The national missionary seminary of st paul, gwagwalada, abuja

Download 37.86 Kb.
Size37.86 Kb.
1   2   3   4   5   6   7
Wittgenstein Language theories



This segment aims at making an evaluation of Wittgenstein’s picture theory.


Wittgenstein’s theory, as earlier expressed, is indeed revolutionary and a turning point for philosophy and philosophy of language in particular. Little wonder that his Tractatus became a topic for discussion at nearly every meetings of the contingents of the Vienna circle.51 He was even contacted by Moritz Schlick and members of the Vienna circle in order that the ideas of the Tractatus and the picture theory can be further discussed.52 It was eventually through these affiliation that Wittgenstein began penning down ideas for his Philosophical Investigations.53

Indeed, Wittgenstein ability to proffer a temporary solution to the problem of ambiguity and misinterpretation of philosophical doctrines is one to be praised. His Picture theory was timely and is to some extent an ideal for all that is to be said and communicated. This is because a critical look at language as a means of communication will show that indeed language, in whatever form it comes serves to represent a picture of reality. This reality could come in the form of past experience, or present happening, command, etc. Thus, just as how pictures are succinct, so also should language be. However, considering the fact that we are humans with limitations, is this possible? This would be explored amidst others in the criticism of his theory.


Despite all the appraisals that have attributed to Wittgenstein, a personal criticism of Wittgenstein work will be made. Before that, it is pertinent to look at Wittgenstein’s self-criticisms in his language game theory.


Language game is one of the most important analogies employed by Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations. In this, he makes a comparison between games and languages, and employ the metaphor in various ways.

He used it to reiterate the multiplicity in man’s manner of speech, just like many kinds of games which vary in purposes, rules, and responses. By this he contradicts his earlier position in Tractatus which held that the sole purpose of words lies in the naming of an object. With this new stand, he recognizes the diversity in the use of languages. However, despite these diversities in the use, he posits the presence of similar features which cuts across the various language games. With his analogy of the family resemblances, he held that just as family members possess similar features like hair, eye, temperament, but never possess a common feature that is shared by all, so also the various language games possess similar features but never one that cuts across all. Many have held this position to be an attack on Plato’s essentialism which held that things must share the same essence before they can be grouped together.

What Wittgenstein is simply saying is that our various manner of discourse and languages belong to the same category, and relate to themselves in various ways even when they do not share the same essence.

Secondly, Wittgenstein makes a comparison between language and games in the manner that speaking language should be an activity just as games are.54 There, he criticizes his earlier theory of language on the ground that the use of language surpass naming objects, and the act of naming of an object has no purpose unless it is an activity within the context of a language game. For example, just saying an object is a chair has no meaning unless it is a response to a question, a method of teaching, or any other phase in an activity. He summarizes this point by saying “we do not simply speak; in speaking, we do things’.

Wittgenstein also averred that just as each game has rules that guard them, such that an act that is considered foul in a game may not be considered so in another; so also languages are to be judged by their own terms and standards.55 For example, while the use of hand is permitted in basketball, it is exclusive to the goal keeper within the football pitch. Thus, it would be wrong to apply football rules to basketball by penalizing a player using his hands during a basketball game. With this Wittgenstein averred that a greater understanding will be fostered, for, according to Wittgenstein, we run into a greater confusion when we are not aware of the way words function and their variance from one language games to another. This stand, however, seems to contrast the logical positivists view who held scientific discourse as the only language game, thus discarding ethical and religious discourses as meaningless. Despite their opposite view, Wittgenstein still asserts that not paying attention to the different ways languages function is cause of traditional philosophical problems.56 Hence, for Wittgenstein, the philosopher’s role is not to propose new exotic theories but to erode the misunderstandings concerning its usage, caused by certain analogies between the forms of expression in the different region of language. The opinion of Wittgenstein creates a subjective undertone…

Wittgenstein made use of various analogies to buttress his points, among which is the analogy of the toolbox. In the analogy, he held that tool boxes contain various tools like hammer, saw, chisel, screwdrivers, etc., and just as the tools differ in their usage, so also should language.

Wittgenstein describes about 73 examples of language games in his Brown Books.57 Despite the variety of language games, Wittgenstein still emphasizes the fact that the language game is intended to bring to cognizance that language is part of an activity or a form of life.23 It takes the usage of language as fundamental(pragmatism). While holding the view that ultimate elements of languages are names that designate simple objects in his Tractatus, in his Language game theory he held that words, either simple or complex, are meaningless in themselves without their participation in an activity.58 Some examples of language games described by Wittgenstein includes;59 obeying or giving orders; describing the appearance of an object; expressing sensations, giving measurements; constructing an object from a description; reporting an event; speculating about an event. Others include forming testing a hypothesis, presenting the results of experiments in tables and diagrams; making up of a story; play-acting; singing; guessing riddles; telling jokes, solving a problem in practical with arithmetic; translating from one language to another, asking, cursing, greeting, praying, etc.

The Philosophical Investigations and Language Game theory summarily opposes Wittgenstein theory because;60

  1. It gives a one sided view of language

  2. It holds meaning to be given, as opposed to its own position which holds meaning to be circumstantial.

  3. It holds the universality of the form of language

  4. It holds that a proposition must fit in to the state of affairs.

  5. It holds that certain part of reality are unsayable


The ability for our language to always picture reality might not be possible because of our limitations as humans which could come from the speaker of the language or the person who is being communicated to. So, we would discover, that despite how much we try to represent a picture of reality, it is not always the case that all our propositions would do so. However, this was not recognized in Wittgenstein’s picture theory, because, although he gave room for the falsity of the reality one represents, he did not give room for the possibility of language not representing reality at all. And so I ask, what is realistic about a reality that is false? For me, a proposition that is false no longer picture reality since it is no longer real. This could also point to a lacuna, since Wittgenstein never clarify what he meant by reality.

Also, in trying to eradicate our everyday human language and enthroning an ideal logical language, Wittgenstein might not have considered the intricacies of the plethora of languages that exist amongst people of different culture. This he later realized in his Language-Game when he opined and acknowledged the fact that language is so complex that, although one language may share a common feature with another, it is impossible for all to share a common feature.


In the aftermath of his picture theory, Wittgenstein exhibited the spirit that every philosopher should imbibe by acknowledging the lacuna in his theory. He did not just overlook the many comments his theory generated, but even became the greatest critique of his picture theory. This shows his sincere desire for the betterment of the language and communication sphere amongst people of the world. Thus, making use of the pros of his both theories, and applying them to language and communication, some of the many problems of language that is still fced today will be alleviated.

Download 37.86 Kb.

Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4   5   6   7

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page