" meaning for the concept of free will?

Posted by tiet0024 at 12:46 PM