For the Love of Language

Wittgenstein Linguistics - CopyAnyone preoccupied with language would find Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations of interest.

In his famous Philosophical Investigations, conducted throughout the 1940s, Wittgenstein explored the concepts of meaning, understanding, proposition, logic, and consciousness, among other things. By analyzing linguistic forms of expression, Wittgenstein set to understand the essence of language, its function, and its structure, and to answer the question “What is language?” Wittgenstein was interested in the logic of language, exactness, regularity and contradictions. Logic presents the order of possibilities, he argued.

“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language” (p. 47).

“The fundamental fact here is that we lay down rules, a technique for a game, and that then when we follow the rules, things do not turn out as we had assumed. That we are therefore as it were entangled in our own rules. This entanglement in our own rules is what we want to understand” (p. 50).

“Language is a labyrinth of paths,” Wittgenstein argued (p. 82).

“If language is to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in definitions but also in judgments” (p. 88).

Wittgenstein also theorized that it’s human agreement that decides what is true and what is false in any particular language. He also explored more complicated matters like what happens in translation, and how do words refer to sensations? Is our vocabulary inadequate? He then pondered about the extent to which our sensations are private (p. 89). Later in the book Wittgenstein questioned what emotions are outside language, and what experiencing meaning versus experiencing a mental image is.

About lies, he had this to say: “Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other one” (p. 90).

“Is thinking a kind of speaking?” the philosopher asked (p. 107). Is talking to oneself (internal speech) a private language?

“When I think in language, there aren’t ‘meanings’ going through my mind in addition to the verbal expressions: the language is itself the vehicle of thought” (p. 107). Wittgenstein argued that “The thoughts are already there and we merely look for their expression” (p. 108). To think and to mean are different, he explained, because meaning is not a mental activity (p. 172). Later in the book he expounded that “The mind seems able to give a word meaning” (p. 184).

Wittgenstein was intrigued by the mental processes involved in linguistic expression, and questioned whether talking without thinking was possible, and if so, what that entailed. “Speech with and without thought is to be compared with the playing of a piece of music with and without thought” (p. 109).

How do individuals communicate their mental images to others, and what methods of representation are available to communicate and exert influence? Wittgenstein was preoccupied with questions like these.

“Grammar tells what kind of object anything is,” he argued (p. 116).

“The purpose of language is to express thoughts,” he added (p. 139). And “Language is an instrument. Its concepts are instruments.” (p. 151)

“Words are also deeds,” (p. 146) and “To have an opinion is a state” (p. 151).

“A proposition, and hence in another sense a thought, can be the ‘expression’ of a belief, hope, expectation, etc. But believing is not thinking,” he clarified (p. 152).

In psychology he thought that “Here explanation of our thinking demands a feeling” (p. 156).

However, “Talking (whether out loud or silently) and thinking are not concepts of the same kind; even though they are in closest connection,” he concluded (p. 217).

Wittgenstein also stressed just how seeing and interpreting are different from one another, and emphasized the importance of context in understanding human experience. “Do I really see something different each time, or do I only interpret what I see in a different way? I am inclined to say the former.” “To interpret is to think, to do something; seeing is a state,” Wittgenstein argued (p. 212).

Excerpts from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations published in translation by Macmillan in 1953 (250 pages).