7 Wittgenstein’s Methodology, the Augustinian Conception of Language, and Language qua Institution


People usually distinguish between two Wittgenstein’s: the first (Tractatus Logioco Philosophicus) and the second (Philosophical Investigations)

The Philosophical Investigations (PI) can be understood as a severe criticism of the Tractatus.
Wittgenstein planned to publish them in a single volume.

Philosophy as a therapy
“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” (PI: # 109) “Philosophy, as we use the word, is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert on us.” (BB: 27)


 Philosophical problems differ from empirical problems. Philosophical problems unlike empirical ones are solved by looking at the way language works. 4 . Philosophy is a conceptual analysis.

Hence. Quine. So. philosophy of language is the fil rouge of philosophical analysis qua conceptual clarification. nowadays cognitive scientists.  5 . etc. both Wittgenstein’s methodology (philosophy qua conceptual analysis) and his conception of philosophy differ from the methodology and conception endorsed by logical positivism.

and are irresistibly tempted to ask and to answer questions in the way science does.” (BB: 18) 6 .“Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics and leads philosophers into complete darkness.

The latter are typical philosophical (conceptual) questions which cannot be addressed and answered using empirical analysis. and the like. 7 . Moral The scientific method (in particular the way of asking and answering questions in science) are misleading and inappropriate when applied to question like “What’s meaning?”. “What’s thought?”.

philosophy qua conceptual analysis should allow us to reject some of the traditional (false) pictures. etc. Cartesian dualism. Philosophy is conceived as a therapy enabling us to get rid of the “philosophical illness” we inherited. Thus. such as the Augustinian picture of language. 8 .

9 . As such Wittgenstein’s methodology doesn’t aim to propose solutions to classical problems. It rather proposes a dissolution of the alleged problem. Philosophical problems have (often) been induced by a misconception on the way language functions.

rather. 10 .“What is your way in philosophy? – To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.” (PI: # 309)  These are among the main reasons why the Philosophical Investigations do not present themselves as an ordinary book but. as a collection of thoughts or aphorisms.

11 . Wittgenstein’s criticism of the Augustinian picture of language is a good example of his methodology and his view of philosophy qua therapy.

12 .The Augustinian conception of language  Why Augustine? To stress the universality and force of the traditional picture.

the meaning is the object for which the word stands. every word has a meaning 2. The Augustinian picture endorses three main thesis: 1. 13 . this meaning is something correlated with the word 3.

cf. Frege). So.  Basic picture Words are names and sentences are combinations of names (cf. 14 . Tractatus: words name and sentences describe/picture. by the way. of learning a language. ostensive definitions They are the fundamental form of explaining the meaning of a word. and.

 Name/object relation If a word’s meaning is the object it stands for. then to assign the meaning to a word we ought to correlate this word with the object/referent it stands for. 15 .

For the latter furnish the relevant correlation between words and their referents and. the basic explanation ought to be given by ostensive definitions. Since the former appeals to other expressions. as such. Explanation of meaning Either verbal or by ostensive definition. 16 . the foundation of language.

: nothing is red and blue all over. 17 . E. Since there are two kinds of necessary truths. analytic (truth by definition) and synthetic. ostensive definitions ought to provide the basis for synthetic necessary truth. Ostensive definitions In order to provide the foundation of language they ought to be complete and unambiguous.g.

18 . Understanding Within the Augustinian tradition: (i) understanding consists in a mental association of a word with an object. This is a kind of mental pointing at an object.

(cf. Russell’s knowledge by acquaintance/ knowledge by description distinction). if ostensive definitions are the foundation of language.(ii) acquaintance with objects. 19 . then acquaintance is the foundation of understanding.

Wittgenstein criticises most of the appealing theories of meaning: Frege’s. In criticising the Augustinian paradigm. Russell’s and the Tractatus’. 20 . The Philosophical Investigations can be understood as a criticism of the Augustinian picture.

the foundation of language. The general lesson of this examination will be that ostensive definitions are not. pace the Augustinian conception. 21 . Such a criticism begins with a clear examination on the way ostensive definitions work.

etc.: the building block language game.g. colour and number words.) stresses the inadequacy of the Augustinian temptation to think of language in abstraction from its use. The use of examples Wittgenstein’s use of concrete examples (e. 22 .

 23 . See Wittgenstein's motto: meaning is use . Examples suggest that we cannot look for the essence of meaning as something which can be detached from the way language is actually.

” (PI: # 23) 24  . “Here the term ‘language game’ is meant to bring into prominence the fact that speaking a language is part of an activity. In the Tractatus Wittgenstein considers language as a calculus. or system of sentences. or of a form of life. In the Investigations language is considered as essentially connected with the notion of application.

 Learning a language does not consist to master a calculus. It means: Becoming acculturated . 25 .

 Being acculturates amounts to being able to participate and interact in a variety of structured activities that essentially employ language. It means to be able to master different language games . 26 .

Like a person who already masters her own language and translates the new language into the former. The Augustinian conception pictures a child learning his mother tongue as a foreigner learning a foreign language. 27 .

This picture presupposes what it tries to explain. If learning a language comes close to translation. 28 . For it assumes that the child possesses a mastery of the techniques that provide the necessary background enabling the child to understand the language. the child can already think: all she misses is how to label her mental concepts.

Sapir. Whorf. Dummett. Bloomfield and by philosophers: Wittgenstein. Kripke. 29 .Language as an institution  Natural languages are system of social conventions This conception is also defended by linguists: Saussure.

internal (Pinker. Montague. The view of language as an ideal system (Frege. 30 . 3. individual. 2. Chomsky. The view of language as psychological (Grice. Searle). Shiffer. The view of language as innate. Church). The view of language as a social institution contrasts with: 1. Fodor).

 Main questions How does language qua institution can enter the physical world? How can natural language be perceived as a natural phenomenon? 31 .

 Can social conventions be explained in naturalistic terms? A naturalist approach to language tends to focus on the speakers’ psychology. 32 . This seems to contrast with the social conception of language.

they could be natural/psychological. Saussure’s langue/parole distinction). But the syntactic/semantic rules need not be social. Language (vs. Frege. idiolect) A praxis governed by syntactic and semantic rules and pragmatic conventions. first Wittgenstein.  Wittgenstein vs. (cf. and Russell 33 .

Logic deals with an ideal language. 34 . Natural languages aspire to be ideal languages. etc. improper (e. but they’re a mere copy of the latter (cf. polysemy. Ideal language conception Natural language is imperfect. Frege’s comparison between natural language and ideography).g.: ambiguity.).

g. …) 35 . …) (iii) no vague predicates (e. ‘rich’.g. Main features of an ideal language (i) context insensitive (no ambiguity. no indexicality) (ii) no polysemy (e. ‘bald’. money value. ‘small’. no terms such as ‘value’ meaning either moral value.

wouldn’t change across time).g. Cf. eternal sentences (v) no empty terms. i.e. 36 . each expression has a meaning (thus no ‘Robyn Hood’).(iv) an ideal language expressions would have a fixed meaning (e.

 Fregean goal Sentences of natural language should be translated into an ideal language. 37 .

governed by conventional rules. the tower. Language as a chess game. What’s the meaning of the horse. To this view the second Wittgenstein opposes Conventionalism . …? Can they have a meaning outside the game? … 38 .

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