Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951)

The Blue and Brown Books

Summary The Blue and Brown Books

Analysis

The Blue and Brown Books represent a strong repudiation of some of the central ideas of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Wittgenstein’s philosophy from the Blue Book onward is often referred to as his “later philosophy,” in contrast to the “early philosophy” of the Tractatus. While the Tractatus argues that language corresponds to reality by virtue of sharing a common logical form, Wittgenstein’s later philosophy abandons the idea of any abstract link between language and reality. Instead, Wittgenstein asserts that language has meaning simply by virtue of how it is used. Unlike the Tractatus, Wittgenstein’s later philosophy does not present a grand, tidy theory that explains how everything falls into place. Instead, the later philosophy is profoundly antitheoretical and unapologetically asserts that there is no way to tidy up the various aspects of language and experience into a single, unified whole. However, the similarities between Wittgenstein’s early work and his later work are possibly more revealing than the differences. Throughout his work, Wittgenstein asserts his conviction that the problems of philosophy only arise through confusion and that a proper understanding of the matter at hand will not answer philosophical problems so much as it will make the problems vanish.

The Brown Book marks the peak of Wittgenstein’s interest in language games and their usefulness as a tool for attacking the idea of fixed meaning. Wittgenstein is wary of theories of language, fearing that they are too simplistic. Any attempt at discussing how words have meaning is liable to assert that there is a single, fundamental link between language and reality and that through this link the meanings of words are fixed in place. One of Wittgenstein’s fundamental ideas is that words do not have fixed meanings but rather carry a family of related meanings. Wittgenstein develops the concept of language games as a tool for counteracting the tendency toward theorizing about language. While theories of language seek to find unity in diversity, language games are diverse by their very nature. Wittgenstein invents series upon series of simpler forms of language, not to highlight the commonalities between all of them but to reveal the irresolvable differences between them. Language games are his tool for showing that no single theory of language can possibly account for the diversity of linguistic phenomena.