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


     Copyright © 2014 Bruce W. Hauptli


1. The “Main Question” of the Book: [1] [note that I am dividing the work up into 27 somewhat arbitrary sub-sections [with approximate page references] for help in focusing our attention upon the text]


1 “What is the meaning of a word?” 


The questions “What is length?”, “What is meaning?”, “What is the number one?” etc., produce in us a mental cramp....(We are up against one of the great sources of philosophical bewilderment: a substantive [noun] makes us look for a thing that corresponds to it.”).” 


2. His Response and His Method: [1-2]


1 Asking “what is an explanation of the meaning of a word breaks the cramp and the expectation!  “Studying the grammar of the expression ‘explanation of meaning’ will teach you something about the grammar of the word ‘meaning’ and will cure you of the temptation to look about you for some object which you might call ‘the meaning’.” 


What is he saying here?  What is wrong with supposing there are “meanings?”  [What are they, where did they come from, how did they get attached to our words, how do they change....]  See p. 27 here! 


Explanations of meaning can be divided [“very roughly”] into ostensive and verbal definitions. 


Verbal definitions, of course, explain meanings by appealing to meaningful expressions.  Ostensive definitions do not seem to have this problem and, so, may seem to be able to “provide” meaning—’not’, ‘one’, ‘number’ etc. 


But, can’t ostensive definitions be misunderstood? 


2 Ostensively defining ‘tove’ by pointing to a pencil:


-Five possible “interpretations” of this ostensive definition. 


-Pointing is not necessarily devoid of interpretation and context—the case of pointing and dogs! 


3. Getting Close to the Answer: [2-3]


2 “What is our criterion when we say that someone has interpreted the ostensive definition in a particular way?” 


3 Consider an ostensive definition of ‘banjo’ offered to an individual who then selects a banjo from amongst a variety of instruments: “...we might say “he has given the word ‘banjo’ the correct interpretation....” 


“If I give someone the order ‘fetch me a red flower from the meadow’, how is he to know what sort of flower to bring, as I have only given him a word?” 


A red image carried in the mind might seem to resolve the problem—a mental color chart to which flowers might be compared.  We could imagine going out to the field with a chart and doing a comparison, but this is not the process we ordinarily employ. 


“We go, look about us, walk up to a flower and pick it, without comparing it to anything.  To see that the process of obeying the order can be of this kind, consider the order “imagine a red patch.  You are not tempted in this case to think that before obeying you must have imagined a red patch to serve as a pattern for the red patch which you were ordered to imagine.” 


-This is an important passage!  It will be a “regular move” in his methodology.  Note what has occurred thus far: (i) what is the meaning of a word, (ii) what is an explanation of meaning, (iii) what is our criterion for saying someone has interpreted an ostensive definition correctly, (iv) do we appeal to a mental image, and (v) do we then compare mental images to mental images? 


4. The “Main False Start:” [3-4]


3 But, it seems as if the signs of our language seem dead without the mental processes of understanding and meaning to back them up! 


“We are tempted to think that the action of language consists of two parts: an inorganic part, the handling of signs, and an organic part which we may call understanding these signs, meaning them, interpreting them, thinking.  These latter activities seem to take place in a queer kind of medium, the mind; and the mechanism of the mind, the nature of which, it seems, we don’t quite understand, can bring about effects which no material mechanism could.” 


4 Instead of thinking that it is “essential” that there be an occult mental process, “imagine a man always carrying a sheet of paper in his pocket on which the names of colours are co-ordinated with coloured patches.” 


-“We could perfectly well, for our purposes, replace every process of imagining by a process of looking at an object or by painting, drawing or modeling, and every process of speaking to oneself by speaking aloud or by writing.” 


-Frege criticized the formalists’ conception of mathematics[2] and emphasized the importance of “sense” (or meaning)—mathematics is not about dead dots and dashes on paper!  “And the conclusion which one draws from this is that what must be added to the dead signs in order to make a live proposition is something immaterial, with properties different from all mere signs. 


5. The “Answer” [?]: [4]


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. 


Note: the following passage from pp. 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.)” 


Discuss, again, Wittgenstein’s “art” and his “methodology!”  Is he advancing a thesis here, or is he offering therapy?  Both? 


Contrast: note the significant contrast with his “picture theory of meaning from the Tractatus! 


6. Outward & Inward Charts vs. “Understanding a Language:” [5-6]


5 “If the meaning of a sign...is an image built up in our minds when we see or hear the sign, then first let us adopt the method we just described of replacing this mental image by some outward object....as soon as you think of replacing the mental image by, say, a painted one, and as soon as the image thereby loses its occult character, it ceases to seem to impart any life to the sentence at all.” 


“The mistake we are liable to make could be expressed thus; We are looking for the use of a sign, but we look for it as though it were an object co-existing with the sign.  (One of the reasons for this mistake is again that we are looking for a “thing corresponding to a substantive.”) 

  The sign (the sentence) gets its significance from the system of signs.  From the language to which it belongs.  Roughly; understanding a sentence means understanding a language. 

  As a part of the system of language, one may say, the sentence has life.  But one is tempted to imagine that which gives the sentence life as something in an occult sphere, accompanying the sentence.  But whatever accompanied it would for us just be another sign.” 


-What does this [“understanding a sentence means understanding a language”] mean—what is “understanding a language?” 


-“As a part of the system of language, one may say, the sentence has life.  But one is tempted to imagine that which gives the sentence life as something in an occult sphere, accompanying the sentence.  But whatever accompanied it would for us just be another sign.” 


7. Philosophical Problems, Linguistic Puzzlement, and Mental Activity: [6-11]


6 Our problems are not scientific ones.  Our puzzlements are due to misleading use of language. 


“Now if it is not the causal connections which we are concerned with, then the activities of the mind lie open before us.  And when we are worried about the nature of thinking, the puzzlement which we wrongly interpret to be one about the nature of a medium is a puzzlement caused by the mystifying use of our language.” 


-“All the facts that concern us lie open before us.  But it is the use of the substantive “time” which mystifies us.  If we look into the grammar of that word, we shall feel that it is no less astounding that man should have conceived of a deity of time than it would be to conceive of a deity of negation or disjunction.” 


Wittgenstein draws our attention to the misleading character of our talk of mental activity:


Regarding “the locality of thought” (hands, lips, etc.).  We must understand the phrase’s “working, its grammar!”  Could we speak meaningfully about a “correspondence of thoughts and psychological processes?”  We need to remember that ‘locality’ has many different senses, and the ‘where’ in “where do you see the visual field?” is not used in the same sense as it is used when discussing the location of a tree in the visual field (or the tree in the field)! 


7 If we speak of “the locality of thought, we could speak of the piece of paper we are writing on, or the mouth which speaks!  We must understand the “working, or grammar” of the phrase.  (See p. 16.) 


Now does this mean that it is nonsensical to talk of a locality where thought takes place?  Certainly not.  This phrase has sense if we give it sense.  Now if we say ‘thought takes place in our heads’, what is the sense of this phrase soberly understood?  I suppose it is that certain physiological processes correspond to our thoughts in such a way that if we know the correspondence, we can by observing these processes, find the thoughts.  But in what sense can the physiological processes be said to correspond to thoughts, and in what sense can we be said to get the thoughts from the observation of the brain?” 


8 Imagine someone observing both his/her thoughts and brain processes—is this what we mean when we assign thought to the locality of the head? 


“We easily forget that the word ‘locality’ is used in many different senses and that there are many different kinds of statements about a thing which in a particular case, in accordance with general usage, we may call specifications of the locality of the thing.” 


-Discussion of the locality of the visual field.  Obviously the ‘where’ in “where do you see the visual field?” is not used in the same sense as it is used when discussing the location of a tree in the visual field (or the tree in the field)! 


-Consider “where” (“the locality of”) a play happens, a T.V. show is, an election is, etc. 


9 We could, of course assign sense to the localization here.  But we are misled by grammatical analogy when we speak unless we make such an assignment.  For example, brain scientists might locate parts of the visual field “three inches behind the bridge of the nose.” 


The case of the water diviner (estimating distances to substances hidden underground). 


-“To the statement ‘I feel in my hand that the water is three feet under the ground’ we should like to answer: ‘I don’t know what this means.’  But the diviner would say: ‘Surely you know what it means.  You know what ‘three feet under the ground’ means, and you know what ‘I feel’ means!”  But I should answer him: I know what a word means in certain contexts.” 


-10 How did the diviner learn to use this phrase?  An explanation of this would lead us to say: ““This is a perfectly good explanation of what you mean by ‘feeling the depth to be three feet’ and the statement that you feel this will have neither more, nor less, meaning than your explanation has given it....—But you see that the meaning of the words ‘I feel the depth of the water to be n feet’ had to be explained; it was not known what the meaning of the words ‘n feet’ in the ordinary sense (i.e., in the ordinary contexts) was known.  We don’t say that the man who tells us he feels the visual image two inches behind the bridge of his nose is telling a lie or talking nonsense.  But we say that we don’t understand.  The grammar of this phrase has yet to be explained to us.” 


8. Learning Meaning and Learning How Words Are Used: [11-12]


11 The importance of the investigation into learning how such words are used is that “...it applies to the relation between learning the meaning of a word and making use of the word.  Or, more generally, that it shows the different possible relations between a rule given and its application.”  


Consider four different processes called “estimating by the eye:”


(a) “reasoning,”

(b) “seeing,”

(c) “imagining,”

(d) “just “knowing.” 


Learning to estimate may be either a cause of the act of estimating, or it may supply a rule which we make use in the act of estimating. 


11-12 Similarly in the case of learning the meaning of a word and using words: (case of learning ‘yellow’).  Wittgenstein offers another example that shows the infelicity in conceiving of mental processes as doing the work: yellow ball in bag and imagining a yellow ball. 


-“(Now I don’t say that this is not possible [that one could employ such mental images].  Only putting it in this way immediately shows you that it need not happen.  This, by the way, illustrates the method of philosophy.)” 


--Question: does this mean that there is one philosophic method—is he an “essentialist” at the meta-philosophical “level?” 


9. Drill and Rules (Causes and Reasons): [12-15]


12-13 Two different ways of looking at the teaching of meaning via ostensive definition: (a) drill which brings about associations and feelings of recognition—here the teaching causes the phenomena of understanding, obeying, etc.; and (b) supplying a rule which is itself involved in the processes of understanding, obeying, etc. 


13 To understand the second process we need a distinction between processes which are in accordance with a rule and processes which involve a rule. 


-13 “We shall say that the rule is involved in the understanding, obeying, etc., if, as I should like to express it, the symbol of the rule forms a part of the calculation.”  Example of “1,2,3,4...” in contrast to “1,4,9,16—two different rules are possible here (squaring and “add 3,5,7,...”). 


14 Rules, in the sense in which we are interested in them here, do not “act at a distance,” and the second sense of learning to estimate or learning the meaning of a word is significantly different from the first.  When someone appeals to it, they are “giving a reason for something one did or said means showing a way which leads to this action.” 


14 Giving reasons may amount to telling the way one arrived at something (which makes it like (a) above), it may amount to describing a way which one may follow.  Of course “...he might have painted [the red patch] ‘automatically’ or from a memory image, but when asked to give the reason he might still point to the sample and show that it matched the patch he had painted.  In this latter case the reason given would have been of the second kind; i.e. a justification post hoc. 

  Now if one thinks that there could be no understanding and obeying the order without a previous teaching, one thinks of the teaching as supplying a reason for doing what one did; as supplying the road one walks.  Now there is the idea that if an order is understood and obeyed there must be a reason for our obeying it as we do; and, in fact, a chain of reasons reaching back to infinity.  This is as if one said: ‘Wherever you are, you must have got there from somewhere else, and to that previous place from another place; and so on ad infinitum.’” 


15 “If on the other hand you realize that the chain of actual reasons has a beginning, you will no longer be revolted by the idea of a cause in which there is no reason for the way you obey the order....When the chain of reasons has come to an end and still the question ‘why?’ is asked, one is inclined to give a cause instead of a reason.” 


10. Thinking, Operating With Signs, Language Games, and Philosophy: [15-20]


15-16 Regarding “Thinking essentially consists in operating with signs:”


16 “The question what kind of an activity thinking is is analogous to this: ‘Where does thinking take place?’  We can answer: on paper, in our head, in the mind.  None of these statements of locality gives the locality of thinking.  The use of all these specifications is correct, but we must not be misled by the similarity of their linguistic form into a false conception of their grammar.” 


-“...by misunderstanding the grammar of our expressions, we are led to think of one in particular of these statements as giving the real seat of the activity of thinking.” 


Thinking and private experience:


Could a machine think?  “Could a machine have a toothache?” 


-“The impossibility of which you speak is a logical one.”  What does he mean here?  In what sense is ‘logic’ being used?  Does he mean that the impossibility is a logical impossibility? 


“If we say thinking is essentially operating with signs, the first question you might ask is ‘What are signs?’—Instead of giving any kind of general answer to this question, I shall propose to you to look closely at particular cases which we should call ‘operating with signs’. 


16-17 An order: “Fetch me six apples from the grocer.”  Could be followed with both parties consulting diagrams on paper. 


17 A language game—a “...form of language with which a child begins to make use of words.  The study of language games is the study of primitive forms of language or primitive languages....When we look at such simple forms of language the mental mist which seems to enshroud our ordinary use of language disappears.  We see activities, reactions, which are clear-cut and transparent.  On the other hand we recognize in these simple processes forms of language not separated by a break from our more complicated ones.  We see that we can build up the complicated forms from the primitive ones by gradually adding new forms. 


Now what makes it difficult for us to take this line of investigation is our craving for generality. 

  This craving for generality is the resultant of a number of tendencies connected with particular philosophical confusions”:


-(a) the tendency to look for something common to all entities which we commonly subsume under a general term.  We need to speak, instead of family resemblances. 


-17-18 (b) “there is a tendency rooted in our usual forms of expression, to think that the man who has learnt to understand a general term, say the term “leaf”, has thereby come to possess a kind of general picture of a leaf as opposed to pictures of particular leaves.” 


--18 “This again is connected with the idea of a word as an image, or thing correlated to the word.” 


-(c) the confusion of mental states (hypothetical mechanisms) and mental states (states of consciousness). 


-(d) our preoccupation with the method of science.  “...it can never be our job to reduce anything to anything or explain anything.  Philosophy really is ‘purely descriptive’.” 


--Does this statement support the “therapeutic reading,” or is it a statement of a “thesis?” 


--Cf., Philosophical Investigations I, 24 and 291. 


“Instead of “craving for generality” I could also have said “the contemptuous attitude towards the particular case.” 


19 There is no one thing common to all cases of wishing—our usage has no sharp boundaries.  “If on the other hand you wish to give a definition of wishing, i.e., to draw a sharp boundary, then you are free to draw it as you like; and this boundary will never entirely coincide with the actual usage, as this usage has no sharp boundary. 

  The idea that in order to get clear about the meaning of a general term one had to find the common element in all its applications has shackled philosophical investigation.” 


-Contrast this, of course, with his Tractatus! 


-20 Plato is caught up in this error (when he has his character, Socrates, look for the form of “knowledge”).[3] 


11. A’s Expecting From 4:00 to 4:30 that B Will Come To Tea: [20-24]:


20 What happens if from 4 till 4:30 A expects B to come to his room for tea?  “If one asks what the different processes of expecting someone to tea have in common, the answer is that there is no single feature in common to all of them, though there are many common features overlapping.  These cases of expectation form a family; they have family likenesses which are not clearly defined.” 


21 Is there a sensation of expectation that B will come to tea? 


Construing “Expecting B will come” as a case of “Expecting x will come” is like construing “I eat a chair” as a case of “I eat x.”  Bright’s disease:  (a) the kind of disease which Bright has and (b) the disease which Bright has. 


22 One might try to maintain that in those cases where there is no expecting of B (in particular), we don’t know what (or whom) we expect.  One might also suggest that such uses be exclusively transitive (instead of “I have a sensation of fear” one would say “I am afraid of something, but I don’t know what”). 


22-23 ‘Unconscious toothache’—could we “use” this phrase?  “Now is it wrong...to say that I have toothache but don’t know it?  There is nothing wrong about it, as it is just a new terminology and can at any time be retranslated into ordinary language.  On the other hand it obviously makes use of the word ‘to know’ in a new way.  If you wish to examine how this expression is used it is helpful to ask yourself ‘what in this case is the process of getting to know like?’  What do we call ‘getting to know’ or ‘finding out’?’” 


-The new expression calls forth old pictures however.  “And it is extremely difficult to discard these pictures unless we are constantly watchful; particularly difficult when, in philosophy, we contemplate what we say about things.” 


-“In such a case we may clear the matter up by saying: “Let’s see how the word ‘unconscious’, ‘to know’, etc. etc., is used in this case, and how it’s used in others.”  How far does the analogy between these uses go?  We shall also try to construct new notations, in order to break the spell of those which we are accustomed to.” 


12. My Criteria for Another’s Having A Toothache: Behavior: [24]


24 “...to explain my criterion for another person’s having toothache is to give a grammatical explanation about the word “toothache” and, in this sense, an explanation concerning the meaning of the word “toothache.” 

  When we learnt the use of the phrase “so-and-so has toothache” we were pointed out certain kinds of behavior of those who were said to have toothache.” 


Does this say he is a behaviorist? 


If you are asked ““And why do you suppose that toothache corresponds to your holding your cheek?”  You will be at a loss to answer this question, and find that here we strike bottom, that is we have come down to conventions. 


13. Criteria and Symptoms: [24-25]


25 “...in general we don’t use language according to strict rules—it hasn’t been taught us by means of strict rules, either.  We, in our discussions on the other hand, constantly compare language with a calculus proceeding according to exact rules. 

  This is a very one-sided way of looking at language....We are unable clearly to circumscribe the concepts we use; not because we don’t know their real definition, but because there is no real ‘definition’ to them.  To suppose that there must be would be like supposing that whenever children play with a ball they play a game according to strict rules.” 


“To the question ‘How do you know that so-and-so is the case?’, we sometimes answer by giving ‘criteria’ and sometimes by giving ‘symptoms’.”  The latter are phenomena which experience has taught us coincide with the phenomenon in question. 


-In her Wittgenstein and Justice, Hanna Pitkin suggests that the distinction between symptoms and criteria is that criteria are supposed to be definitive of a concept while symptoms are merely empirically correlated with a concept.[4] 


25 “In practice, if you were asked which phenomenon is the defining criterion and which is a symptom, you would in most cases be unable to answer this question except by making an arbitrary decision ad hoc.  It may be practical to define a word by taking one phenomenon as the defining criterion, but we shall easily be persuaded to define the word by means of what, according to our first use, was a symptom.” 


14. A Central Difference Between the Tractatus and the Blue Book: 25-27]


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 Consider one such puzzle: Augustine’s question about time.  The problem Augustine has is with the measurement of time—he feels there is a “contradiction” here.  His problem is that he misconstrues various uses of ‘measure’. 


26-27 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 he 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. 


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.” 


-In his Pulling Up The Ladder, Richard Brockhaus maintains that: “much of the transition from the Tractatus through the middle period to the Philosophical Investigations is marked by Wittgenstein’s increasing reluctance to give in to our tendency to think in terms of the metaphysical ego (although he never ceases to take such tendencies seriously)....It is interesting to note that the popular Wittgenstenian expression “Bumping one’s head against the limits of language” has a quite different meaning in the context of the Tractatus than it does in the later philosophy; to play on the title of Hacker’s work, in one case it yields insight, in the other illusion.”[5] 


-“Many words...don’t have a strict meaning.  But this is not a defect.  To think it is would be like saying that the light of my reading lamp is no real light at all because it has no sharp boundary. 


28 “...a word hasn’t got a meaning given to it, as it were, by a power independent of us, so that there could be a kind of scientific investigation into what the word really means.  A word has the meaning someone has given to it.” 


“It is wrong to say that in philosophy we consider an ideal language as opposed to our ordinary one.  For this makes it appear as though we thought we could improve on ordinary language.  But ordinary language is all right.  Whenever we make up ‘ideal languages’ it is not in order to replace our ordinary language by them; but just to remove some trouble caused in someone’s mind by thinking that he has got hold of the exact use of a common word.  That is also why our method is not merely to enumerate actual usages of words, but rather deliberately to invent new ones, some of them because of their absurd appearance.” 


-“No sharp boundary can be drawn round the cases in which we should say that a man was misled by an analogy.” 


-What does he mean when he says “ordinary language is all right”? 


29 Mathematically inclined philosophers who forget the variety of things called proofs and linguistically inclined philosophers who try to find the simple difference between transitive and intransitive usages are discussed to illustrate the mistaken orientation. 


-We often use either of several forms of expression.  This undercuts those who look for uniqueness and clear-cut structure.  For example, “x2= + or - the square root of 1.” 


15. The “Grammar” of “To Wish,” “To Expect,” etc.: [30]


30 When we say “I wish for so-and-so,” can someone ask “Are you sure that is what you wish for?”  It seems that, surely, we must know what it is which we wish for. 


Compare this with “Do you know the ABCs?”  Note the difference between our “Of courses...” 


“It is similar when we ask, ‘Has this room a length?’, and someone answers: ‘Of course it has’.  He might have answered, ‘Don’t ask nonsense’.  On the other hand ‘The room has length’ can be used as a grammatical statement.  It then says that a sentence of the form ‘The room is _______ feet long’ makes sense. 


16. Thinking What Is Not The Case and Philosophical Questions: [30-32]


A great many philosophical difficulties are connected with the sense of the expressions ‘to wish’, ‘to think’, etc., which we are now considering.  These can all be summed up in the question; ‘how can one think what is not the case? 


30-31 This is a beautiful example of a philosophical question.  It asks ‘How can one...?’ and while this puzzles us we must admit that nothing is easier than to think what is not the case.  I mean, this shows us again that the difficulty which we are in does not arise through our inability to imagine how thinking something is done; just as the philosophical difficulty about the measurement of time did not arise through our inability to imagine how time was actually measured.  I say this because it sometimes seems as though our difficulty were one of remembering exactly what happened when we thought something, a difficulty of introspection, or something of the sort; whereas in fact it arises when we look at the facts through the medium of a misleading form of expression.” 


-Note that we don’t have a skepticism here.  We have a worry but not an argument for skepticism. 


31 Thinking King’s College is on fire when it is not. 


-We can’t hang a thief who doesn’t exist, how can we think something that is not the case? 


-“We are here misled by the substantives ‘object of thought’ and ‘fact’, and by the different meanings of the word ‘exist’. 


-Imagining a centaur: “non-existent combinations of existing elements?” 


We contend that the “elements must exit,” “but what do you mean by ‘redness exists’?  My watch exists, if it hasn’t been pulled to pieces, if it hasn’t been destroyed.  What would we call ‘destroying redness’?” 


32 We go from “beliefs” to “facts” to “shadows” of facts (like “propositions”).  “But this doesn’t remove our difficulty.  For the question now is: ‘How can something be the shadow of a fact which doesn’t exist?’” 


17. What Makes This A Portrait of Mr. N? [32-35]


32 “...if we wish to know what it means “intending this to be a portrait of so-and-so” lets see what actually happens when we intend this.  Remember the occasion when we talked of what happened when we expect some one from four to four-thirty.  To intend a picture to be a portrait of so-and-so (on the part of the painter, e.g.) is neither a particular state of mind nor a particular mental process.  But there are a great many combinations of actions and states of mind which we should call ‘intending...’” 


Copy this ellipse.” 


-33 An endless variety of actions and words bearing a family likeness to each other constitute “trying to copy.” 


33-34 Drawing arrows to give direction, but intending that an individual walk in the “opposite” direction.  “This could obviously be done by adding to our arrow some symbols which we might call “an interpretation.”  It is easy to imagine such a case in which, say to deceive someone, we might make an arrangement that an order should be carried out in the sense opposite to its normal one.  The symbol that adds the interpretation to our original arrow could, for instance, be another arrow.  Whenever we interpret a symbol in one way or another, the interpretation is a new symbol added to the old one.” 


-34 “Every sign is capable of interpretation.”....All this will become clearer if we consider what it is that really happens when we say a thing and mean what we say.—Let us ask ourselves: If we say to someone “I should be delighted to see you” and mean it, does a conscious process run alongside these words?” 


18. What is the Object of Thought? [35-39] 


35 Compare ‘I expect him’ and ‘I shoot him’—I can’t shoot him if he isn’t there!  How can I expect a fact that doesn’t exist?  “The way out of this difficulty seems to be: what we expect is not the fact, but a shadow of the fact [e.g., a proposition]; as it were, the next thing to the fact.” 


37 “If we keep in mind the possibility of a picture which, though correct, has no similarity with its object, the interpolation of a shadow between the sentence and reality loses all point.  For now the sentence itself can serve as such a shadow.  The sentence is just such a picture, which hasn’t the slightest similarity with what it represents.” 


-Note that this sentence constitutes a change from his earlier view!  In the Tractatus he held that each sentence “pictured” reality—they shared important similarities (logical structures). 


37-38 To overcome our difficulty (and understand the “grammar” of the phrase “object of our wish”) consider the answer we give to the question “What is the object of your wish?” 


19. The Mind As A Place: [39-41]


39 “The fault which in all our reasonings about these matters we are inclined to make is to think that the images and experiences of all sorts, which are in some sense closely connected with each other, must be present in our mind at the same time.” 


39-40 The mind seems to be a “place” where meaning and intending take place.  When we say the ABCs it seems like we are pulling a string of pearls from a box—they must all be there before we start the process.  Similarly when we speak of what we meant—we know because it is stored there!  Consider a process and knowing how to go on. 


40 How long does it take to know how to go on? 


“‘The crash of the gun wasn’t as loud as I expected.’  Was there a louder one in your mind, then?  There are many things that count here, but we don’t need to assume a crash (nor do we need to assume the “shadow” of a crash) in the mind! 


-41 “The phrase ‘to express an idea which is before our mind’ suggests that what we are trying to express in words is already expressed, only in a different language; that this expression is before our mind’s eye; and that what we do is to translate from the mental into the verbal language.  In most cases which we call ‘expressing an idea, etc.’ something very different happens.  Imagine what it is that happens in cases such as this: I am groping for a word.  Several words are suggested and I reject them.  Finally one is proposed and I say: “That is what I meant!’” 


20. Nothing is Gained By Talk of An Accompanying Mental Process: [41-44]


41-42 “I have been trying in all this to remove the temptation to think that there ‘must be’ what is called a mental process of thinking, hoping, wishing, believing, etc., independent of the process of expressing a thought, a hope, a wish, etc.  And I want to give you the following rule of thumb: if you are puzzled about the nature of thought, belief, knowledge, and the like, substitute for the thought the expression of the thought, etc.  The difficulty which lies in this substitution, and at the same time the whole point if it is this: the expression of belief, thought, etc., is just a sentence;—and the sentence has sense only as a member of a system of language; as one expression within a calculus....when the temptation to think that is some sense the whole calculus must be present at the same time vanishes, there is no more point in postulating the existence of a peculiar kind of mental act alongside of our expression.  This, of course, doesn’t mean that we have shown that peculiar acts of consciousness do not accompany the expressions of our thoughts!  Only we no longer say that they must accompany them.” 


42 But we can say one thing and mean another—surely this means that there must be a “special, accompanying mental process!  That is, lying seems to require that there be accompanying processes! 


Say ‘It is hot in this room’ but mean ‘it is cold’.  Observe what you are doing. 


An Experiment:


-Say, and mean: ‘It will probably rain tomorrow’. 


-Think [mean], but don’t say the same thing. 


--“If thinking that it will rain tomorrow accompanied saying that it will rain tomorrow, then just do the first activity and leave out the second.” 


“If thinking and speaking stood in the relation of the words and the melody of a song, we could leave out the speaking and do the thinking just as we can sing the tune without the words. 


-43 But can’t one at any rate speak and leave out the thinking?  Certainly—but observe what sort of thing you are doing if you speak without thinking.  Observe first of all that the process which we might call ‘speaking and meaning what you speak’ is not necessarily distinguished from speaking thoughtlessly by what happens at the time when you speak.  What distinguishes the two may very well be what happens before or after you speak.” 


“If we scrutinize the usages which we make of such words as ‘thinking’, ‘meaning’. ‘wishing’, etc., going through this process rids us of the temptation to look for a peculiar act of thinking, independent of the act of expressing our thoughts and stowed away in some peculiar medium.  We are no longer prevented by the established forms of expression from recognizing that the experience of thinking may be just the experience of saying or may consist of this experience plus others which accompany it....The scrutiny of the grammar of a word weakens the position of certain fixed standards of our expression which had prevented us from seeing facts with unbiased eyes.  Our investigation tried to remove this bias, which forces us to think that the facts must conform to certain pictures embedded in our language.” 


21. Discussion of Personal Experience and Philosophy: [44-46]


44 The issues here are connected with many other areas in philosophy.  Progress is not always apparent.  [Example of the books on floor of library that must be arranged—they lie higgley-piggledy, there are many ways of sorting them]. 


45 “The difficulty in philosophy is to say no more than we know.  E.g., to see that when we have put two books together in their right order we may not thereby have put them in their final places. 

  When we think about the relation of the objects surrounding us to our personal experiences of them, we are sometimes tempted to say that these personal experiences are the material of which reality consists.” 


-The table of physics and solidity.  This suggests phenomenalism!  It undercuts our view of the “solidness” of the material world: “We seem to have made a discovery—which I could describe by saying that the ground on which we stood and which appeared to be firm and reliable was found to be boggy and unsafe.—That is, this happens when we philosophize; for as soon as we revert to the standpoint of common sense this general uncertainty disappears.” 


45-46 “As in this example the word ‘solidity’ was used wrongly and it seemed that we had shown that nothing really was solid, just in this way, in stating our puzzles about the general vagueness of sense-experience, and about the flux of all phenomena, we are using the words ‘flux’ and ‘vagueness’ wrongly, in a typically metaphysical way, namely without an antithesis; whereas in their correct and everyday use vagueness is opposed to clearness, flux to stability....” 


22. Regarding the “Privacy” of Personal Experience: [46-48]


46 “There is a temptation for me to say that only my own experience is real: ‘I know that I see, hear, feel pains, etc., but not that anyone else does.  I can’t know this, because I am I and they are they’.” 


One feels ashamed to say that only one’s own experience is real. 


46-47 There are propositions which we say “describe the material (or external) world, and there are propositions describing mental experiences. 


-47 “At first sight it may appear (but why it should can only become clear later) that here we have two kinds of worlds....”  And it may seem as if the objects in the mental world are “aetheral,” but, as Wittgenstein reminds us, such talk is a subterfuge. 


-“…we already know the idea of ‘aethereal objects’ as a subterfuge, when we are embarrassed about the grammar of certain words, and when all we know is that they are not used as names for material objects.  This is a hint as to how the problem of the two materials, mind and matter, is going to dissolve.” 


The question “Can a machine think” seems nonsensical (like the question “Has the number three a color”). 


23. We Are Up Against the Trouble Caused By Our Way of Expression: [48-57]


48 We are up against trouble caused by our way of expression. 

  Another such trouble, closely akin, is expressed in the sentence: “I can only know that I have personal experiences, not that anyone else has”.—Shall we then call it an unnecessary hypothesis that anyone else has personal experiences?—But is it an hypothesis at all?” 


“Does a realist pity me more than an idealist or a solipsist?” 


“Now the answer of the common-sense philosopher—and that, n.b., is not the common-sense man, who is as far from realism as from idealism—the answer of the common-sense philosopher is that surely there is no difficulty in the idea of supposing, thinking, imagining that someone else has what I have.  But the trouble with the realist is always that he does not solve but skip the difficulties which his adversaries see, though they too don’t succeed in solving them.” 


53 “Thus the propositions “A has a gold tooth” and “A has toothache” arte not used analogously.  They differ in their grammar where at first sight they might not seem to differ.” 


53-54 “What sort of impossibility were you referring to when you said you couldn’t know?  Weren’t you thinking of a case analogous to that when one couldn’t know whether the other man had a gold tooth in his mouth because he had his mouth shut?  Here what you didn’t know you could nevertheless imagine knowing; it made sense to say that you saw the tooth although you didn’t see it; or rather, it makes sense to say that you don’t see his tooth therefore it also makes sense to say that you do.  When on the other hand, you granted me that a man can’t know whether the other person has  pain, you do not wish to say that as a matter of fact people didn’t know, but that it made no sense to say they knew (and therefore no sense to say they don’t know).”


54 When we say we can’t share a pain we are making a grammatical statement. 


55 “Of course, if we exclude the phrase ‘I have his toothache’ from our language, we thereby also exclude ‘I have (or feel) my toothache.  Another form of our metaphysical statement is this: ‘A man’s sense data are private to himself’.  And this way of expressing it is even more misleading because it looks still more like an experiential proposition; the philosopher who says this may well think that he is expressing a kind of scientific truth.” 


“What we did in these discussions was what we always do when we meet the word ‘can’ in a metaphysical proposition.  We show that this proposition hides a grammatical rule.  That is to say, we destroy the outward similarity between a metaphysical proposition and an experiential one.... 


56 “(Compare the proposition “He is 6 inches taller than I” with “6 foot 0 inches is longer than 5 foot 6”.  These propositions are of utterly different kinds, but look exactly alike.)” 


57 “The man who says ‘only my pain is real’, doesn’t mean to say that he has found out by the common criteria—the criteria, i.e., which gave our words their common meanings—that the others who said they had pains were cheating.  But what he rebels against is the use of this expression in connection with these criteria.  That is, he objects to using this word in the particular way in which it is commonly used.  On the other hand, he is not aware that he is objecting to a convention.  He sees a way of dividing the country different from the one used on the ordinary map.  He feels tempted, say, to use the name ‘Devonshire’ not for the county with its conventional boundary, but for a region differently bounded.  He could express this by saying: ‘Isn’t it absurd to make this a county, to draw the boundaries here?’  But what he says is: ‘The real Devonshire is this’.  We could answer: ‘What you want is only a new notation, and by a new notation no facts of geography are changed.’” 


24. Common Sense and Philosophy: [58-59]


58-59 “There is no common sense answer to a philosophical problem.  One can defend common sense against the attacks of philosophers only by solving their puzzles, i.e., by curing them of the temptation to attack common sense....” 


59 “Our ordinary language, which of all possible notations is the one which pervades all our life, holds our mind rigidly in one position, as it were, and in this position sometimes it feels cramped, having a desire for other positions as well.  Thus we sometimes wish for a notation which stresses a difference more strongly, makes it more obvious, than ordinary language does, or one which in a particular case uses more closely similar forms of expression than our ordinary language.” 


25. On Personal Identity: [59-66]


61 Of the solipsist: “what should strike us about this expression is the phrase ‘always I’.  Always who?—For, queer enough, I don’t mean: ‘always L.W.’  This leads us to considering the criteria for the identity of a person.”  Personal identity—I am usually recognized by the appearance of my body. 


62 Suppose all bodies looked alike—we might “name” individuals by characteristics.  Jekyll and Hyde....Someone who remembers what happens on odd days only on odd days....”Are we bound to say that here two persons are inhabiting the same body?  That is, is it right to say that there are, and wrong to say that there aren’t, or vice versa?  Neither.  For the ordinary use of the word “person” is what one might call a composite use suitable under ordinary circumstances.  If I assume...that these circumstances are changed, the application of the term “person” or “personality” has thereby changed; and if I wish to preserve this term and give it a use analogous to its former use, I am at liberty to choose between many uses, that is, between many different kinds of analogy.” 


-64 “What tempted me to say “it is always I who see when anything is seen”, I could also have yielded to by saying: “whenever anything is seen, it is this which is seen”, accompanying the word “this” by a gesture embracing my visual field (but only meaning by “this” the particular objects which I happen to see at the moment).  One might say, “I am pointing at the visual field as such, not at anything in it”.  And this only serves to bring out the senselessness of the former expression.” 


65 “The meaning of a phrase for us is characterized by the use we make of it.  The meaning is not a mental accompaniment to the expression.  Therefore the phrase “I think I mean something by it”, or “I’m sure I mean something by it”, which we so often hear in philosophical discussions to justify the use of an expression is for us no justification at all.  We ask, “What do you mean?”, i.e., “How do you use this expression?”  If someone taught me the word “bench” and said that he sometimes or always put a stroke over it thus: “bench” [with a line over it], and that this meant something to him I should say: “I don’t know what sort of idea you associate with this stroke, but it doesn’t interest me unless you show me that there is a use for the stroke in the kind of calculus in which you wish to use the word ‘bench’....”


26. The Distinction Between ‘I’ As Subject and As Object: [66-70]


66-67 Distinction between ‘I’ as indicating an object (“My arm is broken”) and as indicating a subject (“I feel pain”). 


67 “The cases of the first category involve the recognition of a particular person, and there is in these cases the possibility of an error, or as I should rather put it; The possibility of an error has been provided for.  The possibility of failing to score has been provided for in a pin game.  On the other hand, it is not one of the hazards of the game that the balls should fail to come up if I have put a penny in the slot....To ask ‘are you sure that it’s you who have pains?’ would be nonsensical.  Now, when in this case no error is possible, it is because the move which we might be inclined to think of as an error...is no move of the game at all.” 


-“To say, ‘I have pain’ is no more a statement about a particular person than moaning is.”


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.) 


-68 When speaking of the geometric figure,




      / c \

                /       \

              /           \



“we say “A=a’, B=b’, and c=c”.  The first two equalities are of an entirely different kind from the third).  In “I have pain”, “I” is not a demonstrative pronoun.” 


-“The difference between the propositions ‘I have pain’ and ‘he has pain’ is not that of ‘L.W. has pain’ and ‘Smith has pain’.  Rather, it corresponds to the difference between moaning and saying that someone moans.” 


69 “The use of the word in practice is its meaning.” 


27. Regarding Sense-Data and Meaning: [70-74 (end)]


70 Regarding sense data: “Queerly enough, the introduction of this new phraseology has deluded people into thinking that they had discovered new entities....” 


“Now the danger we are in when we adopt the sense datum notation is to forget the difference between the grammar of a statement about sense data and the grammar of an outwardly similar statement about physical objects.” 


-71 When I made my solipsist statement, I pointed, but I robbed the pointing of its sense by inseparable connecting that which points and that to which it points.  I constructed a clock with all its wheels, etc., and in the end fastened the dial to the pointer and made it go round with it.  And in this way the solipsist’s “Only this is really seen” reminds us of a tautology.” 


-71-72 “If, however, I believe that by pointing to that which in my grammar has no neighbour I can convey something to myself (if not to others), I make a mistake similar to that of thinking that the sentence “I am here” makes sense to me (and, by the way is always true) under conditions different from those very special conditions under which it does make sense.  E.g., when my voice and the direction from which I speak is recognized by another person.  Again an important case where you can learn that a word has meaning by the particular use we make of it.—We are like people who think that pieces of wood shaped more or less like chess or draught pieces and standing on a chess board make a game, even if nothing has been said as to how they are to be used.” 


73-74 “The meaning of the expression depends entirely on how we go on using it.  Let’s not imagine the meaning as an occult connection the mind makes between as word and a thing, and that this connection contains the whole usage of a word as the seed might be said to contain the tree. 

  The kernel of our proposition that that which has pains or sees or thinks is of a mental nature is only, that the word ‘I’ in ‘I have pains’ does not denote a particular body, for we can’t substitute for ‘I’ a description of a body.” 




What is Wittgenstein doing in the Blue Book? 


Well, what is going on in The Blue Book?  We have lots of “aphoristic statements!”  Look, today, at: p. 48: “Does a realist pity me more than an idealist or a solipsist?”  What is he asking?  Why is he asking it? 


He is, in part, teaching a method of philosophizing.  Clearing up philosophic confusion, drawing attention to our ordinary usages: 


-cf., p. 23: “What do we call ‘getting to know’ or ‘finding out’…the new expression misleads us by calling up pictures and analogies which make it difficult for us to go through with our convention.  And it is extremely difficult to discard these pictures unless we are constantly watchful; particularly difficult when, in philosophizing, we contemplate what we say about things.” 


-cf., p. 17: “Now what makes it difficult for us to take this line of investigation is our craving for generality.” 


-cf., pp. 48-57: We’re up against the trouble caused by our way of expression:


--p. 55: “What we did in these discussions was what we always do when we meet the word ‘can’ in a metaphysical proposition.  We show that this proposition hides a grammatical rule.  That is to say, we destroy the outward similarity between a metaphysical proposition and an experiential one....” 


--p. 57: “The man who says ‘only my pain is real’, doesn’t mean to say that he has found out by the common criteria—the criteria, i.e., which gave our words their common meanings—that the others who said they had pains were cheating.  But what he rebels against is the use of this expression in connection with these criteria.  That is, he objects to using this word in the particular way in which it is commonly used.  On the other hand, he is not aware that he is objecting to a convention.  He sees a way of dividing the country different from the one used on the ordinary map.  He feels tempted, say, to use the name ‘Devonshire’ not for the county with its conventional boundary, but for a region differently bounded.  He could express this by saying: ‘Isn’t it absurd to make this a county, to draw the boundaries here?’  But what he says is: ‘The real Devonshire is this’.  We could answer: ‘What you want is only a new notation, and by a new notation no facts of geography are changed.’” 


-cf., p. 18: Philosophy really is ‘purely descriptive.’ 


     But, one wants to know, what is his [positive] philosophy—what theses does he offer.  To get at this, let’s first look at what he rejects by contrasting the Tractatus and the Blue Book:


A. Contrasting “pictures” of “meaning:”


Tractatus “picture theory of meaning:”


picture of an artist picturing a cat sitting on a mat;


each meaningful proposition having a fixed meaning;


determinate limits to meaning;


a fixed and logical grammar; and


the meanings being independent of the individuals who use the language, think the thoughts, etc. 


In his The False Prison: A Study of the Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy, David Pears maintains that: “his early system had been constructed under the guidance of the old idea, that philosophy penetrates phenomena and reveals their underlying structure.  Its results were, therefore, theories.  At the centre stood the theory that factual sentences are pictures, produced by putting together the names of simple objects; then there was the theory that these sentences can be combined with one another in only one way, truth-functionally, so that the senses of the combinations will depend entirely on the senses of the sentences that went into them; and, finally, the theory that anything else that we tired to say in sentences would lack factual sense.  From this it followed that all philosophical theories, including these three, themselves lacked factual sense, and that was a paradox which could not be left unexplained.”[6] 


Blue Book picture [meaning as use: 5, 65, 67-68, 73-74]:


Pears cites Wittgenstein recorded in his conversations in 1931 with Friedrich Waismann, regarding the transition from his earlier views: “...only in recent years have I broken away from that mistake.....The wrong conception which I want to object to in this connection is the following, that we can hit upon something that we today cannot yet see, that we can discover something wholly new.  That is a mistake.  The truth of the matter is that we have already got everything, and we have got it actually present; we need not wait for anything.  We make our moves in the realm of the grammar of our ordinary language, and this grammar is already there.  Thus we have already got everything and need not wait for the future.[7] 


conventions [p. 24];


no fixed senses or boundaries [25, 57];


rejection of search for “substantives.” 


Pears notes that “the theory of meaning offered in the Tractatus is not the only target of his later criticism.  It is directed against any theory that tries to put meaning on a static basis.  The point is a general one: all theories of this kind make an impossible demand on the thing that they choose for the key role in the speaker’s mind, whether it be a picture or a rule or the flash of understanding produced by an example.  It is not that we fail to find the right instant talisman through lack of philosophical ingenuity: we cannot find an instant talisman, because there could not be such a thing.  However, philosophers paper over this impossibility with vague words, because their theory is not really intended for verification, like a scientific theory, and its implications are not worked out in detail.”[8] 


B. Contrasting “pictures” of metaphysics:”


Tractatus and the truth in solipsism and realism [5.64 and 5.62]; simples, analysis, and essences; metaphysical self, value, and “the mystical.” 


Blue Book and the rejection of idealism, solipsism, realism, behaviorism, and phenomenalism [cf., pp. 48-49]; conventions and use; misleading grammar; and family resemblances. 


C. Contrasting “pictures” of “thought:”


Tractatus and thought as entertaining propositions, the metaphysical self and meaning, picturing, valuing. 


Blue Book against the mind as a “place” [cf., pp. 39-41], and against “mental activity” (at least as a single, uniform, necessary accompaniment; against mental activity as one unique thing. 



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] Formalism is the view that one may dispense with the meanings of mathematical statements and regard them as nothing but strings of formal symbols within a system. 

[3] Cf., Peter Geach, “Plato’s Euthyphro,” The Monist v. 50 (1966), pp. 369-382—he calls the propensity Wittgenstein is pointing to here “the Socratic fallacy. 

[4] Hanna Pitkin, Wittgenstein and Justice (Berkeley: Univ. of California, 1972), pp. 126-127. 

[5] Richard Brockhaus, Pulling Up The Ladder: The Metaphysical Roots of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus (LaSalle: Open Court, 1991), p. 20, footnote. 

[6] David Pears, The False Prison: A Study of the Development of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy v. 2 (Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1988), p.199. 

[7] Ibid., p. 205. The citation is from: Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle: Conversations Recorded by Friedrich Waismann, ed. Brian McGuinness, trans. J. Schulte and B. McGuinness (Oxford: Blackwell, 1979). 

[8] Ibid., p. 209. 

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