Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wittgenstein's View of Language, Part 1

So, I know that I have failed at keeping up with this blog, but the next week or so, I'll have some stuff to post, continuing my first two posts on Wittgenstein and the philosophy of language. The posts come from a paper I'm writing for a reading course. Much of the information will also be a part of my thesis, so I would appreciate some comments, etc., in order to help me refine my thoughts.

Language for Wittgenstein, has numerous functions, which he calls “language games.” Wittgenstein says, “The word ‘language-game’ is used here to emphasize the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life.”[1] Wittgenstein gives numerous examples of possible language games:

Giving orders, and acting on them –

Describing an object by its appearance, or by its measurements –

Constructing an object from a description (a drawing) –

Reporting an event –

Speculating about the event –

Forming and testing a hypothesis –

Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams –

Making up a story; and reading one –

Acting in a play –

Signing rounds –

Guessing riddles –

Cracking a joke; telling one –

Solving a problem in applied arithmetic –

Translating from one language into another –

Requesting, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.[2]

Wittgenstein, as Nancey Murphy says, represents a shift “from concern to give a single theory of meaning for all language, to a concern to understand the multiple functions of language.”[3]

Because multiple functions of language exist, Wittgenstein argues, no proposition can have a single meaning. Rather, as Grenz and Franke point out, “Because the meaning of any statement is dependent on the context—that is, on the ‘language game’—in which it appears, any sentence has as many meanings as contexts in which it is used.”[4] So, for example, “Eat my flesh” means something different from the mouth of Jesus in John 6 than it does from the cow “that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly” in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.[5]

[1] Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, § 23.

[2] Ibid., § 23.

[3] Murphy, 15. That does not mean language games have nothing to do with one another. As Kerr notes, “The notion that any language-game functions in isolation from others has no basis in Wittgenstein’s work” (31; emphasis original).

[4] Stanley J. Grenz and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisille: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 42.

[5] Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in The Ultimate Hitchiker’s Guide: Complete and Unabridged (New York: Portland House, 1997), 225.

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