From Essential Selections in 19th and 20th Century Philosophy, by James Fieser


Copyright 2014, updated 5/1/2015


LOGICAL ATOMISM (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus)


Philosophical Problems rest on the Misunderstanding of Language (Preface)

This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it — or similar thoughts. It is therefore not a text book. Its object would be attained if it afforded pleasure to one who read it with understanding.

            The book deals with the problems of philosophy and shows, as I believe, that the method of formulating these problems rests on the misunderstanding of the logic of our language. Its whole meaning could be summed up somewhat as follows: What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.

            The book will, therefore, draw a limit to thinking, or rather — not to thinking, but to the expression of thoughts; for, in order to draw a limit to thinking we should have to be able to think both sides of this limit (we should therefore have to be able to think what cannot be thought).

            The limit can, therefore, only be drawn in language and what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply nonsense.

            How far my efforts agree with those of other philosophers I will not decide. Indeed what I have here written makes no claim to novelty in points of detail; and therefore I give no sources, because it is indifferent to me whether what I have thought has already been thought before me by another.

            I will only mention that to the great works of Frege and the writings of my friend Bertrand Russell I owe in large measure the stimulation of my thoughts.

            If this work has a value it consists in two things. First that in it thoughts are expressed, and this value will be the greater the better the thoughts are expressed — the more the nail has been hit on the head. — Here I am conscious that I have fallen far short of what is possible, simply because my powers are insufficient to cope with the task. — May others come and do it better.

            On the other hand the truth of the thoughts communicated here seems to me unassailable and definitive. I am, therefore, of the opinion that the problems have in essentials been finally solved. And if I am not mistaken in this, then the value of this work secondly consists in the fact that it shows how little has been done when these problems have been solved.


Principal Statements

1. The world is everything that is the case.

1.1. The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

1. 11. The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.

1. 12. For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case.

1. 13. The facts in logical space are the world.

1.2. The world divides into facts.

1. 21 Any one can either be the case or not be the case, and everything else remain the same.

2. What is the case, a fact, is the existence of atomic facts (states of affairs).

3. A logical picture of facts is a thought.

4. A thought is a proposition with sense.

4.003 Most propositions and questions, that have been written about philosophical matters, are not false, but senseless. We cannot, therefore, answer questions of this kind at all, but only state their senselessness. Most questions and propositions of the philosophers result from the fact that we do not understand the logic of our language. (They are of the same kind as the question whether the Good is more or less identical than the Beautiful.) And so it is not surprising that the deepest problems are really no problems.

4.01. A proposition is a picture of reality.

4.014. A gramophone record, the musical idea, the written notes, and the sound-waves, all stand to one another in the same internal relation of depicting that holds between language and the world.

4.121. ...Propositions show the logical form of reality. They exhibit it.

4.1212. What can be shown, cannot be said.

4.21 The simplest proposition, the elementary proposition, asserts the existence of an atomic fact.

4.5. . . .The general form of a proposition is: such and such is the case.

5. Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions.

5.43 . . .  It is no less wonderful that the infinite number of propositions of logic (of mathematics) should follow from half a dozen “primitive propositions”. But all the propositions of logic say the same thing, that is, nothing.

5.4711. To give the essence of a proposition means to give the essence of all description, and thus the essence of the world.

5.6 The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

6. The general form of a truth-function is: [p, E, N(E)]. This is the general form of propositions.


Ethics is Inexpressible

6.4. All propositions are of equal value.

6.41. The sense of the world must lie outside the world. In the world everything is as it is and happens as it does happen. In it there is no value — and if there were, it would be of no value.

            If there is a value which is of value, it must lie outside all happening and being-so. For all happening and being-so is accidental.

            What makes it non-accidental cannot lie in the world, for otherwise this would again be accidental.

            It must lie outside the world.

6.42. Hence also there can be no ethical propositions. Propositions cannot express anything higher.

6.421. It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed. Ethics is transcendental.

            (Ethics and aesthetics are one.)

6.422. The first thought in setting up an ethical law of the form “thou shalt . . .” is: And what if I do not do it? But it is clear that ethics has nothing to do with punishment and reward in the ordinary sense. This question as to the consequences of an action must therefore be irrelevant. At least these consequences will not be events. For there must be something right in that formulation of the question. There must be some sort of ethical reward and ethical punishment, but this must lie in the action itself.

            (And this is clear also that the reward must be something acceptable, and the punishment something unacceptable.)

6.423. Of the will as the subject of the ethical we cannot speak.

            And the will as a phenomenon is only of interest to psychology.

6.43. If good or bad willing changes the world, it can only change the limits of the world, not the facts; not the things that can be expressed in language.

            In brief, the world must thereby become quite another. It must so to speak wax or wane as a whole.

            The world of the happy is quite another than that of the unhappy.


Death and God

6.431. As in death, too, the world does not change, but ceases.

6.4311. Death is not an event of life. Death is not lived through.

            If by eternity is understood not endless temporal duration but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.

            Our life is endless in the way that our visual field is without limit.

6.4312. The temporal immortality of the human soul, that is to say, its eternal survival after death, is not only in no way guaranteed, but this assumption in the first place will not do for us what we always tried to make it do. Is a riddle solved by the fact that I survive forever? Is this eternal life not as enigmatic as our present one? The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.

            (It is not problems of natural science which have to be solved.)

6.432. How the world is, is completely indifferent for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.

6.4321. The facts all belong only to the task and not to its performance.

6.44. Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.

6.45. The contemplation of the world sub specie aeterni [i.e., “from eternity’s point of view”] is its contemplation as a limited whole.

            The feeling of the world as a limited whole is the mystical feeling.


The Inexpressible

6.5. For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed.

            The riddle does not exist.

            If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered.

6.51. Skepticism is not irrefutable, but palpably senseless, if it would doubt where a question cannot be asked.

            For doubt can only exist where there is a question; a question only where there is an answer, and this only where something can be said.

6.52. We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left, and just this is the answer.

6.521. The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem.

            (Is not this the reason why men to whom after long doubting the sense of life became clear, could not then say wherein this sense consisted?)

6.522. There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.

6.53. The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i,e., the propositions of natural science, i,e., something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other — he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy — but it would be the only strictly correct method.

6.54. My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

            He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.



Suppose one of you were an omniscient person and therefore knew all the movements of all the bodies in the world dead or alive and that he also knew all the states of mind of all human beings that ever lived, and suppose this man wrote all he knew in a big book, then this book would contain the whole description of the world; and what I want to say is, that this book would contain nothing that we would call an ethical judgment or anything that would logically imply such a judgment. It would of course contain all relative judgments of value and all true scientific propositions and in fact all true propositions that can be made. But all the facts described would, as it were, stand on the same level and in the same way all propositions stand on the same level. There are no propositions which, in any absolute sense, are sublime, important, or trivial. . . .

            If for instance in our world-book we read the description of a murder with all its details physical and psychological, the mere description of these facts will contain nothing which we could call an ethical proposition. The murder will be on exactly the same level as any other event, for instance the falling of a stone. Certainly the reading of description might cause us pain or rage or any other emotion, or we might read about the pain or rage caused by this murder in other people when they have heard of it, but there will simply be facts, facts, and facts but no Ethics. . . .

            Thus in ethical and religious language we seem constantly to be using similes. But a simile must be the simile for something. And if I can describe a fact by means of a simile I must also be able to drop the simile and to describe the facts without it. Now in our case as soon as we try to drop the simile and simply to state the facts which stand behind it, we find that there are no such facts. And so, what at first appeared to be simile now seems to be mere nonsense.

            I see now that these nonsensical [religious and ethical] expressions were not nonsensical because I had not yet found the correct expressions, but that their nonsensicality was their very essence. For all I wanted to do with them was just to go beyond the world and that is to say beyond significant language. My whole tendency and, I believe, the tendency of all men who ever tried to write or talk Ethics or Religion was to run against the boundaries of language.

            This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless. Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it.



This craving for generality is the resultant of a number of tendencies connected with particular philosophical confusions. There is –

             (a) The tendency to look for something in common to all the entities which we commonly subsume under a general term. -- We are inclined to think that there must be something in common to all games, say, and that this common property is the justification for applying the general term "game" to the various games; whereas games form a family the members of which have family likeness. Some of them have the same nose, others the same eyebrows and others again the same way of walking; and these likeness overlap. The idea of a general concept being a common property of its particular instances connects up with other primitive, too simple, ideas of the structure of language. It is comparable to the idea that properties are ingredients of the things which have the properties; e.g. that beauty is an ingredient of all beautiful things as alcohol is of beer and wine, and that we therefore could have pre beauty, unadulterated by anything that is beautiful.

            (b) There is a tendency rooted in our usual forms of expression, to think that the man who has learnt to understand a general term, say, the term "leaf", has thereby come to possess a kind of general picture of a leaf, as opposed to pictures of particular leaves. He was shown different leaves when he learnt the meaning of the word "leaf"; and showing him the particular leaves was only a means to the end of producing 'in him' an idea which we imagine to be some kind of general image. We say that he sees what is in common to all these leaves; and this is true if we mean that he can on being asked tell us certain features or properties which they have in common. But we are inclined to think that the general idea of a leaf is something like a visual image, but one which only contains what is common to all leaves. (Galtonian composite photograph.) This again is connected with the idea that the meaning of a word is an image, or a thing correlated to the word. (This roughly means, we are looking at words as though they all were proper names, and we then confuse the bearer of name with the meaning of the name.)

            (c) Again, the idea we have of what happens when we get hold of the general idea 'leaf', 'plant', etc. etc., is connected with the confusion between a mental state, meaning a state of a hypothetical mental mechanism, and a mental state meaning a state of consciousness (toothache, etc.).

            (d) Our craving for generality has another main source; our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness. I want to say here that it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything, or to explain anything. Philosophy really is 'purely descriptive'. (Think of such questions as "Are there sense data?" and ask: What method is there of determining this? Introspection?)


HOW WE USE WORDS (Philosophical Investigations)


Against the View that Words Merely name Objects

1. “When they [i.e., the elders of his infancy] named anything, and as they spoke turned towards it, I saw and remembered that they called what they would point out by the name they uttered. That they meant this thing and no other was plain from the motion of their body, the natural language, as it were, of all nations, expressed by the countenance, glances of the eye, gestures of the limbs, and tones of the voice, indicating the affections of the mind, as it pursues, possesses, rejects, or shuns. And thus by constantly hearing words, as they occurred in various sentences, I gradually understood for what they stood. Having trained my mouth to form these signs, I thereby gave expression to my desires.” [Augustine, Confessions, 1.8]

            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.——In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

            2. . . . Let us imagine a language for which the description given by Augustine is right. 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. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words "block", "pillar", "slab", "beam". A calls them out;—B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call.——Conceive this as a complete primitive language.

            3. Augustine, we might say, does describe a system of communication; only not everything that we call language is this system. And one has to say this in many cases where the question arises "Is this an appropriate description or not?" The answer is: "Yes, it is appropriate, but only for this narrowly circumscribed region, not for the whole of what you were claiming to describe."

            It is as if someone were to say: "A game consists in moving objects about on a surface according to certain rules . . ."—and we replied: You seem to be thinking of board games, but there are others. You can make your definition correct by expressly restricting it to those games.

            4. Imagine a script in which the letters were used to stand for sounds, and also as signs of emphasis and punctuation. (A script can be conceived as a language for describing sound-patterns.) Now imagine someone interpreting that script as if there were simply a correspondence of letters to sounds and as if the letters had not also completely different functions. Augustine's conception of language is like such an over-simple conception of the script. . . .

            5. If we look at the example in §1, we may perhaps get an inkling how much this general notion of the meaning of a word surrounds the working of language with a haze which makes clear vision impossible. 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. A child uses such primitive forms of language when it learns to talk. Here the teaching of language is not explanation, but training.

            6. . . . With different training the same ostensive teaching of these words would have effected a quite different understanding. "I set the brake up by connecting up rod and lever."—Yes, given the whole of the rest of the mechanism. Only in conjunction with that is it a brake-lever, and separated from its support it is not even a lever; it may be anything, or nothing.


Language Games: Speaking is Part of an Activity

7. In the practice of the use of language [in Section] (2) one party calls out the words, the other acts on them. In instruction in the language the following process will occur: the learner names the objects; that is, he utters the word when the teacher points to the stone.—And there will be this still simpler exercise: the pupil repeats the words after the teacher——both of these being processes resembling language.

            We can also think of the whole process of using words in (2) as one of those games by means of which children learn their native language. I will call these games "language-games" and will sometimes speak of a primitive language as a language-game.

            And the processes of naming the stones and of repeating words after someone might also be called language-games. Think of much of the use of words in games like ring-a-ring-a-roses.

            I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, the "language-game". . . .

            21. Imagine a language-game in which A asks and B reports the number of slabs or blocks in a pile, or the colours and shapes of the building-stones that are stacked in such-and-such a place.—Such a report might run: "Five slabs". Now what is the difference between the report or statement "Five slabs" and the order "Five slabs!"?— Well, it is the part which uttering these words plays in the language-game. No doubt the tone of voice and the look with which they are uttered, and much else besides, will also be different. But we could also imagine the tone's being the same—for an order and a report can be spoken in a variety of tones of voice and with various expressions of face—the difference being only in the application. (Of course, we might use the words "statement" and "command" to stand for grammatical forms of sentence and intonations; we do in fact call "Isn't the weather glorious to-day?" a question, although it is used as a statement.) We could imagine a language in which all statements had the form and tone of rhetorical questions; or every command the form of the question "Would you like to . . .?". Perhaps it will then be said: "What he says has the form of a question but is really a command", — that is, has the function of a command in the technique of using the language. (Similarly one says "You will do this" not as a prophecy but as a command. What makes it the one or the other?). . . .

            23. But how many kinds of sentence are there? Say assertion, question, and command?—There are countless kinds: countless different 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.

            Review the multiplicity of language-games in the following examples, and in others: Giving orders, and obeying them— Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements- Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)— Reporting an event— Speculating about an event— Forming and testing a hypothesis— Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagramsMaking up a story; and reading it— Play-acting— Singing catches— Guessing riddles— Making a joke; telling it— Solving a problem in practical arithmetic— Translating from one language into another— Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.  —It is interesting to compare the multiplicity of the tools in language and of the ways they are used, the multiplicity of kinds of word and sentence, with what logicians have said about the structure of language. (Including the author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.)


Against Logical Atomism: The Question of Simple Parts is Nonsense

47.  But what are the simple constituent parts of which reality is composed?—What are the simple constituent parts of a chair?—The bits of wood of which it is made? Or the molecules, or the atoms?— ‘Simple’ means: not composite. And here the point is: in what sense 'composite'? It makes no sense at all to speak absolutely of the 'simple parts of a chair'.

            Again: Does my visual image of this tree, of this chair, consist of parts? And what are its simple component parts? Multi-colouredness is one kind of complexity; another is, for example, that of a broken outline composed of straight bits. And a curve can be said to be composed of an ascending and a descending segment.

            If I tell someone without any further explanation: "What I see before me now is composite", he will have the right to ask: "What do you mean by 'composite'? For there are all sorts of things that that can mean!"—The question "Is what you see composite?" makes good sense if it is already established what kind of complexity—that is, which particular use of the word—is in question. If it had been laid down that the visual image of a tree was to be called "composite" if one saw not just a single trunk, but also branches, then the question "Is the visual image of this tree simple or composite?", and the question "What are its simple component parts?", would have a clear sense—a clear use. . . .

            To the philosophical question: "Is the visual image of this tree composite, and what are its component parts?" the correct answer is: "That depends on what you understand by 'composite'." (And that is of course not an answer but a rejection of the question.)


NO PRIVATE LANGUAGES (Philosophical Investigations)


Rule-Following requires Customs and cannot be done Privately

199. Is what we call "obeying a rule" something that it would be possible for only one man to do, and to do 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 master of a technique. . . .

            202. And hence also 'obeying a rule' is a practice. And to think one is obeying a rule is not to obey a rule. Hence it is not possible to obey a rule 'privately': otherwise thinking one was obeying a rule would be the same thing as obeying it. 


The Idea of a Private Language Explained

243. . . . We also imagine a language in which a person could write down or give vocal expression to his inner experiences—his feelings, moods, and the rest—for his private use?——Well, can't we do so in our ordinary language?—But that is not what I mean. The individual words of this language are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language.

            244. How do words refer to sensations?—There doesn't seem to be any problem here; don't we talk about sensations every day, and give them names? But how is the connexion between the name and the thing named set up? This question is the same as: how does a human being learn the meaning of the names of sensations?—of the word "pain" for example. Here is one possibility: words are connected with the primitive, the natural, expressions of the sensation and used in their place. A child has hurt himself and he cries; and then adults talk to him and teach him exclamations and, later, sentences. They teach the child new pain-behaviour. "So you are saying that the word 'pain' really means crying?"— On the contrary: the verbal expression of pain replaces crying and does not describe it.

            245. For how can I go so far as to try to use language to get between pain and its expression?

            246. In what sense are my sensations private?Well, only I can know whether I am really in pain; another person can only surmise it.—In one way this is wrong, and in another nonsense. If we are using the word "to know" as it is normally used (and how else are we to use it?), then other people very often know when I am in pain.— Yes, but all the same not with the certainty with which I know it myself I—It can't be said of me at all (except perhaps as a joke) that I know I am in pain. What is it supposed to mean—except perhaps that I am in pain? Other people cannot be said to learn of my sensations only from my behaviour,—for I cannot be said to learn of them. I have them. The truth is: it makes sense to say about other people that they doubt whether I am in pain; but not to say it about myself. . . .


No Private Language since Linguistic Rule Following Cannot be Confirmed

256. Now, what about the language which describes my inner experiences and which only I myself can understand? How do I use words to stand for my sensations?—As we ordinarily do? Then are my words for sensations tied up with my natural expressions of sensation? In that case my language is not a 'private' one. Someone else might understand it as well as I.—But suppose I didn't have any natural expression for the sensation, but only had the sensation? And now I simply associate names with sensations and use these names in descriptions.—

            257. "What would it be like if human beings showed no outward signs of pain (did not groan, grimace, etc.)? Then it would be impossible to teach a child the use of the word 'tooth-ache'."—Well, let's assume the child is a genius and itself invents a name for the sensation! —But then, of course, he couldn't make himself understood when he used the word.—So does he understand the name, without being able to explain its meaning to anyone?—But what does it mean to say that he has 'named his pain'?—How has he done this naming of pain?! And whatever he did, what was its purpose?—When one says "He gave a name to his sensation" one forgets that a great deal of stage-setting in the language is presupposed if the mere act of naming is to make sense. And when we speak of someone's having given a name to pain, what is presupposed is the existence of the grammar of the word "pain"; it shews the post where the new word is stationed.

            258. Let us imagine the following case. I want to keep a diary about the recurrence of a certain sensation. To this end I associate it with the sign "S" and write this sign in a calendar for every day on which I have the sensation.——I will remark first of all that a definition of the sign cannot be formulated.—But still I can give myself a kind of ostensive definition.—How? Can I point to the sensation? Not in the ordinary sense. But I speak, or write the sign down, and at the same time I concentrate my attention on the sensation—and so, as it were, point to it inwardly.—But what is this ceremony for? for that is all it seems to be! A definition surely serves to establish the meaning of a sign.—Well, that is done precisely by the concentrating of my attention; for in this way I impress on myself the connexion between the sign and the sensation.—But "I impress it on myself" can only mean: this process brings it about that I remember the connexion right in the future. But in the present case I have no criterion of correctness. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right. And that only means that here we can't talk about 'right'.

            259. Are the rules of the private language impressions of rules?— The balance on which impressions are weighed is not the impression of a balance.

            260. "Well, I believe that this is the sensation S again."—Perhaps you believe that you believe it! Then did the man who made the entry in the calendar make a note of nothing whatever?—Don't consider it a matter of course that a person is making a note of something when he makes a mark—say in a calendar. For a note has a function, and this "S" so far has none. (One can talk to oneself.—If a person speaks when no one else is present, does that mean he is speaking to himself?) . . .

            261. What reason have we for calling "S" the sign for a sensation? For "sensation" is a word of our common language, not of one intelligible to me alone. So the use of this word stands in need of a justification which everybody understands.—And it would not help either to say that it need not be a sensation; that when he writes "S", he has something—and that is all that can be said. "Has" and "something" also belong to our common language.—So in the end when one is doing philosophy one gets to the point where one would like just to emit an inarticulate sound.—But such a sound is an expression only as it occurs in a particular language-game, which should now be described.

            262. It might be said: if you have given yourself a private definition of a word, then you must inwardly undertake to use the word in such-and- such a way. And how do you undertake that? Is it to be assumed that you invent the technique of using the word; or that you found it ready-made?

            263. "But I can (inwardly) undertake to call THIS 'pain' in the future."—"But is it certain that you have undertaken it? Are you sure that it was enough for this purpose to concentrate your attention on your feeling?"—A queer question. . . .


Private Experience Belongs only to You

272. The essential thing about private experience is really not that each person possesses his own exemplar, but that nobody knows whether other people also have this or something else. The assumption would thus be possible—though unverifiable—that one section of mankind had one sensation of red and another section another.

            273. What am I to say about the word "red"?—that it means something 'confronting us all' and that everyone should really have another word, besides this one, to mean his own sensation of red? Or is it like this: the word "red" means something known to everyone; and in addition, for each person, it means something known only to him? (Or perhaps rather: it refers to something known only to him.)

            274. Of course, saying that the word "red" "refers to" instead of "means" something private does not help us in the least to grasp its function; but it is the more psychologically apt expression for a particular experience in doing philosophy. It is as if when I uttered the word I cast a sidelong glance at the private sensation, as it were in order to say to myself: I know all right what I mean by it.

            275. Look at the blue of the sky and say to yourself "How blue the sky is!"—When you do it spontaneously—without philosophical intentions—the idea never crosses your mind that this impression of colour belongs only to you. And you have no hesitation in exclaiming that to someone else. And if you point at anything as you say the words you point at the sky. I am saying: you have not the feeling of pointing-into-yourself, which often accompanies 'naming the sensation' when one is thinking about 'private language'. Nor do you think that really you ought not to point to the colour with your hand, but with your attention. (Consider what it means "to point to something with the attention".) . . .




Doubt about Existence only Works within a Language Game

1. If you do know that here is one hand, we'll grant you all the rest. When one says that such and such a proposition can't be proved, of course that does not mean that it can't be derived from other propositions; any proposition can be derived from other ones. But they may be no more certain than it is itself. (On this a curious remark by H.Newman.)

            2. From its seeming to me - or to everyone - to be so, it doesn't follow that it is so. What we can ask is whether it can make sense to doubt it.

            3. If e.g. someone says "I don't know if there's a hand here" he might be told "Look closer". - This possibility of satisfying oneself is part of the language-game. Is one of its essential features. . . .

            24. The idealist's question would be something like: "What right have I not to doubt the existence of my hands?" (And to that the answer can't be: I know that they exist.) But someone who asks such a question is overlooking the fact that a doubt about existence only works in a language-game. Hence, that we should first have to ask: what would such a doubt be like?, and don't understand this straight off. . . .


Hinge Propositions: Doubting some Propositions depends on other being Immune from Doubt

            340. We know, with the same certainty with which we believe any mathematical proposition, how the letters A and B are pronounced, what the colour of human blood is called, that other human beings have blood and call it "blood".

            341. That is to say, the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn.

            342. That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are indeed not doubted.

            343. But it isn't that the situation is like this: We just can't investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption. If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put.

            344. My life consists in my being content to accept many things.

            345. If I ask someone "what colour do you see at the moment?", in order, that is, to learn what colour is there at the moment, I cannot at the same time question whether the person I ask understands English, whether he wants to take me in, whether my own memory is not leaving me in the lurch as to the names of colours, and so on.

            346. When I am trying to mate someone in chess, I cannot have doubts about the pieces perhaps changing places of themselves and my memory simultaneously playing tricks on me so that I don't notice. . . .


Absence of Doubt is Part of a Language Game

            370. . . . The fact that I use the word "hand" and all the other words in my sentence without a second thought, indeed that I should stand before the abyss if I wanted so much as to try doubting their meanings - shows that absence of doubt belongs to the essence of the language-game, that the question "How do I know..." drags out the language-game, or else does away with it.

            371. Doesn't "I know that that's a hand", in Moore's sense, mean the same, or more or less the same, as: I can make statements like "I have a pain in this hand" or “this hand is weaker than the other" or "I once broke this hand", and countless others, in language-games where a doubt as to the existence of this hand does not come in?

            372. Only in certain cases is it possible to make an investigation "is that really a hand?" (or "my hand"). For "I doubt whether that is really my (or a) hand" makes no sense without some more precise determination. One cannot tell from these words alone whether any doubt at all is meant - nor what kind of doubt.


Source: Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus (1921), tr. O.K Ogden; “Lectures on Ethics” (1929); Blue Book (1933); Philosophical Investigations (1953).


Questions for Review

1. What are Wittgenstein’s views of ethics, death and God in the Tractatus and “Lectures on Ethics?”

2. What are the four issues regarding the craving for generality?

3. What is Augustine’s view of language and what according to Wittgenstein is wrong with it?

4. What, for Wittgenstein, is a language game?

5. What is a private language, and what is Wittgenstein’s main argument against it?

6. What is Wittgenstein’s criticism of Moore’s “here is one hand” argument?


Questions for Analysis

1. In section 47 of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein criticized Russell’s and Wittgenstein’s own earlier theory of logical atomism. Explain the key features of logical atomism and discuss what exactly Wittgenstein is criticizing in this quote.

2. Discuss Wittgenstein’s view of the mystical “inexpressible” in the Tractatus, and what if anything in his later writings corresponds with that view.

3. Explain Wittgenstein’s view of ethical language and discuss whether he is correct.

4. How might Wittgenstein’s account of the craving for generality explain his approach to language in the Tractatus, and how does he avoid this in his Philosophical Investigations?

5. Does Wittgenstein’s notion of language games commit him to relativism? Explain.

6. In Peter Geach writes the following about Wittgenstein’s private language argument: “What Wittgenstein wanted to deny was not the private reference of psychological expressions--e.g. that "pain" stands for a kind of experience that may be quite 'private'---but the possibility of giving them a private sense--e.g. of giving sense to the word 'pain' by attending to one's own pain-experiences, a performance that would be private and uncheckable" (Mental Acts, 1957). Explain Wittgenstein’s private language argument and discuss whether Geach’s interpretation of Wittgenstein is correct.

7. In his review “Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations” (1954) Norman Malcom interprets the structure of Wittgenstein’s private language argument as follows: “The argument that I have been outlining has the form of reduction ad absurdum: postulate a 'private' language; then deduce that it is not language.” Present the essential features of Wittgenstein’s argument in the form the Malcom suggests, and discuss whether the argument succeeds.

8. Explain Wittgenstein’s criticism of Moore’s “here is one hand” argument, and discuss how Moore might respond.