Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations book commentary

hallo i am reading Philosophical Investigations as recommended by @iaafr and i will share my thoughts as i go


1-27: some linguistic stuff. its interesting. language is indeed very complex and subtle.

one thing he is trying to express is that apparently words mean something, they have definitions. this abstraction works very well until it stops working. at the physical level, words are something humans utter to induce particular brain states in other humans. since humans are rly good at thinking, they can use words to communicate concepts. but the definition of the word is not a property of the word, it is a property of the humans communicating. the definition of the word is contained within its ability to induce brain-states in other humans and in yourself. a lot of the time this is associated with a rigorous concept, but sometimes it is not- for example; expletives, which are a human universal. i think it is important to recognize the word inducing brain activity is what causes meaning; its not the meaning of the word inducing brain activity.

wittgenstein in particular talks about ostensive definition, which is like when you point to something and say a word. thereby providing a definition of the word. this is a way words are defined in real life.

28-30: here he talks about trying to ostensively define "two". he notes that there may be misunderstandings like, you point to a collection of two nuts and say "two", but the listener thinks you are merely naming this particular collection of nuts. he also recognizes similar failure when you try to ostensively define anything. so he concludes that ostensive definition only works when the classification of the word, like "number" or "color" is clear. but then you have to define the classification, which results in a definition chain with no clear end.

this is a good observation that clearly illustrates why words cannot purely be defined by other words and have no meaning on their own. there needs to be a brain implementing the word. in the practical case, we define words to babies with ostensive definition, and it works just fine. this is because the babies already have built in heuristics to attach concepts to words; this is a property of the human. from a computational perspective, provided some ostenstive examples we are trying to find a hypothesis language specification that maps words to concepts in a way that is consistent with the examples. but naively the hypothesis space is infinitely large, so communication is impossible. however in humans the hypothesis space is limited, there are heuristics for which hypotheses to search first, and these heuristics are common between humans. so we can learn language, and communicate.

31: ostenstive definition of a king in chess implies prior understanding of board games.

this is true, to some extent. but again, the human brain is already loaded with a ton of concepts, not necessarily at the conscious level. you can in fact teach a young child how to play board games, even without invoking language. there are common concepts humans can grasp very well, and manipulating objects in such-and -such ways to achieve objectives is naturally one of them.

32-36: attempts characterization of ostensive definition as a guessing game, identifies the deep complexity the single word "blue"; nontrivial concepts like "playing chess" tries to characterize a word like "circle" with a bodily action such as 'tracing the circle', concludes this fails for complex words. concludes that if cannot identify a single bodily action, the word must correspond to a mental or spiritual activity.

yes. drop the spiritual. it was mental activity all the way down.

37-45 names; simples; the demonstrative "this"

its linguistics. we are studying how humans use words. humans are good at abstractions. what is simple and what is composite changes depending on the context. humans can ascribe names to many things, even imaginary ones that exist only in their own head.

46-49: chessboard; compositeness, the action of naming

[various possible abstractions of the chessboard] ... Does it matter which we say, so long as
we avoid misunderstandings in any particular case?

For naming and describing do not stand on the same level: naming is a preparation
for describing. Naming is not yet a move in a language-game a any more than putting a piece in its place on the board is a move in chess

yes, very good. naming is unimportant as long as the desired concept is successfully communicated. there is no transfer of information in quibbling about names.

50-51: words that signify elements like color, being/nonbeing of the elements, where does the connection between the word and the element come from

elements are brainstates. they are also concepts of varying rigorousness. if you try to ask whether the element exists or not, maybe trying to argue that if it didnt exist it could not be named, well it exists insofar as humans think it is legitimate to give it a name, just like anything else that humans name. the thing that is being named are brainstates, including nonelements. the criterion for a word being used wrong is failure of communication. the definition of a word is in reference to the intent of the person who said the word.


If I am inclined to suppose that a mouse comes into being by spontaneous generation out of grey rags and dust, it’s a good idea to examine those rags very closely to see how a mouse could have hidden in them, how it could have got there, and so on. But if I am convinced
that a mouse cannot come into being from these things, then this investigation will perhaps be superfluous.
But what it is in philosophy that resists such an examination of details, we have yet to come to understand.

its because the author operating under a misunderstanding. the name has no definition outside the brain that utters it and the brains that receive it. the rest is already contained in there. the brain is very complicated and has many details. but nevertheless it generates the language.

This is a very heavy metaphysical statement to make and you need to justify it.

Also, you have a lot of misconceptions about what Wittgenstein is stating. This is expected, because PI is supposed to be in dialogue with his earlier work Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. You kind of need to read that for PI to make sense

noted. and from my perspective the onus on the author to show there is something worth metaphysically separating out... why is the opposite not metaphysically heavy? did he address that in the previous book?

This question literally makes no sense. You are making a metaphysical claim, just as he is. You are making the metaphysical claim that language is based in physical reality. He's claiming a different metaphysical stance. He lays out his argument over the Tractatus and PI. You need to lay out your argument in a coherent, consistent manner.

its already coherent to me. natural language is contained in the brain. if you destroy all brains, there is no more natural language. if you invent a word, the word is only real insofar as you can use it in your own brain or as you can communicate to others with it.

does this miss any aspects of language?

You're making the metaphysical claim that it's contained in the brain. You have not presented a coherent and consistent justification for that claim

does God exist in the literal case, or does he exist at a metaphysical level, or is he just an idea in people's brains, or is there a fourth alternative?

Whys your god a he

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Also you goin by the “omniscient omnipotent and omnibenevolent god” definition or some other kind

for the sake of argument, i mean the christian one.

I want to book club this but I'm kind of ■■■■■■■■

Well buddy there’s lots of Christian theories about god so how about you spell out what you mean

Trinitarian? Nontrinitarian?