Category: Language games in philosophy

Commentary on Wittgenstein’s Brown Book (pg 171, comment #19)

Wittgenstein discusses the deceptive way in which philosophy attempts to resolve the “peculiar” way in which names designate objects.

When we think of a method of designation as the correlating of an utterance and a particular thing (or object), the use or function of the utterance is no longer a primary concern for us.  Thus for Wittgenstein’s sense of meaning as use, we lose the meaning of what we utter.

Explanatory philosophy ends up reducing or constricting the use of an expression to a non-contextual, purely grammatical, mysterious relation. The substitution terms end up forming the relation itself. One that can be applied in a number of cases, but only at the expenses of a more grounded and useful description.

Take away the reason for a particular term to belong to the category “mental events” or “intentionality” and you take away the seemingly inherent mystery or intrigue that blinded you to the term’s original use (i.e. real meaning).

Here’s Wittgenstein’s comment, with the comments above as linked footnotes so you can see what I am exactly responding to:

#19.  The danger of delusion which we are in becomes most clear if we propose to ourselves to give the aspects ‘this’ and ‘that’ names, say A and B. For we are tempted to imagine that giving a name consists in correlating in a peculiar and rather mysterious way a sound (or other sign) with something. How we can make use of this peculiar correlation then seems to be almost a secondary matter. (One could almost imagine that naming was done by a peculiar sacramental act, and that this produced some magic relation between the name and the thing.)[DP1]

But let us look at an example; consider this language game: A sends B to various houses in their town to fetch goods of various sorts from various people.  A gives B various lists.  On top of every list he puts a scribble, and B is trained to go to that house on the door of which he finds the same scribble, this is the name of the house.  In the first column of every list he then finds one or more scribbles which he has been taught to read out.  When he enters the house he calls out these words, and every inhabitant of the house has been trained to run up to him when a certain one of these sounds is called out, these sounds are the names of the people. He then addresses himself to each one of them in turn and shows to each two consecutive scribbles which stand on the list against his name. The first of these two, people of that town have been trained to associate with some particular kind of object, say, apples.  The second is one of a series of scribbles which each man carries about him on a slip of paper.  The person thus addressed fetches say, five apples.  The first scribble was the generic name of the objects required, the second, the name of their number.

What now 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 now 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 run 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.

Look into this language game and see if you can find the mysterious relation of the object and its name.-The relation of name and object we may say, consists in a scribble being written on an object (or some other such very trivial relation), and that’s all there is to it. But we are not satisfied with that, for we feel that a scribble written on an object in itself is of no importance to us, and interests us in no way. And this is true; the whole importance lies in the particular use we make of the scribble written on the object, and we, in a sense, simplify matters by saying that the name has a peculiar relation to its object, a relation other than that say, of being written on the object, or of being spoken by a person pointing to an object with his finger. A primitive philosophy condenses the whole usage of the name into the idea of a relation which thereby becomes a mysterious relation.[DP2] (Compare the ideas of mental activities, wishing, believing, thinking, etc., which for the same reason have something mysterious and inexplicable about them.)[DP3]

[DP1]When we think of a method of designation as the correlating of an utterance and a particular thing (or object), the use or function of the utterance is no longer a primary concern for us.  Thus for Wittgenstein’s sense of meaning as use, we lose the meaning of what we utter.

[DP2]Explanatory philosophy ends up reducing or constricting the use of an expression to a non-contextual, purely grammatical, mysterious relation. The substitution terms end up forming the relation itself. One that can be applied in a number of cases, but only at the expenses of a more grounded and useful description.

[DP3]Take away the reason for a particular term to belong to the category “mental events” or “intentionality” and you take away the seemingly inherent mystery or intrigue that blinded you to the term’s original use (i.e. real meaning).

The emergence of an old problem: if there’s a problem with a reductio, what do you call it?

I’ve been attempting to finish a midterm in one of my classes before July 4th rolls around.  I was delighted tonight to realize that my opinion of one of the arguments I was to assess was to argue against the effectiveness of what I took to be a reductio ad absurdum.

I remember first learning what a reductio was while reading one of Plato’s dialogues.  I can’t remember exactly which one, probably The Theaetetus.  In any event, I came to the familiar question of how exactly to name my opposition to this particualr reductio.  Since a reductio ad absurdum is deductively invalid by definition, I could say “and this is inconsistent because…” The function of the argument WAS to be invalid and thus not sound.

I can’t discuss the specifics, but needless to say, it was entertaining to see a familiar problem arise in a quite distinct context or discourse.

Here are a few legitimate sources of information on reductio ad absurdum’s:

A reductio ad absurdum argument reported by Aristotle suggests that the atomists argued from the assumption that, if a magnitude is infinitely divisible, nothing prevents it actually having been divided at every point. The atomist then asks what would remain: if the answer is some extended particles, such as dust, then the hypothesized division has not yet been completed. If the answer is nothing or points, then the question is how an extended magnitude could be composed from what does not have extension

‘Language as representational’ on my mind

Is language representational?  The question might be more carefully phrased as, need all languages be representational languages?

That question has been on my mind a lot.  Wittgenstein’s theories (if you can call them that) regarding language are close to my own, in some important ways.  Having said that, it’s hard to really say what Wittgenstein thought regarding just how, or when, language ought to be considered as a representational system.  I’ll leave that issue aside since my primary concern in this post is only to introduce what I take to be a very insightful presentation on the matters as I see them.

The author of the Nedcricology blog introduces the problems of representationalism in a very simple but intriguing way.

I. The representational interpretation of language:

In his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein claims that all expressions susceptible to the ascription of truth or falsity are propositions. Propositions share the same structure and logic as states of affairs, hence their suitability for one another. Wittgenstein encourages thinking of a proposition as a picture, that we can just as easily communicate in pictoral form – and, of course, events lend themselves to being captured in picutres. Propositions represent various possible states of affairs, and true propositions represent actual states of affairs. We can accurately represent in propositional form whatever actually occurs. And added to that is Wittgenstein’s famous dictum: Whatever can be said, can be said clearly.

A few problems pop up:
a) We don’t always need “clear” pictures; not all pictures are representational or portraits – what about abstract expressionism?

b) Thinking of propositions as pictures does not entail that all meaningful sentences are pictures – what about flipping someone the bird?

c) Besides, how do propositions “match up” with states of affairs anyway?

These three problems suggest that the representational interpretation of language is either somewhat narrow or just downright incorrect. First of all, to capture someone, we (well at least I) don’t merely take portraits of them. I take a variety of pictures, and in fact sometimes even encourage them to take a few of their own pictures with my camera so I can see things from their point of view. Second, many of the ways in which we communicate involve little to no “representation,” such as when I say, “I gotta go!” and run towards the toilet. And finally, whatever connections there are between our more “representational” propositions and the world, they are not metaphysically necessary but are conventionally (and humanely, I might add!) important.

I take the third problem as the most pressing for theorists who support the idea, or rather can’t help but to presume it, that meaningful expressions necessary represent the thing(s) or states of affairs, or objects, they are ‘about’.  On the one hand, it is said that any p is true if it accurately represents the R which it is about; on the other hand, if p represents R, in virtue of what does the ‘representing’ obtain? Is it the relation of p and R, or is it it some property of one or the other only, such that it might be said that p inherently is able to represent R or R-type things?

How about propositions about mathematical entities.  ‘I think it’s a number.’ In what sense does my thought make ‘it’–the thing I am thinking of–a number or in what sense does my thought represent it as a number?  Doesn’t a number represent itself as itself without my thinking about it?  Or is its identity as a number contingent on a thought to express it as such?

Do we learn to use language representationally such that its function as a representional system is somehow more basic to its other possible functions–for instance, as ‘capable of emotive expression’ or ‘as a metaphoric system’ ?  To see how how misplaced this idea is, consider the following exchange:

Billy pointed his finger at the apple and said it look rotten.


Billy: <points finger at the apple> It’s rotten!


Billy says, as he points his finger at the apple, “That’s rotten”

Do all three expressions refer equally to the same state of affairs and if so, just what is that state?  On some level, it might appear that yes, the three expression do equally refer to the same state of affairs–namely, the state of affairs containing the individual Billy, who points to a particular apple and exclaims that it is rotten.

Then again it isn’t clear, is it, that in each case, the order of events is always the same.  For instance, in the third expression, the simultaneity of Billy’s act of saying and his act of pointing is emphasized whereas the matter isn’t completely settled in the first instance.  Does that mean that the first expression is comparatively lacking in descriptive value?

Perhaps the first expression is uttered in a different circumstance than the second.  The second looks as it if it belongs in a play, or in some sort of written dialogue.  The third looks more appropriate to a novel.  The first looks hard to place.  But then maybe they each represent different states of affairs, but if that’s the case, then how could we justifiably say that they mean more or less the same thing?

In any event, please do check out the post on the nedricology blog since it presents the case against ‘language as representational’ in a simple but sophisticated way.

Response to de Villiers’ Language for Thought: Coming to Understand False Belief

The following is a short response I wrote to de Villiers and de Villiers’ Language for Thought: Coming to Understand False Belief. (de Villiers, J.G., and P. A. de Villiers. Language for Thought: coming to understand False Beliefs. Chapter prepared for Whither Whorf? (in press)) You can view a version of it here, although I’m not sure it is the final version.


de Villiers and de Villiers, in Language for Thought, articulate the view that language is prerequisite to thought and not merely an effect of it. They focus exclusively on the issue of false belief and our ability to reason and form explanations about them. Specifically, the acquisition of language is a necessary condition for the ability to describe not the content of false beliefs (others’ false beliefs).


De Villiers and de Villiers offset their hypothesis that language is prerequisite for thought with the following dilemma: any appropriate experimental design results in either triviality or incoherence, depending on the criterion for acceptable results and/or the encouraging of participants (children, in this case) to use intentional language capable of describing false beliefs. (351) To resolve this tension, de Villieres and de Villiers propose two solutions:


1) Select tasks that do not require the explicit use of “linguistic complements”—the propositional content of an intentional expression—and thus accept responses that fail to denote ‘what about the belief is false’.

2) (a). Select tasks that require very little regarding the understanding of linguistic complements, so in effect children would merely be required to imitate (i.e. “repeat”)—and not grasp–the false intensional expressions they hear. (b) Inquire as to whether children have “mastered complements with nonmental verbs, such as verbs of communication that require precisely the same complement structures syntactically and semantically as mental verbs, but with none of the reference to invisible mental events.” (352)


I want to focus on the latter half of the second proposed solution. The authors seem to imply a sort of dualism concerning mental predicates such that so-called folk psychological states—i.e., intensional verbs—necessarily denote a state with content that cannot be confirmed in an empirical sense; hence de Villiers and de Villiers use of “invisible mental events”. This is the hallmark of 20th century theories of mental content-intentional states like to believe, to think, to remember, and to wish, are understood as states having objects that do not refer to anything physical and/or confirmable; at least not in the sense that “The ball is front of the desk” is.


Without getting into the matter of how best to think about the meaning of such expressions, it should be acknowledged that anyone, let alone children, need not be using intensional verbs in such a Cartesian way (‘Cartesian’ because such verbs are taken to denote mental, ‘invisible’ things). In many circumstances one might be disposed to say that his or her use of the predicate ‘to think that’ ought not be thought of as denoting a mental state but rather as merely ‘directing the audiences’ attention’. Here the meaning of intensional verbs becomes less mysterious and more socially embedded. Thus, the use of intensional verbs might be merely for emphasizing what follows the intentional verb. Compare “I think that the Patriots are too good” with “The Patriots are too good”: with regard to syntax alone, the latter expression would not fall under de Villiers and de Villiers’ notion of complement structures since it lacks an intensional verb conjoined with a corresponding ‘mental’ or representational content. In a room of crowded people, someone who uses ‘I think’ or ‘I wish’ might be more realistically be thought of as an attention-grabber. I suppose the use of intensional verbs might be looked at in both ways simultaneously, and certainly I don’t think that the two are incompatible.


That said, if it’s the case that, on many occasions, an individual might not use intensional verbs in the strict sense that the authors require in order to resolve the alleged dilemma, then they need to rethink just how pressing the tension is in the first place.


Note: After reviewing this rather hasty response, I need to qualify my critique, to an extent. Yes, the description of intensional predicates as ‘invisible’ sounds or seems to imply a sort of Cartesian dualism-the fact is, the authors do not require a separate ontological category of “mental substance”, so its not entirely (that is, ontologically) dualistic.

Support for ‘theories of propositional attitudes and their objects’? I think not

8.What is the point of Wittgenstein’s claim that ‘it is in language that an expectation and its fulfilment make contact’? Does it improve on other accounts of the relation between propositional attitudes and their objects?

The above question is from what looks to be either a class-related website or a site dedicated to a follow-up discussion for some presentation on Wittgenstein’s later philosophy.  Credit goes to Oxford University–you can view it here–but I have no clue who the author is.  Anyway, it raises some interesting issues.

What immediately comes to my mind is the fact that it presupposes a degree of relevance concerning ‘accounts of the relationship between propositional attitudes and their objects’.  But my reading of that quote doesn’t really include ‘objects’ in the sense of ‘referents’ or ‘that which an extensional expression or word is causally connected to’.  It appears that Wittgenstein is refuting the idea that there is some epistemic relationship between ‘what is expected’ and the ‘mental state called ‘to expect’.

I might rephrase the above to something like the following: “it is within language–and not ‘[merely] expressible within language’ or represented in language–that an expectation and its fulfillment ‘make contact'”.  Properly speaking, any talk of the relation between ‘an object’ and ‘the state that has that object as referent’ is made possible, already presupposed by, the language that makes that relation intelligible in the first place. I take that quote as dismissive to the account of language and meaning which says that intentional states are representative of the objects they are ‘about’ or ‘directed towards’, to put it one way.

The connection between ‘state’ and ‘object’ is fulfilled within language, not merely explained by it.  Language doesn’t merely serve the function of explaining the causal link between a state and what the state is about: language is necessary for the relation in the first place.  In that sense, language is as much responsible for the relation as the state and the object conjointly.

Its hard for me to take the quote in context, since I’m not sure exactly where it comes from, though it does look familiar to me–I may have seen it reproduced in Philosophical Grammar. But given what I just elaborated on, it would seem unreasonable to presume that the quote above improves or fails to improve upon theories of propositional attitudes and their objects.  Indeed, the quote seems to criticize talk of ‘theories of propositional attitudes and their objects’ since it presumes language ‘represents’ what already existed ‘absent it’.

My answer to the question, then, is that the quote above undermines the fundamental distinction between ‘word and object’ or ‘intentional state’ and ‘intentional object’.   Or put another way: it dissolves the fundamental difference between state and object (and more generally, between word and object)–a distinction that is necessary to ask that question in the first place.  So in that sense, does the above quote improve upon it?  I have no idea.

Is it reasonable to categorize Wittgenstein’s ‘voices’?

In attempting to bring clarity to an extremely confused text, Louis Shawver at translates (the plurality of) Wittgenstein’s perspectives into neat and convenient ‘categories of voices’.   Here’s what he recommends:

voice example
voice of Tradition Everything has an essence.
voice of
But is this true?
voice of
It seems that this notion has been a presumption.

Of course, these examples greatly simplify the content of all Wittgenstein will say, and, not every passage has quite this form. But if you look for these different voices, it should assist you making sense of what you find in these pages. 

How reasonable is this, beyond merely to make the text more intelligible?  To be honest, I’ve never really considered this tactic before.  I guess my thinking was moreso that each language game has a particular ‘voice’ and that you can’t reliably say that in language game 1, the voice is the same–that is, the perspective is the same–as the voice uttering an expression in language game 2.

In order to resolve this issue–the issue of whether or not it makes sense to categorize Wittgenstein’s voices for universal application (or close to universal application)–it is necessary to reexamine the concept of language games, since that is the pivotal piece of the puzzle.  I’m going to bust out the analytic philosophy because I think its clarity helps us to see what we’re dealing with:

  1. If it is the case that p: any S who says that r within language game X cannot be thought of as the same (i.e. identical) S who says that r in another (and distinct) language game Y’ THEN
  2. q: the boundary of any S’s expressed belief (or ‘move’ in a language game) is restricted to that and only that language game

I really don’t like to use the term ‘boundary’ since Wittgenstein routinely posits that “drawing a boundary” for the meaning of any p can never achieve 1:1 correspondence, or really any justifiable correspondence, with the actual use (i.e. ‘the meaning’ where ‘the meaning of p’ means ‘how p is used and/or explained’) of the term.

What I want to say really is that given the nature (again, ‘nature’ is probably too ‘essentialist’ here) of the notion of language games, and the identity (or more likely, non-identity) of the speakers participating in a language game, it may not make much sense to categorize Wittgenstein’s voices since in each particular language game, he is, a priori, ‘speaking from a different place’ or ‘using a different voice’.  Here, the meaning of ‘one’s voice’ would be contingent on the language game being played, and thus one cannot have the same voice across different language games.

What do you all think?

  1. Does Wittgenstein, throughout his later philosophy, occupy the same set of voices throughout various language games? Or should ‘the active perspectives’ within one language game be treated as is, with no comparison to other apparent perspectives (i.e. voices) within other language games?
  2. More importantly, is it possible for one to occupy the same ‘voice’ within different linguistic communities (if by linguistic community I mean the community of speakers defined with respect to their engagement in a particular language game or set of language games)?

I would like to end by restating that I do respect Shawver’s method for categorizing Wittgenstein’s perspectives.  At the least, it would make the Investigations seem more akin to a dialog in the strict sense of the word–knowable characters, each with a different personality and perspective, each with a unique voice the knowledge of which can be used to interpret the meaning of any p uttered in distinct circumstances.  I’m just not sure that the PI or any other later works can be reliably thought of in this way.

“Language Games”: Blue vs. Brown

It really is amazing how much different Wittgenstein’s conception of language games appears once you step back and consider a description of language games from The Blue Book vs one from The Brown Book.

Here’s one I like from the Blue Book:

“I shall in the future again and again draw your attention to what I shall call language games.  These are ways of using signs simpler than those in which we use the signs of our highly complicated everyday language.  Language games are the forms of language with which a child begins to make use of words.  The study of language games is the study of primitive forms of language or primitive languages.  If we want to study the problems of truth and falsehood, of the agreement and disagreement of propositions with reality, of the nature of assertion, assumption, and question, we shall with great advantage look at primitive forms of language in which these forms of thinking appear without the confusing background of highly complicated processes of thought.” (Wittgenstein, The Blue Book, 17)

This description makes it seem that Wittgenstein is proposing a research program into various aspects of language.  In fact, I must note the affinity between this way of talking about language, that is, with recourse to “forms of thinking” (from this view, language must answer to thought–language is the vehicle of expression for thought), and contemporary discourse on linguistic processes present within the cognitive and linguistic sciences.  Notice also that how the use of the term “language games” is coordinated with the notion of simpler, more basic and/or elementary forms of language.  Later on, Wittgenstein rejects the idea that any language game is really more or less basic than other language games.

Lastly, I was surprised at Wittgenstein’s attitude towards the kinds of standard protocols characterized by a Cartesian or Lockean epistemology.  Was Wittgenstein still in the clutch of traditional western epistemology here?  Does he intend, or did he intend, to really use ‘language games’–here as more primitive forms of language–as a way to answer questions about the nature of truth and falsehood?  Would we say that he’s exercising a sort of representational theory of meaning, and thus a correspondence theory of truth?  I’m not so sure, but it certainly ought to make you aware of something: even in this “later” period, Wittgenstein may not have totally grasped the implications of seeing language and meaning as an activity.

Now let’s look at a description of language games present in the later work, The Brown Book:

“Systems of communication as for instance 1), 2), 3), 4), 5), we shall call “language games”.  Children are taught their native language by means of such games,  [Notice–this position is not altogether consistent with most contemporary theories of cognitive development whereby infants learn the meaning of words via being able to represent what the word(s) denote] and here they even have the entertaining character of games.  We are not, however,regarding the language games which we describe as incomplete parts of a language, but as languages complete in themselves, as complete systems of human communication.  To keep this point of view in mind, it very often is useful to imagine such a simple language to be the entire system of communication of a tribe in a primitive state of society.  Think of primitive arithmetics of such tribes.” (Wittgenstein, Brown Book, 81)

Well, clearly this description lends itself to a very different kind of interpretation.  Here, language games are not conceived as more or less simple versions of ‘real’ “everyday” language.  On the contrary, language games are considered as complete systems of language.

Wittgenstein needs to be careful here, though.  It is quite easy to take “language games are complete systems of language” as meaning that a particular language game is complete in the sense of operating on quite independent syntactic and semantic rules such that the ‘meaning’ of an expression within that particular game need not be interpreted further.  Wittgenstein shouldn’t be read here as saying that, in all cases for p within language game S, p need not be further interpreted by speakers of language game S.  The possibility ought to remain, even with a “complete system of language” for any p to be ‘given a new sense’/interpretation.

To sum up: the completeness of system of language does not guarantee that any expression within that system is immune to interpretation.

But to go back to my main point, here clearly Wittgenstein’s intentions are quite different as compared to his somewhat epistemic intentions implied by his description of language games in the Blue Books.  If you’re interested in Wittgenstein’s development from the Blue to the Brown Books, consult Rush Rhees’ forward to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s The Blue and Brown Books of which Rush is translator.  Rhees takes a different approach to this kind of discussion, but it is quite enlightening and highly recommended none the less.

Problems with testing the ‘linguistic relativity’ position

I’m currently enrolled in a course that has focused mostly on the linguistic relativity position as it exists in contemporary cognitive psychology (and to some extent, anthropology).

In a very basic sense, the linguistic relativity position says that the language a person uses determines how he or she thinks about the world in the sense that users of distinct linguistic communities actually encode (i.e. represent) the world (or an aspect of it) quite differently.

There are a number of problems characteristically cited in contemporary discussions that I’d like to review.  I’ll present these simply as obstacles to an objective treatment of this view.

  • Significance of the way the instructions of a task are presented (especially relevant in bilingual and/or cross-linguistic experimental designs)
  • Domain vs. Structural-centered approaches
  • Cultural vs. Linguistic effects on cognition
  • Population representation: the samples of these studies rarely (if ever) can be said to be representative of the “linguistic community” that they are purportedly members of
  • Insufficient description and/or knowledge of cultural differences within a particular “linguistic community”

Another I’d like to add to the list is:

  • Conflation and/or imprecise use of the term “language” and/or “linguistic community”

The latter could be rephrased as “issues concerning the projectability (in the sense that Nelson Goodman attributes to that term) of ‘linguistic effects’

To put it in a much better way: even if an experiment (and its interpretation) purport and do a good job of showing a correspondence between a linguistic difference and a cognitive difference between two communities, its uncertain whether the conclusion(s) is projectible to “language in general”–or, to emulate Heidegger’s treatment of ‘being vs. Being’–Language.

So for instance, let’s say that users of Language A actually do differ in their experience of ‘space” (i.e. in their spatial cognition) as compared to users of Language B, does it then follow that

  1. “linguistic relativity is true” because it was shown that members of one linguistic community manifested distinct cognitive patterns as compared to the cognitive patterns manifest for members of another linguistic community….OR
  2. “linguistic relativity is true” because Language (i.e. “language itself”) determines the cognitive differences observed in different linguistic communities (that is, “different linguistic communities IN GENERAL” and not merely “differences among particular linguistic communities”)

Long story short is that depending on how a conclusion regarding the relationship between “language users” and “thought” (i.e. cognition of a nonlinguistic type) is projected, you’ll see very different takes on the “stakes” of the claim.  In the first case the cognitive difference is due to language-effects between one particular linguistic community and another particular linguistic community.  In the second case, the cognitive difference (i.e. the difference in thought) is taken to indicate a general effect of language itself, that is, Language…otherwise known as “the capacity for language”.

In a very short time observed cognitive differences between distinct linguistic communities becomes explainable via recourse to “the capacity for language”–a description in close proximity to something an advocate of Chomsky’s positions might say.  The irony is, of course, that proponents of the linguistic relativity position are OPPOSED to Chomsky’s program, to the whole edifice upon which the “universal grammar” conception is built.

Characteristics of voluntary and involuntary acts

In The Brown Book (p.152), Wittgenstein asks us to compare different cases of voluntary vs. involuntary acts. Wittgenstein describes cases in which the meaning of “voluntary act” as it might be expressed in a description of the case of “lifting a heavy weight” is characterized by an experience of effort.  The act of writing voluntarily, however, does not contain this sense of an experience of effort.  Thus whether or not effort is at all characteristic of the meaning of “voluntary act” (or volition in general) may or may not obtain in our actual cases–cases in which we ascribe a particular event as characterizing a “voluntary act”.  He goes on to describe an analagous case:

Further compare the lifting of your hand when you lift a weight with it with lifting your hand when, e.g., you point to some object above you.  This will certainly be regarded as a voluntary act, though the element of effort will most likely be entirely absent; in fact this raising of the arm to point to an object is very much like raising the eye to look at it, and here we can hardly conceive of an effort.  (Wittgenstein, Brown Book, 132-133)

While he does describe the sense of “voluntary act” in the case of lifting a heavy object, he does not positively characterize it with regard to “voluntarily pointing your finger” or “voluntarily writing”.

Do we use the expression “to point one’s finger” in a way that is absent or independent (or irrelevant) to the act being voluntary?  Don’t we usually use that expression as if the audience already knew it was voluntary?

“I can’t see where you’re pointing at.”

In that expression, the sense of “pointing” already appears voluntary.  The basis of the question rests partly on the fact that the subject does not share the intentional relation purported by his peer’s act of pointing; that is, the relation between the pointer and what’s being pointed at.  If asked “in what sense can you not see what I’m pointing at?” the original speaker may respond: “well, certainly I don’t mean that I am blind in the area that your act of pointing is intended to direct my attention”. The ‘failure to see’ here refers to the intended object, not the experience of a part of a visual field where the intended object ought to be seen.

Link to Wittgenstein’s Obituary

Simon van Rysewyk, author of Wittgenstein Forum, has very nicely uploaded a PDF of Wittgenstein’s Obituary.  You can see it here.

I’m glad that it didn’t focus too much on his philosophical ideas.  That is, it did describe his personal life to the extent that Wittgenstein was a religious man, in several ways.

One interesting distinction the obituary contained was of that between “school” and “method” of philosophy.  Doesn’t a new method of philosophy at the least motivate and at the most “is identical with” a new school of philosophy?  But then perhaps are we assuming that, for instance, Existentialism  has one characteristic method?

I’m not sure, but what I do know is that apparently a simple Obituary doesn’t fail to spark my philosophical curiosity where it concerns language games.

Kudos to Simon for that.