Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

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

Three
ON THE QUESTION 'WHAT HAPPENS WHEN . . . ?'

IN THE Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein tangles with no question more frequently than that of what happens when . . . : what happens when we attend to the shape, rather than the colour (§33), what comes before the mind when we understand a word (§139), what happens when a person suddenly understands (§§155, 321), what happens when we make an effort to find the right expression for our thoughts (§335), what is it like to say something to oneself (§361), what goes on in me when I imagine someone is in pain (§392), what goes on in us when we not merely say, but mean words (§507), what happens when we learn to feel the ending of a church mode as an ending (§535), what happens when we do not find something conspicuous (§600), what happens when I raise my arm, rather than have it go up (§621), what happened when at that moment I hated him (§642).

Although he clearly thought it a fundamental mistake to ask this question, he confuses us a good deal by sometimes asking it without comment, as if he thought it a good question, and by sometimes either sketching answers that could be true or discussing answers that he thinks false. People do not ordinarily make an effort to have the right answer to questions they think should not be asked.

Sometimes, without offering any or much justification, Wittgenstein makes such comments as that the question is badly framed, or that it is a fundamental mistake to ask it; but in general one has to dig for his arguments in support of such claims. They are neither always clearly marked as arguments on this topic, nor are they generally very explicit. For example, when he says in §316 that the word 'think' is not used to say what we notice about ourselves when we think, he

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