“The philosophical view of the world, which is related to the artistic, is associated with an attitude in which the mystical and the ethical come together. When the philosopher turns to the events of the world, he should do justice to the wonderful in it, he should show respect for it. If you follow Wittgenstein's description of language, you see the world and language in a new light. "(Gunter Gebauer)


This attitude, as Gunter Gebauer describes in the audio book - composed by him, spoken with Ulrich Matthes and realized together with Deutschlandfunk -  Ludwig Wittgenstein. In the flow of life and language, Ludwig Wittgenstein - the Austro-British philosopher who was born in Vienna on April 26, 1889 and died in Cambridge on April 29, 1951 - had to conquer first. Because actually, at the age of 29, he had in his only work published during his lifetime Tractatus logico-philosophicus finished with philosophy and turned your back on it. He had meant and shown: Philosophy has come to an end.

How much he was wrong does not become clear to Wittgenstein until ten years later, after his time as a teacher and briefly gardener's assistant - at the time when he was building the house for his sister Magarete. With this spatial-oriented activity, Wittgenstein's thinking gained a new dimension, which prompted him to take up philosophizing again and return to Trinity College in Cambridge. 

Here Wittgenstein (from 1929) entered into an intensive exchange of ideas with Piero Sraffa and Raffaelo Piccoli, two Italian scientists from the Gramsci circle. From them he receives essential suggestions for his work on the fundamentals of thinking related to human action practice. Wittgenstein gains a conception of philosophy that understands philosophizing itself as a practice. Signs get their meanings in a common practical action: through the use of language.

In the context of practical action, there are no fixed assignments of meanings to signs and thus no uniqueness of the language as it is in Tractatus had been requested. Just as signs must be practiced in order to have meaning, thoughts must be expressed in order to discern their meaning. Wittgenstein no longer speaks as he did in the  Tractatus of their logical structure and their mapping relationship to the world.

With this profound change in Wittgenstein's thinking, his writings also change. They are given a practical and ethical character. In the Philosophical Investigations this becomes clear. Here the readers are introduced to real exercises. You will be taught the ability to recognize an action practice where it seems to be all about a theoretical occupation. They are already practicing another practice while receiving the written thoughts.



Gunther Gebauer, Born in 1944, is Professor of Philosophy and Sports Sociology at the Free University of Berlin. His main research interests are in the areas of aesthetics, anthropology, language and social philosophy. Gunther Gebauer's passionate interest has been in the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein from the very beginning.  

Link tips and reading recommendations on Ludwig Wittgenstein:


Those interested in philosophy could also read the article: Wittgenstein's philosophical turn provide further information.


The website of the International Ludwig Wittgenstein Society e. V. (ILWG) primarily provides scientists with relevant information on conferences, new publications, etc. about Wittgenstein. Interesting text materials can also be found here: www.ilwg.eu/


Our reading recommendation: Wittgensteins anthropological thinking, by Gunter Gebauer. Verlag CH Beck, 287 pages, paperback







1. The Logical-Philosophical Treatises 

In 1922 the Logical-Philosophical Treatises (Treatise), after its completion, in 1918, Wittgenstein draws the conclusion from the dictum proclaimed therein that the essential problems of philosophy have been solved by breaking with philosophy and starting a vita activa as a primary school teacher and cloister gardener. Only in 1929 will he return to Cambridge and thus to philosophy.
Im treatise Language is understood essentially as a means of rendering the non-linguistic world and making it present in thought. According to the correspondence theory, the question of truth gains relevance. What makes language truthful, what ensures its uniqueness / unambiguous meanings are the prejudices (unfounded prerequisites) against the background of which their possibility is sought. Wittgenstein's answer is that everyday language, which is characterized by vagueness and indeterminacy, is based on a logical deep grammar. The atomic sentence is the element of this formal-logical deep structure which, through its structural isomorphism with reality, ensures the correspondence between the two. Names are also in direct correspondence with simple objects and thus contribute to the correspondence between the linguistic and non-linguistic world. Ultimately, the Tractatus is based on the age-old 'prejudice' of the (necessity of) absolute determinacy of meaning, which the search for logical structures consequently entails. Assuming that meaning is 100% determinable, the idea of ​​a structure that guarantees logical uniqueness emerges, on which vague everyday language is based. Everyday language is therefore always disqualified as deficient in the face of the logical structure. Krämer calls this the distinction between the philosophical investigations of language and speaking, between a complete underlying system that guarantees clarity and an application that remains (always deficient and vague) an "intellectual fallacy" (Krämer).

2. The Philosophical Investigations

With the Philosophical Investigations a change of perspective to language takes place, which leads to other questions. The aim is now to be able to "clearly overlook the functioning of the words" and for this purpose it is of no use to understand terms as a reflection of external things in the consciousness and words as the subsequent pronouncement and materialization of these inner consciousness concepts. “We do not analyze a phenomenon (eg thinking), but a concept (eg that of thinking), and thus the application of the word.” “Not what ideas are, or what happens when you imagine something, you have to ask, but rather: how the word imagination is used. ”The in-depth research looking for reasons for the hypothetically assumed exact meaning, which wants to reveal hidden structures that secure the meaning identity, leads in the wrong direction, away from clarity, from visible connections, which only can be seen (!) in the “language of everyday life”. (“Don't think, but look” is the motto of the Philosophical Investigations.) As everyday language becomes the object of investigation, the perspective of the philosopher also changes. The view with which the process of speaking is approached no longer goes in depth, as in the Tractatus, but in breadth. It is a scattering, multi-perspective, not a fixating gaze that reveals the variety of uses but also the similar between them. It shows that there is no a priori fixed, calculus-like assignment of signs and objects, but rather a plurality of uses, a “variety of language games”. 

Language game
With the neologism "language game" Wittgenstein tries to implement this re-perspective. The concept of the language game is a concept that belongs to the language game of “throwing light into the relationships of our language”. It should lead on from the (language) system concept, which presents language as something closed, solid, completely determined and completely determinable in itself and thus rather obscures rather than illuminates the process of speaking. To look at language in analogy to the game means to pay attention to its openness. Games are different from a closed system, an open system of rules with countless subspecies and variants that cannot be clearly delimited from one another, merge into one another, change. Language or what is called language is equally diverse in its use: “There are innumerable different ways of using everything that we call 'signs', 'words', 'sentences'. And this diversity is not fixed, given once and for all: it is new types of language, new language games arise and others become obsolete and are forgotten is. When we talk about the game, for example, we do so in an infinite number of respects, insofar as it is board, chess, ball games etc. and this is exactly how it is with all words that can and are used in the most varied of ways. And there is nothing that, for example, is common to all the uses of the word 'language' and that can then be established as the essence of language. Instead of such a fixed entity, one sees “a complicated network of similarities that overlap and cross one another”, “family similarities [like] between the members of a family”. 

Use theory
As already indicated, the analogy of the game shifts the question of the 'eternal' meaning towards the concrete (visible!) Use of words, from language to situational speaking. “The meaning of the word is its use in language”, is the sentence that leads the way from an essentialist theory of meaning that locates meaning in the 'essence' of linguistic signs or in thought. Wittgenstein regards the question of the meaning of linguistic signs as obscuring and therefore replaceable by the question of the use, application, "use" of the words. The word 'meaning' does not belong to the everyday language games (misunderstandings excluded), it is not an entity that the researcher could locate ex post. It is therefore important to look at the functioning of language in everyday life, to the everyday practice of speaking and to see that speaking is a practical use. Like the objects in a toolbox, one can see the sentence “as an instrument, and its meaning as its use!” With words such as 'intention', 'wanting', 'wishing' (intentional processes), what is significant is not that with it an inside is 'described', reported by it, which would have the consequence that this inside would be the 'true' place of 'meaning', but what is decisive is that the words themselves are deeds, expressions, which in turn are embedded in an expressive behavior. “Words are also deeds”, and when I say that I want x, I am expressing my wishes. Wishing is doing. It follows from this that the decisive factor in wanting, wishing etc. is that the criterion for their existence is the visible “reaction”. “I reveal myself to him when I say what I wanted to do. - Not on the basis of self-observation, but through a reaction ”[“ An internal process requires external criteria ”]. 
So speaking is doing something that is “embedded in a situation”. With regard to the term language game, this means that it refers to “the whole: the language and the activities with which it is interwoven”. relates. Linguistic actions are "interwoven with non-verbal actions - constitutionally," (Krämer). Linguistic and extra-linguistic actions are alloyed and cannot be explained “for themselves”. For the outside observer who wants to 'understand' the language, the sign system of a community qua group of the same form of life, this means that he has to observe the entire “behavior”, tone and gesture in which linguistic activities are to be found. Especially with regard to the observer of a foreign language, it is true that "the common human behavior [...] is the reference system by means of which we interpret a foreign language."

Life form
The way of life characterizes this overall context, of which linguistic practice is only a part, the reference system, against the background of which one can speak about linguistic correctness. It is a part of which one does not obtain clarity through isolation, but through consideration of the whole. The “speaking of language [is] part of an activity, or a way of life.” To “imagine a language means to imagine a way of life”. The functioning of language can only be understood if one understands it as part of something bigger, a common practice made up of communicative action patterns and extra-linguistic action processes, social behavior patterns, by seeing that it always only exists together with other forms of activity. As a whole of all communal practices, the term 'form of life' replaces the rigid system term, which wanted to ensure correctness by means of a priori logical rules. Instead of such an inner identity criterion, one through this identical system, there is a space of similarity and relative agreement: similar customs, regular customs, a space in which people agree in their practice. Acts linguistically or It is only possible to speak meaningfully 'in it', in it as a relatively identical context of speaking and acting in general. Forms of action are divided in the form of life, they are collective and can be described as regularity from an observer's perspective. Everything in it is only vaguely delimited, in permanent transformation and can only be characterized by relative similarities, but this relative coincidence is sufficient to guarantee the "functioning" of the language. There is no need for a rigid boundary to distinguish between correct and incorrect word usage. The sole criterion for correct use of words is the common way of life, success (using a word) in the community. Not a findable criterion of identity, something in me, but the community sharing the same form of life is the measure of correctness. Wittgenstein can therefore formulate that the use of a word requires such a justification “that everyone understands.” Ultimately, this also leads to the rejection of the introspection or private language argument and the interpretation of intentional processes. I myself have no criterion for the equality of two ideas without the community of the form of life. With it the "justification by experience comes to an end." “What is the criterion for the equality of two ideas? What is the criterion of the redness of an idea? For me, when the other has what he says and does. For me, if I have it, nothing at all. ”“ Don't ask: What is going on in us when we are safe ...? But: How is the certainty expressed that it is so? In human action ”. The criterion for correctness is not something fixed, something that can be found, but rather the practice of a community of the same form of life, which is constantly changing.

The concept of rules belongs to the language game of the functioning of language. Like the concept of a pattern, it is a “means of representation”. Both terms are not part of the everyday language game. "Rules - and that is essential for Ws. Language perception - are not phenomena of execution, but the explanation-of-execution." , one must always be aware of the danger that the language could celebrate, insofar one must always reflect on the fact that these terms are only used as "objects of comparison [...] not as a prejudice to which reality must correspond". They are concepts that are necessary to talk about language, but which can only be used as a “paradigm; something to be compared with ”, not as something that everyday language should correspond to. Rules have no content-related profession or hierarchical supremacy. In addition, the absoluteness promised in the terms must be relativized. What the language game of the language description player claims as a rule is a “network of similarities that overlap and intersect”, not something rigid that could not just as easily be different.
If one understands speaking as a series of rules, one must consider that Wittgenstein “follow the rule [as] a practice” among other activities such as “make a message, give an order, play a game of chess”, which are used as practical skills against knowledge-based (Krämer) are delimitable. Like these processes, speaking is also not dependent on the knowledge or “interpretation” of a rule that would have to be applied again and again to be implemented and that exists in isolation as a reference point. Just as I didn't learn and interpret the rules and then play chess, neither have I learned the form of the sentence before I speak. I watched, you were given examples and at some point you followed suit. Wittgenstein's view of activity (including linguistic activity) is therefore essentially characterized by non-reflexivity (cf. Krämer). Speaking “works almost without thinking” (Krämer); it is to be understood as a pre-reflective application of pre-lived forms of life. Because you are surrounded by certain customs, you adopt them. The way of life is, as Wittgenstein also says, that which is “to be accepted, given”. I have mastered the technique of language because I was “trained to react in a certain way to this sign”, in that one use of the sign was approved and the other was negatively sanctioned. Imitating the linguistic customs practiced in the community is already following the rules, or even more briefly: following a rule is a custom. “I follow the rule blindly. Ultimately, this also results in the“ security ”with which the techniques are practiced, with which I can say“ That's how I talk. ”“ That's how I act. ” 

Nevertheless, the rule is not an “element that determines language usage” (Krämer). Speaking is not entirely governed by rules, communal practice, or I am not in 100% agreement with communal practice. That is why Wittgenstein wants the rule to be understood as a “guide”, as “a model of what one should say”. The signpost does not regulate the direction of travel apodictically. “A lot of well-known paths lead from these words in all directions.” If one understands the communication community as a space that initiates and practices the rules for the use of words, it is clear that no individual in the group has the same practical, the same rule experiences, here: communication experiences can. There is no perfect identity of the individual community members with regard to the practiced patterns: the horizons of experience necessarily differ. The use of the word never corresponds to what has been 'learned' like that of the other members, because what has been adopted (the rule implicit therein) diverges depending on the horizon of experience and because ultimately the acquired forms of practice (rules) must always assert / realize themselves in new contexts (contexts reverse not identical again). What the guide says is ambiguous insofar as it diverges between individuals and in different situations. What you act on, the yardstick on which your own speech is based, is different from that of other participants in the game. Because the "synopsis of communication experiences", to which an individual is induced when certain word uses, "word concepts" are used, "can never be exactly the same for all speaking individuals in a language community" (Busse), there are different uses of words and a variety of uses and finally even to the change of meanings. 

What ultimately gives meaning to a word, how it is used, depends - and that makes Wittgenstein a pioneer of linguistic pragmatics - on countless factors such as communication experiences, customs, the specific utterance, etc. Terms and their meaning are anything but identical, fixed. “The“ scope of the [none!] Term [is] not closed by a limit ”, the meaning of a word never“ exactly ”. The ideal of exactness, the “crystal purity of logic” must be abandoned because it was never more than a “requirement” projected into language, a hypothesis put forward by the bewitched mind, a chimera. Since language is no longer explained as a uniform, identical system of rules, and speaking is no longer explained as “acting with signs that are fixed in their meanings” (Busse), ambiguity and changes in word meanings become understandable. Meaning is that which always emerges when speaking. There is a permanent change in the meaningful matrix of conventions, insofar as speakers are never only reproductive, but always active in varying degrees when speaking. The “economy of a sign system” turns out to be “limitless, because the systematic framework of the convention shifts with each new type use, because the ensemble of differential marks cannot be thought of as a brazen grid” (Frank). The synthesis of word and meaning is therefore not a fixed one, the "habitually solidified synthesis of linguistic types shifts" (Frank) permanently, the status quo of convention, i.e. what is practiced as a rule, is in permanent transformation.



Our reading tip: Language, speech act, communication. Language theoretical positions of the 20th century by Sybille Krämer - a book in the suhrkamp taschenbuchwissenschaft series, which also provided the author of the article published here with essential suggestions.

Sybille Kramer

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