2.13.2002

To learn the use of a word also involves seeing misuses of words. There are also neologisms and indexical or slang terms that go in and out of fashion. Words that have certain uses in one language-game enter others as metaphor. I think the way Kuhn's "paradigms" are employed by social scientists may be a case in point here. Then there are words like "presently." The way it is used by most people, presently means "at this moment." The dictionary definition is "in the near future." Which is correct? Well, correctness is determined by successful communication. I want to say that meaning is a function of the use of a word or symbol. But this gives license to those who want to try to create a language that escapes the imprecision and prejudices of ordinary language. As Wittgenstein notes, these attempts are based on an illusion that we can somehow step out of language to create another. Mathematical logic, symbolic logic, various forms of encryption, count as such attempts that remain, inescapably, extrapolations of ordinary language. Meaning is more than use; it is an achievement, a successful communication. When thought of in this light, playful misuse of words -- metaphors, similes, other tropes -- are refashioned tools that betray a frustration on the part of the player. Creativity and frustration are two sides of the same coin (a dull metaphor that would enrage Orwell).

This is my chance now to show there is a historical dimension to language-games that Wittgenstein does not describe. When we look at the mosaic of language-games, we need to see that it is always larger than it appears at this time. There have been language-games that fell out of fashion (phrenology, paleontology, etc.) or are close to death (Gaelic, Yiddish, Attic Greek), but there are also language-games that exist as potential. They have yet to be born. Moreover, there are hybrid language-games formed by abutments that can take on a life of their own. We need to keep this in mind as we move closer to Wittgenstein's discussion of philosophy as description. We could not leave the world the way we found it even if we wanted this.

I'm glad to hear that L is doing well. She was a sharp student who cut an unusual path here. You gave her a good machete.

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