Investigating Wittgenstein: Pointing to the Brown and Blue

The View from Newcastle

Group X. Bill Schardt, Keith Parker

The Brown Book. (Analysis of Sections 1-6)


Introduction.  The Augustinian Picture.




We learn language by pointing at things but it is a simplification of how we learn.  It is a scientific/catalogue view of learning the language. Wittgenstein introduces the idea of games in the introduction and says that Augustine is describing a simple language game i.e. a simpler language than ours.


He describes a simple language used by a community of builders where the words are commands and orders. The child is trained in these orders. He calls it demonstrative teaching. It is like teaching a dog by reward and punishment. If we where to describe this using our grammar we would call it a word that was a noun and a verb at the same time.  However, W. is not saying the words are learnt independently of any other words in their language.


Wittgenstein ponders on the use of the word `brick`. Why should brick mean in some cases `bring me a brick?` He rejects the idea that when the words are used they are associated with `saying something in the mind` and asserts that meaning is to do with the way the words are used in a particular system of language. W is emphatic that there is no mental picture mysteriously happening and somehow this is linked to language. In the Investigations he is clear that the child is not born with innate ideas as Augustine had claimed and that the child had to discover a public way of communication these innate ideas or mental pictures.


An objection was raised by a member of the group in the following terms: - The word murder can have two different meanings in exactly the same context.  In one instance it can mean the threat of death and in another it can mean a joke or a jest.  In the two instances the word has two different meanings how can this be. On William James view it is that the word is associated with different metal experiences and these two different metal experiences give us the two different meanings of the word.


Objection to the objection.  The word gets it’s meaning from its context which is unique but broadly similar. So the word murder can be used in a threat language game or a comic language game. An outsider may misinterpret the language game they are in. e.g. they can react as threatened in a comic language game.




Demonstrative teaching has many forms.  Naming of objects.  Naming of numbers.  Naming of particular objects (Proper names). 




“The difference, one might say, does not lie in the act of demonstration, but rather in the surrounding of that act in the use of the language.”




W. discuses the notion of real proper names as opposed to what we call real proper names in ordinary lives. He goes to reject this idea which implies the rejection of atomic propositions expressed in the Tractartus.  He rejects this in favour of a proper name being applied to ordinary objects and things.  E.g. using the word exactness, there is no single or mysterious way of defining this.  It depends on how we want to use it at the time.  There is not independent criterion of correctness. Such as a Platonic ideal.


This has application to the Sorites Paradox. We are bothered by the fact that we cannot define exactly what a heap is. We feel there should be an exact definition. W shows, using the example of `coming to tea at 4-30`, that there are many ways of defining what this means all involved with actual events. The language is related to its use in these contexts.




He has now demonstrated 5 uses of language: Naming objects, Naming numbers, proper names, giving orders and questions and answers. He now calls these 

language games.  They are not complete systems of language. He defines a complete language as “that of a nebulous mass of language, his mother tongue, surrounded by discrete and more or less clear cut language games, the technical languages. (e.g. Use of charts, descriptive geometry.)




He introduces a new language game 6. This involves questions and definitions. He defines ostensive definition as “this is” a pointing gesture. N.B. Augustine defined the whole of language learning in this way.  For W. this is only one way amongst others.


Summary of the Augustianian Picture


Hans-Johan Glock (1,p41-45) offers this summary of the Augustinian Picture 




Every word has a meaningAll words are names ie stand for objects


The meaning of a word is the object it stands for


The connection between words(names) and their meanings (referents) is established by ostensive definition, which establishes a mental association between words and object


Sentences are combinations of names.


The sole function of language is to represent reality; words refer, sentences describe.


The child can establish the association between word and object only through thinking, which means that it must already possess a private language, in order to learn the public one.


It takes up 4 positions




A descriptivist conception of sentences.


The idea that ostensive definition provides the foundations of language.


Referential conception of word meaning.


The idea that the language of thought underlies our public languages