Hauptli’s Lecture Supplement Introducing Wittgenstein’s Blue Book[1] [1933-1934]


     Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli


I. Overview:


Hold up a copy of a logic text:


“This is a book.  What kind of book is it?  When the author dictated it, what did she or he mean to be teaching?” 


Hold up your copy of the Blue Book and ask the same questions. 


     Wittgenstein dictated this book to students at Cambridge in 1933-1934.  What was he doing?  Clearly, there is a significant difference between this book and his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus[2]—one need read only a little way into The Blue Book to see significant differences! 


     I believe that part of what Wittgenstein is doing here is touched on by O.K. Bouwsma in his “The Blue Book.”[3]  He maintains that Wittgenstein is introducing, displaying, and teaching an art.  Bouwsma identifies this art as:


“the art of attacking questions,” “the art of disentangling,” “the art of cure,” “the art of finding one’s way when lost,” “the art of discussion,” “the art of exposure,” “the art of working puzzles,” “the art of freeing us from illusions,” “the art of the detective,” and “the art of clarification, or relief from the toils of confusion.”[4] 


Bouwsma emphasizes that what is important in the work is


...what the author is doing rather than what the author is saying in order to prevent the misunderstanding that one could be told what he says and if one then remembered this, that would be what the author aimed at...these dictations are designed in connection with other oral discussions to help in teaching these students an art.[5] 


Bouwsma maintains that Wittgenstein intends to quicken the sense of the queer, remind us of the particularity of cases and uncover misleading analogies.  This, he contends, should help us to resolve [dissolve] philosophical confusion:


...the object is not a science of misleading expressions from which one can now figure out what is misleading some stranger.  The object is to assist some individual, always an individual, to help him discover what misleads and has misled him.  And what misled him is to be seen only when he is no longer misled.  When he says: “Now, I see” and breathes a sigh of relief, even though it may be a bit sheepishly, that is the moment to which the art is directed.[6] 


     These citations suggest that the Wittgenstein is primarily interested in therapy, and this is a common interpretation of him (especially of his “middle” and “later” periods).  This view of his work contends that he does not intend to advance (and, perhaps, does not even advance) any “substantive philosophical theses.”  Instead, according to this sort of interpretation of his middle and late work, he maintains that philosophy arises from linguistic confusions, and contends that once these confusions are exposed and the individual is cured of the “disease,” then there is nothing left.  In trying to briefly characterize this interpretation of what the middle and later Wittgenstein is “about,” one might offer what I will call the “saying/doingdistinction (with an intended nod to his earlier “saying/showing” distinction): one must not look at what he says (look for specific theses, views, and positions), but, instead, at what he is doing—one must keep this actively in mind, since the middle and later Wittgenstein does not want to leave us with a position, view, or theory, but, rather, he wishes to free us from [philosophical] confusion. 


     Cora Diamond advances this view of both the early, and the middle and later Wittgenstein.  In her “Throwing Down the Ladder,” she discusses Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and contends that:


what Wittgenstein wants to do is then to describe a way of writing sentences, a way of translating ordinary sentences into a completely perspicuous form.  As part of the transition to grasping what is thus made clear, we may say such things as that the possibility of a state of affairs is not something that you can say but that it shows itself in signs with such-and-such general characteristics.  But once the transition is made, the analyzed sentences must in a sense speak of themselves, and we should not any longer be telling ourselves that now we grasp what possibility is, it is what shows itself, what comes out, in a sentence’s having a sense.  We are left using ordinary sentences, and we shall genuinely have got past the attempt to represent to ourselves something in reality, the possibility of what a sentence says being so, is not sayable but shown by the sentence.  We shall genuinely have thrown the ladder away. 

  The whole of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, from before the Tractatus to his later work, contains different workings out of the kind of view of philosophy that I have just sketched.[7] 


What I find particularly suggestive in her essay is that she leads us to ask, “What happens when we use Wittgenstein’s “elucidatory propositions,” recognize them as “nonsense,” and, having “climbed beyond them,” throw them away?”[8]  According to Diamond, John McDowell has a useful metaphor here:


...in speaking of the kind of philosophical illusion from which Wittgenstein in his later work tries to free us, [McDowell] has used the phrase “the view from sideways on”, to characterize what we aim for, or think we need to aim for in philosophy.  We have, for example, the idea of ourselves looking, from sideways on, at the human activity of following a rule, and as asking from that position whether there is or is not something objectively determined as what the rule requires to be done at the next application.  To think of the question in that way is to try to step outside our ordinary saying what a rule requires, our ordinary criticisms of steps taken by others, our ordinary ways of judging whether someone has grassed what a rule requires.  We do not want to ask and answer those ordinary questions, but to ask what in reality there is to justify the answers we give when we are unselfconsciously inside the ordinary practice.  McDowell takes Wittgenstein to have tried to show us how to come out of the intellectual illusion that we are thus asking anything.  My point now is that that image of McDowell’s is useful in characterizing Wittgenstein’s early view of philosophy as well.[9] 


     According to this sort of interpretation (of either the later Wittgenstein, or of the early and later Wittgenstein), when the ladder is thrown away there is “Nothing beyond the ‘art of the cure’—no substantive theses, and nothing which resembles what used to be called philosophy.”  If the therapy cures the disease, then it is also gone!  At the end of his essay, Bouwsma cites G.E. Moore’s notes on Wittgenstein’s lectures at Cambridge in 1930-1933 where Moore says: [10]


he went on to say that, though philosophy had not been “reduced to a matter of skill,” yet this skill, like other skills is very difficult to acquire.  One difficulty was that it required a “sort of thinking” to which we are not accustomed and to which we have not been trained—a sort of thing very different from what is required in the sciences.  And he said that the required skill could not be acquired merely by hearing lectures: discussion was essential.  As regards his own work, he said it did not matter whether his results were true or not: what mattered was that “a method had been found.”[11] 


     The interpretation emphasized thus far would have Wittgenstein mainly concerned with meta-philosophy—instead of advancing substantive theses, he is viewed as concerned with developing and teaching a methodology, and the application of this methodology itself leads to no substantive philosophic theses.  While there is a substantial grain of truth to this interpretation, I believe that Wittgenstein (whether the “early,” or the “middle,” and the “later” one) isn’t simply doing meta-philosophy.  I contend that he is discussing central problems in the philosophy of logic, in the philosophy of language, and in the philosophy of mind (as well as in other areas), and that he does defend significant, and substantive, philosophical theses.  Consider the following passage from the Blue Book (it is one of his most influential sentences):


4 but if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use. 


This is an extremely influential sentence.  It encouraged a lot of mistaken (at least from a Wittgenstenian point of view) ordinary language philosophy.  While many felt that this passage provides us with a straight-forward theory of meaning, an understanding of it must also refer to the following passage:


67-68 think of words as instruments characterized by their use, and then think of the use of a hammer, the use of a chisel, the use of a square, of a glue-pot, and of the glue.  (Also, all that we say here can be understood only if one understands that a great variety of games is played with the sentences of our language: Giving and obeying orders; asking questions and answering them; describing an event; telling a fictitious story; telling a joke; describing an immediate experience; making conjectures about events in the physical world; making scientific hypotheses and theories; greeting someone, etc., etc.). 


Together, these passages may be read (and should be read, I contend) as advancing theses—I contend that they are not (or not simply) therapeutic tools. 


     Clearly there is a difference between the “Blue Book view” and the view of the early Wittgenstein.  Language is no longer seen as a single, unified, systematic, logically ordered phenomenon.  When we try to specify what his substantive theses are, the middle and later Wittgenstein will frustrate us no less than did the early Wittgenstein!  We tend to look for philosophers to develop clear-cut and fully (and clearly) developed arguments.  Moreover, given what one learns from the early Wittgenstein, one expects nothing less than crystalline clarity from him.  The middle and later Wittgenstein, however, differ in significant respects from the early Wittgenstein.  To uncover what he contends, as well as to come to understand the methodology which he offers, however, we must turn to the text itself. 


II. Transition from the “early” to the “middle,” and the “later,” Wittgenstein:


Look at Philosophical Investigations I, 47-49, and 60 and the later Wittgenstein’s critique of the Tractatus notion of “simples.”[12]  Then consider the following additional “differences:”


PI I, 60 and 63-64 for his attacks on the notion of an “analysis” which is of central importance to the Tractatus. 


PI I, 65-66 for his critique of his Tractatus notion of the “essence of language.”  This introduces us to the important notion of a language-game. 


Clearly, something is different as one compares the early and the later Wittgenstein.  In his Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View? Norman Malcolm points out that Investigations I, 47-49 provides an excellent critique of the distinction in the Tractatus between the simple and the complex.  Malcolm maintains that:


...since nothing whatever is ‘intrinsically’ simple, simple in an ‘absolute’ sense, then this basic conception of the Tractatus is empty; and so is the conception of a ‘name’—for a name is supposed to mean a simple object; and so is the conception of an ‘elementary’ proposition—for an elementary proposition is supposed to consist of an interconnection of names, and so is the conception of ‘analysis’ in the Tractatus—for analysis is supposed to determine whether any given proposition is elementary or non-elementary.  The impressive edifice of the Tractatus is demolished by Wittgenstein’s description in the Investigations of how the terms ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ are actually used.[13] 


     The introduction and first five pages of The Blue Book help us begin to understand his “newer” method and theses. 


     Another central difference between the Tractatus and the Blue Book:


25-26 “Why then do we in philosophizing constantly compare our use of words with one following exact rules?  The answer is that the puzzles we try to remove always spring from just this attitude just this attitude towards language.” 


-26-27 Consider one such puzzle: Augustine’s question about time.  Consider another puzzle: Plato’s question “What is knowledge?” 


--27 As the problem is put, it seems that there is something wrong with the ordinary use of the work ‘knowledge’.  It appears we don’t know what it means, and that therefore, perhaps, we have no right to use it.  We should reply: ‘There is no one exact usage of the word ‘knowledge’; but we can make up several such usages, which will more or less agree with the ways the word is actually used. 

  The man who is philosophically puzzled sees a law in the way a word is used, and, trying to apply this law consistently, comes up against cases where it leads to paradoxical results.”  Philosophers try to come up with a definition and finding counter-examples to it they then presume that if it is wrong, some other definition must be right. 


-27 Philosophy...is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert upon us. 

  I want you to remember that words have those meanings which we have given them; and we give them meanings by explanations. 


III. An Arbitrary Division of the Text:


1. The “main question” of the book [1]:


2. His response and his method [1-2]:


3. Getting close to the answer [2-3]:


4. The “main false start” [3-4]:


5. The answer [?] [4]:


6. Outward & inward charts vs. “understanding a language [5-6]. 


7. Philosophical problems, linguistic puzzlement, and mental activity [6-11]:


8. Learning meaning and learning how words are used [11-12]:


9. Drill and rules (reasons and causes) [12-15]:


10. Thinking, operating with signs, language games, and philosophy [15-20]:


11. A’s expecting from 4:00 to 4:30 that B will come to tea [20-24]:


12. My criteria for another’s having a toothache: behavior: [24]:


13. Criteria and symptoms [24-25]:


14. A central difference between Tractatus and Blue Book: exact rules [pp. 25-27]:


15. The “grammar” of “to wish,” “to expect,” etc. [30] 


16. Thinking what is not the case and philosophical questions [30-32]:


17. What makes this a portrait of Mr. N? [32-35]:


18. What is the object of thought? [pp. 35-39]:


19. The mind as a place [39-41]:


20. Nothing is gained by talk of an accompanying mental process [41-44]:


21. Discussion of personal experience and philosophy [44-46]:


22. Regarding the “privacy” of personal experience [46-48]:


23. We are up against the trouble caused by our way of expression [48-57]:


24. Common sense and philosophy [58-59]:


25. On personal identity [59-66]:


26. The distinction between ‘I’ as object and as subject [66-70]:


27. Regarding sense-data and meaning [pp. 70-74 (end)]. 



Notes: (click on note number to return to the text for the note)

[1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book, in The Blue and Brown Books (N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1958 [posthumously]).  All citations to this work in these lectures and notes will be accompanied by the appropriate page number.  The book was dictated by Wittgenstein to his class at Cambridge in 1933-1943.  Note that emphasis is sometimes added to passages for pedagogic purposes in this supplement without other notice! 

[2] Cf., Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness (London: Routledge, 1922).  Further references to this text will cite the work as Tractatus and will include the relevant section number. 

[3] O.K. Bouwsma, “The Blue Book,” The Journal of Philosophy v. 58 (1961), pp. 141-162. 

[4] Cf., ibid., pp. 147-149. 

[5] Ibid., p. 147. 

[6] Ibid., p. 153.  Emphasis added to passage. 

[7] Cora Diamond, “Throwing Away The Ladder,” in her The Realistic Spirit: Wittgenstein, Philosophy, and the Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), pp. 179-204, p. 184.  The essay was originally published in Philosophy v. 63 (1988). 

[8] Cf., Tractatus, section 6.56., section 6.56.

[9] Ibid., pp. 10-11.  Diamond is referring to John McDowell’s “Non-Cognitivism and Rule-Following,” in Wittgenstein: To Follow a Rule, ed. Steven Holtzman and Christopher Leich (London: Routledge, 1981). 

[10] Remember that at this point, Moore is the Professor of Philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge.  Wittgenstein is a Lecturer at Trinity who has just recently been awarded his Ph.D. 

[11] G.E. Moore, “Wittgenstein’s Lectures in 1930-33,” Mind vols. 63 (1954) and 64 (1955), p. 26.  The passage is cited in Bouwsma’s “The Blue Book,” op. cit., p. 162.  Moore’s lectures are also published in his Philosophical Papers (London: Unwin, 1959), pp. 252-324. 

[12] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscome (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1953).  Further references to this work will be indicated by the relevant section number (in the case of Part I), or page number (in the case of Part II).

[13] Norman Malcolm, Wittgenstein: A Religious Point of View? (Ithaca: Cornell U.P., 1994),  p. 39. 

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