Blue and Brown Books

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 10/22/2013

The lecture notes from 1933–4 were bound in blue cloth and became known as the Blue Book. The notes dictated in 1934–5 were bound in brown, later it became known as 'the Brown book'. Wittgenstein contemplated publishing 'the Brown book', but ultimately abandoned the project as worthless. They were published together for the first time in 1958 as Preliminary Studies for the "Philosophical Investigations".

Wittgenstein defines language games as "ways of using signs simpler than those in which we use the signs of our highly complicated everyday language". Language games are seen as a means of looking at the elements of our language in a stripped-down form, to examine more closely the contrasts between different kinds of words (Blue Book) or to to be thought of as languages complete in themselves (Brown Book).

The Blue Book
"What should we gain by a definition, as it can only lead us to other undefined terms?"
Wittgenstein attacks the philosophical “craving for generality” that leads philosophers to try to make the most general claims without properly considering particulars. Philosophical work is like stacking books that lie in a mess on the floor: it is worth grouping a series of books together on a shelf even if later we will have to move them to a different shelf. It is important to achieve an initial stage of organization even if later we will have to displace it.

Wittgenstein asserts that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the meaning of a word is determined by its use in language. Historically, philosophy like science has been obsessed with giving words a single, strict definition, and has tied itself in knots over questions like "what is knowledge?". We assume that any word has a single meaning or essence that all instances of its use share in common. If we find one definition unsatisfactory, we simply replace it with a more complex definition rather than take a step back and ask whether such a definition can be found. The scientific method can't be applied here.
"Philosophy, as we use the word, is a fight against the fascination which forms of expression exert on us"
He takes the example of the word "game" to show up this misconception. There is no one thing that all games have in common. Rather, there is a series of family resemblances. Some games have certain features in common and other games share other common features. There is no common property of all cases. If we gather together five members of the same family, they probably look alike, although there is no distinctive feature that they all share in comm on. A brother and a sister might have the same dark eyes, while that sister and her father share a slightly turned-up nose. 

Though we may be deceived by grammar into thinking that "meaning something" and "saying something" are analogous, what something means cannot always be represented by signs. He uses the idea of notation to suggest that the current grammar and usage of words is not fixed or definite, but a matter of convention. There is no right or a wrong notation, but it is important to agree upon a particular notation before trying to make headway. Underlying Wittgenstein's discussion is an assumption of the public nature of language. Language can only be used to communicate ideas to others about features of our common experience. Any attempt to make blanket statements or to say something about the privileged nature of our own private experiences is bound to misfire.

While physical impossibility states a limitation of sorts, grammatical impossibility states a rule of our language which originates from logic. If B has his mouth closed, it is physically impossible to know whether B has a gold tooth. Analogously, we might say that it is impossible to see B’s toothache. If A holds B's mouth open, shines a light into it, probes about, and then says, "I cannot see your toothache," then seeing his toothache is physically impossible. This scenario is logically absurd, because there is nothing to look for and nothing to find. Toothaches are not visible. So it is grammatically impossible  If we misread it as a physical impossibility, then we imagine there must be such a thing as "knowledge of your pain" to which I do not have access. From this I might erroneously infer that I have made a philosophical discovery that I have knowledge only of my own pain, and that all my knowledge is confined to my own personal experience. Solipsism results. The difference between grammatical impossibility and physical impossibility is that the negation of a physical impossibility is conceivable. We can imagine what it would be like to see bacteria, but we cannot imagine what it would be like to see a toothache. The point is that there is not an experience called "feeling A's toothache" that is possible.

Wittgenstein does not counter solipsism with the claim that solipsism is wrong. Rather, he suggests that the very debate between realism and solipsism is misguided because we are misusing language when we think there is something to argue about regarding personal experience.

The Brown Book 

"Our method is purely descriptive; the descriptions we give are not hints of explanations."
His method is to highlight differences, not to identify fundamental similarities. He wants to show that philosophy should not and cannot identify hidden essences, but only highlight—by means of the descriptive method of language games—that there are no hidden essences, only variegated surface features.

In the Brown Book unlike the Blue Book, language games ought to be thought of as languages complete in themselves. The theme of fixity of meaning should be familiar to us by now. Wittgenstein criticizes the idea that words have fixed meanings, or some essential feature common to all uses of a particular word. It is only the use we make of the word in reference to the object that gives the word life. There is no particular feature that defines a friendly face. Rather, there is a family of features: certain shapes of eyes, a certain kind of smile, certain lines on the face, etc. We might even say of a certain face, "it's the eyes that make it friendly." And yet, another face might have the same eyes, but because of lines or other features, the face as a whole might seem unfriendly.

In game one, A, a builder, shouts orders to B, his assistant. There are four orders in the language: "cube!" "brick!" "slab!" and "column!" After hearing the order, B brings the object A called for. Does "brick!" in this language have the same meaning as "brick" in our language? We can also shout "brick!" as an order as they do in the first language game, but we also have other varied uses for "brick, like shouting a warning to evade a falling brick. The different meanings "brick!" has in our language is a result of the system of language surrounding it, not in the mental state of the person speaking.

In game nine, A calls "slab! column! brick!" meaning he wants B to fetch those objects in that order. In game ten, he calls "column second! slab first! brick third!" Wittgenstein shows that words and word order can play the same role in meaning.

In examining how number words are learned and then used, Wittgenstein shows us that they are of an entirely different kind than object words. Color words are completely separate from number words and object words. Because of the fact that they are all words, we might conclude that they are all signify the same kind of thing. We can also learn them all by means of ostensive definition. Ostensive definition is to define a word by pointing to its literal counterpart. By pointing, we can say "that's a slab" or "that's five" or "that's red." There is no difference in how we point, or even necessarily in what we think while pointing. The difference is in how we subsequently use the words.

Wittgenstein was the first to recognize the philosophical significance of rule- following. The word "rule" is like the words "game" or "comparing" or "recognizing": no one fixed definition applies to all cases of rules. Rather, there are a number of related concepts, all of which we might call "rule." Wittgenstein stresses that he has not differentiated between what he calls a "rule" and what he calls the "expression of a rule." We could call a table a rule, but we could also call it the expression of a rule.

Wittgenstein introduces a table in which the letters "a" through "d" represent the four compass directions, and an order such as "aacadddd" can tell someone how to move. The table, but not the order, acts as a rule in this case. Following this rule can be a matter of consulting the table at every move, or building a mental image of the table in one's mind, it can be a matter of knowing how to move without consulting the table again. We can also imagine a series of letters—say "cada"—that can provide a rule for the repeated application of the same movements.

We could say that rules teach us "how to go on". We can contrast them with orders by saying that orders give us a fixed number of things to do, whereas rules give us a general description of how to obey certain kinds of orders. This is one of the distinctions between teaching someone a finite system of numbers, as in game two, and teaching someone an infinite system of numbers. We can teach someone the numbers one to ten simply by counting out the numbers on our fingers and then drilling the student until she knows all the numbers. To teach the student how to count in our infinite number system, however, we need to provide her with some sort of a rule. We need to teach her not just the numbers one to ten, but how to go on counting beyond ten. However, in attempting to define a rule as something that tells us "how to go on," we are saying what a rule does, not what it is, as Wittgenstein says, we have not managed to distinguish between the expression of a rule and the rule itself.

Wittgenstein recognizes that we can also have rules to explain other rules. A table provides us with a general rule for following certain instructions, but how do we know how to read the table? We need another rule that tells us to read from left to right. But how, then, do we know how to follow that rule? Most rules are governed by another set of rules. Wittgenstein is not claiming that an infinite series of rules exists telling us how to follow other rules that tell us how to follow other rules. He says that at some unfixed point, we can understand a certain rule without any further help.
"We need have no reason to follow the rule as we do. The chain of reasons has an end."
Wittgenstein introduces another language game involving time. We narrate someone's day by drawing pictures of his various activities and linking the pictures with diagrams of a clock that says at what time he did these activities. Another variation on this game is that, A can say, "slab, now!" or "slab!" and then point to a position on a clock to indicate at what time he wants B to bring the slab. We might say that when A says, "slab!" and points at five o'clock, he must have some concept of time or of the future in order to give such an order. Wittgenstein says that this is not necessary. The language game works perfectly well if we do not assume that A has a concept of time. We talk about time itself as a "thing" (e.g. the future is ahead of me). Our questions about where the future comes from and where the past goes to arise from the peculiarities of our language and reflect the fact that we refer to time as a thing. So when we point to a clock, we are linking an object (event) to another object (time). The temptation to say that "now" names a physical point in time is like the temptation to say that "here" names a place, "this" names a thing, and "I" names a person. These words help us to say something about names, but they are not themselves names.

If we ask someone to arrange the vowels in order from lightest to darkest, and he writes "i, e, a, o, u." It does not follow that the person saw some similarity between each letter and a color, or even had any colors in mind when he arranged the vowels. There is not one paradigmatic use of "darker" to which we must compare all unorthodox uses of "darker." We can talk about a deep sound, a deep sadness, or a deep well without comparing these different uses with one another or with some ultimate definition of "deep."

The person who writes "102" after "100" cannot be faulted for failing to continue the series as I meant it, because I did not tell him specifically "what I meant."

Wittgenstein uses the word "will" as an example. We think of lifting a weight as a paradigm of voluntary action and then try to claim that all cases of voluntary action fit this paradigm. We think, "If I walk down the street, I am moving voluntarily and exercising my will in the same way I do when I lift a weight." Our comparison is shoddy, however, because you are not as aware of the movement of your legs as you are of the movement of your body when you lift a heavy weight. The word "will" does not mean precisely the same thing in both cases.

The distinction is between things that express something and things that express themselves. A paradigmatic example of something that expresses itself is a musical theme. We can use words to describe a musical theme, we can talk about the triumphant feeling it evokes, or the gentle calm it produces. Wittgenstein remarks, however, that we are repulsed by the suggestion that this is all that music does. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony does not exist in order to produce a triumphant feeling in us. If that were the case, we could take a drug that produces in us the same feeling as Beethoven's Fifth does, and that drug could then act as a substitute for the piece of music. This suggestion seems obscene because music is more than just the feeling it produces. Music expresses itself, not something else.

Similarly, if meaning what one says is simply a matter of a particular inner feeling at the time of speaking, and thus something that could be studied by doctors or psychologists. If we could identify this physiological phenomenon as the result of certain kinds of neurons firing, we could plausibly concoct a drug that would induce this feeling. The idea that a drug could induce the feeling of sincerity is absurd not because such a drug cannot be made, but because it is a grammatical impossibility. "Meaning" is not the kind of thing that we can talk about inducing.

Wittgenstein shows us there is a wide family of uses for the word "read," not all of which fit easily into this picture of reading as mental mechanism, he also argues that even in the most seemingly clear-cut cases, we are wrong to identify an internal mechanism. Suppose someone who is being trained to read occasionally pronounces random words, and sometimes these words are coincidentally the words on the page he is looking at. His teacher might claim he is not reading, because it is mere accident that he says the correct words. However, if the student goes on to pronounce some further words correctly, the teacher might slowly conclude that he has learned to read. However, we cannot point to any specific moment and say the student began reading there. There is no clear line between reading and not reading. Wittgenstein considers the suggestion that a person is reading if he derives spoken words from the page according to the rule provided by the alphabet. But suppose he reads a "b" for every "a," a "c" for every "b," and so on. He is still deriving a rule from the alphabet, and is still reading.

Wittgenstein gives an example based on the behavior of the people reading. The game does not make any reference to their internal states. The trainer bases his judgment of whether or not someone is reading entirely on that person's response to written signs. "Read," in this language game, is defined by the trainer's observation of the students' behavior. We should not mistake Wittgenstein as a behaviorist, however. Behaviorism says we cannot make any definite claims about people's internal structure or mechanisms, but can only observe the outward manifestations of their inner life. Wittgenstein differs significantly from this view in that he says that we have no good reason to suppose any kind of internal mechanism exists to explain outward behavior. When we talk about meaning what we say, we are not referring to an inner feeling that may or may not be present. We cannot prove the claim "you didn't mean it" by pointing out that a certain inner feeling was absent.

The conclusion Wittgenstein wants us to reach is that use determines the meaning of words and as a result a word carries a family of related meanings not that there is a single link between language and reality that says words simply describe things in the world so they have a fixed meaning. This is the idea that the word "chair" names a chair, the word "understanding" names a particular feeling, and so on. Wittgenstein urges us to see that the primary relationship in language is actually between words themselves. He showed us that even simple words like "slab" or "brick" are not simply names, or that they can only be names in languages that are far simpler than our own. To see even these words as names is to ignore the complex machinery of grammar that goes into building relationships between words.

"But if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use."
Our language and customs are fixed not by laws so much as by what Wittgenstein calls “forms of life,” referring to the social contexts in which language is used which is the reason why we all understand each other. We do not understand each other because of a relationship between language and reality. People, on the whole, simply understand one another, and if this basic understanding were missing, communication would be impossible. Elaborating on this view, Wittgenstein denies the possibility of a private language. That is, it is inconceivable that someone could invent a language for his or her own private use that describes his or her inner sensations. In such a language, there would be no criteria to determine whether a word had been used correctly, so the language would have no meaning. 

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