The Philosophical Investigations of Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Aphorism 11-20 from
Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations
with commentary on the right by
(Emphasis in bold is inserted by Shawver to enhance commentary.)
|11. Think of the tools in a tool-box: there
is a hammer, pliers, a saw, a screw-driver, a ruler, a
glue-pot, glue, nails and screw.---The functions of words are as diverse
as the functions of these
objects. (And in both cases there are similarities.)
|Augustine was struck by the similarities of different
words and failed to note their differences. Such an understanding
would be as superficial as learning that all the objects in the toolbox
were "tools" but not knowing any of their different functions.
| Of course, what confuses us is the uniform appearance
of words when we hear them spoken or meet them in script and print. For
their application is not presented to us so clearly. Especially when we
are doing philosophy!
||Look at the words on this page. Don't they
look alike? They look so much more like each other than they look
like your keyboard or your hand. This is what confuses us.
|12. It is like looking into the
cabin of a locomotive. We see handles all looking more or less alike.
(Naturally, since they are all supposed to be handled.) But one is the
handle of a crank which can be moved continuously (it regulates the opening
of a valve); another is the handle of a switch, which has only a brake-lever,
the harder one pulls on it, the harder it brakes; a fourth, the handle
of a pump: it has an effect only so long as it is moved to and fro.
||We are mesmerized by the similarity in the appearance
of words. This keeps us from noticing the vast differences in their
|13. When we say: "Every word in
language signifies something" we have so far said nothing
whatever; unless we have explained exactly what distinction we wish
to make. (It might be, of course, that we wanted to distinguish the words
of language (8) from words 'without meaning' such as occur in Lewis Carroll's
poems, or words like "Lilliburlero" in songs.)
|14. Imagine someone's saying: "All tools
serve to modify something. Thus the hammer modifies the position of the
nail, the saw the shape of the board, and so on."---And what is modified
by the rule, the glue-pot, the nails?---"Our knowledge of thing's length,
the temperature of the glue, and the solidity
of the box."-----Would anything be gained by this assimilation of expressions?---
|It seems we look for ways to disguise the differences
in different kinds of terms. We try to assimilate them all to a particular
way of describing them. But the fact that we can find an expression
that treats them all the same (e.g., all words are made of characters)
does not mean that they are as similar as we think. We fail to notice
their differences, and this undermines our philosophy about language.
|15. The word "to signify" is perhaps
used in the most straight-forward way when the objects
signified is marked with the sign. Suppose that the tools A uses in
building bear certain marks. When A shews his assistant such a mark, he
brings the tool that has that mark on it.
It is in this and more or less similar ways that a name
means and is given to a thing.---It will often prove useful in philosophy
to say to ourselves: naming something is like attaching a label to a thing.
|Well, does the word "signify" mean anything at all?
There is a exemplary case of our using this term. It is used best
when we mark objects with a sign. Sometimes it is useful to use such
a model in understanding language.
|16. What about the colour samples
that A shews to B: are they part of language? Well, it is as you please.
They do not belong among the words; yet when I say to someone: "Pronounce
the word 'the' ", you will count the second "the" as part of the language-game
that is, it is a sample of what the other is meant to say.
It is most natural, and causes least confusion, to reckon
the samples among the instruments of
((Remark on the reflexive pronoun "this sentence".
|There is a certain analogy between saying "This is
the color pillar I want you to bring," and "This is the way I want you
to pronounce the word 'the.'" We sometimes give samples of how to
say things, or what to call things, with words, and sometimes we use supplementary
techniques, such as color samples. Wittgenstein is urging us to count
all of these techniques, regardless of whether they consist of words, "language."
|17. It will be possible to say:
In language (8)
we have different kinds of word. For the functions of the word "slab" and
the word "block" are more alike than those of "slab" and "d". But how we
group words into kinds will depend on the aim of the classification,---and
on our own inclination.
Think of the different points of view from which
one can classify tools or chess-men.
|Treat this as an exercise. What kind of words
are there in (8).
The way to classify words in 8 will vary, but one way that suggests itself
is we can count some words as names, some as numbers, and some as pronouns.
But couldn't we also classify these words according to whether they are
one syllable or two? Aren't there other ways to classify them?
|18. Do not be troubled by the fact
that languages (2) and (8) consist only of orders. If you want to say that
this shews them to be incomplete, ask yourself whether our language is
complete;---whether it was so before the symbolism of chemistry and the
notation of the infinitesimal calculus were incorporated in it; for these
are, so to speak, suburbs of our language. (And how many houses or streets
does it take before a town begins to be a town?) Our language can be seen
as an ancient city: a
maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses
with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude
of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses.
|At what point does a language become complete?
Was our language complete before we introduced the specialized language
of psychoanalysis? Before we introduced the zero into our counting
system? And, for that matter, is our language complete now?
We have no way to evaluate the completeness of language. Each
language is more or less rich but the ways that it is rich are different
from that in other languages.
|19. It is easy to imagine a language
consisting only of orders and reports in battle.---Or a language consisting
only of questions and expressions for answering yes and no. And innumerable
others.-----And to imagine a language means
to imagine a form of life.
||Wittgenstein has already told us that language games
are not not just to be "words" and our ways of responding with words.
The language game in (2)
example was woven into a culture that fetched slabs and blocks. Their
words were woven into their activity, their forms of life.
| But what about this: is the call "Slab!" in example (2)
a sentence or a word?--- If a word, surely it has not the same meaning
as the like-sounding word of our ordinary language, for in (2) it is a
call. But if a sentence, it is surely not the elliptical sentence:
"Slab!" of our language.
||How can it be an elliptical sentence? There
are no words possible in language-game (2) except "slab" "block" "pillar"
|-----As far as the first question goes you can call "Slab!" a word
and also a sentence; perhaps it could be appropriately called a 'degenerate
sentence' (as one speaks of a degenerate hyperbola); in fact it is our
sentence.---But that is surely only a shortened form of sentence "Bring
me a slab", and there is no such sentence in example (2).---But why
should I not on contrary have called the sentence "Bring me a slab" a lengthening
of the sentence "Slab!"?---
|Even in English it is biased to say that "Slab!"
is an elliptical form of "Bring me a slab." If we began by learning
the command "slab!" (and maybe we did), then wouldn't "Bring be slab!"
be a lengthened form of "Slab!"?
|Because if you shout "Slab!" you really mean: "Bring me a slab".---
||Here is LW's aporetic (or Augustinian voice).
Let's unpack what we mean by "really mean."
|But how do you do this: how do you mean that while you say "Slab!"?
Do you say the unshortened sentence to yourself? And why should I translate
the call "Slab!" into a different expression in order to say what someone
means by it? And if they mean the same thing---why should I not say: "When
he says 'Slab!'"? Again, if you can mean "Bring me the slab", why should
you not be able to mean "Slab!"? -----But when I call "Slab!", then what
I want is that he should bring me a slab!----- Certainly, but does 'wanting
this' consist in thinking in some from or other a different sentence from
the one you utter?---
||And here are some observations that are meant to
shed clarifying light:
How do you have this other meaning "Bring me a slab!" going on?
In what way is this what we really mean? We don't say "Bring me a
slab!" to ourselves while we say "Slab!" Why not say that "Bring
me a slab!" really means "Slab!"
This notion "really mean" is confusing here. We do not "really
mean" a particular sentence in this case. Or, we might just as well
say that we really mean "slab!" as to say that we really mean "Bring me
|20. But now it looks as if when
someone says "Bring me a slab" he could mean this expression as one long
word corresponding to the single word "Slab!" ----Then can one mean it
sometimes as one word and sometimes as four? And can one mean it sometimes
as one word and sometimes as four? And how does one usually mean
||And, when a person says "Bring me a slab!" it is
not the same as if a peson said "bring-me-a-slab!" as if it were just one
word. What is wrong with our analysis here?
When is "Bring me a slab!" four words and when is it one?
|I think we shall be inclined to say: we mean the sentence as four words
when we use it in contrast with other sentences such as "Hand me a slab",
"Bring him a slab". "Bring two slabs", etc.; that is, in contrast with
sentences containing the separate words of our
command in other combinations.-----
|When we have a variety of sentences that use most
of the same words but are variations on a theme, then we will say that
the sentence has four words.
|But what does using one sentence in contrast with others consist in?
Do the others, perhaps, hover before one's mind? All of them? And while
one is saying the one sentence, or before, or afterwards?---
|No. Even if such an explanation rather tempts us, we need only think
for a moment of what actually happens in order to see that we are going
astray here. We say that
we use the command in contrast with other sentences because our
language contains the possibility of those other sentences. Someone
who did not understand our language, a foreigner, who had fairly often
heard someone giving the order: "Bring me a slab!", might believe that
this whole series of sounds was one word corresponding perhaps to the word
for "building-stone" in his language. If he himself had then given this
order perhaps he would have pronounced it differently, and we should say:
he pronounces it so oddly because he takes it for a single word.-----
|The clarifying voice:
Our temptation to use an explanation that requires us to think of the
other sentences "hovering" is instructive. It teaches us to stop
and look and not base our conclusions on "what must be." When we
stop to look, we see that the other sentences are no in anyway hovering
in our minds. What make one way of saying "Bring me a slab!" a sentence
and the other way, "Bring-me-a-slab!" a word has something more to do with
the fact that we can make sentences that are variations on the theme "Bring
me a slab!"
|But then, is there not also
something different going on in him when he pronounces it,---something
corresponding to the fact that he conceives the sentence as a single word?-----
|But what is going on with him? Must he be picturing
the "slab" when he hears it? Or must he say this sentence to himself
"Bring me a slab!"
|Either the same thing may go on in him, or something different. For
what goes on in you when you give such an order? Are you conscious of its
consisting of four words while you are uttering it? Of course you have
a mastery of this language---which contains those other sentences as well---but
is this having a mastery something that happens while you
are uttering the sentence?---And I have admitted that the foreigner
will probably pronounce a sentence differently if he conceives it differently;
but what we call his wrong conception need not lie in anything that accompanies
the utterance of the command.
|We we issue a command "slab!" what goes on in us?
Introspectively, need there be anything private? There might be something
present when we utter the command, but there need not be.
| The sentence is 'elliptical', not because it leaves
out something that we think when we utter it, but because it is shortened---in
with a particular paradigm of our grammar.---
||In our culture we create the paradigm of the full
sentence as the "real." Therefore we say "Slab!" is a shortened form
and not "Bring me a slab!" is a lengthend form. But this
paradigm that calls the longer form the real form is arbitrary.
|Of course one might object here: "You grant that the shortened and
the unshortened sentence have the same sense.---What is this sense,
then? Isn't there a verbal expression for this sense?"-----
||And if they have the same sense, then isn't one form
of the sentence the "right" or "real" form?
|But doesn't the fact that sentences have the same sense consist in
their having the same use?---(In Russian one says "stone red" instead of
" the stone is red"; do they feel the copula to be missing in the sense,
or attach it in thought?)
||Maybe not. Maybe we say that the sentences
have the same "sense" only because they have the same use in the language-game.
They cause one person to fetch the object, and both the same regardless
of which form we use.
Table of Contents
Extended Look at 43