Wittgenstein: The Nature of Philosophy

winterFrom: Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations. 89-92. 106-133. 

89. In what sense is logic something sublime?

For there seemed to pertain to logic a peculiar depth–a universal significance. Logic lay, it seemed, at the bottom of all the science.–For logical investigation explores the nature of all things. It seeks to see to the bottom of things and is not meant to concern itself whether what actually happens is this or that.–It takes its rise, not from an interest in the facts of nature, nor from a need to grasp causal connections: but from an urge to understand the basis, or essence, of everything empirical. Not, however, as if to this end we had to hunt out new facts; it is, rather, of the essence of our investigation that we do not seek to learn anything new by it. We want to understand something that is already in plain view. For this is what we seem in some sense not to understand.
Augustine says in the Confessions ‘quid est ergo tempus? si nemo ex me quaerat scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio’.–This could not be said about a question of natural science (‘What is the specific gravity of hydrogen?’ for instance). Something that we know when no one asks us, but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of it, is something that wee need to remind ourselves of. (And it is obviously something of which for some reason it is difficult to remind ourselves.)

90. We feel as if we had to penetrate phenomena, but, as one might say, towards the ‘possibilities‘ of phenomena. We remind ourselves, that is to say, of the kind of statement that we make about phenomena. Thus Augustine recalls to mind the different statements that are made about the duration, past present or future, of events. (These are, of course, not philosophical statements about time, the past, the present and the future.)
Our investigation is therefore a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problems by clearing misunderstanding away. Misunderstanding concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language.–Some of them can be removed by substituting one form of expression for another; this may be called an ‘analysis’ of our forms of expression, for the process is sometimes like one of taking a thing apart.

91. But now it may come to look as if there were something like a final analysis of our forms of language, and so a single completely resolved form of every expression. That is, as if our usual forms of expression were, essentially, unanalyzed; as if there were something hidden in them that had to be brought to light. When this is done the expression is completely clarified and our problem solved.
It can also be put like this: we eliminate misunderstandings by making our expressions more exact; but now it may look as if we were moving towards a particular state, a state of complete exactness; and as if this were the real goal of our investigation.

92. This finds expression in questions as to the essence of language, of propositions, of thought.–For if we too in these investigations are trying to understand the essence of language–its function, its structure,–yet this is not what those questions have in view. For they see in the essence, not something that already lies open to view and that becomes surveyable by a rearrangement, but something that lies beneath the surface. Something that lies within, which we see when we look into the thing, and which an analysis digs out.
The essence is hidden from us‘: this is the form our problem now assumes. We ask: ‘What is language?’, ‘What is a proposition?’ And the answer to these questions is to be given once for all; and independently of any future experience.

* * * *

106. Here it is difficult as it were to keep our heads up, — to see that we must stick to the subjects of our everyday thinking, and not go astray and imagine that we have to describe extreme subtleties, which in turn we are after all quite unable to describe with the means at our disposal. We feel as if we had to repair a torn spider’s web with our fingers.

107. The more narrowly we examine actual language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement. (For the crystalline purity of logic was, of course, not a result of investigation: it was a requirement.) The conflict becomes intolerable; the requirement is now in danger of becoming empty. — We have got on to slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also, just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk: so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!

108. We see that what we call “sentence” and “language” has not the formal unity that I imagined, but is the family of structures more or less related to one another. — But what becomes of logic now? Its rigor seems to be giving way here. — But in that case doesn’t logic altogether disappear? — For how can it lose its rigor? Of course not by our bargaining any of its rigor out of it. — The preconceived idea of crystalline purity can only be removed by turning our whole examination around. (One might say: the axis of reference of our examination must be rotated, but about the fixed point of our real need.)
The philosophy of logic speaks of sentences and words in exactly the sense in which we speak of them in ordinary life when we say e.g. “Here is a Chinese sentence”, or “No, that only looks like writing; it is actually just an ornament” and so on.
We are talking about the spatial and temporal phenomenon of language, not about some non — spatial, non — temporal phantasm. [Note in margin: Only it is possible to be interested in a phenomenon in a variety of ways]. But we talk about it as we do about the pieces in chess when we are stating the rules of the game, not describing their physical properties.
The question “What is a word really?” is analogous to “What is a piece in chess?”

109. It was true to say that our considerations could not be scientific ones. It was not of any possible interest to us to find out empirically that, contrary to our preconceived ideas, it is possible to think such-and-such — whatever that may mean. (The conception of thought as a gaseous medium.) And we may not advance any kind of theory. There must not be anything hypothetical in our considerations. We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose, from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems, they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings: in despite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.

110. Language (or thought?) is something unique” — this proves to be a superstition (not a mistake!), itself produced by grammatical illusions.
And now the impressiveness retreats to these illusions, to the problems.

111. The problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language have the character of depth. They are deep disquietudes; their roots are as deep in us as the forms of our language and their significance is as great as the importance of our language. Let us ask ourselves: why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep? (And that is what the depth of philosophy is.)

112. A simile that has been absorbed into the forms of our language produces a false appearance, and this disquiets us. “But this isn’t how it is!” — we say. “Yet this is how it has to be!”

113. “But this is how it is –” I say to myself over and over again. I feel as though, if only I could fix my gaze absolutely sharply on this fact, get it in focus, I must grasp the essence of the matter.

114. (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 4.5): “The general form of propositions is: This is how things are.” That is the kind of proposition that one repeats to oneself countless times. One thinks that one is tracing the outline of the thing’s nature over and over again, and one is merely tracing round the frame through which we look at it.

115. A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.

116. When philosophers use a word — “knowledge”, “being”, “object”, “I”, “proposition”, “name” — and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language which is its original home? —
What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.

117. You say to me: “You understand this expression, don’t you? Well then — I am using it in the sense you are familiar with.” — As if the sense were an atmosphere accompanying the word, which it carried with it into every kind of application.
If, for example, someone says that the sentence “This is here” (saying which he points to an object in front of him) makes sense to him then he should ask himself in what special circumstances this sentence is actually used. There it does make sense.

118. Where does our investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were all the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble.) What we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand.

119. The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery.

120. When I talk about language (words, sentences, etc.) I must speak the language of every day. Is this language somehow too coarse and material for what we want to say? Then how is another one to be constructed? — And how strange that we should be able to do anything at all with the one we travel.
In giving explanations I already have to use language full — blown (not some sort of preparatory, provisional one); this by itself shows that I can adduce only exterior facts about language.
Yes, but then how can these explanations satisfy us? — Well, your very questions were framed in this language; they had to be expressed in this language, if there was anything to ask!
And your scruples are misunderstandings.
Your questions refer to words; so I have to talk about words.
You say: the point isn’t the word, but its meaning, and you think of the meaning as a thing of the same kind as the word, though also different from the word. Here the word, there the meaning. The money, and the cow that you can buy with it. (But contrast: money, and its use.)

121. One might think: if philosophy speaks of the use of the word “philosophy” there must be a second — order philosophy. But it is not so: it is, rather, like the case of orthography, which deals with the word “orthography” among others without then being second — order.

122. A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words. — Our grammar is lacking in just this sort of perspicuity. A perspicuous representation produces just that understanding which consists in ‘seeing connections’. Hence the importance of finding and inventing intermediate cases.
The concept of a perspicuous representation is of fundamental significance for us. It earmarks the form of account we give, the way we look at things. (Is this a ‘Weltanschauung’?)

123. A philosophical problem has the form: “I don’t know my way around.”

124. Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language, it can in the end only describe it.
For it cannot give it any foundation either.
It leaves everything as it is.
It also leaves mathematics as it is, and no mathematical discovery can advance it. A “leading problem of mathematical logic” is for us a problem of mathematics like any other.

125. It is the business of philosophy, not to resolve a contradiction by means of a mathematical or logico — mathematical discovery, but to make it possible for us to get a clear view of the state of mathematics that troubles us: the state of affairs before the contradiction is resolved. (And this does not mean that one is sidestepping a difficulty.)
The fundamental fact here is that we lay down rules, a technique, for a game, and that then when we follow the rules, things do not turn out as we had assumed. That we are therefore as it were entangled in our own rules.
This entanglement in our rules is what we want to understand (i.e. get a clear view of).
It throws light on our concept of meaning something. For in those cases things turn out otherwise than we had meant, foreseen. That is just what we say when, for example, a contradiction appears: “I didn’t mean it like that.”
The civil status of a contradiction, or its status in civil life: there is the philosophical problem.

126. Philosophy simply puts everything before us, and neither explains nor deduces anything. — Since everything 1les open to view there is nothing to explain. For what is hidden, for example, is of no interest to us.
One might also give the name “philosophy” to what is possible before all new discoveries and inventions.

127. The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose.

128. If one tried to advance theses in philosophy, it would never be possible to debate them, because everyone would agree to them.

129. The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something — because it is always before one’s eyes.) The real foundations of his inquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. — And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.

130. Our clear and simple language-games are not preparatory studies for a future regularization of language — as it were first approximations, ignoring friction and air — resistance. The language-games are rather set up as objects of comparison which are meant to throw light on the facts of our 1anguage by way not only of similarities, but also of dissimilarities.

131. For we can avoid ineptness or emptiness in our assertions only by presenting the model as what it is, as an object of comparison — as, so to speak, a measuring — rod; not as a preconceived idea to which reality must correspond. (The dogmatism into which we fall so easily in doing philosophy.)

132. We want to establish an order in our knowledge of the use of language: an order with a particular end in view, one out of many possible orders; not the order. To this end we shall constantly be giving prominence to distinctions which our ordinary forms of language easily make us overlook. This may make it look as if we saw it as our task to reform language.
Such a reform for particular practical purposes, an improvement in our terminology designed to prevent misunderstandings in practice, is perfectly possible. But these are not the cases we have to do with. The confusions which occupy us arise when language is like an engine idling, not when it is doing work.

133. It is not our aim to refine or complete the system of rules for the use of our words in unheard-of ways.
For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear.
The read discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to. — The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring in question. — Instead, we now demonstrate a method, by examples; and the series of examples can be broken off. — Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem.
There is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies.

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