[lit-ideas] Re: Though Maybe Not For All

  • From: Robert.Paul@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Robert Paul)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: 15 Dec 2004 14:39:35 PST

Donal, from England, writes:

When Ludwig Wittgenstein writes, PI/43,

"For a _large_ class of cases - though not for all - ....the meaning
of a word is its use in the language".

1. Can someone expand on the character of the _large_ class? And why
it is large?

2. What is the character of the other, presumably _smaller_?, class?
And why?

*Given what led up to it--a discussion of problems in the Tractatus account of
language, specifically that in the last analysis propositions are made up of
names in immediate combination which have as their referents the ultimately
simple objects of the world--one might suppose that (43) is less a statement of
a theory and more in the way of a suggestion about what to say to someone who is
fascinated by the view that the meaning of a word is synonymous with its

E.g. (40): 'Let us first discuss _this_ point of the argument: that a word has
no meaning if nothing corresponds to it.--It is important to note that the word
"meaning" is being used illicitly if it is used to 'signify' the thing that
corresponds to the word. ...'

(43) in full reads: 'For a _large_ class of cases [eine _groBe_ Klasse von
Fallen]_in which we employ the word "meaning" it can be defined thus: the
meaning of a word is its use in the language.

'And the _meaning_ of a  name is sometimes explained by pointing to its

*It would be my best guess that the class is large because it includes far more
than the kinds of words that can be understood as names. (The 'presumably
smaller' class might consist in genuine names: 'Donal,' 'molybdenum,' etc.) In
(1) after having quoted Augustine's account of how he learned (whatever language
he did learn), Wittgenstein remarks:

'Augustine does not speak of there being any difference between kinds of word.
If you describe the learning of language in this way, you are, I believe,
thinking primarily of nouns like "table", "chair", "bread", and of people's
names, and only secondarily of the names of certain actions and properties: and
of the remaining kinds of words as something that will take care of itself.'

*(43) in paraphrase is about all many people remember if the Philosophical
Investigations; it gave rise to the slogan 'The meaning is the use!' than which
no more unhelpful utterance was bandied about in so-called Ordinary Language
philosophy half a century ago. In any event, (43) is a careless passage and its
meaning cannot be understood in isolation.

Robert Paul
Reed College
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