Returning to the Brown Book

Wittgenstein finishes the first section of the Brown Book with this:

It seemed to us that the essence of the process of deriving was here presented in a particular dress and that by stripping it of this we should get at the essence. Now in 71), 72), 73) we tried to strip our case of what had seemed but its peculiar costume only to find that what had seemed mere costumes were the essential figure of the case. (We acted as though we had tried to find the real artichoke by stripping it of its leaves.)

Imagine that someone wished to give you an idea of the facial characteristics of a certain family, the So and so’s, he would do it by showing you a set of family portraits and by drawing your attention to certain characteristic features, and his main task would consist in the proper arrangement of these pictures, which, e.g., would enable you to see how certain influences gradually changed the features, in what characteristic ways the members of the family aged, what features appeared more strongly as they did so.

It was not the function of our examples to show us the essence of ‘deriving’, ‘reading’, and so forth through a veil of inessential features; the examples were not descriptions of an outside letting us guess at an inside which for some reason or other could not be shown in its nakedness. We are tempted to think that are examples are indirect means for producing a certain image or idea in a person’s mind, — that they hint at something which they cannot show. This would be so in some such case as this: Suppose I wish to produce in someone a mental image of the inside of a particular eighteenth-century room which he is prevented from entering. I therefore adopt this method: I show him the house from the outside, pointing out the windoes of the room in question, I further lead him into other rooms of the same period.-

Our method is purely descriptive; the descriptions we give are not hints of explanations.

A pay off in Wittgenstein is rare. This seems to be one. Wittgenstein gives us hints about the big picture of his project. Look at what he says about arranging pictures of a family, and recall the structure of PI. Not the structure as in the flow, but form that the work takes. This is what he seems to be doing in PI, taking pictures and arranging them. These are pictures of resemblances, to what I’m not sure. Perhaps he sees language as a family of this kind, and each attempted explanation is pointing out a particular family member, which will not do. He makes you second guess your suggestions by showing you cases that seem so different but require the same word. The resemblances across language. But in order to do this, he has to make the resemblances apparent and progressive, or at least to some purpose. He shows you the differences, and the similarities, but he will not explain them.

Wittgenstein is always trying to show us something. His project requires it. He cannot tell us what is going because it would destroy the project. It always rings Socratic to me, though the similarity remains elusive to me. The only basis I have is that Socrates is always trying to show and not tell, same as Wittgenstein. Socrates cannot tell people what the virtues are, telling has no place here. Why is it that these things cannot be told?

Is there no essence to a word? I think there is in one sense. Another question: is there no essence to a life? Can I take the particular instances of a persons life and shave off the unnecessary parts and get an essence? What would it mean to do this?

Words aren’t something to be explained. They take their place in the life of the language. It is a weird, organic way to look at words. Why would Wittgenstein think this way? What did he see that so many don’t?

~ by Barky on September 21, 2011.

One Response to “Returning to the Brown Book”

  1. Good questions and a great passage. i like what you say about it.

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