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Wittgenstein. Dr Y. J. Erden erdenyj@smuc.ac.uk. Content. 1. Language & meaning 2. Inner/ outer 3. Private language. Meaningful language. Language games. Connection between word & meaning lies in practice (use), not theory .

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Dr Y. J. Erden



1. Language & meaning

2. Inner/ outer

3. Private language

language games
Language games
  • Connection between word & meaning lies in practice (use), not theory .
  • Language games free us ‘from the philosophical confusions that result from considering language in isolation from its place in the “stream of life”’ (Monk: p. 330).
  • The use of language is always an activity. Activities (in a form of life) are multifarious.
  • The meanings of words determined by different rules in multifarious contexts/activities (e.g. giving orders, obeying orders, thanking, cursing, joking, singing, praying etc.).
  • Bringing words back to their everyday use (PI § 116) = describing a way of doing things...
  • It is not a metaphysical approach to understanding meaning. 
  • Wittgenstein: A game is not everywhere confined by rules: there are no ‘rules for how high one throws the ball in tennis, or how hard; yet tennis is a game for all that and has rules too’ (§ 68).
  • McGuinness (2007: p. 230)*: ‘games or play—Spiel—may have few or no rules, or many’, and there ‘are so many varieties of game’. This is in addition to the fact that we can make up and alter ‘the rules as we go along’ (§ 83).
  • Practice, tradition, habit enforce non-determinate, yet rule based language-games (§§ 199 and 202).
  • ‘in general there was not such a thing as a meaning, a sense, that we, unskilfully and unwittingly yet unerringly, managed to express. There was only a set of reactions thought appropriate’ (McGuinness, 2007: p. 229): .
  • Once we exhaust justifications we reach ‘bedrock’, after which point we can only say: ‘This is simply what I do’ (§ 217).
rules and tools
Rules and tools
  • There is no essential nature to a proposition.
  • The meaning of a word (or proposition) is determined by the rules for its use in the context in which it is used (these are countless).
  • Words as like tools in a toolbox (hammers, saws, pliers, spanners, screwdrivers etc.)
  • These are all related to each other (they’re all tools), but each has a different use.
rules and practice
Rules and practice….
  • Who decides what is the measure of certainty?: ‘Who decides what stands fast?’ (§ 125).
  • The answer is found in practice: ‘Not only rules, but also examples are needed for establishing a practice. Our rules leave loop-holes open, and the practice has to speak for itself’ (§ 139) 
  • ‘We do not learn the practice of making empirical judgements by learning rules: we are taught judgments and their connexion with other judgments’ (§ 140). 
  • We learn to believe things, which then form a system of belief (§ 144).
what wittgenstein is criticising
What Wittgenstein is criticising...
  • Partly: Descartes and dualist traditions...
  • Also: Freud and a view of consciousness/unconscious as inner/private, yet somehow representable in language...
  • Freud’s aim: to postulate universal laws of understanding and translating psychological and even physical behaviour.
  • Yet Freud mistakes practical use of general truth with final definitetruth (ignores difference between ‘if I do x then y normally happens’ and ‘if x then y’).
  • Wittgenstein disputes Freud’s claims of discovery (the ‘unconscious’). Instead credits Freud with the development of a new language/grammar/way of describing things.
  • Understanding consciousness/the unconscious is metaphorical. We apply the rules of language of the outer in order to understand the inner.
wittgenstein s two version of i
Wittgenstein’s two version of ‘I’
  • Inner self/consciousness. Philosophical use of the word which presupposes special access/ownership of the ‘I’.
  • No ownership theory just picks out a person (including a body). This is the way ‘I’ is used in ordinary language.
inner outer
  • Wittgenstein argues against there being an inner voice somehow ‘guiding action’.
  • If we did have these internal guiding voices, then we could not have language/it would not count as speaking a language…
  • The meaning in language is not determined on a case by case basis, but rather in context and thereby in relation to language-game(s) and their complicated relationships with the world.
irrelevance of the inner for language
Irrelevance of the inner for language
  • He was never dismissive of their being an inner as such.
  • His concern (in so-called ‘private language argument’*) is for the public nature of language.
  • Carried out grammatical investigation into how concepts actually function, not presenting a treatise.
  • Many behaviourists, for example, accept vocabulary for sensations remains inescapably private.
  • Wittgenstein showed that this is impossible...

*Our title, not Wittgenstein’s


A language game: grammatical features of language in use.

  • Difference between ‘coin in my hand’ and ‘pain in my hand’.
  • Is there such a thing as private language?
  • Wittgenstein considered this question, and asked the following sorts of questions:
    • What does it mean?
    • How is it connected to other words in normal language? E.g. Can it be translated, described, explained?
    • If not, can it even be called a word, (part of a language)?
    • What is a language? What is the function of language?
  • These are questions (puzzles) Wittgenstein examines in what is commonly called the argument against private language (PI§§ 242-275).
the very idea of private language
The very idea of private language
  • Are there some things (word/thoughts/sensations) which are necessarily private?
  • Are there sensations for which there is no language? If you name these sensations, what happens?
  • If I have a sensation which I name o, would this then be a privately understood word?
  • Could this sensation never be put into ordinary language?
wittgenstein on private language
Wittgenstein on private language
  • According to Wittgenstein, there can be no such thing as a private language.
  • Private language: an attempt to dissolve any talk of the inner as a necessary condition to understanding meaning and language.
  • It is in fact, at least according to Wittgenstein, wholly irrelevant whether there is or is not an ‘inner’ in the question of language, for the following reasons:
the argument against private language
The argument against private language
  • § 23 –The speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a life-form—this is what the term “language game” brings into prominence.
  • For language ‘to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in definitions but also…in judgments’ (§ 242).
  • If one uses words to express sensations, then presumably, ‘someone else might understand it as well as I’ (§ 256).
  • He further explains that even in giving new names to sensations, these new names still stand in relation to normal language (§ 257); you employ already existent techniques (§ 262).
consciousness and sensations
Consciousness and sensations
  • Terms needed and used to establish our own consciousness would have to have been initially learnt in the public sphere.
  • Since we learn concepts of mind/consciousness from public domain, cannot learn other people have minds by analogy from own case, since this would only come after we have already learnt others have minds…
  • Introspection is not the way we come to understand psychological words etc, but grammar, though Wittgenstein is not denying introspection itself (McGinn, 1997: pp. 120-1, 128, 140).
  • Meaningfullness of a psychological concept depends on public application (McGinn, 1997: pp. 129, 138).
not a theory but a description
Not a theory, but a description…
  • If argument seems problematic at any point, it is important to remember that Wittgenstein is not trying to offer a theory.
  • The point for Wittgenstein is that if we did have these internal guiding voices, then we could not have language.
  • ‘The authority [for using language] is supplied not by any single item, but by the whole language-game with all its complicated attachments to the world’(Pears, 1988: p. 525).
pain is private only i know when i am in pain
Pain is private, only I know when I am in pain…

Problem with the word ‘know’: how can you know you are in pain?

Wittgenstein surmises that use of the word is mistaken.

You don’t know you are in pain, but rather, you are in pain.

If you can know something, then presumably you could also doubt it, and one cannot doubt ones own pain (§ 246).

§ 249 Problem of lying: lying is also a language game that needs to be learnt.

private language conclusion
Private Language conclusion

The idea of pain as a private entity is a ‘grammatical fiction’ imposed on us by the Augustinian picture of language which suggests that words must refer to a something (a sensation-word would = an inner something).

An inner definition can be flawed, misremembered, etc.

It’s meaning would therefore be indeterminate (constantly in flux), and a word whose meaning is constantly changing cannot mean.

cited references
Cited references
  • Marie McGinn (1997) Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations
  • BrianMcGuinness (2007) ‘What Wittgenstein Owed to Sraffa’. In G. Chiodi & L. Ditta (Eds.), Sraffa or an Alternative Economics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Ray Monk (1990) Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius
  • David Pears (1988) The False Prison: Vol. 2