5.01.2002

Before blogging on Wittgenstein, let me take a moment to congratulate Joe on his elevation to full professor. Ludwig would advise you to go out and get a real job. I am just pleased to see justice done. Would colleagues at a technologically-oriented university recognize the work of a poet and critic even after that poet and critic cultivated an international reputation and readership? Happily, the answer is yes.

[31,32] I am thinking that 31 offers us an epistemology of place. To be in a language-game, to ask questions, even the most rudimentary, reveals a knowledge that comes with being there. It is a tacit knowledge, as Wittgenstein explains. The example is the game of chess. Wittgenstein observes that we can learn the game without ever confronting the rules explicitly. We watch others play and follow their example. Or we learn other board games and apply that accumulated experience here in chess. As we move from game to game, we are not making radical moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar, necessarily. Rather, we carry knowledge of other games into the new game.

Interesting; I have looked at this remarked before and it struck me as just another in a series of naming examples. I may even have remarked that this chess example is a redundancy. Now I see that this is a remark not so much about how we find our way about a game through naming pieces and learning rules. It is about travel from language-game to language-game and what we bring to a new situation. "We may say: only someone who already knows how to do something with it can significantly ask a name." This is the answer to the question: What must I know to ask for the name of the tallest piece on the game board.

In 32, Wittgenstein raises the issue to an anthropological level. Here he wants us to see that the issue is not the earlier question of how we learn language. Instead, what we are observing now is how we go about learning a second language. We do this by attaching words to things. Suddenly, Augustine makes sense to Wittgenstein. "Augustine describes the learning of human language as if the child came into a strange country and did not understand the language of the country; that is as if it already had a language, only not this one." What the child possesses is the tacit knowledge of her first language and she brings this to bear on the second. (Of course Chomsky would say that we are hardwired for this sort of encounter with languages.) Before we learn our first language, we cannot think because we have no language for thought. In acquiring a second language, we do so with the capacity for thought. We can talk to ourselves and translate.

As we travel from one language to another, we might want to say that there are deep structures -- mental and cultural -- that unite all languages. What Wittgenstein is saying is that the overlap of two languages is not found in the structure of mind or grammar. Rather, the point of unity is the person stepping from one into another. We might go further an offer a lexicographical explanation of the historical relationships between the romance languages or Greek and German.

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