Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, Entry 8, "The king without a sword, the land without a king"

"The word 'Excalibur', say, is a proper name in the ordinary sense. The sword Excalibur consists of parts combined in a particular way. If they are combined differently Excalibur does not exist. But it is clear that "Excalibur has a sharp blade" makes sense whether Excalibur is still whole or is broken up. But if "Excalibur" is the name of an object, this object no longer exists when Excalibur is broken in pieces; and as no object would then correspond to the name it would have no meaning. But then the sentence "Excalibur has a sharp  blade" would contain a word that had no meaning, and hence the sentence would be nonsense. But it does make sense; so there must always be something corresponding to the words of which it consists. So the word "Excalibur" must disappear when the sense is analyzed and its place be taken by words which name simples. It will be reasonable to call these words the real names." (Wittgenstein, section 39)

I know, that was a few minutes you'll never get back. OK, so proper names are supposed to correspond to things that exist. Wittgenstein clears it up a bit later:

"We said that the sentence "Excalibur has a sharp blade" made sense even when Excalibur is broken in pieces. Now this is so because in this language-game a name is also used in the absence of its bearer. But we can imagine a language-game with names(that is, signs which we should certainly include among names) in which they are used only in the presence of the bearer, and so could always be replaced by a demonstrative pronoun and the act of pointing."(Wittgenstein, section 44)

OK, so the meaning of a word is its use in a specific language-game: in the language-game where proper names have to be pointable-to, Excalibur doesn't have a use as a proper name, and I take it therefore no meaning, but in the usual games we play Excalibur does have use and meaning.

That was exhausting.

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