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What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

(Wittgenstein-Studien 2011/2, De Gruyter; pp. 71-102 )


final draft
What Wittgensteins Grammar Is Not (On Garver, Baker and Hacker, and
Hacker on Wittgenstein on Grammar)1
Abstract
Grammar, for Garver, delivers what he calls a critical criterion of sense, i.e. a
criterion that determines what makes sense to say that should not be senseless by its own
lights. For Baker and Hacker the critical criterion is rules of grammar. I argue that
grammar in the form of a critical criterion is not compatible with the way that the later
Wittgenstein describes his own goals. This because such a criterion expresses a
(disputable) philosophical conception and asks for a philosophical doctrine or
justification; moreover, it may not be meaningful by its own lights. There is, however,
important textual evidence that supports the idea that Wittgenstein has or wants a critical
criterion in his works from 1929-33. At the end of this paper, I indicate why that material
should not be used in the interpretation of his later works. Finally, I point out that as long
as we do not show in details why writings from 1929-33 cannot be used in the
interpretation of Wittgensteins later philosophy, we dont have a real alternative to the
current understanding of grammar even though we may be convinced that it is
incorrect.
1.

Introduction
The word grammar is used quite often in Wittgensteins manuscripts,

typescripts, dictations, classes and published works. It appears already in the Tractatus
Logico-philosophicus (henceforth Tractatus) in the form of logical grammar or logical
syntax, i.e., the correct syntax of a formal language (TLP 2004: 3.325). However, the
role of grammar in the Tractatus is not the subject of this paper.2 As important as it may

Thanks to Peter Hylton, Bill Hart, Wolfgang Kienzler, and Mike Beney for comments on an early draft of
this paper. Thanks to Peter for encouragement and advice. This paper is a revised and reworked version of
the introductory chapter of my PhD dissertation (of which he was the adviser). Thanks to Andrew Lugg and
David Stern for comments on the last draft of this paper. Thanks to an anonymous reviewer of
Wittgenstein-Studien for suggestions made.
2
Concerning the notion of grammar in the Tractatus, the two major current interpretations are from
Hacker and Conant and Diamond (one can think that the readings derive, respectively, from Norman
Malcolm, and Rush Rhees and Peter Winch see Diamond (2006) and Hacker (1999) about the lines of
interpretation). Baker and Hacker (but not the later Baker) think that logical syntax (or logical grammar) in
the Tractatus has the function of determining the combinatorial possibilities of symbols (Baker and
Hacker 1994: 34). Logical syntax, or deep grammar, can do it in two different levels: by determining

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

be in the Tractatus, grammar seems to be central only after Wittgensteins return to


Cambridge in 1929. 3 His philosophy in the Middle (1929-36) and Late (1937-51) Periods
seems to be of a grammatical nature. In the Big Typescript, for instance, Wittgenstein
says that the rules of grammar determine the sense of a sentence; and whether a
combination of words has sense or not (BT 2005: 79).4 In the Blue Book, Wittgenstein
points out that philosophical problems arise by grammatical misunderstandings (BBB
1960: 9), suggesting that a grammatical investigation is the proper activity of a
philosopher in the fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert upon us
(BBB 1960: 27). In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein says that his
investigation is a grammatical one (PI 2001: 90).
Given those statements, it seems natural to conclude that grammar is what
properly characterizes Wittgensteins later philosophical activity and is, therefore, the key
to the understanding of his later philosophy. But what does Wittgenstein mean by
grammar? What is the relation between grammar and Wittgensteins methodology in
the Philosophical Investigations? Is it the traditional use of the word grammar that he
has in mind? According to Moores notes on Wittgensteins lectures from 1930-33,
Wittgenstein claimed that he was using the same notion of grammar as we ordinarily use

rules for combining atomic propositions into molecular propositions and finding out correlations of names
and objects established by mental acts that project names on to objects (Baker and Hacker 1994: 35).
For Conant, logical syntax (or logical grammar) in the Tractatus treats of the categorically distinct kinds
of logically significant components into which sinnvolle Saetze can be segmented (Conant 2001: 42).
This segmentation depends on the use of symbols in meaningful propositions. In both readings
Wittgensteins concern in logical syntax is with the meaning of words. The difference is that Conant
emphasizes the context principle (TLP 2004: 3.3), while Baker and Hacker emphasize the mental act of
naming (projection is seen as a mental act that combine names and simple objects) as the source of
meaning. For a very illuminating discussion of the notion of projection in the Tractatus see Mounce (1997),
Hacker (1999), and Diamond (2006).
3
Quotation marks are always used to refer to talk about grammar because the notion is under scrutiny here.
4
Something similar is said in Wittgensteins lectures: Grammar circumscribes language. A combination
of words which does not make sense does not belong to language (LWL 1989: 48); see also (LWL 1989:
46-7 and 87) (all from 1931-2); also from the same period (MS 112: 53).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

in its ordinary sense, as writes Moore (MWL 1965: 276). Nevertheless, in his lectures
from 1932-33, Wittgenstein says that he left the realm of what is generally called
grammar (AWL 1979: 31). Thus, the very status of grammar as a term of ordinary
language is not clear.5 An obvious problem is whether Wittgenstein is using it in a
metaphysical way (therefore nonsensical in his own terms?), given that his use of the
word is not equivalent to its ordinary use. Is grammar the tabulation of rules that
determine whether each sequence of words makes sense or not, as is suggested by the
passage from the Big Typescript quoted above? How does this view, if true, fit
Wittgensteins struggle to present a method of philosophy that is free from substantial
philosophical views (or theories)?
Commentators have discussed these questions, but, as I will show, no satisfactory
answer has been found. In fact, a more careful analysis of the present understanding of
Wittgenstein on grammar indicates that at best one can be sure that there is something
puzzling about it. If Wittgensteins philosophical practice is consistent with what he says,
I argue, these views can only show what grammar is not for Wittgenstein. I concentrate
on two major interpretations of the role of grammar in Wittgensteins later philosophy
(those of Garver, and Baker and Hacker). These authors are the best examples of a
widespread tendency of attributing a substantial view of grammar to Wittgenstein.6

This question is relevant because of what Wittgenstein says: What we do is to bring words back from
their metaphysical to their everyday use(PI 2001: 116).
6
A third author who discusses Wittgensteins views on grammar at length is Forster. Forsters major
concern is to present and defend Wittgensteins thesis to the effect that for all grammatical principles in all
areas alternatives are either actual or at least possible and conceivable (Forster 2004: 3). Forster clearly
attributes theses to Wittgenstein and recognizes a collision between them and Wittgensteins quietism
(Forster 2004: 86-7), but thinks that the latter ought to be sacrificed anyway (Forster 2004: 87). Similar to
Garver (and at some extent to Baker and Hacker) Forster also sees Wittgensteins as a more radical Kantian
project (almost Hegelian, perhaps). In Forsters view, Wittgenstein extended Kants explanation of the
necessity of so-called synthetic a priori principles in terms of mind-imposition and our constraint to cover
it to include also all analytic principles (Forster 2004: 128). It is significant that he shares with Garver and

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

Most current views either explicitly attribute philosophical doctrines to Wittgenstein or


do so in disguise. 7 Wittgensteins philosophy is seen with Strawsonian glasses: notions
such as descriptive metaphysics and bounds of sense play a central role in current
interpretations.8
In part 2 of this paper, I argue that Garver attributes to Wittgenstein doctrines that
are plainly incompatible with the way that Wittgenstein describes his goals. In part 3 I
analyse Baker and Hackers interpretation, which is certainly the most through and
systematic overall interpretation of Wittgenstein at present. Baker and Hacker are not
guilty of Garvers mistakes. However, even for them grammar seems to open the door
to attributing substantial philosophical theses, opinions or conceptions to Wittgenstein by
means of notions such as the bounds of sense and arbitrariness of grammar.9 In part 4
I show that Baker and Hackers interpretation is supported by the assumption that
Wittgensteins writings after 1930 are all variations of the same philosophy. This
suggests that only the revaluation of Wittgensteins Middle Period writings can show to
Baker and Hacker the assumption that Wittgenstein has the same philosophy and understanding of
grammar after 1930 (he quotes Wittgensteins writings from different periods without paying attention to
possible changes in Wittgensteins ideas). In what follows I criticize the attitude of not taking seriously
Wittgensteins non theoretical approach to philosophy, the use of different philosophers to supposedly
understand Wittgenstein and the attribution to him of substantial vies on grammar based on writings from
the early 30s when I discuss Garvers and Baker and Hackers interpretations. I think that the most
important criticisms presented against them directly apply to Forster as well.
7
See, for instance, the debate between Glock (2008) and Kalhat (2008) concerning the supposedly
conventionalist account of necessity and sense given by Wittgenstein (see also Schwyzer (2001), ONeil
(2001) and Forster (2004)). Kuusela (2006) and (2008) is an important exception among interpreters who
discuss Wittgensteins grammar. He clearly sees that Wittgenstein does not intend to explain the nature
of necessity by means of rules of grammar and that the idea of a criterion of sense (or standard of
sense, as he says) is incompatible with Wittgensteins later work. In general, I think, his approach is the
right one and, in my view, he describes what Wittgenstein grammar is or, at least, might be. I express
some worries about his views in footnote 46.
8
See Strawson (1975) and (1996). My goal here is not to reveal and explain the historical background of
the interpretation of Wittgensteins notion of grammar; however, Strawsons influence on several
interpretations seems to me undeniable (see footnotes 7, 15, 41, and 42 of this paper).
9
The late Baker substantially disagreed with Baker and Hacker. It is difficult, nonetheless, to draw a line
between them (especially concerning Wittgensteins changes in the 30s) because the formers late work is
comparatively rather fragmentary. But I will take into consideration some aspects of Bakers late
disagreement with his early views in this paper.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

what extent Wittgenstein changes his views on grammar and is methodologically


consistent in his late work.
2. Garver on Grammar: A Philosophical Doctrine and A Critical Criterion
In his essay Philosophy as Grammar, Garver defends the view that grammar
takes the place of logic in Wittgensteins later philosophy. In the Tractatus, he argues,
Wittgenstein regards logic as a model of reality that provides the basis for the meaning
of sentences (Garver 1996: 142). In his view, logic in the Tractatus gives us the key
to reality and takes the place of traditional metaphysics because logic, presumably, tells
us what the correct metaphysical view is. In his later philosophy, according to Garver,
Wittgenstein retains virtually the same view about the relation of the forms of language
(whether they be grammatical or logical) to metaphysics (Garver 1996: 142).10
Concerning the change from the Tractatus to Wittgensteins later philosophy,
Garver believes that Wittgenstein noticed that incompatibilities of color, for instance, are
present in all languages and because of this the views of the Tractatus needed to be
expanded. Garver is aware of the fact that Wittgenstein doesnt engage in a grammatical
investigation immediately after his return to philosophy. He thinks that Wittgenstein
sometimes spoke about phenomenology in the Middle Period as the alternative for the
talk about logic in the Tractatus, but he doesnt see any particular reason for this
vocabulary. The change from phenomenology to grammar is, for Garver, not much
more than terminological. In Garvers view, Wittgenstein changed the terminology

10

To justify his view, Garver cites PI 2001: 371-3 in the following way: Essence is expressed by
grammar Grammar tells what kind of object anything is. He leaves out the enigmatic 372: Consider:
The only correlate in language to an intrinsic necessity is an arbitrary rule. It is the only thing which one
can milk out of this intrinsic necessity into a proposition. Note that Wittgenstein quotes the passage. It is
not clear who is saying it. Is it Wittgenstein, the interlocutor or one of the interlocutors? What could be the
purpose of the quotation?

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

because other philosophers had used the word phenomenology before him and it had a
Cartesian flavor. This, however, Wittgenstein certainly knew before beginning his
phenomenological project.
Garver skips over the problems concerning the origins of Wittgensteins use of
grammar too quickly. It cannot be a mere terminological change that occurred, for
Wittgenstein characterizes phenomenology in his notebooks as what isolates/separates/
the visual field and what goes on in it from everything else (MS 107: 4). It seems that
phenomenology is concerned with the first system (MS 105: 85), the primary (see
MS 106: 177), the immediately given or primary language (MS 107: 295), while the
notion of grammar to which Garver refers is related to ordinary language. Garver would
need an argument to show that, in spite of appearances, there is a strong continuity
between phenomenology and grammar.
Garver maintains that Wittgenstein has a central motto for his later philosophy:
Philosophy consists of grammar and metaphysics: grammar is its basis (Garver 1996:
142).11 One should be suspicious of Garvers attribution of the view that grammar is the
basis of metaphysics to Wittgenstein, for Wittgensteins goal is (so it seems) to show how
metaphysical claims are confused; he also takes himself as not offering any theoretical
views.12 Garvers answer to such worries is that Wittgenstein is hostile to speculative or
scientific metaphysics, but also made continuing contributions to descriptive

11

Garver is paraphrasing a remark that Wittgenstein made in 1913: Philosophy consists of logic and
metaphysics: logic is its basis (TS 201a).
12
On December 1931, for instance, Wittgenstein says (making a clear reference to TLP: 6.53): Once I
wrote: The only correct method of philosophizing would consist in not saying anything and leaving it to
another person to make a claim. This is what I now hold [modified translation; my emphasis] (WWK
1979: 183).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

metaphysics (Garver 1996: 157).13 What characterizes speculative or scientific


metaphysics for Garver is the enquiry into transcendent facts (Garver 1996: 157). This
kind of inquiry is, for Garvers Wittgenstein, nonsense because it confuses two languagegames, namely, the discussion of problems related to facts and the discussion of problems
related to concepts. This conception that Garver attributes to Wittgenstein, however,
already presupposes a very strong philosophical thesis: that there is an essential
distinction between questions of facts and questions of concepts. Descriptive metaphysics
is sound according to Garver (probably because he thinks that it doesnt conflate different
language-games) and Wittgenstein is, in his opinion, one of its major contributors with
his descriptions in the form of human natural history (Garver 1996: 158). What Garver
has in mind are, as he says, very general matters of fact such as the fact that in all
human groups there are distinctions between ordering, asking, urging and praying and
that the rules for those activities, according to Garver, are valid with respect to any
particular language (Garver 1996: 228).
Here, one has the impression that Garver himself is conflating the two kinds of
questions that he strives to distinguish. He ends up attributing to Wittgenstein
assumptions concerning how the world is. Since Wittgenstein relies on descriptions of the
uses of words and other activities, Garver thinks that the contingency of the facts that
comprises the world is the most prominent feature of Wittgensteins metaphysical
commitments (Garver 1996: 159). For Garver, in his later philosophy Wittgenstein
clearly also remained interested in what kinds of things there are, and he took pains to
13

It seems that Garver is referring to Strawsons Individuals when he talks about descriptive
metaphysics. The mixture of Strawson and Wittgenstein is also present in Baker and Hacker, for they
constantly use the Strawsonian expression the bounds of sense as if it originated in Wittgensteins late
philosophy. Similarly both, Garver and Baker and Hacker, give more or less Kantian readings of
Wittgensteins late philosophy.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

describe or determine the form or essence though he did not call it that of such things
as pain, memory, intention, seeing, colours, numbers, and so forth. (Garver 1996: 142).
Is Wittgenstein, then, simply wrongly using his own words and is really determining the
form or essence of memory, intention, etc?
I think that the point of Wittgensteins later philosophy is distorted by Garver. The
only results of Wittgensteins philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of
plain nonsense (PI 2001: 119). Philosophy, as it is practiced by the later Wittgenstein
leaves everything as it is (PI 2001: 124). The aim of Wittgensteins philosophy is to
make philosophical problems completely disappear (PI 2001: 133). What is really
distinctive in Wittgensteins later philosophy is that the attack on philosophical claims is
not founded in any philosophical assumptions. This is at least what he claims. Therefore,
if one attributes philosophical views about the nature of language or grammar to
Wittgenstein, one has to suppose that he is inconsistent.14 He may be inconsistent, but
then the inconsistency has to be presented as such.
Once Wittgensteins point is distorted by Garvers interpretation, what takes its
place is a series of comparisons with philosophers who, supposedly, have views in
common with Wittgenstein. 15 This comparison is threefold: Saussure, Aristotle and Kant.

14

See for instance Fogelin (1996), who thinks that Wittgenstein has transgressed his self-imposed
restrictions against substantive philosophical theorizing (Fogelin 1996: 45). Another interpreter who sees
Wittgensteins position of non advancing philosophical theses (Wittgensteins quietism) as incompatible
with his other views is Forster. For Forster, the doctrine of meaning as use (Forster 2004: 83) and
Wittgensteins views on grammatical principles are incompatible with his quietism: It is surely hard
to believe that our ordinary language concept of meaning includes requirements of the sort of usefulness,
and, as an essential part of this in the case of grammatical principles, the sort of threefold empirical
application, in question (Forster 2004: 84) (According to Forster, the threefold empirical application is
the following: that grammatical principles are used in factual judgments, that they have a regulative role in
factual judgments and that the factual judgments that they regulate prove not to be recalcitrant).
15
The view that Wittgenstein is better understood by means of the understanding of other philosophers,
especially Kant, is quite popular. See, for instance, Finch and his claim that Wittgenstein is the ultimate
Kantian(Finch 1977: 248). Another interpreter who claims that Wittgenstein is Kantian is Pears (see
Pears introduction for his 1970). A recent version of Wittgensteins Kantianism is given by Forster (2004).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

In Garvers view, both Saussure and Wittgenstein use grammar descriptively


and think that grammar is arbitrary in the sense of not being made true or false by the
facts in the world. But, for Garver, Wittgenstein doesnt aim at a systematic description
of language use, because of his supposed disdain for the systematic (Garver 1996:
150-1). Another difference, according to Garver, is Wittgensteins integration of
language with activity and the consequent necessity for agreement in practical judgment
(Garver 1996: 151). For Saussure, according to Garver, language is isolated (linguistic
phenomena are supposedly segregated from other activities). It is not clear what the
isolated language attributed to Saussure may be, but it is interesting to notice that, in
Garvers view, the agreement in judgments is a discourse condition found by
Wittgenstein (Garver 1996: 150). Thus, according to Garver, Wittgenstein thinks that
there is at least one necessary condition for language to exist, namely, agreement in
judgments.16
The problem with this comparison is that it doesnt tell us what Wittgenstein is
doing or how he is doing it. And this is a risk for interpretations that appeal to different

He says: Wittgensteins position can quite properly be described as idealist, in a sense closely
analogous to that in which Kant was (Forster 2004: 17). Thus, Garver is exemplar in this aspect of his
interpretation. For a good discussion of the risks involved in seeing other philosophers views in
Wittgensteins works see Hilmy (1986).
16
What Garver has in mind is this passage: If language is to be a means of communication there must be
agreement not only in definitions but also (queer as this may sound) in judgments. (PI 2001: 242). Of
course, the must in the sentence strongly suggests a transcendentalist interpretation of the passage. But
neither the German word muessen nor any other similar that could be directly translated as must occurs
in the German text: Zur Verstaendigung durch die Sprache gehoert nicht nur eine Uebereinstimmung in
den Definitionen, sondern (so seltsam dies klingen mag) eine Uebereinstimmung in den Urteilen. An
alternative, more literal, translation could be: To the understanding [communicaton] by means of language
belongs not only an agreement in the definitions, but [also] (weird as this may sound) an agreement in
judgments. In this more literal translation, it is clear that the must is the product of an interpretation and
doesnt belong to the original text. Here I am indebted with Goldfarb, who made that point in a talk. The
new translation by Hacker and Schulte reads: It is not only agreement in definitions, but also (odd as it
may sound) agreement in judgments that is required for communication by means of language. (PI 2009).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

10

philosophers in order to understand Wittgensteins work. Why is Wittgensteins


grammar descriptive? In what sense is Wittgenstein (if he is) unsystematic?
There is a similar problem with Garvers comparison between Wittgenstein and
Aristotle the author of Categories. According to Garver, the Categories are an early and
fragmentary version of what today we may call Wittgensteinian grammar (Garver 1996:
154). Unfortunately, Garver doesnt say precisely what Wittgensteinian grammar is (so
we cannot know what the Categories are supposed to be a fragmentary version of).
Instead he only hints at the nature of grammar by means of the differences between
Wittgenstein and Aristotles Categories. For Garver, both the later Wittgenstein and
Aristotle describe actual uses of language, but Wittgenstein doesnt focus on truthclaims as Aristotle and the earlier Wittgenstein did. He also contrasts Aristotles
scientific approach and Wittgensteins non-scientific approach. There is still a third
difference according to Garver: while Wittgensteins language-games early in
Philosophical Investigations are preliminary to diagnosis and treatment of philosophical
problems, Aristotles Categories are preliminary to just the sort of scientific
metaphysics that Wittgenstein found especially in need of his therapy (Garver 1996:
154). Note that Garver could have concluded from this last claim that the projects of
Aristotle and Wittgenstein are completely different and that the comparison is unhelpful.
For if Wittgenstein wants to stop exactly what Aristotle wants to start, they must be
looking at language in very different ways. Moreover, if what Wittgenstein and Aristotle
share is the description of actual uses of language, then both have it in common with
practically all the philosophers of language of the 20th century.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

11

Garvers comparison between Wittgenstein and Kant is more promising, for it can
point to a valuable insight into Wittgensteins late philosophical activity. For Garver,
what characterizes a critical philosophy in a Kantian style is the aim to overcome the
usual philosophical controversies by means of an assumption that is uncontroversial and
the derivation of a framework (a critical criterion) to criticize philosophical views
(Garver 1994: 272). But the controversies, for Garver, can be overcome in this way only
if the critical framework is itself justified. In order to avoid an infinite regress, argues
Garver, the critical criterion has to provide its own justification without being, so to
speak, its own victim (the criterion cannot turn against itself).17 This is, in Garvers view,
exactly what characterizes the critical project of the Philosophical Investigations.
Wittgensteins strategy, according to Garver, is to take for granted the human form of life
and its language-games. From this, Wittgenstein derives his critical framework:
grammar and grammatical knowledge specially that part of grammar which is
invariant for different languages (Garver 1994: 273). Thus, grammar as the critical
criterion, for Garver, is important especially because it is universal, and it makes
Wittgensteins philosophy free of problems of a self-defeating framework. 18
To justify this last point, Garver says: it is obvious and unproblematic that we
teach and learn how to teach and learn language; that is, that grammar is self-referential is
as unproblematic as that there is a spelling for the word spelling (Garver 1996: 165).
This argument is certainly problematic. It is true that it is unproblematic that we teach
17

One could think, for instance, that the principle of verification is an example of a problematic critical
criterion, for one can ask: is the principle itself verifiable? Garvers example of a problematic criterion is
the Tractatus: since it is itself a collection of nonsense, how can it possibly show that metaphysical
propositions are nonsense? Garver claims: It [the Tractatus] was a failed attempt because it was, by its
own lights, nonsense (Garver 1996: 273).
18
Garver says: Grammar is a universal language-game, in that there is no natural language in which it is
not possible to instruct people in the use of language (Garver 1996: 165).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

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and learn how to teach and learn language, but this has little to do with what could be a
test of self-referentiality or self-defeat concerning Wittgensteins grammar. An
important question would be, for instance, whether Wittgensteins use of grammar is
itself grammatical in the sense that Garver takes Wittgenstein to use the term: i.e. Garver
should have asked whether there is a language-game in our ordinary language in which
there are rules that agree with Wittgensteins use of the word grammar. So, it is
irrelevant whether ordinary grammar is self-referential and not self-defeating, since it is
not clear whether Wittgensteins use of grammar coincides with it. How can Garver
show that the ordinary use and Wittgensteins use of grammar coincide? In fact, he
cannot. It is clear that Garver (if he wants to be consistent) has to defend the claim that
Wittgensteins grammar is completely different from the ordinary one. If we strictly
observe what Garver says about grammar, we have to conclude that Wittgensteins use
of the term is not only broader than the ordinary use, but also peculiar. It is peculiar
because in Garvers interpretation it remains inside a metaphysical tradition. For him,
Wittgensteins grammar expresses certain essential qualities of the persons and
actions (Garver 1996: 160). This, obviously, has no relation at all with the ordinary
understanding of grammar.
Garvers comparison between Wittgenstein and Kant shows, however, that it is
difficult to see how radical Wittgensteins philosophy is. It is very tempting to attribute to
it some kind of foundation, some kind of criterion from which to judge the sense of
philosophical claims. It seems that if Wittgenstein claims that philosophers talk nonsense,
then he must have a criterion to decide whether a given philosophical statement is
nonsensical. But, in this case, the criterion would be obviously suspicious, for we could

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

13

ask what its status is. Here we see how particular a correct interpretation of
Wittgensteins notion of grammar has to be (under the assumption that Wittgenstein is
consistent). If we accept that Wittgenstein presents a criterion of sense (or defends that
there are bounds of sense), then we seem to get into the predicament of Baron von
Muenchhausen, who has to pull himself out of the quicksand without somebody elses
help. For if a critical criterion (grammar, or ordinary language, or being part of a
language-game, or rules of grammar that constitute meaning, or any other related
criterion) is the criterion to be used to determine what it makes sense to say, then this
criterion has to make sense according to what it prescribes. Of course, there is always the
possibility of biting the bullet and assuming that Wittgenstein is the victim of his own
criticism. But in this case we could ask what the relevance of Wittgensteins criticism is.
In Garvers understanding of grammar, the notion of a critical criterion is its own first
victim, for Wittgensteins grammar, as understood by Garver, is not part of a languagegame of ordinary language. However, the very idea of a critical criterion of sense is
problematic. For even if the criterion is not self-defeating, as Garver correctly urges, it
asks for a theoretical justification. Why would one accept that there is a critical
criterion of sense? The problem is that a justification of a critical criterion would be, of
course, philosophical. Therefore, it seems that a philosopher who does not want to
present a theory, doctrine, or a conception should not claim that there is such a criterion.

3.

Baker and Hacker, and Baker, and Hacker


Baker and Hacker are aware of the mistake of taking the later Wittgenstein as a

new Aristotelian or as a new Kantian. So they avoid attributing a philosophical

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

14

explanatory role to grammar in line with traditional philosophy.19 It is certainly


grammar that characterizes Wittgensteins philosophy in their view, but the grasp of
grammar, as they say, is envisioned by Wittgenstein in order to dissolve philosophical
problems and not to explain, for instance, how propositions a priori are possible. 20 The
following passage shows this point clearly:
There are no philosophical propositions; philosophy can only produce a
distinctive kind of understanding of non-philosophical propositions, as well as a
grasp of the illegitimacy of putative philosophical propositions. The distinctive
understanding is a grasp of the grammar, the logical articulation of ordinary
propositions, which will dissolve philosophical questions and put at rest
philosophical worry (Baker and Hacker 1985: 275).

So what is distinctive in philosophy is the grasp of grammar, which Baker and


Hacker take to be the grasp of the logical articulation of ordinary propositions
(ordinary, I take it, in contrast to philosophical propositions). In their view, the grasp of
grammar expresses the positive task of philosophy as practiced by Wittgenstein.
Negatively, grammar is designed to fulfill the task of showing that traditional
philosophical problems are the product of confusions related to misunderstandings of the
functioning of language. Those problems, according to them, arise not because the
grammar of our language is somehow hidden underneath the sentences of language as,
say, the elementary propositions in the Tractatus; rather, the grammar of ordinary
language is not easily surveyable and the lack of surveyability led traditional
philosophers to develop confused philosophical theories based on grammatical mistakes.

19

At least explicitly. Hacker understands the project of the Tractatus as similar to Kants project (Hacker:
1997) and Baker and Hackers interpretation of the later Wittgenstein brings Wittgenstein very close to
Strawsonian-Kantianism.
20
For a view on grammar similar to Baker and Hacker see ONeil (2001).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

15

Grammar, for Baker and Hacker, only needs to show a perspicuous representation or
survey of what is already open to view in language.21
The task of the Wittgensteinian philosopher is, then, to give us a perspicuous
representation of that segment of language which generated our confusion (Baker and
Hacker 1985: 276). According to Baker and Hacker, the Wittgensteinian philosopher
aims at an overview of the conceptual field, at an arrangement of grammatical data,
which should bring us to the dissolution of philosophical puzzles (Baker and Hacker
2005: 284). Thus, the positive task of philosophy characterized by a grammatical
investigation is determined by and dependent on its negative task of dissolving
philosophical problems. Thus, they certainly take seriously Wittgensteins goal of not
defending philosophical conceptions.
But what counts, for Baker and Hacker, as a perspicuous representation? A
perspicuous representation, according to them, is a kind of conceptual map of the use
of expressions in language. It is a grasp of the logical network of concepts within a
given domain (Baker and Hacker 1985: 286). It is not a complete map, but a partial one,
a map of part of the grammar that has some stability over time: at least some
segments of our grammar can be definitely mapped for a given generation. (Baker and
Hacker 1985: 286). Even if the conceptual map or the conceptual geography that is
supposedly the task of grammar is not complete, it is at least, according to them,
systematic: For a survey does not consist of a haphazard collection of apercus. If it is not
comprehensive, at any rate it is systematic (Baker and Hacker 1985: 291).

21

See PI 2001: 122, where uebersichtliche Darstellung is translated by Anscombe as perspicuous


representation.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

16

What troubles one with Baker and Hackers interpretation, at this point, is that
Wittgenstein doesnt seem to give perspicuous representations or conceptual maps of
grammar very often, if he does it at all.22 This depends, of course, on what should count
as an example of a perspicuous representation in Wittgensteins work, but it is clear that
more has to be explained here if the concept has really the central role attributed to it by
them.23 The only example given by Wittgenstein that is labeled as perspicuous
representation is the color octahedron (WWK 1993: 42 and PR 1975: 51-2). One can
see in the octahedron that some combinations of color are not possible (for instance
greenish red) while others are allowed (for instance yellowish red). In the octahedron
the opposition of red and green shows this. The octahedron seems to be an interesting
example of perspicuous representation because it shows in a glance (it is surveyable)
the different possibilities of color combination. But, of course, a set of rules prescribing
the combinations that are allowed would also suffice. According to Baker and Hacker,
this is actually the clue to understanding the difficulty involved in Wittgensteins account
of the notion of survey (Baker and Hacker 2005: 307-334)24. A surveyable
representation, according to them (or at least according to Hacker), can be understood
broadly or narrowly.25 Narrowly, it means a grammatical proposition or a few

22

The role of a surveyable representation in Wittgensteins philosophy is one of the major disagreements
between Hacker and Baker. In the discussion that follows I am indebted to Baker (2004).
23
Baker and Hacker have a good reason to think that the concept is central to Wittgenstein, for he says the
concept of perspicuous representation is central to us (PI 2001: 122). The question is, of course, whether
its centrality is connected with their claim that a perspicuous representation is the positive part of
Wittgensteins philosophy (a grammatical map) used to show how philosophical problems are nonsensical
(negative task of philosophy).
24
Hacker wrote the second edition of the first two volumes of the commentary alone (Baker and Hacker
(2005) and (2009)). Bakers views are expressed in Baker (2004). There are several disagreements pointed
out by Baker, but the common source of practically all of them is the dogmatism that is implicitly attributed
to Wittgenstein in Baker and Hackers reading.
25
Since Hacker is responsible for the new edition of Baker and Hackers commentary, one could ascribe
most of the views expressed in the new edition to him alone. However, it is difficult to clearly separate their
views.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

17

propositions that shed enough light on the matter at hand to dispel illusion and to
highlight the grammatical category or role of the expression in question (Baker and
Hacker 2005: 332). Broadly, it means a synopsis of grammatical rules. It is clear, for
Baker and Hacker (or Hacker), that there are no examples in Wittgensteins later work of
tabulating rules of grammar in the synoptic sense. The exception is his plan for
treatment of psychological concepts in Zettel 472 (Baker and Hacker 2005: 333). For
them, Wittgenstein was too worried with the details and ramifications of concepts
involved in philosophical confusion and therefore didnt expend time trying to tabulate
the grammar of expressions in a surveyable manner (Baker and Hacker 2005: 333). But
according to Baker and Hacker an attentive reader could do the job for scattered
throughout his voluminous notes we often find numerous grammatical observations that
can be used by the judicious cartographer who has the inclination to master the
geography of concepts (Baker and Hacker 2005: 334).
But is this cartographer sure that he can find an overview of the concepts that he
needs to investigate? For Baker and Hacker (or Hacker), our grammar is deficient in
surveyability, but it must be surveyable: that which one has in view must be something
that is, in principle, surveyable (uebersehbar) (Baker and Hacker 2005: 310). The
justification for this in principle necessity is the following:
The surveyability that Wittgenstein exhorts us to pursue is no will o the wisp. It
is not a contingent feature of language that its grammar is surveyable. That it must
be possible in one way or another to describe our use of language and to remind
ourselves of the grammatical explanations we normally accept as criteria of
understanding is a reflection of the contention that a persons conduct cannot be
described as rule-governed unless he himself sees it as rule-governed (Baker and
Hacker 1985: 308). 26

26

It is not clear why Hacker didnt include that justification for his claim in the second edition of Vol. 1 of
the commentary. Baker was unsatisfied with this passage, for he quotes it and criticizes its dogmatism in

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

18

The first thing to notice about this claim and its justification is that it is far too
dogmatic to be Wittgensteinian. One of Wittgensteins major concerns in his later
writings is the tendency that philosophers have to express conditions that must be
satisfied in order for this or that be the case. Wittgenstein, therefore, doesnt fit the
transcendentalist who is looking for conditions of possibility of rule following or
language. This seems to be well expressed in Wittgensteins criticism of the Tractatus
conception of logic in the Philosophical Investigations:27
We want to say that there cant be any vagueness in logic. The idea now absorbs
us that the ideal must be found in reality. Meanwhile we do not as yet see how it
occurs there, nor do we understand the nature of this must. We think it must be
in reality; for we think we already see it there (PI 2001: 101).

One could paraphrase 101 and say that for Baker and Hacker (or Hacker) there
cant be a non-surveyable grammarthe ideal must be found in language. But, we
could go on, what is the nature of this must? The short answer is: it has a dogmatic
nature. It shows only the requirements that one wants to impose on language.
Wittgenstein is, in fact, explicit about the dogmatism behind the philosophical must: It
has to be this way is not a sentence of philosophy. Dogmatism (MS 130: 53).28 So

Baker (2004: 71, footnote). It may be that Hacker decided to leave out the justification of their early claim
because of Bakers disagreement, but a very similar claim remained in the second edition notwithstanding.
27
See PI 2001: 89-109, and 131. Important (Early) Middle Period passages on dogmatism are: (WWK
1993: 182-4), (BT 2005: 260), (MS 110: 222), (MS 111: 87); later period passages are: (MS 115: 57), (MS
122: 84r), (MS 130: 53), (MS 142: 111-2). It seems very plausible that Wittgenstein fought against his own
tendencies of dogmatism until late in his life, for even in his later writings he points to his own dogmatic
positions (see, for instance, from 1939-40: Here I always tend to dogmatism! (MS 122: 71v)).
28
According to von Wrights catalog, most of the manuscript is from 1946 (Von Wright 1980: 44 and 53),
but the quoted passage is probably from 1944-45. (Thanks to a reviewer, who pointed this out to me).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

19

Baker and Hackers grammatical or linguistic necessities dont seem to quite fit
Wittgensteins Late Period Philosophy. 29
How could Wittgenstein defend claims about language and its conditions of
possibility and at the same time claim that he wont say anything which anyone can
dispute in his Cambridge Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics from 1939? To
see how strong Wittgensteins point is, it is useful to look at the whole passage:
The investigation is to draw your attention to facts you know quite as well as I,
but which you have forgotten, or at least which are not immediately in your field
of vision. They will all be quite trivial facts. I wont say anything which anyone
can dispute. Or if anyone does dispute it, I will let that point drop and pass on to
say something else [my emphasis] (LFM 1976: 22).
If Wittgenstein is willing even to let the point drop, it seems very unlikely that
he would defend a view of the nature of language suggested by Baker and Hacker
unless his goals and practice were inconsistent, which is, of course, also possible.
Moreover, we should not expect that Wittgenstein was not aware that to give necessary

29

I am skipping here a detailed discussion of an important part of the role of grammar according to Baker
and Hacker. For them, one of Wittgensteins most important insights is that mathematical and geometrical
propositions are rules of grammar, while some metaphysical propositions are disguised rules of
grammar. Necessary propositions are expressions of internal relations between concepts that are
themselves used in stating truths about the world; and their role, according Baker and Hacker, is to
license (or prohibit) transitions between concepts, i.e. transitions from one expression of an empirical
proposition to another (Baker and Hacker 1994: 269). They dont see Wittgenstein as merely suggesting
an analogy between mathematical, geometrical and metaphysical propositions with rules of grammar.
They claim that Wittgensteins contention was that they were rules (Baker and Hacker 1994: 57):
Notoriously he [Wittgenstein] claimed that mathematical propositions are rules of grammar (Baker and
Hacker 1994: 61). (See also Baker and Hacker 2009: 62). This again, in my view, sounds more like a
philosophical doctrine concerning the nature of necessity than any description of our practices. That is, it
seems that Baker and Hacker are attributing a dogmatic position to Wittgenstein. In this case, they may be
right. It may be that Wittgensteins philosophy of mathematics is still dogmatic even in the 40s, but I
cannot evaluate the details of this possibility in this paper (see also Putnam (2007)). In part 4 of this paper I
briefly discuss passages from Wittgensteins lectures on the philosophy of mathematics in order to suggest
that even in the philosophy of mathematics grammar is not to be seen as an explanation of necessity. It is
important to notice, however, that Wittgensteins philosophy of mathematics was never ready for
publication except maybe for TS 222, published as the first part of Bemerkungen ueber die Grundlagen
der Mathematik, which must be read as the second part of TS 221 (see Schultes introduction to the
Kritisch-genetisch Edition and Schulte (2006)).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

20

conditions of possibility of language would not be disputed by philosophers. It cannot be


taken as a trivial fact that surveyability is a necessary condition of language.
Baker and Hackers view certainly has the appearance of a philosophical theory,
which contradicts what Wittgenstein prescribes.30 As he says: And we may not advance
any kind of theory (PI 2001: 109). Wittgenstein does not say that he does not want to
advance a scientific or philosophical theory in 109; rather, he says any kind of theory.
The claim that grammar must be surveyable doesnt look like a claim that everybody
would agree to (PI 2001: 128), but more like an aspect of a philosophical doctrine that
will be endlessly discussed. It looks simply like a kind of theory.
Another important aspect of a grammatical investigation for Baker and Hacker
is its opposition to what would count as an empirical investigation: philosophy as a
grammatical investigation doesnt have empirical concerns; it is only interested in the
relation of concepts, in sense and not truth (Baker and Hacker 2009: 57). For them, the
reason why philosophy is not concerned with empirical questions is its special concern
with the limits of sense, which it describes from within (Baker and Hacker 1985: 281).
This concern with the limits of sense (or bounds of sense) is what is proper to a
grammatical investigation: Grammar determines what is logically possible, i.e. what it
makes sense to say (Baker and Hacker 2005: 324).
Baker and Hacker see the rules of grammar as descendents of the rules of logical
syntax of the Tractatus and think that like rules of logical syntax, rules of grammar
determine the bounds of sense (Baker and Hacker 1994: 40). Given this point of

30

It is a common move among interpreters to attribute to Wittgenstein a philosophical theory or opinion


and, then, of course, say that what he means by theory is only scientific theory (see, for instance, Hanfling
(2004)). In my view, such moves distort Wittgensteins philosophy and miss one of the most important
characteristics of it: it is a critique of philosophy that is not based on a critical theory.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

21

proximity between the later and the earlier Wittgenstein, Baker and Hacker offer us what
they take to be a clue for the difference between the philosophical activity of both
periods: while the structure of language was taken to be hidden in ordinary language in
the Tractatus (simple names as constituting elementary propositions), it is open to view
for the later Wittgenstein. According to them (or Hacker), Wittgensteins first change was
to abandon the Tractarian view that there is a hidden isomorphism between reality and
language. 31 In their view, the idea of the connection between world and language by
means of proper names and simple objects discovered by analysis is abandoned in favor
of a view that ostensive definitions are rules within language. The meaning of a word is
the set of rules which constitute meaning (Baker and Hacker 2009: 364). Because
ostensive definitions are rules of language, they are part of language and its grammar.
This shows, for Baker and Hacker, that language is self-contained and autonomous
(Hacker 2000: 91; Baker and Hacker 2009: 46). The transgression of those autonomous
rules yields nonsense (Baker and Hacker 2009: 19). For them, the real turn in
Wittgensteins philosophy is, then, the abandonment of the metaphysical aspirations of
investigating an objective essence of the world (Baker and Hacker 2005: 252) in favor
of the de dicto conception of essence endorsed in the Investigations 92, 371, 373
(Baker and Hacker 2005: 252, footnote 3). Thus, for them (or for Hacker), Wittgenstein
in the Tractatus has a de re conception of essence or necessity, while in the Philosophical

31

It is not clear to me that Wittgenstein really defended such a view in the Tractatus. see, for instance,
Diamond (1996) and (2004), Conant (1990) and (2006), and (2001), Kremer (2001) and (2007) and
Ricketts (1996). It is, nonetheless, true that some passages in the Middle Period suggest that Wittgenstein
held that there is an isomorphism between language and reality, but that it cannot be described (see, for
instance, the first pages of MS 108, from 1930). But if it is really true that this was Wittgensteins view,
then he must have defended the idea that one can quantify over the inexpressible (there is a x such that x is
inexpressible), which is also nonsense. In this case, Wittgenstein believed inexpressible nonsense, even
though the point (or an important point) of the Tractatus was to stop nonsense.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

22

Investigations he has a de dicto conception. Here, they (or Hacker) are attributing, again,
a philosophical doctrine to the later Wittgenstein.
It is interesting to observe that Hacker does not include 372 of the Philosophical
Investigations in the list of Wittgensteins remarks that supposedly express a de dicto
conception of necessity (Baker and Hacker 2005: 252; quoted in the last paragraph).32
However, in the first edition of their commentary Baker and Hacker clearly assumed that
372 expresses a defense of the arbitrariness of grammar which they, then, attribute to
Wittgenstein himself (Baker and Hacker 1994: 329). Later, in the third volume of the
commentary, Hacker recognizes that 372 is a quote, but simply tries to make it fit his
old interpretation by assuming that in the quote Wittgenstein is opposing the Tractatus to
the Philosophical Investigations (Hacker 1998). He interprets the first claim of the quote
as an allusion in a generalized way to the position delineated in the Tractatus (Hacker
1998: 237). Hacker says that at that stage [Tractatus] Wittgenstein firmly believed that
there are intrinsic necessities (Hacker 1998: 237). He opposes this view to a view that he
attributes to the Philosophical Investigations: we are being invited to consider the
quoted remark by way of contrast with the conception of necessity or essence that
characterizes Wittgensteins later philosophy [my emphasis] (Hacker 1998: 238).
Hackers interpretation of 372 (and, therefore, passages surrounding it) characterizes his
general views concerning the Philosophical Investigations: on the one hand, he claims
that, for instance, the arbitrariness of grammar is not a philosophical thesis at all

32

Here is the remark: Consider: The only correlate in language to an intrinsic necessity
(Naturnotwendigkeit) is an arbitrary rule. It is the only thing which one can milk out of this intrinsic
necessity into a proposition. (PI 2001:372). One should not forget that the remark is quoted and, as such,
may not be the expression of Wittgensteins view. It is not quoted, however, in the original version of the
Big Typescript, which suggests that Wittgenstein held the view at the time. Later Wittgenstein added
quotation marks and the word consider to the remark.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

23

(Hacker 2000: 89); on the other hand, he claims that Wittgenstein has a conception of
necessity or essence and talks about Wittgensteins later account of necessity (1998,
238) in terms of the arbitrariness or autonomy of grammar. In volume 4 of the
commentary (Hacker 2000), Hacker does not mention 372 to support his views on the
arbitrariness of grammar anymore. He justifies his views making reference, not
accidentally as we will see, to the Philosophical Grammar and to lectures from the period
1930-33.
Baker and Hacker try to deny that Wittgensteins grammatical remarks have
doctrinal or dogmatic characteristics (Baker and Hacker 2009: 20). For them, there are
two categories of grammatical remarks. The first is evident truisms concerning our use
of expressions and undisputed rules for their use (Baker and Hacker 1994: 23) (Ex: it
makes sense to say I know you have a toothache, that to understand doesnt have a
continuous present tense, or that two may be correctly explained by ostension). The
second category of remarks are the overviews and synoptic descriptions. Baker and
Hacker give the following examples of overviews: that the sense of a sentence is its
method of verification, that the proper answer to What are numbers? is a description of
the grammar of number and of numerals, or that inner states stand in need of outward
criteria [my emphasis] (Baker and Hacker 1994: 23).33
According to Baker and Hacker, however, those propositions are not the
axiomatic basis for the grammar of our language (Baker and Hacker 1994: 23) and so

33

It is strange that Baker and Hacker include the sense of a sentence is its method of verification among
the grammatical remarks. This is obviously a very disputed view in philosophy and it is very doubtful that
Wittgenstein defended such a view in his later philosophy even if he defended something similar between
1929-1931. For Wittgensteins verificationist claims see, for instance, MS 105: 10 and 16, from 1929
(Each proposition is the instruction of a verification). After 1931, the use of the expression rarefies and
never appears in the form of the sense of a sentence is its method of verification.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

24

they are not theses or dogmatic remarks. This because, in their view, Wittgenstein never
uses his grammatical remarks as premises of arguments. Such propositions appear as the
coda of reasoning: there are no grammatical arguments from grammatical propositions
in his work (Baker and Hacker 1994: 23). If these grammatical remarks are not used as
parts of arguments, then it seems plausible to think that they dont have the weight of
philosophical theses.
Even though the explanation above is helpful, it is incompatible with what they
say later. Later, the interesting clue that grammatical remarks are not part of arguments
seems to be forgotten (Baker and Hacker 2005). They (or Hacker) seem to give a lot of
weight to grammatical observations in Wittgensteinian philosophical arguments when
discussing the nature of Wittgensteins arguments: ...it is not evident that there cannot be
deductively valid arguments in philosophy, the premises of which spell out conditions of
sense and the conclusion of which is that a given form of words lacks sense (since it fails
to accord with the conditions of sense)[my emphasis] (Baker and Hacker 2005: 294). An
argument of this kind, writes Hacker, proves that a form of words is excluded from
language [my emphasis] (Baker and Hacker 2005: 294). It seems that after all, according
to Baker and Hacker (or Hacker), the use of grammatical rules as premises is not a bad
idea; as such they have the role of axioms of sense.34

34

It is important to notice that Hacker (Baker and Hacker (2005) and (2009)) doesnt seem to believe that
there is any fundamental change in the way he understands Wittgensteins philosophy between Baker and
Hackers early books and the second edition of the first two volumes of the commentary. It is true that
Hacker says he saw numerous errors in their interpretation (Baker and Hacker 2005: xv) and talks about
errors made twenty-five years earlier (Baker and Hacker 2009: xiii), but those errors are not indicated to
the reader. The exception is the supposedly wrong emphasis on the Augustinian picture (Baker and
Hacker 2005: xv). Not much is said about specific changes made and the reasons underlying them. One
could, of course, think that Hacker changed his mind in his later work and this would then explain tensions
and inconsistencies in their interpretation. But as a matter of fact, they are inherent to Baker and Hackers
early and to Hackers later interpretations. On the one hand, according to Baker and Hacker, Wittgensteins
grammatical investigation dissolves philosophical problems (negative task of philosophy); on the other

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

25

This role aggravates another problem. Wittgensteins notion of grammar


understood as the guardian of the limits of sense is very different from the ordinary use of
the word grammar. No grammar book has in it a description of the bounds of sense.
No grammar book contains grammatical remarks similar to the following made by
Baker and Hacker: necessary truths are a product of grammar, not descriptions of the
structure of reality (Baker and Hacker 1985: 279). Thus, one of Moores famous
objections to Wittgensteins use of the word grammar seems to be justified:
Wittgenstein doesnt use rules of grammar as it is ordinarily used (Moore 2007). Here,
again, we have the problem of the criterion that does not pass its own test.
According to Baker and Hacker, both the grammarian and Wittgenstein are
concerned with the rules for the use of words (Baker and Hacker 1994: 56; Baker and
Hacker 2009: 60), but those rules can be seen in different ways. Wittgenstein and
grammarians occupy themselves with the same general subject, namely, the rules of
language, but have different purposes with their occupation (Baker and Hacker 1994: 54;
Baker and Hacker 2009: 58). In their view, the philosopher tabulates the use of the
words (Baker and Hacker 2005: 330; Baker and Hacker 1985: 292); in this way she
shows that traditional philosophical propositions are nonsense because they transgress the
bounds of sense. They think, however, that the ordinary grammarian wishes not exactly
the same, for instance, to teach children how to speak correctly (Baker and Hacker 2009:
57). Wittgenstein, for Baker and Hacker, broadened the notion of rules of grammar
based on similarities between rules of language in ordinary grammar and in philosophical
hand, to dissolve philosophical problems, according to them a grammatical investigation, must determine
the bounds of sense (positive task of philosophy). The very claim (which appears in several volumes of
their commentary) that bounds of sense are to be made clear supposes philosophical criteria to determine
them and, thus, a philosophical justification. Such a justification is, however, absent in Wittgensteins
writings and is in tension with Wittgensteins goal of not presenting theories or opinions.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

26

grammar. A similarity of both concerning the bounds of sense is, for instance, that a
grammarian also considers some combination of words nonsensical (for instance, they
was wall tiger ball). In their view, the ordinary grammarian is only worried with
syntactical aspects of nonsense, while Wittgensteins quest is for semantic nonsense
(Baker and Hacker 2009: 60). Here, I think, Baker and Hacker assume that for
Wittgenstein meaning is circumstance dependent (for the meaning of a word can vary
according to the context of use) in order to deny the sharp demarcation of semantics,
syntax and pragmatics and, thus, defend that the ordinary and the philosophical
grammarians are not that far apart. (They assume it explicitly in (Baker and Hacker 1994:
58)).35 If this is correct, however, the demarcation of syntax, semantics and pragmatics
doesnt have force as a consequence of a philosophical conception defended by
Wittgenstein. It is only if the philosophical claim that meaning is context dependent is a
true statement that Wittgensteins grammar can be seen as about the same things as
ordinary grammar. Here a philosophical justification seems to be needed for the general
view about context dependency that justifies the similarity between grammar and
grammar.
However, whatever we do with this philosophical claim about meaning, it is still
obvious that nobody but Wittgenstein, as read by Baker and Hacker, uses the word
grammar as the activity of laying down the bounds of sense and judges that some
propositions are disguised nonsense because they dont fit these limits. The major
problem concerning Wittgensteins use of grammar, then, remains: Is Wittgenstein
violating the ordinary use of the word grammar? Does Wittgensteins notion of

35

However, as we will see soon, in a different context Baker and Hacker presuppose a sharp distinction
between semantics and pragmatics.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

27

grammar serve a dogmatic purpose? If there is a solution for this problem (or a way to
avoid it), it seems that one of its aspects will need to be a reduction of the significance of
grammar. Grammar should not be a discipline that manages the bounds of sense if
Wittgenstein is consistently non dogmatic. It should not be a critical criterion.
I think that Baker and Hacker have to ascribe to Wittgenstein still another
philosophical presupposition that looks like a conception or a theory. According to them,
for Wittgenstein, grammar is arbitrary, i.e. rules of grammar are neither true nor false
and there is no reality corresponding to grammatical facts (Baker and Hacker 2009: 57).
This means that we could have a different grammar, of course. But in this case, the
question Why this grammar and not a different one? seems pressing. 36 They actually
have an answer for this question: grammar is autonomous, but many reasons guide our
concept-formation, e.g. in mathematics, and many reasons can be given why certain
concepts are useful. (Baker and Hacker 1994: 336).37 The pragmatic reasons pointed out
by them are four: experience prompts us, practical needs, theoretical needs and aesthetic
considerations (Baker and Hacker 1994: 336; Baker and Hacker 2009: 343).38
Thus, for Baker and Hacker, grammar is antecedent to truth (Baker and Hacker
2009: 57) and Wittgenstein presupposes a clear distinction between questions of fact and
questions of meaning (or sense): It [Grammar] incorporates any rules for using
expressions that have to be determined antecedently to questions of truth and falsehood
(Baker and Hacker 2009: 61). That is a philosophical thesis. One has the impression,

36

Wittgenstein says explicitly that grammar is arbitrary in the Big Typescript. The question that should
guide ones investigation is: to what extent such views correspond to his views in the Philosophical
Investigations?
37
On this topic see also (Hacker 2000, 78): To be sure, a system of rules which is simple, convenient, and
easily taken in is pragmatically justified. See also ONeil (2001) for the same view.
38
In this point this interpretation certainly finds support in, for instance, BT 2005: 236.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

28

here, that Wittgenstein, a philosopher who does not have philosophical opinions, is
engaged in a defense of Carnap against Quine. Moreover, as we have just seen, for them
Wittgenstein also needs a distinction between questions of truth and pragmatic questions
(Baker and Hacker 2009: 57).39 This sounds like tolerance concerning different
grammars. Most serious, however, is that Baker and Hacker cannot hold such a
distinction in light of their claim that the distinction between syntax, semantics and
pragmatics doesnt have force in Wittgensteins philosophy (Baker and Hacker 1994: 22;
see Baker and Hacker 2009: 60). As we have seen, they presuppose the lack of force of
this distinction in order to justify Wittgensteins non-ordinary use of rules of grammar.
Their interpretation goes, once more, to two directions: the distinction between
pragmatics and semantics must have force for them to distinguish between questions of
truth and questions of grammar, but it cannot have force in the justification of
Wittgensteins use of grammar.

4. The Middle Period


If one wants to avoid the uncomfortable position of attributing disguised or
explicit philosophical doctrines to the later Wittgenstein, it is best to take his remarks on
the nature of his own activity more seriously than Baker and Hacker, Hacker and Garver
do. Wittgenstein certainly thinks that philosophers are confused and that they talk
nonsense. Nevertheless, this doesnt mean that Wittgenstein needs a non self-defeating

39

I have no doubt that Wittgenstein himself, in the Middle Period, defended the view that grammar is
autonomous and that grammar can only be pragmatically justified. However, this does not mean that he
defended the same view later (see part 4 of this paper).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

29

critical criterion to determine the bounds of sense in order to show that. He may not
need a critical criterion at all. 40
Fortunately, Wittgenstein doesnt use the expressions critical criterion or
bounds of sense.41 However, Wittgenstein does say that all conditions of the
comparison of the proposition with reality/with the facts belong to grammar (BT 2005:
43); he also says that grammar determines what should count as a proposition (BT
2005: 77); also, he says that the rules of grammar determine the sense of the proposition
and whether a combination of words has sense or hasnt [my emphasis] (BT 2005: 79).
Arguably, what Baker and Hacker (or Hacker) say about the Philosophical Investigations
fits well the Big Typescript.42 This because in the Middle Period Wittgenstein is still
concerned with the tabulation of rules of sense in the book of grammar (BT 2005: 58).
The tabulation of rules counts as a description of the calculus of language (BT 2005:
155). In the Big Typescript Wittgenstein still thinks that to understand a language is to
have command of a calculus (BT 2005: 35). The rules of grammar are the rules of the
calculus. They prescribe what counts as a move in language, i.e. what makes sense to say,
because according to the Big Typescript grammar is a transcendental condition of
language: without grammar it isnt a bad language, but no language (BT 2005: 194).

40

See Goldfarb (1983) and (1997), and Minar (1995).


The expression comes probably from Strawsons book The Bounds of Sense. Baker and Hacker also say
that Kant too argued that his antagonists transgressed the bounds of sense (Baker and Hacker 2005: 294).
This is a dubious thesis defended in Strawsons book. Dubious because Kant tries to establish a limit to
what can be known, and not to what can be meaningfully said. The talk about the totality of nature, god, the
soul and other ideas that transgress our theoretical knowledge is not nonsense for Kant (proof of this is that
Kant himself in the Critique of Practical Reason gives practical proofs for the existence of god and the
eternity of the soul).
42
This does not mean that Baker and Hacker have invented their interpretation after reading the Big
Typescript. My point is simply that what they write fits the conception of grammar of that TS. It is quite
possible, however, that the source of their interpretation of the Philosophical Investigations was the Blue
Book (here I am indebted to conversations with David Stern). Perhaps it was a Strawsonian reading of the
Blue Book that influenced them. For an early dissenting voice concerning the Blue Book and how to read
Wittgensteins works see Bouwsma (1961).
41

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

30

Moreover, there, grammar is arbitrary because the rules of grammar constitute


meaning: The rules of grammar determine meaning (constitute it), and therefore they are
not answerable to any meaning and it this respect are arbitrary (BT 2005: 233). This is
why in the Big Typescript Wittgenstein does not quote the passage concerning the
arbitrariness of grammar from Philosophical Investigations 372; he explicitly defends
it there:
In language the only correlate to natural necessity (Naturnotwendigkeit) is an
arbitrary rule. It is the only thing one can remove from this necessity and put into
a proposition. (BT 2005: 235)

All those passages from the Big Typescript (from 1932-33) seem to show that
Baker and Hacker have good textual evidence for the claim that Wittgenstein uses
grammar as a critical criterion and wants to determine the bounds of sense. 43 And
there are several passages in the Middle Period writings that can certainly be used to
justify their view.44
It is not mere coincidence, thus, that Baker and Hackers (or Hackers)
interpretation of Wittgensteins remarks on grammar lean heavily on quotations from
the Big Typescript, manuscripts, and lectures from 1929-1933. They (or Hacker) quote
passages from Wittgensteins manuscripts and typescripts after 1929 as though it was not
relevant to consider the date of the remarks (a similar claim can be made about Garver).
The consequence of this practice is that Wittgensteins views on grammar from 1930-33
are considered to be the same in the Philosophical Investigations. In Hacker (2000), for
instance, in the chapter called The Arbitrariness of Grammar and the Bounds of Sense,

43

Wittgenstein, however, makes important changes when he revises BT 2005: 235. He adds quotation
marks and consider in handwritten remarks added to the passage (see footnote 32).
44
For instance LWL 1989: 46-7, 48, 61 and 87.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

31

the vast majority of the relevant passages quoted or indicated to support his reading are
from the period 1929-1933.45 The passages from the Middle Period guide the
interpretation of passages from the Philosophical Investigations. It is taken for granted
that from 1930 on the changes in Wittgensteins philosophy are variations of one basic
idea, namely, grammar as the discipline that determine the bounds of sense and
accounts for the nature of necessity in a de dicto fashion.
Sometimes Baker and Hacker (or Hacker) explicitly assume the continuity in
Wittgensteins middle and later work: the rotation of our examination or way of
thinking that Wittgenstein wrote of in 1937 is a further aspect of this same transformation
in his conception of the nature, goals and methods of philosophy that dawned on him in
1929/30[my emphasis] (Baker and Hacker 2005: 275). The new method discovered in
late 1929, according to them, is essentially the transition from the quest for truth to the
quest for sense (Baker and Hacker 2005: 279). This is utterly misleading, for already the
phenomenological investigations from early 1929, i.e. the quest for a phenomenological
language, is characterized by Wittgenstein as the investigation of sense and not truth.
This can be clearly seen in MS 105, in a passage from 02.04.1929, where Wittgenstein
distinguishes phenomenology from physics: Physics strives for truth, i.e., correct
prediction of events, while phenomenology does not do that, it strives for sense and not
truth. Thus, if they (or Hacker) were right, Wittgensteins phenomenology from 1929
would have to be considered part of Wittgensteins late philosophy, which is certainly
false. What dawned on Wittgenstein in 1929 was the fact that a phenomenological

45

The following is the complete list: lectures between 1930 and 1932 in LWL 1989: 8, 20, 21, 27, 31, 44,
49, 64, 86, 94, 95; lectures from 1932-33 in AWL 1979: 4, 48; PR (from 1929-30): 53, 55; from the PG
(remarks originated in the BT 2005): 53, 88, 126, 129, 185, 304, 311, 313.

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

32

language was unnecessary, which has not so much to do with what happened with
Wittgensteins philosophy in 1937, I think.
There is another oddity in Baker and Hackers (or Hackers) characterization of
Wittgensteins later philosophy as striving for sense and not for truth. In their
interpretation of the Tractatus one finds that also there Wittgenstein is establishing the
conditions of sense which demarcate the bounds of sense. In fact, they claim: An
important point of continuity was the insight that philosophy is not concerned with what
is true and false, but rather with what makes sense and what traverses the bounds of
sense (Baker and Hacker 1994: 39). In one sense, then, they subscribe to the view that
there is only one Wittgenstein, while at the same time attribute to Wittgenstein a change
(striving for sense and not truth); however, in light of their own interpretation, this
should not be a change at all, since this is already the view of the Tractatus.
Even though those discrepancies in Baker and Hackers (or Hackers) account of
Wittgensteins development are serious, it is far from clear that one can show in details
that they are wrong in their use of Wittgensteins Middle Period writings to support the
attribution of a de dicto conception of necessity to the Philosophical Investigations. If
Hacker is right in using, for instance, the Big Typescript in his interpretation of the
Philosophical Investigations, he is right in his understanding of grammar there as
well.46

46

In his critique of Baker and Hackers interpretation, Kuusela (2006) and (2008) emphasises
Wittgensteins works after 1933, but does not explain why. This is problematic because Kuuselas major
concern is Wittgensteins struggle against dogmatism (Kuusela 2008). Wittgenstein wants to give up
dogmatism already in 1931 (see WWK 1993: 182). Thus, the Big Typescript should count as non-dogmatic
(see, however, the quotations from the Big Typescript above). It seems, therefore, that Wittgensteins
struggle against dogmatism took place between 1931 and 1933, a period that Kuusela does not discuss.
This means that he does not seriously discuss very important textual evidence that gives Baker and
Hackers reading support. One would expect him to do so, since Baker and Hackers interpretation is
discussed throughout his book (Kuusela 2008).

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

33

I can only suggest here that Wittgensteins use of the word grammar changed
after 1934. In the Brown Book, for instance, the word appears only four times and there
use and grammar are synonyms (BBB 1960: 109, 130, 135 and 171). They are
synonyms, I take it, because there is no space for grammar as the discipline that
demarcates the bounds of sense and explains the nature of necessity in Wittgensteins
philosophy after 1934 in an anti-realistic fashion. In his 1939 lectures, Wittgenstein goes
as far as denying not only the idea that he defends philosophical theses, but any opinion
whatsoever:
One of the greatest difficulties I find in explaining what I mean is this: You are
inclined to put our difference in one way, as a difference of opinion. But I am not
trying to persuade you to change your opinion. I am only trying to recommend a
certain sort of investigation. If there is an opinion involved, my only opinion is
that this sort of investigation is immensely important, and very much against the
grain of some of you. If in this lectures I express any other opinions, I am making
a fool of myself [emphasis in the original]. (LFM 1976: 103).

Wittgenstein is also, in his own view, making a fool of himself if he expresses


opinions concerning grammar. In one of his lectures, Lewy said I know what you want
me to say. This was a severe criticism according to Wittgenstein (LFM 1976: 55).
When he goes on and explains that he cannot have opinions he exemplifies it with
grammar:
I have no right to want you to say anything except just one thing: Lets see
One cannot make a general formulation and say that I have the right to want to
make you say that. For what could that general formulation be? My opinion? But
obviously the whole point is that I must not have an opinion For instance, I
have no right to want to make you say that mathematical propositions are rules of
grammar[my emphasis]. (LFM 1976: 55).

This suggests that the very idea that grammar gives the bounds of sense or that
grammatical rules give us a de dicto or normative source of necessity is not an opinion

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

34

that we should ascribe to Wittgenstein. Grammar is better taken as a heuristic device


that can be thrown away if Wittgensteins whole point is really that he must not have
an opinion. Maybe grammar is part of an interpretation of language and necessity
that is as arbitrary as any other, gas to expel old gas, as Wittgenstein says:
I may occasionally produce new interpretations, not in order to suggest they are
right, but in order to show that the old interpretation and the new are equally
arbitraryI will only make gas to expel old gas. (LFM 1976: 14; my emphasis).

Those passages from 1939 certainly suggest, to say the least, a very deflated
notion of grammar. They suggest that the supposedly de dicto explanation of necessity
that Hacker takes to be an alternative to the supposedly Tractarian realism is itself an
equally arbitrary ism (grammaticism, linguistic essentialism, or anti-realism).
If it is correct, as I think it is, that Wittgenstein parts away from his Middle Period
notion of grammar in his later philosophy, many (new) questions arise. Is grammar
merely an arbitrary interpretation in the Philosophical Investigations? Are
Wittgensteins goals and practice really consistent in his later writings? Why and how did
Wittgenstein change his views concerning grammar? What is the internal dialectic in
Wittgensteins Middle Period writings that brings him to a new role for grammar? All
those questions indicate that an alternative to Baker and Hackers interpretation, and a
consistent detailed interpretation of Wittgensteins philosophy, needs to introduce a
parallel account of Wittgensteins development. One needs to revaluate Wittgensteins
Middle Period Philosophy and explain how and why his views changed. 47 It is quite

47

Many scholars (Schulte 2001; Diamond 2004; Stern 2004) have argued that the writings from the Middle
Period are to be taken carefully. They see significant differences between the Middle and Late Period
writings, for instance, that Wittgenstein is still quite dogmatic in the Big Typescript when compared with
the Philosophical Investigations. However, the questions why and how Wittgenstein changed his
philosophy still need to be answered. I give an account of Wittgensteins development in (Engelmann

What Wittgensteins Grammar is not

35

amazing that, comparatively, so little research about the Middle Period has been done
among Wittgenstein scholars. This is certainly an urgent task especially for those who
think that Hackers account is not quite true to Wittgensteins intentions in the
Philosophical Investigations. One can, of course, also argue for an inconsistency between
Wittgensteins goals and practice in that book, a way-out that I personally dont wish to
take.

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