Tag: Wittgenstein commentary

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

In attempting to bring clarity to an extremely confused text, Louis Shawver at http://users.rcn.com/rathbone/lwtocc.htm 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
Aporia
But is this true?
voice of
Clarity
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.

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