Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Brown Book

Wittgenstein made his students to dictate another book, which is later called “The Brown Book” because of the color of the book. In this book, he tries to re-shape the problems of philosophy and make a turning point to solve the problem.

The problem he raised was, as shown in The Blue Book, as follows: because our words don’t have ostensive meaning and our usage of grammars are not always correct, it is not possible for philosophy to describe the objects perfectly (according to Wittgenstein, philosophy is purely descriptive).

In this book, he additionally introduces the concept of transitive and intransitive usages of words. According to Wittgenstein, a word has double usage. For example, let’s think about the word “peculiar”.

One usage is “transitive”, in which the word is used preliminary to as specification, description, and comparison. In transitive usage, we say, for instance, “This soap has a peculiar smell: it is the kind we used as children.”. Using the word in this way implies the other smells in his or her mind. Transitive usage is like “relative” usage of the word.

Another usage is “intransitive”, in which the word is used to describe as an emphasis. For instance, when we say “This soap has a peculiar smell!”, we use the word as intransitive one. Intransitive usage is something like “absolute” usage of the word.

Wittgenstein claims that these double usages are where the philosophical problems are coming from. He says:

“Now this is a characteristic situation to find ourselves in when thinking about philosophical problems. There are many troubles which arise in this way, that a word has a transitive and an intransitive use, and that we regard the latter as a particular case of the former, explaining the word when it is used intransitively by a reflexive construction.” (Reflexive word is the word to refer oneself, such as “yourself”, “oneself”, etc.) (page 160)

To resolve the problem, he came up with the concept of language game. The game goes like this:

#1 There are two people, A and B. A says “brick!” or “slab!”. B hears that order and bring the brick or slab.

#2 A says not only name of the object but also the number, like “five slabs!”. B hears that order and bring five slabs.

#3 Add the concept of “proper name”. When A orders that name, B brings about “the” object.

#4 A orders “this slab!”, and then B brings the slab to which A points.

#5 A asks “how many slabs?”, and B counts them and answers.

... (this game is continued until #75)

Wittgenstein called these systems of communication “language games”. The games describe the usage of the language of those who are in the game. He says his method is “purely descriptive; the descriptions we give are not hints of explanations”. (page 125) This descriptive tool helps us to understand how the confusion comes when we use languages.

Using the concept of language games, he tries to fix the problem. He clams:

“What is the relation between a name and the object named, say, the house and its name? I suppose we could give either of two answers. The one is that the relation consists in certain strokes having been painted on the door of the house. The second answer I meant is that the relation we are concerned with is established, not just by painting these strokes on the door, but by the particular role which they play in the practice of our language as we have been sketching it. -Again, the relation of the name of a person to the person here consists in the person having been trained to un up to someone who calls out the name; or again, we might say that it consists in this and the whole of the usage of the name in the language game.” (page 172)

Thus, according to him, understanding the sentence is like understanding a musical theme. The sentence is composed of words which have multiple usages, and the individual factors of music also bring about multiple impression to us. “There must be a paradigm somewhere in our mind, and that we have adjusted the tempo to conform to that paradigm.” Every naming and the usage of the language represents the paradigm.

He did not mention what the paradigm is all about, but I think this is the turning point of his philosophy. Wittgenstein destroyed philosophy, pointing out the incompleteness or multiple meanings of language system. Then he tries to reconstruct the philosophy by coming up with the paradigm which people conform to understand the language.


It is sad that he died before he finalize his work of philosophical investigation, but I guess his work has tremendous influence on structuralism. I sense what structuralists argue is about the “paradigm” Wittgenstein mentioned.

His way of shaping the issues is remarkable. Even making summary is such a difficult task to me, as the object he describes is something like we can sense but we seldom describe using the language. The most difficult task in thought is to describe something that is invisible and not verbalized. That is why in Japanese blog I began to write only about what is ambiguous.


Ludwig Wittgenstein, "The Blue and Brown Books", Wiley-Blackwell, 1991/1/16

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