6.06.2003

[80,81] Wittgenstein continues his investigation on rules and language use here. These remarks are central to the enterprise of translating Wittgenstein into the language of social and political theory. Peter Winch and others looked to Wittgenstein (and Max Weber) as offering tools for tracing regularities in human behavior back to the rules that govern those regularities. But in these remarks, Wittgenstein appears more interested in describing the limits and indeterminacy of rules as they function in language-games. In remark 80, he observes the statement: "There is a chair." Even in this simple statement, the word "chair" is not bounded completely by rules. There are unanticipated applications of the word. We can think of a non-sexist way of describing the person leading a meeting. Or, better yet, "chair" is the opening position for members of a marching band as they head into a routine. Are we to say, because these uses of the word "chair" contravene the rule at work in the statement "This is a chair" that these other uses have no meaning? If rules worked determinately, then there would be no possibility for the surprise that attends a good metaphor or the growth of lexicons in slang terms and neologisms.
This idea of the limits to rules is continued in 81. This strikes me as a crucial remark and it needs to be read with care. Indeed, the remark is written in a manner that slows the readers down. The terms investigated here are "logic" and the idea of an "ideal" language.
Wittgenstein recalls a conversation with his friend Frank Ramsey (mathematician) where Ramsey argued that logic was a "normative science." Expanding on this claim, Wittgenstein noted that "in philosophy we often compare the use of words with games and calculi which have no fixed rules, but cannot say that someone who is using language must be playing such a game."
What Wittgenstein is opposing is the idea that ordinary language only approximates the fixed calculi of logic -- that it is second-best in relation to an ideal language.
Wittgenstein notes that "if anyone utters a sentence and means or understands it he is operating a calculus according to definite rules." Wittgenstein does not go on then to observe the dependence of an ideal language in ordinary language, but it is implied in his chiding tone that we do not require a logician to show us what a "proper sentence" looks like.
My daughter alerted me that my piece "How To Do Things With Wittgenstein" is a featured article at the Political Theory Daily site. How cool! Hopefully, this will attract readers to the four good books I examined in the piece.