10.08.2002

[71,72] Wittgenstein's relation to Frege continues in this remark. Here the relation is critical, however. What Wittgenstein proposes is "that the concept of 'game' is a concept with blurred edges.' Frege contended, in what sounds like a version of the law of the excluded middle, is that such a concept would be senseless. Wittgenstein's retort is to show that blurring does not detract from usefulness. It is another of those remarks we might use to build a case for Wittgenstein as a pragmatist. Clearly, what this remark reveals is the distance Wittgenstein traveled away from the logical excesses of his Tractatus. What I mean by "logical excesses" is captured in Stephen Toulmin's description of formal logic's relation to logic-in-use (the logic underlying argument in such non-philosophical contexts as law and medicine). What logicians of the Russel, Frege, and early Wittgenstein stripe missed was that formal syllogistic or symbolic logic is an extrapolation of ordinary logic-in-use. Whether you use mathematical symbols or a lexicon of nouns, you still do not escape the prejudices or blurriness of ordinary language. Formal logic is not the "pure" essence of language; rather, it is construct that, in effect, detracts from the way logic is used in arguments in order to make a persuasive case. What Wittgenstein is arguing for, then, is something like a return to sophism or rhetoric by philosophers. He would never be that historical about what his return to ordinary language means, but it could be described as a resurrection of a tradition trounced by Socrates and Plato.

72 appears to be a departure from this idea of 'blurred concept' and a return to color. But there is blurriness at the heart of what Wittgenstein asserts, "Seeing what is common" when we look at paint samples, for example. We look at various shades of blue, and we can discern commonality in order to say "they are all blue." We are not saying, in this instance, that all the shades partake in a perfect blueness. Rather, we accept the blurriness of the category and still manage to communicate the idea of blue, pace Frege.

This is liberating stuff, in a way. The precision demanded by philosophers of the analytic tradition do nothing to aid communication. They may expose truth conditions within ordinary expression (and here I am thinking of the work of Donald Davidson). They may reveal the difficulties and infelicities of translation. But they cannot tell us anything about how we manage to communicate ideas despite the uncontrollable polysemy of our words.

What is the difference between a concept and a word?

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