Skip over navigation

Philosophical Investigations

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Study Questions and Answers

Key Facts

Review Quiz

What two possible readings could we give of the St. Augustine quotation of section 1? What is the significance of this double reading?

Augustine describes the process by which he learned language from his elders: they would point to an object and name it, and he would come to associate that name with the object. On one level, this is a perfectly straightforward and unobjectionable description. The process that Augustine desribes is called ostensive definition. On the other hand, we could read this process as propounding a certain philosophy of language, according to which words are names for things. Such a philosophy of language takes the word-thing connection to be primary, and does not acknowledge how much is presupposed in such a theory. Wittgenstein takes the quotation from Augustine as evidence for that particular philosophy of language, and sets about showing how its basic assumptions infect a great deal of our thinking, and that they are mistaken. At the same time, the fact that a simpler, more unproblematic reading of the same passage is open to us suggests that the way into philosophical temptation comes through an effort to over-theorize straightforward statements in our ordinary language.

The Investigations have been taken as proclaiming "the end of philosophy." In what sense can they be said to do so? Is this claim justified?

Wittgenstein does not leave us with any philosophical theories or conclusions. In fact, he makes it quite clear that he feels that all so-called "theories" in philosophy arise from confusion. Any genuine philosophical thesis would not even be debatable, according to section 128. It is thus quite natural believe that Wittgenstein is proclaiming an end to philosophy. He seems to say that all philosophical theorizing is void, and there is nothing left to do in philosophy once we have recognized this. But it might be more accurate to say that Wittgenstein is proclaiming the end to a certain kind of philosophical thinking. He does not pretend that anyone who reads the Investigations will be immediately and permanently cured of the temptations toward metaphysical speculation. His concept of philosophy is as a kind of therapy for treating these temptations that inevitably arise as a matter of course in abstract thinking. Wittgensteinian philosophy thus spells an end to systematic philosophy, the kind of philosophy one finds in books that give us the big answers to the big questions. His philosophy will thrive more through persistent and acute dialogue than through a monologic proclamation of "the answers."

Wittgenstein never takes on an explicitly stated philosophical theory, and most of his energies seem to be directed toward more naive forms of thought. Why does he do this? What power does his work hold if it does not tackle more sophisticated theories?

Though we can identify errors in philosophical theories, Wittgenstein feels the fundamental error is committed long before a philosophical theory arrives at a neatly articulated position. These errors lie in basic assumptions or temptations in our thinking that occur at a very basic stage. His interest, then, is in uncovering and removing these basic assumptions and temptations. To do so, he must target unsophisticated ideas where these assumptions and temptations are most evident. In complex theories, these assumptions are disguised and not so blatant; hence ¤464: "My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense." The critique Wittgenstein makes of these embryonic stages of philosophical thinking applies equally to more sophisticated theories, because these sophisticated theories cannot get off the ground without presupposing a great deal of the basic ideas that Wittgenstein criticizes.

Suggested Essay Topics

What is a grammatical investigation? What purpose does it serve?

What is the "private language argument"? To what extent is it an argument? To what extent does it deal with language? To what extent does it deal with privacy? What are we to draw from this discussion?

What does Wittgenstein mean when he says, "a rose has teeth in the mouth of the beast"? What is the significance of this statement?

In "The Availability of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy" (see "Further Reading"), Stanley Cavell characterizes the Investigations as being written in the form of a confession. What does this claim mean? What is its significance?

What is the significance of Wittgenstein's use of criteria? What work does it do for him?

Wittgenstein interrupts his discussion of understanding at ¤155 to launch an extended discussion of reading. What significance does this latter concept have for the former investigation?

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us