Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

By J. F. M. Hunter | Go to book overview

Two
NAMES, USE AND GRAMMAR
Wittgenstein IS fairly persuasive on the theme, which is anyway pretty obvious, that not all words, and not even all nouns, are names. He is on to something more subtle when he shows in various ways how, even when we think we are clear about this, many of the things that puzzle us in philosophy are troublesome at least partly because we press questions which make sense only on the supposition that certain words are names. The question 'What is the meaning of a word?', when it means 'Which object is the meaning of a word?', arises under such auspices, as do the questions 'What is (which something is) an intention, a belief, an expectation?'Still, some words are names, and Wittgenstein is neither so clear nor so well understood in the places where he seems to suggest that there is a great deal more to understanding a name than knowing the object, or family of objects, for which it stands. He says we must also know its use; but what is that? Most of us could not, without help, get much beyond supposing that its use is to refer to objects like this, this and this; but Wittgenstein is either sceptical about whether that is part of the use at all, or uninterested in the fact that it is; and he suggests that there is at least much more to the use of a name than that, but gives us very little guidance on just what he has in mind. What is this 'use', to which he alludes, but which he scarcely describes?That problem arises from such passages in the Investigations as the following:
6. I set the brake up by connecting up rod and lever.' -- Yes, given the whole of the rest of the mechanism. Only in conjunction with that is it a brake-lever, and separated from its support it is not even a lever; it might be anything, or nothing.

-7-

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