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Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learned to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires. As he points out, it incorporates an equally commonsense picture of the properties of what is learned: that is, a picture of the properties of language, in particular, the properties of words, meanings, and sentences and their relation to the objects we use language to speak about.

In other words, Augustine's account of how he learned language incorporates a particular way of representing what language is. These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language.

It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands. This is hardly a bizarre way to talk about words and meanings, and Wittgenstein does not present it as such. On the contrary, it is because this way of representing language is so commonsensical—and we, his readers, presumably find it so easy to agree with it—that Wittgenstein uses it in beginning his book. The confusion only begins if we give into the inclination to go beyond taking at face value this method of representing language— that is, as simply a way of talking about talk.

In this initial philosophizing step, we treat this method of representation as a repository of facts about the very nature of talk—that is, about the essential properties of the words and meanings themselves. But when we philosophize, we find ourselves trying to explain how it is that something like a word mere sounds can possibly have this remarkable property of standing for an object in the world. We have prejudicially taken it for granted that meaning and standing for a particular object simply are properties of the word itself.

Related to our inclination to predicate of phenomena what lies in the method of representing them is the inclination to generalize. Accordingly, in these opening passages Wittgenstein also draws attention to the tendency to extend the method of representing the meanings of concrete nouns to non-nouns. Augustine does not speak of there being any difference between kinds of word.

But what kinds of objects? Here is a characteristically philosophical sort of problem! When words in our ordinary language have prima facie analogous grammars we are inclined to try to interpret them analogously: i. He has simply told us what the shopkeeper does when handed the written note. This seems perfectly clear. In a second such invented language-game Wittgenstein asks us to imagine a builder communicating with his assistant.

The language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building-stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. A calls them out:—B brings the stone which he has learned to bring at such-and-such a call.

And so on. This is not a matter of knowing what the word stands for. Wittgenstein asks us to look at the facts of the language-games as he has described them. According to this description, what does a competent participant in these language-games know about these words?

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Knowing how these 'games' are played does not seem to require taking these nouns to stand for any objects. Wittgenstein responds to the anticipated objection that while the adults in these language- games may act as described, what Augustine was talking about was how he learned language as a child. And this training might even have the effect of a mental image subsequently occurring to them every time they hear the word.

The description says how the assistant acts if he understands the builder's language and no mention is made, or needs to be made, of a mental image or the object it is the image of. Training might have the effect of establishing an association between the word and the thing But if ostensive teaching has this effect,—am I to say that it effects an understanding of the word?

Don't you understand the call 'Slab! He pointedly does not deny that this is possible. Instead, Wittgenstein's goal is to get us to consider two language-games in which such an association is irrelevant to understanding how the games work. We may speculate that the shopkeeper and the builder do in fact have mental images each time they hear a word.

And they may also associate every word with a particular object. But whether they do or do not isn't what matters—at least not in these games. What matters is that they use each word appropriately in giving instructions and respond appropriately to its use.

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Wittgenstein, Philosopher of Cultures · Edited by Carl Humphries and Walter Schweidler.

How you learned the word and the legacy of associations and mental imagery that remain with you from that experience are not relevant factors. One cannot guess how a word functions. One has to look at its use and learn from that. But the difficulty is to remove the prejudice which stands in the way of doing this.

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It is not a stupid prejudice. So we are asking for the expression 'this word signifies this' to be made part of the description. In other words the description ought to take the form: 'The word This description is complete and informative without being reduced to a canonical reflexive formula. But assimlating the descriptions of the uses of words in this way cannot make the uses themselves any more like one another. For, as we see, they are absolutely unlike. It disperses the fog to study the phenomena of language in primitive kinds of application in which one can command a clear view of the aim and functioning of the words.

Instead they address grammatical prejudices one by one, using a course of approach suited to root out the rhetorical source of each prejudice. Wittgenstein's goal is of a practical or persuasive nature; it is achieved if the reader no longer has the inclination to make those initial wrong steps that lead to grammatical prejudice—and from there to philosophical puzzlement. Many of the prejudices addressed in the Investigations Wittgenstein and in Wittgenstein's other writings concern topics that are central to Western linguistic thought.

Rather, he addresses the confusions that give rise to the questions or to the prejudicial or dogmatic ways in which the topics are theorized.


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In so doing, the rhetorical method that he employs typically relies on constructing one or more language-games, as in the example illustrated above. These language-games, he often asserts, are intended as objects of comparison. The dogmatism into which we fall so easily in doing philosophy. The reader is asked to focus instead on the uses of words in that language-game—uses that are in some ways similar and dissimilar to those on which discussions of these issues typically focus.

Because these language-games are simpler than the whole complex of human language, it is possible to survey the functions of their component words—to get a clear picture of the words' uses—in particular, of how their use is integrated with the participants' actions. As Wittgenstein points out, this strategy is similar to that which one might employ with a person who had always seen the following figure as a duck and who had so far been unable to effect the aspect-shift required to see it as a rabbit.


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The strategy would be to place images of rabbit heads next to the figure—visual objects of comparison—and ask the person to look back and forth from each such rabbit head to the figure itself. Hitherto, we have only been able to see to talk about these patterns and techniques under one aspect—that imposed by the canonical method of representation. Because his writings address problems in how we talk about and conceptualize language, many commentators have taken Wittgenstein to be advocating a theory of language, or at least a set of theoretical claims about language. Yet Wittgenstein repeatedly insisted that he was not proposing a new theory of language, that he had no explanatory goals, and that his only aim was to give descriptions that would make the grammatical confusions and prejudices troubling our discourse 'disappear'.

Nor did he have any positive claims to make about traditional philosophical problems concerning the foundations of psychology, logic, linguistics, epistemology, or mathematics. On the contrary: to see what Wittgenstein thought about language one must take at face value his rhetorical method. The crucial point is that what he says about language is not offered as a theory, but as part of a rhetorical strategy for addressing and dissolving philosophical confusions and their related prejudices. His discourse about these aspects of language is an instrument that he constructs for particular rhetorical purposes.

But this would be a mistake.

Self‐Knowledge: The Wittgensteinian Legacy

These practices integrate the use of words and action within particular situational contexts. To investigate language, one should describe what happens—what people do—in these practices and how their words and actions function therein. However, human language is such a complex, indefinite, and variable patchwork of such practices that it is not easily surveyed. This in itself can lead us into grammatical confusion.

It is therefore better to focus on individual components in that patchwork and attempt to get a clear view of them one by one. Among our language practices, especially important are those culturally prescribed ways of talking about language itself. Their misapplication as methods of representing linguistic facts can lead us into dogmatic and misleading prejudices.

Wittgenstein on Rules & Private Language

Examining the particular confusions and prejudices that Wittgenstein discusses in his writings, it quickly becomes clear that they yield an inventory of the issues that characterize linguistic thought in the Western tradition. Related Papers. Wittgenstein, Ludwig — By Jonathan Havercroft. Philosophy, theology, and language: Ludwig Wittgenstein and Fernando L. By Moses Estrada. Natural categories.

Cognitive Psychology 4 3 : — Beyond the gap: An introduction to naturalizing phenomenology. In naturalizing phenomenology , ed. Jean Petitot, et al.

Was Wittgenstein Right?

Stanford: Stanford University Press. Shanker, Stuart. Abingdon, Oxan: Routledge. Smith, E.