The Philosophical Investigations of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Wittgenstein Dictionary Project

Dictionary, aphorisms referenced, related thoughts

This dictionary project is very provisional, and very unusual in its form.  It is built around terms that I have used in the Wittgenstein webbook at
Rather than confine myself to giving literary definitions of terms that LW used, I have sometimes made up terms to refer to recurring concepts, concepts that Wittgenstein uses with different words at different times.  The concepts themselves are to be referenced often by links to the original text.

aporia - Wonder and amazement before the confusing puzzles and paradoxes of our lives and of the universe.  Socrates and the other ancient philosophers tried to evoke the philosophic spirit in young men by awakening their aporia, not by simply providing answers to these puzzles. The aporetic voice is the voice that expresses wonder and perplexity.

Assimilating uses to a description - finding a creative way to describe diverse things under the same label.  For example, consider saying everything is "star" and compare this with saying everything is "water" and saying everything is "mind."  Notice the different techniques that are used to "assimilate uses to a description."

Everything is star: The universe began with the big bang explosion that left a sort of dust and this dust is simply star dust.  Everything made of it is star.  Thre is no other kind of component for anything.  Therefore, everything is star.

Everything is "water": Water is just the fluid movement of molecules.  H2O is just one form of water.  Sometimes water is frozen and becomes ice, but ice is just one particular state of water.

Everything is "mind": There is nothing outside of consciousness, or if it is, consciousness will never know of it.  And if consciousness does not know of it, it does not exist.  Therefore, if something exists it exists as a component of mind, of subjectivity, of experiential consciousness and that means that al we have, the only that exists, is "mind."

LW introduces the notion of assimilating uses to a description in (10, 14)

Augustine - LW begins the first aphorism in the Philosohical Investigations by quoting Augustine saying that he learned language by people pointing to objects and naming them.  Somehow, he grasped their meaning.  This becomes the embodiment of a position that LW proceeds to deconstruct.  We will often call this "Augustine's picture of languge" but Wittgenstein makes it clear that it is a widespread picture in our culture.

The Augustinian voice.  This is not Wittgenstein's phrase, although he does speak of Augustine. Throughout the Philosophical Investigations, however, Wittgenstein discusses things with an imaginary interlocutor that expresses the picture of language that Augustine does.  Sometimes this interlocutor takes on a more modern argument, reminiscent of early Wittgentstein's own writing (which Wittgenstein admits) in his early work, the Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus.  When this happens, it is really inaccurate to attribute all these ideas to Augustine.  Besides, these ideas probably germinated in Greek philosophy.  Probably it was Plato who is the most significant figure in their germination.  Still, in this web-book, the voice of the interlocutor will be called the "Augustinian Voice."

The Augustinian voice is typically in quotes and typically begins an aphorism in a way that frames the remarks to follow.  However, I urge you not to count on this superficial criteria for determining whether the Augustinian voice is speaking.  Intead, look for any self-confident comment that Wittgenstein immediately questions.

aporetic voice - What we are calling the aporetic voice in this book is a voice that questions and puzzles, expresses perplexity and points to contradictions.

Disorderliness of language - 18

explanation versus training - It is easy to imagine that the only way to learn language is by having concepts explained to us -- but, of course, concepts cannot be explained before we have language to use for the explanation.  "Training" is the concept Wittgenstein introduces for teaching that is prepatory for being able to understand explanations.  This concept is introduces in (5)

family resemblance - 67

Form of life - One of the key concepts in Wittgenstein is the concept of a "form of life."  It is the concept here as much as the term that is important.  It is introduced as a concept without the label "form of life" in aphorism (6).  Here he is showing us that the children in (2) not only learned to say the names of objects but they associated the saying of the name of objects with certain action.  (see 19)

fly-bottle - 309. "What is your aim in philosophy?-To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle."  The fly bottle represents the invisible barriers to our understanding.

Illusions about language - We are tempted to say that "slab" is a shortened form of "Bring me a slab."  But why not say, that "Bring me a slab is a shortened form of "slab!" (19)

Inadequacy of pointing as an explanation - (28, 29, 30)

Language game - a language game is a key technical expression in Wittgenstein.
For an indepth discussion of this concept click here.  Wittgenstein introduces the term  language-game in (7) although he introduced the first example of a primitive language game in (2).
Primitive language games are models of how language might be thught of working in the simplest of ways, often in ways in which our cultural theories say they do in fact work.  These models are introduced so we can reflect on them and explore their limitations for explaining a full language such as English or German.

meaning - (and use)  - see 21

multiplicity of language games  - 23, 24


Noticing the different ways that words are used - Wittgenstein repeatedly notices the different ways that words are used.  (see 35 , footnote after 38

Ostensive definition - An ostensive definition is a way of defining a term by pointing to its referent.  "'What is a gato?' I say to my Spanish speaking friend and he points to a cat and says, "This is a gato."  That would be an ostensive definition of "gato."  See 25 -32

philosophical problems arising when language goes on holiday.

pictures before the mind - the Augustinian notion of language seems to involve pictures coming before the mind as we speak.  These pictures help us understand what is being said to us.  LW begins deconstructing the idea that language must work this way in (6).   In 20, he talks about our way to imagine that things hover unconsciously in the mind. (36)

Preparing a place for a name - a concept LW introduces in 31 32.

Say what you choose  - 79

signification - LW deconstructs the notion of signification in language theory starting in aphorism (10).

subliming the logic of language - (38) see "occult process"  language on holiday  (94)

Surface grammar  and depth grammar - The sentence, "Would you bring me a cup of coffee?" spoken in a restaurant to a waiter has the surface grammar of a question.  The depth grammar is more of a request or a command.

The terms distinguishing surface and depth grammar are not introduced until (664), however the concepts that prepare the way for this understanding are introduced in (4).  Also see (21, 22)

Wittgenstein's first voice - Wittgenstein often speaks the voice of the interlocutor so it sounds like he is arguing with himself.  In this (Shawver) commentary, this voice is called the "first voice."  It is represented at times by Wittgenstein's own early work in the Tractatus.  This voice is often in quotes and it is sometimes represented by actual quotes of others.

Wittgenstein's second voice - (as defined in this Shawver commentary) is the voice of aporia.  Wittggenstein uses this voice to express dilemmas, puzzles, muddles and doubt.

Wittgenstein's third voice (new, clarifying, deconstructive, etc.) voice - The third voice you will find in the Philosophical Investigations we will call "Wittgenstein's voice," although for clarity one or another modifiers might be used to portray this voice with the way it works in a particular context.

breaking nature at its joints - this is one of the generative ideas through the centuries that Wittgenstein struggles with.  It was can be traced back to a statement of Socrates in Plato's dialogue, the Phaedrus.  Click here and scroll down the text until you reach passage 265e. 

Aphorisms Referenced

122. A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words.-Our grammar is lacking in this sort of perspicuity. A perspicuous representation
produces just that understanding which consists in 'seeing connexions'. Hence the importance of finding and inventing intermediate cases.

309.    What is your aim in philosophy?-To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.

In 51, LW described the way in which we set up what would count as an element in the colored grid.  We referred to the grid as a grid of colored squares instead of referring to it, say, as a grid of rectangles twice as wide as they are high.  This set-up he referred to in terms of giving an "account."

LW talks about Gottlob Frege (b. 1848, d. 1925).  Frege was an important logician who tried to devise ways to describe language so there would be fewer paradoxes and confusions in our understanding of how language worked.    His work was very influential in the development of the philosophy that LW criticizes in the Philosophical Investigations.

Note asserted after 22
Imagine a picture representing a boxer in a particular stance. Now, this picture can be used to tell someone how he should stand, should hold himself; or how he should not hold himself; or how a particular man did stand in such-and-such a place; and so on. One might (using the language of chemistry) call this picture a proposition-radical. This will be how Frege thought of the "assumption".

664.    In the use of words one might distinguish 'surface grammar' from 'depth grammar'. What immediately impresses itself upon us about the use of a word is the way it is used in the construction of the sentence, the part of its use-one might say-that can be taken in by the ear. And now compare the depth grammar, say of the word "to mean", with what its surface grammar would lead us to suspect. No wonder we find it difficult to know our way about.

Related thoughts

association It strikes me that if I were TEACHING the names of things (say pointing to pictures of animals and naming them) to a child I would not mix this up with pointing to something blue and saying 'blue'.  It seems to me, to teach the colors, I would set up something in which that is all we were pointing at.  I would point to a blue block and say "blue" and then I would point to a red block and I would say, "red".  I would not point to the blue block and say "blue" and then to the red block and say "block" or "square."

A useful story for studying Wittgenstein is the story of "Judy's baby."

The story is that the Judy discovered the baby's grandmother teaching the child to talk by pointing to a decal bear on the baby's milk cup and saying "bear."  When the baby finally said something that sounded like "bear" the grandmother made wildly encouraging gestures and sounds.

It's a familiar story, and it it sounds a lot like the way Augustine said that he learned language in beginning of Wittgenstein's Philosophical
Investigations.  Augustine said that he learned language by people pointing to objects while naming them as they did.  In response to their naming he said:

I saw this and I grasped that that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out.  Their intention was shown by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples 
But Wittgenstein questioned whether things were quite like Augustine described.  Most importantly, how did baby Augustine know what the adults were pointing to?

It is one thing to imagine that the baby knows what you're pointing to when you point to the live puppy and say "puppy!" But it is just inconceiveable, is it not, that the baby knows that the grandmother is pointing to the bear on the cup and not the cup, or to the milk, or the color of the cup, or some other property.  And, if she had been pointing to the cup itself, how would the baby have known that?   How would a baby with no language distinguish a pointing to one thing in the cup's vacinity or another?

Still, the baby learned to say "cup."  Presumably, at first, however, the baby did not know wht this means.  The baby said "cup" like a parrot might say cup, without the term having the meaning it came to have.

This early use of language illustrates what Vygotsky called speech during the Chimpanzoid age.  The child is not yet a master of language.  In the beginning it can use language that sounds like our language but it does not yet understand it in the way that we do.

The logical positivist model of language as a kind of calculus has been highly influential in the development of social science research, especially in the united states.  I have tracked the connection in:

Shawver, Lois.  (1977). Research variables in psychology and the logic of their creation.  Psychiatry,  40, 1-16.