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Ludwig Wittgenstein. 'Philosophical Investigations'

Published onAug 24, 2021
Ludwig Wittgenstein. 'Philosophical Investigations'

The Philosophical Investigations (1953) by Ludwig Wittgenstein consists of aphorisms, most of them short, often in the form of a dialogue. However, in the text an intricate structure can be discerned, which allows for a division of the book in ‘conventional’ chapters. The best way towards understanding the book is by first reading the aphorisms on the nature of philosophy (§§ 89-133). Wittgenstein argues that philosophy is not a theoretical enterprise, but a therapeutic activity that aims to dissolve philosophical problems. The therapy that Wittgenstein advocates is to look carefully how words are being used in ordinary language. By describing minutely this everyday use problems disappear. At the beginning of his book Wittgenstein identifies one crucial mistake: the idea that the meaning of words is the object they stand for. In the philosophy of mind this gives rise to the mind-body problem: if the word body is meaningful, because it stands for an object, then the meaningful word mind also has to stand for an object. And then we end up with the problem of how these two objects are related. In the philosophy of mathematics it leads to the view that numbers are objects. If the phrase ‘the number three’ is meaningful, then there has to be an object number three. Wittgenstein opposes this idea; he emphasizes that words are used in daily life to do things. Of course, not any use is meaningful; use has to be rule-governed. He, therefore, devotes central passages to what it means to follow a rule. These considerations evolve into arguments against the possibility of a private language, which in turn lead Wittgenstein to reflect on thought, imagination, intentionality, and other topics in the philosophy of mind. The book is an organic whole that demands and repays careful study.

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