Manual An Approach to Wittgenstein’s Philosophy

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The language-games of different forms of game playing are distinct and may diverge from one another, especially over time, unless there is interaction between them. This might happen, for example, between digital games and traditional folk games. The use of different language-games stems from the different cultural and social contexts these activities are associated with. This approach to game definitions could be called the language-game approach. An example of this would be how the criteria of what makes a roleplaying game differ from one media to another.

There is a wide variety of roleplaying games ranging from tabletop games to LARP to single-player digital games Hitchens and Drachen, In digital games, it is often enough that a game contains some kind of character advancement in order to be said to contain roleplaying elements. But this is only one way of looking at the situation. There is also the language-game of games that encompasses all forms of playing that are usually considered games. Language-games exist in nested hierarchies with porous boundaries. Choosing which level of language-game to employ can be a strategic decision.

This decision affects questions of inclusion and exclusion. Language-games are not necessarily exclusive, but can coexist, even if they are not entirely compatible. An example of this would be the use of several definitions simultaneously in a field of research, such as the way in which genes are understood in biology as both the defining factors and the expressions of specific features Moss, There are requirements for definitions, if they are to be used simultaneously: they cannot be completely mutually exclusive, lest they end up defining different phenomena.

Additionally, to adhere to the demands of coherency, only one definition can be used per study. The definitions can vary only between different discussions, possibly resulting in completely different language-games. It might not even be desirable to find a single definition. These things are defined and redefined all the time as a part of new research and discussions, creating new approaches, problems and answers along the way.

This probably should not be viewed as a shortcoming, but as a consequence of the nature of the things being defined. Our understanding of cultural phenomena is constantly changing, at least partly because those phenomena are also changing, and partly because our own cultural perspective is changing. Our horizon of interpretation is widening, as Gadamer [] would put it. Defining things is also using power.

Both show how experts wield power over their fields by defining the terms of the discussion and the dichotomies that organize knowledge. Definitions are not simply tools for using power over a field, but inherently linked to power by their nature. Tavinor is worried about what kind of an effect this might have on game studies:.

However free of normative statements a researcher tries to stay, defining things necessarily frames the issue in a certain way, making certain ontological and epistemological assumptions. Perhaps then game studies can be more open to the inclusive way of defining things Tavinor calls for. However, regardless of how and on what terms the issue is discussed, participants will be necessarily using their position to wield power.

Wittgenstein points out that the act of defining games might not be a very fruitful exercise at all, and that family resemblances may be the only possible way of identifying games Tilghman, Not everyone agrees Suits, ; Juul, Suits has criticized Wittgenstein for not following his own advice of actually looking at games and seeing if there are similarities between them, rather than assuming that there are none. According to Suits , Wittgenstein seems to assume that there are none, when he should have looked for, and found, some.

In one sense, Suits is right. There is no theory of games to be found in Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein, However, it is a mistaken exercise to try to read Wittgenstein as discussing games when he is actually discussing language. Wittgenstein is drawing an analogy between language and playful activity, not claiming anything about games in particular Stern, This is more apparent when discussing language-games in German, with the term Sprachspiel. The lesson to be learned from Wittgenstein is not, therefore that games are indefinable.

Simply stating that games are indefinable is counterproductive to research Suits, A better possibility is to understand Wittgenstein's conception of games as a hermeneutic one Connolly, Connolly , p. A hermeneutic conception of defining things would mean that each definition is understood as a starting point for a new act of defining, or in other terms, as a pre-understanding for a more complete understanding Gadamer, This would make the process of definition basically endless, as it may be continued eternally without reaching any form of finality.

However, this endlessness is not a surrendering to a completely relativistic point of view Weberman, Rather, it is a contextual understanding of truth. There may be no final truth, but an understanding may be more or less suitable for a given context. This would give criteria by means of which definitions are judged to be better or worse, but these criteria might change if the context changed. Wittgenstein's way of defining things is essentially nominal. As shown above, the key benefits of using a nominal definition are:. Avoiding essentialism. If definitions are limited to ways of speaking about things, then none of the qualities of the object being defined are taken for granted.

All of the qualities are subject to definition and redefinition, highlighting the social nature of these qualities. Nominal definitions are, by their nature, sensitive to change and context. Endlessness of definition. There are no final nominal definitions as the discourses surrounding things are subject to historical change. Difficulty of comparison. If a comparison of definitions is limited to different ways of speaking about things, it is difficult to critique a definition.

Unclear truth-value. The truth-value of a nominal definition can only be evaluated within that discourse. The flexibility inherent to nominal definitions stems from the fact that nominal definitions are under constant redefinition. This process of redefinition can be described as a hermeneutic circle e. A redefinition can also result from changes in the form of life that the definition is part of.

Because of this sensitivity to historical change, nominal definitions are more useful in defining cultural objects than in defining, for example, objects studied by natural science, which are more resistant to historical redefinition. As nominal definitions are part of a discourse, they cannot be verified accurately or judged outside of this discourse. This prevents the formation of nominal definitions that are verifiable independently from the discussion in which the definitions are used. Comparing the value of nominal definitions can be difficult, as not only the definitions themselves but also the surrounding discourses must be evaluated.

This leads to a situation where definitions are not judged by their merits, but by the merits of the discourses in which they are situated. Nominal definitions are defined as verbal agreements that cannot be true or false. They may be more or less useful in a situation, but they cannot be evaluated on the basis of their truth value alone, separate from the rest of the discourse.

This may be considered an unfavorable quality when building a theory-base for a new discipline, like game studies. However, the work of defining things must start somewhere, and we are rarely if ever in the situation where a theory can be built using only basic concepts relying on real definitions. This is a problem that was encountered by logical positivism, a philosophical movement stemming from the Vienna Circle, who were drawing inspiration from the early Wittgenstein Logical positivism tried to produce knowledge from a set of verifiable propositions, based on logical deductions or empirical observations Passmore, Unfortunately, the project ended in failure, as the set of propositions that can be derived from these premises is rather limited.

The problem with talking about language-games instead of definitions is the apparent relativism implied. If, rather than searching for a perfect definition, it is conceded that there may be no perfect definition and instead there may be many different definitions, it would appear that there is no way to criticize these definitions. They are different, and that is all. However, this is a mistaken notion: some language-games are better suited for talking about some phenomena than others, and they may be evaluated based on how well they are suited to the problem at hand.

However, this is different from trying to find a single, perfect definition. A definition is a tool also in the sense that unless a definition is necessary, it tends not to be given. And maybe it should not be given: there is a reason why an artisan carries only the tools that are needed for a specific job. The rest can wait in the shop until they are also needed. We live in a world filled with language that both mirrors and creates our reality, and neither of these aspects should be forgotten.

Language is the medium we use to make sense of the world around us. As Gadamer , p. This concept comes from Taleb , who saw it as a probabilistic mechanism. It is appropriated here as a tool for understanding definitions this approach is also probably closer to Wittgenstein; rules are necessarily related to our understanding of definitions, as Wittgenstein [] points out. Taleb , p. Any time a definition is compared to a phenomenon, the phenomenon is also compared to the definition. The evaluation must necessarily be a two-way comparison about the similarities of the compared things.

This can occasionally be used as practical tool: a definition must encompass the thing that is being defined, and preferably nothing else Tavinor, If it is noticed that this is not the case, it is probably an indication that the definition needs to be reappraised. When approaching a new phenomenon with a definition, there are some key questions that can be asked about it:. In particular, the last question can reveal something significant about the definition being used.


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This is also a point raised in discourse analysis: in addition to what we say, it is also noteworthy to pay attention to how we say it e. What is emphasized by a definition, and what is downplayed? Most definitions of games pay attention to rules, play and the systemic nature of games. What are the borderline cases, and why? What is trivialized, and what is ignored by the current definitions? An example of this is the distinction between digital and non-digital games commonly made in game studies cf.

This distinction is echoed by other categories, like videogames, electronic games, and computer games. At first glance it seems like there is a clear distinction between digital and non-digital games. How do digital games differ from non-digital games? Aarseth , p. Looking at a group of social games in the same framework might yield insights not available, for example, by only looking at massively multiplayer online role-playing games. However, it is also enlightening to compare pre-digital definitions to definitions made after digital games became more common.

While earlier game definitions emphasized games as an activity, modern definitions highlight games as systems. This could be viewed as a change in the language-game of game definitions, resulting from the form of life around games changing. An alternative view is that Wittgenstein believed that there is really nothing to say about ethics.

This would explain why he wrote less and less about ethics as his life wore on. His "accept and endure" attitude and belief in going "the bloody hard way" are evident in all his work, especially after the Tractatus. Wittgenstein wants his reader not to think too much but to look at the "language games" any practices that involve language that give rise to philosophical personal, existential, spiritual problems.

His approach to such problems is painstaking, thorough, open-eyed and receptive. His ethical attitude is an integral part of his method and shows itself as such.

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But there is little to say about such an attitude short of recommending it. In Culture and Value p. Rules of life are dressed up in pictures. And these pictures can only serve to describe what we are to do, not justify it. Because they could provide a justification only if they held good in other respects as well. I can say: "Thank these bees for their honey as though they were kind people who have prepared it for you"; that is intelligible and describes how I should like you to conduct yourself.

But I cannot say: "Thank them because, look, how kind they are! In a world of contingency one cannot prove that a particular attitude is the correct one to take. If this suggests relativism, it should be remembered that it too is just one more attitude or point of view, and one without the rich tradition and accumulated wisdom, philosophical reasoning and personal experience of, say, orthodox Christianity or Judaism. Indeed crude relativism, the universal judgement that one cannot make universal judgements, is self- contradictory.

Whether Wittgenstein's views suggest a more sophisticated form of relativism is another matter, but the spirit of relativism seems far from Wittgenstein's conservatism and absolute intolerance of his own moral shortcomings. Compare the tolerance that motivates relativism with Wittgenstein's assertion to Russell that he would prefer "by far" an organization dedicated to war and slavery to one dedicated to peace and freedom. This assertion, however, should not be taken literally: Wittgenstein was no war-monger and even recommended letting oneself be massacred rather than taking part in hand-to-hand combat.

It was apparently the complacency, and perhaps the self-righteousness, of Russell's liberal cause that Wittgenstein objected to. With regard to religion, Wittgenstein is often considered a kind of Anti-Realist see below for more on this. He opposed interpretations of religion that emphasize doctrine or philosophical arguments intended to prove God's existence, but was greatly drawn to religious rituals and symbols, and considered becoming a priest.

He likened the ritual of religion to a great gesture, as when one kisses a photograph. This is not based on the false belief that the person in the photograph will feel the kiss or return it, nor is it based on any other belief. Neither is the kiss just a substitute for a particular phrase, like "I love you. There might be no substitute that would do. The same might be said of the whole language-game or games of religion, but this is a controversial point.

If religious utterances, such as "God exists," are treated as gestures of a certain kind then this seems not to be treating them as literal statements. Many religious believers, including Wittgensteinian ones, would object strongly to this. There is room, though, for a good deal of sophisticated disagreement about what it means to take a statement literally.

For instance, Charles Taylor's view, roughly, is that the real is whatever will not go away. If we cannot reduce talk about God to anything else, or replace it, or prove it false, then perhaps God is as real as anything else. Wittgenstein's view of what philosophy is, or should be, changed little over his life.

In the Tractatus he says at 4. Its aim is to clear up muddle and confusion. It follows that philosophers should not concern themselves so much with what is actual, keeping up with the latest popularizations of science, say, which Wittgenstein despised. The philosopher's proper concern is with what is possible, or rather with what is conceivable.

This depends on our concepts and the ways they fit together as seen in language. What is conceivable and what is not, what makes sense and what does not, depends on the rules of language, of grammar. Our investigation is a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstandings away. Misunderstandings concerning the use of words, caused, among other things, by certain analogies between the forms of expression in different regions of language.

The similarities between the sentences "I'll keep it in mind" and "I'll keep it in this box," for instance, along with many others can lead one to think of the mind as a thing something like a box with contents of its own. The nature of this box and its mental contents can then seem very mysterious.

Wittgenstein suggests that one way, at least, to deal with such mysteries is to recall the different things one says about minds, memories, thoughts and so on, in a variety of contexts. What one says, or what people in general say, can change. Ways of life and uses of language change, so meanings change, but not utterly and instantaneously.

Things shift and evolve, but rarely if ever so drastically that we lose all grip on meaning. So there is no timeless essence of at least some and perhaps all concepts, but we still understand one another well enough most of the time. When nonsense is spoken or written, or when something just seems fishy, we can sniff it out. The road out of confusion can be a long and difficult one, hence the need for constant attention to detail and particular examples rather than generalizations, which tend to be vague and therefore potentially misleading.

The slower the route, the surer the safety at the end of it. That is why Wittgenstein said that in philosophy the winner is the one who finishes last. But we cannot escape language or the confusions to which it gives rise, except by dying. In the meantime, Wittgenstein offers four main methods to avoid philosophical confusion, as described by Norman Malcolm: describing circumstances in which a seemingly problematic expression might actually be used in everyday life, comparing our use of words with imaginary language games, imagining fictitious natural history, and explaining psychologically the temptation to use a certain expression inappropriately.

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The complex, intertwined relationship between a language and the form of life that goes with it means that problems arising from language cannot just be set aside--they infect our lives, making us live in confusion. We might find our way back to the right path, but there is no guarantee that we will never again stray.

In this sense there can be no progress in philosophy. Language sets everyone the same traps; it is an immense network of easily accessible wrong turnings. And so we watch one man after another walking down the same paths and we know in advance where he will branch off, where walk straight on without noticing the side turning, etc. What I have to do then is erect signposts at all the junctions where there are wrong turnings so as to help people past the danger points.

But such signposts are all that philosophy can offer and there is no certainty that they will be noticed or followed correctly.

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And we should remember that a signpost belongs in the context of a particular problem area. It might be no help at all elsewhere, and should not be treated as dogma. So philosophy offers no truths, no theories, nothing exciting, but mainly reminders of what we all know. This is not a glamorous role, but it is difficult and important. It requires an almost infinite capacity for taking pains which is one definition of genius and could have enormous implications for anyone who is drawn to philosophical contemplation or who is misled by bad philosophical theories.

This applies not only to professional philosophers but to any people who stray into philosophical confusion, perhaps not even realizing that their problems are philosophical and not, say, scientific. It is quite clear that here Wittgenstein is not offering the general theory that " meaning is use ," as he is sometimes interpreted as doing. The main rival views that Wittgenstein warns against are that the meaning of a word is some object that it names--in which case the meaning of a word could be destroyed, stolen or locked away, which is nonsense--and that the meaning of a word is some psychological feeling--in which case each user of a word could mean something different by it, having a different feeling, and communication would be difficult if not impossible.

Knowing the meaning of a word can involve knowing many things: to what objects the word refers if any , whether it is slang or not, what part of speech it is, whether it carries overtones, and if so what kind they are, and so on. To know all this, or to know enough to get by, is to know the use. And generally knowing the use means knowing the meaning. Philosophical questions about consciousness, for example, then, should be responded to by looking at the various uses we make of the word "consciousness. The meaning of any word is a matter of what we do with our language, not something hidden inside anyone's mind or brain.

This is not an attack on neuroscience. It is merely distinguishing philosophy which is properly concerned with linguistic or conceptual analysis from science which is concerned with discovering facts. One exception to the meaning-is-use rule of thumb is given in Philosophical Investigations Sect. That is to say, "is" has not one complex use including both "Water is clear" and "Water is H2O" and therefore one complex meaning, but two quite distinct uses and meanings.

It is an accident that the same word has these two uses. It is not an accident that we use the word "car" to refer to both Fords and Hondas. But what is accidental and what is essential to a concept depends on us, on how we use it. This is not completely arbitrary, however.

Depending on one's environment, one's physical needs and desires, one's emotions, one's sensory capacities, and so on, different concepts will be more natural or useful to one. This is why "forms of life" are so important to Wittgenstein. What matters to you depends on how you live and vice versa , and this shapes your experience. So if a lion could speak, Wittgenstein says, we would not be able to understand it.

We might realize that "roar" meant zebra, or that "roar, roar" meant lame zebra, but we would not understand lion ethics, politics, aesthetic taste, religion, humor and such like, if lions have these things.

The Limits of Language

We could not honestly say "I know what you mean" to a lion. Understanding another involves empathy, which requires the kind of similarity that we just do not have with lions, and that many people do not have with other human beings. When a person says something what he or she means depends not only on what is said but also on the context in which it is said.

Importance, point, meaning are given by the surroundings. Words, gestures, expressions come alive, as it were, only within a language game, a culture, a form of life. If a picture, say, means something then it means so to somebody. Its meaning is not an objective property of the picture in the way that its size and shape are.

The same goes of any mental picture. Hence Wittgenstein's remark that "If God had looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of. Which of the two famous contemporaries of Wittgenstein's I mean shows itself in the way I behave, the things I do and say. It is in this that the use, the meaning, of my thought or mental picture lies. Without sharing certain attitudes towards the things around us, without sharing a sense of relevance and responding in similar ways, communication would be impossible.

It is important, for instance, that nearly all of us agree nearly all the time on what colors things are. Such agreement is part of our concept of color, Wittgenstein suggests. Regularity of the use of such concepts and agreement in their application is part of language, not a logically necessary precondition of it.

We cannot separate the life in which there is such agreement from our concept of color. Imagine a different form or way of life and you imagine a different language with different concepts, different rules and a different logic. This raises the question of the relation between language and forms or ways of life. For instance, could just one person have a language of his or her own? To imagine an individual solitary from birth is scarcely to imagine a form of life at all, but more like just imagining a life- form. Moreover, language involves rules establishing certain linguistic practices.

Rules of grammar express the fact that it is our practice to say this e. Agreement is essential to such practices. Could a solitary individual, then, engage in any practice, including linguistic ones? With whom could he or she agree? This is a controversial issue in the interpretation of Wittgenstein. Gordon Baker and P. Hacker hold that such a solitary man could speak his own language, follow his own rules, and so on, agreeing, over time, with himself in his judgements and behavior. Orthodoxy is against this interpretation, however. Norman Malcolm has written that "If you conceive of an individual who has been in solitude his whole life long, then you have cut away the background of instruction, correction, acceptance--in short, the circumstances in which a rule is given, enforced, and followed.

A car that never starts in cold weather does not follow the rule "Don't start when it's cold," nor does a songbird follow a rule in singing the same song every day. Whether a solitary-from-birth individual would ever do anything that we would properly call following a rule is at least highly doubtful. How could he or she give himself or herself a rule to follow without language?

Language & Meaning: Crash Course Philosophy #26

And how could he or she get a language? Inventing one would involve inventing meaning, as Rush Rhees has argued, and this sounds incoherent. The most famous debate about this was between Rhees and A. Unfortunately for Wittgenstein, Ayer is generally considered to have won. Alternatively, perhaps the Crusoe-like figure just does behave, sound, etc.

While Wittgenstein repeats that ordinary language is fine as it is, he also identifies the misuse of that language as the source of much philosophical confusion. Language is suited to its everyday business of facilitating communication between people.

SparkNotes: Ludwig Wittgenstein (–): Themes, Arguments, and Ideas

Philosophers make the mistake of abstracting language from its ordinary contexts to understand the essences of things. For example, when people talk about knowing things, in most contexts it is perfectly obvious what they mean. But despite the fact that we can talk about what we know without complication, we are puzzled when confronted by a question like, what is knowledge? When philosophers get confused over the question of what knowledge is, they are not confused because the essence of knowledge is difficult to identify.

Rather, they are confused because they have abstracted a word from the contexts in which it has a function and find that, outside these contexts, the word loses its meaning. If philosophers were careful about how they use language, Wittgenstein believes, philosophical confusion would cease to exist. The correct approach to philosophical problems, according to Wittgenstein, is not to attempt to solve them but rather to reach a point where the problems dissolve of their own accord. The problems of philosophy, in this view, are in fact pseudoproblems. Where we think we perceive a problem, we are in fact caught in philosophical confusion.

What Wittgenstein seeks is not solutions so much as an end to theorizing. Wittgenstein emphasizes the difference between his philosophy and traditional philosophy by saying that his philosophy is an activity rather than a body of doctrine. We can identify definite positions and theories in the writings of most traditional philosophers but not with Wittgenstein.