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Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations

January 21, 2018
notes and comments by William P. Meyers

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These notes and comments are not meant to be an introduction to Wittgenstein's thought. Rather, the notes address a variety of particular issues that interest me, or simply are good quotes to launch a discussion about Philosophy. Page numbers are in [brackets] and refer to the following edition: Philosophische Untersuchungen or Philosophical Investigations, German text with revised English translation, by Ludwig Wittgenstein, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, Third Edition, hardcover, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford U.K., 2001

"108. We see that what we call "sentence" and "language" has not the formal unity that I imagined, but is the family of structures more or less elated to one another. . . The problems are solved, not by reporting new experience, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of our language." [40] This (and the text elipsed here) gives the basic idea of the investigations.

"To understand a sentence means to understand a language. To understand a language means to be master of a technique." [68] When someone learning our language, a foreigner or child, says something not quite right, but we understand it anyway, we are showing both our mastery and our assumption that both of us live in the same world and can talk about some of its details.

"(Remember that we sometimes demand definitions for the sake not of their content, but of their form. Our requirement is an architectural one; the definition a kind of ornamental coping that supports nothing." [72] That is part of the reason that while we can usually translate accurately from one language to another, at times there can be difficulties. We fit the world into our grammar, but grammar varies among the human languages.

"The philosopher's treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness." [77] Treatment by a witchdoctor or a medical doctor? When is the treatment worse than the disease? Do no harm? People fear treatment, and so avoid it.

"Is our confidence justified?—What people accept as a justification—shews how they think and live." [90] And since different people think and live differently, there is no universal approach to reasoning with them. Why you can't talk most people out of their religion, or paranoia, for example.

"One cannot guess how a word functions. One has to look at its use and learn from that." [93]

""But when I imagine something, something certainly happens!" Well, something happens—and then I make a noise. What for? Presumably in order to tell what happens.—But how is telling done? When are we said to tell anything?—What is the language-game of telling?" with further examples [97] Well, language is not the only thing in the brain or the mind. I can remember something, then describe it to myself, or to others, in language. But the memory was already there. Just as I might, in a walk in a park with a friend, describe a flower. My telling does not create the flower.

"381. How do I know that this colour is red?—It would be an answer to say "I have learnt English." [100] And if I had learnt American English, I would know the color is red. And if my mother were an interior designer, she might correct me, saying that is something near red, but the color has a specific name.

"383. We are not analysing a phenomenon (e.g. thought) but a concept (e.g. that of thinking), and therefore the use of a word. So it may look as if what we were doing were Nominalism. Nominalists make the mistake of interpreting all words as names, and so of not really describing their use, but only, so to speak, giving a paper draft on such a description." [100] Don't go there, it is a quagmire, and pointless.

"For this is what disputes between Idealists, Solipsists and Realists look like. The one party attack the normal form of expression as if they were attacking a statement; the others defend it, as if they were stating facts recognized by every reasonable human being." [103] In other words academics argue like most people: to defend previously held beliefs, rather than to find what is really true through debate. See the quote of page 90 above.

"412. The feeling of an unbridgeable gulf between consciousness and brain-process: how does it come about that this does not come into the considerations of our ordinary life? . . .
It is when I, for example, turn my attention in a particular way on to my own consciousness, and, astonished, say to myself: THIS is supposed to be produced by a process in the brain." [109] Consciousness continues to be the bug-bear of science and philosophy. W. can try to show how we think or talk about it strangely, but removing muddy thinking does not seem to add any clarity, in this case.

"464. My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense." Which leaves us where? Still in mortal bodies, aware of an external world.

"593. A main cause of philosophical disease—an unbalanced diet: one nourishes one's thinking with only one kind of example." [131] So what would be a nourishing philosophical diet? Are there philosophical analogues of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins—or poisons?

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