• Luke
    533
    138. Wittgenstein criticises the notion that each word has a unique meaning attached to it, and that these unique meanings can be fit together with the meanings of other words. Wittgenstein reminds us that "the meaning is the use we make of the word", implying that there is not a fixed, unique meaning attached to each word, and it therefore "makes no sense to speak of such fitting".

    Wittgenstein then anticipates a possible rebuttal against his dictum that 'meaning is use'; one most likely made by those captured by the view that a word's meaning is something mental:

    But we understand the meaning of a word when we hear it or say it; we grasp the meaning at a stroke, and what we grasp in this way is surely something different from the 'use' which is extended in time!

    If the use (and meaning) of a word is extended in time, as Wittgenstein contends, then how is it that we can grasp the meaning of a word at a stroke? Wittgenstein does not provide an answer, but it lies in our training, practise and acquired ability with the use of words.

    The boxed section offers a counter to the rebuttal with the simple observation that we do not always understand the meaning of a word (e.g. "at a stroke"), even if we think we might.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    Words are often thought of as compounded with concepts. It is the ‘play between’ that creates the purposeful illusion of ideal meaning. In reality every word has a historical use and presence felt and understood, mostly indirectly, by habitual use and association.
  • Luke
    533
    I don't understand what you mean by "the play between" or "the purposeful illusion of ideal meaning". Purposeful?
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    The illusion of an “ideal” (in and of itself) serves the purpose of distinction rather than the merging of all concepts into one ubiquitous soup of meaningless drivel.

    I often get the impression when I see people talking about Wittgenstein that a number of them assume any given word to be a concept. I’d also add that many conflate his use of the term ‘language’ - I know I used to until I read his stuff and saw he attaching a specific meaning to ‘language’ that others choose to use more broadly (those others being linguists).

    We “understand” a word when we hear it just like we understand a tree when we see it - the difference being the experiential exposure to a tree is not enclosed in a communicable language other than by ostensive means (literally pointing the physical object out to another or by way of mimicry).

    “Understanding” is just a word used to communicate a certain way of comprehending boundaries - the “understanding” (in common parse) is what happens ‘between’ our concepts bound in wordiness and the immediate phenomenon.

    For the individual person every experience is unique, yet the subtle differences are glossed over. Most words used don’t have any apparent “unique” meaning to the individual, yet they only have a unique meaning at large - or they wouldn’t have meaning at all (there would be no differentiation). When a word is considered as an experienced item - a memory attachment - then it is uniquely meaningful to the individual (as is the word “mountain” for me due to my personal connection with the word in regards to ... well ... something personal and in relation to Wittgenstein’s proclamation of there being no ‘private language’).

    If the meaning is the use then what does ‘use’ mean? Clearly we’re talking within W’s strict definition of language so it is true. The point here being he sets out the limits of the map and then has a hard time being satisfied with this limited reach - and also seems to forget HE set it up as the limit of his investigation (he equates “language” to “philosophy” so a more precise title would’ve been “Philosophical Musings about Language”).
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k
    There are two distinct ways of "understanding" outlined in this section (138-142). If understanding a word is to associate something (like a picture) with the word, then we can either do this "in a flash", or we can go through a "process" whereby we would consciously choose which thing would be associated with which word. The former is said to be the normal case, and the latter is the abnormal (142). The abnormal case contains varying degrees of doubt, and if this doubt were normal, it would undermine the capacity of the language-games because in the abnormal case there is a higher probability of error.

    Notice that in this section he conflates "understanding" in the sense of hearing a spoken word with "understanding" in the sense which is required for choosing a word to say. He talks about understanding a spoken word, yet deciding whether a word "fits" a particular situation is a matter of choosing the appropriate word to use in that situation. So the distinctions which he makes here are quite confused and difficult to understand because understanding a spoken word, and choosing the appropriate word to say, are very different, yet he places them together.

    "But we understand the meaning of a word when we hear or say it, we grasp it in a flash, and what we grasp in this way is surely something different from the 'use' which is extended in time!"

    The "use" of a word must include both the hearing and saying of the word. But these are very distinct and cannot be classed together under the same name of "understanding" without equivocation. The "grasp in a flash", which may be appropriate for the hearing of a word, is not so appropriate for the decision as to whether the word is the right word to say in the situation, whether it "fits". Now Wittgenstein's distinction between the normal and the abnormal will get very confused. What he seems to be missing is that in hearing it is normal to understand in a flash, and these instances with little doubt are less likely to produce mistake, compared to instances with much doubt. But the converse is the case in speaking. In choosing our words to say, the normal case is to use a process of selection, and if the words to say come to our minds in a flash, this is abnormal, and much more likely to produce error.
  • Luke
    533
    The illusion of an “ideal” (in and of itself) serves the purpose of distinction rather than the merging of all concepts into one ubiquitous soup of meaningless drivel.I like sushi

    What is the illusion? What is the ideal? I still don't understand.

    I often get the impression when I see people talking about Wittgenstein that a number of them assume any given word to be a concept. I’d also add that many conflate his use of the term ‘language’ - I know I used to until I read his stuff and saw he attaching a specific meaning to ‘language’ that others choose to use more broadly (those others being linguists).

    [...]

    If the meaning is the use then what does ‘use’ mean? Clearly we’re talking within W’s strict definition of language so it is true. The point here being he sets out the limits of the map and then has a hard time being satisfied with this limited reach - and also seems to forget HE set it up as the limit of his investigation (he equates “language” to “philosophy” so a more precise title would’ve been “Philosophical Musings about Language”).
    I like sushi

    What is this "strict definition of language"? Do you mean lacking a private language?

    For the individual person every experience is unique, yet the subtle differences are glossed over. Most words used don’t have any apparent “unique” meaning to the individual, yet they only have a unique meaning at large - or they wouldn’t have meaning at all (there would be no differentiation). When a word is considered as an experienced item - a memory attachment - then it is uniquely meaningful to the individual (as is the word “mountain” for me due to my personal connection with the word in regards to ... well ... something personal and in relation to Wittgenstein’s proclamation of there being no ‘private language’).I like sushi

    You are conflating private meaningfulness with the denotative function of meaning. Your talk of "meaning to the individual" refers to something memorable or important (to the individual), whereas Wittgenstein's talk of meaning refers to a definition or denotation.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    That’s the best I can do at the moment. Further attempts at clarification would just muddy the waters.

    Note: Linguistics is a science and the term ‘language’ has multiple applications; you know that so only you know why you’re asking for clarification there.
  • Luke
    533
    the term ‘language’ has multiple applications; you know that so only you know why you’re asking for clarification thereI like sushi

    I'm asking because I disagree that Wittgenstein uses a narrow or strict definition of language, as you claim.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    His claim not mine. He sets out his use of the word early on.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k


    You are conflating private meaningfulness with the denotative function of meaning. Your talk of "meaning to the individual" refers to something memorable or important (to the individual), whereas Wittgenstein's talk of meaning refers to a definition or denotation.

    That is the mistake I was highlighting people make.

    In terms of how Wittgenstein defines language, he does so. He defines (denotes if you wish) language to be of character X and then says it cannot be of character Y. I don’t imagine he thought this was a particularly astounding point yet I find that many regard it as being something unique. I’ve seen many people say “you cannot have private language, read Witty!” I read Witty and he defines language as being something communal, something exchanged between people - ergo it is obvious by such a definition that ‘language’ cannot be private.

    If Wittgenstein is talking about communicating, as distinct from language, he doesn’t anywhere say so - although he touches on this in part.

    In the broader field of linguistics animal communication is taken by some as ‘language’ where others believe ‘language’ to have a more rigid definition (in the sense Wittgenstein uses the term). We could even make the false claim that a rock is “communicating” with the ground it is on. Reality is we perceive such distinctions naturally - is this ‘language’?

    Humans do not require a “language” to function in society. There is most certainly a means of communication though that allows humans to interact without the use of definitions - mimicry and innate empathy, mirror neurons and such, show this to be the case.
  • Luke
    533
    He defines (denotes if you wish) language to be of character X and then says it cannot be of character Y.I like sushi

    As I asked you before, where does he give this definition of language?

    If Wittgenstein is talking about communicating, as distinct from language, he doesn't anywhere say so.I like sushi

    I still don't understand what you're getting at. Are you asking whether Wittgenstein includes non-linguistic communication as part of language? His concerns are philosophical and he considers philosophical problems to arise from linguistic confusions. I don't think Wittgenstein would include animal communication as part of (our) language, but unless animals are engaging in philosophy I think it's largely irrelevant.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    I believe if you look at sections 243-315? Or somewhere in that area? Index should help; “private language”.

    I wasn’t asking a question. I was making a statement. If you think Wittgenstein wasn’t referring to animal communication then you’re asking me why I think such, shouldn’t you perhaps ask why you think so? Do that and you have your answer - point being the broader definition of ‘language’ extends to animal communication (note: we’re animals, ergo we have means of communication that fall outside of W’s stricter definition of ‘language’).

    If that doesn’t get across what I’m stating nothing likely will. We can at least agree that many people conflate the various uses of the term ‘language’ to suit their reading of W. We can hardly blame them given that that particular work is a hodgepodge of ideas (as W admits in the preface). The biggest mistake is to take the whole work as a set of completely interrelated thoughts and ideas.
  • Luke
    533
    I wasn’t asking a question. I was making a statement. If you think Wittgenstein wasn’t referring to animal communication then you’re asking me why I think such, shouldn’t you perhaps ask why you think so?I like sushi

    I was trying to determine whether that's what you were getting at, like I said.

    I believe if you look at sections 243-315? Or somewhere in that area? Index should help; “private language”.

    [...] the broader definition of ‘language’ extends to animal communication (note: we’re animals, ergo we have means of communication that fall outside of W’s stricter definition of ‘language’).
    I like sushi

    I asked you several posts ago whether this was about private language but you didn't answer. Nevertheless, what does private language have to do with non-linguistic communication? Animals do not communicate with each other in a private language, and non-linguistic human communication is not a private language.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    I don’t like this kind of music so I’ll leave the dance floor. Thanks.
  • Luke
    533
    139. I may know what a word (e.g. 'cube') means when I hear it, but the same word can also be used in other ways, thus giving the word conflicting meanings on different occasions of use. Therefore, how is it that I can grasp the meaning of a word at a stroke? Does understanding the word involve a mental picture coming before one's mind, and how can this picture fit or fail to fit the use of the word? Wittgenstein submits that a triangular prism might not fit the word 'cube', however a particular method of projection can make the picture fit after all. Therefore, although a picture may suggest a certain use, it does not compel that use.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k

    There is a distinction to be made between understanding the use of a word upon hearing it in a particular situation, and judging whether a word is "fit" to be used for a particular situation (ought to be spoken). Wittgenstein appears to be blurring this distinction. But it is an important distinction to uphold, because it is commonly the case that I may understand your use of a word "at a stroke", when you are speaking, but if I were the one speaking I would not have chosen that same word as you, because I wouldn't have, in choosing my words, judged that word as "fit" for the situation, I would have chosen different words.
  • Luke
    533
    That's not the type of 'fit' Wittgenstein is talking about at 139.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k

    Of course it's the same sense of "fit". He's asking if the word is fit as an appropriate descriptive term for the picture in mind.
    Well, suppose that a picture does come before your mind when you hear the word "cube", say the drawing of a cube. In what sense can this picture fit or fail to fit a use of the word "cube"?

    The only thing is that he has turned things around, to ask if the picture is fit for the word, instead of, if the word is fit for the picture. And this is how he is blurring the distinction between hearing and saying. If I hear a word, and I understand the word in a flash, and it is as if a picture comes to my mind, I never question whether the picture fits the word, because I have understood in a flash. There is no room for such doubt in the description of understanding in a flash. But when I am thinking about what to say, I will question whether the word fits the picture I am trying to describe. The point being that we question whether the word fits the picture (this is thinking about what to say), but we don't question whether the picture fits the word, because when we hear the word we understand it in a flash.
  • Luke
    533
    No, he asks whether when you hear a word (outside of any context) it evokes a picture in your mind and whether this picture (or pictorial understanding) comprises all uses of the word. The answer: it can, but not always. (The word 'cube' might evoke the picture of a cube shape in your mind, when someone is instead talking about the cube root of a number, or the 1997 movie "Cube".) He then asks whether and how the picture evoked by the word can fit or fail to fit a use of the word. You seem to think that the picture evoked by the word must always fit all uses of the word: "I never question whether the picture fits the word". Regardless, the fit Wittgenstein is referring to is one of resemblance or agreement between the picture the word evokes when you hear it and a particular use of the word. The fit is not, as you assert, one of appropriateness or suitability about "whether a word is "fit" to be used for a particular situation (ought to be spoken)". Wittgenstein is not blurring any distinction between hearing and saying, because he's not talking about saying at 139.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    He meant:

    139. When someone says the word "cube" to me, for example, I know what it means. But can the whole use of the word come before my mind, when I understand it in this way?
    Well, but on the other hand isn't the meaning of the word also determined by this use ? And can these ways of determining meaning
    conflict? Can what we grasp in a flash accord with a use, fit or fail to fit it? And how can what is present to us in an instant, what comes before our mind in an instant, fit a use"?
    What really comes before our mind when we understand a word?— Isn't it something like a picture? Can't it be a picture?
    Well, suppose that a picture does come before your mind when you hear the word "cube", say the drawing of a cube. In what sense can this picture fit or fail to fit a use of the word "cube"?—Perhaps you say: "It's quite simple;—if that picture occurs to me and I point to a triangular prism for instance, and say it is a cube, then this use of the word doesn't fit the picture."—But doesn't it fit? I have purposely so chosen the example that it is quite easy to imagine a method of
    projection according to which the picture does fit after all.
    The picture of the cube did indeed suggest a certain use to us, but
    it was possible for me to use it differently.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k
    Regardless, the fit Wittgenstein is referring to is one of resemblance or agreement between the picture the word evokes when you hear it and a particular use of the word. The fit is not, as you assert, one of appropriateness or suitability about "whether a word is "fit" to be used for a particular situation (ought to be spoken)".Luke

    If you ask whether the picture fits the use of the word, as Wittgenstein clearly does, ("In what sense can this picture fit or fail to fit a use of the word 'cube'?"), then you are asking about the appropriateness of the picture in relation to the word. It is the same sense of the word "fits" as I am talking about, a sense of appropriateness..

    However, Wittgenstein has turned things around, because we commonly question (in our minds), whether a word is appropriate (fits) a picture, when we are thinking of what to say, but we rarely if ever, question (in our minds) whether the picture is appropriate (fits) the word, when we hear a word and understand it in a flash. Now check the footnote, he goes back the other way "I believe the right word in this case is . . . .". Here he is questioning whether the word is appropriate for the picture, and this is what is common. He is obscuring the difference between these two.

    The issue is that there is an activity involved in judging appropriateness (fitness) in the relationship between the word and what the word is associated with (picture, in Wittgenstein's example). This is a mental process, what he calls a "projection". In the case of understanding in a flash when we hear spoken words, there is no such process, or projection, whereby we might consciously judge the appropriateness of the relation between the thing associated with the word, and the word. This is evident from the saying, we understand "in a flash". However, in most cases when we speak, there is such an activity, that sort of projection. But we judge whether our chosen words are appropriate for the picture we want to put across. We do not judge whether the picture evoked is appropriate (fits) because the appropriateness has already been established through habitualization.
  • Luke
    533
    Now check the footnote, he goes back the other way "I believe the right word in this case is . . . ."Metaphysician Undercover

    What he says in boxed section (a) is that meaning is not a picture in the mind, which is the point (my emphasis):

    I believe the right word in this case is. . . .” Doesn’t this show that the meaning of a word is a Something that we have in our mind and which is, as it were, the exact picture we want to use here? Suppose I were choosing between the words “stately”, “dignified”, “proud”, “imposing”; isn’t it as though I were choosing between drawings in a portfolio? - No; the fact that one speaks of the apt word does not show the existence of a Something that . . .

    The issue is that there is an activity involved in judging appropriateness (fitness) in the relationship between the word and what the word is associated with (picture, in Wittgenstein's example). This is a mental process, what he calls a "projection"Metaphysician Undercover

    The method of projection Wittgenstein is talking about is a way that a picture of a triangular prism could be transformed into a picture of a cube; or a way of viewing one as the other. It is not the mental process of judging appropriateness between a word and a picture.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k
    What he says in boxed section (a) is that meaning is not a picture in the mind, which is the point (my emphasis):Luke

    He uses "picture" as an example, an illustration, it's more like a metaphor, we'd be better off with "picture-like". The point of your emphasized line is that there is not an "exact picture", there is something "picture-like", but not an exact picture. The rest of the quoted paragraph reads like this:

    One is inclined, rather, to speak of this picture-like something just because one can find a word appropriate; because one often chooses between words as between similar but not identical pictures; because pictures are often used instead of words, or to illustrate words; and so on.


    The method of projection Wittgenstein is talking about is a way that a picture of a triangular prism could be transformed into a picture of a cube; or a way of viewing one as the other. It is not the mental process of judging appropriateness between a word and a picture.Luke

    Oh, I suggest you reread.

    :
    Well, suppose that a picture does come before your mind when you
    hear the word "cube", say the drawing of a cube. In what sense can
    this picture fit or fail to fit a use of the word "cube"?—Perhaps you
    say: "It's quite simple;—if that picture occurs to me and I point to
    a triangular prism for instance, and say it is a cube, then this use of the
    word doesn't fit the picture."—But doesn't it fit? I have purposely
    so chosen the example that it is quite easy to imagine a method of
    projection according to which the picture does fit after all.
    The picture of the cube did indeed suggest a certain use to us, but
    it was possible for me to use it differently.

    He's saying that if a picture of a cube occurs to my mind when I hear the word "cube", but I use the word "cube" while pointing to a triangular prism, then I use the word in a way other than what is indicated by the picture in my mind. But we still cannot really say that the use does not fit because we might find some reason to say that it does fit. Read through 140, and the following conclusion:

    What is essential is to see that the same thing can come before our minds when we hear the word and the application still be different. Has it the same meaning both times? I think we shall say not.

    In other words, a picture-like cube might come to my mind every time I hear the word "cube", but I might still use the word "cube", in application, to refer to something different (the triangular prism) from what comes to my mind when I hear "cube". Then we'd have to say that these are different meanings.
  • Luke
    533
    The point of your emphasized line is that there is not an "exact picture", there is something "picture-like", but not an exact picture.Metaphysician Undercover

    The point is that the meaning of a word is not "a Something" in the mind. I suggest you reread.

    He's saying that if a picture of a cube occurs to my mind when I hear the word "cube", but I use the word "cube" while pointing to a triangular prism, then I use the word in a way other than what is indicated by the picture in my mind. But we still cannot really say that the use does not fit because we might find some reason to say that it does fit.Metaphysician Undercover

    Your only account of "method of projection" here is that it is "some reason". :roll:

    In other words, a picture-like cube might come to my mind every time I hear the word "cube", but I might still use the word "cube", in application, to refer to something different (the triangular prism) from what comes to my mind when I hear "cube".Metaphysician Undercover

    This implies that meaning/use is something other than a picture in your mind, which supports Wittgenstein's point.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k
    The point is that the meaning of a word is not "a Something" in the mind. I suggest you reread.Luke

    It's not "a something", because he appears to be dismissing "something" for "process". Nevertheless, what he is discussing is in the mind, but as I said earlier, his distinctions are confused so it's very difficult to say what he actually believes.

    This implies that meaning/use is something other than a picture in your mind, which supports Wittgenstein's point.Luke

    I agree that Wittgenstein is saying meaning is something other than a picture in the mind. But in this section he is discussing mental processes, "understanding", and not saying specifically what meaning is, only indicating vaguely how the different mental processes of understanding might relate to meaning. The specific thing, or mental process being discussed is "understanding". And as I said, he doesn't properly differentiate between "understanding" in the sense of understanding a spoken word, and "understanding" in the sense required to choose a word in speaking. These two are distinct mental processes, and though he speaks of these activities, he seems to conflate them into one sense of "understanding".

    The principle issue which I see is his use of the expression "understand in a flash" (or however it's worded depending on translation). He lays out a preliminary way of using that expression here in this section, and then he will use it again in his discussion of what it means to grasp a formal rule, a mathematical principle for example, like counting. This later use I find to be inappropriate because it does not give proper credit to the role of memory in memorizing the application of the principle, assuming that a grasp of the principle come to the person in a flash. And with this description Wittgenstein puts himself into the category of mysticism, assuming that the principle is suddenly revealed to the person, instead of giving credit to the person's intellectual work of study and memorizing.

    So I want to be very analytical of this section, where he first uses this expression, to "understand in a flash", attempting to understand why he uses this, and what misleads him toward such mysticism. It appears like he is not properly distinguishing between the different ways which we use "understand", conflating them in ambiguity.
  • Luke
    533
    ...what he is discussing is in the mind, but as I said earlier, his distinctions are confused so it's very difficult to say what he actually believes.Metaphysician Undercover

    It's much more likely that you are confused.

    And as I said, he doesn't properly differentiate between "understanding" in the sense of understanding a spoken word, and "understanding" in the sense required to choose a word in speaking. These two are distinct mental processes, and though he speaks of these activities, he seems to conflate them into one sense of "understanding".Metaphysician Undercover

    Maybe that's not the purpose of this section. You complain that he doesn't answer a question that's on your mind, whereas he never purports to answer that question here. It would be more worthwhile to focus on what he does say than what he doesn't. He doesn't say anything about understanding "in the sense required to choose a word in speaking", so I don't see how he possily conflates the two senses of understanding you are complaining about.

    The principle issue which I see is his use of the expression "understand in a flash"Metaphysician Undercover

    There's no great mystery to it; that's how fluent speakers often do understand the meanings of words as they are being heard/read. It could be a part of the reason for the mistaken assumption that meaning is "a something" in the mind.

    ...it does not give proper credit to the role of memory in memorizing the application of the principle, assuming that a grasp of the principle come to the person in a flash.Metaphysician Undercover

    This memorising/teaching can be unproblematically assumed.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k
    He doesn't say anything about understanding "in the sense required to choose a word in speaking", so I don't see how he possily conflates the two senses of understanding you are complaining about.Luke

    This is what he said:

    But we understand the meaning of a word when we hear or say it; we grasp
    it in a flash, and what we grasp in this way is surely something different from the 'use' which is extended in time![138]

    As I said, I am concerned with how he uses "grasp it in a flash". To speak in a comprehensible way requires a skill of choosing which words are appropriate for the situation. This skill requires memory, and so this activity of grasping the meaning of a word, really is extended in time, through the use of memory. The description, of grasping the meaning of a word in a flash, is very poor, archaic, comparable to the idea of spontaneous generation of living beings. When an activity is hidden from the senses, and then the results of that activity appear to the senses, we cannot just assume that it happened in a flash.

    Here is another possibility of what Wittgenstein is doing. It may be that he is trying to dispel the idea of "grasp it in a flash". Notice that "grasp it in a flash" is described as inconsistent with "meaning is use". It appears like what he might be saying in this section, is that what we grasp when we use a word (say or hear it), is something other than its meaning. Since we do not grasp the entirety of its use, it is impossible that we grasp it's meaning.

    But can the whole use of the word come before my mind, when I understand it in this way?[139]

    In this case, what we grasp when we understand a word, is some aspect of a word's meaning, a particular instance of use, but we do not actually grasp, or understand the meaning of the word, which would be the entirety of the word's usage. What bothers me is that when he goes on toward explaining the learning of a formal rule, he describes it in that same old way, grasping it in a flash, a notion which he seems to be saying that we ought to reject here, because what we grasp in a flash is only an instance of use, a very minute portion of the actual meaning.
  • Luke
    533
    See 197. Better yet, wait until we get there.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    6k

    More evidence of the confusion I am talking about. The section ends just as confused as it starts, and this is because of the ambiguity in his use of "understand". Distinctions are obscured rather than clarified.
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