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Introduction

The Philosophical Investigations of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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Aphorism 51-59 from
Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations
with commentary on the right by
Lois Shawver
 
Wittgenstein:
(Emphasis in bold is inserted by Shawver to enhance commentary.) 
Shawver commentary:
51 In describing language-game (48) I said that the words "R", "B", etc. corresponded to the colours of the squares. But what does this correspondence consist in; in what sense can one say that  certain colours of squares correspond to these signs? For the account in (48) merely set up (sic) a connexion between those signs and certain words of our language (the names of colours). 
 
What is the account in 48?  It is where LW says: 
 
The squares form a complex like a chessboard.  There are red, green, white and black squares. The words of the language are (correspondingly) "R", "G", "W", "B", and a sentence is a series of these words. They describe an arrangement of squares in the order: [see (48)]
Can you see how this sets up what we are going to call the components of the chessboard?  We are told, specifically, that "there are red, green... squares."  So we have been told what we are to consider the parts of the chessboard. 
                                         -- Well, it was presupposed that the use of the signs in the language-game would be taught in a different way, in particular by pointing to paradigms.  Our Augustinian mythology about language says that we are taught how to use words (signs) by pointing and naming and here we are being "taught" contextually without our noticing.
Very well; but what does it mean to say that in the technique of using the language certain elements correspond to the signs? --Is it that the person who is  describing the complexes of coloured squares always says "R" where there is a red square; "B" when there is a black one, and so on?  Notice this phrase "certain elements correspond to the signs."   It's a common way of putting things but what does it mean?  Is there a universal meaning to this phrase?
                     But what if he goes wrong in the description and mistakenly says "R" where he sees a black square  --what is the criterion by which this is a mistake? --Or does "R"s standing for a red square consist in this, that when the people whose language it is use the sign "R" a red square always comes before their minds?  If someone mistakenly calls a black square "R" in what sense is this a mistake?  If you have been drawn into the language game of 48 by the account and you recognize that someone is mistaken in calling a black square "R," how do you know this?  Is it the case that a red square comes before your mind?
     In order to see more clearly, here as in countless similar cases, we must focus on the details of what goes on; must look at them from close to.  Here LW is teaching us not to accept the answer above without examining what happens in these situations. 

 
52.  If I am inclined to suppose that a mouse has come into being by spontaneous generation out of grey rags and dust, I shall do well to examine those rags very closely to see how a mouse may have hidden in them, how it may have got there and so on. But if I am convinced that a mouse cannot come into being from these things, then this investigation will perhaps be superfluous.  Here LW is continuing with his last comment from 50.  Even if we see that we have bought into a certain cultural mythology that distorts our vision, this does not mean that we can find our way out of it.  How do we do it?  if we think that mice spontaneously generate in gray rags, and we're convinced of this, it might be superfluous to examine the rags
But first we must learn to understand what it is that opposes such an examination of details in 
philosophy. 
The first thing we have to do is understand what gets in our way seeing what is happening.

 
53.   Our language-game (48) has various possibilities; there is a variety of cases in which we should say that a sign in the game was the name of a square of such-and-such a colour. We should say so if, for instance, we knew that the people who used the language were taught the use of the signs in such-and-such a way. Or if it were set down in writing, say in the form of a table, that this element corresponded to this sign, and if the table were used in teaching the language and were appealed to in certain disputed cases.  How do we know that "R" means that a particular square should be colored "red"?  We can imagine it coming about that "we know this" in a variety of ways (other than the insidious account we have discovered above).  We might say this on the basis of certain Augustinian language practices that we had observed in the tribe.  That is, we might have noticed that the tribe points and names squares "R" until the children learn to do this.  Or if it were set down in writing that red squares should be called "R." Then this is how we would know that this is what they should be called (imagine a dictionary).
We can also imagine such a table's being a tool in the use of the language. Describing a complex is then done like this: the person who describes the complex has a table with him and looks up each element of the complex in it and passes from this to the sign (and the one who is given the description may also use a table to translate it into a picture of coloured squares).  The complex is like the grid we say in 48, it is a cluster of elements arranged in a predefined way.  How will one describe the complex to another who must arrange, say, a copy?  One might look at the complex and then look up each element in a table.
This table might be said to take over here the role of memory and association in other cases. (We do not usually carry out the order "Bring me a red flower" by looking up the colour red in a table of colours and then bringing a flower of the colour that we find in the table; but when it is a question of choosing or mixing a particular shade of red, we do sometimes make use of a sample or table.)  Whereas ordinarily we rely on our memories to recognize simple colors like "red," we do sometimes use a tool such as this when we are trying to get the exact shade. 
 
If we call such a table the expression of a rule of the language-game, it can be said that what we call a rule of a language-game may have very different roles in the game. Wittgenstein is setting up this table as a model of rule in a language-game and he will use this model in subsequent text.

 
54.    Let us recall the kinds of case where we say that a game is played according to a definite rule.  A definite rule is one that is set out explicitly that everyone agrees on.
The rule may be an aid in teaching the game. The learner is told it and given practice in applying it. 
 
 
 
 

 

Say I explain before we begin that the rule is that when you type your comments you should enclose them in brackets with your initials.  The rule is an aid I devise in assisting our study, but it is not a part of the language-game, in the sense that we could easily devise other devices that would work just as well.  It would not change the playing of the language game in any important way if we used a color code to keep track of who wrote which comment.
    --Or it is an instrument of the game itself. 

 

But an rule that is an instrument of the game itself cannot be changed without changing the game.  If the rule is that we can ask each other questions and get answers then it would change our language game if we changed the rule. 
--Or a rule is employed neither in the teaching nor in the game itself; nor is it set down in a list of rules. One learns the game by watching how others play. But we say that it is played according to such-and-such rules because an observer can read these rules off from the practice of the game-like a natural law governing the play. --But how does the observer distinguish in this case between players' mistakes and correct play?  --There are characteristic signs of it in the players'  behaviour. Think of the behaviour characteristic of correcting a slip of the tongue. It would be possible to recognize that someone was doing so even without knowing his language.  Imagine a new reader noticing that everyone encloses their comments within brackets that contain their initials and conforming to this implicit rule.  In that case, too, can we not, say that this is "playing according to the rules"? 

But in this case how do we know when people are playing correctly according to the rules?  Perhaps by the way people correct themselves or other such recognizeable signs that people show they feel they have violated the rules, even the implicit rules (apologies?)


 
55. "What the names in language signify must be indestructible; for it must be possible to describe the state of affairs in which everything destructible is destroyed. And this description will contain words; and what corresponds to these cannot then be destroyed, for  otherwise/the words would have no meaning." I must not saw off the branch on which I am sitting.  55.  Here LW is speaking again with his aporetic voice, from within the fly bottle.  But there is, you can see (can you not?) a certain distance from this aporia.  He is listening to what he is inclined to say here. 

He is inclined to say that there must be objects in the world that are simple and indestructible (which are either true or false).  Even if I destroy Excalibur it must be the case that I at least have something left that I can say is destroyed, fragments, smoke, something. 

If we do not have these simple indestructible truths that we can point to and name, then how can we continue?  Our entire logic depends on this.  Or so it seems from within the fly bottle.

One might, of course, object at once that this description would have to except itself from the destruction.  That is, if we destroyed everything and then described the destruction, we could not destroy the description itself. 
--But what corresponds to the separate words of the description and so cannot be destroyed if it is true, is what gives the words their meaning --- is that without which they would have no meaning. In a sense, however, this man is surely what corresponds to his name. But he is destructible, and his name does not lose its meaning when the bearer is destroyed LW is still within his aporetic voice, expressing wonder at these paradoxes he is entertaining.  In this frame of mind it seems that what corresponds to the separate words cannot be destroyed if the words are true.  "The Chair is in the corner."  If the words are true, then the chair cannot have been crushed until it is no longer a chair.  Still, and here's the perplexity, a name still has meaning once the object is destroyed.  How can this be?
 --An example of something corresponding to the name, and without which it would have no meaning, is a paradigm that is used in connexion with the name in the language-game. 

 

The standard meter in Paris gives us an example of this paradigm.  Or a sample of "sepia" that serves to define our naming of colors.  Samples like this can give meaning to a word.  Ask yourself:  How long as a griset?  If we had a sample in Paris that told us, that word would have meaning.
56.    But what if no such sample is part of the language, and we bear in mind the colour (for instance) that a word stands for?  --"And if we bear it in mind then it comes before our mind's eye when we utter the word. (sic) So, if it is always supposed to be possible for us to remember it, it must be in itself indestructible."  This is LW's aporetic voice.   Notice that he often puts his aporetic voice in quotes, but he is inconsistent.  I put a (sic) after the "word" because I believe it should have a question mark there.  This is the cultural reasoning that puts the indestructible simple in the mind.  It is what gives Plato his essences or eternal ideas.
--But what do we regard as the criterion for remembering it right? 
 
 

 

 

 
Here, LW is questioning his own aporetic voice.  This is a significant question and he will make much of it in other contexts.  If we have a sample of "red" say in our minds, and no external sample, how do we know that we have remembered the right color?  The color that "red" is?  Can you see that this would be problematic?  You can hold the red sample up to the apple and see that the apple is the same color, but that works because the red sample you are using is dependable.  What if you have gotten confused and the red sample in your mind is now distorted, you are thinking of it as "rust."  How would you know?
--When we work with a sample instead of our memory there are circumstances in which we say that the sample has changed colour and we judge of this by memory. But can we not sometimes speak of a darkening (for example) of our memory-image? Aren't we as much at the mercy of memory as of a sample? (For someone might feel like saying: "If we had no memory we should be at the mercy of a sample".) --Or perhaps of some chemical reaction. Imagine that you were supposed to paint a particular colour "C", which was the colour that appeared when the chemical substances X and Y combined.-Suppose that the colour struck you as brighter on one day than on another; would you not sometimes say: "I must be wrong, the colour is certainly the same as yesterday"? This shews that we do not always resort to what memory tells us as the verdict of the highest court of appeal.  Here he is further exploring the question of whether we can rely on memory as if it were a sample.  We do sometimes notices that colors have changed, he tells us, but we do not entirely trust our observations.  So, if we rely on memory as a sample, we often do not feel very secure about it. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


 
57.  "Something red can be destroyed, but red cannot be destroyed, and that is why the meaning of the word 'red' is independent of the existence of a red thing."  The aporetic voice.  Again, the emphasis is mine.  This is a paradigm (sample) case of the Platonic-Augustinian muddle.  What is it that cannot be destroyed?  The color?  What color?  In what way does the color exist apart from things that are so colored?
-Certainly it makes no sense to say that the colour red is torn up or pounded to bits. But don't we say "The red is vanishing"? And don't clutch at the idea of our always being able to bring red before our mind's eye even when there is nothing red any more. That is just as if you chose to say that there would still always be a chemical reaction producing a red flame.-For suppose you cannot remember the colour any more.;-When we forget which colour this is the name of, it loses its meaning for us; that is, we are no longer able to play a particular language-game with it. And the situation then is comparable with that in which we have lost a paradigm which was an instrument of our language.  Here's LW's clarifying voice.  He is not really giving us an answer here to the above question, but he is directing our attention.  If we are inclined to say (confusedly) that the red would exist because it would still exist in our minds (because we could imagine a red square still) then this neglects the fact that we sometimes cannot recall the color.  Suppose you suffered brain damage and it did not destroy your color vision but you could no longer remember which color was which.  Would red then still exist? 
 

 


 
58.  "I want to restrict the term 'name' to what cannot occur in the combination 'X exists'. --Thus one cannot say 'Red exists', because if there were no red it could not be spoken of at all." Again, LW is using the quotes to indicate his aporetic voice.  This is the aporetic voice trying to patch things up so that they work as our cultural picture says that they should.  According to this patch up job, we are going to say that the word "red" will lose its meaning when there are no red objects.  Will this work?
--Better: If "X exists" is meant simply to say: "X" has a meaning, In other words, if the statement "Red exists" is true then this means that "Red" has a meaning.
-then it is not a proposition which treats of X, but a proposition about our use of language, that is, about the use of the word "X".  But notice, this proposition does not talk about the existence of "red".  It is a move in setting up the language game.  It has nothing to do with the existence of red apart from this new language game.
It looks to us as if we were saying something about the nature of red in saying that the words "Red exists" do not yield a sense.  Namely that red does exist 'in its own right'. 
 
 
Important passage.  In 122 LW notices that our grammar is lacking in a certain kind of perspecuity that would enable us to more easily see what is going on.  Here it is.  The phrase "Red exists" can be either a negotiation of the meaning of the term "Red exists" or it can be a statement about the world -- but if it's a statement about the world it has to be within a particular language game. 

We get confused, however, when we see that the statement "Red exists" makes a kind of sense to it.  The sense it seems to make when we conflate the two possible uses of this phrase is that "Red" exists apart from any object that is red.  Still, this seems perplexing to us.  It is hard to imagine how red exists.  This is our aporia here.

The same idea --that this is a metaphysical statement about red --finds expression again when we say such a thing as that red is timeless, and perhaps still more strongly in the word "indestructible".  That is, there are many ways to express this metaphysical thought that "red exists" beyond red objects and particular language games.  Sometimes we say that it is "timeless" or "indestructible."
But what we really want is simply to take "Red exists" as the statement: the word "red" has a meaning. Or perhaps better: "Red does not exist" as " 'Red' has no meaning".  In other words, if we are tempted to say "red exists" then we are pointing out that the word red has a meaning.  Or if we say that "grue" does not exist," this is a way of saying that the word "grue" has no meaning. 
Only we do not want to say that that expression says this, but that this is what it would have to be saying if it meant anything. But that it contradicts itself in the attempt to say it  --just because red exists 'in its own right'. Whereas the only contradiction lies in something like this: the proposition looks as if it were about the colour, while it is supposed to be saying something about the use of the word "red". But it seems as though the statement "Red exists" is asserting a truth about red, not just giving us the rules of the language (that the word 'red' has meaning.  The formulation fools us because it is so similar to the formulation we would use if we were talking about a thing and not about meaning, as if I would say, "The document you have been looking for, I have found out that it exists," it would be clear that I am not talking about word definitions but about the document existing.  Still, the formulations seem so similar.
--In reality, however, we quite readily say that a particular colour exists; and that is as much as to say that something exists that has that colour. And the first expression is no less accurate than the second; particularly where 'what has the colour' is not a physical object. But our language does not make a distinction between these ways of using the phrase "red exists."  Within the rules of our language, both uses are equally correct.
59.    "A name signifies only what is an element of reality. What cannot be destroyed; what remains the same in all changes." The Augustine's voice again.  This voice tells us: If "red exists" it signifies something that cannot be destroyed.
-- But what is that?  --Why, it swam before our minds as we said the sentence! This was the very expression of a quite particular image: of a particular picture which we want to use. For certainly experience does not shew us these elements. We see component parts of something composite (of a chair, for instance). We say that the back is part of the chair, but is in turn itself composed of several bits of wood; while a leg is a simple component part. We also see a whole which changes (is destroyed) while its component parts remain unchanged. These are the materials from which we construct that picture of reality.  This is the aporetic voice speaking.  It says, :isn't there a way in which this seems compelling?  From within the fly bottle?  Doesn't it sometimes happen that when you say "chair" you see something like a chair flash before your mind's eye?  Well, then, maybe we should say that this ghostly image is what the word 'chair' refers to.  It is the idea, perhaps, that Plato had in mind when he constructed his theory of ideas. 
 
 
 

 


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Table of Contents
Shawver Commentary


Aphorisms
Index Page
1-10
11-20
21-30
31-38
39-50
51-59
60-64
65-69
70-75
76-80
81-88
89-100
Reference
Extended Look at 43


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