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What Does It Look Like?

Wittgenstein’s Philosophy in the Light of His Conception of Language Description: Part I

Sebastiaan A. Verschuren

This book is the first part of a comprehensive study of Wittgenstein’s conception of language description. Describing language was no pastime occupation for the philosopher. It was hard work and it meant struggle. It made for a philosophy that required Wittgenstein’s full attention and half his life. His approach had always been working on himself, on how he saw things. The central claim of this book is that nothing will come of our exegetical efforts to see what Wittgenstein's later philosophy amounts to if his work on describing language is not given the place and concern it deserves. The book shows what his philosophy might begin to look like in the light of critical questions around his interest to see the end of the day with descriptions, and these things only.

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2. “Die Problematik der Philosophie ist die Problematik des Witzes”

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34 Sie glauben nämlich, man nehme der Definition ihre Bedeutung, Wichtigkeit, wenn man sie als bloße Ersetzungsregel, die von Zeichen handelt, hinstellt. Während die Bedeutung der Defini- tion in ihrer Anwendung liegt, quasi in ihrer Lebenswichtigkeit. Und eben das geht heute in dem Streit zwischen Formalismus, Intuitionismus, etc. vor sich. Es ist den Leuten unmöglich, die Wichtigkeit einer Sache [Handlung], ihre Konsequenzen, ihre Anwendung, von ihr selbst zu unterscheiden; die Beschreibung einer Sache von der Beschreibung ihrer Wichtigkeit. Ludwig Wittgenstein35 2.1 The most important questions are covered up ‘I’ll teach you differences.’—Wittgenstein is reported to have said that he thought of using King Lear’s words as a motto for the Philosophical Investigations.36 They certainly would not have cut a poor figure, for Wittgenstein was indeed anx- ious to teach differences, that is, on the playground of describing language as well as on the playground of inventing and collating language-games. As regards the playground of abstract consideration, Wittgenstein, among other things, far more than teaching differences there, enunciated the importance of doing so, of paying attention to particulars, of describing language-games, i.e., of ‘describing one as a variation of another—by describing them and emphasizing their dif- ferences and analogies’ (RFM: 139). And this importance, as Wittgenstein was wont to add, concerns every branch of our language, every field that troubles the philosophical mind. It is by no means confined to e.g. mathematics, or to this field more so than to the fields where we do...

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