This paper discussed several sections of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s book. (5+ pages; 1 source, MLA citation style.
Ludwig Wittgenstein takes a very different approach from other philosophers; he bases his inquiries into the human condition by examining linguistic techniques. In so doing, he often challenges readers in unexpected ways.
This paper will examine Section 210 and sections that relate to it, with regard to the way in which we often use examples to help explain words and rules.
Let’s begin by considering Section 210 itself, which, like most sections in the book, is very short. In the section, Wittgenstein discusses how we explain to others what we understand. (It’s interesting to note that although it appears Wittgenstein is talking to someone else, because the section is a direct quote, I don’t believe there is another person present. This is a literary device that he uses in order to be able to answer direct questions.)
Here the question is whether or not we tell another person directly what we understand, or give him examples and let him guess our intent. Wittgenstein says that he gives the explanation of every meaning he can devise to the other person, but it is up to the other person to decide which of the explanations appeals to him the most. As Wittgenstein puts it, “… various interpretations of my explanation come to his mind, and he lights on one of them.” (P. 84e).
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That is, Wittgenstein explains his meaning to the other person, who in turn interprets it and chooses the explanation that makes the most sense to him. Then Wittgenstein says “So in this case he could ask; and I could and should answer him.” (P. 84e).
It appears to me this it is implied in this statement that Wittgenstein will “guide” his questioner to the “correct” explanation of his meaning, rather than allowing him to draw a false conclusion.
Section 210 thus seems fairly straightforward: Wittgenstein reveals that in certain circumstances, he allows another person to guess his meaning, but he will also give a direct explanation of the meaning if the other’s guess is likely to lead him to misunderstanding.
Section 211, however, though it relates directly to 210, is very difficult. Again, Wittgenstein talks to his invisible questioner. This person asks “How can he know how he is to continue a pattern by himself—whatever instruction you give him?” Wittgenstein replies, “Well, how do I know?—If that means ‘Have I reasons?’ the answer is: my reasons will soon give out. And then I shall act, without reasons.”
The first part of the section deals with the unnamed person of Section 210, who has either guessed or been given Wittgenstein’s meaning. But now he introduces the idea of a pattern that the other person is to follow; further, it appears that this person is supposed to follow the pattern no matter what he was told to do with regard to it. When his questioner asks Wittgenstein how the person can know what do to, he replies with a question: “How do I know?” He thus puts himself in a position to answer the question directly, but his answer is very odd: he says that asking how he knows what to do is the same as asking what his reasons are for doing what he does. I am not convinced that the two arguments are analogous, so let’s borrow Wittgenstein’s idea and use an example to see if we can make sense of this.
If I say I know that in case of fire I should call the Fire Department, is that the same as saying that I call the Fire Department in case of fire? Well, yes! At least in this simple example it seems that the relationship between knowing what to do and the reasons for doing it are directly connected. But then he says that despite having reasons for doing what he does, those reasons will soon “give out”, but he will continue his actions without those motivating reasons. This only makes sense if we can agree that at times we continue to act “by rote”, or long after the initial driving force is gone. I think that is a viable assumption.
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If we look back at Section 209, we find Wittgenstein discussing the nature of understanding; specifically if our understanding goes beyond all examples. Here Wittgenstein doesn’t actually come to a definite conclusion, but he does say that he/we feel as though our understanding is broader and deeper than the examples we give. He says, “Have I got more than I give in the explanation?—But then, whence the feeling that I have got more?” From the way the sentence is worded, it’s clear that even if he can’t prove he understands more than he can explain, he feels that that is the case.
Finally, let’s go back to Section 201, which is where the discussion of rules, meanings and examples begins. The basic point Wittgenstein makes is that rules are virtually useless for determining courses of action, because every course of action can be forced to meet the rule; likewise every course of action can be forced to conflict with the rule. This is where the idea of various interpretations arises, and that leads us to Section 210, and the idea that it may be necessary to guide the questioner to the proper understanding of the meaning of the example.
Section 201 is also interesting because Wittgenstein discusses interpretation; he says that we “give one interpretation after another” as explanations occur to us that are more pleasing (sensible, profound) than the one we have just given. Because we do tend to do this, it’s easy to see why a listener can get confused and need help understanding our meaning.
As Wittgenstein puts it, “What this shews is that there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation, but which is exhibited in what we call “obeying the rule” or “going against it” in actual cases. In other words, we can use actual examples of specific cases in which we have either obeyed or disobeyed the rule. These cases are not susceptible of interpretation but are matters of fact. These, too, might lead a listener to ask for clarification.
I DEFINITION “Substantial” means considerable or to a large degree — this common meaning is preferable because the word is not a term of art Arkush, 2002 (David, JD Candidate – Harvard University, “Preserving “Catalyst” Attorneys’ Fees Under the Freedom of Information Act in the Wake of Buckhannon Board and Care Home v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources ...
Wittgenstein’s work is fascinating because he takes what appear to be simple concepts and reveals that they have a much deeper meaning. Here, he is defining the relationship among rules, examples, and meaning; he concludes that sometimes there is no necessity to interpret rules because they reflect facts, while at other times meanings are so varied that we use examples, and sometimes have to help others to accept the correct explanation of that example.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. 3rd Ed. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1970.